|FIVE YEARS AGO|
|1.*Carl Crawford, of, Durham (Devil Rays)|
|2. *Brett Myers, rhp, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Phillies)|
|3. *Orlando Hudson, 2b, Syracuse (Blue Jays)|
|4. *Marlon Byrd, of, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Phillies)|
|5. *Brandon Phillips, ss/2b, Buffalo (Indians)|
|6. *Josh Phelps, c/dh, Syracuse (Blue Jays)|
|7. *Juan Rivera, of, Columbus (Yankees)|
|8. *Joe Borchard, of, Charlotte (White Sox)|
|9. *Eric Munson, 1b, Toledo (Tigers)|
|10. *Joe Crede, 3b, Charlotte (White Sox)|
|*Has played in major leagues|
|1.||Jay Bruce, of, Louisville Bats (Reds)|
|B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 218 Age: 20 Drafted: Reds '05 (1)|
|While Bruce didn't reach the majors like fellow 2005 first-rounders Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin, who both debuted in August, he did win Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award and finished atop two prospect lists. As an added bonus, his 80 extra-base hits were the second-highest total by any minor leaguer in 2007.|
Though he played just 50 games in the IL, it was more than enough time for Bruce to make an impression. With excellent bat speed, swing plane and vision, he projects to hit for both average and power. Though Bruce's raw power grades only as a 65 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, he's so efficient that the tool plays up. Observers also were impressed by his willingness to go the other way and by his line-drive stroke, which should allow him to hit for average as well.
Bruce spent most of his time with Louisville in center field, but his range and above-average arm will play better in right field. He does have slightly above-average speed and could steal 15-20 bases in the majors. Opposing teams had success tying him up inside and Bruce struck out 135 times in 133 games on the year, though it's hard to hold it against him considering that rate didn't rise as he moved up the ladder.
"He handled pitches in the zone very well," Richmond manager Dave Brundage said. "At times he would chase pitches under the zone. But for the most part, we were trying to find where to pitch the guy, because he hurt our mistakes. He had a real veteran approach."
|2.||Homer Bailey, rhp, Louisville Bats (Reds)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 205 Age: 21 Drafted: Reds '04 (1)|
|Still just 21, Bailey opened the season in Triple-A with just three months experience in Double-A. The Reds called him to the majors in early June, and he won two of his first three starts but eventually was battered for a 6.99 ERA in 28 innings and returned to the minors. He pitched sparingly in the second half because of a groin injury.|
Bailey was as hard to hit as ever in the IL, changing batters' eye levels with two swing-and-miss pitches, a plus 91-95 mph fastball he likes to throw up in the zone and an above-average 12-to-6 curveball. He made progress throwing the breaker for strikes, after Triple-A hitters laid off anything spinning out of his hand. Bailey mixes in an average slider and a changeup he uses as his fourth pitch. He showed the same effortless delivery and excellent downward plane that made him the seventh overall pick in 2004. A stabbing arm action Bailey uses in back during his windup doesn't affect his release point.
Like most young pitchers, Bailey struggled at times to command his fastball and to control the running game. He also got away with a lot of high fastballs that more experienced hitters punished. But he still offers true No. 1 starter potential.
|3.||Matt Garza, rhp, Rochester Red Wings (Twins)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 205 Age: 23 Drafted: Twins '05 (1)|
|Garza seemed likely to skip over the IL this season after getting his foot in the Metrodome door in 2006. But he fell behind other pitchers in spring training when he had neck soreness, and when his season did start he was hindered by frigid April weather. He didn't help himself by complaining to the press in May about the Twins' handling of him.|
Through it all, Garza's game was unaffected. He mowed down IL batters with pure, power stuff, headlined by a 90-96 mph fastball with late movement that he commands to both sides of the plate. His hard-breaking slider gives him a second weapon, and like his fastball, the pitch has shape, finish and explosion at the plate. Garza will occasionally throw a curve and a changeup to keep batters honest.
The 23-year-old Garza wasn't shy about letting his emotions show on the mound. Some thought this worked in his favor, while others saw it as a detriment. At times he was too reliant on his slider instead of attacking with his heater. Command of his offspeed stuff will determine whether Garza achieves true ace status or settles in as a No. 2 or 3 starter.
|4.||Josh Fields, 3b, Charlotte Knights (White Sox)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 215 Age: 24 Drafted: White Sox '04 (1)|
|In 667 at-bats at the Triple-A level during 2006-07, Fields hit .298/.384/.510 with 29 homers and 46 doubles, proving he was more than ready to step in when Joe Crede went down with a season-ending back injury early in June. Though Fields struggled to hit for average in the majors because of a sky-high strikeout rate, he continued to hit for power, with 23 home runs in half a season.|
The ball sounds different off Fields' bat. He has strength, bat speed and above-average power from left field to right-center. Though he didn't show it as a rookie, he should be a solid-average hitter. He tended to be overaggressive against major league breaking balls from righthanders, the source of most of his strikeouts. Fields has worked hard to become an average defender with a strong arm at third base, and his bat profiles in left field, too, if and when Crede returns. An athletic and gritty player, Fields is a slightly below-average, though smart runner, successful in 36 of 46 Triple-A stolen base attempts.
|5.||Jed Lowrie, ss, Pawtucket Red Sox|
|B-T: B-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 180 Age: 23 Drafted: Red Sox '05 (1s)|
|Lowrie answered questions about his offensive potential after a lackluster, injury-marred 2006 by cracking 47 doubles between Pawtucket and Double-A Portland, a total good for fourth in the minors.|
While he continued to produce as a lefthanded batter—traditionally his strong side—the switch-hitting Lowrie was markedly better from the right side in 2007, hitting 51 points higher from that side at Triple-A. With a line-drive stroke and advanced knowledge of the strike zone, Lowrie projects to be an above-average hitter with enough power for double-digit home run totals and plenty of doubles.
Though he profiles as an offense-oriented player, Lowrie possesses good actions, sure hands and a strong arm at shortstop, though his range is just average. In fact, more than one manager wondered if Lowrie had the first-step quickness and athleticism needed to stay at short. Even if he doesn't, Lowrie has enough bat and arm to profile at third base.
|6.||Jacoby Ellsbury, of, Pawtucket Red Sox|
|B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 185 Age: 23 Drafted: Red Sox '05 (1)|
|Scouts and managers were unanimous in their praise for Ellsbury, one of the league's most exciting players who thrilled the Fenway faithful after his callup. His game begins with speed and defense, both of which are plus tools. The agile Ellsbury gets tremendous stride length for a smallish player (he's listed at 6-foot-1), which contributes to his plus acceleration and raw speed. He maximizes his legs in center field, too, where he was the league's rangiest outfielder, and he has enough arm for the position.|
"He's faster and quicker than what I thought," Brundage said. "His range in center field is untouchable. He's covering line drives in the right-center field gap and anything that's going to hold up in left-center."
Ellsbury controls a small strike zone and uses a pure swing to hit to all fields. He showed improvement against good fastballs as the season progressed, but also a tendency to slap at the ball (he slugged .380 in the IL). With further tightening of his strike zone, Ellsbury could develop into a prototypical leadoff batter with occasional pull power. He already has the running game mastered, as he was 33 of 39 on steals in the IL.
|7.||Brent Lillibridge, ss, Richmond Braves|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 5-11 Wt.: 190 Age: 23 Drafted: Pirates '05 (4)|
|Though he had to wait until June—and Yunel Escobar's big league callup—for his chance with Richmond, Lillibridge opened eyes around the league with his well-rounded game. He reminded one opposing manager of Khalil Greene, as a 5-foot-11 shortstop with excellent leverage in his swing. Unlike Greene, Lillibridge offers above-average speed and baserunning ability (he was 28-of-33 stealing bases) and a chance to be an above-average hitter. |
Lillibridge takes his hands to the ball quickly and cleanly and is adept at using all fields. His game power is fringe-average, but he has enough snap in his bat to hit 10-15 homers annually in the big leagues. Defensively, Lillibridge offers slightly above-average range at short with a great feel for the ball off the bat, good hands and above-average arm strength. An energetic player with instincts for the game, Lillibridge profiles as a No. 2 hitter in the major leagues. Working against Lillibridge are questions about endurance because of his size.
|8.||Yunel Escobar, ss, Richmond Braves|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 200 Age: 24 Drafted: Braves '05 (2)|
|When Edgar Renteria went down with a severe ankle injury in August, the Braves turned to Escobar and got more than they expected: a disciplined .300 hitter with steady defense. Prior to that, the 24-year-old native of Cuba had filled in at second and third base, helping to keep Atlanta's wild-card hopes afloat. |
Escobar's best attribute is that as a hitter he doesn't have any holes. Though he's aggressive at the plate, he hits breaking balls as well as fastballs, balls in on the hands as well as balls three inches off the plate. Ideally, he'd work deeper counts to see more pitches to drive, but Escobar's high-contact, high-average approach works for him. It does handicap his power potential, which is below-average. He doesn't run well, either, and is just average under way. Escobar plays shortstop with flair and solid instincts; his range is solid-average and his arm strong. The Braves have worked with Escobar to tone down his flashiness, though they also recognize that his confidence is part of what defines him and allows him to take adversity in stride.
|9.||Jeff Niemann, rhp, Durham Bulls (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-9 Wt.: 280 Age: 24 Drafted: Devil Rays '04 (1)|
|No player in the league produced more divergent opinions than Niemann, the fourth overall pick in 2004 who because of elbow, shoulder and groin ailments had thrown just 108 innings in two pro seasons and was making his Triple-A debut. Niemann stayed healthy for the most part, just missing three weeks in August with shoulder soreness. |
"He gets about two extra feet on his fastball because of his size and length of stride," Indianapolis manager Trent Jewett said. "His ball is heavy, comes out of his hand cleanly and has nice plane to it." Niemann also gets points for his composure on the mound and his ability to pound the strike zone with a 91-94 mph fastball that sits at 93. His power downer curveball also is an above-average offering.
On the other hand, "He works so slow that he puts me to sleep, and I don't like the 'Iron Mike' delivery—there's no deception," a scout from a National League team said. "He often rushes his delivery, and he stabs in the back of his arm action, meaning sometimes his arm doesn't get up on top (of the pitch). If anything, his arm is a split-second late, and he can elevate the ball a bit."
Niemann's slider grades as average, but he throws the pitch slower than he did in college. His split serves as his changeup, and it's a fringe-average offering. He still projects as at least a mid-rotation starter, however.
|10.||Joey Votto, 1b/of, Louisville Bats (Reds)|
|B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 220 Age: 23 Drafted: Reds '02 (2)|
|On the heels of his MVP season in the Double-A Southern League in 2006, Votto's campaign seemed like something of a letdown. The 23-year-old did the same things he's always done—hit for average, hit for some power and draw walks—and even added a new position, left field, to his resume. Along the way Votto ranked fourth in the league in home runs (22), second in RBIs (92) and compiled a 42-game on-base streak.|
Votto slumped through April (.192/.347/.346) as he got himself out swinging at offspeed pitches out of the zone. But as the season progressed, so did his approach. As he had in 2006, Votto began driving the ball from left-center to right field, making him difficult to defend and giving him above-average hitting and power tools. Because he's not afraid to work deep counts, Votto can rack up strikeouts when he's going bad. A below-average runner, he'll just be average at first base or in left field, though he does have an above-average outfield arm, and at least one scout liked him better in that role.
|11.||Adam Miller, rhp, Buffalo Bisons (Indians)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 200 Age: 22 Drafted: Indians '03 (1s)|
|Continuing his trend of pitching exceptionally well one season only to spend most of the following year on the shelf, Miller dominated the IL in April and May and succumbed to injury afterward. He struggled with soreness in the top joint of his middle finger in mid-May and with elbow inflammation in late July. |
Those who saw Miller early in the year came away as impressed as ever. Seeing him early was key: Miller started just three IL games after June 25 and went 1-2, 9.64.
When he was right, Miller showed easy 93-95 mph velocity on his four-seam fastball—and he touched 98—as well as his trademark low-90s sinker that bores in on righthanders. His high-80s slider with sharp, biting action and average changeup played up because of his fastball command and life, leaving batters with no choice but to sit on the fastball or the slider. After injuries struck, Miller lost the feel for his two-seamer and changeup, in particular, and he got hit around.
|12.||Garrett Olson, lhp, Norfolk Tides (Orioles)|
|B-T: R-L Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 195 Age: 23 Drafted: Orioles '05 (1s)|
|Olson began 2007, just his second full season, in Triple-A and ended it in the Baltimore rotation. He was one of the IL's most effective and durable starters, finishing second in the league with a 3.16 ERA. While the athletic and competitive Olson struggled mightily with his location in the majors, he showed above-average command and a firm three-pitch repertoire with Norfolk.|
Olson throws both a two- and four-seam fastballs, pitching from 88-93 mph, and a slurve that features curveball spin and two-plane slider movement. He used both pitches to excellent effect against Triple-A lefties, who batted a mere .179 against him.
He'll need to improve the command of his average circle changeup to combat righthanders, who ate him alive in the big leagues. Because Olson is driven to succeed and shows real aptitude for pitching, he's a safe bet to reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter.
"He had more of a power mentality," Jewett said. "His change will improve, but he's not your typical fastball/changeup lefty. He's more fastball/curveball, and his fastball really had good finish and life at the plate."
|13.||Brandon Moss, of, Pawtucket Red Sox|
|B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 205 Age: 23 Drafted: Red Sox '02 (8)|
|Moss won his second straight league doubles title in 2007, finishing with 41 while also topping the IL with 59 extra-base hits. He doesn't have any one extraordinary tool, but he plays with an intensity that won him fans throughout the league. |
The name of Moss' game is power. He shows power to all fields with a compact, leveraged swing, and he gets tremendous backspin and carry on the ball, hinting at increased home run production in the future. Though he's an aggressive hitter who swings and misses a lot, Moss can drive pitches on either corner.
An average defender with a strong arm in right field, Moss can play center in a pinch but his profile is that of a prototypical corner outfielder. He's a below-average runner but not a base-clogger.
|14.||Brandon Jones, of, Richmond Braves|
|B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 195 Age: 23 Drafted: Braves D/F '03 (24)|
|Jones posted the second-highest slugging percentage (.507) in the Southern League and didn't miss a beat after earning a late-July promotion to Richmond, where he helped the Braves win the IL wild card. With a confident, quiet setup and a sweet lefty swing, he projects to be an above-average major league hitter. He makes adjustments and stays inside the ball well, taking what pitchers give him. |
Jones has 20-homer potential, which is about average for a corner outfielder, and he rarely turned on pitches in the IL, prompting some to question his assertiveness as a potential middle-of-the-order hitter. An average runner, he gets down the line well because of his clean swing mechanics. But with below-average hands and defensive instincts and a slow release on throws, he's a left fielder all the way.
|15.||Adam Lind, of, Syracuse Chiefs (Blue Jays)|
|B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 195 Age: 24 Drafted: Blue Jays '04 (3)|
|Like Votto, Lind came into the season with high expectations after winning the Double-A Eastern League's MVP award and hitting .367 in 60 September big league at-bats in 2006. He started 2007 with Syracuse, earning an early callup when Reed Johnson had back surgery. American League pitchers were ready for Lind this time and he struggled to make adjustments, hitting .230/.274/.383 before a July demotion.|
Lind regained his confidence and his stroke in the IL, and he fared better (.273/.298/.473) after a September callup. He's balanced at the plate and stays inside the ball well, using his classic lefthanded swing to drive the ball from line to line.
"His hands somewhat work independently from his body," Syracuse manager Doug Davis said. "He's got such good hand-eye coordination that it's very easy for him to put the barrel of the bat on ball. That's my biggest thing. He's a natural hitter who can not only put the ball in play, but drive it."
Lind missed two weeks in early August when he strained a muscle in his neck after violently banging his head on the ground while making a diving attempt for a catch. A similar play in 2006 caused a concussion. He remains a work in progress in the outfield, where below-average speed and just playable range and throwing mechanics limit him to left field.
|16.||Collin Balester, rhp, Columbus Clippers (Nationals)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-5 Wt.: 190 Age: 21 Drafted: Expos '04 (4)|
|Balester came a long way from 2006, when an unsuccessful attempt to convert his drop-and-drive mechanics to a tall-and-fall delivery had him grasping to find consistency in the high Class A. After reverting to his old mechanics, he moved quickly to Double-A last year and hasn't looked back since.|
Balester was overpowering at times with Columbus, pitching to both sides of the plate with an 88-94 mph fastball that touched 96 in his second-to-last outing. He throws a sharp curveball that can be an out pitch, but his command of it is inconsistent. His changeup is below average, but he worked hard to soften the velocity on the pitch without altering his arm speed.
|17.||Jason Hammel, rhp, Durham Bulls (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-6 Wt.: 220 Age: 25 Drafted: Devil Rays '02 (10)|
|Hammel has pitched well in Triple-A stints for the last three years, but he has yet to break through with the big club. He has more than enough stuff to succeed, but he often lands stiffly on his front leg during his delivery. He spins out and loses his direction to the plate, spraying the strike zone rather than hitting his spots.|
Hammel seemed to turn a corner in September, when he allowed just 15 runs and nine walks in six big league starts.
He delivers his fastball at 90-94 mph with good downward plane from a 6-foot-6, 200-pound frame. Combined with his hard-breaking, high-70s curveball, he has two plus pitches at times. His slider and changeup grade as average.
|18.||Kevin Slowey, rhp, Rochester Red Wings (Twins)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 195 Age: 23 Drafted: Twins '05 (2)|
|Slowey may have the best command in the minor leagues. He locates his stuff equally well to all four quadrants of the strike zone, and he walked just 18 batters in 20 IL starts. He was the league's pitcher of the year and ERA champion (1.89).|
He lives and dies with his fastball, which he cuts, runs and sinks at velocities ranging from 88-92 mph. If Slowey gets calls on the edges of the plate, he's very tough to hit because he'll keep hitting that spot. Major league umpires weren't willing to give a rookie the benefit of those calls, so he posted a 4.73 ERA and surrendered 16 homers in 67 innings with Minnesota.
While his command is outstanding, Slowey's changeup and slider rate as below- to fringe-average. His ceiling is as a No. 4 starter.
|19.||Aaron Laffey, lhp, Buffalo Bisons (Indians)|
|B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 185 Age: 22 Drafted: Indians '03 (16)|
|Laffey needed just six games at Double-A before making the jump to Buffalo in mid-May and to the majors in early August, where he got starts down the stretch ahead of more experienced lefties Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers. While not overpowering, Laffey commands three pitches down in the zone. |
Laffey spots his lively 86-90 mph two-seam fastball to both sides of the plate, and he isn't afraid to pitch to the inside corner or to contact. His slurvy breaking ball is an even better offering than the sinker at times, because of the deception he gets by slinging the pitch from a high three-quarters arm slot. Laffey's changeup has come so far that he was actually slightly more effective against righthanders than lefties with Buffalo.
|20.||Jason Pridie, of, Durham Bulls (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 190 Age: 23 Drafted: Devil Rays '02 (2)|
|The 43rd overall pick in the 2002 draft, Pridie hit .366 in his pro debut but made little progress over the next four seasons. But he went on a tear after a late-June promotion to Durham, helping to propel the Bulls to the Southern Division crown. |
Pridie has surprising strength for a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder and he shows above-average power, especially to the opposite field. Though he has a quick lefthanded bat and isn't afraid to use the whole park, he's not a patient hitter and struggles against quality lefthanders, so he may never hit for a high average. An above-average runner, Pridie has the speed to play a competent center field and a solid arm.
"When I first saw him, I marked him down as a marginal prospect," a scout from an NL team said. "But after seeing him for a few games, I crossed that out and made him average. I think he's a fourth outfielder on a good team, a regular on a second-division club. He really impressed me, but he straddles that line."