The New York-Penn League opened its season last Friday. Though often populated by college draftees, all kinds of talent make their way through the league, which was formed in 1939 and runs from the middle of June through early September. Last year the circuit featured prospects such as Jenrry Mejia, Derek Norris, Jason Castro, David Cooper, and Lonnie Chisenhall.
As this season gets underway, here are five of the most intriguing prospects to watch as the summer progresses:
Ryan Westmoreland, OF, Lowell (Boston)
Westmoreland, 19, was drafted in the fifth round in last year's draft, but is just making his debut thanks to offseason shoulder surgery. A native New Englander, Westmoreland had full-ride at Vanderbilt, but passed on college to sign with Boston for $2 million, one of the top 15 signing bonuses in the entire draft. The financial commitment speaks to how highly Boston views Westmoreland and he could be an impact player down the road. “He combines plus power with plus-plus speed, plays a very good center field, and has a big-time arm. His silky smooth actions and extreme athleticism gives him a ceiling higher than any player in the system,” wrote Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. Westmoreland is expected to open the season as the designated hitter before moving to the outfield in a couple weeks.
Anthony Hewitt, 3B, Williamsport (Philadelphia)
Hewitt went 23rd overall last year and signed for $1.38 million, a deal that also pays for eight semesters of study at Vanderbilt, where he had committed to play baseball. Hewitt may be the classic boom or bust prospect. The 20-year-old has star potential, but he's also the type who might never get out of the minor leagues. As a northeast product, the native New Yorker was greener than other high school picks, faced weak competition, and had trouble hitting high school level breaking stuff. His rawness was apparent last summer in the Gulf Coast League (5.6% BB, 44.0% K) but the potential is there for much greater things. “Between his outstanding speed, arm strength and massive raw power, he flashed some of the best raw tools in the entire 2008 high school ranks,” according to Allan Simpson of Perfect Game Crosschecker. Hewitt's climb to the majors will be a slow one, but the payoff in the end could justify the wait.
Graham Hicks, LHP, Vermont (Washington)
Hicks, 19, was selected in the fourth round of last June's draft and was given an over-slot bonus of $475,000 to keep him away from the University of Central Florida. A lanky lefthander (six-foot-five, 170 pounds), Hicks has a fastball that sits around 90 MPH, but as he fills out his frame, he could add more juice to the pitch. Tom Patton, Hicks' high school coach, says his change is his “bread-and-butter” pitch while former UCF head coach Craig Cozart says Hicks has a slider that can be “unhittable.” Stephen Strasburg will grab all the headlines when it comes to Nationals pitching prospects, but Hicks has a chance to emerge as one of the top prospects in the organization by the end of the season.
Kyle Lobstein, LHP, Hudson Valley (Tampa Bay)
Lobstein was nabbed in the second round of the 2008 draft and Tampa forked over $1.5 million to get him in the organization. His command ranked with any high school pitcher in last year's draft and he was expected to go higher than the second round, but when his fastball dipped from the low 90's to the 87-88 MPH range, his stock fell and he tumbled to Tampa in the second. Lobstein's arsenal also includes a hard curve and a change with plus potential. Tampa Bay scouting director R.J Harrison told The St. Petersburg Times that he was excited to get the 19-year-old lefthander in the fold and expects him to get better. “He's extremely projectable. He has a major-league body (six-foot-three, 200 pounds), delivery and arm action. The stuff is good now, and we think there is more to come. He's one of those young pitchers that we think is really, really going to come and get better by leaps and bounds."
Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Staten Island (New York-A)
Vizcaino was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007 and opened eyes last summer as a 17-year-old in the Gulf Coast League (7.0% BB, 25.8% K, 3.74 FIP). The six-foot righthander will have a chance to open more eyes this summer against players up to many years his senior. “Physically he's getting bigger and stronger. His delivery is so much better now. He’s pitching the ball downhill instead of side-to-side, which helps him pitch his plus fastball down through the zone. He has a quality nasty big league curveball and he is working to develop the changeup,” Yankees minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras told Pinstripes Plus. Between things like Andrew Brackman's disappointing season, and Jairo Heredia's injury-derailed campaign, Vizcaino could find himself in the mix to be ranked as the top pitching prospect in the organization next year.
As more 2009 draft picks sign on the dotted line, expect some of them to get their feet wet in the New York-Penn League, but the aforementioned five are among the most interesting prospects currently on a New York-Penn League roster.
Next week, we'll examine a handful of the most intriguing prospects in the Northwest League.
Contact Ryan Fay at email@example.com