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Walker was born to play baseball, and it has been his dream to play in the majors since he attended the 1994 All-Star Game at old Three Rivers Stadium. His father Tom pitched in the big leagues for six seasons with four teams from 1972-77. His uncle, Chip Lang, pitched for the Expos in 1975-76. His brother Matt was an outfielder in the Tigers and Orioles systems. Walker was the first Pittsburgh-area player ever selected in the first round by the Pirates after hitting .657-13-42 in his senior season at Pine-Richland High, and his charismatic nature has enabled him to handle the attention with aplomb. In addition to being a prep All-American in baseball, Walker was an all-state wide receiver in high school and received plenty of interest from major college football programs. Walker is a rare commodity, a switch-hitter who can produce for both average and power. Though he's a natural righthanded hitter, he showed outstanding power as a lefthanded batter in 2005 and really has no weak side. He relishes the opportunity to hit with runners on base and projects as a middle-of-the-order run producer who should hit in the neighborhood of .300 with 30 homers per season. Walker has a strong arm and threw out 37 percent of runners attempting to steal in 2005. Though not a burner, he also runs well, particularly for a catcher. Walker could stand to take a few more walks, though he has been able to overcome that by his ability to make consistent hard contact. His defense needs plenty of work. His throwing mechanics are often inconsistent and he occasionally lapses into bad habits where he doesn't move his feet and stabs at pitches. While the Pirates believe Walker can stay behind the plate and reach the majors, they also believe they would receive more long-term production if they removed him from the rigors of catching. With that in mind, Walker began taking ground balls at third base in the Arizona Fall League with an eye on eventually moving to the hot corner or a corner-outfield position. He has the athleticism to handle the transition to any of those spots. Walker tore a ligament in his left wrist while swinging a bat at the end of the AFL season, requiring surgery that forced him to take a couple of months off. The Pirates expect him to be ready for spring training. How quickly Walker reaches Pittsburgh depends upon what position he ultimately plays. If he stays behind the plate, he likely won't be ready until 2008. If he moves to third base or the outfield, that timetable easily could speed up to 2007. He'll probably open 2006 at high Class A Lynchburg with the likelihood of moving to Double-A Altoona during the season. Walker excelled in his first season of full-season ball in 2005, then held his own as one of the youngest players in the AFL. That leads to the feeling he could get to the majors quickly and provide the Pirates with a sorely needed second elite hitter to go with Jason Bay in the heart of the batting order. They haven't had a starting position player from the Pittsburgh area since third baseman/outfielder Bill Robinson from 1975-82, and the winstarved fans would relish having one of their own to cheer.
The Pirates made McCutchen their top pick after he hit .709-11-28 as a high school senior. He has good athletic genes; his father played football at small-college power Carson-Newman (Tenn.) and his mother played volleyball in junior college in Florida. He ranked as the top prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his debut. McCutchen has a good blend of power and speed, often drawing comparisons to Marquis Grissom. He has wiry strength and his extra-base hit total should increase once his body fills out. He has outstanding speed (he covers 60 yards in 6.35 seconds) and a quick first step, enabling him to cover plenty of ground in center field. McCutchen played at a small rural high school and is still somewhat raw in all aspects of the game. His arm is his weakest tool but still grades out as average. McCutchen is ready to log a full season at low Class A Hickory. His talent and maturity could get him to the major leagues as soon as 2008.
After starting his college career at Kansas, Gorzelanny turned into a high-round pick after academic woes prompted him to transfer to Triton Junior College near his Chicago-area home. He made his big league debut in September, barely more than two years after being drafted, and set a Double-A Altoona record by striking out 13 in an Eastern League playoff game. Gorzelanny throws hard; his fastball sits at 90-92 mph with excellent movement and reaches as high as 95. His slider can be unhittable at times, and he really took a step forward in 2005 after he dramatically improved his changeup. He also has good mound presence and refuses to give in to hitters. Gorzelanny needs to tighten up his breaking ball because it gets slurvy at times. He can solve that problem by developing a more consistent arm slot. Though he got a major league look, Gorzelanny needs to spend the majority of 2006 at Triple-A Indianapolis to become a finished product. He has the chance to become a fine No. 2-3 starter.
Maholm's 2004 season was cut short when a line drive struck him in the left eye in mid May while he was in high Class A, and his 2005 was eventful as well. An outstanding spring training led to him beginning the season in Double-A. After a trip to the Futures Game and a stopover in Triple-A, Maholm landed in Pittsburgh. Off the field, his mother died of colon cancer and his new house in Holly Springs, Miss., narrowly missed being heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Maholm has outstanding mound presence and very good command of three pitches that can be above average at times. He runs his 88-91 mph fastball in on righthanders. He also has a good curveball and a slider that's improving. Righthanders hit .265 against Maholm--compared to .173 by lefties-- in part because the quality of his changeup fluctuates. He's not overpowering, so he doesn't have much margin for error. Maholm showed he's ready to be a major league starter, but the Pirates' depth might force him back to Triple-A to start 2006.
Bautista got needed at-bats at Double-A in 2005 after getting just 88 while bouncing around the majors with four teams in 2004 as a Rule 5 draft pick. Baltimore selected Bautista from the Pirates, and he wound up going to Tampa Bay and Kansas City on waiver claims before landing back in Pittsburgh in the Kris Benson trade. Bautista got just 165 at-bats in 2003 because of a broken hand. Bautista has a quick bat and began to show plus power in 2005. He has the tools to be an above-average defensive third baseman with good range and a strong arm. An average runner, he's versatile with the ability to play second base and all three outfield positions. He needs to smooth out some rough edges. Bautista lacks plate discipline and can be made to chase bad pitches. His hands are also a little stiff and he makes too many errors on routine plays. The Pirates have a big need at third base but believe Bautista needs to spend at least a half-season in Triple-A. He could get an extended look after the all-star break.
McLouth shared Mr. Baseball honors in Michigan in 2000, but teams shied away from drafting him because of his commitment to the University of Michigan. However, the Pirates drafted him in the 25th round and persuaded him to sign for $500,000. He made his big league debut last season and hit four home runs in his final six games. McLouth's tools all grade out at average or a little above. He plays above his tools because of his outstanding work ethic and baseball acumen. He handles the bat well, makes consistent contact, runs well and is an exceptional bunter. A 'tweener, McLouth lacks the desired power for an outfield corner and the range for center field. His best position is probably right field, where his arm is just adequate. He has shown the ability to hit doubles in the minors and needs to translate that into over-the-fence power. McLouth may not have the perfect profile, but he consistently has overcome doubters and should become at least a good fourth outfielder. He'll compete for a big league job in spring training.
Though some members of the organization preferred B.J. Upton, the Pirates made Bullington the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft and gave him a club-record $4 million bonus. After missing the first six weeks of the 2005 season with a sore shoulder, he had a fine year at Triple-A and made his big league debut in September. However, he needed shoulder surgery to repair damage to his labrum in October and won't be able to pitch until June. Bullington regained the touch on his slider in 2005. With its late break and good tilt, it became his out pitch. He has a smooth delivery and his pitches have good movement coming from a three-quarters arm slot. Bullington's fastball hit 95 mph in college, but he never has thrown that hard since coming into pro ball. The Pirates hope he might regain velocity following his shoulder surgery. Bullington's curveball tends to get loopy and his changeup can be erratic. Bullington will begin the season rehabbing his shoulder, slowing down his timetable. Look for him to spend most of 2006 in the minors, with a September callup to the majors most likely.
Van Benschoten missed the entire 2005 season because of three arthroscopic shoulder surgeries, one on his throwing arm and two on his left arm. He led NCAA Division I with 31 home runs at Kent State in 2001, and the Pirates surprised many clubs by drafting him eighth overall as a pitcher that June. After pitching strictly in relief in college, he reached the majors as a starter in three years. Van Benschoten has the ideal pitcher's build and a consistent 91-94 mph fastball. His best pitch is a late-breaking slider that causes many swings and misses. He also has a solid curveball. Despite trying several grips, Van Benschoten never has gained complete feel for a changeup. Despite his age, he lacks pitching experience because of his college background. His mechanics can wander at times, leading to a loss of location. Van Benschoten should be ready to pitch by the time spring training begins. He went just 4-11, 4.72 in Triple-A in 2004 and needs more time in the minors. He should challenge for a spot in the Pittsburgh rotation in 2007.
Duffy has continued to impress the Pirates since leading the short-season New York-Penn League in steals in his pro debut in 2001. He had a strong big league camp and hit .300 for the fourth time in five years in 2005. Installed as the Pirates' center fielder in mid-July, he hit .341 until his season ended in late August with a torn left hamstring. Duffy has outstanding speed that he uses to his advantage both on the bases and in the field. Though he never batted lefthanded until he got to Arizona State, he has hit consistently throughout the minors. He's an outstanding center fielder who covers both gaps and makes highlight-reel plays. He's also a good basestealer, though he was hesitant to run in the majors. Duffy strikes out a lot for a top-of-the-order hitter who relies on speed. His arm is below average, though he compensates by making accurate throws. The Pirates' center-field job will be Duffy's to lose in spring training. He's their best defensive center fielder since Andy Van Slyke, though his bat will determine his long-term future.
Capps made an amazing rise after posting a 10.07 ERA in eight low Class A Hickory starts in 2004. Converted to a reliever during spring training in 2005, he began the season back at Hickory and finished it in the Pittsburgh bullpen. Capps attacks hitters and doesn't back down, a style that works much better for him in short relief. His fastball routinely hits 95 mph and looks even quicker because he comes straight over the top with it. He does an exceptional job of throwing strikes. Capps hasn't been able to come up with a consistent breaking ball. He'll need another pitch, possibly a splitter, to go with his fastball in order to get major league hitters out. He's more hittable than he should be with his velocity because hitters can sit on his heater. Though Capps got a taste of the major leagues at the end of 2005, he needs more seasoning and will begin 2006 in Double-A. He has a chance to eventually become a major league closer if he can find a complement for his plus fastball.
To answer the inevitable question, Davis' first name is pronounced "RAHJ-ay" and it means "king" in Sanskrit. He set an Altoona franchise record for stolen bases last season after leading the high Class A Carolina League in hitting and steals in 2004. Davis has a good feel for being a leadoff hitter, though his strikeout-walk ratio declined in 2005. He's willing to take pitches, bunt and slap the ball on the ground to get on base. He has above-average speed and seems to find another gear when he needs to beat out an infield hit or chase down fly balls into the gap. Davis needs to tighten his strike zone a little more and polish his routes in center field, though he often can make up for defensive mistakes with his speed. The Pirates have a similar player in Chris Duffy, who broke into the majors last year and likely will be their starting center fielder in 2006. Davis will spend this season in Triple-A before posing a challenge to Duffy in 2007.
Stansberry has been a winner throughout his career. He helped lead North Central (Texas) Community College to the Junior College World Series title in 2002 and Rice to the College World Series championship in 2003. Stanberry also won championship rings in his first two pro stops at Williamsport in 2003 and Hickory in 2004, then helped Altoona reach the Eastern League playoffs last year. Stansberry began to develop pop in 2005 with a combined 21 homers, including 18 in Double-A. He also has outstanding instincts for the game with the defensive skills to play a good second or third base, and enough speed to steal some bases. Stansberry's power surge came with a price, as he became too pull-happy and his batting average plummeted. Once he begins using the whole field again, his average should return to the .280-.300 range. He likely will play second base in Triple-A this year. His path to the majors at that position is blocked by Jose Castillo, but Stansberry is helped by his ability to also play third.
Paulino went to big league camp with the Royals in 2003 as a major league Rule 5 draft pick, but was returned to the Pirates and then hit a combined .229-7-31 in the mid-minors. He regained his prospect luster with two strong seasons before making his big league debut late in 2005. Paulino is a big guy who's finally starting to realize his power potential, especially since he has learned to use the entire field. He's strong enough to hit the ball out of the park to the opposite field and doesn't have to try to pull everything. Paulino also has a strong arm and threw out 36 percent of basestealers in the minors in 2005. He has greatly improved his rapport with pitchers as his English has gotten better. His swing tends to get long, causing him to strike out in bunches at times. He's also a bit stiff behind the plate and needs to soften his hands. The Pirates have some interesting young catching options in Ryan Doumit and Humberto Cota ahead of Paulino and top prospect Neil Walker coming up behind them. Paulino figures to begin this season in Triple-A.
The Pirates loaded up on college hitters in the 2005 draft, taking five in the first eight rounds. Boone, who signed for $420,000 as a third-rounder, is the best prospect among that group to this point. Passed up by all 30 clubs as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2004, he batted .340-8-72 as a junior at Missouri and continued to hit in his pro debut. Boone is a solid hitter from both sides of the plate. He has more of a line-drive stroke at this stage of his career but his power, which comes primarily from the left side, should increase as he learns to turn on pitches and lift the ball more. He doesn' have blazing speed but shows smarts on the basepaths and is above average defensively in center field. Boone struck out too much in his first taste of pro ball, though the Pirates are confident he'll develop better plate discipline with more experience. If he doesn't make adjustments, he'll get exploited at higher levels. He'll begin his first full season in low Class A and could get to Pittsburgh by 2008 if he gets the strikeouts under control.
After Corley batted .380-19-55 as a sophomore at Mississippi State in 2004, there was talk he could go in the first round of the 2005 draft. But he broke a thumb while trying out for Team USA in the summer of 2004 and it bothered him last spring, when he hit just .316-5- 40 for the Bulldogs, killing his first-round aspirations. Some clubs felt the Pirates over-drafted him in the second round, and he got off to a slow start in the New York-Penn League after signing for $605,000. Once he shortened his swing, however, Corley's power returned and he came on strong at Williamsport before starring in instructional league. He has good power potential and his swing reminds some scouts of Pat Burrell's. Corley also has a strong arm that's suitable for right field. He has average range in the outfield. Pro pitchers were able to find holes in Corley's swing and make him chase pitches out of the strike zone, though he started to make adjustments in August. He'll join James Boone in low Class A this year and will move quickly if he's able to maintain his power stroke.
Johnston generated national headlines in 2004 when he made the Pirates out of spring training, making the jump from Double-A and becoming only the second player in major league history to publicly admit he has Tourette's Syndrome. The condition includes visible nervous tics and forced him to drop out of high school in Philadelphia. Johnston made nine straight scoreless appearances to begin his big league career, but he has experienced elbow problems on and off the last two seasons. Johnston's strength is that he's one of the hardest- throwing lefthanders around. His fastball routinely reaches 95 mph and tops out at 98. He also relishes pitching inside and isn't afraid to, as he says, "buzz the tower." Johnston's slider can be devastating but he has problems staying consistent with the pitch and it often becomes slurvy. He also hasn't maintained his conditioning since reaching the majors and must be diligent in watching his weight. Johnston isn't exactly a kid, but he still has a high ceiling because of his power arm. If he gains command of his slider, he could develop into one of the top lefthanded relievers in the game.
Sharpless has proven to be quite a find for Pittsburgh since signing as a 24th-round pick out of nearby Allegheny College, an NCAA Division III school. He has averaged 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings as a pro and held opponents to a .107 batting average last year before missing the final two months with a strained elbow. Sharpless has an outstanding slider that is hard and breaks late, leaving hitters to flail at it. His fastball is usually in the 88-91 mph range but looks faster because he throws it from straight over the top. He's still somewhat raw and lost valuable development time because of his elbow, but he pitched pain-free in instructional league. He's not athletic and struggles to repeat his delivery at times. Sharpless doesn't have a whole lot left to prove in the minors beyond his health. Spring training will determine whether he begins 2006 in Double-A or Triple-A, and he very well could make his Pittsburgh debut later in the year.
Bauserman was a two-sport, two-state star in high school, playing baseball in Florida and football in Virginia. He chose baseball after high school, signing with the Pirates for $300,000 as a 2004 fourth-round pick and passing up a scholarship to play quarterback at Ohio State. Bauserman has a strong pitcher's body and good loose arm action. The ball comes out of his hand easily and his fastball sits in the 90-92 mph range while reaching 95. His curveball has good downward bite and his changeup has the makings of a plus pitch. Some scouts though Bauserman showed bad body language during his debut season in the Gulf Coast League in 2004. He looked more mature on the mound last season and was one of the best pitchers on the Williamsport staff despite being young for the league. His slider could use some tightening, though it's only his fourth pitch. Bauserman is still somewhat raw and the Pirates see no need to rush him. He'll get his first taste of full-season ball this year in low Class A and isn't likely to reach the majors until the end of 2008 at the earliest.
One of the better draft-and-follows from 2004, Redmond led St. Petersburg Junior College to the Florida state juco championship in 2005 with 18 scoreless innings in the playoffs and a second-place finish at the Junior College World Series before signing with the Pirates. In his debut, he finished second in the New York-Penn League ERA race. Redmond's fastball sits at 91-93 mph and touches 95. His curveball and changeup also have the makings of becoming above-average pitches. What really sets him apart, though, is his outstanding mound presence and bulldog demeanor. Like most young pitchers, Redmond needs to gain consistency with his changeup. His curve also tends to get loopy from time to time. More than anything, he just needs to keep logging innings. Redmond made a seamless transition from juco to short-season ball. There's no reason to think he won't handle the adjustment to pitching in a full-season league this year. If Redmond improves his secondary pitches, his long-term future is a starter. His heater also makes him an intriguing short-relief candidate.
Boeve, whose name rhymes with movie, was a three-sport star in high school in Doon, Iowa, playing football, basketball and track. He went to Northern Iowa on a football scholarship to play safety but wound up winning Missouri Valley Conference player-of-the-year honors in baseball as a senior in 2003. After a lackluster pro debut at Williamsport that summer, Boeve has shown the ability to hit for both power and average. He has a mature approach at the plate and looks to hit the ball up the middle because he has the power to hit the ball out to the opposite field. Boeve is prone to striking out. He has a high leg kick and Double-A pitchers were able to exploit it at times, so he may have to tone it down. He's an average defender at best, with a bit above-average range and a bit below-average arm. He held his own in the Arizona Fall League at the end of the season. At 25, he's a bit old for a prospect. The Pirates will try to push him to Triple-A in 2006, though he'll probably start the year back in Double-A.
One of the few anthropology majors in pro ball, Lillibridge was a first-team all-Pacific-10 Conference selection in each of his three seasons at Washington. He played every game at shortstop for the Huskies last season after spending time in center field earlier in his career. A fourth-round pick in June, he signed for $262,500. He's an athletic player with a live body and lots of energy. He hits for average and also has gap power. He's an above-average defensive shortstop with excellent range and a good arm, enabling him to make acrobatic plays. He also has above average speed and can steal a base. Lillibridge struggled in making the adjustment to wood bats and was prone to strikeouts even while starring at Washington. He has a big swing, looks for fastballs and doesn't recognize breaking balls well, so he'll have several adjustments to make. He made 13 errors in 42 games in his pro debut, but much of that was attributed to trying too hard to make tough plays. Lillibridge has a lot of upside and could move quickly after beginning 2006 in low Class A.
One of several Dominicans who were discovered in 2002 to have falsified their birthdates, Guzman is two years older than he was believed to be entering 2005 because the Pirates failed to update his age on their rosters. After reaching Double-A at midseason last year, he batted .355 in his first 19 games then slumped and hit just .187 in his final 49. He needs to learn to handle breaking and off-speed pitches better and he can be susceptible to fastballs under his hands. That said, he has plenty of tools. Guzman runs well and has outstanding range and an above-average arm. His bat was also a plus until the end of last season, as the switch-hitter has some pop from the left side. Guzman needs to be more consistent at the plate as well as in the field, as he makes too many errors on routine plays. Because he was overmatched in Double-A, he'll have to prove himself there in 2006. How well he redeems himself will go a long way in determining his future.
The Pirates think they got a steal when they grabbed Swanson in the 13th round last June. He held opponents to a .163 average in his pro debut. The 6-foot-7 Swanson learned how to use his size to his advantage last year. He began getting on top of his fastball more and his velocity rose to the low 90s with a peak of 95 mph more often because of his newfound leverage. He also throws a slider and a splitter. Swanson needs to gain more consistency with his split in order to contrast his heater, and his slider also could use some tightening from time to time. He lacks experience after pitching primarily out of the bullpen in college and the Pirates plan to rectify that by having him work as a starter this year in low Class A. He projects more as a set-up man for the long term.
Peterson has perplexed the Pirates ever since they acquired him from the Mets in the mid- 2004 Kris Benson trade. He has compiled a 5.66 ERA in 34 games at Double-A since the deal and hasn't shown the form that made him the Mets' 2003 minor league pitcher of the year. Peterson has the makings of a solid starting pitcher, as he has a 90-94 mph fastball and a 12- to-6 curveball that's unhittable when it's on. He also has shown a good feel for a changeup at times, but he has been unable to consistently throw any of his pitches for strikes since coming to the Pirates. He has had particularly trouble controlling his curve. Peterson also has put too much pressure on himself in an effort to try to justify being traded for an established major league pitcher. He'll go back to Double-A for a third straight season, and he's too young and talented to write off as a prospect. However, at some point soon he has to start pitching well to stay in Pittsburgh's plans.
Quarles became the accidental pitcher at Southern in 2004. He was recruited as an outfielder from Glen Oaks (Mich.) Community College and moved to the mound when he failed to crack Southern's everyday starting lineup. Two months later, he was a seventh-round draft pick. Quarles' velocity is as good as any pitcher in the organization as he routinely hits 98 mph on the gun with his fastball, though it sits at 92-94. His curveball has a huge break, dropping from the hitter's shoulders to his knees. Quarles also has a fresh arm because he didn't pitch much as an amateur. He needs a lot of polish as he's a thrower at this stage of his career. He needs better command of the fastball to both sides of the plate, as he just basically throws it and hopes for the best. He also has a tendency to bounce his curveball. Quarles began last season in extended spring training before being moved to low Class A. He likely will go back there to start 2006 but the Pirates are willing to be patient because of his live arm.
A Pittsburgh native, Hamilton was drafted by the Pirates after his junior year at Penn State but wasn't offered a contract. They finally landed him this offseason, when he came over from the Padres for the disappointing Bobby Hill. Hamilton never posted a winning record nor an ERA under 5.50 in college, though he did pitch well in the Valley League in the summer of 2003. He impressed San Diego enough with his maturity to earn an emergency start at Double-A just months after signing, and he continued to stand out last year. He creates good downward plane on a solid-average 89-91 mph fastball that maxes out at 94. He has developed an average slider after using a curveball until midway through his senior season. Hamilton is aggressive in the zone and pitches intelligently. He doesn't beat himself with walks or homers. His slider is still inconsistent and has a tendency to flatten out. He occasionally tips his changeup early by slowing down his delivery. He struggled with a groin injury late in 2005 that sapped his velocity, and pitching 100-plus innings for the first time also took its toll. Hamilton projects as a No. 5 starter or swingman, and should make the jump to Double-A this year.
One of two righthanders acquired from the Royals for Mark Redman over the winter (the other, Chad Blackwell, just missed this prospect list), Bayliss threw a no-hitter at NCAA Division III Trinity (Conn.) in 2002 and another for low Class A Burlington in 2003. He's not likely to throw another one following a successful move to the bullpen last year after three seasons as a starter. He made his major league debut June 22 with a perfect inning against the White Sox. Working in relief helped Bayliss improve his stuff, and he felt more comfortable in that role that he had in the rotation. His fastball jumped from hovering around 90 mph to an easy, consistent 93 mph. It runs and rides in on righthanders, making it a nice complement to his changeup, which fades and sinks. His slider also improved into a strikeout pitch with depth. His success carried over into the Arizona Fall League, and he should get a chance to make the Pirates in 2006.
Starling helped lead Elkins High (Missouri City, Texas) to a national high school championship as a senior in 2002, but he failed to sign with the Pirates after being drafted in the fourth round. Starling went to Odessa (Texas) Junior College and hit .420-12-80 to rank among the national juco leaders in all three categories before Pittsburgh signed him just before the 2003 draft as a pitcher. Starling has the makings of an above-average pitcher though he has been slow to put it all together. His fastball routinely sits at 92-94 mph with good life and peaks at 97. He also throws a curveball and changeup with both pitches having the potential to be above average. Starling has the rap of being immature and failing to get the most out of his talent. He's young enough to outgrow that but another concern is that he continually seems to fall into mechanical ruts, though his fine athletic ability should allow him to repeat his delivery. Starling will likely go back to high Class A to start this season unless he has a lights-out spring training. He won't move up until he proves he's ready.
Prasch was one of the top draft prospects in the talent-rich Atlanta area in 2004 and the Pirates gave him a $500,000 bonus as a third-round pick. He has managed to play in just 73 games and log only 263 at-bats in his two pro seasons because of a variety of injuries, including a strained back that sidelined him for most of 2005. When healthy, Prasch has a pretty line-drive stroke from the left side. He's short to the ball and generates plenty of bat speed. However, his swing got longer and slower last season, a symptom of his back problems. Prasch showed the ability to hit both lefties and righties as an amateur but has yet to get untracked in the pros. He has yet to homer, though he projects to hit 15-25 annually once his body fills out and if he stays healthy. His feet are slow and his hands aren't overly soft, but Prasch compensates at third base with a strong arm. He doesn't appear ready for full-season ball yet. He likely will remain in extended spring training, then report to Williamsport in June.
Bixler ranked second in NCAA Division I in batting (.453) and on-base percentage (.520) at Eastern Michigan in 2004. While he has hit for a decent average as a pro, his on-base skills have declined. That detracts from his ability to use his best tool, his speed. He's always a threat to steal and can take the extra base on most balls hit to the outfield. Though he showed improved pop in 2005, he needs to worry more about improving his grasp of the strike zone. He swings and misses too much, and pitchers at higher levels will exploit his declining discipline even further. He also needs to be more consistent in the field after making 33 errors last season. Bixler will move to high Class A this season. His tools are intriguing but his production must improve.
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