The Texas League opens the 2010 campaign Thursday. Here are 10 of the premier prospects the league will feature this season:
Alexi Amarista, 2B -- Arkansas Travelers
The 21-year-old Dominican won the Midwest League batting title with a .319 average last year, then tore up the Venezuelan Winter League at a .339 clip. While he may not start the year in Arkansas, it's likely he'll make his way up by midseason.
Koby Clemens, C -- Corpus Christi Hooks
Clemens may not have been on the Astros' radar heading into 2009, but it's hard to look past the numbers he posted in the California League. The son of seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens won the batting title with a .345 mark, slugged 22 homers and led the Minors with 121 RBIs. While he struggled a bit during a brief stint at Corpus Christi (4-for-17 in five games), his confidence has skyrocketed. He'll likely have Gaston (see below) hitting near him in the lineup again.
Aaron Crow, RHP -- Northwest Arkansas Naturals
The Royals selected Crow with the 12th overall pick in last year's Draft with the idea the former Mizzou star would move quickly through the system. He signed late but got his feet wet in the Arizona Fall League. After impressing in Spring Training, he'll make his professional debut with the Naturals.
Christian Friedrich, LHP -- Tulsa Drillers
The Rockies' top pick in 2008, his out pitch is a 12-6 curveball, but he also has a nasty fastball, slider and changeup. He shared the organization lead with a 2.41 ERA between Class A Asheville and Class A Advanced Modesto in 2009, averaging 11.96 strikeouts per nine innings to rank second among all full-season starters.
Jon Gaston, OF -- Corpus Christi Hooks
Gaston had a breakout season in 2009, sharing the Minor League lead with 35 homers while driving in 100 runs in his first full campaign at Class A Advanced Lancaster. He also drew 71 walks for a .367 on-base percentage and stole 14 bases.
Peter Kozma, SS -- Springfield Cardinals
The 2007 first-round pick hit his way up to Springfield last season but largely fell short of expectations, batting .216 with 37 RBIs in 113 games. Despite the numbers, he earned Texas League All-Star honors in 2009, so a bounceback season is expected, especially after he saw time at Major League Spring Training.
Wynn Pelzer, RHP -- San Antonio Missions
Primarily a reliever at the University of South Carolina, the 2007 ninth-round pick ranked second in the California League with 147 strikeouts and fifth with a 3.94 ERA in 27 starts for Lake Elsinore last season. He should be a key member of the Missions' rotation.
Martin Perez, LHP -- Frisco RoughRiders
The Venezuelan lefty dominated at Class A Hickory but struggled a bit in five games at Frisco (5.57 ERA). He could form a nice duo with Scheppers on the Riders staff, with the ability to have an above-average three-pitch mix (fastball, curve and changeup). He turned 19 on Sunday, so he's got plenty of time to grow.
Tanner Scheppers, RHP -- Frisco RoughRiders
Scheppers' shoulder injuries let him slip to 44th overall in the 2009 Draft, where Texas grabbed him at the end of the first round. The Rangers eased him into the pros in the Arizona Fall League and he gave up seven runs over 11 innings, but he opened eyes with electric stuff that created as much buzz as any pitcher in the league. The Rangers may look to bring him into their bullpen later this season, much like they did with Neftali Feliz last year. Scheppers' fastball and breaking ball could put him in line for a late-summer promotion.
Jemile Weeks, 2B -- Midland RockHounds
The 2008 first-round pick hit .238 in 30 games with the RockHounds after a promotion from Class A Advanced Stockton last summer, so he may get another shot at Double-A pitching this spring. The switch-hitter and younger brother of big leaguer Rickie Weeks had hip surgery last season but had two homers and eight RBIs in eight playoff games during the RockHounds' run to the Texas League championship.