See also: Minor League All-Stars by classification
Selected by Baseball America staff. Text by Matt Eddy. Ages as of Sept. 7, 2006
C Chris Iannetta • Rockies
Though he didn’t play enough at either Double-A or Triple-A to make either of those all-star teams, Iannetta’s breakout season was the most impressive by a catcher this season. He split his time evenly between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Colorado Springs, hitting for average and enough power and showing exceptional plate discipline. The 23-year-old gets high marks for his receiving and arm strength, too, though he seemed to get lost in the deep cast of rookie catchers in the bigs, which included Russell Martin, Kenji Johjima, Mike Napoli and Ronny Paulino.
1B Joey Votto • Reds
Votto edged out James Loney (Dodgers) and Joe Koshansky (Rockies) in a surprisingly deep field. And when you examine the numbers it’s easy to see why. The Toronto-born Votto had one of the finest hitting seasons in baseball, leading the minors with 46 doubles and finishing third with 70 extra-base hits. He added 78 walks and 24 steals for good measure. That he did so in the neutral environs of the Southern League suggests the 22-year-old Votto will not fly under the radar much longer.
2B Howie Kendrick • Angels
Fellow Pacific Coast Leaguers Alberto Callaspo (Diamondbacks) and Brooks Conrad (Astros) had superior counting numbers to Kendrick, but benefited from more than 200 additional plate appearances. With his .369 average this year, the 23-year-old Kendrick never has hit lower than .342 in any full-season minor league and boasted a video-game-like 1.039 OPS. Even bearing in mind his league and home park favor hitters, Kendrick hit extra-base hits more frequently than any other minor league second baseman.
3B Alex Gordon • Royals
Sure, a big year from Gordon, our Minor League Player of the Year, merits automatic inclusion, but Josh Fields (White Sox) was a stronger runner-up than expected. Still, just pick a category and Gordon, 22, was among the minor league leaders: home runs, RBIs, runs, extra-base hits, total bases, slugging percentage. More astonishing than his overall numbers was Gordon’s August performance: .355/.465/.701 in 107 at-bats with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs.
SS Reid Brignac • Devil Rays
Where’s Brandon Wood, you ask? It might appear that Wood loses out because he missed the season’s final two-plus weeks while playing for Team USA. But Brignac, just 20, did the same sorts of things Wood did, but struck out far less frequently per plate appearance. Brignac finished the season sixth in the minors with 167 hits and ninth with 100 runs scored. In a pleasant twist for a young lefthanded batter, Brignac managed to hit .315 off southpaws.
OF Jay Bruce • Reds
Bruce looks like a steal after being just the fourth high school outfielder drafted in 2005, behind Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin and Andrew McCutchen. The 19-year-old Dayton Dragon led the Midwest League with 42 doubles and 63 extra-base hits. Not even a slump caused by an August flare-up of the bruised shoulder he sustained earlier in the year while diving for a catch could dampen Bruce’s overall numbers.
OF Adam Lind • Blue Jays
Surely contending for the Eastern League triple crown was going to be the highlight of Lind’s season. Not quite. While he did win the EL’s MVP award, he would go on to hit .394 with power in the International League before hitting over .400 in his first dozen major league games. Because of his rapid ascension, the 23-year-old Lind would not get a chance to lead his league in doubles, as he had in his first two seasons.
OF Hunter Pence • Astros
Pence had perhaps the best season by any outfielder in the high minors, hitting for power, drawing walks and even stealing a few bases. What the 23-year-old Pence lacks in raw tools he makes up for with instincts and a determination to get his uniform dirty. Like many on this team, Pence finished among the minor league leaders in home runs, extra-base hits, runs scored and total bases.
DH Kevin Kouzmanoff • Indians
Ladies and gentlemen: Your minor league slugging percentage champion. Sure, Kouzmanoff is a bit older (he’s 25), might not stick at third base and has battled injuries since hurting his back in a 2004 AFL stint. But the man can hit. He tore up the same leagues Lind did as they skyrocketed to the majors, and Kouzmanoff lost the minor league batting title by a measly percentage point to Loney.
SP Homer Bailey • Reds
The Reds sure have a lot of players on this list, don’t they? The 20-year-old Bailey pitched better after a promotion to the Southern League, but he was plenty good in the Florida State League, overmatching opponents with his effortless, lively fastball. You might be seeing our 2004 High School Player of the Year in the majors as soon as next year if he continues at this pace.
SP Yovani Gallardo • Brewers
The 20-year-old Gallardo dominated two levels with four pitches and led all minor leaguers with 188 strikeouts. You’ll also find him among the leaders in strikeouts per nine innings (naturally), ERA and opponents’ batting average. Not bad for a guy who failed to strike out a man an inning in the South Atlantic League in 2005. Gallardo’s fastball velocity can’t match the others here, but he more than makes up for it with two advanced breaking balls and an average changeup.
SP Matt Garza • Twins
Garza reached Triple-A in July, one year after he was the 25th overall pick in the draft. He figured to stay there until rosters expanded in September, but as the Twins lost phenom Francisco Liriano and then veteran Brad Radke to injuries, the 22-year-old Garza got a major league promotion in early August. His .179 average against ranked fifth in the minors, and his wins and ERA also ranked near the top. Incredible as his season was, the Twins apparently didn’t quite know what they had on their hands: Garza, a college pitcher, began his pro career in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2005.
SP Philip Hughes • Yankees
Like every starting pitcher on this team, Hughes began his season by dominating high Class A before moving up to Double-A to dominate some more. Encouragingly, the 20-year-old Hughes showed the finest control of the group and also induced a higher ratio of groundball outs. Hughes tied Garza for fifth in opponents’ batting average and ranked 10th with 168 strikeouts.
RP Juan Salas • Devil Rays
Salas proved too much for the Southern League. The 27-year-old erstwhile infielder converted to the mound in 2004 when his 80 arm was far ahead of his bat. He didn’t allow an earned run in his 34 2/3 innings with Double-A Montgomery, then surrendered just five in 28 2/3 innings for Triple-A Durham. Among relievers, Salas allowed the third-lowest average to opposing batters.