|FIVE YEARS AGO|
|1. *Adam Dunn, of, Louisville
|2. *Toby Hall, c, Durham (Devil Rays)|
*Felipe Lopez, ss/3b, Syracuse
|4. *Nick Johnson, 1b, Columbus (Yankees)|
|5. *Brandon Duckworth, rhp, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Phillies)|
*Tim Spooneybarger, rhp, Richmond
*Alex Escobar, of, Norfolk (Mets)|
*Erick Almonte, ss, Columbus (Yankees)|
*Juan Rivera, of, Columbus (Yankees)|
|10. *Cesar Izturis, ss/2b, Syracuse (Blue Jays)|
|*Has played in major leagues|
|1.||Delmon Young, of, Durham (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 Age: 20
Drafted: Devil Rays '03
|Until he homered in his long-anticipated major league debut in August, it was in many ways a season to forget for Young. But neither a 50-game suspension for throwing a bat at a replacement umpire nor a less-than-contrite press conference to herald his return could do much to dim his star. He still has the five tools that had made him the best prospect in the game, and he's still just 20.|
Young excels at the plate because of his hand-eye coordination and his knack for detecting pitching patterns and making adjustments. "He has a quick bat and tremendous reflexes," Durham manager John Tamargo said. "He just puts the good part of the bat on the ball. He's pretty impressive."
Young drives pitches all over the field but frequently inside-outs fastballs to right field, diminishing his pull power. He gets the most out of his average speed with high success rates on the basepaths (22 for 26 stealing bases) and plus range in the outfield. His arm rates as above average.
Taken out of context, Young's Triple-A numbers don't scream star, but he has very few weaknesses for a player in just his third pro season. One could quibble with the low Triple-A home run total (eight) or K-BB ratio (65-15), but everyone who has seen him expects him to be a devastating major league hitter for a long time.
|2.||Lastings Milledge, of, Norfolk (Mets)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 185 Age: 21
Drafted: Mets '03
|Milledge's improved plate discipline with Norfolk earned him his first major league promotion when Xavier Nady went to the disabled list in late May. While he didn't set the world on fire as a rookie, Milledge showed flashes of what he can do. Scouts agree that it will take him time to apply all his talents.|
Milledge's bat just rips through the zone and will allow him to produce for both average and power. A plus runner, he should improve as a basestealer (13-for-23) once he learns to pick his spots better. He has slightly above-average range and a solid arm, and while he's capable in center field he'll probably play on the corner with Carlos Beltran on the Mets.
|3.||Jeremy Sowers, lhp, Buffalo (Indians)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 180 Age: 23
Drafted: Indians '04
|Sowers has pitched as advertised since the Indians made him the sixth overall pick in 2004, mastering each of his minor league assignments in half a season. He made his major league debut this year and threw consecutive shutouts in July.|
Nothing Sowers throws is overpowering, but his command makes each of his pitches play up and he has a knack for preventing batters from squaring the ball up. He throws his 86-91 mph fastball to both sides of the plate, and though it has below-average life, he can get it in under the hands of righthanders.
Sowers gets outs against righties with his plus changeup, his most improved pitch this year. To attack lefties, he locates his average slider.
|4.||Tom Gorzelanny, lhp, Indianapolis (Pirates)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 Age: 24
Drafted: Pirates '03
|Like Sowers, Gorzelanny was among the league leaders in ERA when he was promoted to the majors. But that's where the similarities end. In terms of pure stuff, Gorzelanny had the best of any lefthander in the league.|
He pitches at 91 mph, but his above-average fastball can range anywhere from 90-94 with life, and he locates it to both sides of the plate with deception and downhill plane. Gorzelanny's sharp, late-breaking slider is his out pitch, and he's still learning to locate his straight changeup.
"He's one of those guys who can throw 90-plus and locate his breaking balls. He's as good as anybody in the league," Charlotte manager Razor Shines sad. "He's not afraid to throw his fastball in a fastball count, and it shows me he has conviction. And I like pitchers with conviction."
Scouts thought Gorzelanny's could become a dependable No. 3 starter or a top lefthanded reliever. He was shut down with elbow soreness in August but returned by mid-September.
|5.||Ryan Sweeney, of, Charlotte (White Sox)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-4 Wt: 200 Age: 21
Drafted: White Sox '03
|One scout called Sweeney the most improved player he'd seen this year and he might be the White Sox' best all-around center-field candidate for 2007. He has been a fixture on the prospect map since a strong big league camp in 2004 at age 19, but his power hadn't emerged until this season, when he set personal bests in homers (13), doubles (25) and slugging percentage (.452).|
Sweeney has a beautiful lefthanded swing. He lines pitches all over the park, but in the second half he started to pull the ball with loft and hit eight homers in the final two months. As he achieves better balance at the plate and learns to stay back, scouts expect him to develop more pull power because he won't be out on his front foot.
Though his range is just average, his arm is a plus and he can play anywhere in the outfield. He makes good use of his average speed tracking balls in the outfield, getting down the line and scoring from first on doubles.
|6.||Josh Fields, 3b, Charlotte (White Sox)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 215 Age: 23
Drafted: White Sox '04
|Fields consolidated all his talents and had a breakout season, but he faces a formidable obstacle in the form of Joe Crede, who won't become a free agent until after the 2008 season. Unless the White Sox trade one of them, Fields probably faces a move to left field. The former Oklahoma State quarterback has the agility to make that transition, and he also has turned himself into a solid third baseman with good hands and a strong arm.|
Wherever he plays, Fields' bat is ready for a big league lineup. He has above-average strength and bat speed, with the power from left field to right-center to produce 25-30 homers on an annual basis. Pitchers could get good fastballs by him when his swing got too big, and his 136 strikeouts were third-most in the league.
Fields runs well and has first-step quickness, but his 28 steals in 33 tries may have been attributable to the element of surprise.
"This kid has the power potential to do something special on the major league level," Shines said. "The way he works at it every day is something special."
|7.||Hayden Penn, rhp, Ottawa (Orioles)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 195 Age: 21
Drafted: Orioles '02
|Penn's fantastic season went largely unnoticed, perhaps because he got a late start while recovering from shoulder soreness and then missed all of June following an emergency appendectomy. Though he gave up 22 runs in his first three starts for Baltimore this year, he should be ready to claim a rotation spot at some point next year.|
Penn is a top competitor with quality stuff that he commands well, including a low-90s fastball that he can dial up to 96 mph. His changeup and improved curveball are also above-average offerings at times. Because his offspeed pitches are so good, batters had the most success jumping on his fastball early in counts when it caught too much of the plate.
|8.||Andy Marte, 3b, Buffalo (Indians)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 190 Age: 22 Signed: Braves FA '00|
|After a whirlwind winter in which Marte was traded from the Braves to the Red Sox to the Indians, he homered just twice and drove in only 13 runs over the season's first two months. He got hot in June, hitting .304 with 10 home runs, but he appeared bored at times in his return to the IL after ranking fifth on this list a year ago. He cooled back off after a late July promotion to Cleveland.|
Marte has good balance and power to all fields, and prior to 2006 he had specialized in driving the outside pitch the other way, then crushing pitchers when they came in on him. He now looks to pull almost exclusively, and still has issues with his swing path, showing an uppercut at times. He sometimes cheats on inside fastballs, giving him trouble with breaking balls away.
But Marte can absolutely crush mistakes and some managers thought he had the most power in the league. He never has hit for a high average in the minors and his long swing might make it difficult in the majors, too. He has average speed, range and hands to go with a plus arm at third base.
|9.||Humberto Sanchez, rhp, Toledo (Tigers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 230 Age: 23 Drafted: Tigers D/F
|Sanchez again showed the power stuff to excite observers and hint at his potential, but he also reinforced durability concerns when he lost the final month of the season to elbow tenderness. Following oblique and groin injuries in 2005, he bounced back by being practically unhittable with Double-A Erie and dominating in the Futures Game, but he had his three worst outings of the year with Toledo before being shelved. He might lack the command and consistent mechanics to hold up as a starter|
Sanchez pitches at 92-93 mph with his fastball, and can reach back for a bit more when he gets in trouble. He has two breaking balls, the better of which is usually a hard slider that breaks down and often gets mistaken for a splitter. He began throwing his changeup more with the Mud Hens, but it remained just a usable pitch.
"He was really good and I love his stuff. It's electric and comes out of his hand good," Toledo manager Larry Parrish said. "He's physically imposing and tries to intimidate the batters. And I bet he does."
|10.||Jamie Shields, rhp, Durham (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 215 Age: 24
Drafted: Devil Rays '00
|No pitching prospect in the league did more to raise his prospect stock than Shields, who was relatively unknown before his a solid Double-A season and strong Arizona Fall League showing in 2005. He breezed through the IL in just 10 starts before becoming a mainstay in Tampa Bay's rotation.|
Projected as a mid-rotation starter of setup man, Shields pounds the bottom of the zone, throwing strikes and inducing ground balls. He challenges batters with an above-average 89-93 mph sinker and keeps them off balance with his plus changeup. He uses his curveball, an average pitch at times, to set up his other offerings.
|11.||Elijah Dukes, of, Durham (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 225 Age: 22 Drafted: Devil Rays '02 (3)|
|Dukes tools are as good as anyone's and he might be the most talented player in the league. He was also the IL's most enigmatic player, as he was sent home three times by the Devil Rays, twice with suspensions. He got into it with his manager, his pitching coach, his teammates and was suspended by the league for arguing balls and strikes and refusing to leave the field after an ejection, leading one observer to question his ability to function in a team environment. |
Nobody questions Dukes' raw tools. His game is about power and speed, and one scout gave him 70 future grades on the 20-80 scouting scale for both. Like other young hitters in the league, he should continue to show more pop as he matures. While he's fast once he gets going, he doesn't have an especially quick first step and doesn't project as a basestealer at the major league level.
Dukes' hitting and throwing arm graded at 65, just a tick below his power and speed. He has average range on the outfield corners, and features both arm strength and accuracy. While he played left field in deference to Young while both were at Durham, Dukes has the defensive tools for right.
"You hear about five tools. Well, Elijah has six. He has a tool they haven't even invented yet," Shines said. "As a baseball player, he can do it all. There are things he has to work on to make the big leagues, but it has nothing to do with baseball."
|12.||Scott Thorman, 1b/of, Richmond (Braves)|
|B-T: L-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 235 Age: 24
Drafted: Braves '00
|It has been a long road for Thorman, a 2000 first-round pick. This season, he started to better apply his plus raw power in games. He was on pace to best his career mark for home runs before he was called up in late June.|
"I've said for two years that this kid hits the ball as far as anybody," Shines said. "He hit the longest ball I've ever seen last year when I managed against him in Double-A. When he learns the strike zone better, he's going to be a top power hitter."
Thorman plays hard and tends to treat himself harder, sometimes letting his emotions get the better of him. He sometimes lapses into a dead-pull approach at the plate, and his swing might not translate into high batting averages in the majors.
Thorman is a below-average defender at first base and began playing left field to help get his bat in the Atlanta lineup. Drafted as a third baseman, he has a solid-average arm and moves well for his size.
|13.||Brandon League, rhp, Syracuse (Blue Jays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 195 Age: 23
Drafted: Blue Jays '01
|League has been able to hit triple digits on the radar gun for a while, but it wasn't until he found a consistent arm slot and added a splitter that he became reliable on the mound. He made so much progress this season that the Blue Jays entrusted him with eighth-inning work down the stretch.|
League usually throws his sinker at 95-96 mph, and he gets incredible angle on the pitch considering he stands 6-foot-2. His 5.8 ground-fly ratio attests to the power of his sinker, and he gave up just nine extra-base hits (all doubles) in 55 innings at Syracuse. His high-80s slider is an above-average offering, and the addition of the splitter finally gave him a trustworthy offspeed offering.
|14.||Jason Hammel, rhp, Durham (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 200 Age: 24
Drafted: Devil Rays '02
|Few righthanders in the league had better raw stuff than Hammel, who showed off his power repertoire by pitching 8 1/3 innings of a Durham no-hitter in July and posting consecutive double-digit strikeout games in August. He made his major league debut this season but struggled with his location. |
Hammel has an ideal pitchers' body at 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, and he has good direction to the plate. His 90-94 mph fastball jumps on hitters with late life. His delivery is fluid and repeatable, but when he gets out of sync he rushes toward the plate, resulting in flat pitches up in the zone.
Hammel also throws an above-average 12-to-6 curveball and an average changeup. When he misses with his offspeed stuff, he missed down. He surrendered just 11 home runs and kept the ball on the ground, especially against lefthanders. He can get three pitches over and still projects as a No. 3 starter.
|15.||Dustin McGowan, rhp, Syracuse (Blue Jays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215 Age: 24 Drafted: Blue Jays '00 (1)|
|Two years removed from 2004 Tommy John surgery, McGowan has fully regained his arm strength and for the second straight season divided his time between starting and relieving in both the majors and minors. He has the stuff for either role and was unhittable for stretches, but he was plagued by inconsistent command.|
Because McGowan has four pitches, he profiles more as a mid-rotation starter than a reliever, and he could aspire to No. 2 status because of his power stuff. He pitches at 92-94 mph, with the ability to reach 96 with his four-seam fastball, but the pitch can flatten out on him and catch too much of the plate. Batters had success putting the pitch in play when looking for it, so he has worked to better incorporate his two-seamer.
McGowan's changeup is above-average, featuring good arm speed and deception. His breaking stuff is good enough to go to when behind in the count, and his sharp slider was often his best offering. His curveball also has the potential to become a plus pitch.
|16.||Pat Neshek, rhp, Rochester (Twins)|
|B-T: B-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 Age: 26
Drafted: Twins '02
|The only player on this list who didn't make the 2006 edition of BA's Prospect Handbook, Neshek put together an outstanding campaign and was the IL leader in strikeouts near midseason--despite pitching in relief. Promoted to the majors in July, he posted a 2.19 ERA in middle relief to help the Twins roar back and win the American League Central.|
Neshek's funky delivery is key to his success. His first move resembles that of a submariner, but he finishes higher and delivers sidearm. It was a very tough look for righthanders to read and IL batters hit just .161 against him. Big leaguers batted just .176.
Neshek pitches at 90-93 mph with a fastball that has cutting action. His slider has lift and plenty of turn, but not classic late-plane break. He has an average changeup that he uses to combat lefties, who have an easier time putting the ball in play against him.
"It's amazing what this young man's done. If we've had a lead going into the seventh or eighth innings, it's over," Rochester manager Stan Cliburn said. "He's a one-man show as far as closing games. He'd come in in the seventh and close the game out. That's how durable he was."
|17.||Michael Bourn, of, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Phillies)|
|B-T: L-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 180 Age: 23
Drafted: Phillies '03
|Bourn played for four teams this summer, ranging from Double-A Reading to the Phillies to Team USA, with perhaps his finest moment coming when he connected for two home runs in a victory against Cuba in the Olympic qualifying tournament. He spent just six weeks with Scranton, but made the most of his well above-average speed by stealing 15 bases in 16 tries and hitting seven triples, good for fourth in the league. |
Bourn has shown improvement with each promotion and he plays up to his strengths. He runs extremely well and is a smart baserunner capable of reading pitchers and using his raw speed. He has a good batting eye and projects as a solid-average major league hitter. He's also a plus defensive center fielder with a slightly above-average, accurate arm.
His power is strictly gap-to-gap and is below average, but he can surprise opponents, as he did by taking Cuban flamethrower Pedro Luis Lazo deep. The Phillies want him to concentrate on hitting the ball in the air less and cutting down on his strikeouts, a byproduct of working deep counts.
|18.||Dustin Pedroia, ss/2b, Pawtucket (Red Sox)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 5-9 Wt: 180 Age: 23 Drafted: Red Sox '04 (2)|
|Pedroia is the classic example of a player who plays above his tools. Opposing mangers described him as a pesky hitter and a tough out, but had reservations about his lack of power and range. Pedroia got results in Triple-A, though, batting .305 (fifth in the IL) with 30 doubles and nearly twice as many walks (48) as strikeouts (27). |
Pedroia makes up for below-average speed and raw power by maximizing his selectivity as a hitter and by using the whole field. He showed an aptitude for taking the breaking ball the other way, and he has the hand-eye coordination to make consistent contact while using a big swing.
"Pitchers will always challenge Pedroia, and he will prove them wrong," a scout said. "He will put the ball in play. He'll use the first-base and third-base line. He's a kid you love to have on your club."
Pedroia was a shortstop at Arizona State and spent the majority of his time there for Pawtucket, but he doesn't have the range to be a regular there in the majors. He spent a lot of time at second base, and his sure hands and strong arm play better at the keystone.
|19.||Charlie Haeger, rhp, Charlotte (White Sox)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200 Age: 22
Drafted: White Sox '01
|Haeger topped the IL with 14 wins and finished among the league leaders in nearly every category: 3.07 ERA (fourth), 170 innings (fourth), 130 strikeouts (fourth) and 78 walks (second). With uncanny command of a knuckleball for such a young pitcher, Haeger projects as an innings-eating No. 5 starter. |
Though Haeger still walked a lot of batters, he has improved the command of his lively knuckler to the point where he can go to either corner with the pitch. He can change speeds on the knuckler--ranging from 65-75 mph--depending on the effect it's having on batters. Some IL batters thought his knuckleball was the best they'd ever seen, and he reminded one scout of Tom Candiotti for the action he got on the pitch.
When he falls behind, Haeger can go to a straight 84-86 mph fastball, a pitch that's easier to locate. It's strictly a get-me-over offering, which is problematic on days when his knuckler doesn't cooperate.
|20.||Chris Denorfia, of, Louisville (Reds)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 195 Age: 26
Drafted: Reds '02
|Denorfia continued to do what he's always done--hit for average, get on base and play good defense--as he spent the season shuttling between the majors and the minors. He saw more time with the Reds after the mid-July trade of Austin Kearns, but Denorfia didn't hit enough to avoid a demotion. His future is probably as a fourth outfielder.|
Denorfia is a manager's delight because he's an overachiever who plays with passion. He has no one exceptional tool, but he's a disciplined, line-drive hitter who can take the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. He's probably no more than a 15-home run hitter in the majors.
"He puts the ball in play and he's a good two-strike hitter," Cliburn said. "We played one series where we couldn't get him out. We'd pitch him away and he'd go the other way. Pitch him in and he'd drive it into the gap."
Denorfia has average range in center field and enough arm to play in right. Above-average speed may be Denorfia's strongest tool, and he succeeded in 15 of 16 steal attempts.