The 2007 WTNY Prospect List
There is no greater season for a prospect evaluator than the winter, as we finally bear down, combine all the evidence and take our stances. For the fourth winter in a row, I have compiled a list of the minor league's 75 best talents -- Major League Baseball's future stars. This winter, I was lucky enough to have SportsIllustrated.com invite me to post my list at their site. This was a fantastic opportunity at heightened exposure as well as the ability to have my wordiness edited by Jake Luft. Over the last week I have written six installments, the last of which is also produced below. The other five pieces at SI:
With the allowance of Luft and SI.com, I have opted to simultaneously post the final edition of my list at Baseball Analysts. I have much nostalgia built into this site and its readers, so I wanted to post my prospect list in this forum again.
Finally, Rich has allowed me to come back to Analysts this Friday as well, as I wanted to compile a mailbag of the questions I receive during the presentation of this list. So, if you have any burning prospect-related questions, leave them in the comments below or e-mail me and I will pick as many as I can to answer Friday. Thanks, as always, for reading.
Bryan Smith's Top 75 Prospects in 2007
15. Jay Bruce, 20, RF, Cincinnati Reds
Bruce had a historic season for a teen-ager in the Midwest League, showing left-handed power unrivaled for a player of his maturity. Like so many young left-handed hitters, Bruce has work to do with southpaws, striking out in 30 percent of his at-bats against them in 2006. This is not what scares me. What does is the context within Bruce's numbers and the similarities they bear to Brian Dopirak's legendary Midwest League season in 2004. That year Dopirak became wildly hyped in prospect circles, but I made note of a 27-game stretch during the summer in which he was a decidedly better player than the rest of the season, which is the same thing that happened to Bruce in 2006. In 33 games between June 4 and July 10, Bruce was amazing, hitting .427 and clubbing 24 extra-base hits. The rest of the season? A paltry .238 batting average. However, his power did remain consistent throughout the season, so I am now cautiously confident in Bruce's future.
14. Andrew McCutchen, 20, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Speed is the name of McCutchen's game, as his quickness with his legs and bat leave the Pirates thinking big with their future center fielder. Generously listed at 170 pounds, McCutchen relies on ridiculous bat speed to hit for plus power. His power was restrained much of the season by the spacious dimensions at his home park; he slugged .536 on the road in Low-A. With quickness unrivaled for players with his power, McCutchen also profiles to steal 30 bases and win Gold Gloves down the road. Raw in both areas, McCutchen could stand at least another season and a half in the minor leagues, but his late-season success at AA might have pushed his timetable forward significantly.
13. Tim Lincecum, 23, RHP, San Francisco Giants
In modern college baseball history, no pitcher has been as dominant in a single season as Jered Weaver was in 2004. In his final year at Long Beach State, Weaver posted a 1.63 ERA and struck out 213 batters while scouts nitpicked his game. In 2006, Weaver received his vindication for his overshadowed Golden Spikes season, dominating the Majors as a rookie. There are numerous similarities between Weaver and Lincecum, who had a 1.99 ERA and 199 strikeouts as a junior at Washington. Lincecum has better stuff than Weaver, touching the high-90s with his fastball while featuring a hammer curveball, but his height (he's about 6-feet tall) led to a drop to the 10th overall selection in the 2006 draft. Lincecum's largest pitfall could be the combination of his violent delivery and extreme workload. The Giants will work hard at managing both in 2007, preparing Lincecum to contribute in the majors by 2008.
12. Andrew Miller, 22, LHP, Detroit Tigers
The first player from the 2006 draft to reach the majors, Miller was also the best the draft had to offer. Since opting for North Carolina instead of the Devil Rays out of high school, Miller had long been marked as the player-to-top in his class. Miller won Baseball America's College Player of the Year award with a marvelous junior season. Extremely projectable at a lanky 6-foot-6, Miller's four-seam fastball is already 94-97 mph. As a starter, his bread and butter is a sinking two-seam fastball and a slider that few left-handed hitters can touch. A September call-up showed the Tigers how dominant Miller profiles to be, but also how raw his delivery and command still are; he struck out six batters and walked 10 in 10 1/3 innings with Detroit. Miller will likely begin in Double-A Erie next season and could be pushing for a major-league roster spot again late in the season.
11. Troy Tulowitzki, 22, SS, Colorado Rockies
Incumbent Clint Barmes struggled in 2006, which means there is nothing holding Tulowitzki back from playing every day in Coors Field. Tulowitzki is a gifted contact hitter who sprays the ball all over the field with gap power. It isn't a stretch to project him as a perennial .300 hitter who bangs out 40 doubles annually. He also has a power stroke that should produce 10 to 20 home runs a season. In the field, he is mistake-prone but shows good range and a cannon arm from the hole. Despite struggling with Colorado in September, Tulowitzki proved in the Arizona Fall League that he's ready for The Show.
10. Adam Miller, 22, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Miller has gone under a distinct maturation in the minors, the type separating "pitchers" like Jake Peavy from "throwers" like Kerry Wood. Formerly known as "Mr. 101" stemming from a late-season velocity reading before an arm injury in 2004, Miller has since backpedaled his approach and trusted his stuff. These days, Miller focuses on keeping his darting two-seamer down in the zone (resulting in a 1.59 G/F ratio in AA) and striking out hitters with his plus-plus slider. Miller's maturation is still a work in progress. That was evident in 2006 as he allowed seven home runs in his first 10 starts. However, the right-hander limited opponents to a mere two home runs the rest of the season thanks largely to an improved command of his slider.
9. Billy Butler, 21, LF, Kansas City Royals
Butler played in an unfriendly hitting environment (Wichita) in 2006. At home during the season, Butler hit just one home run compared to 14 while on the road. The latter number more accurately details Butler's huge power potential. Butler's combination of contact and power skills are fantastic, and his late-season performance indicates he could be even better next year. Between June 1 and his exit to play for Team USA, Butler batted .354 while striking out just 33 times. Butler creates an adventure with every fly ball in left field, but his defensive shortcomings will be forgotten if he can provide protection for Alex Gordon in the Royals' lineup.
8. Cameron Maybin, 20, CF, Detroit Tigers
Maybin lived up to all the hype in his first pro season. He might not be the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr., but Maybin has a generational five-tool set. Many have pointed to Maybin's .408 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) and called his season overrated, but I don't believe this is true. Maybin has the same kind combination of speed and line-drive ability that allows Ichiro to post high BABIPs every season, albeit not quite as high as .408. While his numbers could come down a bit with worse luck in 2007, it also could be pointed out his numbers took a hit by an early return from a thumb injury. Maybin struggled horribly in his first 15 games coming off the DL, hitting just 12-for-56 without much power. With a healthy season, I think Maybin could improve on his 2006 numbers in the Florida State League; the speedy center fielder has greater power than he showed in the tough Midwest League.
7. Justin Upton, 19, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Like his brother, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton is an extremely divisive prospect as people struggle to understand why his output has not matched his talent. The latter was obvious for four years of high school, and nationally on display in spring training when Upton looked fantastic against the Chicago White Sox on WGN. Upton has a mature body with extremely long legs, which combined with his speed give him fantastic home-to-first times. Upton draws deserved comparisons to Alfonso Soriano, who has a similarly long, controlled and powerful swing. Most people have questioned Upton's makeup due to his poor season, but the concerns are overdone; expectations were just too high for the 2005 draft's top pick. Upton might not be as major-league ready as we thought last March, but his All-Star ceiling should not be altered because of an average debut.
6. Chris Young, 23, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
While the exit of fan favorite Luis Gonzalez provides a public relations hit to Arizona in 2007, the entrance of Young should quickly make D-Backs fans forget their former hero. This will be most evident defensively, as Arizona adds Young's fabulous range in center, pushing Eric Byrnes to left field and surely saving the pitching staff many runs. Offensively, Young should be at least on par with Gonzalez next season, if not better. Young has the chance to be a 25 homer/25 steals threat as a rookie and is the odds-on favorite to capture National League Rookie of the Year honors. Young began making better contact last season as well, but his batting average didn't go up, the product of bad luck against southpaws. His BABIP was .100 points worse against left-handers, and when that number improves, Young could threaten to break the .300 barrier for his first time as a pro.
5. Brandon Wood, 22, SS, Los Angeles Angels
After a breakout season of epic proportions in the hitter-friendly California League in 2005, Wood entered last year with a considerable amount of pressure. Was it a fluke? Can his offensive approach continue to produce big results? Will his power sustain at higher levels? What Wood proved in 2006 was that he was indeed a top prospect, showing substantial power throughout the season. Wood is going to suffer through a lot of variance in his numbers because of his high strikeout rate, but his ability to hit the ball out of any park offsets concerns about his swing-and-miss tendencies. By walking more often last season, Wood became a more valuable prospect, making a potential move to the hot corner far less daunting. Expect Wood to push the Angels to a decision on whether to call him up in 2007 as Salt Lake's altitude should lend to Wood's 100th minor-league home run by midseason.
4. Philip Hughes, 21, RHP, New York Yankees
If Roger Clemens does not return to the Bronx in 2007, Hughes will be the hot-button issue in New York come June. By then, Hughes will be dominating AAA with every outing. The Yankees have done a fabulous job preparing Hughes for his midseason call-up, slowly increasing his workload in the minor leagues. With 146 innings last year, Hughes should be able to pitch consistently through October, by which time he might already be the Yankees' No. 2 starter. Far more impressive than Hughes' heavy sinker or jaw-dropping curveball is his understanding of pitching; he is the most intelligent phenom in recent memory. Hughes does not give in to any bat, rarely allows free trips to first base, and gets groundballs consistently from the stretch. Hughes is as good as a New York pitching prospect has been in a long time.
3. Homer Bailey, 21, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
A year ago, things did not add up with Homer Bailey. The prep star's full season debut began in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, where he allowed a 7.73 H/9, struck out 125 batters and allowed just five home runs in just over 100 innings. However, his ERA was 4.43. The reason? Sixty-two walks, indicating poor command that Bailey had not shown as a high schooler. The anomalies I saw straightened themselves out in 2006, when Bailey became the game's best pitching prospect. The electricity of Bailey's stuff -- the life of his fastball and break on his curve -- are fantastic, and Bailey already attacks hitters like a veteran. In 2005, Bailey walked fewer than two batters just six times. In 2006, he raised the number to nine starts. If he can make a 50 percent improvement on that number again next season, Bailey will finish the year in Cincinnati.
2. Delmon Young, 21, RF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
I wanted Young to be my top prospect this season. He held that role a year ago and I have long predicted his future superstardom. My views on Young's future are unchanged heading into this season, but Young was downgraded to the No. 2 spot on this list because of one negative trait: patience. Young does not have great makeup (see: bat toss at umpire), but he would hardly be the first superstar to combine success with anger. What I can't overlook is Young's allergy to drawing walks, as he has just 20 since a mid-July promotion to AAA in 2005. Young must walk more in the majors to reach his full potential, but his power, hand-eye coordination, speed and throwing arm will make him an All-Star regardless.
1. Alex Gordon, 23, 3b, Kansas City Royals
Gordon is the ultimate hitting prospect. A left-handed hitter with a gorgeous swing, the 2005 Golden Spikes award winner made the transition to wooden bats look easy. He thrived in the Texas League, becoming a potential savior in the eyes of Royals fans. Unlike Butler, Wichita's pitcher-friendly tendencies did not faze Gordon, who hit 19 home runs in the seasons' final 60 games. This did correspond with a rise in strikeouts (63 over that span), but the Royals do not question Gordon's ability to hit for average. Also an intelligent player, Gordon understands the value of a walk and also is fantastic at picking out the right times to steal a base. The Royals expect him to hit and hit quickly as a rookie in 2007.
The rest of my top 75 prospect list is in order after the jump, and remember to leave your questions for the mailbag on Friday.
75. Jonathan Sanchez, 24, LHP, Giants