The 2006 WTNY 10
With this article, my 2006 prospect list is complete. Thanks to you, the readers, as this has been the most fulfilling of the three prospect lists I have now created. You all are the driving force behind my motivation, and I again thank you for your continued interest.
To recap, here is a list of the articles in this series thus far:
Over the weekend, I will answer many of the questions that you guys have (and still will, hopefully) asked since the list began. Please check back for that, and for now, enjoy the list!
10. Billy Butler - OF - Kansas City Royals - 20 (AA/AAA)
Introduction: There is no question that many of you will quibble with the decision to name Billy Butler the Royals' top overall prospect over Alex Gordon. I understand such criticism, but what I can offer back is that I believe Butler's bat has more potential than any in the minor leagues, with maybe the exception of Brandon Wood. It's not often that a 19-year-old splits time between A+ and AA, and comes out the other side with 30 home runs. It's not often that he walks 49 times in the process, and hits .340. Forget the park factors involved in a place like High Desert, this just is not supposed to happen. I've compared his bat to Jim Thome in the past, also citing Carlos Lee. But it's quite possible I've undershot Butler, who has the potential to win a batting crown and home run title before it's all said and done.
Skillset/Future: There is no way to hide Butler's weakness: defense. He started the year at third base, but given Mark Teahen's presence at the Major League level, the draft of Alex Gordon, and his small potential at third, the Royals thought it best to begin to move him in 2005. So, Butler moved to the outfield, where the results have been less than spectacular. However, Billy has the arm for left field, and if reports are correct, then he did improve late in the season. Time will tell if Butler's future is in left, at first or at the DH spot. While he is quite raw in the field, there is very little raw about his bat. Butler was very consistent at drawing walks in high-A, and while the skill faded a bit as he was promoted, it should be a strength at the Major League level. Also, his 98 strikeouts weren't too high, considering his peers, and Butler's contact skills allow him to consistently hit the ball on the nose. So much so, in fact, that he showed fantastic power in his first full pro season. His bat has it all. Butler isn't as sure a bet as a few other players on this list, but very few can match that ceiling. Alex Gordon can't, I know that.
9. Andy Marte - 3B - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)
About one month ago, I looked at Andy Marte's "disappointing" season in detail. I put quotes around disappointing, because I am not one in that corner. There is no doubt that Marte didn't progress much this year, but he also wasn't horrible. People are too quick to judge him by his Major League stats (sample size!), Dominican Winter League stats (started very slow, came back strong), and a lack of a breakout season. However, my contention is that the only thing that was damaged this year was Andy's confidence. After struggling pretty bad in the Majors, he would go to struggle after being demoted. The first time, it resulted in a .196/.304/.340 stretch for nearly a month. The second time, it put considerable dead weight on his year-long DWL stats.
If the Red Sox are serious about keeping Marte, they must do everything in their power to re-build his confidence. With Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and J.T. Snow in the fold, the team will be able to leave Andy in AAA for much of the season. He should start to hit confidently in Pawtucket, and begin to break out in the ways that we have been projecting for years. I made the comparison in the article linked above, and I will again: don't be shocked if, in the end, Andy Marte ends up as Paul Konerko with enough agility to stick at third.
8. Matt Cain - SP - San Francisco Giants - 21 (MLB)
Introduction: For much of Matt Cain's minor league career, he has been overshadowed by Felix Hernandez. A year younger, a better fastball and curveball and better control always gave King Felix the edge. Cain has always found himself in that next echelon, despite an absolutely dominating minor league campaign. If the lack of attention ever got to Cain, you can bet it was in the second half. Called up to the Giants days before September 1, the former first-round pick was able to make seven starts with the Giants organization. His results were fantastic with a 2.33 ERA and just 24 hits in 46.1 innings.
Skillset/Future: However, a few of his other Major League peripherals were bothersome. First, it's hard not to cringe, when looking at his 0.51 G/F rate in the Majors, and he was only at 0.64 at AAA. However, for all those flyballs, he does not manage to give up very many home runs, a fact that will dictate the amount of future success he has. Cain also walked 19 batters in the Majors, while posting a career high 4.51 W/9 at AAA this year. It's likely that Cain's fastball added a bit of movement this season, and it will take him some time to get used to it. Matt pitches very, very heavily off his mid-90s fastball, and his ability to control that will determine if he becomes at ace in the Majors or not. His secondary offerings are solid, with a fantastic power breaking pitch and a change up that has come a long way in the last 2-3 years. Cain need not fight for a rotation spot during Spring Training, it should come guaranteed. If he stays in the SF pitcher's park, look for a legitimate NL Rookie of the Year contender.
7. Carlos Quentin - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: The Diamondbacks took a risk in drafting Quentin in the first round, knowing that he had (or would need?) Tommy John surgery. The team rehabbed Quentin, who obviously missed out the 2003 season after which he was drafted. In 2004, Quentin didn't miss a beat, hitting a combined (about) .335/.435/.550 between the California and Texas Leagues. However, I worried that much of his on-base percentage was founded in being hit by 43 pitches. Some quick stat analysis allowed me to see a correlation between league and HBP, meaning he couldn't sustain such levels in the Majors. His contact and power skills were great, he had right field potential (not center), but the patience wasn't there.
Skillset/Future: It is now. Quentin showed a fantastic skill in 2005, one in which he was able to actively learn and improve. After walking just 43 times in 2004, Quentin added nearly 30 walks to that total this past season. This kept his OBP high, as predictably, he was hit by only 29 pitches. I've now accepted he will be hit by a few in the Majors, but it's nice to have the ability to walk in nearly 13% of your plate appearances, too. At AAA, Quentin also continued to show his fantastic contact and power skills, while learning the nuances of right field. It's likely that if the Diamondbacks are out of things early, then they will start trading veterans (Shawn Green?) to clear spots for players like Quentin.
6. Stephen Drew - SS - Arizona Diamondbacks - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: Stephen Drew might not need a spot cleared for him. According to some reports, Drew has the upper handle on the Arizona shortstop job out of Spring Training. My expectation is that Craig Counsell wins the job, and Drew adjusts to the minors a little more before being rushed. This is the right way to handle someone who just 12 months ago was likely not to sign, and 7 months ago was playing in the Independent League. Predictably, Drew dominated the league, and right before the deadline, signed with the Diamondbacks. Sent to the Cal League, he continued his great hitting and became one of the league's most dangerous threats. However, things stalled in AA when Drew was met with some bad BABIP luck (.241) and some, finally, stiff competition.
Skillset/Future: So much for being rusty. After not playing competitive baseball in nearly a whole calendar year, Drew managed to jump right back into the thick of things. His patience is, like his brother, fantastic, and Drew has pretty fantastic power for a middle infielder. I don't think he will hit for 30 HR in a season, but about 20-25 with 30+ doubles would do Arizona quite well. At short, there are no longer expectations that Drew will have to move, and there should be little pressure from those around him in the system. Stephen's biggest pro problems have been contact issues, which were far more prevalent in AA than the Cal League. His potential is that of a .300 hitter, however, so it should work itself out. Look for Drew to be on more than one All-Star team before it's all said and done.
Introduction: It's no secret that Brian Sabean does not have the foresight of some General Managers. While one of the best in the Majors at his job, Sabean makes short-sighted decisions that include handing away draft picks and trading a lot of pitching prospects. In the past, Sabean has given away a large number of pitching prospects in the White flag deal, a Sidney Ponson trade, and most famously, an A.J. Pierzynski trade. Joe Nathan quickly became the Minnesota closer and made the deal famous, however, it was a hard-throwing southpaw with arm problems that was Terry Ryan's best haul. Liriano is now another data point in proving that it takes two years to heal from arm surgery, as he was back to full strength this season. How full? How about this, in fifteen starts in 2006, Liriano struck out eight or more batters. He also reached the double-digit mark it ground outs in four of his starts. Liriano, after dealing with a high .311 BABIP in the Eastern League, sunk to .240 at AAA. Given those extremes, his real performance is probably somewhere in the middle.
Skillset/Future: After the Futures Game, I filed this report on Francisco:
True to form, Liriano threw just one pitch under 85 mph (and 84 at that), and two fastballs under 96. Also validating his scouting report, half of Liriano's pitches were balls. This guy should be in Minnesota's bullpen at the end of the season, as very few southpaws even in the Majors can throw 89 mph sliders
Everything that Liriano throws, he pitches hard. His fastball was from 94-98, with good life and solid control. His slider is the best left-handed pitch in the game, an 86-89 weapon that dives in the zone and creates most of his strikeouts. And finally, Liriano mixes in an 84-85 mph change up that is just enough velocity off his fastball to be effective. Francisco has the complete package, and only struggles when he is letting balls out of the park. With more experience, this should begin to happen less, and soon in Minnesota, we will see the best 1-2 southpaw punch in quite some time.
4. Prince Fielder - 1B - Milwaukee Brewers - 22 (MLB)
Introduction: During the first two or three weeks of Spring Training, few players created more buzz than Prince Fielder. If memory serves me correctly, Fielder had all of his three Spring home runs occur in the first four games. Then, he cooled. Apparently, his slump extended from Spring Training until May 7. At that point in the regular season, Fielder had just two home runs, and was riding a 28-game homerless streak. His batting line was .245/.333/.330. Then, things began to turn around. In Prince's last 272 at-bats, he would hit 26 home runs with a line of .309/.387/.662. It was this finish that convinced Milwaukee that their best future included Prince Fielder at first and the bounties of a Lyle Overbay trade, rather than the other way around.
Skillset/Future: I have Fielder on this list because I think he will one day win a home run title. Maybe more than one. As a Cub fan, it kills me that for (likely) the next 15 years, I will have to deal with playing against the likes of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Soon, you will know those two as the most powerful hitters in the NL. However, Prince isn't an absolute complete hitter, as his contact skills are a bit lacking. He should strike out about 120 times a season, and if I'm guessing correctly, probably have one pretty bad slump (though not 30-game .633 OPS bad) per season. But Prince has great patience, and as a result, manages to keep his batting average pretty high. At first, he's far more athletic than his Dad ever dreamed of, and won't hurt Milwaukee there. For what it's worth, Fielder is my preseason pick for 2006 Rookie of the Year, even if he starts out a bit slow.
3. Brandon Wood - SS - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 21 (AA)
The breakout player of the 2005 season, the player of the year during the 2005 season. Add together all the baseball that Wood played in 2005 (A+, AAA, AFL, World Cup), and he hit 121 extra-base hits (58 HR!) in 689 at-bats. He hit a combined .316. And throughout all of it, Brandon was simply baseball's answer to the Energizer Bunny, with very few slumps lasting longer than a few days. A former-first round pick, Wood had an unimpressive full season debut in 2004 while playing in the Midwest League. In a year his power has blossomed, and Wood's potential has shot through the roof. And did we mention that he did this at age 20, up the middle?
If Brandon Wood is able to stay at short, which will depend on a number of factors, his value is unlimited. However, this ranking would be the same, most likely, if Wood moved to third tomorrow. Why? We haven't seen this much power potential in the minor leagues...ever. 58 home runs in less than 700 at-bats? C'mon. Forget his iffy contact skills, and the good hitter's park and league he played in during the 2005 season. He's for real. Brandon has legit 40 HR potential, and if he can continue to walk, should be a truly dangerous player. Here's to hoping the Angels leave him at shorstop, where his defense is about average (a little above, probably), so that Wood is the next great fantasy baseball player.
2. Jeremy Hermida - OF - Florida Marlins - 22 (MLB)
Introduction: To a greater degree, you've seen this before. Your patient, left-handed hitting Georgian outfield has a cup of coffee that won't soon be forgotten. In Hermida's case, it was from hitting four home runs in 41 at-bats, including even having a flair for the dramatic. In 1998, it was five home runs in 36 at-bats, not to mention 15 hits. Back then, J.D. Drew was the next Mickey Mantle, the next Hall of Famer. Since then, Drew has had a career mixed with stardom, inconsistency and injury. Hermida's hoping to go 1-for-3.
Skillset/Future: Jeremy doesn't quite have the tools that Drew had after winning the Golden Spikes at FSU, but he certainly has the potential to exceed the career J.D. has had. At 6-4, 200 pounds, Hermida has room to add pretty significant power. He just turned that corner in 2005, hitting 22 home runs after belting out just 16 previously. In addition to the budding power, Hermida adds the minor league's best (bar none) batting eye: 117 walks. He's a very smart player that plays good outfield defense and is fantastic on the bases, stealing 67 bases at an 87% clip in his minor league career. The one concern with Hermida, like with Drew, will be his contact skills. He'll strike out more than 100 times annually in the Majors, and as a result, should see his average sit around .280-.290. But given everything else he brings to the table, this won't be a problem. In 2006, look for Jeremy to surpass the .242/.340/.424 line that Drew put up as a rookie. He might just win the Rookie of the Year while he's at it.
1. Delmon Young - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 20 (MLB)
No surprise here. While I love Hermida and Wood, neither is particularly close to Young's level as a prospect, in my opinion. I mean, this is the guy that I chose first last year over Felix Hernandez. My support is unwavering. And Delmon has surely done nothing to make me look stupid.
It would have been difficult for Delmon's 2005 season to look more impressive. Tampa decided to see what the former top pick was made of, allowing him to skip the California Legaue and go straight to AA. He proved ready for it, succeeding in all facets of the game. He showed immense power in a pitcher's league, didn't strike out too much and walked at a reasonable level. He continued to steal bases and show perennial Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field.
By the end of the season, Delmon was a 19-year-old hitter playing in AAA. While it's difficult enough to ask this of pitchers, it's insane to do so from hitters, who have to come to the park ready day in and day out. As a result, Young struggled in AAA, drawing only 4 walks in about 235 plate appearances. Yes, that number still makes my jaw drop, as well. But plate discipline has never been a significant problem for Young, and when he returns to the level in 2006, expect a lot more walks.
A quick run-down of the six tools: Contact? Check, lifetime .317 hitter that struck out in just 17.7% of his at-bats, and just 14.4% after being promoted. Power? Oh, c'mon, check. Has more than 50 home runs in the minors before turning 20, and has the potential to hit for 30 or 40 annually in the Majors. Discipline? Well, this is the question mark. It's been acceptable in the past, and then fell apart late in the year. No check yet, but I bet it's coming. Baserunning? Check, over 75% for his career, and was 25/33 in a half-season at AA. Arm? Check from everyone I've ever talked to. Strong and accurate, a weapon. Range? Not the best in the minors, but hardly a problem, check.
Number one prospect, two years running? Check.
Note: This list was created before Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey signed contracts. I will deal with both players in my weekend mailbag, so please check back then.
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.