2007 MLB Organizational Talent Rankings
|1 TAMPA BAY devil rays|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (2007).
Lowest Ranking: No. 29 (1999).
State Of The System: The Devil Rays have benefited from their lofty draft position, taking OF Delmon Young (No. 1 overall, 2003), RHP Jeff Niemann (No. 4, 2004) and 3B Evan Longoria (No. 3, 2006) with premium picks in recent years. They’ve done more than that, however. Tampa Bay has found the likes of SS Reid Brignac, LHP Jacob McGee, OF Elijah Dukes and RHP Wade Davis in later rounds; hit the global market for 3B Akinori Iwamura and RHP Juan Salas; and traded for prospects such as OF/INF Joel Guzman and RHP Mitch Talbot. The Rays have impact talent, they have depth and most important, they finally have a lot of pitching on the way.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters. Niemann is finally healthy and about to make a big league impact. Davis and Matt Walker broke out in low Class A last year, while Jeremy Hellickson rated as the top prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League. Jason Hammel will get another crack at the majors in 2007, and Talbot and control specialist Andrew Sonnanstine aren’t far behind.
Prepare For Takeoff: Walker. The Rays kept him in extended spring training for the first half of 2006, but he was nearly as impressive as McGee and Davis once he joined them in low Class A. He could be Tampa Bay’s closer of the future, but with an outstanding curveball, plus fastball and promising changeup, he has more than enough pitches to start.
At A Crossroads: RHP Wade Townsend. The scouting department preferred Andrew McCutchen with the eighth pick in the 2005, but ownership preferred the less expensive Townsend. He struggled in his pro debut before blowing out his elbow in the Arizona Fall League. He missed all of 2006 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and he has more than his share of skeptics in the organization.
|2 COLORADO rockies|
Highest Ranking: No. 2 (2007).
Lowest Ranking: No. 28 (1993, 1994).
State Of The System: Much like the Devil Rays, the Rockies have a balance of hitting and pitching and have procured talent in a variety of ways. They’ve done well with early draft picks such as SS Troy Tulowitzki, 3B Ian Stewart and RHP Greg Reynolds, and they’ve also scored with OF Dexter Fowler, C Chris Ianetta, OF Jeff Baker and 1B Joe Koshansky—all taken in the fourth round or later. Colorado’s Latin American program has yielded a group of quality arms led by LHP Franklin Morales and RHPs Ubaldo Jimenez, Manny Corpas and Juan Morillo.
Prepare For Takeoff: OF Seth Smith. Eli Manning’s former backup at quarterback at Mississippi has hit 91 doubles the last two season, and his home run power and plate discipline are improving. A career .309 hitter in pro ball, Smith also offers solid athleticism.
At A Crossroads: SS Chris Nelson. After hitting .347 in his 2004 pro debut, the 2004 first-round pick turned in two underwhelming seasons in low Class A. He has plenty of tools but needs to produce. He may move to center field or second base.
|3 ARIZONA diamondbacks|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (2006).
Lowest Ranking: No. 29 (2001).
State Of The System: No. 1 on this list a year ago, the Diamondbacks remain strong despite graduating SS Stephen Drew, 1B Conor Jackson and OF Carlos Quentin to the majors and trading three prospects to the Yankees for Randy Johnson. It’s still a hitter-heavy system, headlined by OFs Justin Upton, Chris Young and Carlos Gonzalez, 2B Alberto Callaspo and C Miguel Montero. Many of Arizona’s best prospects came from the drafts of former scouting director Mike Rizzo, who left to become an assistant general manager with the Nationals last summer.
Best-Stocked Position: Outfielders. Upton, Young and Gonzalez all would rank No. 1 on several teams’ prospect lists. The next tier includes Gerardo Parra (.354 average in two pro seasons), Cyle Hankerd (short-season Northwest League MVP and batting champ in his 2006 pro debut) and Chris Rahl (second in the high Class A California League with a .327 average in his first full season last year).
Prepare For Takeoff: LHP Brett Anderson. Though scouts considered him the most polished high school southpaw in recent memory, he slid to the second round of the 2006 draft and spent the summer negotiating a $950,000 bonus. He has yet to make his pro debut, but he has uncanny command of four pitches and should quickly make up for lost time.
At A Crossroads: OF Jon Zeringue. Arizona considered him a first-round talent when it snagged him in the second round in 2004. He hit .335 with 10 homers in high Class A in his pro debut, but has batted just .242 with 15 homers in two seasons since.
|4 LOS ANGELES angels|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (2005).
Lowest Ranking: No. 30 (1999).
State Of The System: The Angels turned over their system last year, promoting 2B Howie Kendrick, RHP Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders, 1B Kendry Morales and C Mike Napoli and trading 2B Alberto Callaspo. But there’s still plenty more talent where that came from, starting with slugging SS/3B Brandon Wood. Los Angeles’ willingness to spend has landed prospects such as RHPs Nick Adenhart ($710,000 as a 14th-round pick), Young-Il Jung ($1 million out of Korea), Stephen Marek ($800,000 as a draft-and-follow) and Sean O’Sullivan ($500,000 as a DFE).
Best-Stocked Position: Shortstops. Brandon Wood and Erick Aybar may be better than big league incumbent Orlando Cabrera right now, but Cabrera has two years and $16.5 million remaining on his contract. As a result, Wood could move to third base and Aybar could see some time in the outfield. Sean Rodriguez, who led the minors with 291 total bases last year, Hainley Statia and Ryan Mount also show promise.
Prepare For Takeoff: RHP Jeremy Haynes. A 37th-round draft-and-follow, Haynes signed for $100,000 last spring. He has a good low-90s sinking fastball, yet it’s his hard curveball that grades as his best pitch.
At A Crossroads: C Jeff Mathis. He showed offensive potential in the lower minors and hit 21 homers in Triple-A in 2005, but his power dropped last year and he hit .145 in 55 big league at-bats, ceding the job to Napoli. It’s unclear whether he can be more than an average regular or even reach that ceiling.
|5 NEW YORK yankees|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (1991, 2000).
Lowest Ranking: No. 27 (2004).
State Of The System: The Yankees have done an about-face in the last couple of years, and their farm system has benefited. They have become aggressive rather than passive in the draft under scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, allowing them to sign costly and coveted players such as RHPs Dellin Betances and Joba Chamberlain. They’ve also traded for prospects such as RHPs Humberto Sanchez and Kevin Whelan, rather than giving them away for veterans. The Latin American program remains strong, highlighted by OF Jose Tabata.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters. Six of the system’s seven best prospects fit this description, starting with the minors’ top pitcher, Philip Hughes, and followed by Sanchez, Betances, Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Tyler Clippard. New York also has hopes for George Kontos, Zach McAllister and Tim Norton, part of its 2006 draft crop along with Betances, Chamberlain and Kennedy.
Prepare For Takeoff: LHP Angel Reyes. The Yankees haven’t had much success developing left-handers since signing Andy Pettitte as a draft-and-follow in 1990, but Reyes could change that. He’s not big, but he can touch 94 mph with his fastball and shows signs of developing a plus curveball.
At A Crossroads: 1B/3B Eric Duncan. New York’s third baseman of the future before Alex Rodriguez arrived, Duncan has moved to first base but wasn’t a factor in the spring competition between journeymen Doug Mientkiewicz, Josh Phelps and Andy Phillips. A 2003 first-rounder, Duncan has hit just .235 with 198 strikeouts in 214 games the last two years.
|6 LOS ANGELES dodgers|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (1991, 1996).
Lowest Ranking: No. 28 (2001).
State Of The System: The Dodgers had seven rookies on their postseason roster last October, and they have more ready for 2007. 3B Andy LaRoche, 1B/OF James Loney and RHP Jonathan Meloan could have regular roles by the end of the season, and LHP Scott Elbert has an outside chance as well. Los Angeles still has remarkable depth, a tribute to the drafts of former scouting director Logan White, who was promoted to assistant general manager in the offseason.
Best-Stocked Position: Third basemen. LaRoche has struggled in big league camp this spring, delaying his arrival in Los Angeles, but he’ll be the starter before too long. A move to second base didn’t take for Blake DeWitt, but he still has a sweet lefthanded swing. Josh Bell has raw power to match LaRoche’s, though he’s also raw in other phases of the game.
Prepare For Takeoff: RHP Zach Hammes. While his career ERA in five pro seasons may be 4.73, he popped 97 mph in Hawaii Winter Baseball and the Dodgers had to add him to their 40-man roster. Plans call for Hammes to spend the year in Double-A, but if he masters his slider, he’ll move in a hurry.
At A Crossroads: OF Xavier Paul. He has bat speed and athleticism, but he has been undermined by an inconsistent approach. He still has upside, but he’s coming off three mediocre seasons in Class A and needs to start hitting.
|7 MILWAUKEE brewers|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (2004).
Lowest Ranking: No. 30 (2000, 2001).
State Of The System: After sending 1B Prince Fielder, 2B Rickie Weeks and SS J.J. Hardy to Milwaukee, the system now stands out most for its arms, beginning with RHPs Yovanni Gallardo, Will Inman and Jeremy Jeffress. The position-player cupboard is far from bare, however, as 3B Ryan Braun is nearly ready for the majors and OFs Lorenzo Cain and Cole Gillespie lead a new group of hitters.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters. Inman and Gallardo finished second (1.71) and third (1.86) in the minors in ERA last year. Gallardo has more pure stuff and is the best pitcher developed by the Brewers since Ben Sheets. Jeffress, a first-round pick last June, has a fastball clocked as high as 102 mph. Losing Mark Rogers to shoulder surgery was a setback, but sleepers such as Tim Dillard and R.J. Seidel could step up to lessen the blow.
Prepare For Takeoff: C Angel Salome. He’s off to a good start, having hit .305/.359/.478 and shown above-average arm strength in three pro seasons. He needs to polish his receiving and agility, but if he produces this year like he has in the past, he’ll enter the discussion of the game’s best catching prospects. A broken ankle ended his 2006 season in August, and he could start 2007 on the disabled list.
At A Crossroads: C Lou Palmisano. Drafted in 2003, a year before Salome, Palmisano tore up the Rookie-level Pioneer League and won MVP honors in his first taste of pro ball. But his numbers have declined steadily since and he hit just .241 with four homers in Double-A last season.
|8 MINNESOTA twins|
Highest Ranking: No. 4 (2003, 2005).
Lowest Ranking: No. 24 (1984).
State Of The System: The Twins have had more success recently stealing quality arm from other organizations (Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano), but that’s changing since they took RHPs Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey and Anthony Swarzak and LHP Glen Perkins in the 2004-05 drafts. Minnesota focused on position players in 2005 and came away with OFs Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson, already their two best homegrown hitting prospects.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters. Garza and Slowey will crack the big league rotation at some point this year. Swarzak is the righty from a 2004 draft haul that also included Jay Rainville and Kyle Waldrop. J.D. Durbin and Oswaldo Sosa have the stuff to be mid-rotation starters.
Prepare For Takeoff: LHP Alexander Smit. He has been inconsistent, so he has spent much of the last two seasons as a relieve, but his numbers at his last two stops hint at his potential: 13-3, 2.69, 227 strikeouts in 154 innings. With more reliable velocity and command, he could be a mid-rotation starter.
At A Crossroads: 3B Matt Moses. His bat made him a 2003 first-round pick but has produced just a .238 average in Double-A. His power is starting to develop, but his plate discipline needs to do the same. His defense also has disappointed and could prompt a move to left field.
|9 BOSTON red sox|
Highest Ranking: No. 4 (1996, 1997).
Lowest Ranking: No. 28 (2002).
State Of The System: No club has drafted better than the Red Sox have the last two years under scouting director Jason McLeod. Spending a team-record $8.5 million on the 2006 draft and having extra draft picks helps, of course, but Boston has astutely spent first-round picks on OF Jacoby Ellsbury, RHPs Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Daniel Bard and also done damage in later rounds with the likes of 1B Lars Anderson and RHP Bryce Cox. Signing Japanese RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka cost $103 million, but it still may qualify as a masterstroke.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters. Matsuzaka, Buchholz, Bowden and Bard rank as four of the system’s five best prospects. Two more recent draftees, Justin Masterson and Caleb Clay, also ooze potential. Center field is another strength, with Ellsbury, 2006 first-round Jason Place, David Murphy, Ryan Kalish and Engel Beltre.
Prepare For Takeoff: C Jon Egan. After a sluggish pro debut and an offseason arrest for drunk driving that also resulted in traces of cocaine being found in his wallet in 2005, Egan rebounded last year. He began to realize his power potential while repeating Rookie ball, and continued to show better receiving skills than originally anticipated.
At A Crossroads: OF Luis Soto. Considered the organization’s best power prospect two years ago, he since has moved from shortstop and failed in two trials in low Class A. He has to show more maturity, in general and especially at the plate.
|10 CLEVELAND indians|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (2003).
Lowest Ranking: No. 26 (2001).
State Of The System: The Indians built the top-ranked organization in 2003 largely through trades, and they’ve refortified the system through the draft. They’ve had success with first-rounders (big league LHP Jeremy Sowers, RHP Adam Miller, OFs Trevor Crowe and John Drennen), mid-rounders (LHPs Chuck Lofgren and Scott Lewis), late-rounders (LHP Tony Sipp) and even nondrafted free agents (OF Brian Barton).
Best-Stocked Position: Outfielders. Crowe and Drennen were two of the best pure hitters in the 2005 draft. Barton has hit .324/.425/.509 with 61 steals in two years of pro ball. Brad Snyder, another recent first-rounder (2003) has made steady progress. Jordan Brown won MVP honors in the high Class A Carolina League last year, while Jose Costanza has a career .324 average and the speed to steal bases. Ben Francisco has impressed in big league camp.
Prepare For Takeoff: RHP J.D. Martin. He first had elbow problems in 2003 and finally had Tommy John surgery in mid-2005. When he came back last year, he regained not only his low-90s fastball but also his trademark command. He’s 100 percent and destined to return to Double-A.
At A Crossroads: 1B Michael Aubrey and Stephen Head. Both made our Indians Top 10 Prospects list as recently as 2006, but Aubrey hasn’t been able to overcome chronic back problems and Head hasn’t hit since getting to high Class A. First base is getting crowded in Cleveland with Casey Blake, Ryan Garko and the occasional appearance by Victor Martinez.
|11 KANSAS CITY royals|
Highest Ranking: No. 5 (1995, 2000).
Lowest Ranking: No. 28 (2005).
State Of The System: In 3B Alex Gordon (the reigning Minor League Player of the Year), RHP Luke Hochevar and OF Billy Butler, the Royals have one of the best trios of prospect in the game. Their depth drops off considerably after that, but new GM Dayton Moore is working on it. He swung several deals in his first summer on the job to acquire pitching, most notably LHP Tyler Lumsden.
Best-Stocked Position: Outfielders. Butler has raked since the day he signed as a first-round pick in 2004. Chris Lubanski and Mitch Maier, both 2003 first-rounders, have had their ups and downs but are getting close to the majors. Derrick Robinson and Joe Dickerson are intriguing long-term projects.
Prepare For Takeoff: RHP Joakim Soria. He spent most of the last two years in the Mexican League while pitching just 12 innings in the Padres system, but the Royals saw enough to make Soria the No. 2 overall pick in the major league Rule 5 draft. He dominated in the Mexican Pacific League last winter, and his plus fastball and changeup should enable him to stick on Kansas City’s big league roster.
At A Crossroads: RHP Luis Cota. A celebrated draft-and-follow who signed for $1.05 million in 2004, Cota has a live arm but little polish. That shortcoming was exposed last year in high Class A, where he went 5-11, 7.09. He has been a full-time pitcher for just three years, but it’s time to start showing some aptitude for becoming more pitcher than thrower.
|12 CINCINNATI reds|
Highest Ranking: No. 3 (2001).
Lowest Ranking: No. 30 (2006).
State Of The System: When new GM Wayne Krivsky’s regime scrapped previous policies last year, such as a tandem system for starting pitchers and taking the first pitch for hitters, RHP Homer Bailey and 1B Joey Votto took off. OF Jay Bruce gives the system more star power, though depth is lacking.
Best-Stocked Position: Outfielders. Bruce and Stubbs are both five-tool talents capable of playing center field, though Bruce eventually will move to right in deference to Stubbs, a future Gold Glover. Cody Strait and Chris Dickerson were drafted in double-digit rounds who offer power and speed. Justin Reed, a fourth-rounder last June, has leadoff potential. And then there’s . . .
Prepare For Takeoff: OF Josh Hamilton. When the Reds took the former No. 1 overall draft pick in the major league Rule 5 draft in December, they weren’t sure what to expect after he had played just 15 games in the last four years while battling drug addiction. But he has been the talk of big league camp after shaking off the rust and hitting .487 to rank among baseball’s spring leaders. Maybe he can reclaim the potential that once seemed lost for good.
At A Crossroads: OF B.J. Szymanski. The former Princeton wide receiver is another wonderfully athletic outfielder, but he hasn’t been able to hit. He has batted .247 in 200 pro games, none above low Class A, and led the minors with 191 strikeouts in 2006. He’s plummeting down the organization depth chart.
|13 NEW YORK mets|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (1984, 1985).
Lowest Ranking: No. 28 (2006).
State Of The System: Though GM Omar Minaya isn’t hesitant to trade prospects to help his big league club, his farm system is on the upswing. The Mets have been very aggressive in Latin America on his watch, signing OF Fernando Martinez, RHP Deolis Guerra and C Francisco Pena for a combined $2.85 million. They’ve also shown a willingness to spend in the draft, getting 2005’s best pitching prospect (RHP Mike Pelfrey) with the ninth overall pick for a $5.25 million big league contract.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters. Pelfrey should make the big league rotation out of spring training and Philip Humber isn’t far behind. Guerra, in the mid-80s much of last season with his velocity, has flashed some mid-90s fastballs this spring—and he’s not even 18 yet. Kevin Mulvey, New York’s top pick (second round) in 2006, will open his first full season in Double-A.
Prepare For Takeoff: Pena. He has defensive skills similar to those of his father, former all-star and Gold Glover Tony Pena, as well as an advanced offensive approach for his age. As a result, the Mets will put him on the same fast track as Martinez and Guerra, letting him play in low Class A as a 17-year-old.
At A Crossroads: 3B Shawn Bowman. The Mets have waited for his bat to emerge, but it has been slow going because he gets too impatient and pull-conscious. Back problems ended his 2006 season in May, and they’ve bothered him again this spring.
|14 DETROIT tigers|
Highest Ranking: No. 7 (1998).
Lowest Ranking: No. 27 (1996).
State Of The System: The Tigers have a major league team in good shape and a pair of potential superstars on the way in OF Cameron Maybin and LHP Andrew Miller. They don’t have much depth beyond that, as they’ve been willing to trade their pitching depth to acquire Sean Casey and Gary Sheffield, and they haven’t had much success developing hitters.
Best-Stocked Position: Outfielders. Maybin could be Detroit’s regular center fielder in 2008 as a 21-year-old. Brent Clevlen hit better in the majors last summer than he has in the minors. Gorkys Hernandez won the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting title (.327) last year in his U.S. debut and his tools are comparable to Maybin’s. Brennan Boesch was a nice find in the third round of the 2006 draft.
Prepare For Takeoff: 3B Wilkin Ramirez. His raw potential has drawn comparisons to Manny Ramirez (no relation), which might be hyperbole but hints at his upside. But he has had trouble staying on the field, missing 2004 after shoulder surgery, DHing while recovering in 2005 and missing the last two months last year with a bone bruise on his shin. His plate discipline leaves something to be desired, but he’s still just 21 and has just 942 pro at-bats.
At A Crossroads: 3B Kody Kirkland. He hit 22 homers in Double-A last year, but he also batted .217 and struck out 157 teams. He owns a career .239 average in full-season leagues, and he may have too many holes in his swing to produce at the upper levels. He’ll repeat Double-A at age 24.
|15 ATLANTA braves|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (1992, 1994, 1995, 1999).
Lowest Ranking: No. 24 (1987).
State Of The System: The Braves haven’t ranked this low on this list since 1991 (see Page 10), though that’s more a reflection on their mass promotions to the majors than an inability to find talent. They still have quality prospects at premium positions, such as C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, SS Elvis Andrus and LHP Matt Harrison.
Best-Stocked Position: Shortstops. Andrus held his own in low Class A at age 17 and could develop into another Edgar Renteria. Brent Lillibridge, acquired from the Pirates in the Adam LaRoche/Mike Gonzalez trade in January, hit .305 with 13 homers and 53 steals in his first full pro season. Yunel Escobar played in Double-A and the Futures Game in his first full year as a pro.
Prepare For Takeoff: LHP Beau Jones. Atlanta almost took him at the end of 2005’s first round and was thrilled to get him in the supplemental round. He’s still working on his changeup and his control, but few lefties can reach the mid-90s with their fastball and back it up with a hard curveball.
At A Crossroads: LHP Jake Stevens. The system’s top lefty just two years ago, he has put up a 5.36 ERA in high Class A, earning a demotion to low Class A and the bullpen last summer. He used to have command of three solid pitches, but both the quality and location of his stuff has deteriorated.
|16 FLORIDA marlins|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (1998).
Lowest Ranking: No. 19 (1995).
State Of The System: The Marlins sucked most of the depth out of their farm system last year, when they set a record for rookie at-bats and another by having four rookie pitchers reach double digits in victories. They don’t have much left in the way of position players, though they still have a bevy of quality arms after spending six first-round picks on pitchers in the last two drafts.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters. Chris Volstad (2005) and Brett Sinkbeil (2006) were Florida’s top picks in the last two drafts and have done well. Gaby Hernandez came over from the Mets in the Paul LoDuca trade and pitched well in high Class A at age 20. Ryan Tucker was another 2005 first-rounder, while Jose Garcia (Dominican Republic) and Rick Vanden Hurk (Netherlands) are products of the Marlins’ international efforts.
Prepare For Takeoff: Vanden Hurk. A converted catcher who succumbed to Tommy John surgery in 2005, he returned late last season and was dominant in Hawaii Winter Baseball. He has a 90-94 mph fastball with late life, and he just needs some more innings to work on his secondary stuff.
At A Crossroads: 1B Jason Stokes. Mike Jacobs hit 20 homers as a rookie for the Marlins last year, while Stokes was hitting just seven in Triple-A. Signed for $2.027 million for his prodigious power in 2000, he hit .341 with 27 homers in his first full season but rarely has been dominant or healthy since.
|17 BALTIMORE orioles|
Highest Ranking: No. 8 (1989, 1991, 1994).
Lowest Ranking: No. 30 (2003).
State Of The System: The Orioles finally have their farm and scouting departments on the same page, and the unified effort is paying off. There isn’t much major league-ready talent for 2007 after OF Nick Markakis and RHP Chris Ray grabbed prominent roles in Baltimore last year, but there’s still lots of upside with 3B Bill Rowell, RHPs Brandon Erbe and Pedro Beato and Radhames Liz and OF Nolan Reimold.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters. Erbe, Beato and Liz all work in the mid-90s and have plus breaking pitches. James Johnson won 13 games in Double-A and made his big league debut last year. Jason Berken, who missed 2005 with Tommy John surgery, could be a steal as a 2006 sixth-rounder.
Prepare For Takeoff: RHP Luis Lebron. The Orioles made him a full-time reliever in 2006 with spectacular results, including a 1.17 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 31 innings at short-season Aberdeen. He repeatedly showed a 94-96 mph fastball that topped out at 98, and he’ll rocket through the system if he can improve his slider or changeup.
At A Crossroads: OF Val Majewski. He ranked right behind Markakis among the system’s hitters until he tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder in 2004. He missed all of 2005 and his bat was slow to come around last year. He needs to show he can regain his hitting progress and play the outfield regularly.
|18 CHICAGO cubs|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (2002).
Lowest Ranking: No. 27 (1995).
State Of The System: The Cubs system ranked No. 1 five years ago, but the big league team hasn’t reap as many benefits as expected because several pitchers have gotten hurt and many hitters have regressed after reaching the upper levels. Chicago spent heavily in the 2006 draft in an effort to restock the system, including a $10 million major league contract to lure RHP Jeff Samardzija away from an NFL career.
Best-Stocked Position: Outfielders. Felix Pie is pushing to make the big league team this spring at age 22 and could be what the Cubs once hoped Corey Patterson would become. Tyler Colvin was a surprise first-round pick in 2006, but he’s a pure hitter with all-around tools. Ryan Harvey strikes out in bunches, but has as much raw power as anyone in the minor leagues. Drew Rundle, signed for $500,000 in the 14th round last June, is a younger version of Colvin.
Prepare For Takeoff: Samardzija. He’s already highly regarded, but the Cubs think he soon will become an elite pitcher now that he’s playing baseball full-time. With some mechanical adjustments, they envision him sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball and turning his slider into a strikeout pitch. He’s already showing the aptitude to learn quickly.
At A Crossroads: 1B Brian Dopirak. Chicago’s top-rated prospect in 2004, he bombed when he tried too hard after a slow start in 2005. Last year was worse, as he broke a bone in his foot on Opening Day and finished the year with one homer in 52 games. For a guy whose power has to carry him, that was a bad omen.
|19 PITTSBURGH pirates|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (1997).
Lowest Ranking: No. 22 (2002).
State Of The System: The Pirates’ three best prospects are their three most recent first-rounders, OF Andrew McCutchen (2005), 3B Neil Walker (2004) and RHP Brad Lincoln (2006). But they haven’t put much money into the draft outside of the first round, and thus hasn’t landed much talent beyond it. Pittsburgh has been dormant in Latin America as well, though it did sign Cuban RHPs Yoslan Herrera and Serguei Linares for a combined $2.05 million this offseason.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters, though there are some red flags. Lincoln has had arm problems in his first spring training, and the Pirates already have had former first-rounders John Van Benschoten and Bryan Bullington waylaid by shoulder surgery. Herrera is very rusty after a two-year layoff. Todd Redmond has been a nice find as a 39th-round draft-and-follow, and 2006 draftees Pat Bresnehan, Brandon Holden and Jared Hughes all could pay off.
Prepare For Takeoff: Bresnehan. He showed a live arm but little consistency in three years at Arizona State, which is why Pittsburgh was able to get him in the fifth round last June. After the Bucs toned down his max-effort delivery somewhat, he improved his command and concluded his first pro summer with 34 straight scoreless innings.
At A Crossroads: 3B Eddie Prasch. In three years as a pro, he has battled back problems and poor plate discipline, which have hampered his bat and his power. With National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez and now Walker at the hot corner, Prasch has two huge obstacles ahead of him.
|20 SAN FRANCISCO giants|
Highest Ranking: No. 5 (1992).
Lowest Ranking: No. 29 (1998).
State Of The System: Years of giving up draft picks for free agents have hurt the system, though the Giants will have six picks before the second round in 2007. They’ve struggled to develop hitters for more than a decade, but took steps to correct that by aggressively pursuing position players in 2006, most significantly 3B Angel Villalona and SS Emmanuel Burriss. Pitching still remains the system’s strength, led by another 2006 signee, RHP Tim Lincecum.
Best-Stocked Position: Righhanded relievers. Lincecum could make a dynamic closer, but he’s a starter for now. Even without him, San Francisco has a pair of 2007 bullpen candidates in Brian Wilson and Billy Sadler. Osiris Matos blew high Class A hitters away last year with a mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider. Brian Anderson has more fringy stuff but led the minors with 37 saves.
Prepare For Takeoff: RHP Dan Griffin. His arm action wanders and he missed half of last season with rotator-cuff tendinitis and back problems, but the raw material is there. He’s 6-foot-7 and throws a 91-94 mph fastball on a steep downward plane. Confidence and consistent mechanics could help him take off.
At A Crossroads: RHP Merkin Valdez. He had a breakout year in 2003 and reached the majors in 2004, but inconsistency and elbow problems have dogged him ever since. He posted a 5.80 ERA in Triple-A last year before requiring Tommy John surgery, and he’ll turn 26 before he gets back on the mound.
|21 PHILADELPHIA phillies|
Highest Ranking: No. 7 (1985, 2003).
Lowest Ranking: No. 27 (1993, 1994).
State Of The System: The Phillies have a big league contender built around a homegrown core, but their system won’t contribute more significant help in the near future. RHP Carlos Carrasco, the top prospect, spent 2006 in low Class A, and he’s followed on our Top 10 by three players who have yet to reach full-season ball (RHP Kyle Drabek, SS Adrian Cardenas, RHP Edgar Garcia) and RHP Scott Mathieson, who had Tommy John surgery at the end of the season.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters. Carrasco has the potential for three plus pitches, as does Garcia. Drabek had arguably the best pure stuff in the 2006 draft, though he also has huge makeup concerns and had a rocky debut. Mathieson has the stuff to start or close, depending on Philadelphia’s needs. Zach Segovia and Kyle Kendrick could crack the back of the big league rotation in the next couple of years.
Prepare For Takeoff: SS Brad Harman. He was our pick to click a year ago as well, and though he played in the World Baseball Classic for Australia, he never got untracked while trying to deal with a family illness. He’s just 21 and still has the upside of a Chase Utley capable of playing an adequate shortstop.
At A Crossroads: OF Greg Golson. Will the real Greg Golson please stand up? Is the 2004 first-rounder the player whose numbers have declined each year, including a .220 performance with 107 strikeouts in 93 games when he repeated low Class A in 2006? Or is the outstanding athlete who seemed to turn a corner after a promotion to high Class A in late July?
|22 HOUSTON astros|
Highest Ranking: No. 3 (2002).
Lowest Ranking: No. 29 (2004).
State Of The System: In recent years, the Astros have transitioned from a club that relied on its system to one that relies on its big league payroll ($107.7 million in 2006, the fourth-highest in the game). Houston hasn’t drafted or mined Venezuela this decade as it did in the 1990s, and it also traded prospects such as RHPs Jason Hirsh and Mitch Talbot and SS Ben Zobrist in 2006.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters. After top prospect Hunter Pence, the Astros have a very pitching-heavy system. Matt Albers, the Double-A Texas League pitcher of the year in 2006, should join the big league rotation at some point this year. Jimmy Barthmaier and Juan Gutierrez have prototype pitcher’s builds and fastballs. Felipe Paulino has hit 100 mph and flashes a plus-plus curveball. Sergio Perez also has quality stuff, while Chris Sampson has impeccable command.
Prepare For Takeoff: LHP Brian Bogusevic. He struggled mightily in his 2005 pro debut and early last season until Houston shut him down with elbow tendinitis. Once he returned, he showed the stuff that made him a first-round pick. He still needs to get stronger to hold up over a full season, but the Astros are encouraged.
At A Crossroads: OF Mitch Einertson. He tied the Rookie-level Appalachian League home run record (24) in his 2004 pro debut, but off-field problems ruined his encore. Houston hoped he’d bounced back in 2006, but he batted just .211 with 12 homers while repeating low Class A.
|23 ST. LOUIS cardinals|
Highest Ranking: No. 5 (1990).
Lowest Ranking: No. 30 (2002, 2005).
State Of The System: Beyond Albert Pujols, the Cardinals system mostly has contributed to the big league club by producing trade fodder. A series of bad drafts thinned out their minor league talent, and most of their best prospects have been signed in the last two years—meaning they’ll need time to develop. St. Louis’ 2005 draft was its best in years, featuring OFs Colby Rasmus and Daryl Jones, LHP Jaime Garcia, C Bryan Anderson and RHPs Mark McCormick and Mitchell Boggs.
Best-Stocked Position: Outfielders. Rasmus and Jones are five-tool talents. Jon Jay doesn’t have quite the same athleticism, but he’s solid across the board and Cardinals coaches already tout him as a future big league batting champ. Cody Haerther and Nick Stavinoha (another 2005 draft pick) have done nothing but hit as pros. St. Louis is also high on 2006 draftees Jon Edwards, Shane Robinson and Amaury Cazana.
Prepare For Takeoff: RHP Dennis Dove. The Cardinals are trying to patch together a bullpen, and Dove looks like he’ll fill a hole after a banner big league camp. He has the ability to throw in the mid-90s on back-to-back nights, and his funky delivery makes him harder to hit.
At A Crossroads: 3B Travis Hanson. He was the organziation’s minor league player of the year in 2005, when he hit 20 homers—two more than he has totaled in his other four pro seasons. He contracted a parasite in big league camp last year, and while that contributed to a .223 season with three homers, a defense-first third baseman isn’t going to cut it in the majors.
|24 SEATTLE mariners|
Highest Ranking: No. 2 (1985, 2002).
Lowest Ranking: No. 30 (1998).
State Of The System: The Mariners have stopped forfeiting first-round picks for free agents, helping them land C Jeff Clement and RHP Brandon Morrow with top-five choices the last two years, and they’ve drafted better as well. The system is still feeling the effects of weak drafts at the beginning of the decade, especially in terms of position players.
Best-Stocked Position: Lefthanded starters. Tony Butler, a third-rounder last June, looks like one of the biggest coups from the 2006 draft. Ryan Feierabend, who can stake a claim to having the best pickoff move in baseball, reached the majors at age 21 last year. Justin Thomas is on the rise after picking up 14 wins and 162 strikeouts in his first full pro season. Travis Blackley and Robert Rohrbaugh both have fine command.
Prepare For Takeoff: SS Carlos Triunfel. Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.3 million last summer, Triunfel has all five tools and is potentially the best amateur position player signed by the Mariners since Alex Rodriguez. He’s going to break into pro ball in low Class A as a 17-year-old, and he could reach high Class A by the end of the season.
At A Crossroads: 3B Matt Tuiasosopo. Seattle spent $2.29 million to divert Tuiasosopo from playing quarterback at the University of Washington in 2004. For a player with a limited baseball background, he has been pushed aggressively, and he hit just .185 with one homer in 64 Double-A games last year. His approach at the plate takes away from his raw power, his best tool.
|25 CHICAGO white sox|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (2001).
Lowest Ranking: No. 25 (1988, 1989, 2007).
State Of The System: Kenny Williams is as aggressive about trading prospects as any GM, which has helped the big league team and thinned out the system. There’s little immediate offensive help beyond OF Ryan Sweeney and 3B Josh Fields, and the White Sox have gotten conservative when it comes to drafting pitchers, leading to a shortage of power arms.
Best-Stocked Position: Lefthanded starters. This was actually a shortcoming until Williams reversed course and traded for John Danks and Gio Gonzalez during the offseason. Danks could be the fifth starter coming out of spring training. Gonzalez was a White Sox supplemental first-rounder in 2004 who was traded away a year later for Jim Thome. Chicago sees some Mark Buehrle in Heath Phillips. Ray Liotta won back-to-back minor league ERA titles before an off year in 2006, which the club attributes to trying to help his family cope with the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
Prepare For Takeoff: RHP Adam Russell. He has come out of nowhere to put himself in the running for the fifth-starter job. He had a 6.28 ERA in three years at Ohio, but the White Sox liked his size (6-foot-8, 250 pounds) and mid-90s fastball. His secondary pitches have made strides this spring.
At A Crossroads: C Francisco Hernandez. He has the tools to be a big league regular, but he has yet to make a successful transition to full-season ball, hitting .241 over the last two seasons in low Class A. He needs to get stronger and to stop letting his offensive struggles affect the other aspects of his game.
|26 TORONTO blue jays|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (1987, 1988, 1993).
Lowest Ranking: No. 26 (2007).
State Of The System: Under GM J.P. Ricciardi, the Blue Jays have concentrated on drafting college players and emphasized statistical performance more than high ceilings. The system has suffered as a result, and Toronto no longer is known for producing quality athletes and arms.
Best-Stocked Position: Outfielders. Adam Lind, Travis Snider and Ryan Patterson are three of the Jays’ top four prospects. Lind has batted .319/.382/.511 in the minors, was even more impressive during a September callup last year and just needs a big league opportunity. A high schooler taken in the first round last June, Snider was the Rookie-level Appalachian League MVP in his debut and may have more offensive upside than Lind. Patterson has exceeded expectations as a 2005 fourth-round pick, though he’ll miss three months due to a broken right forearm.
Prepare For Takeoff: INF Anthony Hatch. A 13th-round sleeper from the 2005 draft, Hatch has the power to become a regular third baseman. He might fit best as an offensive-minded utilityman, as he has seen time at first, second and third base as well as the outfield.
At A Crossroads: SS Sergio Santos. A former Diamondbacks first-rounder acquired in the Troy Glaus trade in December 2005, Santos has batted .227 in two Triple-A seasons and hit a career-low five homers last year. Offense is supposed to be his calling card, as he has just adequate range at shortstop.
|27 OAKLAND athletics|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (1986).
Lowest Ranking: No. 27 (2007).
State Of The System: The system is in rebuilding mode after sending a slew of talent, led by RHP Huston Street and 1B Nick Swisher, to the majors. Famous for drafting almost solely college players, the Athletics have adopted a more balanced approach the last two years, with mixed results.
Best-Stocked Position: Outfielders. Top prospect Travis Buck is one of the minors’ best pure hitters. Matt Sulentic (third round), Jermaine Mitchell (fifth) and Toddric Johnson (14th) are potential steals from the 2006 draft. Richie Robnett and Danny Putnam, both 2004 first-rounders, have developed slower than expected, but Oakland still believes both, and Tommy John surgery alum Javier Herrera, will hit. Ryan Goleski was the top pick in December’s major league Rule 5 draft.
Prepare For Takeoff: 3B/OF Myron Leslie. A switch-hitter with power from both sides, Leslie has drawn some comparisons to Bobby Bonilla. He hit .273 with 17 homers and 100 RBIs in high Class A last year, and if he can repeat that performance in Double-A this year, he’ll start getting consideration as a possible regular.
At A Crossroads: LHP Dan Meyer. Considered the key player fro the A’s in the 2004 Tim Hudson trade with the Braves, Meyer went from prospect to suspect almost immediately. He brought a career 2.69 ERA to Oakland but has posted a 5.26 mark in two years in Triple-A. The A’s believe bone chips in his shoulder may have been the culprit, but he still has to regain his previous stuff.
|28 TEXAS rangers|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (1990).
Lowest Ranking: No. 28 (1996, 2007).
State Of The System: Most of the Rangers’ best minor leaguers took a step back in 2006, and they traded their top prospect (LHP John Danks) to the White Sox in December. Texas hopes that last year’s draft, which included LHP Kasey Kiker, 3B Chris Davis, SS Marcus Lemon and C Chad Tracy, will help rejuvenate the system.
Best-Stocked Position: Righthanded starters, albeit with a lot of question marks. Eric Hurley is now the organization’s best prospect, and he pitched well in Double-A at age 20 last season. But Edinson Volquez, No. 1 a year ago, has the second-highest ERA (9.20) in modern big league history for a pitcher with 10 starts. Thomas Diamond, No. 1 two years ago, had Tommy John surgery in mid-March. Armando Galarraga came down with a sore shoulder after coming over in the Alfonso Soriano trade. Omar Poveda is an intriguing sleeper, but he went 4-13, 4.88 in low Class A at age 18 last year.
Prepare For Takeoff: C Taylor Teagarden. The best defensive catcher in the 2005 draft, he got a $725,000 bonus after slipping to the third round because of signability. But he needed Tommy John surgery at the end of the year, and got just 20 at-bats while rehabbing his elbow and fighting back problems in 2006. Healthy again, he should start to move quickly.
At A Crossroads: OF Freddy Guzman. A prolific basestealer who led the minors with 90 swipes in 2003, Guzman is 26 and hasn’t shown he can hit or get on base enough to play regularly in the majors. The Padres gave up on him in 2006 and the Rangers have opted to go with 39-year-old Kenny Lofton this year.
|29 SAN DIEGO padres|
Highest Ranking: No. 2 (1987).
Lowest Ranking: No. 29 (2006, 2007).
State Of The System: The Padres are the only team to get shut out on our Top 100 Prospects list, the result of disastrous drafts in 2003 and 2004, which included blowing the No. 1 overall pick the latter year on SS Matt Bush. There is optimism for the future, as San Diego had promising drafts the last two years. Those players still have to prove themselves, and there’s little at the upper levels.
Best-Stocked Position: Third basemen. The Padres traded for Kevin Kouzmanoff, a career .332/.395/.556 hitter in the minors, in November and are giving him a starting job in the majors. Chase Headley has steady tools and strong plate discipline. David Freese was old for a 2006 signee at 23, but he hit .317 with 13 homers in his pro debut. Felix Carrasco’s power potential is intriguing, though he’s still raw.
Prepare For Takeoff: OF Yefri Carvajal. San Diego’s consolation prize when it lost the Fernando Martinez sweepstakes to the Mets in the summer of 2005, Carvajal has the system’s best potential to hit for power and average with the exception of Kouzmanoff. The Padres will be patient with him, but they won’t be able to hold his bat back once it gets going.
At A Crossroads: SS Matt Bush. Bush faced a critical season in 2006 after batting .216 in his first two years, but he broke his ankle in spring training and made it into just 22 games. His bat and maturity remain huge question marks, and he soon may be using his best tool (arm strength) on the mound.
|30 WASHINGTON nationals|
Highest Ranking: No. 1 (1989, 1991).
Lowest Ranking: No. 30 (2004, 2007).
State Of The System: The Nationals still are recovering from the limitations of four years of MLB ownership. Like the Padres, they’re encouraged by their last two drafts but need time to push those players through the system. They’ve also beefed up their player development and scouting staffs, including the hiring of former Diamondbacks scouting director Mike Rizzo as assistant GM.
Best-Stocked Position: Shortstops. Washington announced its intention to be a major player in Latin America by signing Esmailyn Gonzalez out of the Dominican Republic for $1.4 million last summer. Stephen King, a third-rounder last June, has five-tool potential. Ian Desmond, a gifted defender, is still learning to hit.
Prepare For Takeoff: RHP Jhonny Nunez. Nunez nearly won the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League pitching triple crown last summer, and the Nationals acquired him in an August trade for Marlon Anderson. His fastball-slider combo is tantalizing.
At A Crossroads: 1B Larry Broadway. With Nick Johnson sidelined until midseason, the Nationals were prepared to give their first-base job to Broadway. But he didn’t show much power in big league camp and was displaced by retreads Travis Lee and Dmitri Young. Now 26, Broadway faces a third season in Triple-A.