|FIVE YEARS AGO|
|1. *Hank Blalock, 3b, Tulsa (Rangers)|
|2. *Tim Redding, rhp, Round Rock (Astros)|
*Carlos Hernandez, lhp, Round Rock (Astros)|
|4. *Rafael Soriano, rhp, San Antonio (Mariners)|
|5. Jeff Heaverlo, rhp, San Antonio (Mariners)|
*Mario Ramos, lhp, Midland (Athletics)|
*Angel Berroa, ss, Wichita (Royals)|
*Lyle Overbay, 1b, El Paso (Diamondbacks)|
*Ken Harvey. 1b, Wichita (Royals)|
|10. *Jason Lane, of, Round Rock (Astros)|
|*Has played in major leagues|
|1.||Alex Gordon, 3b, Wichita (Royals)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 215 Age: 22
Drafted: Royals '05 (1)|
|If carrying the weight of an entire organization's hopes on your shoulders was a burden, Gordon sure didn't show it. Other players may have offered better individual skills, but no one in the TL had a complete package to compare with Gordon's. He led the league in slugging (.588), finished second in on-base percentage (.427) and ranked fourth in batting (.325). A year after winning BA's College Player of the Year award at Nebraska, Gordon added our Minor League Player of the Year hardware. He also was named league MVP. |
Scouts and managers praised Gordon's smooth swing and his approach at the plate, noting that he also offers light-tower power potential. He's also a good baserunner who stole 22 bases in 25 attempts. He has reliable hands and an above-average arm, with managers rating him the best defensive third baseman in the league.
"This guy is the total package," Corpus Christi manager Dave Clark said. "He was clearly the best player in the league."
|2.||Brandon Wood, ss, Arkansas (Angels)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 185 Age: 21
Drafted: Angels '03 (1)|
|Wood proved his breakout 2005 season was no fluke, leading the league with 71 extra-base hits in his first Double-A experience. He also topped the TL with 149 strikeouts, however--the highest total of his minor league career--as he tried to prop up a weak team that won just 51 games all season.|
The sock in Wood's bat is obvious, and observers said his strike-zone awareness improved as the season went on. Teams attacked him by staying in on his hands and giving him a steady diet of breaking balls early, but by the end of the year it was harder to get him out that way.
Wood also made strides on defense, showing improved range and good hands and footwork. He should be able to stay at shortstop, though the Angels also have Orlando Cabrera and Erick Aybar available.
|3.||Troy Tulowitzki, ss, Tulsa (Rockies)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 Age: 21
Drafted: Rockies '05 (1)|
|Tulowitzki didn't produce overwhelming numbers in his first full pro season, but he perfectly illustrated how development takes precedence over performance in the minors. Tulsa skipper Stu Cole, who managed Tulowitzki at Class A Modesto in 2005, suggested batting him leadoff this season to teach him how to be more selective, and the Rockies signed off on the idea.|
Though managers said it was clear Tulowitzki isn't a leadoff hitter, they loved his bat and power potential. He still can get too aggressive, chasing fastballs up and breaking balls in the dirt, but did improve in that regard. He also got better defensively, showing a good arm and increased range.
"He's talented but the best thing about him is how hard he works," Cole said. "He has the work ethic where he's always trying to get better."
|4.||Billy Butler, of, Wichita (Royals)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 225 Age: 22
Drafted: Royals '04
|If anyone doubted Butler's potential as a hitter, he proved his legitimacy by leading the Texas League in batting (.331), winning the Futures Game MVP award with a game-winning two-run homer and anchoring the middle of Team USA's lineup during its successful run through the Olympic qualifying tournament in August.|
Some managers liked Butler's hitting skills better than Gordon's and said he understands the art of hitting a little bit better, showing a better two-strike approach and moving the ball around the field more. The questions about Butler remain on defense. Though he improved in the outfield, most observers said they can't see him playing there and envision him as a first baseman or DH.
|5.||Travis Buck, of, Midland (Athletics)|
|B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205 Age: 22
Drafted: Athletics '05
|The third 2005 first-round pick among the league's top five prospects, Buck came to the TL in May after just 34 games in the high Class A California League. His season ended in mid-July, however, when he developed a sports hernia. The Athletics decided not to try to rush him back, focusing instead on getting him healthy for the Arizona Fall League.|
Buck made a strong impression in his two months. He's a well-rounded lefthanded hitter who handled lefty pitching, didn't strike out too much and spread the ball all over the field. Most managers expect him to add power as he matures.
Buck's arm is his weakest tool, but his overall defense in left field was solid. "Your first impression is that he's a big slug who can hit and not do anything else," said a scout with a National League club, "but he runs better than you expect."
|6.||Ubaldo Jimenez, rhp, Tulsa (Drillers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 200 Age: 22 Signed: Rockies '03|
|Jimenez returned to Tulsa after ranking 18th on this list a year ago. He proved he had adapted to Double-A hitters, dominating for 13 starts before moving up to Triple-A.|
Jimenez has quality stuff, with a fastball that touches 96-97 mph to go with a curveball and changeup. He improved not only his command but also his understanding of how to attack hitters.
He also has learned how to repeat his delivery better, though scouts still worry about a hitch in his mechanics that they say could affect his durability. After shoulder problems in 2004, however, Jimenez has pitched 135 and 152 innings in the last two seasons without any problems.
|7.||John Danks, lhp, Frisco (Rangers)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190 Age: 21 Drafted: Rangers '03 (1)|
|Like Jimenez, Danks returned to the TL after getting knocked around there in the second half of the 2005 season there in 2005. He's also a repeater on this list, moving up from No. 11 after excelling for two months prior to a promotion to Triple-A.|
Danks' pure arm strength doesn't compare to that of teammates like Hurley and Thomas Diamond, but he has two things they don't have: He's lefthanded and has a tremendous feel for pitching. He competes hard and always keeps his composure
Danks' fastball touches 92-93 mph and he commands it well, and his curveball and changeup have developed to the point where they each received mention as his best pitch. He gets in trouble when he leaves his pitches up or doesn't have fine command in the strike zone.
|8.||Hunter Pence, of, Corpus Christi (Astros)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 190 Age: 20
Drafted: Astros '04 (2)|
|In his first Double-A experience, Pence anchored the middle of the Corpus Christi lineup all season as the Hooks led the league in batting and won the championship. Clark said he expects Pence to do the same thing in the big leagues. "You put his name in the lineup every day and know something good is going to happen," Clark said.|
Pence is aggressive at the plate and has a lot of movement in his swing, raising questions about whether he'll get himself out against better pitching, but he showed the ability to make adjustments. He's a high-energy player who drew comparisons to Eric Byrnes for his intensity. "The clubhouse guy has a legitimate job getting his uniform clean every day," said a scout from an NL club.
Pence offers a well-rounded package of tools, with only his arm rating below-average. Good speed makes him a solid defender, and he played both right and center field for the Hooks.
|9.||Juan Gutierrez, rhp, Corpus Christi (Astros)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200 Age: 23 Signed: Astros '00|
|Another product of the Astros' scouting efforts in Venezuela, Gutierrez moved exceptionally slowly, not reaching full-season ball until 2005--five years after he signed. He jumped to Double-A this season and showed dominant stuff, though he missed more than a month at midseason because of a sore arm. He finished strong, however, winning two games as the Hooks' Game One starter in both playoff series.|
Gutierrez' fastball registered at 92-95 mph with good sink. He used two breaking balls, with his curveball more effective than his slider. His changeup still needs work but came along, as did his command.
|10.||Ian Stewart, 3b, Tulsa (Rockies)|
|B-T: L-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 Age: 21
Drafted: Rockies '03 (1)|
|Stewart ranked among the top prospects in all of baseball after his first year and a half in the Rockies system, but he has dealt with more adversity in the last couple of seasons. Injuries were his big problem in 2005, and his first taste of Double-A showed he needs work on his approach at the plate.|
Stewart has the tools to hit in the middle of a big league lineup, but he'll have to refine his swing. He tries to pull the ball too much and uses too much top hand in his swing. His strike-zone awareness also comes and goes, and he struggled against quality breaking balls.
After Double-A pitchers exposed his weaknesses, Stewart did improve as the season went on, raising his average 36 points after bottoming out at .232 in June. He also made strides on defense, showing more range and consistency to go with his strong arm. Stewart's outstanding makeup also hasn't suffered, as he's still a hard worker with the drive to be a star.
|11.||Chris Iannetta, c, Tulsa (Rockies)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 195 Age: 23
Drafted: Rockies '04
|Iannetta wasn't the most touted prospect on the Tulsa roster coming into the season, but it didn't take him long to make his mark. He put up the best offensive numbers of his short career and earned a promotion to Triple-A after just 44 games, then made his major league debut at the end of August.|
Iannetta boosted his stock by showing a more consistent approach at the plate, which helped him get the most out of his compact swing and good bat speed. He continued to show quality pitch recognition and added more power to his game as he focused on pitches he could drive. Some managers wondered if he would hit enough in the big leagues to be an everyday catcher, but most thought he would.
While Iannetta always has earned praise as a receiver, he made refinements in his game-calling and consistency. The biggest question about him behind the plate is with his control of the running game. His arm is strong enough, but he threw out just six of 28 basestealers (21 percent) while with Tulsa.
|12.||Mitch Talbot, rhp, Corpus Christi (Astros)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 175 Age: 22
Drafted: Astros '02 (2)|
|The Devil Rays' Double-A affiliate plays in the Southern League, but they have two of the better prospects in the Texas League this season after trading Aubrey Huff to the Astros in July for Talbot and Ben Zobrist (who led the league with a .434 on-base percentage and just missed making this list). Both players were integral to Corpus Christi's first-half division title before they headed out.|
Zobrist surprised everyone by quickly reaching the big leagues, and many TL managers thought Talbot wouldn't be far behind him because he finally started to pitch to his potential this season. He was good in Corpus Christi and simply lights-out after he joined the Devil Rays, giving up no earned runs in 18 playoff innings as Montgomery won the SL title.
Talbot has always had a strong changeup, and it became much more effective this season when he started throwing his fastball more consistently in the mid-90s. Previously he had worked more in the 88-92 mph range. He still needs to polish his breaking ball, as he's trying to clean up his slider enough to make it an effective third pitch.
|13.||Joe Koshansky, 1b, Tulsa (Rockies)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-4 Wt: 225 Age: 24
Drafted: Rockies '04 (6)|
|Koshansky always has had to fight for attention, going undrafted after he led Virginia in home runs and pitching wins as a junior in 2003, then lasting until the sixth round after his senior year--when he was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. He got the Rockies' attention by hitting 36 home runs with 103 RBIs in 2005 at low Class A Asheville, and he put together a similar season after jumping to Tulsa this year, leading the TL with 109 RBIs even after slumping in the last month.|
"He's a guy who's making people take notice of what he can do by performing and getting better," Cole said.
As his power and strikeout numbers show, Koshansky is an aggressive hitter who looks for a pitch he can drive. And when he gets it, he rarely misses. Though he does strike out a lot, it's not excessive for someone with his pop and he's not just swinging from his heels. He doesn't chase balls out of the zone and is willing to take a walk.
Koshansky is a solid defender at first base and has done a lot of work on playing balls to his right and fielding balls in the dirt. He's athletic enough to make the outfield a possibility, which would help his career with Todd Helton blocking his way at first base in Colorado.
|14.||Kurt Suzuki, c, Midland (Athletics)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200 Age: 22
Drafted: Athletics '04 (2)|
|Entering the year, Suzuki was regarded as a solid offensive catcher with questions about his work behind the plate. While he maintained his offensive performance this season with Midland, he made major strides on defense. Managers rated him the league's best defensive catcher.|
Suzuki has always had the tools to play catcher, and they all came together this season. His biggest improvement came in game-calling, but he also led the league with a .997 fielding percentage and he threw out 47 percent of basestealers. He's agile with a good arm and has all the leadership qualities teams look for in a catcher.
Offensively, Suzuki went from a dead-pull hitter to using the whole field. He maintained his good approach at the plate, walking more than he struck out, and some managers think he could still show a little bit more power down the line.
|15.||Matt Albers, rhp, Corpus Christi (Astros)|
|B-T: L-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 205 Age: 23
Drafted: Astros D/F '01 (23)|
|Like Talbot, Albers is a pitcher who came to Corpus Christi and added performance to his potential this season. Albers had not pitched above Class A coming into 2006, but he performed well enough to earn a big league callup in July. He bounced between Houston and Triple-A the rest of the season, but his 19 starts for the Hooks were enough to earn him the league ERA title (2.17) as well as pitcher-of-the-year honors.|
Albers' arm has never been a question, but coming into the season there were major reservations about his makeup and dedication to the game. He put those all aside this year, winning high marks for his focus and ability to ratchet up his stuff when the situation called for it. Most managers thought it was simply a case of maturity and Albers finally realizing he was within striking distance of the big leagues.
He certainly has the stuff to pitch there, and one opposing manager said Albers' stuff was the best in the league. He consistently worked in the low 90s with his fastball, complementing it with a good changeup and slider. He also showed improved command and ability to control the running game.
|16.||Chris Lubanski, of, Wichita (Royals)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt: 206 Age: 21
Drafted: Royals '03
|Wichita had three first-round picks in its outfield this season in Butler (2004), Lubanski and Mitch Maier (both 2003). While Butler is one of the best hitting prospects in the minors, Lubanski and Maier both showed they shouldn't be written off.|
Lubanski won't ever play up to his draft status, but it's not his fault the Royals wanted to save money with the fifth overall pick in '03. He still should develop into a useful outfielder for the Royals, though his best role would probably be a fourth outfielder and lefthanded bat off the bench on a contender.
He has a smooth swing but chases too many pitches for the amount of power he delivers. He also has solid speed but never translated that to make himself a potent basestealing threat, and his aggressiveness hurts him as a possible leadoff hitter.
Lubanski played mostly in left field for the Wranglers, though he can also play center field in a pinch. His biggest weakness on defense is his arm, which is below-average.
|17.||Juan Morillo, rhp, Tulsa (Rockies)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 Age: 22 Signed: Rockies '01|
|Morillo's raw stuff compares with that of anyone in baseball, and he harnessed it enough to make his big league debut in September. As that brief experience showed, however, he has a lot of rough edges to smooth out before he can win a spot on a big league pitching staff.|
When he does, most managers think it will be as a reliever because he has one devastating pitch. Morillo first gained attention in 2004 when reports came out that his fastball was clocked at 104 mph. While that was an aberration, if not an outright tall tale, he does touch triple digits often and pitches consistently in the mid- to high 90s. He throws a curveball and a changeup, but still doesn't throw them for strikes consistently enough.
Some managers also think Morillo's lanky frame would be better suited for bullpen work. Whatever role he gravitates toward, he needs to smooth out his mechanics so he can better repeat his delivery. While he tied for the TL lead in wins (12) and ranked third in strikeouts (132 in 140 innings), he also finished first in walks (80).
|18.||Marcus McBeth, rhp, Midland (Athletics)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 183 Age: 26
Drafted: Athletics '01 (4)|
|McBeth continued one of the most intriguing turnaround stories in the minors this season, reaching Triple-A in his first full season as a pitcher. Drafted by the Athletics as an outfielder in 2001, he turned to pitching in 2005 after a career .233 average kept him from getting out of Class A.|
On the mound, he has shown not only the stuff but also the makeup to be a successful reliever. He throws a fastball that tops out at 94-96 mph, and he backs it up with a slider that's particularly tough on righthanders. A's pitching instructor Ron Romanick also taught him a changeup that has become a put-away pitch because he does such a good job of maintaining his arm speed. He has also worked on a two-seam fastball that could become an out pitch if he can learn to control it.
McBeth challenges hitters. He needs to refine his command, but he should be no worse than a setup man and has the raw stuff to close games if he continues to make strides.
|19.||Terry Evans, of, Springfield/Arkansas (Cardinals/Angels)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 211 Age: 24
Drafted: Cardinals '01 D/F (47)|
|You're excused if you had never heard of Evans before this year. No one else had, either.|
He spent 3½ seasons in obscurity in the Cardinals organization, and he returned to high Class A for the third time to open 2006. He hit 15 home runs in 60 games there to earn a promotion to Springfield, and then he was traded to the Angels in the July for Jeff Weaver, which kept him in the Texas League at Arkansas. He finished the season with a combined 33 home runs, 37 stolen bases and a .942 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Evans always had been regarded as a hard worker with an intriguing combination of power and speed. This season he developed a more relaxed, consistent approach at the plate that kept him from getting himself out by chasing pitches and going into prolonged slumps.
Evans played exclusively in right field while in Springfield, but he played mostly in center for Arkansas. While he has the speed to play center on occasion, his strong arm and power profile perfectly in right.
|20.||Wladimir Balentien, of, San Antonio (Mariners)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 210 Age: 22 Signed: Mariners '00|
|Balentien drew comparisons to Manny Ramirez from league managers, both for his hitting potential and for his sometimes mystifying on-field behavior. Some managers called him a hot dog. He's one of the most intriguing power hitters in the minors--and represented the Mariners in the Futures Game in July--but his performance this season didn't match his potential.|
He has all the tools to be a middle-of-the-lineup force, including light-tower power. "My God, he can hit the ball a long way," Clark said. He has strength in his body and in his swing, with power from gap to gap, but his swing is big and he has not shown an ability to cut it down based on the count. He also struggled with breaking stuff, though he did show a willingness to hit the ball the other way this year.
Balentien has a strong arm and runs well, though he's not a burner, and he played both right and center field for San Antonio. His long-term fit is in right, though. His attention sometimes wavered, and he led TL outfielders with 11 errors.