|FIVE YEARS AGO|
|1. *Jesse Foppert, rhp, Fresno (Giants)|
|2. *Michael Cuddyer, of, Edmonton (Twins)|
|3. *Hank Blalock, 3b, Oklahoma (Rangers)|
|4. *John Lackey, rhp, Salt Lake (Angels)|
|5. *Michael Restovich, of, Edmonton (Twins)|
|6. *Sean Burroughs, 2b/3b, Portland (Padres)|
|7. *Colby Lewis, rhp, Oklahoma (Rangers)|
|8. *Hee Seop Choi, 1b, Iowa (Cubs)|
|9. *Bobby Hill, 2b, Iowa (Cubs)|
|10. *Aaron Cook, rhp, Colorado Springs (Rockies)|
|*Has played in major leagues|
|1.||Yovani Gallardo, rhp, Nashville Sounds (Brewers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 210 Age: 21 Drafted: Brewers '04 (2)|
|One year after finishing runner-up to Reds righthander Homer Bailey on two league prospect lists, Gallardo reaches the top for his dominant turn in the PCL. He made just 13 starts for Nashville before making his major league debut with the Brewers in mid-June, and he slid into the rotation for good one month later. |
Gallardo earns raves for his poise and composure almost as much as for his stuff. When he gets hit, he doesn't get rattled. But command of his emotions is just half the equation. Gallardo gets ahead of both righthanded and lefthanded batters with a 90-94 mph fastball that he keeps off the barrel of the bat and on the ground. He shows advanced feel, changing speeds on his fastball and his sharp-breaking curveball. He also has an average slider and a changeup he'll go to in any count.
"He's a real power arm--plus fastball, plus-plus curveball--with the ability to reach back for extra when he gets in trouble and get nasty," Albuquerque pitching coach Rich Gale said. "He can reach back and get 95 when he has to. And he's a good hitter, too--a good athlete."
|2.||Adam Jones, of, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 200 Age: 22 Drafted: Mariners '03 (1s)|
|With one season in center field and in the PCL under his belt, Jones shone brightly in his repeat of the league. Most impressive was his increased power output--just another step in a career-long trend--as he clubbed two home runs in a game four times during the season and finished with 25 in 101 games. He also ranked third in the league with a .586 slugging percentage.|
Opposing managers liked practically everything about Jones, from his excellent range in center to his strong arm (he recorded 12 assists) to his improved plate discipline. Once susceptible to breaking balls out of the zone, he showed he would not automatically chase this year, and his on-base percentage climbed nearly 40 points from 2006.
He also showed more willingness to go the other way, as he has above-average plate coverage, and that development could be the difference between him being an average hitter and an above-average one in the majors. Though he's an above-average runner, Jones' speed is better suited to covering ground in center and to taking extra bases than it is to stealing bases.
|3.||Billy Butler, of/1b, Omaha Royals|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 240 Age: 21 Drafted: Royals '04 (1)|
|With a Texas League batting title in 2006 and a second-place finish in the California League in 2005 to his credit, Butler had proven himself as one of the minor league's best pure hitters. He did nothing to dispel that notion with Omaha, where he hit .291 with power and drew more walks than strikeouts. The Royals called him up for the first time in early May. |
Butler has a lot of confidence as a hitter and isn't afraid to battle the pitcher with two strikes until he gets something he can drive. A balanced and cerebral hitter, he handles the bat well and makes fast adjustments to breaking balls. He has tremendous plate coverage and above-average power.
Drafted 14th overall in 2004 as a third baseman, Butler has struggled to find a defensive home. The Royals tried to develop him as a left fielder, but he struggled in his routes and angles to the ball with Omaha, and his arm is below-average. He moved to first base after rejoining Omaha in mid-May, and he showed decent actions there. The Royals, though, chose to make him a full-time DH in the majors.
|4.||Andy LaRoche, 3b, Las Vegas 51s (Dodgers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 225 Age: 23 Drafted: Dodgers '03 (39)|
|LaRoche slumped through much of the season's first half--including a big league stint in May when he batted .211/.436/.263--before heating up in June, setting the stage for a torrid second half. He was bothered by soreness in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, the same one that required labrum surgery following 2006, but the injury improved after a June stay on the disabled list. LaRoche hit .411/.486/.922 in 25 July games, connecting for 12 of his 18 home runs and 10 of his 18 doubles.|
LaRoche's outlook improved when he started hitting the ball the opposite way instead of trying to pull everything. His quick, leveraged swing lends itself more to driving the ball gap-to-gap anyway. He is generally in control at the plate, and projects to hit for average and power. Sometimes he can appear too complacent, though, like he's just trying to not make an out. On defense, LaRoche offers a strong arm and solid range at third base. Diving for the ball would sometimes aggravate his shoulder injury, but he showed no hesitancy to make plays.
|5.||Ian Stewart, 3b, Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Rockies)|
|B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 205 Age: 22 Drafted: Rockies '03 (1)|
|Stewart continued his one-level-at-a-time trek through the Rockies system with a positive showing in the PCL. Colorado rewarded him with a big league callup in August. The 10th overall pick in 2003, Stewart profiles as an above-average big league third baseman, but it might take him time to reach that potential. While he is a disciplined hitter, he doesn't stay inside the ball well and shows an uppercut swing despite just average power. |
Scouts and managers said Stewart tended to hit a lot of topspin line drives, the product of a top-hand heavy swing. He would be a tougher out if took the ball to left field more often, but Colorado Springs' home field rewards a power approach with the highest elevation in the minors.
Stewart's flaws are correctable, though, and he projects to hit for average in the majors because of a quick bat and good plate coverage. An average runner, he's a good defender at third, with the agility and range for the position and a strong, accurate arm.
|6.||Felix Pie, of, Iowa Cubs|
|B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 170 Age: 22 Signed: Cubs '01|
|One of the league's more exciting players for two years running, Pie continued to improve his power game and his strike-zone discipline. He earned his first big league callup in April, and he spent all of June and most of August with Chicago. A high-energy player with plus speed, Pie improved still has work to do with his baserunning, as he was nabbed in six of 15 stolen base attempts. |
Pie struggled against lefthanders (.190/.250/.286), even after a winter spent frequently facing them in the Dominican League. He has such tremendous bat speed and hitting instincts, though, that it should be just a matter of time until Pie figures it out. He started using his legs in his swing more in 2006, and he tapped more into his above-average power potential with a career-high .563 slugging percentage this season. Pie is an above-average defender in center with a strong, accurate arm.
"He took away four or five extra-base hits that most center fielders in this league don't get to," Las Vegas manager Lorenzo Bundy said. "As an opposing manager, you know he's dangerous, but you like to see him come up anyway because you like to see him play."
|7.||Carlos Gomez, of, New Orleans Zephyrs (Mets)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 195 Age: 21 Signed: Mets '02|
|Gomez opened the season with hits in his first 14 games and sped to an early PCL lead in stolen bases, with 17 at the time of his big league callup in mid-May. At 21, Gomez wasn't ready for prime time, but injuries to Moises Alou, Lastings Milledge and Ben Johnson forced the Mets' hand. Gomez missed two months after having surgery to remove the broken hamate bone in his left hand, returning to action in September.|
With plus speed and a cannon for an arm, Gomez was one of the league's rangiest center fielders and perhaps its most disruptive baserunner. His natural swing path and quick bat enable him to make consistent hard contact, but his in-game hitting and power are still raw. Because Gomez can get wild with his swing at times, he's susceptible to pitchers who can change speeds.
A high-energy player, Gomez makes adjustments in time and has the kind of strength and athleticism to develop into a power-speed threat in center field.
|8.||James Loney, 1b/of, Las Vegas 51s (Dodgers)|
|B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 220 Age: 23 Drafted: Dodgers '02 (1)|
|Loney pushed aside incumbent big league first baseman Nomar Garciaparra in June, and outplayed the veteran down the stretch. While scouts have often been split on his ultimate offensive value as a first baseman, Loney has done nothing but hit at the big league level.|
A strong and smart player, Loney has a level swing plane and average bat speed, two traits that suggest plenty of singles and doubles, but below-average home run power. However, when Loney guesses right, he can turn on the inside fastball and crush it. He can be overly conscious of being jammed sometimes, settling for opposite-field hits when he could drive the ball.
Though he is a below-average runner, Loney has great defensive reactions at first base and a plus throwing arm, a vestige of his pitching days in high school.
|9.||Brandon Wood, 3b/ss, Salt Lake Bees (Angels)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 185 Age: 22 Drafted: Angels '03 (1)|
|Wood's streak as an extra-base hit champion ended at two seasons, as he failed to post even a .500 slugging percentage in the PCL. In fact, he needed three doubles on the season's final day to crack the 50 extra-base hits barrier, which he had cleared with ease in both 2005 and 2006. It didn't help that he was called to the majors three times this season, only to see action in a sporadic 21 pre-September at-bats. |
Also new for Wood was his move to third base. The Angels moved him there during spring training and he seamlessly made the switch, showing the same average range, soft hands and plus arm that made him solid defender at shortstop. He's an average runner.
A prototypical power hitter, Wood can hit the ball out of any part of the park. He continued to struggle with pitch selection and strikeouts, though he did improve over his 2006 numbers. He matched his walk-strikeout ratio (.38) from 2005, his breakout year, but still fanned once every 3.6 at-bats. Opposing pitchers were able to take advantage of Wood's aggressiveness at the plate, and he showed a disturbing tendency to pull off the ball on the outside corner. Still just 22, Wood has plenty of time to refine his approach and to fill out physically, and one manager likened his potential to that of Troy Glaus.
|10.||Luke Hochevar, rhp, Omaha Royals|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-5 Wt.: 205 Age: 23 Drafted: Royals '06 (1)|
|The first overall pick in 2006, Hochevar made his Triple-A debut less than a year after signing and his big league debut in September. While he didn't overpower PCL hitters, Hochevar maintained his 92 mph velocity, touching 94, and held his mechanics late into games. He looked comfortable in Triple-A, and after struggling initially posted a 2.88 ERA and a 22-7 K-BB mark over his final 25 innings.|
Hochevar's hard, late-breaking curveball developed into his best breaking ball, and he threw it for strikes as well as a bury pitch. His slider got better as the year wore on, and his changeup remained a usable fourth pitch. After coming down with shoulder soreness in the 2006 Arizona Fall League, Hochevar stayed healthy in 2007 and made 26 minor league starts. Like almost every young pitcher, Hochevar struggled with his command at times, and more consistency in that department could enable him to reach his ceiling as a No. 2 or 3 starter.
|11.||Jeff Clement, c, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)|
|B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 210 Age: 24 Drafted: Mariners '05 (1)|
|Clement had a chance to catch his breath this season, after being rushed from No. 3 overall pick in 2005 to Triple-A last season with just 172 at-bats in between. Bundy labeled Clement the most improved hitter in the league, noting he had abandoned the dead-pull approach he had shown the year before.|
Clement controls the strike zone and hits the ball hard, and he doesn't have to try to yank every pitch to hit it out of the park. A tireless worker, he calls a good game and blocks well, but he continues to struggle with his throwing mechanics. He threw out 27 percent of basestealers, getting by on average arm strength while showing just minimal improvement with his footwork.
|12.||Mike Pelfrey, rhp, New Orleans Zephyrs (Mets)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-7 Wt.: 215 Age: 23 Drafted: Mets '05 (1)|
|Pelfrey won a big league rotation spot with a strong spring-training performance, but he went 0-5, 6.53 in six starts to earn a ticket to New Orleans. Though he got back to New York in July and again in September, he continued to battle inconsistency because he couldnï¿½t command his low- to mid-90s power sinker, a plus offering that made him the ninth overall pick in 2005. |
With tremendous arm strength and a 6-foot-7, 215 pound frame, Pelfrey generates easy velocity and fierce downward plane. He got into trouble when he became preoccupied with command of his secondary pitches, which are fringe-average to a tick below.
Pelfrey's slurvy slider has good tilt, but he struggles to throw it and his changeup for strikes. While with New Orleans, he concentrated on attacking hitters rather than nibbling, and he showed improved command of his fastball, which enabled his secondary pitches to play up.
|13.||Edinson Volquez, rhp, Oklahoma RedHawks (Rangers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 200 Age: 24 Signed: Rangers '01|
|Volquez' season of redemption had just about the perfect denouement. Banished to high Class A to begin the season because of severe command issues, he quickly righted his ship and got better as he moved up the chain. His journey culminated in a dominating turn for Oklahoma and a recall to the Rangers, where he showed flashes of promise in September.|
Hustled to the majors at age 22 in 2005, Volquez never has lacked for electric stuff. His fastball can light up radar guns at 97 mph, but he found more success this season pitching at 92-93 and staying ahead of batters with better location. He maintains his arm speed on a plus mid-70s changeup, giving him two weapons he can rely on.
The difference for Volquez in 2007 was a reliable curveball, a pitch he struggled to stay on top of in the past. One observer thought the pitch had improved from poor to average. His enhanced curveball and more mature approach brought him closer to his ceiling as a frontline starter than he ever has been.
|14.||Wladimir Balentien, of, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 190 Age: 23 Signed: Mariners '00|
|One of the few Mariners prospects who has been allowed to develop more or less at his own pace, Balentien showed improvement across the board in his first taste of Triple-A. Most strikingly, he slashed his strikeout rate from one every 3.2 at-bats in 2006 to one every 4.5 for Tacoma.|
Though Balentien still will wildly chase pitches out of the zone, he did show increased selectivity in the first half, especially with regard to breaking balls off the plate. He has immense raw power to all fields and hit his first big league homer in September off Fausto Carmona.
Balentien also has average speed and good baserunning instincts. He's an average defender with a plus arm in right field. He frequently has come under scrutiny for his lackadaisical play and though he still has lapses, he showed more focus and maturity in 2007.
|15.||Troy Patton, lhp, Round Rock Express (Astros)|
|B-T: B-L Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 185 Age: 22 Drafted: Astros '04 (9)|
|Patton spent the first half of the season in Double-A and required just eight Triple-A starts before he was thrust into Houston's rotation in August. The Astros turned to him not because he had blown away PCL batters, but because he shows exceptional poise for a young pitcher. After three effective appearances in Houston, he was shut down with shoulder soreness, which cut short his two previous seasons as well.|
With command of three pitches and a strong pickoff move, Patton has the ingredients to be a solid No. 3 starter. He locates his 88-92 mph fastball to both sides of the plate and has confidence in his hard curveball. Patton has made the greatest strides with his changeup, which fades down and away from righthanders.
|16.||Eric Hurley, rhp, Oklahoma RedHawks (Rangers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 195 Age: 21 Drafted: Rangers '04 (1)|
|As they did with lefty John Danks in 2006, the Rangers bumped Hurley to Triple-A just three years after drafting him in the first round out of high school. Texas felt comfortable moving Hurley quickly, given his even temperament and willingness to take instruction. He pitched very well for Oklahoma before getting hammered in his final two starts, when he allowed six of his 13 Triple-A homers.|
With a repertoire headed by a 91-95 mph fastball and an above-average slider with late depth, Hurley is all about power. Those two pitches will play up--and his strikeouts will increase--as he gains more command. He needs to improve his changeup and do a better job of working down in the strike zone.
|17.||Billy Buckner, rhp, Omaha Royals|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 215 Age: 24 Drafted: Royals '04 (2)|
|Buckner added a reliable changeup to his above-average fastball and plus curveball to put together his finest season and win admirers around the league. The Royals noticed, too, and promoted him in late August.|
Buckner commands a live, low-90s sinker that generates plenty of groundballs. His best pitch, however, is a 12-to-6 spike curveball with sharp tilt. It fools hitters because it doesn't jump out of his hand, instead starting on the same plane as his fastball.
He's aggressive on the mound and really goes after hitters, though he could stand to reel in his emotions a little more.
"He seemed to have an excellent feel for getting hitters out," Gale said. "He had strikeout stuff versus both righthanded batters and lefthanded batters. He can throw that curveball to anybody, same thing with the fastball."
|18.||Chin-Lung Hu, ss, Las Vegas 51s (Dodgers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 5-11 Wt.: 190 Age: 23 Signed: Dodgers '03|
|After struggling to hit in Double-A last year, Hu batted a combined .325 with 40 doubles and 15 homers between that level and Triple-A in 2007. He also won the MVP award at the Futures Game and made his major league debut in September.|
A plus defender at shortstop, Hu has great hands and range, good actions and a plus arm. He's an above-average runner and an energetic all-around athlete.
As good as Hu's numbers were this season, his offensive approach remains unrefined. He tends to pull off the ball with his inside-out swing. Because he steps in the bucket, scouts had questions about how he'd handle more advanced pitching--though he does have more strength than his 5-foot-9 frame suggests.
An aggressive batter, Hu likes to take the first fastball he can handle and put it in play, and he struck out just 51 times in 517 minor league at-bats. His approach leaves him vulnerable to streaks and slumps, however, and unless he cleans up his mechanics, he projects to hit about .260 in the majors.
|19.||Daric Barton, 1b, Sacramento River Cats (Athletics)|
|B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 225 Age: 22 Drafted: Cardinals '03 (1)|
|For one 24-game stretch, Barton was perhaps the best hitter in the league. He collected a hit in 24 consecutive games in June, batting .490 with 14 doubles, two homers, eight walks and five strikeouts in 100 at-bats. He also was the most dangerous hitter in the playoffs, batting .550 with four homers as Sacramento won the PCL title.|
Outside of those hot streaks, though, Barton hit a very ordinary .245/.357/.373 during the regular season.
Barton is very selective at the plate and his line-drive stroke could one day produce 30-plus doubles a year with a solid batting average. He looks to go the other way early in counts and doesn't have a lot of loft in his swing. He seems to get consistent backspin on the ball only to the opposite field, limiting his home run potential, which is average at best.
He never has made conditioning a priority, and Barton is a below-average runner and no better than an average defender at first base. His bat will have to carry him, and it may not be enough to make him a regular on a big league contender.
|20.||Geovany Soto, c/1b, Iowa Cubs|
|B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 230 Age: 24 Drafted: Cubs '01 (11)|
|Soto made the most of his third consecutive season in Iowa. After batting .263/.355/.366 in 634 prior PCL at-bats, he exploded to hit .353/.424/.652 with 26 home runs to win the league's MVP award. He led the PCL in RBIs (109) and the minors in slugging percentage, though he lost the batting title by a single point when he and eventual winner Brian Myrow were both called to the majors with three games left in the season. |
Soto was chunky in the past, but he has dropped 30 pounds since spring training and now carries 200 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame. With less weight, he had added agility behind the plate and was able to maintain his bat speed throughout the season. His power took a huge step forward, and he showed the ability to punish inside fastballs and drive outside pitches to the opposite field.
Though he played 22 games at first base to increase his versatility, Soto should be Chicago's regular catcher in 2008. He started two of the Cubs' three playoff games and is a good defender behind the plate. He blocks and receives the ball well, and he used his strong arm to nab 31 percent of basestealers in 2007. Experience also has made him a better game-caller and leader.