Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Braves
Saltalamacchia’s selection makes it back-to-back years that a Braves catcher occupies this spot. His combination of switch-hitting power, large, powerful frame and off-the-charts work ethic has earned him comparisons to Red Sox stalwart Jason Varitek. Saltalamacchia’s power helped him post the highest slugging percentage in the history of the Myrtle Beach franchise.
First Base: Justin Huber, Royals
Another part of the Mets diaspora, Huber filled his trophy closet this year, taking home both the Futures Game and Double-A Texas League MVP awards. He also reached the majors and could be a major part of the Royals’ significant rebuilding project. While his catching days appear to be behind him, Huber’s power and patience have made him Australia’s best hitting product since former all-star David Nilsson.
Second Base: Howie Kendrick, Angels
It’s almost impossible to expect a hitter with a .355 career batting average to improve on that mark while at the same time facing the most difficult competition of his career. That’s what Kendrick did in 2005, however, hitting .367 overall
(second in the minors) and throwing in a .614 slugging percentage that ranked eighth overall for good measure. Overshadowed in the first half because of the amazing season of his Rancho running mate, Brandon Wood, Kendrick was the one who got a promotion to Double-A and made the most of it.
Third Base: Andy LaRoche, Dodgers
LaRoche was in the running for the minor league home run title before the Dodgers promoted him from to Double-A Jacksonville after he ripped 20 homers in the first half at high Class A Vero Beach. With his combination of athleticism and strength, LaRoche fit right in with a prospect-laden Suns team and helped it win the Southern League championship. The Dodgers have no obvious short-term answer at third base in Los Angeles, but LaRoche is developing into the long-term solution.
Shortstop: Brandon Wood, Angels
The Angels’ amazing depth up the middle is evident in the presence of Kendrick and Wood, who teamed together at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and team here on the Minor League All-Star Team. It’s also evident in that Wood didn’t get a promotion until September, when he got a late cameo in Triple-A Salt Lake. He certainly had earned the promotion, as no minor leaguer consistently crushed the ball like Wood, who led the minors with 101 extra-base hits.
Outfield: Jeremy Hermida, Marlins
Hermida’s Double-A Carolina team sent six pitchers to the parent Marlins this season, but the pickings were slimmer in the Mudcats lineup, Hermida was pitched around all season–that and his excellent eye and advanced approach helped him rank third in the minors with 111 walks. When he got a pitch he could handle, Hermida rarely missed, even when rusty. He hit a grand slam in his first major league at-bat, even though he had not hit in a game for nine days due to a bone bruise in his wrist.
Outfield: Chris Young, White Sox
The White Sox sent an inexperienced team to Double-A Birmingham, so it was fitting that someone named Young led them to the Southern League playoffs. He skipped high Class A and wasn’t fazed a bit, getting better as the year went on. He ranked tied for seventh in the minors in extra-base hits, his 26 homers tied for the SL lead, and his 41 doubles led the league. While the organization’s outfield picture is crowded, the 22-year-old Young may have forced his way to the front with his big season.
Outfield: Delmon Young, Devil Rays
The Devil Rays’ position of strength in the majors is outfield, and they have the best prospect in the minor leagues, who just happens to be an outfielder. Just their luck. Young might have won the Double-A Southern League’s triple crown had he not been promoted to Triple-A, where he started and finished with a flourish. He missed a 30-30 season by two homers as he added speed
(as well as excellent defense) to his toolbox. The younger brother of Tigers slugger Dmitri Young didn’t get a September callup, the subject of much controversy, but his stellar season earned him BA’s Minor League Player of the Year award.
Designated Hitter: Billy Butler, Royals
In another difficult summer for the Royals organization, Butler stood out as perhaps its brightest spot. The 2004 first-round pick out of Jacksonville’s Wolfson High pounded the ball from the start for High Class A High Desert, showing power away from the hitter’s haven of Maverick Stadium as well. He kept hitting with a promotion to Double-A Wichita. His future position remains unclear, as he moved from third base to left field this year. He’s most comfortable in the batter’s box.
Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
The whole world got to see the Venezuelan this season, and the minor leagues’ worst-kept secret was revealed–Hernandez is for real. His season had two blemishes–a higher-than-expected walk rate as the 19-year-old found Triple-A hitters had better plate discipline, and a mild bout of shoulder bursitis. But in two-thirds of a season, Hernandez showed dominant stuff, three plus pitches and an uncanny knowledge of how to use them for a teenager.
Starting Pitcher: Chuck James, Braves
The Braves’ farm system had an amazing season, helping the big league club in unprecedented fashion while producing more elite prospects to replace the Atlanta graduates. James emerged more than anyone, using savvy, command and above-average secondary pitches to dominate three levels on his way to the majors. James ranked third in the minors in ERA, fourth in strikeouts
(and sixth in ratio with 10.77 strikeouts per nine innings) and first in average against at just .179.
Starting Pitcher: Francisco Liriano, Twins
Likened to 2004 American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, Liriano put up un-Santana like numbers in the first half at Double-A New Britain, going just 3-5, 3.64. Like Santana, though, Liriano was unhittable in the second half, even with a promotion to Triple-A Rochester. His combination of an upper-90s fastball, plus changeup and feel for the strike zone helped him lead the minors with 204 strikeouts overall.
Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Tigers
Verlander’s best record in college was 7-6, but his live right arm, which produces high-90s fastballs and power curves, got him drafted second overall in 2004. His record was significantly better in 2005. The Tigers improved his command by softening the front leg in his delivery, and Verlander harnessed his power repertoire. In the first half of the season, he helped Lakeland on its way to the minors’ best record, then he started the Futures Game in Detroit, dominated Double-A and pitched in the big leagues before ending his season early due to a tired arm.
Relief Pitcher: Jamie Van Buren, Cubs
It’s been a long time coming for Van Buren, a second-round pick in 1998 out of a Mississippi high school. He never made it out of A-ball with the Rockies, his original organization, and the Cubs signed him prior to 2004 after he spent a year in the independent Central League. They moved him to the bullpen, and his rise has been rapid, culminating in a September callup this year. He picked up 46 saves the last two seasons and held Pacific Coast League hitters to a .181 average as the minors’ top closer in 2005.
|DH||Billy Butler||High Desert/
|RP||Jermaine Van Buren||Iowa
|SP||Ricky Nolasco||West Tenn