The initial season of the California Fall League recently drew to a close. The league, composed of prospects at the Single- and Double-A levels, was the successor to the Maryland Fall League and, before that, the Hawaiian Winter League. And although there are concerns about the viability of this league, as there were with its predecessors, the California Fall League did provide a good showcase for young talent.
The most impressive players that I saw were San Bernardino left fielder Ben Broussard; Rancho Cucamonga right fielder Marcus Thames; Lake Elsinore righthander Sean Douglass, center fielder Kory DeHaan, catcher Giuseppe Chiaramonte, second baseman Ty Wigginton, right fielder Doug Clark, and left fielder Robert Stratton; and Lancaster right fielder Michael Restovich.
Broussard, the Cincinnati Reds’ 2nd round pick in the June 1999 draft, has a quick bat and showed nice power to the gaps. The left-handed hitter out of McNeese State reminds me a bit of Oakland’s Jason Giambi. A converted first baseman, Broussard appeared a bit tentative in the field at times but also showed surprising speed for a man his size (6’2″, 220 lbs.).
Thames, a 30th round pick of the New York Yankees in June 1996, showed good power to the opposite field. On defense he displayed a strong arm. The right-handed hitter out of a Mississippi junior college has a quick bat; his strong showing in the Cal Fall League could help him advance quickly.
Douglass, a 2nd round pick of the Baltmore Orioles in the June 1997 draft, is a 20-year-old out of Lancaster, CA. He has a great pitchers’ body (6’6″, 198 lbs.) and a nice, compact delivery. His fastball wasn’t overpowering but he showed a willingness to work inside to both left- and right-handed hitters. He looks like a back-end rotation pitcher right now but he’s young enough that if he adds a few MPH to his fastball, he could turn into something special.
DeHaan, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 7th round pick in the June 1997 draft, reminds me of a Steve Finley/Andy VanSlyke type player, with perhaps less power. The Morningside College (Iowa) product features a slashing swing that produces an abundance of doubles. He runs well and plays a solid center field, getting good jumps and covering a lot of ground.
Chiaramonte, a 5th round pick of the San Francisco Giants in the June 1997 draft, out of Fresno State, has enormous power potential but needs to make more consistent contact. The right-handed-hitting catcher bats out of an extreme crouch, a la Jeff Bagwell, and has an explosive swing.
Wigginton, the New York Mets’ 17th round pick in June 1998, is very aggressive at the plate but has a smooth, short stroke that provides surprising power. The UNC Asheville product has an unusual build (6’0″, 200 lbs.) for a second baseman, and he looked a tad slow to his right when I saw him, but that was only one game, so it’s possible I caught him on an off day. Wigginton hits well enough that he could probably survive the move to a less demanding position, if needed.
Clark, taken by the Giants out of the University of Massachusetts in the 7th round of the June 1998 draft, has a line drive stroke from the left side and makes good, hard contact. He also has a terrific throwing arm.
Stratton was the Mets’ 1st round pick in June 1996. The right-handed hitter out of Santa Barbara, CA, has jaw-dropping power but injuries and a big swing have kept him from putting it all together. For someone 6’3″, 255 lbs., Stratton runs pretty well and generally looks like a good athlete. He needs to stay healthy and tighten up his stroke to take his game to the next level.
Restovich, the Minnesota Twins’ 2nd round pick in June 1997, is an outstanding athlete who was pried away from a Notre Dame football scholarship by the lure of playing for his home state team. Although he didn’t do much the night I saw him, Restovich clearly has an abundance of talent. He appeared to recognize pitches well and wait on the ball nicely. He had a tough time in the field that night, also, appearing to get bad reads on a couple of fly balls and overrunning a grounder. Again, it’s unfair to judge a guy based on one game. Restovich looked like what you expect to see when you go to see a prospect play.
Others worth keeping an eye on are Brewers shortstop Chris Rowan, Mets righthander Leslie Brea, Expos righthander Mark Magnum, Mariners second baseman Harvey Hargrove, Tigers catcher Brandon Inge, Rockies center fielder Juan Pierre, Pirates third baseman Rico Washington, Rockies righthander Justin Miller, Blue Jays first baseman Jay Gibbons, Indians outfielder Jon Hamilton, Blue Jays shortstop Mike Young, Padres righthander Jason Middlebrook, Yankees lefthander Scott Wiggins, Rangers catcher Luis Taveras and righthander Joaquin Benoit, and Braves first baseman A.J. Zapp.
Well, thanks for joining me on this look back at the inaugural California Fall League season. Remember to support your local team — there’s a lot of good baseball being played out there; it’s just a matter of finding it.