2006 WTNY 75: Honorable Mention
With winter league baseball finally nearing its conclusion, the time has come for me to unveil my top 75 prospects. We will be doing so gradually in the next week, finishing with the top ten on Friday. We start today, however, with the 25 guys that came closest to making the list. I didn't want to be put in the position of ranking this group, so it goes from Andrus to Volstad.
Elvis Andrus - SS - Atlanta Braves - 17 (A-)
Introduction: Two years ago, in my first attempt at ranking prospects, I had the dilemma of ranking a 17-year-old that had tore through the Northwest League. I don't have a link to it, but I distinctly remember ranking Felix Hernandez in the number ninety spot. Two years later he would be second, and three years later he is being talked about as a potential Cy Young candidate. However, for every King Felix, there are plenty of failed teenage phenoms. For that reason, if going to 100, I would rank Elvis Andrus in about the ninetieth spot. Players with such youth are risky, without a doubt, but their upside is beyond what most American-born players can reach.
Skillset/Future: While most players would be raw playing in professional baseball shortly after being able to drive, Andrus is not. He walked 19 times in 187 plate appearances, which is pretty fantastic given his maturity level. Furthermore, his contact skills are also refined, as his .295 batting average and 16.9% strikeout rate would attest. Elvis has good speed -- though his baserunning needs work -- and defense that, with more work, could be fantastic. He's simply a very fluid player in the Edgar Renteria mold. What Andrus lacks right now is power. While you might assume this can develop into a strength with age, my guess is that the potential is merely average. The Braves will likely start him in full-season ball next year, and we should get a better look at the player the Padres wish they had in Matt Bush.
Erick Aybar - SS - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: Back in 2003, things were looking good for Mr. Aybar. As a teenager he had posted a .794 OPS in the Midwest League, also stealing 32 bases at a 78% clip. The Angels preferred him to Alberto Callaspo up the middle, and he was seen as the Angels shortstop of the future. Now, that is simply not the case. This is not for lack of trying, as Aybar's play has been consistent, but for his organization-mates. The Angels have signed Orlando Cabrera to a long-term deal, and behind Aybar is Brandon Wood, one of the game's top prospects. A move to second wouldn't do much good, as Howie Kendrick has him blocked there. It seems as if there are two outcomes for Aybar: a super-utility career in the Chone Figgins mold, or a trade.
Skillset/Future: At every stop in his pro career, Aybar has hit at least .300. His OPS has always been over .790. He has always struck out in less than 16% of his at-bats. However, Aybar's stock has been gradually slipping since its 2003 peak. Why? First, his baserunning has seemingly worsened, as Erick is just 100/159 the last two seasons. He also hasn't gained a hint of discipline, giving his on-base percentage a ceiling of about .375, and likely a home around .330-.350. It's likely that Aybar's SLG numbers will come down as well in the future, since the number is fairly triple-dependent. There is likely some team out there who will confuse Aybar for a leadoff hitter, but really, a Tony Womack-career is his destiny.
Wes Bankston - 1B - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: It's sure easy to fit in quietly when everyone around you is making noise. You might recognize Bankston's name from 2002, when the fourth rounder hit 18 home runs in 246 Appy League at-bats. However, it was then he started to blend in. In 2003, Bankston struggled in low-A on the same team as B.J. Upton. Repeating the level in 2004, this time he was protection for Delmon Young. This year, he again played on Young's team, which also featured Elijah Dukes. Fifth hitters rarely get recognized in minor league baseball, but it's hard to blame Bankston for being paired with top five picks.
Skillset/Future: Since lighting up the Appy League fresh out of a Texas high school, Bankston has moved to first base. Given the Devil Rays crowded outfield situation, and Bankston's limited range, this was the best move for everybody. The question now is whether Bankston's bat can survive at first. I believe it can. It's unlikely he'll be an All-Star, but I imagine that his power can be that of an average American League first baseman, with the potential to pass that. His Southern League power, an ISO of .190, is about what I foresee, in which Bankston is a doubles hitter with 20-30 HR potential. Wes has a good batting eye that regressed a bit in AA, but should always play as a strength. And contact hasn't been a significant problem since 2003, and should be average at the Major League level. Tampa should be searching for a one-year option at first this winter, since in 2007, it should be Bankston's turn to take the helm.
Josh Barfield - 2B - San Diego Padres - 23 (MLB)
Introduction: Those with a Major League pedigree often tend to get advantages that others don't, while also being forced to live in their father/brother's shadow. Josh Barfield doesn't really fit that stereotype, as he had to both earn his prospect status and the comparison to his father. A fourth-round pick in 2001, Barfield quietly played well in 2002 before exploding the next season in the California League. With 128 RBI's and 122 strikeouts, Josh was seen as Jesse, the 2B version. A down year in AA tempered expectations, but Josh played well upon returning to a good offensive environment.
Skillset/Future: Josh seems to do everything well but make contact. In each of his now four minor league seasons, Barfield has reached the triple digits in strikeouts. This creates the necessity for high BABIPs, which he has managed in three of four seasons, including a .363 clip in 2005. However, it's unlikely this will continue at the Major League level, and as a result, his batting average should dip considerably. Good thing that Barfield's plate discipline has gradually improved, and even with a .250 batting average, he should manage an OBP of about .320. Josh will always have more power than the average second baseman, so it's too bad he'll be playing in PETCO Park, which will turn plenty of home runs into doubles. Both his baserunning and defense, which we were both once skeptical of, are average skills. An offseason Mark Loretta trade paves the way for Barfield to start at second, where he is an underdog (but candidate) for NL ROY.
Ryan Braun - 3B/OF - Milwaukee Brewers - 22 (A+)
Introduction: This season, I have decided to add recent draftees to my prospect list. This is a first for me, and as a result, expect many of the rankings to be conservative. Because like Elvis Andrus, with many of these players, it's hard to know less than 500 at-bats into their pro career who they really are. We have a decent handle on college players like Braun, as with him, we have seen great offensive numbers at a big school like the University of Miami. After two good years at the U, Braun shot up draft charts and Miami record books with a .388/.471/.726 junior season. After much deliberation, the Brewers (with a very intelligent scouting department) settled on Braun with the fifth overall pick.
Skillset/Future: On draft day, I talked about how there were only three other Miami hitters with bigger numbers: Pat Burrell, Jason Michaels and Aubrey Huff. The latter is the best comparison you can make for Braun. Neither plays defense well, and if not now, it's likely that Braun will move from third to right field at some point. However, with bad defense is also a fantastic bat with all the strengths. While neither his discipline or contact rates were great in his debut, expect them both to improve in Braun's full-season debut. He also has power that rivals anyone in the minors, and should one day create quite a tandem with Prince Fielder. However, unlike a few of the other college draftees, it's presumptuous to believe that Braun will fly through the minors. While his season-ending stats were good in low-A, to do so, Braun overcame some significant struggles. While he should finish the year in AA, expect the Brewers to conservatively start Ryan in the FSL.
Reid Brignac - SS - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 20 (A+)
Introduction: Some of you will be surprised to see Brignac on this list. It's unlikely he'll make any other top 100s. However, if you really are shocked by this selection, read my latest BP article. In the piece, I selected Brignac as one of my eight key breakout prospects of 2006. After being drafted in the second round following a wonderful Louisiana high school career, Brignac played great in the short-season Appy League. Expectations were high in 2005, and as a result, he fell short. As they lessen in 2006, expect them to go the opposite way, and this time exceed them.
Skillset/Future: I like Brignac to break out for 2 reasons: a big late-season finish and his list of comparisons. The big finish, which came in the last quarter of Brignac's season, showed improved contact skills and increased power. If he can tone down the strikeouts, as well as improve his discipline, Reid should be a very good offensive shortstop. He doesn't have great speed, and as a result, great range, but it's unlikely he'll move from shortstop. Brignac's calling card is plenty of undeveloped power, and his 2005 performance is quite reminiscent of two 2004 MWL seasons: Brandon Wood and Adam Jones. It's tough to enter the Cal League being compared to Wood, and even I don't believe he has that potential. But Adam Jones is a pretty perfect offensive example for Brignac, which should push him into next year's top 75.
Eric Campbell - 3B - Atlanta Braves - 20 (A-)
Introduction: And the short-season performance of the year goes to...Eric Campbell. You might not have heard of Campbell before, because of the system in which he plays, but with Marte's exit, this guy is the top 3B in the system. A second-round pick in 2004, Campbell had a lackluster debut in the GCL, so the Braves decided to get conservative. Stuck in the Appy League this season, Campbell was its top hitter, slugging .634. One of the holy grails of minor league analysis is to discover exactly what short-season performances dictate, as examples like Mitch Einertson prove. But Atlanta -- who rarely drafts outside the south, Campbell is from Indiana -- loved his power on Draft Day 2004, so they weren't shocked by his 2005 output.
Skillset/Future: As I've alluded to, Campbell's biggest calling card is big-time power. In 2005, over half of his hits and 17.6% of Eric's at-bats went for extra bases. Both of those are pretty dazzling percentages. Besides power, Campbell is a pretty average player. His contact skills aren't great -- his strikeout rate is about 25% -- and as a result, he should be a 100 K-per-year player. Eric walked in just under 10% of his plate appearances, and with maturity, discipline could even become a strength. On the bases, Campbell had 15 steals. While 30/30 is likely out of the question, he should be good for about 10-15 annually at the Big League level. The Braves have a slew of pitcher's parks in their low levels, so expectations should be tempered for Campbell. But come 2009, this guy will likely be looking to become Chipper Jones' long-term replacement.
Cesar Carrillo - SP - San Diego Padres - 22 (AA)
Introduction: There was a time in which it looked as if Carrillo would become 2005's version of Aaron Heilman. His perfect record at the University of Miami extended for a long time, before Carrillo seemingly collapsed late in the season. While his results took a nosedive, the Padres still targeted Carrillo as one of the draft's safest bets: a player that would finally provide a quick and easy return on their investment. Miami has been a hitter's haven for years, and Carrillo quietly became one of the leaders this season. The Padres have much faith in Carrillo who was drafted more as a "safe bet" than a "future ace."
Skillset/Future: Reports claim that Carrillo doesn't have the stuff of a future ace, but he isn't back of the rotation material, either. His control is erratic, depending on the nature of his fastball, which sits in the low-to-mid 90s. Cesar's secondary stuff, two pitches, should both play as above-average at the Major League level. His groundball nature intrigues me, and the Padres should have a battle as whether their two complete pitching prospects -- Carrillo and Tim Stauffer -- have the better Major League career. This should be determined in 2007, in which Carrillo should be ready for an extended Major League stay.
Christian Garcia - SP - New York Yankees - 20 (A+)
Introduction: Like Brignac, this is another one of my breakout prospects. Some of you may be surprised that I rank Garcia third in the Yankee system, ahead of Tyler Clippard, C.J. Henry, Brent Cox and Jose Tabata. However, as I expressed in the BP article, I believe that Garcia has as much potential as any of them, and that he's also very likely to achieve that. Certainly there are maturity obstacles to overcome before a player can breakout, but I see it happening with Garcia.
Skillset/Future: As Rich has expressed on this site in the past, pitchers with high strikeout and groundball rates succeed. Line drives and flyballs simply fall in for hits too much, so I often tend to favor power-sink pitchers. Garcia is just that. His velocity has been throughout the 90s in the minors, but should settle in the 94-96 region before too long. I've also heard fantastic reports about his curveball, which rivals Clippard's for the system's best. These two pitches cause both strikeouts and ground balls, and for success, he just needs to tighten that change. Dayn Perry has proven that low HR rates are the best future predicting stat, and Garcia's 0.3 HR/9 rate is one of the minors' best. With some improvements in control and consistency, I expect Christian to enter the top 50 in the next year.
Justin Huber - C/1B - Kansas City Royals - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: Worries about whether Huber can catch are now long gone. The Royals intelligently ended that endeavor once they acquired the Australian slugger, instead letting him focus on his bat. That has always been Huber's calling card as a prospect, since the days in which he profiled to replace Mike Piazza in New York. However, the Mets then inexplicably traded Huber away in the Kris Benson deal.
Skillset/Future: Huber's bat has always profiled to be powerful, and this year, it finally reached that level. His 23 home runs this year were a career-high, as was his .343 batting average at AA. Huber swings and misses a lot, and as a result, probably won't hit much higher than .280 at the Big League level. However, he walks quite often, and because of it, his OBP will be above-average. Still, it's unforeseen whether he will fully develop 25+ HR power, like Mike Sweeney, who he has been compared to since before being traded to the Royals.
Matt Kemp - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AA)
Introduction: With so many prospects in the system, we would understand if Dodger prospects got lost in the shuffle. However, despite their depth, few players made an impression on Dodger brass this season like Matt Kemp. While Andy LaRoche was dominating in Vero Beach, battling Brandon Wood for the minor league home run lead, Matt Kemp was quietly the VB Dodgers second-best hitter. Once LaRoche moved up to the Southern League, Kemp had the responsibility of hoisting the team on his shoulders. And the former sixth-round pick continued to impress, through all this, showing athleticism that is second to none in the system.
Skillset/Future: This is Kemp's most significant strength. His athleticism. At 6-4, Kemp has a frame built for power and a throwing arm, but also has speed that produced 23 steals and a lot of range in the outfield. He should settle in right field, where Kemp has Gold Glove potential if he properly refines his skills. He also has the power to hit at the position, though the power he showed in 2005 was likely enhanced by the Vero Beach environment. In the Majors, he profiles as a possible 25/25 player. To have All-Star potential, Kemp must learn to walk more, a trait that has just stayed still in two years.
George Kottaras - C - San Diego Padres - 23 (AA)
Introduction: It's no surprise that the sabermetric crowd loves Kottaras. A 20th round pick from Connors State College in 2003, Kottaras has been showing collegiate discipline since entering the Padre organization. His performance has been steady in each of his minor league stops, though his first (Idaho Falls in 2003) and last (AA Mobile this year) were a bit behind his longer stops. The Padres have not done much with the hole created by Ramon Hernandez this winter, showing the club has a little faith in Kottaras' abilities. How much faith will be decided in one season's time, in which San Diego should be expecting him to start batting against right-handed pitching.
Skillset/Future: As I alluded, Kottaras' is a very disciplined player. He walks about as much as anyone on this list, while also making a lot of good contact. Between those two, he profiles to have a solid OBP in the Majors. However, what I don't see developing is a lot of power in his bat. Kottaras has been a gap hitter for the past two years, unable to hit a lot of home runs in even the California League. The spacious outfield in PETCO Park could help or hurt this skill, but either way, he's not a guy that will boast a good Isolated Power. My main concern is whether Kottaras will be able to handle southpaws, as his pull-heavy approach could turn him into a platoon player. It could certainly be worse for Kottaras, who should be given every opportunity to succeed in an organization that respects his strengths.
Cameron Maybin - OF - Detroit Tigers
Introduction: On draft day, I truly believed Cameron Maybin was the third best player in the draft. There were six marquee talents in my mind: Upton, Gordon, Zimmerman, Maybin, Pelfrey and Hansen. The four college pitchers had years of success, established against some of the nation's best. Upton and Maybin, however, were simply word of mouth. And that seemed to be louder that it had been in recent years, for any tandem of high school draft eligibles. Upton had unlimited potential up the middle, and Maybin was drawing Griffey comparisons in center.
Skillset/Future: A prolonged draft negotiation left us unable to see how Cameron's talents will transfer to a wooden bat. The Tigers are probably best off playing the Braves/Campbell conservative role in 2006, starting Maybin in short-season ball. They won't, asking him to overextend himself in the Midwest League. After a slow start, expect Maybin to show bits and pieces of all six tools, including plate discipline. His speed and arm in center profile extremely well, and his bat led to a Baseball America Player of the Year trophy. Maybin is a special talent, and a stroke of luck that the Tigers should be thankful for.
Andrew McCutchen - OF - Pittsburgh Pirates - 19 (A-)
Introduction: As I commented in an article back in August, I have learned that the Pirates bring certain preferences into their draft room. The team found their resources would be best utilized if they drafted players who fit PNC Park. Those three types of players: left-handed college pitchers, left-handed sluggers and outfielders with lots of range (for left field). Since 2003, their picks have dictated this philosophy: Paul Maholm, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen. The latter, this year's pick, was considered the best athlete to come from Florida since Lastings Milledge. The combination of his speed and ceiling were unmatched in this draft, leading the Bucs to dream of him covering one of the biggest left fields in the Majors.
Skillset/Future: As I indicated, McCutchen's primary tool is his speed. This will help him become an outfielder capable of great CF defense (or LF), while also stealing a lot of bases. In his short time after signing with Pittsburgh, Andrew went 17/19 on the bases. The Bucs will soon learn that when you draft players from places like Florida, even when they are prep players, they often come refined. Both McCutchen's speed and his discipline are refined tools. At the plate, he managed to draw 37 walks (against 30 strikeouts!) in 210 at-bats. Not only does McCutchen make great contact, but his discipline also provides a future batting leadoff. His power will never be a great skill, but should develop enough for him to hit 10-15 homers and more than 30 doubles per year. Given his leadoff skills and outfield defense, this should be more than enough.
Miguel Montero - C - Arizona Diamondbacks - 22 (AA)
Introduction: Not as if the Diamondbacks needed any more help. Before the season, Arizona already had one of the best systems in the game. They had Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson at the top, with Stephen Drew nearly signed and waiting in the wings. They had a decent amount of promising pitching, and the upcoming #1 pick in the June draft. But suddenly, as the year started, Arizona had two more players that came from nowhere: Miguel Montero and Carlos Gonzales. While the latter had drawn warm reviews from scouts in the past, Montero had not. Instead, he had a history of weak hitting that included very little power. This year, however, Montero took off in the Cal League and found himself on the prospect radar.
Skillset/Future: There are plenty of Diamondback prospects who have drawn rave reviews in Lancaster, only to see them fall by the wayside at AA (Jon Zeringue, for one). Montero has a chance to be that type of player, with enough ceiling to possibly hit well in the Majors. He can defend at the Major League level, though it's unlikely he'll ever win a Gold Glove. Montero also has good contact skills, though they faded when he moved up to AA late in the season. I don't trust Montero's high-A power spike, and he has never walked much. I'm definitely more down on him than most, but given solid defense and good contact skills, he has back-up potential (which counts for something).
Matt Moses - 3B - Minnesota Twins - 21 (AA)
Introduction: It's just hard to get a good read on Matt Moses. A first-round pick in 2003, Moses signed relatively quickly and managed to high impress in the Gulf Coast League. The following season, however, back problems started and Moses hit horrendously (.223/.304/.366) in the Midwest League. Expectations were very low this year, as we all can understand that back problems tend to repeat themselves. However, Moses jumped out of the gate to become one of the FSL's best hitters, yielding a midseason promotion to the Eastern League. And as has always been the story, where there is an up, what followed was a down for Moses.
Skillset/Future: The question that surrounds Moses is whether his bat will hold up at the Major League level. It should, though it will never be far above average, and back problems have done nothing to help him on the defensive end (he'll get by, though). Moses walks enough, drawing 42 walks this year, and showing a better ratio before his promotion. However, his contact skills lag behind a bit, and while it will never be a huge problem, Moses should register 100 strikeouts per season. Due to those contact problems, it's unlikely Moses hits better than .280 for much of his Big League career. I should note his .306 average in the FSL was helped by a .363 BABIP. What remains then is a question of power. Moses actually showed more power once reaching the Eastern League, and while the stadium in New Britain helped, it did show his spike is real. Based on the evidence, Moses should hit about .270/.340/.440 in the Majors near his peak, which in Minnesota, is more than enough to play the hot corner on a daily basis.
Dustin Nippert - SP - Arizona Diamondbacks - 25 (AAA)
Introduction: This is the classic example of why using mid-to-late round choices on successful college pitchers is such a good philosophy. Nippert wasn't highly thought of coming out of West Virginia in 2002, but years later, the 6-7 right-hander is making scouting directors scratch their heads. Sometimes size does matter. Especially when teamed with Nippert's control, which was the reason for his success right of the gate. Such good numbers continued until he needed Tommy John surgery in July of 2004. Many worried it would impact the right-hander's career. Hardly. Nine months after going under the knife, Nippert was pitching, and pitching well. His season finished with performances in the Majors. Chalk up another one for TJ surgery, ladies and gents.
Skillset/Future: As Dustin has added velocity to a fastball that now touches 97, he has lost the control that was so good in college. But it's hardly a weakness now, as Nippert's BB/9 was back down to 3.22 this year. Also armed with a power curve, he has never found it hard to generate a lot of strikeouts, though his K/9 dipped to an all-new low this season. Part of the blame might be the Diamondbacks pressure to force Dustin into throwing his change-up more, which would (as Brandon McCarthy can attest) certainly help his prospect status. While Nippert does have the nice backdrop as a Major League reliever, it's hard not to worry about a 25-year-old pitcher with a K/9 below 7.50.
Hunter Pence - OF - Houston Astros - 23 (AA)
Introduction: Did anyone have a better quiet year in minor league baseball this season? It didn't seem as if there was a lot of talk about Pence, who was promoted out of the South Atlantic League after making mincemeat of the young pitchers for 80 games. He showed every skill at the level, playing CF, walking enough, not striking out too much, and showing fantastic power. It's hard to ignore Pence's age and 2B:HR ratio (should never be that low) when evaluating his Sally League performance, but it still shocks me that this guy didn't get more publicity. Six foot four center fielders with huge power don't get ignored often.
Skillset/Future: Even after moving to the Carolina League, Pence continued to show good power. However, I would expect (as he moves up the minor league ladder) more of Pence's home runs to drop as doubles, which is a phrase we don't say very often. Pence's future as a Major Leaguer will heavily depend on his ability to stay in center, which doesn't currently look promising. It won't take a lot of offensive aggression to turn Pence from a future centerfielder in Houston to a mere fourth outfielder.
Mark Rogers - SP - Milwaukee Brewers - 20 (A+)
Introduction: Agree with it or not, the Brewers drafted Mark Rogers fifth overall in 2004, one spot ahead of Homer Bailey. Rogers had become the de facto ace of New England after Nick Adenhart (number 101 in the rankings) went down with injury. Rogers had dominated his competition in Maine, and his fastball was up to 97. Concerns with Bailey's workload led to the Rogers selection, whose potential was seen as quite high. However, as is often the case with pitchers like this, raw doesn't quite do it all justice. It will likely be a long and gradual process before Rogers arm can throw a third pitch and handle a large workload.
Skillset/Future: Five times this year, Rogers was asked to pitch in relief. This happened mostly at the beginning of the year, and in each appearance, Rogers was dominating. This is, I believe, his future role. In such an instance, his fastball should reach the high 90s, and his breaking pitch will have extra tilt. No longer will there be a worry of a change up. However, this is probably two years from happening, in which Rogers will likely mix great success with big control problems. I still don't like the Rogers selection in 2004, but if you put this guy in the bullpen with Mike Maddux, the results could be Rolaids material.
Ricky Romero - SP - Toronto Blue Jays - 21 (A+)
Introduction: For all the talk about Craig Hansen, Mike Pelfrey and Luke Hochevar this year, do we realize the first pitcher drafted in 2005 was Ricky Romero? While this was most likely due to bonus demands and such, the Blue Jays did not reach with this selection. Romero spent three years at one of the NCAA's most prestigious college programs, pitching for one team that would win the College World Series. Then, in 2005, he hoisted the team on his shoulders as he took over for Jason Windsor in the Friday Night role. Romero continued to succeed, showing fantastic control, and good stuff. Add in that he's a southpaw willing to pitch a lot of innings, and the Blue Jays interest isn't so surprising.
Skillset/Future: How about we go straight from the source here? These are a pair of quotes from Rich Lederer's interview with Blue Jays scouting director Jon Lalonde:
He's not what you would necessarily consider a true power pitcher, but he's not a finesse pitcher either. He's able to change speeds and locate all of his pitches in the mould of a finesse pitcher, but then he's also able to run his fastball into the mid 90s with a plus curveball and a plus changeup.
We also believe his slider has a chance to be a real weapon for him. He's very aggressive and does a great job of pitching inside. But, in all honesty, as much as any physical attributes, it's his competitive nature, his will to win that really sets him apart in our minds. When Ricky does get into trouble on the mound, he shows the aptitude to make in-game adjustments and even pitch-to-pitch adjustments. That's not real common in a pitcher Ricky's age.
Expect Romero to fly up the prospect ladder in 2006, passing plenty of Toronto pitchers that would fall in the 101-150 part of this list on his way.
Marcus Sanders - 2B - San Francisco Giants - 20 (A+)
Introduction: We all know by now that Brian Sabean isn't one to value an early-round draft pick. Annually, it seems that the Giants give up a pick by unnecessarily signing a free agent before his team declines arbitration. However, if the Giants keep making picks like Sanders, we'll forget it. Sanders was a 17th round pick in 2003, but after a year in community college, the Giants signed him in the spring as a draft-and-follow. He finished his first season in the Arizona Summer League, in which Sanders showed plenty of leadoff capabilities. You can bet that more than once, the Giants had to pinch themselves when being reminded that he was a teenager picked in the 17th round.
Skillset/Future: Sanders' skillset seems very similar to that of Andrew McCutchen. The leadoff skills are all there. Sanders speed is nearly to the point of being called unparalleled, as he has an 87% success rate as a pro. Marcus has also walked 104 times in about 750 plate appearances, yielding two seasons with .400+ OBPs. What he doesn't have, however, is power. Sanders hit just 28 extra-base hits in 420 at-bats this year, and while that number might improve in the Cal League this year, his slugging should never be too far higher than .400 as a pro. It will take a lot of walks to offset that. Finally, Marcus split time between shortstop and second this season, but it is believed his future home is at second base. Look for Sanders to produce more of the same results this season.
Ryan Shealy - 1B - Colorado Rockies - 26 (AAA)
Introduction: Every year, the first base prospects seem to add a new, random face. We'll call him the flavor of the week. Oftentimes, this is an older player coming off a gargantuan season. No matter how sexy the White Sox made pitching, chicks will always dig the long ball. Mix Ryan Shealy and Coors Field, and you will see a lot of that.
Skillset/Future: Enter Todd Helton. Shealy's largest problem is that he plays first base, a position the Rockies do not expect to need help. The team is planning on trying Shealy in the outfield, but it is not an experiment that should yield good results. He's just not athletic enough to play the outfield at Coors. However, it might be best for the Rockies to sell Shealy at a high point, fresh off a monster season at Colorado Springs. After all, this is a guy who doesn't walk a ton, plays poor defense and makes inconsistent contact. But man, oh man, can he hit a baseball far.
Troy Tulowitzki - SS - Colorado Rockies - 21 (A+/AA)
I'm cheating here. On the day of the draft, my partner Rich (who has a history of attending LBSU games) wrote up a fantastic review of Tulo. I'm reprinting it here:
The comparisons to former 49er shortstop Bobby Crosby read like a cliche at this point but they are apt. Plus arm and plus power for a shortstop. Tulowitzki has all the tools. Big, strong (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) modern-day SS. For a RHB, runs a respectable 4.25-4.3 to first base. Has excellent range in the field. Intense player with great leadership skills. Led team in AVG (.349), OBP (.431), and SLG (.599) and finished his three-year career sixth on the career home run list despite missing 20 games this year with a broken hamate bone in his hand. Proved he can handle a wood bat by tying for the lead in HR with four last summer on Team USA. Aggressive hitter who may need to work on plate discipline.
That about says it all. Troy's potential is on par with about every player in the 2005 draft, as we heard rumors that some teams had him atop their draft board. His power should be prolific in Coors Field, which he could reach in time to make Clint Barmes trade bait. However, there are concerns with Tulo. As Rich said, his plate discipline needs work, and he doesn't make great contact. While his power and defense should be pluses up the middle, there are obstacles to overcome before I put him in my top 75.
Merkin Valdez - RP - San Francisco Giants - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: This is now the third season in which I'm ranking Merkin Valdez as a prospect. The first followed a season in which Valdez dominated the Sally League. I then ranked him 44th in baseball, and wrote:
Don't be surprised if Valdez is converted to a reliever down the road, he has a very light frame and an undeveloped off speed pitch.
He stayed at number 44 for a year, as in 2004 he pitched great in the Cal League before struggling at the other three stops in which the Giants gave him time. The Giants decided to try Valdez as a reliever, to which I wrote, "...since his repertoire only consists of two solid pitches, Brian Sabean could have been right moving El Mago to the closer position." Get the point?
Skillset/Future: A lot of people seem to be delaying the inevitable, but I just don't see a future for Valdez in the rotation. His third pitch has never really developed, and a few more mph on his fastball (which a full-time move could provide) would do wonders in setting up his breaking pitch. The Giants seemed to lose faith in Valdez this year, never moving him away from Connecticut. If he remains a starter next year my hopes are not high for him in Fresno, which should do wonders in convincing the Giants what we've known for awhile: this guy is a reliever.
Chris Volstad - SP - Florida Marlins - 19 (A-)
Introduction: Every draft has the same argument, it seems. On one side, there is a prep pitcher with insane high school statistics. In this case, it was a senior season with 16 hits in 63 innings with 132 strikeouts. However, prior to this player, oftentimes you didn't know baseball existed in his state. In this case, Utah. On the other hand, you have a pitcher with less gaudy statistics. However, this player has been on draft boards for years, as a result of being the best in his state. And his state is known for baseball, often either Florida, Texas or California. In this case, Chris Volstad was Florida's best pitcher. The big states often produce the best results. I have had, and continue to have, Volstad as the best prep pitcher from the 2005 draft.
Future/Skillset: Part of being the top talent is being the most polished. And Volstad is just that. First, he already has the height to be a Major League pitcher, standing 6-7 at just 18. As Volstad adds weight to the frame, expect his fastball (low-to-mid 90s) to add velocity. Not only does that pitch have potential, but scouts saw a lot in all four pitches that Volstad throws. His ceiling isn't super-high, as Volstad will be the type that doesn't allow walks and generates ground balls more than swings and misses. However, there is a lot of room for error with a pitcher who -- at 18 -- walked just 15 in 65 innings, allowing one home run. Of course, with pitchers, we know that kind of error could be caused.
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.