2006 WTNY 75: 50-26
Today we continue our countdown of the game's best prospects, going through the next 25 players on my list. So far, I've named 25 honorable mentions and listed #75-51. When we're finished today, it will just leave the twenty-five best prospects in the game. Please feel free to leave comments at the bottom, and remember, the age and level listed are for 2006.
50. Craig Hansen - RP - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: Few statements represent the massive ideological change that baseball has undergone in the past 50 years as this: Craig Hansen was heavily considered to be drafted first overall. A reliever. Obviously, no position has undergone a change in such a period as the relief position. Closers are extremely valuable commodities, so much so, that first round picks are now being used on them. We've seen Ryan Wagner, Chad Cordero and Huston Street all picked in the first round. Derrick Lutz and others will do so in the 2006 draft. 2005's best talent was Craig Hansen, who may have the best stuff of any college closer. While Hansen's level of competition wasn't super-high, there was not a more dominating force in college baseball last year.
Skillset/Future: Many have called for the Red Sox to move Hansen back to starting, but I'm not sure this is the best move. How will his stuff hold up for 200 innings? In about 80 innings per year, Hansen has a slider that is unparalleled in the minors. It hits the high-80s consistently, and at times, touches the low 90s. His fastball is about 95-98 mph, and he has very good control of the pitch. Craig does not allow home runs, walk too many batters, or give up very many hits. The Red Sox will make him their closer within two years, and he should succeeding pitching on one of baseball's biggest stages.
49. Cole Hamels - SP - Philadelphia Phillies -- 22 (AA)
Introduction: So much talent, but it should be no surprise that I have far less faith in Hamels harnessing his ability than most people. This is a guy who hasn't been truly healthy, it seems, since high school. He missed much of the beginning of 2005 after getting in a fight outside of a Florida bar. In three years within the Philadelphia organization, Hamels has logged just 28 starts. Yet this team remains convinced that his future will turn out better than Gavin Floyd's has. I'm not sure if there is a correlation between Hamels injuries, but the Phillies must figure it out, quick. This left arm is too good to not succeed.
Skillset/Future: Since being drafted out of high school, there has been a universal agreement on his delivery: near perfect. So, it's hard (like Mark Prior, in a sense) to blame Hamels string of injuries on anything mechanical. Cole is most well-known for having one of the best change ups in the minor leagues, and it was back in true form this season. However, we also saw some control problems, likely due to rust more than anything else. In addition to his great change up, Hamels offers a low-90s fastball and an above-average breaking ball. The trio of pitches give Hamels great potential, but with this arm, we all know that it means only so much.
48. Hayden Penn - SP - Baltimore Orioles - 21 (AAA)
Introduction: Looking at his year in retrospect makes me dizzy. In the beginning of the season, he was the Eastern League's best pitcher, and started to fly up prospect lists like no other prospect. However, immediately following that, Penn developed dead arm, and was nearly simultaneously promoted to the Majors. This resulted in eight very poor starts, when Penn was sent back to Bowie. He continued to pitch badly, likely due to the dead arm, until the month of August. For the rest of the season, he was back as one of the minors best pitchers. Very few pitchers were as inconsistent as Penn this year, but assuming dead arm only strikes once, he could really turn a corner next year.
Skillset/Future: Leo Mazzone will be thrilled to see that Penn has such good command of his pitches this year. His best pitch is a low 90s fastball with good life that Penn can throw in any spot. Under Mazzone, expect it to be tossed on the inside half more in 2006. Penn's secondary stuff is OK, highlighted by a good change-up that was praised during Hayden's poor Major League debut. To really succeed in the Majors, however, Penn must show a better breaking pitch than what he had in the Majors. Whether or not Mazzone can help him with this will likely determine whether he sits in the back end of various Major League and AAA rotations or whether he becomes a solid #2/3 starter.
47. Edison Volquez - SP - Texas Rangers - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: If you ask me, Casey Janssen (who is one of a few Blue Jay pitchers to just miss this list) had the quietest 2.18 ERA season in recent memory. At the same time, Edison Volquez had one really, really loud 4.10 ERA season. Volquez is often talked about as if he has already broken out, as if he's one of the best pitching prospects in the game. But this has always confused me. If he has such good pitchability, why the career 3.99 ERA? If his stuff is so good, why a K/9 of just 8.43?
Skillset/Future: However, I do think there is something to get excited about in Volquez. This is a guy that threw in the mid 90s, heavy fastball at the Futures Game, also showing one of the game's best change ups. His slider is a work in progress, though I was more impressed than most reports show while in Detroit. The key for Edison is that despite great stuff, he also has great control. Besides a poor debut at the Major League level, Volquez has not topped a 1.30 WHIP at any level. There is pitchability inside that body, I'm convinced. In 2006, he has to prove it with results, not with velocity.
46. Phil Hughes - SP - New York Yankees - 20 (A+)
Introduction: If not for a hint of arm injury at the end of the season, Hughes could be 10-15 spots higher on this list. No prep pitcher from the 2004 draft has impressed me more. However, as I mentioned, towards the end of the season, Hughes had a bout with shoulder inflammation. Combine that with a broken toe suffered in August, and Hughes' debut full season was ended shortly. The toe is not a concern, but the shoulder is, as Phil has many wondering if inflammation is hiding (or will lead to) a tear. Torn labrums are currently the worst injury a baseball player can sustain, so until Hughes proves he's past this, I will stay conservative with his ranking.
Skillset/Future: Dazzling array of pitches, delivery and control. First and foremost, the Californian has a big pitcher's frame that should only add more velocity over time. Right now, his fastball consistently sits in the low 90s, but we can maybe expect two or three more ticks soon. The key, however, is that Hughes has such good control with the pitch, only walking 20 hitters in 90.1 career innings. Conversely, he strikes out hitters at a pretty fantastic rate, notching 93 in 86.1 innings this year. This is due to a good combination of secondary pitches, namely one of the Sally League's best curveballs. If Hughes can stay out of injury, and further refine pitches three and four (change and slider, respectively), he could be one of the best pitchers on this list. If he makes it through one healthy season, my expectations (and ranking) will soar.
45. Adam Jones - CF - Seattle Mariners - 20 (AAA)
Introduction: When I think of Jones, I'm reminded of two players that I picked to break out this year: Reid Brignac and Mark Trumbo. The latter is an Angel that was given a bat at the pro level, despite being able to hit 90+ on the mound. Jones was in this same situation out of high school, drafted in the first round, and then surprisingly made a full-time shortstop. And like Reid Brignac, with high expectations, Jones was just OK in the Midwest League in 2004. Like many teenagers at the level, he wasn't great, but his bat showed promise for what 2005 would bring. Just like that, everything started to click for Jones, who would finish the season with an .800+ OPS in AA at the age of 19.
Skillset/Future: The big news of the offseason for Jones is that in 2006, he will no longer be a shortstop. He would likely have done fine at the position, but with Betancourt and Cabrera in the system, there was simply no room for Jones' questionable range. So, in the AFL, the Mariners moved Adam (and his big arm) to center field. In just one year, it's possible that the Mariners will have two of the five best outfield arms in the AL with Jones and Ichiro. Offensively, Adam does a little bit of everything. He won't hit for great home run power in the Majors, maybe about 20 per year, but instead profiles to slap about 30-40 doubles. He walks enough to bat in the two-hole, and managers shouldn't complain about his contact skills, which are about average. Jones likely won't show great range in center, but if he manages to find himself in the same outfield as Jeremy Reed and Ichiro, he won't have to. At worst, Adam leaves the organization to become a Ryan Freel-type player elsewhere.
44. Neil Walker - C - Pittsburgh Pirates - 20 (A+)
Introduction: A favorite of mine, as I'm susceptible to falling in love for young catchers with big-time power. Walker fits that bill, and he would have undoubtedly made my breakout prospects list had I not been under the impression that 2005 was his big coming out season. I criticized the Pirates in the past for drafting Walker, as he was then considered a reach at 11, but was attractive because of a cheap bonus demand and hometown ties. However, after 50 extra-base hits this past year, I will now retract any criticism. The Pirates showed foresight, not frugality, in drafting Walker.
Skillset/Future: Walker is high on this list for his bat, not his glove. Behind the plate, Neil is a work in progress, and will need to really work on his mobility to be successful. There are rumblings that he will one day have to be moved, but I think at 19, that talk is a bit premature. Walker improved as the season went on, and has the potential to be average behind the plate. Just being average will be OK, because Neil's ceiling is in the superstar category offensively. As a teenager, Walker struck out just 83 times this year in more than 500 at-bats, a sign I love for a young catcher. He also showed a ton of power, and while it doesn't always tend to leave the ballpark, it will over time. Switch-hitting catchers aren't exactly a dize a dozen, making Walker as untradeable as anyone in the organization. However, before I get too excited, I will have to see more than 20 walks in a season. Since there are very few other offensive problems to refine, I do think this is a problem that Walker can overcome in the next 2-3 seasons.
43. Jeff Clement - C - Seattle Mariners - 22 (A+)
Introduction: The last time the USC Trojans offered the draft a top five catcher, things did not work out so well: Eric Munson. Like Clement, Munson was a powerful hitter that was criticized for his defense. And while I once feared this would be the player that Clement might become, I no longer do. There is no question that Clement's defense behind the plate is lacking, but he also improved each year while at USC, and is light years better than Munson was. Also, Clement has better power, which he has been showing since high school, when he broke Drew Henson's all-time home run record. In all, he's a far more complete player than Munson, and should end up with a far better Major League career.
Skillset/Future: I've already talked about two parts of Clement's game. His power, from the left side I should add, is fantastic. Jeff dominated the Midwest League after signing, hitting six home runs in less than 120 at-bats. Inland Empire citizens are surely waiting at the edges of their seats to see what he does in the Cal League. His problem defensively is not his throwing arm, which is fine, but instead his movement behind the plate. A big frame has yielded slow actions there, and he can certainly tighten that up. My other Clement concern is that of contact, as he strikes out about 20-25% of the time, which is a little high. This is horrible, threatening a good future batting average or anything, but it certainly would help to improve upon that. Finally, his batting eye is above-average, but not to a great degree. If Clement makes it to the Majors, it will be on power, period.
42. Dustin Pedroia - 2B/SS - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: We knew the day of the draft that Pedroia was a steal. So, pardon me, for if in the future I go back and criticize teams for not taking Dustin at a higher slot. Forget that he was an older college player with limited potential. This is a guy that had hit .400 in his sophomore season, and topped a .500 OBP in his junior season. In his final two years at Arizona State, Pedroia's OPS was over 1.050. He struck out just 47 times in all of college. Ian Kinsler was blocked because Pedroia was just too good. Yet Dustin slipped to the 65th pick because the best comparisons he could muster were David Eckstein, just because of his tiny height. It's really too bad for all these teams, because by missing out in Pedroia, they missed out in one of the 3 safest picks in the draft.
Skillset/Future: There has been a lot of talk about Dustin this winter, now that the Red Sox middle infield situation is questionable. With Hanley Ramirez now out of the system, and Edgar Renteria traded, it's quite possible that Pedroia will move back to shortstop this season. As a result, the Red Sox will likely fill that hole with just a part-time solution (maybe just Alex Cora), as they wait for Dustin to get a little more seasoning in AAA. They will find he won't need much, as his poor 2005 Pawtucket line can really be blamed on an unlucky .261 BABIP. When that returns to normal levels, expect Pedroia to continue to post high batting averages while showing some of the best plate discipline in professional baseball. Oh, and he has a little pop, too.
41. Adam Loewen - SP - Baltimore Orioles - 22 (AA)
Introduction: It has been a long road coming for Adam Loewen, the southpaw's answer to Edison Volquez. I say this because like Volquez, Loewen continues to receive a lot of hype while continually posting high ERAs. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two players: control. Edison has always had it, and Loewen goes through only stretches with it, and has an ugly career 5.64 W/9. However, I'll take his stuff over Volquez' any day of the week, and I like him more because of what 2006 will provide: Leo Mazzone. If anyone can harness Loewen, and maximize his potential, it's the best pitching coach of all-time. And after the way Adam ended the season, and then pitched in AFL, there are lots of reasons for excitement.
Skillset/Future: No one in the minor leagues throws a 'heavier' array of pitches than Adam Loewen. It is very difficult for players to make good contact against him, and as a result, no one on this list has a higher G/F ratio: 2.58. This 'heaviness' is a result of his frame, which provides the ability to throw at a downward angle that few players have. Loewen's fastball is in the low-to-mid 90s, but has fantastic life, if not great control. At the Futures Game, I was impressed by his loopy, high 70s curveball that is already considered Major League quality. There have been good advancements with a change, as well, though the pitch needs to be implemented more in 2006. In the same organization that produced B.J. Ryan, it wouldn't be shocking to see Loewen become the next great Oriole reliever. But before that time comes, the Orioles should see if Leo Mazzone can make him the next Oriole ace.
40. Homer Bailey - SP - Cincinnati Reds - 20 (A+)
I've talked about Homer Bailey at length recently, so I won't go into detail here. Basically, the former top ten pick is one of my favorite prospects in the minors, a right-hander with an amazing two-pitch arsenal. However, his control -- once praised -- fell apart in pro ball, and needs to be improved before he can take off. I've heard concerns that Bailey's delivery is flawed and he is an injury risk, which of course forces me to temper my expectations (especially in this organization). But simply put, Bailey has the potential to be one of the minors top talents if everything can come together. Here's to betting that it will in 2006.
39. Adam Miller - SP - Cleveland Indians - 21 (AA)
Introduction: Before his injury, he was known as "Mr. 101." This refers to the time in the minors in which he hit 101 on the radar gun, and prior to injury, he was consistently in the upper 90s. His slider was deadly, and at the beginning and end of the 2004 season, he was one of the minors best pitchers. I had him ranked as my #2 pitching prospect a year ago. But, as often happens with young players, Miller was injured in spring training of last season. An elbow injury would keep him out for much of the first half, and while he declined surgery, it sounds to have slightly effected his stuff. Adam looked good in a few August starts before ending the season poorly.
Skillset/Future: I haven't heard exact descriptions of the post-injury Miller, just that his stuff is a bit down. No longer does he have the fastball that will touch 100, but he still is said to sit in the mid 90s. Adam, no longer with the minors best two-pitch combination, will now simply have to better refine his change up to be really successful. What's impressive is that even after the injury, he still has great control given what kind of stuff he brings to the table. 2006 is a make or break year for Miller, as we see what kind of shape his elbow -- and stuff, for that matter -- is in.
38. Jeremy Sowers - SP - Cleveland Indians - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: Staying on the theme of Indian pitching prospects, Sowers is quite the opposite of Adam Miller. The club's 2004 first-round pick was excellent, as the team made a reported last-minute decision of Sowers over Chris Nelson. Sowers was a former first round pick that passed on seven figures to go to Vanderbilt after a hugely successful high school career. Things simply continued in college, as the southpaw led the Commodores to their first ever Super Regional. He has been even better as a pro, however, as his 2005 ERA was lower than any season at Vandy. Sowers has flown through the Indian system, and will begin the season at Buffalo, likely one Major League injury from breaking into the Big League rotation on a full-time basis.
Skillset/Future: Like most southpaws that don't hit 95 on the radar, Sowers was drawing Tom Glavine comparisons out of college. However, even 18 months later, the comparison still looks more valid than most times it is used. Like the former Atlanta ace, Sowers has great control of his pitches, issuing only 29 walks in more than 150 innings this past season. His fastball is in the 88-92 range, and provides a good amount of sinking action, similar to Glavine in his prime. Sowers also throws a plus change up and plus curveball, and his pitchability is what generates a majority of his strikeouts. I would not imagine that Sowers enjoys the K/9 numbers in the Majors that Glavine has, but with his intelligence and durable arm, it certainly isn't out of question.
37. Russ Martin - C - Los Angeles Dodgers - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: Of every prospect on this list, not one made unexpected Spring Training noise like Russ Martin did last year. In the end, his final March statistics were hardly jaw-dropping, with five hits (one for extra bases) in 13 at-bats. But the Dodgers had fallen in love with the catcher, both for the way he handled their pitchers as well as his plate discipline. Martin was then sent to AA, where he played on the most talented team in minor league baseball. The former 17th round steal has not been particularly durable during his minor league career, but should be good for about 130 games per year.
Skillset/Future: Russ Martin has the best plate discipline in the minor leagues. Sure, Jeremy Hermida might draw more walks and Howie Kendrick might make more consistent contact, but no one puts it together like Martin. This past year, Russ' Isolated Discipline (OBP-AVG) was .129, and his K% (K/AB) was 16.9%. Both of these are fantastic rates, and should help to provide Russ with a very high OBP in the Majors. This will help, as I am beginning to think more and more that he doesn't have any power. Like he did in 2005, expect a lot more seasons when his slugging is under his OBP. But between being on the bases a lot and playing great defense, it's no surprise that the Dodgers are excited to make Martin their full-time catcher soon. Players like him often don't produce a lot of volatility, so expect pretty consistent production.
36. Hanley Ramirez - SS - Florida Marlins - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: What in the world is there left to expect of Hanley Ramirez. We have gone from thinking he was a budding superstar, to being convinced he was a bust. In 2004, he made us think he did have All-Star potential, before allowing us to back off that opinion in 2005. There has not been a more volatile player in minor league baseball the last three years than Ramirez. Because of that, and ongoing make-up issues that angered the organization, the Red Sox were quick to trade Ramirez to the Marlins this winter. The opposite of a player like Russ Martin, Hanley is firmly on the scouts side of the infamous scouts v. stats debate. Whether he ever joins the other side is a fact that we all remain quite skeptical of.
Skillset/Future: It seemed very unlikely a year ago that Hanley would be able to stay at shortstop, especially when Boston signed Edgar Renteria. I began to warm to that very idea, thinking that Ramirez would look great in center field. However, now moved to the Marlin organization, it's almost assured Ramirez will stay up the middle, where his defense will play at about average. His power is pretty non-existent, and at this point, expecting 20 home runs is pretty foolish. Hanley does make really consistent contact, and as a result, could be a .300 hitter in the Bigs. But, at this point it is unlikely he will ever walk very much, and his baserunning is too inconsistent to make him a threat at the top of a lineup. On a championship team, Ramirez is simply a seven or eight hitter that provides moments of greatness around a sea of mediocrity.
35. Howie Kendrick - 2B - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: There was not a more familar site this year than opening Kevin Goldstein's Baseball America Prospect Report and finding out that Howie Kendrick collected two hits. It was pretty silly for awhile, as it just kept coming, but it turned out downright odd by season's end. The guy had more multi-hit games than 0-fers. That doesn't happen. And that especially shouldn't happen for a former 10th round pick out of a community college. What began in the Pioneer League in 2003 has yet to stop, as Kendrick has now hit .340 or higher at four straight levels.
Skillset/Future: As I have implied, Kendrick has fantastic contact skills. In fact, I'd go as far to call them the best in the minor leagues. In nearly 300 games and 1200 at-bats, Howie has struck out just 142 times, and just 62 in 2005. He centers the ball very well, and because of that, should consistently post high BABIPs. In Spring Training, I was impressed with the pop I saw in his bat, and while he'll never hit for a lot of power, expect about 25-30 doubles on an annual basis. In the field, I was also impressed in March, which ran counter to what many have said. However, that talk was hushed in 2005, and it appears that Kendrick will stay at second, where I think he has good lateral movement. Like Neil Walker already, the only real offensive trait to work on is his patience, as Kendrick drew just 20 walks in the entire '05 season.
34. Thomas Diamond - SP - Texas Rangers - 23 (AA)
Introduction: In 2004, Diamond quickly established himself amidst a slew of '04 college draftees with a fantastic start to his pro career. After dominating the Northwest League, the Rangers challenged Diamond with a promotion to the Midwest League. The results were staggering, and the Rangers entered 2005 with very high hopes for their right-hander. He continued to exceed expectations in the Cal League, moved up to AA after 14 starts. During that time, he was the league's best pitcher, and left with a 1.99 ERA. At that point, his minor league career had 169 strikeouts in 127.1 innings. But as happens with many young pitchers, Diamond struggled when reaching AA pretty badly. By allowing a few more walks and home runs, Diamond's ERA soared to 5.35, and his place in the Texas organization (especially among DVD) has been questioned.
Skillset/Future: One thing I really like about Diamond is his big, strong pitcher's body. However, velocity reports from college now seem high, as Diamond's velocity is only about 91-95 mph. His curveball remains his best pitch, and Diamond made strides with a change this year. After reading many different reports of Diamond pitch, I think the general consensus is that he's inconsistent. Sometimes he's hitting 95, his curveball is biting, and he's a top 20 prospect. Othertimes he'll be the Rangers next disappointing pitching prospect. I really do think that Diamond will succeed at the Big League level as a #3 starter that provides a ton of innings with an ERA right below league average.
33. Brian Anderson - OF - Chicago White Sox - 24 (MLB)
Introduction: If nothing else, Ken Williams is one of the most shrewd GMs in all of baseball. Not many front offices would have the guts to trade one of their most well-liked players (Aaron Rowand) in the months following a World Series victory. However, popularity is not one of the qualifications that Williams demands from his center fielder. And while Rowand's defense is very good up the middle, he simply isn't likely to perform at a high level offensively again. So the team traded Rowand, and later Chris Young, because center field is their deepest position in the minors. Brian Anderson, a former first round pick, was waiting in the wings.
Skillset/Future: Before I start praising Anderson, I want to start with the bad: he lost his contact skills this year. After striking out just 74 times in 2004, Anderson was over 25% in AAA this season. For all the criticism I give Chris Young on this very issue, it should be noted that Anderson whiffs far too much. However, what he also brings to the table is a very solid all-around game. Brian finally showed the power that had been projected of him this year, and when he moves to a hitter's park in 2006, could be capable of hitting 25 home runs. Anderson has a solid batting eye and plays good defense, and is already said to be fitting in with his new teammates. The Jim Thome trade was not only good for the White Sox offense because Thome will improve upon Carl Everett's performance, but also because Brian Anderson should be exceeding Aaron Rowand.
32. Anibal Sanchez - SP - Florida Marlins - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: "And in this corner, weighing in at 180 pounds, Anibal Sanchez!" What is Sanchez fighting for, you ask? Well, after breaking out in 2005, Sanchez is here to prove that short-season statistics should be considered seriously when we evaluate prospects. Not a lot of people had Anibal on their radar after 2004, despite a 1.77 ERA in the New York-Penn League. Those who saw his performance were not surprised that he broke out in 2005, as it had simply been a continuation of what he had shown in short-season ball. While prospects like Mitch Einertson fight to make the stats nearly worthless, Sanchez reminds us that every once in awhile, there is an actual diamond amidst all the cubic zirconia.
Skillset/Future: Coming from baseball's newest hotbed, Venezuela, Sanchez is like many of the pitchers we are seeing from there: short, stocky, and bringing a lot of heat. In Sanchez' case, he pitches at an even six-feet tall, but is still able to throw his fastball into the mid 90s. Better yet, he's good at controlling the pitch, issuing only 40 walks during the 2005 season. However, what has put Sanchez on the prospect map is a deceptive change up that Baseball America fell in love with at the Carolina League All-Star Game. Add in a curveball that I liked at the Futures Game, though it isn't great, and you begin to understand why Sanchez was a better haul than Hanley Ramirez. However, an injury history has to leave some room to temper expectations, which is why Sanchez' ranking is pretty conservative.
31. Anthony Reyes - SP - St. Louis Cardinals - 24 (MLB)
Introduction: As a Cubs fan, I really like Sidney Ponson all the sudden. Yes, he just signed with the Cubs rival, but I'm really hoping he wins a rotation spot in Spring Training. Why? Because it blocks Anthony Reyes, who the Cardinals should have simply all-but-guaranteed a spot. After four unimpressive and inconsistent seasons at USC, Reyes has blossomed with the Cardinals now that he has found himself healthy. Starting his pro career in 2004, Anthony has flown through the system, and even impressed the Cardinals with a call-up in 2005. However, St. Louis remains reluctant to give the 24-year-old a rotation spot, which is just fine with the Cub fan in me.
Skillset/Future: Reyes does it all on the mound. First and foremost, he throws his fastball in the mid 90s, yet has had fantastic control since his freshman season in college. This is what has allowed Reyes to succeed in the minors, along with the development of a very good curveball. His change up is solid if not spectacular, and will certain allow him to succeed at the Major League level. My big concern is the number of home runs that Reyes allows, as his HR/9 was up in the PCL, and then quite high in his 13.1 Major League innings. Hopefully Dave Duncan, one of the Majors best pitching coaches, will work his specialty and teach Reyes to keep the ball closer to the ground than the stands.
30. Nick Markakis - OF - Baltimore Orioles - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: Markakis has had quite an odd career thus far, with many interesting twists and turns. Not really highly thought of out of high school, Markakis blossomed in one year at Young Harris College, where he played both ways. He excelled so much, in fact, that he was named the best player at the Community College level, leading to a first-round selection by the Orioles. The team drafted him as a hitter, and he began his pro career showing a lot more polish than power and projection. That continued for the first half of his 2004 season, before he finished it fantastically, leading me to project him to break out in 2005. Markakis' season ended early as he went to play for the Greek team in the Olympics, where he would again play two ways. Finally hitting full-time in 2005, Markakis did break out, with a power spike towards the end of the season that extended into AA.
Skillset/Future: This guy does it all right. Markakis' power is still pretty projectable, as he hit 41 doubles this year, but just 15 home runs. Those numbers should begin to creep closer together as he moved towards his peak, much to the point where Nick starts to hit at or above the slugging average of most right fielders. In the outfield he plays great defense, and is special because he features an arm that could have pitched professionally. From a plate discipline standpoint, Markakis is a success because he walks a lot, a career-high 61 times in 2005. This is combined with pretty good contact skills, though they regressed a bit in AA. If Nick can continue to improve upon those contact skills, while adding a little loft to his swing, there is serious potential for .300/.400/.550 seasons.
29. Chris Young - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks - 22 (AAA)
I'm also going to keep Young's comments short, as he has been one of the most talked about prospects on this site. Basically, I loved Young before the season, as he provides four tools that few in the minors can match: speed, range, discipline, power. He showed this in 2005, as he broke out in a big way, leading to a trade (the White Sox sold high) to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The reason I say that his stock has peaked is because it seems people are willing to overlook the other two tools on his resume: contact and arm. His contact skills are pretty atrocious, and as a result, I don't think he'll hit more than .280 ever as a pro. This is a solid player that I would love to have on my team, but he's not the next Hall of Fame center fielder, if you ask me.
28. Yusmeiro Petit - SP - Florida Marlins - 21 (AAA)
Introduction: As Ricardo Gonzalez puts it over at Metsgeek, the key to Yusmeiro is "deception and location." These skills have been the driving influences behind Petit's success in pro baseball, as his scouting report isn't extremely favorable. Petit has always drawn comparisons to Sid Fernandez, both for his large frame and deceptive delivery. With each season of success, this comparison makes more and more sense.
Skillset/Future: As Ricardo said, the real key to Petit is control. And Yusmeiro has great control, probably the best of any pitcher in the minors. In 2005, he walked just 24 batters in more than 130 innings. This allows for some leeway in the H/9 category, though his deceptiveness (he hides the ball for a long time) has allowed opponents batting average to never be a problem. The biggest concern about Petit is that he allows a lot of home runs, and could be over 30 annually at the Major League level. Traded to the Marlins this winter, Florida must begin to teach Petit ways (a sinker?) to keep the ball on the ground. His future ERA depends upon it.
27. John Danks - SP - Texas Rangers - 21 (AA)
Introduction: It seems as if I'm in the minority of believers that John Danks will be the best of the Rangers trio of pitching prospects. However, I think Danks will succeed even though the Rangers have not helped the situation. The team has promoted Danks early in both of his full seasons, leading to significant struggles at the next level. This isn't great on a kid's confidence level, and instead, the Rangers should be allowing about ten fewer starts at these high levels. In 2005, it was AA (where Diamond also struggled), where Danks WHIP went over 1.50.
Skillset/Future: It seems as if each time Danks gets promoted, he has a momentary loss of control. At his best, John's fastball (in the low 90s, with room to improve) is a weapon that he also controls. If harnessed, he shouldn't be giving up more than about 2.50 walks per nine innings. However, it seems that in high pressure situations (promotions, the Futures Game) he loses control, which could simply be learned with more experience. Danks also has the makings of two more good pitches, including a fantastic curveball and a solid change up. He shows maturity by having confidence in both pitches, and as he adds pitchability, I think he will strike out even more hitters. With a little guidance, the Rangers will be able to turn Danks into a #2 starter. Unfortunately, I'm not sure he's in the right organization.
26. Daric Barton - 1B - Oakland Athletics - 20 (AAA)
Introduction: Daric Barton has yet to play in the Major Leagues, and the Mark Mulder trade is still a success for the A's. Dan Haren is that good. So, from Billy Beane's perspective, anything that comes from Barton is just icing on the cake. But that isn't to say expectations are low for Barton, who will be adding to the glut of 1B/DH types in the organization very soon. Intelligently, the team moved him away from catching this season so that Barton could focus on hitting. This turned out to be a good decision, as Barton only continued to learn as a hitter, while no longer providing negative value in the field.
Skillset/Future: There are few issues that demand more attention in the next two years as whether or not Daric Barton will develop true slugger power. Some think his 36 doubles from 2005 are a sign of things to come, that Barton will remain a gap hitter at the pro level. Others think the doubles will one day clear the fence, as Barton ages and adds more muscle. Either way, Daric can be a successful Major Leaguer, thanks to great discipline and contact skills. The short left-handed slugger drew 97 walks in 2005, keeping his OBP for the season above .420. He also struck out just 79 times, which indicates he could be in the mix for batting titles down the road.
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.