The Florida State League has a reputation of being an extreme pitchers' league. With that in mind, our 10 names to know reflect that slant.
Six of the 10 make their living from the mound, with four of those entering their first full season in the Class A Advanced league. Throw in a few interesting bats and a managerial merry-go-round and we've got ourselves a pretty interesting list.
The list might be more notable for the bats not present. Matt LaPorta, the Brewers' first-round pick last June, will make his full-season debut with Huntsville and Travis Snider, the Blue Jays' top prospect, is jumping from the Midwest League up to the Double-A Eastern League to start the year.
1. Adrian Cardenas, 2B
Clearwater Threshers (Philadelphia)
All the supplemental first-round pick from the 2006 draft did in his first full season was hit close to .300, show some developing power with 41 extra-base hits, steal 20 bases and get named to both the South Atlantic League All-Star Game and Futures Game in San Francisco. What could he possibly do for an encore? We'll find out in Clearwater, at least for part of the year. The second baseman has a bat
advanced enough that he could find himself up with Double-A Reading at age 20 before too long.
2. Brett Cecil, LHP
Dunedin Blue Jays (Toronto)
A closer at University of Maryland, the Blue Jays nabbed Cecil in the supplemental first round last June with the intentions of making him a starter. He was on a tight pitch count during his debut and was still extremely impressive. Now the wraps will be off some and he's jumping up to the FSL. He's got some nasty stuff, especially his plus, plus slider to go along with a real good fastball from the left side. He's developing a change-up and that could go a long way to determining how quickly he'll progress as a starter.
3. Mark Melancon, RHP
Tampa Yankees (New York)
It's not often a guy making his FSL debut coming off of Tommy John surgery with eight pro innings (in the New York-Penn League back in 2006) under his belt, would be so intriguing. But this is after all, the Yankees, and everything always has some intrigue to it, doesn't it? Melancon, a closer out of the University of Arizona, has seen his velocity come nearly all the way back and many feel he might help the big league Yankees out before the year is over. So go see him close out games for the Tampa version of the Yankees early: Once it gets warmer up north, Melancon will undoubtedly make his way up the ladder quickly.
4. Rick Porcello, RHP
Lakeland Flying Tigers (Detroit)
Any first-round pick is going to have a spotlight on him. Add to it that Porcello got some notoriety by sliding down to the Tigers because of bonus demands and the light gets a little hotter. Then consider that the teenager will be making his pro debut all the way up in this league for a system that saw a ton of talent head elsewhere in trades, and we're talking white-hot attention. Porcello doesn't seem to mind -- he's the kind who may thrive because of it -- allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings in big league camp. We may have to ignore the age: With his stuff and poise, he could be a serious fast-tracker.
5. David Price, LHP
Vero Beach Rays (Tampa Bay)
Call this the "delayed gratification" entry. The plan was to have Price begin the year with Vero and pitch at some point during the opening week of the season. When he finished a recent Minor League spring outing and reported a sore elbow, everyone in the surrounding Tampa area held their collective breath. The bad news is FSL fans will likely have to wait until May to see the No. 1 overall pick make his pro debut. The good news is whenever you hear the words "elbow soreness" and "pitcher" in the same sentence, it can be a lot, lot worse. So plan your trip to Vero Beach for mid-to-late May instead of October.
6. Joe Savery, LHP
Clearwater Threshers (Philadelphia)
A two-way player at Rice who had a busy pro debut (New York-Penn League and Arizona Fall League), this will be his first full season as a pitcher-only. After spending an offseason concentrating on that -- and with even more time separating him from past shoulder surgery -- it should be interesting to see how quickly he moves through the system. If you're curious, head to Clearwater. If you can't do that, check out (warning, shameless plug coming) his journal exclusively here on MiLB.com.
7. Razor Shines, MGR
Clearwater Threshers (Philadelphia)
There are a number of new skippers in the FSL this year. Jim Morrison goes from the Columbus Catfish, who he piloted to the South Atlantic League crown last year, to the Vero Beach Rays. Jeff Smith is the new manager for the Fort Myers Miracle after two seasons in Beloit. Mike Guerrero moves up one notch in the Brewers system, from West Virginia to Brevard County. Andy Barkett makes the leap from short-season Oneonta to take over in Lakeland's dugout. Brandon Hyde comes down from Double-A Carolina to skipper Jupiter this season. Tim Teufel is back in St. Lucie after sitting in Savannah's dugout. He'd been St. Lucie's skipper in 2004 and '05.
But we thought it necessary to highlight Shines and not because his nomenclature adorns one of the brackets in our Minors Moniker Madness contest. He was the White Sox third-base coach last year and has had considerable success as a Minor League manager, winning a Carolina League title in 2003, a Southern League Manager of the Year award in 2005 and guiding his team to the International League playoffs in 2006. This guy knows how to win and to develop players, which should be good news to Phillies phans.
8. Drew Stubbs, OF
Sarasota Reds (Cincinnati)
Want to see a guy who really can go get 'em in center? Then Stubbs might be your guy. Even though he was banged up last year, he still managed to swipe 23 bases. When healthy, that should improve. He's got raw power to spare and even the larger parks in the FSL won't hold him if he starts to realize his potential in that area. He does swing and miss quite a bit, though he'll also draw some walks along the way. Even more encouraging for Sarasota fans is that he raised his batting average 33 points in the second half of last season and made some adjustments that enabled him to cut down that K rate quite a bit. If that's a springboard, Reds fans could be in for quite a treat.
9. Graham Taylor, LHP
Jupiter Hammerheads (Florida)
The Marlins get all this attention because of their gaggles of young uber-arms. There will be all these first-rounders in the Carolina rotation (Hammerheads fans got to experience that in 2007). A step behind those "big names," somewhat in the shadows, is the guy who won organization pitcher of the year honors last year while pitching in Greensboro. All he did was win the system's pitching Triple Crown (though he tied for the lead in wins). He was gassed by the time he got to Jupiter late last year and folks there didn't see him at his best. He won't light up a radar gun, but if you want to see a clinic on how to pitch -- Taylor walked 23 in 174 1/3 total innings last year -- then go see him on the bump.
10. Tony Thomas, 2B
Daytona Cubs (Chicago)
A good college hitter does not always a successful pro make, but when Thomas hit .430 in his final year at Florida State, you knew someone would give him a shot. That someone was the Cubs, who took him in the third-round last June. He rewarded the organization by hitting .308 and stealing 28 bases for short-season Boise. He's been working on his base-stealing even more this spring and could be quite a force as an exciting table-setter atop that Daytona lineup.