Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Top 10 Prospects - AL East

Monday, January 22, 2007

This is the first of six columns looking at each club's top 10 prospects. The AL East is covered below and will be followed by the NL East next week. Once all of the divisions have been featured, I'll turn the lists below into an overall top 150.

Players with at least 50 innings pitched, 130 at-bats or 45 non-September days on an active roster are excluded from the lists below. I also don't include anyone with significant experience in Japan.

Baltimore Orioles

1. Brandon Erbe - RHP - DOB: 12/25/87 - ETA: 2009
5-9, 3.22 ERA, 88 H, 133/47 K/BB in 114 2/3 IP for low Single-A Delmarva

It's hard to see how Erbe lasted to the third round of the 2005 draft. He possesses impresses command for such a hard-throwing youngster, and it wasn't a height thing, as he stands 6-foot-4. He's touched 98 mph on the gun and throws regularly in the mid-90s. Erbe's secondary pitches need work, but his slider should rate as a plus offering in time and the Orioles will insist that he use his changeup more. He could end 2007 in Double-A and reach the majors by Sept. 2008.

2. Billy Rowell - 3B - DOB: 09/10/88 - ETA: 2010
.329/.422/.507, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 47/25 K/BB, 3 SB in 152 AB for Rookie Bluefield
.326/.388/.488, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 12/4 K/BB, 0 SB in 43 AB for SS Single-A Aberdeen

The early results say the Orioles did very well with the ninth selection in the 2006 draft. Rowell, a shortstop in high school, was moved to third base right away after signing and then hit .328/.415/.503 at two stops. His left-handed swing promises 30-homer power, and he's already making ample contact, against righties anyway. He hit 110 points lower in his 67 at-bats against lefties. Whether he'll be able to stay at third is the biggest question Rowell faces as he climbs the ladder. His chances of becoming an All-Star will be much improved if he can avoid a move to first base or an outfield corner. Since he'll probably end up at first base, he ranks behind Erbe here.

3. Nolan Reimold - OF - DOB: 10/12/83 - ETA: July 2008
.255/.379/.455, 19 HR, 75 RBI, 107/76 K/BB, 14 SB in 415 AB for Single-A Frederick
.284/.406/.398, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 20/16 K/BB, 1 SB in 88 AB for Grand Canyon (AFL)

Reimold turned in a terrific pro debut in 2005 after being drafted in the second round out of Bowling Green, but his 2006 was tough to get a read on. He hit .304/.435/.538 over the first two months before suffering a foot injury on June 4. He missed 10 days and fell into quite a slump afterwards, going 4-for-39 over the rest of the month and improving only to .227 in July. He did bounce back to hit six homers in August, but his power evaporated in the AFL. Reimold should be on his way to becoming a 25-homer guy, and he's a fine defender in right field, though not so good that he figures to unseat Nick Markakis. I still like his chances of becoming a solid everyday player, but he might not be ready for the start of 2008 as previously hoped.

4. Garrett Olson - LHP - DOB: 10/18/83 - ETA: Sept. 2007
4-4, 2.77 ERA, 81 H, 77/19 K/BB in 81 1/3 IP for Single-A Frederick
6-5, 3.42 ERA, 78 H, 85/31 K/BB in 84 1/3 IP for Double-A Bowie

It was another black mark for the franchise when Baltimore couldn't sign Wade Townsend after drafting him eighth overall in 2004, but it's worked out just fine. The Orioles picked Olson with the supplemental first-round selection they were awarded in 2005 and got themselves a pitcher far more likely to have a career. Olson throws 89-90 mph and has a curve that's been one of the top strikeout breaking balls in the minors over the last year and a half. Because the curve is his only above average pitch and his changeup remains a work in progress, there's some thought Olson may be limited to relief work in the majors. However, as long as he can hit the corners with his fastball, he'll probably make it as a third or fourth starter.

5. Pedro Beato - RHP - DOB: 10/27/86 - ETA: 2010
3-2, 3.63 ERA, 47 H, 52/23 K/BB in 57 IP for SS Single-A Aberdeen

The Mets were expected to sign Beato as a draft-and-follow after picking him in the 17th round in 2005, but MLB stepped in and prevented them from meeting his asking price. The Orioles then drafted the Tommy John survivor with the 32nd overall selection last year and quickly signed him. Beato typically works in the low-90s with movement, and his curveball is on its way to becoming an above average second offering. If his changeup catches up with his first two pitches, he could be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. He's due to open 2007 at low-A Delmarva.

6. Radhames Liz - RHP - DOB: 10/06/83 - ETA: Aug. 2008
6-5, 2.82 ERA, 57 H, 95/44 K/BB in 83 IP for Single-A Frederick
3-1, 5.36 ERA, 55 H, 54/31 K/BB in 50 1/3 IP for Double-A Bowie

Especially considering that he continued to strike out more than a batter an inning, Liz's struggles at Bowie weren't especially discouraging. He opened 2006 in the Carolina League even though he had pitched just 38 1/3 innings at Delmarva in 2005. Double-A became the fourth level he pitched at in barely a year. Liz remains something of a raw talent. He works in the mid-90 and his curveball shows a lot of potential. On the other hand, his changeup offers little in the way of deception and he needs to do a much better job of throwing strikes. There's a good chance he'll end up as a reliever, though he could be a very good one. He has closer-type upside.

7. Jim Hoey - RHP - DOB: 12/30/82 - ERA: July 2007
2-1, 18 Sv, 2.54 ERA, 17 H, 46/10 K/BB in 28 1/3 IP for low Single-A Delmarva
0-0, 11 Sv, 0.64 ERA, 13 H, 16/5 K/BB in 14 IP for Single-A Frederick
0-0, 4 Sv, 4.00 ERA, 9 H, 11/3 K/BB in 9 IP for Double-A Bowie
0-1, 0 Sv, 10.24 ERA, 14 H, 6/5 K/BB in 9 2/3 IP for Baltimore

Back from Tommy John surgery, Hoey was one of the Orioles' most pleasant surprises last season, striking out 73 while giving up just 39 hits in 51 1/3 innings at three levels in the minors. Rushing him to the majors in late August was an obvious mistake, and the Orioles will have to hope that the shoulder "weakness" that sidelined him in late September was completely taken care of with an offseason of rest. If he's 100 percent, he should be ready to contribute by the second half of the season. Hoey throws in the mid-90s and has a quality slider. He'll likely settle in as a setup man.

8. Brandon Snyder - C - DOB: 11/23/86 - ETA: 2011
.234/.267/.339, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 43/5 K/BB, 2 SB in 124 AB for SS Single-A Aberdeen
.194/.237/.340, 3 HR, 20 RBI, 55/9 K/BB, 0 SB in 144 AB for low Single-A Delmarva

Snyder also played shortstop before being drafted, but if he stays on this path, it's only a matter of time before he gets lumped in with all of the other high school catchers turned first-round busts. Snyder, the 13th overall pick in the 2005 draft, was troubled last season by a torn left (non-throwing) rotator cuff he had operated on during August. He'll probably begin flashing some offensive potential this season, but he has a lot of work ahead of him if he's going to make it as a catcher. A switch to third base is a possibility down the line.

9. Jeff Fiorentino - OF - DOB: 04/14/83 - ETA: April 2008
.275/.365/.413, 13 HR, 62 RBI, 58/53 K/BB, 9 SB in 385 AB for Double-A Bowie
.256/.375/.308, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 3/7 K/BB, 1 SB in 39 AB for Baltimore
.263/.364/.442, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 16/15 K/BB, 1 SB in 95 AB for Grand Canyon (AFL)

Fiorentino saw time in the majors for a second straight season last year, but he's still a year away from being ready to fulfill his destiny as a fourth outfielder. His minor league numbers to date have been dragged down by a full complement of at-bats against left-handed pitchers. He hit .294/.391/.450 against righties in Double-A last season, and that's about all he's going to see once he's in the majors for good. Since he has the range to handle center, he should have a long career as a bench guy.

10. Keiron Pope - OF - DOB: 10/03/86 - ETA: 2011
.341/.411/.585, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 36/10 K/BB, 4 SB in 135 AB for Rookie Bluefield
.107/.160/.107, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 33/2 K/BB, 1 SB in 75 AB for SS Single-A Aberdeen

Pope's horrendous showing after moving up to the New York-Penn League at the end of the season was a disappointment, but there was a reason the Orioles were going slowly with the toolsy 2005 fourth-round pick. Pope has more speed than his meager stolen-base total suggests, and he's likely to develop 20-25 homer power. Time will tell whether he'll possess the on-base skills to make it as a corner outfielder in the majors, but he has a high ceiling.

Next five: 2B Ryan Adams, SS Pedro Florimon, RHP Bob McCrory, OF Val Majewski, RHP Jim Johnson

2006 top 15: Nick Markakis, Hayden Penn, Adam Loewen, Nolan Reimold, Garrett Olson, Val Majewski, Brandon Snyder, Jim Johnson, Brandon Erbe, Jeff Fiorentino, Radhames Liz, Sendy Rleal, Aaron Rakers, Chris Britton, David Haehnel

2005 top 10: Nick Markakis, Adam Loewen, Hayden Penn, John Maine, Val Majewski, Jeff Fiorentino, Chris Ray, Mike Fontenot, Jacobo Sequea, Walter Young

2004 top 10: Denny Bautista, Erik Bedard, Adam Loewen, Matt Riley, John Maine, Nick Markakis, Don Levinski, Val Majewski, Daniel Cabrera, Mike Fontenot

2003 top 10: Erik Bedard, Luis Jimenez, Rich Stahl, Matt Riley, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Cabrera, Dustin Yount, Steve Bechler, Rommie Lewis, Tripper Johnson

Boston Red Sox

1. Dustin Pedroia - 2B/SS - DOB: 08/17/83 - ETA: Now
.305/.384/.426, 5 HR, 50 RBI, 27/48 K/BB, 1 SB in 423 AB for Triple-A Pawtucket
.191/.258/.303, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 7/7 K/BB, 0 SB in 89 AB for Boston

The general view seems to be that Pedroia's stock has fallen over the last year, but after a slow start brought on by a shoulder injury suffered in spring training, he was productive as a 22-year-old in Triple-A, batting .330 and slugging .461 in 282 at-bats. Also, he showed terrific range at second base, the position that figures to be his long-term home. More than anything else, it was his arm that got him taken off shortstop. He did make the mistake of swinging for the fences too often after reaching the majors, but that's something time can take care of. The Arizona State product will be decent this year, and he should settle in as an above average regular beginning in 2008.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury - OF - DOB: 09/11/83 - ETA: April 2008
.299/.379/.418, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 28/25 K/BB, 25 SB in 244 AB for Single-A Wilmington
.308/.387/.434, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 25/24 K/BB, 16 SB in 198 AB for Double-A Portland
.276/.342/.371, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 16/8 K/BB, 7 SB in 105 AB for Peoria (AFL)

What Ellsbury lacks in offensive upside, he makes up for with potential Gold Glove defense in center field. The 2005 first-round pick out of Oregon State was one of the premier defenders in the minors last season, and he could offer just enough with the bat to be a leadoff man in the majors. The left-handed hitter shows gap power and the ability to hit for average. A few more walks would be nice, but at least he doesn't strike out very often. He'd probably be able to hold his own in the majors this year if Coco Crisp gets hurt again. A strong season split between Double- and Triple-A would make Crisp expendable next winter.

3. Clay Buchholz - RHP - DOB: 08/14/84 - ETA: Aug. 2008
9-4, 2.62 ERA, 78 H, 117/29 K/BB in 103 IP for low Single-A Greenville
2-0, 1.13 ERA, 10 H, 23/4 K/BB in 16 IP for Single-A Wilmington

Buchholz was supposed to something of a raw product after getting drafted 41st overall out of a Texas junior college in 2005, but he's opened his pro career with a 2.47 ERA and a 185/42 K/BB ratio in 160 1/3 innings. Now it looks like the Red Sox could have him start this year at Double-A, though that's in large part because they don't want him to have to deal with the harsh environment at Lancaster in the California League. Buchholz works comfortably in the low-90s and has four pitches, though his curve lags behind his slider and change. As impressive as his command is, he would seem to have No. 2-starter potential. His presence gives Boston three top-50 prospects.

4. George Kottaras - C - DOB: 05/16/83: ETA: April 2008
.276/.394/.451, 8 HR, 33 RBI, 68/50 K/BB, 0 SB in 257 AB for Double-A Mobile
.210/.286/.361, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 30/12 K/BB, 0 SB in 119 AB for Triple-A Portland

Kottaras, who was picked up from the Padres for David Wells at the end of August, possesses rare on-base ability for a catcher and appears likely to develop 15- homer power. His status as a prospect, though, hinges on his ability to stay behind the plate. He's not fast enough to become an option at another key position, so if he has to move, he'd be a first baseman or a corner outfielder. Kottaras has enough of an arm to be an adequate catcher if he can make enough progress on the other parts of his game. The Red Sox have no intention of having him change positions anytime soon. Ideally, he'd make enough progress defensively this year that he could begin splitting time with the aging Jason Varitek in 2008.

5. Michael Bowden - RHP - DOB: 09/09/86 - ETA: 2009
9-6, 3.51 ERA, 91 H, 118/31 K/BB in 107 2/3 IP for low Single-A Greenville
0-0, 9.00 ERA, 9 H, 3/1 K/BB in 5 IP for Single-A Wilmington

Bowden was taken six spots after Buchholz in the 2005 draft and the two are often compared to one another. Bowden has the advantage of youth and his curveball is probably a better weapon than any of Buchholz's offspeed pitches. Still, he gets dropped a bit here because of a delivery that could lead to arm problems down the line. Also, his changeup doesn't quite measure up. He has plenty of potential if his elbow and shoulder hold up. Still, it'd be no surprise if physical problems get him sent to the bullpen someday.

6. Daniel Bard - RHP - DOB: 06/25/85 - ETA: 2009

Bard could have gone 15 or 20 spots higher in the 2006 draft if not for his bonus demands. The Red Sox took him 28th overall and then signed him in September. Bard went 8-3 with a 3.47 ERA, 71 H and 90/33 K/BB in 85 2/3 IP in his final year at the University of North Carolina, where he was a teammate of Andrew Miller's. His fastball has hit 101 mph on the gun and he often works in the 95-98 mph range. Unfortunately, he lacks any plus secondary pitches right now. Both his slider and changeup have some potential, but he clearly has some work to do. A switch to the pen could be a possibility if he struggles to come up with three quality pitches.

7. Jason Place - OF - DOB: 05/08/88 - ETA: 2011
.292/.386/.442, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 35/17 K/BB, 3 SB in 113 AB for Rookie GCL Red Sox

Place wasn't a typical early Red Sox pick, but the team decided to overlook his swing-at-everything mentality and use the 27th overall pick on him in last year's draft. Place draws comparisons to Jeff Francoeur. He's likely to develop 30-homer power and should be a quality defender in right field. Still, it seems doubtful that he'll turn into a major leaguer with his current swing. At least he did show a decent walk rate in his introduction to the pros. Place is likely to experience some growing pains this year. There is star potential here, but he's not going to move quickly.

8. Bryce Cox - RHP - DOB: 08/10/84 - ETA: May 2008
0-1, 1.59 ERA, 6 H, 3/2 K/BB in 5 2/3 IP for SS Single-A Lowell
2-0, 0.74 ERA, 14 H, 25/9 K/BB in 24 1/3 IP for Single-A Wilmington

The Red Sox viewed Cox as a potential steal after getting him in the third round out of Rice University last season. The reliever has had major command difficulties at time in his career, but he was throwing very well at the end of the college season and he kept it going in the minors. Cox gets sinking movement on his mid-90s fastball and has a top-notch high-80s slider. With his ability get plenty of groundouts as well as strikeouts, he has closer potential. Still, his control might prevent him from contributing this year.

9. Kris Johnson - LHP - DOB: 10/14/84 - ETA: 2009
0-2, 0.88 ERA, 25 H, 27/7 K/BB in 30 2/3 IP for SS Single-A Lowell

Johnson missed 2005 due to Tommy John surgery and had a bit of an up-and-down 2006 at Wichita State last year, finishing 6-2 with a 4.86 ERA, 57 H and 45/21 K/BB in 53 2/3 IP. However, his plus stuff for a left-hander guaranteed he wouldn't slip far in last year's draft. The Red Sox got him 40th overall. Johnson throws in the low-90s and shows a changeup and a curve. He could develop into a middle-of-the-rotation starter.

10. Brandon Moss - OF - DOB: 09/16/83 - ETA: April 2008
.285/.357/.439, 12 HR, 83 RBI, 108/56 K/BB, 8 SB in 508 AB for Double-A Portland

Moss didn't take as much of a step forward as hoped after hitting .268/.337/.441 in his first year in Double-A in 2005, but it was an early slump that really weighed his numbers down. He hit .178 in April and then .260 in May. After that, he batted .326 with a 67/46 K/BB ratio in 319 at-bats. Moss makes a lot of contact and seems likely to turn into a 20-homer guy. He doesn't project as an above average regular, but there's enough to like about him that he figures to get at least a couple of chances to prove himself. Since the Red Sox should always be able to do better, he's a candidate to be included in a trade.

Next five: 1B Lars Anderson, OF David Murphy, LHP Felix Doubront, RHP Edgar Martinez, RHP Justin Masterson

Ineligible because of service time: Craig Hansen

2006 top 15: Andy Marte, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Hansen, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kelly Shoppach, Jed Lowrie, Manny Delcarmen, Brandon Moss, Luis Soto, Clay Buchholz, Edgar Martinez, David Murphy, Abe Alvarez

2005 top 10: Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Kelly Shoppach, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Anibal Sanchez, Abe Alvarez, Luis Soto, Brandon Moss, David Murphy

2004 top 10: Kevin Youkilis, Hanley Ramirez, Kelly Shoppach, Charlie Zink, David Murphy, Jon Lester, Chad Spann, Juan Cedeno, Matt Murton, Abe Alvarez

2003 top 10: Hanley Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, Freddy Sanchez, Phil Dumatrait, Kelly Shoppach, Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, Tony Blanco, Josh Hancock, Jerome Gamble

New York Yankees

1. Philip Hughes - RHP - DOB: 06/24/86 - ETA: June 2007
2-3, 1.80 ERA, 19 H, 30/2 K/BB in 30 IP for Single-A Tampa
10-3, 2.25 ERA, 73 H, 138/32 K/BB in 116 IP for Double-A Trenton

Hughes, a 2004 first-round pick, emerged as the game's top pitching prospect in a 2006 in which he limited hitters to a .179 average and struck out nearly five batters for every one he walked. With plenty of movement on his 91-94 mph fastball and a curveball that's become a dominant second pitch, he has ace upside. His third pitch is a changeup that's a little above average. Since he doesn't have far to go when it comes to command, he'd likely have success in a major league rotation right now. The Yankees, though, would prefer to not have to turn to him right away. Barring injury, he should be up for good by midseason.

2. Jose Tabata - OF - DOB: 08/12/88 - ETA: 2010
.298/.377/.420, 5 HR, 51 RBI, 66/30 K/BB, 15 SB in 319 AB for low Single-A Charleston

Tabata more than held his own as a 17-year-old in full-season ball, though he did decline rather than improve as the year went on. Part of the problem was a hand injury suffered in July. He later aggravated the injury in Venezuela, where he hit .275/.392/.422 in 51 at-bats. A center fielder initially as a pro, Tabata made the move to right last year and should stay there. He has a great idea of what he should be doing at the plate for someone so young, and he's likely to develop 30-35 homer power. While he's not going to reach the majors anytime soon, he looks like a potential star.

3. Humberto Sanchez - RHP - DOB: 05/28/83 - ETA: Aug. 2007
5-3, 1.76 ERA, 47 H, 86/27 K/BB in 71 2/3 IP for Double-A Erie
5-3, 3.86 ERA, 50 H, 43/20 K/BB in 51 1/3 IP for Triple-A Toledo

After posting a 5.21 ERA at Single-A Lakeland in 2004 and a 5.56 ERA at Double-A Erie in 2005, Sanchez finally began to fulfill his potential last season, at least until he hurt his elbow in July. He made just one start over the final six weeks of the season. Sanchez has always had big-time stuff, but inconsistency, along with questions about his arm, has led many to believe his future may lie in the pen. It's more likely that he'll end up there now that he's a Yankee, the result of the Gary Sheffield trade. Sanchez can throw in the mid-90s and his hard curveball is quite a strikeout pitch. He'll probably reach the Bronx as a middle reliever before the end of the year.

4. Tyler Clippard - RHP - DOB: 02/14/85 - ETA: May 2008
12-10, 3.35 ERA, 118 H, 175/55 K/BB in 166 1/3 IP for Double-A Trenton

Clippard has yet to stumble since the Yankees made him a ninth-round pick in the 2003 draft and the numbers, especially his strikeout rate, say that he's a top prospect. Still, skepticism will remain until Clippard gets it done in the majors. Even though he's filled out some, he only occasionally gets his fastball above 90 mph. His changeup is a truly impressive second pitch and his curveball has come along nicely, but as a modest flyball pitcher with below average velocity, he's going to have his share of problems against the stacked lineups of the AL. I still like him as a No. 4, maybe a No. 3. A trade would make him a better candidate to spend the final third of the season in the majors.

5. Joba Chamberlain - RHP - DOB: 09/23/85 - ETA: 2009

Chamberlain's history of weight troubles and the triceps strain that sidelined him for a time in his final season at Nebraska lowered his stock on draft day, allowing the Yankees to select him 41st overall. Because of his upside, the Bombers didn't hesitate to take the chance. After signing late, he pitched in the Hawaiian Winter League, going 2-2 with a 2.63 ERA, 28 H and 46/3 K/BB in 37 2/3 IP in a pitching-dominated league. Chamberlain can throw in the high-90s and has impressive command. He lacks an outstanding second pitch, but both his slider and changeup have potential. If everything breaks right, the possibility is there that he'll develop into one of the American League's better pitchers. Still, he is riskier than most college picks. The 6-foot-3 right-hander has pushed 300 pounds at times, and a $1.1 million signing bonus buys a lot of Doritos.

6. Eric Duncan - 1B - DOB: 12/07/84 - ETA: Aug. 2008
.248/.355/.485, 10 HR, 29 RBI, 38/32 K/BB, 0 SB in 206 AB for Double-A Trenton
.209/.279/.255, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 24/9 K/BB, 0 SB in 110 AB for Triple-A Columbus
.257/.310/.354, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 16/9 K/BB, 0 SB in 113 AB for Peoria (AFL)

Expectations have simply been too high. Duncan was awful after opening last season in Triple-A, but he never should have been there in the first place. Once demoted, he managed an 840 OPS as a 21-year-old in Double-A. That he was able to cut back on the strikeouts while maintaining his power was pretty encouraging and suggests an improved average is likely to come soon. Duncan did spend a little time at third base last year, but he's set to become a full-time first baseman, something that seemed likely from the moment the Yankees made him a first-round pick in 2003. The back troubles he's experienced qualify as more of a concern than anything about his performance to date. He's on his way to developing into a 30-homer guy. The on-base skills probably won't be there to make him a great player, but it's far too early to regard him as a failure.

7. Dellin Betances - RHP - DOB: 03/23/88 - ETA: 2010
0-1, 1.16 ERA, 14 H, 27/7 K/BB in 23 1/3 IP for Rookie GCL Yankees

Thought to be going to college, Betances fell to the eighth round of the 2006 draft, where he was snared by the Yankees. They were probably the only team that would have kept him out of school. Betances stands 6-foot-8 and generates plenty of velocity, usually working in the mid-90s. He has a long way to go before he masters his curveball and changeup, but his gains have already come more quickly than anyone would have expected. He's probably not going to be a huge success this year in his introduction to full-season ball, but as long as he stays healthy and keeps making progress with his secondary pitches, the Yankees won't have any complaints.

8. Kevin Whelan - RHP - DOB: 01/08/84 - ETA: Aug. 2007
4-1, 27 Sv, 2.67 ERA, 33 H, 69/29 K/BB in 54 IP for Single-A Lakeland

Whelan no longer looked like a closer of the future for the Tigers after the move of Joel Zumaya to the pen last year, but Detroit still could regret including him in the Gary Sheffield deal. Throwing out a lousy May, Whelan had a 1.74 ERA and a 61/16 K/BB ratio in 46 2/3 IP in the Florida State League in his first full pro season. Whelan reaches 95 mph with his fastball and has a pair of strikeout pitches in his splitter and slider. Maybe he won't ever get saves for the Yankees, but he could be a closer for another team someday or a long-term setup man in the Bronx.

9. J. Brent Cox - RHP - DOB: 05/13/84 - ETA: Sept. 2007
6-2, 3 Sv, 1.75 ERA, 54 H, 60/24 K/BB in 77 IP for Double-A Trenton

Cox and Whelan were rivals in school, with Cox closing at Texas and Whelan doing the same at A&M. They soon could be teammates in the Yankee pen. Cox doesn't have the same kind of upside as the former Tigers prospect, but he generates a lot of grounders with his sinker-slider combination. He'll probably have trouble with quality left-handed hitters in the majors, but he was actually weaker against righties last season. He'll be a pretty solid setup man for a long time.

10. Ross Ohlendorf - RHP - DOB: 08/08/82 - ETA: May 2008
0-8, 3.29 ERA, 180 H, 125/29 K/BB in 177 2/3 IP for Double-A Tennessee
0-0, 1.80 ERA, 6 H, 4/0 K/BB in 5 IP for Triple-A Tucson

The best of the three prospects picked up in the Randy Johnson deal, Ohlendorf was a 2004 fourth-round pick out of Princeton. Despite his reputation as a sinkerballer, he was only a modest groundball pitcher last year. He'd be better with more consistent velocity. Sometimes he works in the low-90s, other times in the high-80s. Ohlendorf does have a pretty good slider and changeup to go along with his fastball. Command and intelligence will help him along and could make him a No. 4 starter. A career as a setup man is also a possibility.

Next five: OF Brett Gardner, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Christian Garcia, OF Austin Jackson, RHP Jeff Marquez

2006 top 15: Philip Hughes, Eric Duncan, Jose Tabata, Christian Garcia, C.J. Henry, Tyler Clippard, J. Brent Cox, Melky Cabrera, Marcos Vechionacci, Sean Henn, Austin Jackson, Matt DeSalvo, Jeff Marquez, Eduardo Nunez, Brett Gardner

2005 top 10: Eric Duncan, Robinson Cano, Marcos Vechionacci, Philip Hughes, Jesse Hoover, Melky Cabrera, Chien-Ming Wang, Bronson Sardinha, Jeff Marquez, Jorge DePaula

2004 top 10: Dioner Navarro, Robinson Cano, Eric Duncan, Jorge DePaula, Rudy Guillen, Estee Harris, Drew Henson, Ramon Ramirez, Scott Proctor, Mark Phillips

2003 top 10: Juan Rivera, Drew Henson, Brandon Claussen, Jorge DePaula, Bronson Sardinha, Sean Henn, Chien-Ming Wang, Danny Borrell, Rudy Guillen, Andy Phillips

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

1. Delmon Young - OF - DOB: 09/14/85 - ETA: Now
.316/.341/.474, 8 HR, 59 RBI, 65/15 K/BB, 22 SB in 342 AB for Triple-A Durham
.317/.336/.476, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 24/1 K/BB, 2 SB in 126 AB for Tampa Bay

Young did little to enhance his stock after entering 2006 as the game's best prospect, but the drop in power and the pathetic walk rate weren't enough to cost him his placement. Neither was the ugly incident in April in which he threw a bat at an umpire and drew a 50-game suspension. There's no doubt Young is going to hit for power. He'll have 30- or maybe even 40-homer ability in his prime. Also, he makes contact often enough that he's not going to need to walk to be a very good player. He'll probably be a 50-walk guy someday anyway. It'd be quite a disappointment if he didn't go to at least a few All-Star Games in his career.

2. Evan Longoria - 3B - DOB: 10/07/85 - ETA: Aug. 2007
.424/.487/.879, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 5/5 K/BB, 1 SB in 33 AB for SS Single-A Hudson Valley
.327/.402/.618, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 19/13 K/BB, 1 SB in 110 AB for Single-A Visalia
.267/.266/.486, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 20/1 K/BB, 2 SB in 105 AB for Double-A Montgomery

Longoria was clearly the top bat available in the 2006 draft and the Rays got him with the third overall pick, as neither the Royals nor Rockies was looking for a long-term third baseman. While Longoria still has some issues defensively, he is likely to be able to stay at the hot corner, where his 30-homer ability should make him an above average regular. He's unlikely to hit for remarkable averages in the majors, and his struggles after moving up to Double-A last season indicate that he's still at least a half year away from the majors.

3. Reid Brignac - SS - DOB: 01/16/86 - ETA: April 2008
.326/.382/.557, 21 HR, 83 RBI, 82/35 K/BB, 12 SB in 411 AB for Single-A Visalia
.300/.355/.473, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 31/7 K/BB, 3 SB in 110 AB for Double-A Montgomery

Brignac continued to strike out a bunch, but he raised his average nearly 60 points last year after hitting .264/.319/.416 in the Midwest League in 2005. Just as importantly, he continued to improve his defense, reaching the point at which he now seems quite likely to be an everyday shortstop in the majors. That he retained many of his gains on offense after a late-season promotion to Double-A has pushed up his timetable by a year. He could even displace Ben Zobrist on the Rays before the end of 2007. As a rare shortstop with 25-homer power, Brignac might go to All-Star Games after Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada see their production fall off.

4. Jeff Niemann - RHP - DOB: 02/28/83 - ETA: May 2007
5-5, 2.68 ERA, 56 H, 84/29 K/BB in 77 1/3 IP for Double-A Montgomery
0-0, 2.70 ERA, 7 H, 8/2 K/BB in 6 2/3 IP for Phoenix (AFL)

If he can overcome the shoulder problems that have limited him to 108 innings since he was drafted, Niemann could give the Rays a second top-of-the-rotation starter to go along with Scott Kazmir. The fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft throws in the mid-90s and has an outstanding slider. A better changeup is necessary, but what he really needs is health. Niemann underwent surgery in Oct. 2005 to shave the joint between his collarbone and shoulder and didn't return until June. He was able to remain off the DL from then until the end of the minor league season, but he was limited to two starts in the AFL with soreness in his shoulder. If he can avoid further troubles this year, it's likely he'll spend a good chunk of the season in the Tampa Bay rotation. Only the questions about his arm prevent him from being ranked as a top-20 overall prospect.

5. Elijah Dukes - OF - DOB: 06/26/84 - ETA: Aug. 2007
.293/.401/.488, 10 HR, 50 RBI, 47/44 K/BB, 9 SB in 283 AB for Triple-A Durham
.313/.425/.625, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 10/6 K/BB, 1 SB in 32 AB for Phoenix (AFL)

Dukes had another turbulent season, sparring with Durham's coaching staff as well as a teammate, which led to a 15-game suspension in June. After another suspension in late July, he said he might quit baseball. Finally, in mid-January, he was arrested for marijuana possession, the fifth time since 2003 that he was charged with a misdemeanor. Dukes is a top talent and he put up some very good numbers in his first season in Triple-A. It's probably too much to ask that he ever get it together and turn into the star he could become. Milton Bradley's career is a possibility. The Rays were thinking about trying him as a fourth outfielder this year, but his latest arrest makes it more likely that he'll return to the minors.

6. Joel Guzman - OF/3B - DOB: 11/24/84 - ETA: May 2008
.297/.354/.464, 11 HR, 55 RBI, 72/26 K/BB, 9 SB in 317 AB for Triple-A Las Vegas
.193/.228/.386, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 23/4 K/BB, 0 SB in 88 AB for Triple-A Durham
.211/.348/.211, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 2/3 K/BB, 0 SB in 19 AB for Los Angeles (NL)

Guzman made the long-anticipated move of shortstop last spring and saw time at first base, third base and in left field at Las Vegas. The Rays had him focusing more on third base after acquiring him in the Julio Lugo deal, but his future would seem to be either at first or in left. While Guzman was quite the disappointment offensively, he was only awful in the 25 games after arriving at Durham. He's filled out to 250 pounds now and it's only a matter of time before begins showing remarkable power. Even if he never makes enough contact to become a star in the majors, his 35-40 homer potential should make him a regular. He's not going to be ready to help this year, but given that he just turned 22, that's not such a big problem.

7. Wade Davis - RHP - DOB: 09/07/85 - ETA: Aug. 2008
7-12, 3.02 ERA, 124 H, 165/64 K/BB in 146 IP for low Single-A Southwest Michigan

The Rays have gone slowly with Davis since making him a 2004 third-round pick, not introducing him to full-season ball until last year then failing to promote him during 2006 even though he had a 2.31 ERA in the first half. Davis excelled while spending the whole year in the Midwest League, giving up just five homers. He throws in the mid-90s and has a pair of quality breaking balls. His changeup is unexceptional, as his command. Also, he often struggles to repeat his delivery from the stretch. Still, there's a lot of upside here. If he keeps it up, he could reach Double-A this year.

8. Jacob McGee - LHP - DOB: 08/06/86 - ETA: 2009
7-9, 2.96 ERA, 103 H, 171/65 K/BB in 134 IP for low Single-A Southwest Michigan

McGee was picked two rounds after Davis in 2004 and the two have been teammates ever since. With above average velocity for a left-hander -- he hits 93 with regularity -- and a terrific curveball, he's arguably an even better prospect than Davis. Still, he rates lower here, mostly because I think he's a worse bet to stay healthy. Like Davis, McGee will move up to Single-A Vero Beach to begin this year. He'll likely be asked to concentrate on improving a changeup that's well behind his other two pitches.

9. Wes Bankston - 1B - DOB: 11/23/83 - ETA: Sept. 2007
.263/.322/.389, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 37/12 K/BB, 4 SB in 167 AB for Double-A Montgomery
.297/.333/.441, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 40/10 K/BB, 0 SB in 195 AB for Triple-A Durham
.083/.154/.083, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 3/1 K/BB, 0 SB in 12 AB for Phoenix (AFL)

A misguided decision to try Bankston at third base was a bad start to a lousy year for the 2002 fourth-round pick. There was little reason to think Bankston had the range for the position, and the Rays had a need at first base all along. Bankston went on to suffer a strained oblique late April, sidelining him for six weeks. In mid-July, he was moved up to Triple-A despite his poor numbers and put back at first base. Later, he was limited to three games in the AFL by a sprained ankle. Bankston should have the bat to make it as a first baseman. He hit .309/.390/.507 while spending most of 2005 in Double-A, and the strength is there for him to deliver 25 homers per year. A chance could come before the end of 2007, though he'd have to hit especially well in Triple-A.

10. Jason Hammel - RHP - DOB: 09/02/82 - ETA: May 2007
5-9, 4.23 ERA, 133 H, 117/36 K/BB in 127 2/3 IP for Triple-A Durham
0-6, 7.77 ERA, 61 H, 32/21 K/BB in 44 IP for Tampa Bay

Hammel, who got his first taste of the majors last April, didn't make as much progress as hoped last season. He's managed to stay away from walks in the minors, and both his low-90s fastball and plus curve are major league pitches. However, the lack of movement on his fastball will lead to a rather high home run rate and he needs to continue improving his changeup if he's going to survive in the AL East. His ceiling isn't as high as some of the Rays' other prospects, but it still looks like he'll be a fourth or fifth starter.

11. Andrew Sonnanstine - RHP - DOB: 03/18/83 - ETA: June 2007
15-8, 2.67 ERA, 151H, 153/34 K/BB in 185 2/3 IP for Double-A Montgomery

The Rays get a couple of extra writeups here, as I rate their top 12 prospects all among the top 200 in baseball. Sonnanstine is actually down three spots from where he was on this list a year ago, though his stock is clearly higher than it was previously.

It's harder to discount Sonnanstine as a non-prospect after he was even better in Double-A than he was while going 14-5 with a 2.99 ERA for two A-ball teams in 2005. Because Sonnanstine typically works in the high-80s, he'll have to keep proving himself at every level. He displays a very good changeup, making him nearly as effective against lefties as righties, and an average slider. Maybe he won't get his fastball past enough hitters to be more than a fifth starter in the majors, but he'll deserve his first opportunity by midseason.

12. Juan Salas - RHP - DOB: 11/07/78 - ETA: May 2007
3-0, 14 Sv, 0.00 ERA, 13 H, 52/14 K/BB in 34 2/3 IP for Double-A Montgomery
1-1, 3 Sv, 1.57 ERA, 15 H, 33/11 K/BB in 28 2/3 IP for Triple-A Durham
0-0, 0 Sv, 5.40 ERA, 13 H, 8/3 K/BB in 10 IP for Tampa Bay

Salas was a third baseman from the time he signed out of the Domincian Republic in 1998 until the second half of 2004. He's been in the pen since the day he converted to the mound, and he made exceptional progress last year, amassing a 0.71 ERA between Double- and Triple-A. Batters hit just .128 against him. Salas throws in the mid-90s and has a slider that's been plenty good enough versus minor leaguers. The pitch, however, doesn't have quite enough depth to it to be a huge weapon in the majors, especially against lefties. It's possible that he'll make enough progress to develop into a closer for the Rays. Right now, he looks more like a setup man.

Next three - RHP Mitch Talbot, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, LHP Chuck Tiffany

2006 top 10: Delmon Young, Wes Bankston, Chuck Tiffany, Jeff Niemann, Elijah Dukes, Jason Hammel, Reid Brignac, Andrew Sonnanstine, John Jaso, Wade Townsend, Wade Davis, Chris Mason, Chris Seddon, Shawn Riggans, Jacob McGee

2005 top 10: Delmon Young, Scott Kazmir, Jeff Niemann, Jonny Gomes, Wes Bankston, Chad Orvella, Joey Gathright, Reid Brignac, Elijah Dukes, Jason Hammel

2004 top 10: B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, Jonny Gomes, Josh Hamilton, Joey Gathright, Jon Switzer, Chad Gaudin, Doug Waechter, James Houser, Pete LaForest

2003 top 10: Rocco Baldelli, Josh Hamilton, Dewon Brazelton, B.J. Upton, Jonny Gomes, Seth McClung, Antonio Perez, Jason Pridie, Jon Switzer, Wes Bankston

Toronto Blue Jays

1. Adam Lind - OF - DOB: 07/17/83 - ETA: June 2007
.310/.357/.543, 19 HR, 71 RBI, 87/25 K/BB, 2 SB in 348 AB for Double-A New Hampshire
.394/.496/.596, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 18/23 K/BB, 1 SB in 109 AB for Triple-A Syracuse
.367/.415/.600, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 12/5 K/BB, 0 SB in 60 AB for Toronto

Lind's 2006 just kept getting better and better after a rather mediocre start in Double-A. He still finished with a pretty discouraging K/BB ratio at New Hampshire, but his improvement there after moving up to Triple-A makes it easier to overlook. Lind has 25-homer ability and is capable of hitting for average. He should eventually settle in as an everyday player, though he's going to have some trouble against lefties for a couple of years. Lind is limited to left field and doesn't have a lot to offer on defense. His glove won't prevent him from establishing himself, but he'll probably spend a good chunk of his career at DH after the Frank Thomas era ends in Toronto. While Lind is set to open this year at Triple-A, he will get a chance to play regularly before the end of the season and he should prove to be an asset once it happens.

2. Travis Snider - OF - DOB: 02/02/88 - ETA: 2010
.325/.413/.567, 11 HR, 41 RBI, 47/30 K/BB, 6 SB in 194 AB for Rookie Pulaski

At 5-foot-11 and 245 pounds, Snider doesn't have the look of a top prospect. Still, the Blue Jays thought enough of his offensive potential to make him the 14th overall pick in the 2006 draft, and he wasted no time in justifying their faith by making a smooth transition to wood bats. Snyder displayed outstanding power for an 18-year-old, and he has the swing to keep hitting for average as well. Defense could be an issue, though the Jays feel he'll last as a right fielder. He should move pretty quickly for a high school product.

3. Ricky Romero - LHP - DOB: 11/06/84 - ETA: May 2008
2-1, 2.47 ERA, 48 H, 61/14 K/BB in 58 1/3 IP for Single-A Dunedin
2-7. 5.08 ERA, 65 H, 41/26 K/BB in 67 1/3 IP for Double-A New Hampshire

The Jays were expecting more from Romero after making him the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft, but the Cal State Fullerton product only really struggled in his first month after moving up to Double-A. Once he made some adjustments, he had a 2.75 ERA and a 27/11 K/BB ratio in 36 innings during August. Romero uses an 89-92 mph fastball, a plus curve and an average changeup. The hope is that he'll develop into a quality No. 3 starter, though he may be more of a No. 4. If he can avoid elbow problems, like the one that cost him the first month of last season, he might debut in the majors before the end of the year.

4. Curtis Thigpen - C - DOB: 04/19/83 - ETA: April 2008
.259/.370/.421, 5 HR, 36 RBI, 61/52 K/BB, 5 SB in 309 AB for Double-A New Hampshire
.264/.304/.377, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 9/2 K/BB, 0 SB in 53 AB for Triple-A Syracuse
.307/.392/.500, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 14/12 K/BB, 1 SB in 88 AB for Phoenix (AFL)

The Jays don't have many future regulars in their system, but Thigpen seems to be on the right path. The 2004 second-round pick delivers line drives and displays an impressive walk rate for a catcher. On defense, he's essentially average, though he's come a long way. His arm should be an upgrade on Gregg Zaun's. The rest of his game still needs work. After a full year at Triple-A this season, he could share time with Zaun in 2008. If he doesn't quite make it as a regular catcher, he should be versatile enough to contribute off the bench.

5. David Purcey - LHP - DOB: 04/22/82 - ETA: July 2008
4-5, 5.60 ERA, 101 H, 81/44 K/BB in 88 IP for Double-A New Hampshire
2-7, 5.40 ERA, 49 H, 45/38 K/BB in 51 2/3 IP for Triple-A Syracuse

Purcey was the Jays' top pick in 2004, going 16th overall out of the University of Oklahoma. An immediate success in the minors, Purcey got to open last year in Triple-A despite making just eight starts in Double-A in 2005. He got off to a fine start, posting a 1.99 ERA in his first five outings, but the rest of his year was a disaster. The southpaw had 81 walks to go along with his 161 strikeouts in 137 1/3 innings in 2005, so it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that he wasn't ready. Purcey displays a quality low-90s fastball and a curve that generates a lot of swings and misses. Still, he has so far to go in the command department that it's questionable whether he'll make it as a starter. The bullpen could be a possibility if he fails to take a step forward this year.

6. Francisco Rosario - RHP - DOB: 09/28/80 - ETA: Now
0-3, 2.79 ERA, 29 H, 50/13 K/BB in 42 IP for Triple-A Syracuse
1-2, 6.65 ERA, 24 H, 21/16 K/BB in 23 IP for Toronto

Rosario has been awfully inconsistent since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2004, but since he's out of options, he could be in the majors to stay. Once a fine prospect as a starting pitcher, he now seems likely to spend his career in the pen, barring some much improved command. Rosario works in the mid-90s as a reliever and his changeup is a quality second pitch. His inability to put his slider where he wants to is one of his biggest problems. If it all comes together for him, he'd have a future as a closer. However, there's less reason for optimism than there was in the past.

7. Davis Romero - LHP - DOB: 03/30/83 - ETA: June 2007
6-5, 2.93 ERA, 57 H, 70/19 K/BB in 73 2/3 IP for Double-A New Hampshire
4-4, 3.83 ERA, 46 H, 36/7 K/BB in 44 2/3 IP for Triple-A Syracuse
1-0, 3.86 ERA, 19 H, 10/6 K/BB in 16 1/3 IP for Toronto

Romero had plenty of success as a starter at lower levels, but the Jays were always looking at the 5-foot-10 left-hander as a potential reliever. They were even skeptical about him in that role until last season, as they left him available in the Rule 5 draft even though he had a 136/34 K/BB ratio in 124 2/3 IP at Single-A Dunedin in 2005. Romero averages about 90 mph with his fastball, and his slider has emerged as the second best of his four offerings. He should be successful enough against righties to become more than just another specialist.

8. Ryan Patterson - OF - DOB: 05/02/83 - ETA: July 2008
.288/.327/.520, 19 HR, 69 RBI, 61/20 K/BB, 2 SB in 354 AB for Single-A Dunedin
.257/.310/.439, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 50/13 K/BB, 2 SB in 187 AB for Double-A New Hampshire

Patterson hit .339/.386/.595 in the New York-Penn League after being drafted in the fourth round out of LSU in 2005. As a result, the Jays challenged him with the Florida State League to begin last season. He did rather well there, but his production slipped following a move up to Double-A. Patterson is turning 24 in May, so he'll have to prove he can handle the Eastern League this year. That he hit just .208/.257/.385 in 96 at-bats in Hawaii over the winter wasn't a great sign. Patterson has already made the move from center to left, and it seems likely that he'll continue to have problems hitting for average against advanced pitching. He's a better bet to become a bench player than a regular.

9. Kyle Yates - RHP - DOB: 01/08/83 - ETA: July 2007
2-0, 0.64 ERA, 8 H, 13/0 K/BB in 14 IP for Single-A Dunedin
6-9, 3.75 ERA, 118 H, 102/38 K/BB in 127 1/3 IP for Double-A New Hampshire
2-0, 1.13 ERA, 19 H, 25/6 K/BB in 24 IP for Phoenix (AFL)

Yates is another Toronto prospect likely on his way to the pen. The teammate of Thigpen's at the University of Texas upped his stock in the fall with a league-leading 1.13 ERA in Arizona. Still, he had only one plus pitch -- an excellent curve. He should throw a little harder as a reliever, though that would only serve to put him in the 90-92 mph range. Maybe it will be enough to make him a setup man.

10. Josh Banks - RHP - DOB: 07/18/82 - ETA: Aug. 2007
10-11, 5.17 ERA, 184 H, 126/28 K/BB in 170 2/3 IP for Triple-A Syracuse

The Josh Towers comparisons were just a little too fitting during a 2006 season in which Banks gave up 35 homers. Banks does have a little more on his fastball than Towers, but his flyball tendencies went from modest to extreme last year. His splitter just didn't generate as many strikeouts against more experienced hitters. Because stellar command of a straight 90-mph fastball isn't going to be enough to get the job done, he'll have to come up with an above average third pitch. The Jays feel he might be better off in the pen.

Next five: SS Sergio Santos, RHP Jesse Litsch, RHP Brandon Magee, 1B Chip Cannon, RHP Jamie Vermilyea

2006 top 15: Dustin McGowan, Ricky Romero, David Purcey, Sergio Santos, Josh Banks, Adam Lind, Casey Janssen, Francisco Rosario, Guillermo Quiroz, Vince Perkins, Ryan Patterson, Curtis Thigpen, Davis Romero, Ryan Roberts, Chip Cannon

2005 top 10: Dustin McGowan, Brandon League, Guillermo Quiroz, Aaron Hill, Gabe Gross, Josh Banks, Francisco Rosario, David Purcey, Russ Adams, Vito Chiaravalloti

2004 top 10: Alex Rios, Dustin McGowan, Gabe Gross, Jason Arnold, Guillermo Quiroz, Vince Perkins, Brandon League, Dave Bush, John-Ford Griffin, Aaron Hill

2003 top 10: Gabe Gross, Jayson Werth, Dustin McGowan, Kevin Cash, Russ Adams, Francisco Rosario, Vinnie Chulk, Dominic Rich, Mike Smith, Mark Hendrickson

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
Email :Matthew Pouliot

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