WTNYJanuary 14, 2006
2006 WTNY 75: Mailbag
By Bryan Smith

Before starting today's mailbag, I thought we would recap, and go through the list that I counted down this week. Below are my top 75 prospects for 2006, in order. The players that are linked are the last players talked about in each article, if you'd like to back through.

1. Delmon Young - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2. Jeremy Hermida - OF - Florida Marlins
3. Brandon Wood - SS - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4. Prince Fielder - 1B - Milwaukee Brewers
5. Francisco Liriano - LHP - Minnesota Twins
6. Stephen Drew - SS - Arizona Diamondbacks
7. Carlos Quentin - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks
8. Matt Cain - RHP - San Francisco Giants
9. Andy Marte - 3B - Boston Red Sox
10. Billy Butler - OF - Kansas City Royals
11. Chad Billingsley - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers
12. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B - Washington Nationals
13. Justin Verlander - RHP - Detroit Tigers
14. Jon Lester - LHP - Boston Red Sox
15. Alex Gordon - 3B - Kansas City Royals
16. Conor Jackson - 1B - Arizona Diamondbacks
17. Lastings Milledge - OF - New York Mets
18. Ian Stewart - 3B - Colorado Rockies
19. Felix Pie - OF - Chicago Cubs
20. Scott Olsen - LHP - Florida Marlins
21. Joel Guzman - SS/3B - Los Angeles Dodgers
22. Jon Papelbon - RHP - Boston Red Sox
23. Joel Zumaya - RHP - Detroit Tigers
24. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - C - Atlanta Braves
25. Andy LaRoche - 3B - Los Angeles Dodgers
26. Daric Barton - 1B - Oakland Athletics
27. John Danks - LHP - Texas Rangers
28. Yusmeiro Petit - RHP - Florida Marlins
29. Chris Young - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks
30. Nick Markakis - OF - Baltimore Orioles
31. Anthony Reyes - RHP - St. Louis Cardinals
32. Anibal Sanchez - RHP - Florida Marlins
33. Brian Anderson - OF - Chicago White Sox
34. Thomas Diamond - RHP - Texas Rangers
35. Howie Kendrick - 2B - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
36. Hanley Ramirez - SS - Florida Marlins
37. Russ Martin - C - Los Angeles Dodgers
38. Jeremy Sowers - LHP - Cleveland Indians
39. Adam Miller - RHP - Cleveland Indians
40. Homer Bailey - RHP - Cincinnati Reds
41. Adam Loewen - LHP - Baltimore Orioles
42. Dustin Pedroia - 2B/SS - Boston Red Sox
43. Jeff Clement - C - Seattle Mariners
44. Neil Walker - C - Pittsburgh Pirates
45. Adam Jones - OF - Seattle Mariners
46. Phil Hughes - RHP - New York Yankees
47. Edison Volquez - RHP - Texas Rangers
48. Hayden Penn - RHP - Baltimore Orioles
49. Cole Hamels - LHP - Philadelphia Phillies
50. Craig Hansen - RHP - Boston Red Sox
51. Gio Gonzalez - LHP - Philadelphia Phillies
52. Jason Kubel - OF/DH - Minnesota Twins
53. Elijah Dukes - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
54. Kendry Morales - 1B/OF - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
55. Troy Patton - LHP - Houston Astros
56. Garrett Mock - RHP - Arizona Diamondbacks
57. Eric Duncan - 1B - New York Yankees
58. Javi Herrera - OF - Oakland Athletics
59. Jeff Mathis - C - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
60. Scott Elbert - LHP - Los Angeles Dodgers
61. Adam Lind - OF - Toronto Blue Jays
62. Ian Kinsler - 2B - Texas Rangers
63. Jeff Niemann - SP - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
64. Jonathan Broxton - RHP - Los Angeles Dodgers
65. Dustin McGowan - RHP - Toronto Blue Jays
66. Carlos Gonzales - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks
67. Asdrubal Cabrera - IF - Seattle Mariners
68. Gaby Hernandez - RHP - Florida Marlins
69. Jason Hirsh - RHP - Houston Astros
70. Chuck James - LHP - Atlanta Braves
71. Eddy Martinez-Esteve - OF/DH - San Francisco Giants
72. Chuck Tiffany - LHP - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
73. Fernando Nieve - SP - Houston Astros
74. Jered Weaver - SP - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
75. Andre Ethier - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers

HM. Elvis Andrus - SS - Atlanta Braves
HM. Erick Aybar - 2B/SS - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
HM. Wes Bankston - 1B - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
HM. Josh Barfield - 2B - San Diego Padres
HM. Ryan Braun - 3B - Milwaukee Brewers
HM. Reid Brignac - SS - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
HM. Eric Campbell - 3B - Atlanta Braves
HM. Cesar Carillo - RHP - San Diego Padres
HM. Christian Garcia - RHP - New York Yankees
HM. Justin Huber - 1B - Kansas City Royals
HM. Matt Kemp - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers
HM. George Kottaras - C - San Diego Padres
HM. Cameron Maybin - OF - Detroit Tigers
HM. Andrew McCutchen - OF - Pittsburgh Pirates
HM. Miguel Montero - C - Arizona Diamondbacks
HM. Matt Moses - 3B - Minnesota Twins
HM. Dustin Nippert - RHP - Arizona Diamondbacks
HM. Hunter Pence - OF - Houston Astros
HM. Mark Rogers - RHP - Milwaukee Brewers
HM. Ricky Romero - LHP - Toronto Blue Jays
HM. Marcus Sanders - 2B - San Francisco Giants
HM. Ryan Shealy - 1B - Colorado Rockies
HM. Troy Tulowitzki - SS - Colorado Rockies
HM. Merkin Valdez - RHP - San Francisco Giants
HM. Chris Volstad - RHP - Florida Marlins

That's a lot to take in, I know. So, I thought it might be fun to look at the distribution per team. Please note that this is hardly an organizational ranking, as some teams who offered just one prospect to this top 100 might have a better system than one that offered three. But anyway, here is a look at the number of prospects that each team brought to the table. For those that had the same number (those in the 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 categories), I listed the team with the higher number of prospects first. A look:

Team # Team #
D-Backs 8 Brewers 3
Dodgers 8 Rockies 3
Marlins 7 Yankees 3
Angels 6 Blue Jays 3
D-Rays 6 Padres 3
Red Sox 5 Indians 2
Rangers 4 A's 2
Giants 4 Phillies 2
Braves 4 Pirates 2
Astros 4 Nats 1
Royals 3 Mets 1
Tigers 3 Cubs 1
Orioles 3 Cards 1
Seattle 3 Chi Sox 1
Twins 3 Reds 1

One striking fact is how the rich got richer since last season ended, which tells a lot about how they value prospects. Of the nine players on the list that traded hands in the last three months, eight of them were acquired by one of the top six teams on this list. Four of them alone were Marlin acquisitions, as the team would have just had three (Hermida, Olsen, Volstad) prospects before.

[Editor's Note: Since this article was written, the Dodgers traded Chuck Tiffany (with Edwin Jackson) to the Devil Rays for Danys Baez and Lance Carter. By shoring up their bullpen, they no longer have the top spot in the table. Everything in this piece is changed to reflect the trade.]

Alright, without further ado, here's a look at the mailbag:

What do you think was the biggest weakness in your list?
--- Bryan Smith

In the name of tradition, I wanted to start the WTNY mailbag with a question of my own. I like to be honest with you guys, and oftentimes, I realize mistakes when it is too late. Oftentimes, one of my readers calls me on it, and I kick myself for not having thought about it in more detail sooner. Specific rankings are always dancing around in my heads, but I thought there were two substantial problems with the list that I wish I could fix in hindsight:

1. Ranking the draftees -- This was my first time doing it, and as a result, I was probably way too conservative. Twelve 2005 draftees made the list, but only five were in the top 75. While I think I was correct in my rankings of those within the top 75 (maybe Gordon over Zimmerman), three more players (Braun, Tulowitzki, Maybin) were probably deserving of spots. I'm just learning how to treat these players, however, so expect an improvement in next year's list.

2. Hanley Ramirez -- One factor that separates a good prospect list from a bad one is the ability to trust yourself. I believe in the ranking of each player, and the perspective of outsiders has little influence. This was not true with the ranking of Ramirez. It was simply a case of me listening too much to his supporters, and not actually evaluating his candidacy like I did everyone else. As a result, he's vastly overrated, probably to the tune of about 20 spots. So please, if you show your friends this list, try to tone down my ranking of Hanley.

There are other, smaller issues, but I wanted to get these out of the way first.

If Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey had signed before your list was compiled, where would they rank? What are your thoughts on each?
--- A half-dozen readers

Upton was the number one pick in the draft, in something of a consensus, so I have him ranked as that. Most scouts, writers and coaches have been awed by his skills, most of which are said to be better than his brother. I can't quantitatively speak of any of Upton's strengths, though we do now that he grades exceptionally in speed, arm strength and contact skills. His power is said to be raw, but with a lot of potential, and I haven't heard much regarding his discipline.

Justin's one flaw is that he enters the minors with no real position. His struggles at shortstop have been described in numerous ways, even by attributing it to Steve Blass disease, and I'm not sure Arizona would be smart in having him play there. There has been talk of third base, second base and centerfield. To me, the last one is by far the best option. It's the least taxing position to learn, and given his arm strength and speed, the one he profiles best at.

If I was ranking Upton today, I would give him the number four slot in my top ten. Brandon Wood still gets the nod, but Justin certainly ranks ahead of Fielder.

As for Pelfrey, he's easier to speak about, as with him we have the numbers in front of us. Before the draft, I thought Pelfrey was its top talent, narrowly ahead of Luke Hochevar and Craig Hansen. His career at Wichita State had been fantastic, with 33 career wins, and an ERA that dropped in each season, culminating in a 1.93 ERA in his junior season. As we learned in Pelfrey's interview with Matthew Namee way back when, Mike throws three pitches, and all of them are pretty advanced.

His fastball was up to hitting the mid 90s consistently in his junior season, and with it he brings great control. His strikeouts usually come via a power curve that is fantastic, and he also throws a change up. Mike had very few problems his junior season, and I expect his stuff to translate well at the pro level. Right now, his prospect status would be between #45 and 50, right ahead of Hansen.

Aaron Hill wasn't expected to make the majors until this year - if he hadn't, about where would you see him on this list?
--- Daniel

Don't know how much of Yuniesky Betancourt (24 MLB) you've seen, but do you think he should just be a placeholder for Cabrera?
--- Trev

I put these two questions together because they both deal with sophomores. I'll have a whole article on the game's top sophomores as we inch closer to the season (as I did last year), but since you're asking, I might as well answer ahead of time.

At the beginning of the season, the Blue Jays had thought third base was one of their deepest positions. They were fresh off signing Corey Koskie, and had former ROY Eric Hinske waiting in the wings should Koskie re-injure himself. He did, of course, and when Hinske wasn't there, the Blue Jays were left to turn to top prospect Aaron Hill. And considering the circumstances, Hill performed quite well, hitting .415 in his first month, and keeping it above .300 until August 15.

With Orlando Hudson traded this winter, the Jays will be moving Hill from third to second, his third position in two seasons. Aaron won't be great at second I don't think -- surely a regression from Hudson -- but his bat will carry him. He hit 31 extra base hits in 361 at-bats, a very good ratio for a rookie. In addition, Hill showed fantastic contact skills (just 41 K), pretty good patience (34 walks), and showed a good read on left-handed pitching. His season numbers fell apart with his endurance, both of which should be rectified in 2006.

I can say without doubt that Hill will make the top 20 sophomores list. Betancourt, I imagine, will be right on the bubble.

From what I've seen, and even more so from what I've heard, Betancourt might be the best defensive shortstop in the league, right now. I saw a bit of it in the Futures Game, when Yuniesky's range took him past the second base bag from the shortstop position to make a play. He moves to hit left and right exceptionally, and has a rocket of an arm. In a just world, which we don't have, he'll win a Gold Glove next year.

But the Mariners desire to bring up Betancourt's defense to the Major League level cost his bat some serious developmental time. Before being brought up to the Majors, Yuniesky had split time between AA and AAA, and hit about .283/.310/.425. He had walked just 17 times in those 410 at-bats, showing now patience. His only plus was striking out just 32 times, showing potential as a future member of OOPs.

Yuniesky will have an empty batting average as a pro. His defense will make up for it. Asdrubal might as well move to second full-time in 2006.

How can we not comment on Marte's "sample" numbers in the Majors? On a team that played 1,000 rookies, they wouldn't let Marte start when Chipper was hurt the second time over Wilson Betemit! In the same "sample" number of ABs, players like McCann, Francouer, and Cano were much better. We must question a prospect when a franchise like the Braves feels confident enough to trade him away for the likes of an Edgar Renteria.
--- Kevin

...how can you justify putting Fielder 5 spots ahead of Marte when they had similar numbers last year (when you consider league and park effects), their similar age, (but most importantly) position difference. Marte is described as a future very good glove at 3B, whereas Fielder is poor at 1B. I'd put Marte ahead of Fielder at this point.
--- John

Again, I enjoy putting questions together. Here, I wanted to put an anti-Marte comment with a pro-Marte one. I think it makes a nice contrast.

Answering Kevin's point first, I mentioned it was a sample size because his numbers really do have no statistical significance. Everyone of the players you mentioned performed better, true, but they all had more time to prove their worth. Andy was also on a start one day, off the next schedule, one in which it's hard to get going. But there is a comment to be made for his cup of coffee, as I am worried that Bobby Cox gave up on him so fast. If managers were candid, I'd love to know what Bobby saw that we aren't. There had to be something.

John, you make a good point. But Fielder profiles to hit for more consistent power than Marte, and also has the potential to win a home run crown. As I said in my comment, not only is the ceiling there, but I truly believe it will happen. Andy will draw ahead of Prince by playing 3B, but Fielder should make up the difference in career home runs. Oh, and Andy has much higher bust potential.

I know Brandon Wood will be in the top 10 and he should be, but at the beginning of the year Laroche was leading High A in homers and was having a heck of a first half, Wood was right behind him. The dodgers are known for moving up their prospects and Laroche was moved up to AA in a bigger park.

Having said that, do you take those types of things into account when you make your list and analyze prospects against one another? I mean wouldn't Laroche been the homerun leader if he wouldve stayed in single A all year & wouldn't he have been the MOST talked about player if he wouldve played all year there?
--- Erik

Erik, great question. If LaRoche had stayed at Vero Beach, there's a chance he would have hit 40-45 home runs, and a chance he would have been named my minor league player of the year. I don't think there's a chance, however, he would have become one of the top five prospects in baseball.

I disagreed with the decision to leave Brandon Wood at one level for the whole season, but we also have to remember he was just 20 years old. Staying at that level surely provides a confidence booster, as now Wood is known as the 100 XBH man. LaRoche is 21, was more advanced, and better off being challenged. Also, remember than in high-A, Andy wasn't walking, so we would also be talking about a third baseman with 40 walks.

LaRoche's AA season actually gave me more confidence that he won't bust. He proved to have patience under pressure, and his power held up under a more difficult situation. His tools will not allow him to become a 40-HR talent in the pros, while Wood has better tools. Numbers can only go so far, as there is more involved in telling us what a player might profile to hit.

Brandon is a shortstop who hit 100 extra-base hits at the age of 20. His power could be among the best at the SS position in the Majors. LaRoche had a very good minor league season, and will probably max out at being a 30-35 HR guy in the pros, par for the course at his position. There difference in ranking is right there.

I am wondering where you see jeff Salazar of Rockies? He's like Barton -- early had great k/bb ratio -- but has not progressed like Barton. What is his offensive upside? Is he a major league starter? allstar? when?
--- Shoedog

It's too early to say that the sun is setting for Jeff Salazar, but it's certainly the afternoon. It now seems like every season the Rockies too aggressively promote the former Cowboy, and as a result, he struggles in each second half. This year it was even worse, as when Colorado pushed Salazar out of the Texas League, he wasn't even hitting well. The team would have been far better off in leaving him at the level for the whole season so they could see what they had in the former eighth round pick.

What do they have? How about David DeJesus divided by ten. A left-handed hitter, Salazar's best strength is his patience with more than 70 walks in each of the last three years. His contact skills fell apart at the higher levels this year, and at a normal stadium, Salazar probably couldn't hit past .280 or .290. Who knows at Coors. What I do know is that his CF defense would never be a strength there, probably just a bit below average. In the end, Jeff is a pretty poor prospect who gained no consideration for this list. He might, one day, draw some consideration for a bench spot.

Do you think Ian Kinsler should play SS and Young should move back to 2B? Most metrics (UZR) have Young as one of the worst defensive SS in the game. Or is Kinsler just as bad?
--- Trev

Trev, statistically, you probably are right that it would be the best solution. Young has pretty much no range at shortstop, and I've been told that Kinsler isn't bad there. The Rangers had originally drafted him for his defense, so he could probably be pretty average there. Young at second isn't so bad, so they probably save a few runs.

But, realistically, I'm not sure it's worth the hassle. We're talking about moving two players who have already been moved once. In the same winter, in the span of a couple months. Sure, they both have experience at the past position, but the best option is probably to let them try and improve at their current position. Playing for ten and fifteen runs might look good on paper, but in the real world, it's not always the best.

What causes Patton to fall from 46 to 55? I figured with much of the same stats after a promotion to FSL you'd probably rank him in the 25-40 range (which is where I would rank him).
--- ultxmxpx

I'm not sure Patton fell in my mind at all. Another thing I have to work on in the next year is creating more continuity between my midseason and end-of-year prospect lists. But Patton has stayed about the same since midseason. Remember that right now, there are four 2005 draftees that were added to the list ahead of them. Here's the list of players that were behind Patton at midseason, and have since moved in front of him: Anibal Sanchez, Nick Markakis, Adam Miller, Anthony Reyes, Chris Young, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Cole Hamels. All of these players but Hamels had second halves that reassured us of their good prospect status, and made it so their 2005 was not seen as a fluke in our mind. Patton was passed by a few people, but he hasn't gotten any worse as a prospect.

Is it fair to say that Russ Martin's comp is Scott Hatteberg back when he was behind the dish for the Red Sox?
--- Rob McMillan

Rob, I think that if we compared Martin to Hatteberg, we would be selling him short. Don't let Moneyball fool you, Scott wasn't a great player. His career-high for home runs in a season was 15, and his OBP eclipsed .370 just twice. Not to mention, Hatteberg was piss-poor behind the dish, where the reports of Martin state that he is a plus back there. Russ' contact skills are a bit better than Hatteberg's, while his patience is much the same. His power potential is better, though not by too much, and he also is a plus behind the plate. A very rich man's Hatteberg, maybe.

He probably doesn't belong on this list because of his age, but I'm wondering what you think of Josh Willingham. Sounds like he'll have the opportunity this year to make a splash. Olivo's bat's not likely to crowd him out.
--- Mike

Willingham was very close to making this list, and with more time in the PCL, he just might have. It's hard for me to speak of Josh's offensive ceiling, because we don't have a lot of data to base a prediction from. What we do now, however, if that Willingham has quite a bit of power potential and fantastic patience. His contact skills aren't great, and at best, he profiles to be a .280 hitter in the Majors. What will dictate what his career becomes, however, is whether Josh can stick behind the plate. I'm not sure he can, and I still believe he could end up a solid left fielder. The decision needs to be made soon. Splitting time between catching and left field -- with Olivo taking the rest -- might be the best option.

Speaking of Rangers pitching prospects, what ever happened to John Hudgins? I assume you're no longer "borderline obsessed" with him.
--- Trev

No, Trev, sadly those days are gone. I'm no longer of the belief that Hudgins would fit perfectly in the back of a Major League rotation. But, I'm still clinging to the possibility that he *might*. It was a rough year for John, one in which he became far too hittable when reaching the AAA level. His control worsened, he struck out less people. The whole season was downhill. But I'm not going to close the book on the guy. At best, he's a durable right arm with good pitchability and three average pitches. The Rangers should teach him to throw a sinker more, like they have with a few success stories, and see what comes of it. I'd still give the guy a C+ if I was grading him, so I guess obsessions die slowly.

...was wondering whether you think Quentin's propensity to get hit by pitches makes him an injury risk at the MLB level--inquiring fantasy owners want to know!
--- Marty

Marty, good question. My guess is that he makes himself a bit more susceptible to freak injuries as a result of it. However, I decided to bring it up to Will Carroll, BP's injury guru, and he sent in this response:

Well, there's certainly some risk, but like Biggio, it's a skill. If he hasn't been hurt so far, he's demonstrated that he can take it and while any one HBP could be the one to do damage, I'd actually say he's less risky. Practice makes perfect.

If your league uses OBP, then Quentin's 'skill' certainly outweighs any freak injury chance. If it doesn't, then I don't know what to tell you. It's probably something I would ignore.

That's all for today. I hope you all have enjoyed the prospect list this past week, as I definitely enjoyed writing it. Thanks are definitely in order to both Rich Lederer, Joe, Jay-Dell Mah, Kevin Goldstein and, of course, all the readers.


Once again, the Cards farm system gets NO respect. Funny how they always seem to bring up players (Pujols, Molina, Reyes etc.) who are quality major leaguers. You "experts" never give that system ANY credit.

Its interesting you say the rich got richer, and this may be true. However the ultimate goal is to win at the big league level, so the White Sox(world champs, i still am in shock) have only one on the prospect list, but a lot of thier former farm hands are up and down your rankings: Gio Gonzales, Chris Young... ok thats about it, but they made the big league club better by trading these guys to try for the repeat. In contrast, the Cubs tried to hang on to all thier prospects and therefore didnt improve very much. They did trade thier most valuable pitching prospect (Nolasco- not on your list with 172 Ks last year?) but by hanging on to guys like Pie and the speedster Chris Walker, they let the trade market mostly pass them by.
Anyway, I just found your website last week and think its great, even if you are a cub fan. This will be an invaluable resource for my keeper league to give me another perspective besides BA. Hopefully none of the other 15 owners know about it. (16 team H2H league, 24 man roster, 12 keepers, 8 man minors roster, 4 keepers there)

What are your thoughts on Adam Harben (Twins)? Was he close to making this list? Thanks

Just wanted to make a minor correction, just because when i was working in the minors our assistant general manager always corrected me. You mentioned the Adam Laroche " will probably max out at being a 30-35 HR guy in the pros" he is already in the "pros".

Bryan, thanks again for your analysis and the thoughtful comments. Your writing really demonstrates respect for your readership. Excellent work and much appreciated.

Steve, the discussion you referenced was about Andy LaRoche (LAD), not Adam (ATL). Hence your confusion..

no, i think he's saying "pros" vs. "majors".

Ok, pet peeve. Can we just cut out any mention of "disrespect" or "lack of respect"? It's bad enough athletes beat the us-against-the-world drum constantly. To read it on a posting about prospects is ridiculous. Yes, you are right, there is a massive conspiracy against the Cardinals. "Experts" do everything in their power to discredit the organization; you have revealed the secret.

Truthfully, in retrospect, examples of stunning brilliance and brazen stupidity can be found i the player personnel choices of every organization. Predicting future performance is not an exact science. Pujols was not expected to make the team of spring training when he burst upon the scene. The Cardinals, the very team that controlled his rights, did not anticipate this. It is completely ludicrous to expect some expert to look at a player in the low minors and predict his major league performance with complete accuracy. If Pujols surprised the Cardinals, why do you expect him not to surprise the experts?

Ok, pet peeve. Can we just cut out any mention of "disrespect" or "lack of respect"? It's bad enough athletes beat the us-against-the-world drum constantly. To read it on a posting about prospects is ridiculous. Yes, you are right, there is a massive conspiracy against the Cardinals. "Experts" do everything in their power to discredit the organization; you have revealed the secret.

Truthfully, in retrospect, examples of stunning brilliance and brazen stupidity can be found i the player personnel choices of every organization. Predicting future performance is not an exact science. Pujols was not expected to make the team of spring training when he burst upon the scene. The Cardinals, the very team that controlled his rights, did not anticipate this. It is completely ludicrous to expect some expert to look at a player in the low minors and predict his major league performance with complete accuracy. If Pujols surprised the Cardinals, why do you expect him not to surprise the experts?