Eastern League Top 20 Prospects
Hughes stands out in deep EL pitching crop
|1. *Josh Beckett, rhp, Portland (Marlins)|
|2. *Marlon Byrd, of, Reading (Phillies)|
*Nate Cornejo, rhp, Erie (Tigers)|
|4. *Michael Cuddyer, of, New Britain (Twins)|
|5. *Brad Thomas, lhp, New Britain (Twins)|
|6. *Juan Rivera, of, Norwich
|7. *Brandon Claussen, lhp, Norwich
|8. *Marcus Thames, of, Norwich
|9. *Juan Rincon, rhp, New Britain (Twins)|
|10. *Omar Infante, ss, Erie (Tigers)|
|*Has played in major
For the second year in a row, the Double-A Eastern League significantly more in the way of pitchers than position players. The EL’s five best prospects and seven of its top 10 did their work on the mound.
Trenton’s Philip Hughes edged Akron’s Adam Miller for the ERA title, while Miller led the league in wins. New Britain's Matt Garza and Binghamton’s Mike Pelfrey both made stops in the EL on their way to the big leagues and drew consideration as the league's top prospect.
As for the hitters, only New Hampshire outfielder Adam Lind and Jacoby Ellsbury received universal support from scouts and managers. Neither player fits the all-star profile of some of the EL's top players of the recent past, such as Ryan Howard, Nick Markakis, Hanley Ramirez and David Wright.
"In terms of the position players, I thought it was very weak," one scout said. "There was just no one that really stands out, no position player other than Elsbury that stood out as a guy you saw and really wanted to have."
Altoona outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who reached Double-A at age 19 and in his first full pro season, would have ranked ahead of Lind and Ellsbury if he had played long enough to qualify.
|1.||Philip Hughes, rhp, Trenton (Yankees)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 220 Age: 20
Drafted: Yankees '04
|The Yankees promoted Hughes to Double-A six weeks before his 20th birthday, following just five starts in high Class A. After totaling just 91 innings in his first two pro seasons, he answered questions about his durability by logging 146 innings between his two stops. He also finished strong, going a 4-0, 0.90 with a 61-8 K-BB ratio in 40 innings over his final eight starts.|
He maintained quality stuff all year. Hughes throws a two-seam fastball at 89-90 mph and a four-seamer at 91-95. He throws two versions of his three-quarters breaking ball, one that's harder and one that breaks more. He also throws a straight changeup at 82-83 mph with terrific late fade.
Hughes pitches off his fastball and has an aggressive approach. He repeats his delivery well and his arm action is loose, clean and quick. The biggest thing he needs to improve is his command, as he tends to leave pitches over the plate and up in the strike zone.
|2.||Matt Garza, rhp, New Britain (Twins)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190 Age: 22
Drafted: Twins '05
|Garza didn't draw much fanfare despite being a first-round pick in 2005, but he did by rocketing to the majors in his first full season. He began the year in high Class A, fanned a career-high 13 in his first Double-A start and was in the Twins rotation by August. |
At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds he has a prototypical pitcher's frame, along with a smooth, repeatable delivery and above-average command of four pitches. His fastball sits near 93 mph and he can dial it up to 97. His slider has hard tilt at 82-84. He also throws a slower, get-me-over curveball and a changeup with sink and fade.
Garza complements his stuff with moxie, as he has good presence and a dogged demeanor on the mound. At times he struggles to run his pitches inside to righthanders, but it's not a major concern.
|3.||Mike Pelfrey, rhp, Binghamton (Mets)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-7 Wt: 210 Age: 22
Drafted: Mets '05
|Like Garza, a fellow college righthander drafted in 2005, Pelfrey made a quick ascent to the big leagues in his first full pro season. The last first-rounder to sign, accepting a $5.25 million big league contract in January, he was starting at Shea Stadium six months later.|
Pelfrey's command is not as good as Garza's, in part because he rotates his lower half too much in his delivery, but he too pitches off his fastball. It's a 70 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale and one of the best fastballs in the minors, more for its late life than its velocity. It has heavy sink when it's down in the zone and comes in at 93-95 mph, touching 97.
Pelfrey needs to improve the consistency of his secondary stuff and have more conviction in it. His changeup is his second-best pitch and has the potential to be an above-average offering. His curveball remains slurvy, though he throws it at 82-86 mph.
|4.||Adam Miller, rhp, Akron (Indians)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190 Age: 21
Drafted: Indians '03
|After missing three months with an elbow strain and putting up uninspiring numbers in 2005, Miller answered any questions this season. He struck out seven over six shutout innings in his first start and re-established himself as one of the game's best pitching prospect. The EL pitcher of the year, he led the league in wins (15) while ranking second in ERA (2.75) and third in strikeouts (157 in a career-high 154 innings).|
Miller has above-average command of his mid-90s fastball, and can reach back for 98-mph heat. His slider has modest break, but comes in as fast as 88 mph. He improved his changeup to where it grades as an average third pitch, and also added a two-seam fastball to his repertoire.
"He became a better pitcher this season," said Altoona manager Tim Leiper, whose club faced Miller eight times. "He had better fastball command and his secondary stuff became better. His arm strength has really come back."
|5.||Adam Loewen, lhp, Bowie (Orioles)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-5 Wt: 215 Age: 22
Drafted: Orioles '02
|Loewen flashed glimpses of his considerable potential toward the end of last season, and he finally put it all together in 2006. He needed just nine outings to establish himself as the EL's best lefthander and finished the year in Baltimore's rotation, where he should remain for years to come. |
"He's a big, physical pitcher, but this year he was pitching, too," a scout said. "He may have turned the page and figured out not to throw it 95 at the belt and hope it misses a bat."
Loewen works off his two- and four-seam fastballs, which range from 90-94 mph. His four-seamer has natural cutting action and good life. He also throws two variations of breaking balls, but his best offspeed offering should be his changeup in the future. It's inconsistent but at times shows late sink and fade, and he's learning to throw it with the same arm speed as his fastball.
|6.||Adam Lind, of, New Hampshire (Blue Jays)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 195 Age: 23
Drafted: Blue Jays '04
|Managers rated Lind as the EL's best hitting and power prospect at midseason, and he also won the league MVP award. He performed even better in Triple-A, batting .394/.496/.596, and hit .419 in his first 12 games with Toronto.|
Lind is a pure hitter who will fit in the middle of a big league lineup. He allows pitches to travel deep in the hitting zone before driving them to all fields with a quick, leveraged swing that lends itself to above-average power. His pitch recognition, plate coverage and discipline are all pluses.
Like Harrisburg's Kory Casto and Akron's Kevin Kouzmanoff, two more of the league's better hitters, Lind offers little behind his bat. He's stiff and slow with a below-average arm. He could be a liability in left field, move to first base or wind up at DH, where he saw most of his initial major league action.
|7.||Jacoby Ellsbury, of, Portland (Red Sox)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 190 Age: 22
Drafted: Red Sox '05
|Ellsbury helped Portland win the Red Sox' first Double-A title since their 1983 New Britain team featured Roger Clemens. With his hustle and determination, he quickly became a fan favorite, and he also showed well above-average speed and center-field defense.|
Ellsbury's makes consistent contact, controls the strike zone and gets on base well enough to become a big league leadoff hitter. He has a slight uppercut swing, and though he hit just seven homers between two minor league stops this year, Boston believes he can develop double-digit power. Though he runs well, he needs to improve his basestealing prowess after getting caught in eight of his 24 attempts in the EL.
As a center fielder, Ellsbury gets good jumps and runs down balls in the gaps. His arm is well below average, but he compensates with a quick release and good accuracy.
|8.||Carlos Gomez, of, Binghamton (Mets)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190 Age: 20
Signed: Mets FA '02|
|Gomez is the youngest position player on this list as well as the toolsiest. He skipped high Class A at age 20 and got better as the season wore on, coming back strong after missing three weeks with a back injury near midseason.|
Gomez has pop in his bat, plus speed, a well above-average arm and good defensive ability. His approach is too aggressive and he needs to improve his situational hitting, but he recognizes pitches well and drives the ball to all parts of the field. He already is an accomplished basestealer, swiping 41 bags in 50 tries.
"He swings out of his ass. He really takes a hellacious cut," a scout said. "But he has a natural swing path and maybe the best bat speed in the league, well above and beyond Lind and Casto. This guy excites me."
|9.||Humberto Sanchez, rhp, Erie (Tigers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 230 Age: 23
Drafted: Tigers D/F '01 (31)|
|Sanchez received support for this list a year ago, but he missed the cut because of inconsistent performance and a myriad of injuries that limited him to just 15 appearances. He was dynamite in 2006 when he opened the year healthy, and allowing two earned runs or less in 10 of his 11 starts before climbing to Triple-A.|
The World team starter in the Futures Game, Sanchez has a power arm and a physical 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame. His fastball sits near 94 mph and he holds his velocity deep into games. His secondary stuff is inconsistent, but at times he'll show a well above-average hard slider.
Sanchez needs to improve his mental approach and clean up his mechanics. He could become a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a closer if he maintains his health, which became an issue again when he missed the final month with a tender elbow.
|10.||Tyler Clippard, rhp, Trenton (Yankees)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 170 Age: 21
Drafted: Yankees '03
|Trenton had the league's best pitching staff, and it wasn't just because of Hughes. Clippard's stuff isn't as spectacular, but he continued to improve and topped the EL with 175 strikeouts in 166 innings.|
"Where Hughes had a plus delivery and arm action, Clippard is the other way around," a scout said. "He does it on deception. He's knock-kneed and gangly and has some effort to him, but he's a strike thrower with solid velocity and a really good curveball."
Clippard hides his 88-91 mph fastball well. His plus curveball has above-average depth and three-quarter tilt at 74-76 mph, and he has made strides with his circle changeup. His control is above-average, though he tends to miss up in the strike zone.
|11.||Jonathan Sanchez, lhp, Connecticut (Giants)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 165 Age: 23 Drafted: Giants '04 (27)|
|Sanchez' rapid ascent to the big leagues is a tribute to outstanding scouting as well as player development. A 27th-round pick out of NAIA power Ohio Dominican in 2004, he improved his delivery, which in turn boosted his velocity and command. He dominated the EL in the first six weeks of the season and earned a quick callup to San Francisco, where he didn't allow an earned run in his first 14 appearances.|
Sanchez moved into the Giants rotation in September and with a feel for three pitches and a low-90s fastball, that's where he should stay. His changeup has above-average sink and his slider has hard, late bite when he stays on top of it. His command is erratic at times, and he'll need to spot his pitches more effectively in order to remain a starter.
|12.||Trevor Crowe, of, Akron (Indians)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 200 Age: 22
Drafted: Indians '05 (1)|
|Crowe ended the regular season in a 2-for-29 slump, only to emerge as Akron's best hitter during the playoffs. He impressed league observers with his aggressive attitude and ability to stand out in all phases of the game. One scout compared him to Lenny Dykstra, saying his tools aren't overwhelming, "but he'll do something every night to help his team win."|
A switch-hitter, Crowe has a good approach from both sides of the plate and more pop from the right. He works counts adequately and uses the entire field. His bat speed is above-average and he could hit 10-15 homers annually. He's an excellent fastball hitter.
A slightly above-average runner, Crowe shows average range and arm strength in center field. The Indians wanted to give him a look at second base, but the move didn't take well when he played briefly there at Akron.
|13.||Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3b, Akron
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 205 Age: 25
Drafted: Indians '03
|A self-made hitter, Kouzmanoff
has surpassed all expectations since signing as a sixth-round pick as a
college senior out of Nevada in 2003. He carried a .315 pro average
into this season, then raked in the EL, hit .353 in Triple-A and
slugged a grand slam on the first big league pitch he
Patient and calculating, Kouzmanoff works
counts and awaits his pitch. He's balanced and under control throughout
his swing, and he has above-average bat speed and power. "I can't think
of a better righthanded hitter I've seen as a minor league player or
manager in the last seven or eight years," Leiper
Kouzmanoff won't compete for any Gold Glove,
but he makes most of the routine plays at third base and his bat should
play in the big leagues, even as a DH. He's a below-average
|14.||Kory Casto, 3b/of, Harrisburg (Nationals)|
|B-T: L-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200 Age: 24
Drafted: Nationals '03 (3)|
|Before Gomez turned the corner and Ellsbury and Alexi Casilla joined the EL, Lind, Casto and Kouzmanoff were by far the EL's best hitters. Casto owned the league's best strike-zone judgment and his patient approach borders on overkill. He rarely swings early in the count, even when he receives hittable pitches.|
Casto's swing is short, balanced and flat. He uses the entire field and has above-average power. The Nationals played him at both third base and left field this year, and it's unclear where he'll wind up. His speed is below average but his arm strength is solid.
"I loved the bat," a scout said. "I see him as a run producer in the middle of the lineup, a Joe Randa-type player for a long time."
|15.||Alexi Casilla, ss, New Britain (Twins)|
|B-T: B-R Ht: 5-9 Wt: 160 Age: 22
Signed: Angels FA
|The Twins picked up Casilla from the Angels in exchange for J.C. Romero last December, and he played his way into a September callup after productive stints in the high Class A Florida State League and the EL. He has three plus tools in his speed, glove and arm, which allows him to make plays from deep in the hole at shortstop.|
"This guy is a cat," Portland manager Todd Claus said. "He approaches the ball extremely well and stays below the ball, gets underneath the hop. He can definitely play shortstop. He's a stronger version of (Diamondbacks prospect) Alberto Callaspo."
Casilla employs a slap approach at the plate and sprays line drives into both alleys. He tries to lift the ball too often, but he squares up pitches from both sides of the plate.
|16.||Scott Mathieson, rhp, Reading (Philllies)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 195 Age: 22
Drafted: Phillies '02 (17)|
|After an inconsistent five-year minor league career, Mathieson finally started putting it together in 2006. He joined the Phillies rotation in June and showed power stuff that could make him a No. 3 starter or perhaps a closer. But then doctors discovered a tear in his elbow in September, requiring Tommy John surgery that should knock him out for all or most of 2007.|
Mathieson has a quick, loose arm but will need to clean up his delivery in order to remain healthy in the future. His fastball has good late life and sits near 93 mph. He began crafted a slider in 2005, and the pitch was developing into a second plus offering this summer.
His changeup also improved as well. His command is solid, though he doesn't have the ability to spot his pitches precisely where he wants them.
"He really grew up and developed as a pitcher this year. He became more of a man," said Leiper, who has coached Mathieson on Canadian national teams. "He learned to take more control of games and really came on."
|17.||Jair Jurrjens, rhp, Erie (Tigers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 170 Age: 20 Signed: Tigers FA '03|
|After a sensational first half in high Class A, Jurrjens moved up to the EL and continued to impress Tigers brass. He has thrown harder more consistently and shown more feel for pitching than Detroit anticipated when it signed him out of Curacao three years ago.|
Jurrjens' fastball ranges from 87-92 mph and touches 95, and he can spot it to both sides of the plate. His slider is below average, making his performance even more impressive considering he did it primarily off fastball command and a plus changeup.
Jurrjens has a clean, simple delivery. Some scouts envision him moving to the bullpen, but if he develops a usable breaking ball, he could fill a role as a back-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.
|18.||Gio Gonzalez, lhp, Reading (Phillies)|
|B-T: R-L Ht: 5-11 Wt: 185 Age: 20
Drafted: White Sox '04 (1s)|
|Part of the Jim Thome trade with the White Sox, Gonzalez had a productive first full season in the Phillies system. He showed durability by logging a career-high 155 innings as a 20-year-old and finished second in the league with 166 strikeouts. |
Gonzalez has a repeatable delivery and quick arm, but he's just 5-foot-11, which hinders to create good plane on his fastball. It sits at 87-91 mph and touches 93, but it lacks life and gets pounded when he leaves it up in the zone. He surrendered 24 home runs, tied for the most in the EL.
Gonzalez possesses a well above-average downer curveball that remains his go-to offering. His changeup is a reliable third pitch. Without a plus fastball and fringy command--he led the league with 81 walks--he might move to the bullpen in the big leagues.
|19.||Radhames Liz, rhp, Bowie (Orioles)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 170 Age: 22 Signed: Orioles FA '03|
|Things really fell apart for Liz shortly after he was called up from high Class A in July. He overpowered hitters in the Carolina League but his below-average command doomed him in the EL. He left his stuff over the plate and fell behind in the count too often. |
Liz has a lightning-fast arm that generates 97-mph heat, but he struggles to repeat his delivery and release point. His curveball is inconsistent, as is his changeup. At times, both show the potential to be plus pitches.
His upside is significant, and 2006 was just his second season in America, so with time Liz could develop into a starter in the mold of Orioles righty Daniel Cabrera. At worst, he moves to the bullpen and could become a closer.
|20.||Garrett Olson, lhp, Bowie (Orioles)|
|B-T: R-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200 Age: 22
Drafted: Orioles '05 (1s)|
|Olson climbed to Double-A in his first full pro season and displayed durability, consistency and solid-average stuff. If he improves his command and changeup, he could become a No. 3 or 4 starter.|
His fastball sits near 90 mph, and Olson has crafted a two-seamer that's slower but helps his cause against righthanders. His well above-average curveball is sharp with late, hard break and tight rotation. It's especially tough on lefties.
He mixes his pitches well and moves them around, but he works deep in the count too often and tries to be too fine. His curve alone guarantees that he should become at least a dependable left-on-left reliever.