2006 WTNY 75: 75-51
My prospect list moves on today, away from the honorable mentions and into the actual rankings. Today we count down the numbers 75-51 prospects in baseball, as I see it. As always, please feel free to leave any comments below the article.
75. Andre Ethier - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: Ethier was totally the A's kind of player at Arizona State University, walking 52 times against 30 strikeouts in his last year on campus. However, the problem was always that Andre couldn't get his power to get going, and that he was destined to a career somewhere between being a fourth outfielder and a AAA one. But in a year of Texas League revivals, Ethier busted out, showing power that hadn't been seen since his days in college. However, the A's promptly traded him, selling him high, to the Dodgers for Milton Bradley.
Skillset/Future: I thought it was funny that the A's brought Jay Payton back to the organization, as Ethier's best comp is Payton. Both have the potential to be marginal starters, and in certain streaks, should even perform quite well. At other times, however, they look like fourth outfielders stretched at any outfield position besides left. Ethier will never be an All-Star at the Major League level, but there is an off chance he retires with more than 4,000 at-bats, or something of the sort. And that has to be considered a success.
74. Jered Weaver - SP - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (AA)
If you've read this site long, you know his name. You know his name real well. Rather than re-write the report that Rich has so eloquently done so often, I'm instead going to turn you to three of his articles from this season:
Weav Only Just Begun
The Futures of the Game
Patience, My Friends
I am certainly more of a pessimist on Weaver than Rich is, as his flyball tendencies scare me. However, if the Angels are committed to working on this problem, and the right measures are taken, we all know that Jered has pitchability through the roof. At worst, he's a fringe 5th starter. At best, he's a #3. That's a pretty tight window.
73. Fernando Nieve - SP - Houston Astros - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: It had to be a now or never year for Fernando Nieve. This is a guy that signed with the organization in 1999. I projected him to breakout before the 2004 season. The Astros were beginning to implement prospects into their rotation. It was simply time for Nieve to turn that corner, and become a top prospect. Problem is, I still can't tell whether he did or not. Nieve pitched brilliantly in 14 Texas League starts, showing better stuff than his organizational mate Jason Hirsh. However, once reaching the PCL, Nieve struggled with hits, walks and strikeouts. A bad combination.
Skillset/Future: I really do think that Nieve has a future in a Major League rotation. However, these days, I no longer believe he has #2/3 potential, but instead will have to hang towards the back end. He has a rubber arm that has allowed for three straight seasons with over 150 innings, and his stuff is good enough for a career 8.51 K/9 in the minors. However, it seems that Nieve has always been a bit too hittable, and lacked a little too much in the control department. Whether or not a Major League pitching coach can solve these problems should prove to be instrumental to Nieve's future success.
72. Chuck Tiffany - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AA)
Introduction: Tiffany did a lot more to disappoint in 2005 than anything else, as expectations were very high. After ending 2004 as well as he did, striking out 46 in his last 21.1 innings. The problem with Tiffany, however, has always been consistency. Sometimes he is the best pitcher in the Dodger system, other times his struggles are massive. There is a very little happy medium.
Skillset/Future: There seem to be a lot more cons in this section than pros. First, Tiffany has a flyball affinity, and as a result, tends to allow a ton of home runs. Without knowing first hand, I would guess he has the tendency to hang his curveball. It's also a problem, I would guess, that Chuck really only offers two pitches at this point: fastball and curveball. Both offerings are pretty good, but there has just not been a lot of development with a third pitch. Throw in just average control, and you begin to understand why people aren't so enamored with a double-digit K/9 guy.
71. Eddy Martinez-Esteve - OF/DH - San Francisco Giants - 22 (AA)
Introduction: I would have a lot more faith in EME if only he was on an AL team's roster. Because we all know the guy can hit. The Giants have to make a decision in choosing how they will replace Barry Bonds: maximize the offense, so losing his bat will be minimized, or get an all-around player who will be better than Bonds was defensively? It's all a matter of how much you weigh defense. Brian Sabean's answer to this question will likely dictate how long EME stays in this organization. If the team wishes to take a hit on defense, then sticking him in left field is the solution. If not willing, it's time to sell high, and trade him to the American League. As a fan, I'm hoping it's the latter.
Skillset/Future: As I've said, EME can't play defense. At all. His throwing arm is atrocious, and his range makes Pat Burrell cringe. He will never be good, and expecting any different would be foolish. However, there is a pro to match that con. His bat. There is no better pure bat in the minors, considering he has the full package. Unparalleled plate discipline. Great contact skills. Big-time gap power. This guy has it all. It will be interesting to see what leaving the Cal League does to his numbers in 2006, but I don't expect it to be as much as some. A fantastic batting eye tends to minimize volatility, I've found.
70. Chuck James - SP - Atlanta Braves - 24 (AAA)
Another sabermetric favorite, James is yet to really struggle at a level. But if you ask me, he's simply a left-handed Jered Weaver. Sure, there are differences in their stuff, but not really huge differences in their stats. Both allow a ton of fly balls, and thrive off very good control. A system of pitcher's parks has allowed James to not allow a ton of home runs, which has been Weaver's problem in the early going. And, of course, both players strike out a good number of hitters based on their fastball control, a decent breaking pitch and unmatched pitchability. James won't be anything better than a back-of-the-rotation pitcher, but he could also be very good in that role.
69. Jason Hirsh - SP - Houston Astros - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: Besides Jon Lester and Francisco Liriano, no pitcher broke out in 2005 more than Jason Hirsh. A 2003 second-round choice, I had Hirsh circled on a list before the 2005 season of guys that could be drafted in the '05 Rule Draft, if left unprotected. However, he then proceeded to have a season in which he was named as the Texas League Pitcher of the Year, and was promptly added to the Houston 40-man roster. The key for Hirsh seemed to be a decline in his walk rate, as the big right-hander shaved his BB/9 almost in half. There is a good argument, in my mind, for both Nieve and Hirsh atop the Astro food chain.
Skillset/Future: Coming out of college, Hirsh was a pitching coach's dream. He had the pitcher's body at 6-8, 250, and was blessed with velocity in the mid-90s. However, there was little control and little secondary stuff. A year later, neither of that is true. Hirsh's curve was raved about in 2005, and as I said, his control was much improved this year. He was unable to average a strikeout per inning, but that's nitpicking. I went with Hirsh over Nieve because I thought the former had a better chance to be a good reliever if starting didn't work out, given his frame and velocity. If the Astros continue to implement young players onto their roster, look for Hirsh to get his chance in 2007.
68. Gaby Hernandez - SP - Florida Marlins - 20 (A+)
Introduction: Following a third-round selection in the 2004 draft, Hernandez started to make noise in posting some silly numbers in the Gulf Coast League at 18. With expectations high, Hernandez was great in the South Atlantic League, proving the Mets were involved in a heist waiting until pick 74 to draft him. The word was that his stuff was more consistent after the draft, and there is no question that even since being drafted, Hernandez has thrown more onto the frame. However, he struggled mightily when being promoted to high-A, and with his stock pretty high, the Mets weren't too stupid to sell this winter. If the Marlins can keep Hernandez from preventing home runs, then they will be very happy with their acquisition, as well.
Skillset/Future: Very few players in the minor leagues allow fly balls at the rate that Hernandez does. This is very odd to me, given reports of a sinking fastball and an extremely low HR/9. Sooner or later, you have to worry, those balls are going to start going over the fence. Or, the Marlins must teach Hernandez a way to add tilt to his fastball. However, this can't come at the cost of his control, as Gaby doesn't make a ton of mistakes. And, as is the problem with all young pitchers, Hernandez simply needs to become more consistent from start-to-start. We'll find out how much of a scare his K/9 reduction is very soon, as Hernandez will likely head back to the Florida State League.
67. Asdrubal Cabrera - IF - Seattle Mariners - 20 (AA)
Introduction: A personal favorite of mine. Defense is just beginning a revolution in Major League Baseball, and it has yet to really start trickling down to the minors. Once it does, expect guys like Cabrera to start gaining a little more publicity. Because as far as defensive infielders go, there are few better in all of the minor leagues. To really get a feel for it, try reading Sam Geaney's scouting report on Cabrera. Here's the part about defense:
Special w/glove. Plus hds and pure showy SS actions. Expert hop reader. Smooth transfer. Plus range and instincts allow him to not only get to balls but look for outs in places most SS wouldn't look. Shows off serious athleticism coming in and throwing on run. Very good feel for game, knows speed of runners which allows him to sit back and complete play with ease. Never got caught waiting too long to unload. Avg arm strength made better by plus accuracy. Errors are coming on plays that most INF won't get to or dream of making but that he has chance to pull off. Exc. body control.
Skillset/Future: If you haven't gotten it yet, he can be a Gold Glove-caliber player up the middle. There's a chance the presence of Betancourt in the system could push Cabrera to second, which would be a shame. As a hitter, he must start getting back to the things he did in the Midwest League. First and foremost, Asdrubal must re-commit to drawing walks, as his contact skills are a tad below average. I can't imagine he'll hit for much power, so Cabrera needs to hope to have a ceiling of Placido Polanco on offense, and Omar Vizquel on defense. If the Mariners infield situation is too cloudy, then you should really be crossing your fingers that your team lands him. Special talent.
66. Carlos Gonzales - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks - 20 (A+)
Introduction: In retrospect, I guess we should have been impressed when Gonzales was posting .150+ ISOs in short-season ball as a teenager. We should have listened to the scouts that said that power would further develop, that there was a player inside this underachiever. Because in 2005, Gonzales took off like few other prospects in minor league baseball. He was the most impressive player in the Midwest League. Arizona spends a lot of time drafting college talents, not worrying about how to refine skills. But if they can find a balance between raw Latin American players and college players, this system should continue to flourish.
Skillset/Future: Gonzales tends to have every skill in the book, just not every one is fully developed. His contact abilities improved greatly in 2005, as his career average jumped 40 points and his K% was down to under 17%. He showed Major League power, hitting 52 XBH, including 18 home runs as a teenager. Carlos began to walk more, drawing 48 free passes and bringing his OBP north of .370. And while he doesn't have extraordinary speed, Gonzales is seen as a good center fielder. I'll remain skeptical about Gonzales for another year, but if all of this is for real, he could jump about 40 spots in 365 days.
65. Dustin McGowan - SP - Toronto Blue Jays - 24 (MLB)
Introduction: As a whole, Dustin McGowan's minor league career is not particularly impressive. A former first round pick, he has a long injury history that includes pitching only 31 innings in 2004. His career minor league ERA is just 3.82. His career K/9 is under 9.00. He is an underachiever, in every sense of the word. However, those that watch McGowan pitch consistently come away impressed. And after coming back from Tommy John surgery very quickly, it's hard not to root for the guy.
Skillset/Future: This is not a guy that finds his way on this list via statistics, as I've said. Instead, it's his stuff. When watching McGowan pitch in the Majors, you see a guy with a good fastball, and two different breaking pitches. His fastball was not all the way back in 2005, but I came away very impressed with his breaking stuff. He's never had the pitchability to register a ton of strikeouts (beyond class A0, but that can be a learned trait. There is a chance, if he keeps underachieving, that McGowan could be best suited moving to the bullpen. However, an improvement on his fastball -- one in which he reverts to pre-injury form -- could provide the Blue Jays with a possible Rookie of the Year candidate at the back of their rotation.
64. Jonathan Broxton - RP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 22 (AAA/MLB)
Introduction: It's funny, I remember arguing with Dodger fans in the past about whether or not Broxton could remain a starter. I said no, and as a result, did not think as highly as him as most people. They liked him as a starter, and saw great things. It turned out that the real answer was somewhere in the middle. In the end, the best thing for Jonathan Broxton was to move to the bullpen. And while his Major League ERA didn't tell the story, I can all but guarantee it will be the best thing for the Dodgers, too. 22 strikeouts in 13.2 innings? Suddenly, those comparisons between Broxton and Gagne's minor league numbers don't look so silly, do they?
Skillset/Future: The reason a move to relief was so good for Broxton was that it helped his stuff, as it tends to do with some arms. For the Bull, his fastball jumped from about 94 to 98 or 99, and his breaking pitch became that much more devastating. His control has improved in each of the last three seasons, a sign that not only will he strike out people in relief, but he could also be a closer. Oh, and by the way, he doesn't really allow home runs, either. I have Broxton ranked as the second-best relief prospect in baseball, and it certainly wouldn't surprise me if he was winning Rolaids awards within the next five seasons.
63. Jeff Niemann - SP - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 23 (AA)
Introduction: The San Diego Padres have to be more upset with the Rice University baseball program than anyone else. After Jeff Niemann's sophomore season, it was no contest that Niemann was the best player in the draft. Had the draft been a year early, the team would have been forced to take Niemann. There would have been an uproar if ownership ordered for anything else. The 6-9 rightie had led Rice through the College World Series ranks and capped off a 17-0 season with a 1.70 ERA. He was frightening. But soon, he would be hurt, and it still seems as the injury that followed his sophomore season is still causing problems today.
Skillset/Future: It's just too hard to give up on a guy that used to touch 99. It's hard to quit on a guy that once had a power curve that would have reinvented the word. Alright, I'm exaggerating, but really, it's a pity this kid's stuff isn't what it used to be. Even with regression, Niemann still has an impressive two-pitch combination, but really needs to be healthy to completely prove that to us. Maybe we'll have to wait for arm surgery for that to happen, or maybe this winter will have provided it for us. The Devil Rays took a risk drafting Niemann in the top five, but if any arm has the chance to pay them dividends, it's Niemann's.
62. Ian Kinsler - 2B - Texas Rangers - 24 (MLB)
Introduction: It seems as if every analyst in the world credited Texas with a win after the Alfonso Soriano trade. Most people wrote that Brad Wilkerson could be a better hitter than Soriano, much less the other two players Jon Daniels received. What seems to be ignored is that Daniels also had incentive to make the trade, as Ian Kinsler has been waiting in the wings. Sure, his AAA season wasn't the greatest success in the world, but it's hard to believe that he can't step in and provide value to the Rangers immediately. And, who knows, maybe both Wilkerson and Kinsler will outdo Soriano in 2006.
Skillset/Future: I only saw Kinsler play one game in Spring Training last year, but I was impressed. I noted in my review of my preseason Arizona trip that Kinsler was one to have power to all fields, and a strike zone that doesn't expand. Both these comments seem just as apparent now, as Kinsler is coming off a career high in home runs, and staying consistent with his good contact skills. His plate discipline is a bit above average, and Ian should represent a step up in defense over Soriano. There is a chance that Kinsler will have a 20/20 season in the Majors, and a very outside probability that he could win Rookie of the Year.
61. Adam Lind - OF - Toronto Blue Jays - 22 (AA)
Introduction: Not to sound like a used car salesman, but Lind is the breakout prospect that I have the most faith in. I found him very early in the season, before his red-hot July, and noticed how few of his extra-base hits were going over the wall. I blamed it on Dunedin, and wrote somewhere that he could correct that problem in 2006. He started to correct it at the end of the season, showing hitting skills that were unmatched in the FSL. It's probably dangerous to start throwing around Paul Molitor comparisons, but for some reason, that's what I see when looking at Lind.
Skillset/Future: More than anything else, the problem with Lind will be determining a position. Third base is thrown out, now leaving a decision between first, left and DH. For some reason, oftentimes it's the latter that would be the best option for the team. However, for what problems Lind has athletically, he makes up for it offensively. Adam's contact skills are among the minors best, and his sweet swing should also help him become an annual .300 hitter. Besides that, he's very inconsistent, as extra base hits and walks tend to come in bunches. If, like I'm predicting, Lind adds a little power and a little endurance, he could be the minors best pure hitter in under one season.
60. Scott Elbert - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (A+)
Introduction: Of all my choices, this is the one I think I might end up pinching myself for most in one season. Not in a good way. Why? Because the Dodgers do this every year. Sometimes the player is Greg Miller, othertimes it is Chuck Tiffany, this year it was Scott Elbert. They bring some hard-throwing southpaw with big numbers to the table, and we become amazed. However, there isn't a great track record for these players. Sooner or later, I think, that trend will break, and one of these pitchers will maximize his potential. Or, the Dodgers will have one helluva fight for the LOOGY spot in their bullpen.
Skillset/Future: If pitchers only needed two pitches, this guy would be great. His low-90s fastball has good life, and his slider is at times devastating. However, to be a starter, a prospect needs a third pitch, which Elbert lacks. There have been few advancements in that category in a year, and without it, Elbert has a future in the bullpen. Not only will a move to relief offset the aforementioned problem, but it should also minimize the damage his control problems provide. Like I've said before, having the fallback of becoming a very good reliever is a nice thing. But the reason you see Elbert so high on the list is that I think that even a good career in relief would be a disappointment.
59. Jeff Mathis - C- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (MLB)
Introduction: Wax on, wax off. After 2003, Jeff Mathis was one of the most exciting players in minor league baseball. A catcher with projectable power out the roof. After 2004, he was a forgotten prospect. Baseball America pointed out that Mathis had simply tired in the Texas League, a theory that should undoubtedly be applied to catchers in the future. Finally, it seems like we're getting the right view of Mathis. Would it surprise you if I said we've learned that he's an inconsistent player? Nah, didn't think so.
Skillset/Future: Gone are the days in which I will forecast 30-40 home run potential for Mathis. That was foolish. Instead, I think we should expect 40-50 extra-base hits per season, with about 20 (max) coming via the long ball. Jeff has made strides with his contact skills, and in the Majors, should continue to fall short of 100 strikeouts per year, while batting about .280. He mixes this with pretty average discipline skills, adding (as we've seen) about sixty or seventy points to his average. Behind the plate, Mathis is no gem, but he'll certainly be serviceable to the Angles. And after all, when Mathis is done hitting in the 8th inning in 2006, the team might as well bring in Jose Molina. Average catchers have a positive value, and that's just what Mathis is.
58. Javi Herrera - OF - Oakland Athletics
Introduction: There is no player on this list I saw more than Herrera this year, who I was able to see in six different games. And it seemed as if each time I saw him, I was impressed. But this scares me, because it reminds me of another player I love in person that has disappointed: Shin-Soo Choo. Both are small, strong players with hints of all six tools. I'm no scout, so I recognize the danger in evaluating players in such a fashion. But we also have to allow our experience in the game have some influence, so I'm bringing out that card with Herrera. His stats might not equal a few players behind him, but I'll be damned if he doesn't succeed on my watch.
Skillset/Future: As I said, there are bits and pieces of all six tools in this kid. I can personally attest that he covers great ground in center, which should make up for an arm that is average at best. Herrera is an accomplished base stealer, who with a little push, could probably swipe about 25 bags a year in the Bigs. He likely won't, I don't think, be a 25/25 player, though. There is power in his bat, but given his small frame, I think it should be confined to the gaps. From a plate discipline standpoint, Herrera has one plus (batting eye) and one minus (control problems). Add these two together, and his OBP should be a bit above-average in the Major Leagues. If Herrera can swing and miss less, he has the potential to be a special player in the Majors. If not, he should still be average. If he regresses, he can be a fourth outfielder. That range of options is what impresses me most, I think.
57. Eric Duncan - 1B - New York Yankees - 21 (AA)
Introduction: Normally, I'm not a sucker for age being a defining characteristic in a player. Too often, I think, players are allowed to use their age as a crutch. Sure, he hit just .240 in Low-A, he's just 18. But for some reason, I do think age is very important when evaluating Eric Duncan. While a .734 OPS in AA is not very impressive, there are things to like in the numbers, and those are enhanced when learning the player was in his age 20 season. I'm also drawn to the Yankees reluctance to trade Duncan, which might reflect a newer organizational philosophy more than a particular faith in Eric. Time will tell, I guess.
Skillset/Future: This winter, the Yankees decided to eliminate Duncan's most glaring weakness: his play at the hot corner. While it had improved in two years through Duncan's hard work, he was never going to be a good third basemen. With A-Rod entrenched at the position, anyway, a move to first base was best for all parties. My anticipation is that Duncan will be a good fielder there, and also could have the bat for it. His power is very significant, and while his 2B:HR ratio was a bit low, he could hit 30 home runs in a Major League season. Duncan also has very good patience for someone his age, which makes up for bad, bad contact issues. When considering all that, his peak is that of a .270/.350/.500 player in my mind. And oddly enough, in 2007, he could be looking to prove that in the Big Apple.
56. Garrett Mock - SP - Arizona Diamondbacks - 23 (AA)
Introduction: Another one of my breakout guys, Mock is the one I had pegged the earliest. He is just a simple case of numbers distorted by context. He played in Lancaster, in the Cal League, one of the worst environments a pitcher could have. Garrett had a .334 BABIP on his many groundballs, a number that could have prevented about 25 hits if normalized. He didn't pitch great at the end of the season, instead showing potential for 2006. This guy has everything I look for in a breakout prospect. Truly, I would be shocked if he isn't a top 40 player in one year.
Skillset/Future: What I love about Mock is that he's fairly easy to project. A durable arm and good pitcher's body will allow Mock to become an innings-eater in the mold that John Lackey serves for the Angels. He might not be noticed much, but quietly, he'll be throwing 200+ innings of above-average baseball a season. While that is what will most likely happen, Mock also has the potential to be a #2 pitcher. He throws four good pitches, and his fastball has enough tilt to provoke a lot of ground balls. We like that in these parts. Look for the Southern League to be a nice place for Mock to break out in next year, possibly even surpassing the numbers put up by Dustin Nippert. And in no time, he should pass Nippert in the organization's eyes, if he isn't already.
55. Troy Patton - SP - Houston Astros - 20 (AA)
Introduction: In a lot of ways, Patton represents a few different Astro draft ideologies. The first is to load up with players from Texas, one of the nation's best baseball states. This provides the team with a bunch of hometown players coming from high school and college programs that the Houston front office trusts. The other ideology, as Roy Oswalt has proven, is one that ignores height. The club is far more impressed with results than, as Michael Lewis might put it, how a player looks in a pair of jeans. This has paid off with Patton, who now has a lifetime 2.13 ERA in the minors. The Moneyball philosophy, to find underrated traits in players, is what allowed Houston to pick up Patton in the 2004 draft's ninth round.
Skillset/Future: Not many players impressed me in the 2005 Futures Game more than Patton. My comments after watching him:
the southpaw started the inning with a 93 mph fastball, the only velocity the pitch hit in four throws. He also showed an impressive change in the dirt, and forced a ground out from Bergolla on a mid 70s, loopy curve.
If this game was an indication of what Patton normally brings to the table, he should be pitching in Houston by the time he turns 21. Very few southpaws in the minors offer a three-pitch combination like the one I saw in Detroit. Add in great control and the ability to keep the baseball in the park, and you have a future #2 pitcher, barring injury.
54. Kendry Morales - 1B/DH - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: At the 2005 Futures Game, prior to its start, I watched the players take batting practice and interact on the field. One thing I noticed, not to my surprise, was Kendry Morales and Rafael Betancourt talking to each other. I remember taking a picture of it, wondering what it would mean in 5, 10, 25 years. These two are, after all, test cases. While Cuba has produced Major League players for years, oftentimes, they have been pitchers. Before Morales and Betancourt, very few position players made it from Cuba. In these two, we have the Cuban's best hitter (Morales), and their best fielder (Betancourt). Their translation to Major League Baseball will go far in dictating how big of a market there exists for Cuban hitters in the future. Test cases.
Skillset/Future: Morales quickly went through the Cal League, showing the Angels his competition in Cuba exceeded class-A ball. However, upon hitting AA, Kendry had a few struggles. They were quickly overcome, however, by a huge finish to his season that extended into the Arizona Fall League. We know now that Morales has plus power, possibly to the tune of thirty home runs per year. He also makes good contact skills, only lacking in the discipline category offensively. If the Angels can get him to start walking, his lack of athleticism will not be a problem. If not, however, then he will have to overcome low OBPs from the DH spot...never an easy task.
53. Elijah Dukes - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: If maturity wasn't a key component of a baseball player, all the talk about Elijah Dukes would be how far he has come since being drafted. While he's always possessed all the tools, the 2002 hometown pick has had a long process of refining them over the years. In 2003, his pro career started in low-A, and Dukes was a mess. He didn't have a ton of power, and lacked any form of contact. His defense and baserunning were raw at best. His only plus was a good amount of discipline, and an age where his faults would be accepted. But maturity does count, so we only see Dukes as a bit of a disappointment. After run-ins with the law, Dukes' 2005 season was clouded with ejections, and even a suspension. His skills have come so far, but he has not.
Skillset/Future: As I mentioned, Dukes has all the tools, and now has most of them refined. His strikeout percentage has dropped at each level, reaching a low of 18.6% this year. His power peaked, as Dukes hit 10 more home runs than he had in any season prior. Elijah has always had good discipline, which has consistently made up for contact faults. He plays good enough defense to remain in center, and while his baserunning isn't great, it's not a reach to expect Preston Wilson SB numbers. But if I was to compare Dukes to any player, as I have before, it would be Milton Bradley. Like Bradley, it could be Dukes' non-baseball issues that do him in more than anything else. With Rocco Baldelli now signed to an extension, we already know that we can blame Dukes' forthcoming trade on that.
52. Jason Kubel - OF/DH - Minnesota Twins - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: It seems as if Alanis Morissette should be add a phrase to "Ironic" about Jason Kubel. A 12th round pick in 2000, Kubel was more ordinary than not in his first four seasons. To cap it off in 2003, he hit a very ordinary .298/.361/.400 in the Florida State League. A year later, Kubel was considered one of the minors' purest hitters, and the future right fielder of Minnesota. His 2004 season shocked the prospect world. And after climbing so high, Kubel entered the realm of freak accidents in the Arizona Fall League, tearing up every "CL" in the knee. He did not play in 2005.
Skillset/Future: It's very hard to evaluate Kubel as a prospect. This might be considered high for him, but I went over each hitter, and could not convince myself that I'd rather have any of the guys behind him before Kubel. At worst, his knee will relegate him to DH duty, where I truly believe he will hit. His contact skills were fantastic prior to the injury, and should return as he builds muscle memory. His plate discipline is above-average, and he'll hit for good (not great) power. But this guy could win a batting title one day, and for the Twins, that will be great whether it's in left, right, or off the bench.
51. Gio Gonzalez - SP - Philadelphia Phillies - 20 (A+)
Introduction: Pitching defined the 2004 first round more than anything else. Of the first 41 picks in the draft, twenty-eight of the players drafted threw off a mound. However, more than 2/3 of those players were college pitchers, and it seemed as if prep pitchers were falling a bit. This allowed the White Sox to draft Gio Gonzalez with the 38th overall pick. A hard-throwing southpaw from Miami, Chicago went the Houston way, and ignored the height written within the scouting report. Instead, they focused on the pitcher, who could turn out to be the draft's best prep pitcher. If so, it will be in a different organization, as the team traded Gonzalez to the Phillies in the Jim Thome deal this offseason. Gonzalez and Cole Hamels should be fighting (no, don't use your fists, Cole) for place on the organizational depth chart soon.
Skillset/Future: In one Baseball America Daily Dish, written towards the end of the minor league season, the BA crew had this to say about Gonzalez:
...the 19-year-old lefty sent Kinston down in order after the first inning as he showed off an explosive 93 mph fastball, hammer curve and a late-diving changeup.
After succeeding in short-season ball at the age of 18, Gonzalez started to draw comparisons to Johan Santana. Part of this was on merit, and of course, part was due to Santana's rising profile. In reality, there is little in common between the two pitchers besides handedness, velocity and similar frames. Both short, Santana become a dominant pitcher as his change-up became one of the game's best. His fastball features as much movement as anyone in the game, and he has an above-average slider. Gonzalez has a solid fastball, but really pitches off his great curve. There seem to be mixed reports on his change-up, but at worst, it sounds to be an average pitch. With three solid pitches, I expect Gonzalez to finish his first season as a Phillie in AA. By this time next year, we could be talking about him as a rotation candidate.
Over next weekend I'm hoping to do a mailbag article, so if you guys have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. Those that I don't answer right away should get responded to in a separate article on Saturday.