Delmon Young, our top prospect for 2007, should get used to incessant autograph requests, as he’s a superstar in the making.
Spikes Up, our exclusive baseball column, is pleased to unveil the third annual Spikes Up Top 30 Prospects List. There are five holdovers from last season’s list of 25 prospects; 16 others have graduated to the majors, while another four have slipped out the rankings.
1. Delmon Young, OF, Tampa Bay (3): The top pick from the 2003 draft has finally ascended to the top of the prospect heap. Once the Rays finally decided to bring the talented but troubled Young to the Show last season, he had no problem making the adjustment. And judging by his .320 mark this spring, Young continues to flourish. Expect a high BA and plenty of steals, with major power to follow in subsequent seasons as the 21-year-old matures. Young is the odds-on favourite to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award this season.
2. Alex Gordon, 3B, KC ‘ Gordon, taken second overall in the 2005 draft, will take over the hot corner in Kansas City this season. The Royals resisted bringing the 23-year-old up to the majors last September, but he proved there wasn’t a thing he couldn’t do in making his pro debut at Double-A last season. Gordon, batting .386 with power this spring, looks like the AL’s answer to David Wright and the ideal player to help lead the Royals back to respectability.
3. Brandon Wood, SS/3B, LAA (1) ‘ Our No. 1 prospect last season, Wood slipped slightly in the rankings this season as ‘ not surprisingly ‘ he was unable to duplicate his magical 2005 season last year at Double-A. The Angels say that Wood, who just turned 22 earlier this month, could still be a shortstop down the road, but all indications have him shifting to third base. It’s a road that will get him to the majors faster, but hurts his value as he’s no longer the next great power-hitting shortstop prospect.
4. Homer Bailey, P, CIN ‘ Bailey got slapped around this spring, so the Reds wisely farmed him out to Triple-A with orders to get his hair cut. When he returns ‘ and it won’t be too long ‘ he’ll be ready to stick around for a very long time. But at the age of 20, with all of 13 starts above A-ball (regardless of how dominant those starts were), Triple-A is the best place for Bailey now. Baseball’s best pitching prospect should be ready to ready to help the Reds’ rotation by the second half at the latest.
5. Philip Hughes, RHP, NYY ‘ It’s always easy to get carried away with Yankee prospects as they tend to be overhyped, but Hughes, 20, deserves his place as the AL’s top pitching prospect. The Yanks are having some health issues with their pitching staff, but I sure hope they don’t use that as an excuse to move Hughes up before his time. This kid has a bright future, but despite his domination of Double-A last season, I’d really prefer it if New York lets him to enjoy some Triple-A success before he takes the mound at Yankee Stadium.
6. Andy LaRoche, 3B, LAD (8) ‘ LaRoche, 23, clearly needs a bit more seasoning given his struggles this spring (.196), but the fact that he was able to improve his patience without sacrificing power when he moved up to higher levels last season impressed me. It also prompted a slight boost in the rankings for Adam’s little brother, a former 39th round pick who will make his MLB debut at some point this season.
7. Matt Garza, P, MIN ‘ No, Garza no longer qualifies as a rookie after reaching exactly 50 innings pitched last season, but he makes our prospect list regardless. Given that he’s already proved he can hold his own in the Show (and the fact that Francisco Liriano is lost for the season), Garza — unlike several of the prospects above him on this list — had a real chance to break camp with a job. Based on his spring results, the 23-year-old certainly deserved a rotation spot.
8. Yovanni Gallardo, RHP, MIL ‘ This 21-year-old got slapped around this spring, but after his dominating performance at Double-A last year, Gallardo has proved he’s a rising star in the Brewer system. If he’s half as good this season, watch for a September call-up for Gallardo.
9. Mike Pelfrey, P, NYM ‘ The ninth overall pick in 2005 proved he was more than ready for his pro debut last season, soaring through the system and landing at Shea for four late-season starts. The 23-year-old righty has carried that success into spring training, earning the fifth starter job with a superb training camp. While he’s fanned just five in 23 IP this spring, how about allowing just two walks? That control will stead Pelfrey well in his first full season, and he could definitely factor into the NL ROY race.
10. Cameron Maybin, OF, DET ‘ With a .429 BA and .905 SLG this spring, Maybin has proved that the wait for him to arrive in Detroit won’t be long at all. Just a week removed from his 20th birthday, Maybin brings a power-speed package to the table that, combined with good patience for such a young and inexperienced hitter, suggests that he will be a future stud.
11. Billy Butler, OF, KC (13) ‘ The only thing holding Butler back at this point is his defense in the outfield. After a fantastic season at Double-A last year and a ridiculous spring in which he hit .419 and slugged .774, it’s obvious there’s nothing Butler can’t hit. He won’t be 21 until next week, but he is ready to make an impact. Monitor his defensive development and get ready to pounce on Butler the moment he arrives in the Show.
12. Adam Miller, P, CLE ‘ This 22-year-old righty, a newcomer to the list, sure hasn’t hurt his chances this spring, tossing 14 shutout innings with just 10 hits allowed and 10 Ks. Unfortunately, there’s no spot for him on the Tribe, so he’s on his way to Triple-A to head Buffalo’s rotation. He will definitely be making his MLB debut at some point this season and should be a fixture in Cleveland for a very long time.
13. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, COL ‘ The Rockies’ first rounder in 2005, Tulowitzki made quick work of the system, arriving for a 25-game trial last summer and showing enough to render Clint Barmes as bench fodder. Tulowitzki, 22, won’t likely be a source for much pop, but as a high-average SS with a full-time gig in Colorado, he’s an attractive prospect for this season.
14. Jay Bruce, OF, CIN ‘ Bruce, who just turned 20, was given a quick look this spring, but he’s still a ways from becoming the next great Reds’ outfielder. The team’s first rounder in 2005, Bruce impressed me last season with his power, speed and OBP skills, but he’ll need to improve his contact rates as he moves up the ladder.
15. Ryan Braun, 3B, MIL ‘ Braun, another top pick from 2005 (fifth overall) is just about ready to make his mark, and with only Tony Graffanino, Craig Counsell and Corey Koskie in his way, it won’t be long before he’s in the Show. The 23-year-old has serious power potential, slamming 15 homers (and swiping 12 bases, to boot) in just 59 Double-A games last season, This spring, he put on a serious show with five dingers, 15 RBI and two steals in just 11 games. Braun is looking like a 30-30 candidate at the hot corner, which sounds like major fantasy gold to me. If he had been sharper defensively this spring, he might have earned the job right out of camp.
16. Chris Young, OF, ARZ (19) ‘ Part of a great collection of young D-Back flyhawks, Young’s performance last season earned him a bump in the charts this year. Although he has struggled this spring, he held his own in 30 games with Arizona last season and has fantastic power-speed possibilities. Expect Young to figure prominently in the NL ROY discussion this season.
17. Andrew McCutchen, OF, PIT ‘ Despite turning pro at the tender age of 18, McCutchen, another premium pick from the excellent 2005 draft, has soared through the Pirates system in just two years. Judging by his impressive spring training performance, McCutchen’s apprenticeship in the minors is almost done. I’d expect to see him up in Pittsburgh by around the All-Star game, maybe sooner if Chris Duffy and Nate McClouth struggle.
18. Reid Brignac, SS, TB ‘ Brignac still has some seasoning to do, and while the Rays gave him a taste of ST this year, he likely won’t see the light of day in the Show this year. But after a huge 2006 in which Brignac really shot up the charts, it’s obvious he’ll be arriving soon. Let’s just hope he handles the jump better (at least defensively) than the last ‘can’t miss’ shortstop prospect Tampa Bay had.
19. Tim Lincecum, RHP, SF ‘ The Giants’ first rounder last year, taken 10th overall, Lincecum is coming on fast, although he’ll spend a bit more time in the minors this season. He’s a short righty, which is usually not the type to draw such notice, but he has created waves this spring. In fact, Lincecum earned recognition from his teammates with the Harry S. Jordan Award, given to the player in his first big league camp deemed most impressive. This 22-year-old, who fanned 58 in 31 2/3 innings in his pro debut last season, will be in San Francisco very soon.
20. Evan Longoria, 3B, TB ‘ Longoria will team with Brignac to give the Rays a solid left side of the infield for years to come, but like Brignac, he needs a bit more time in the minors. This 21-year-old has tremendous power potential, however, so as soon as he adjusts to Double-A, you’ll be able to start counting the days before he arrives at Tropicana.
21. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, ARIZ ‘ The D-Backs uncovered a real gem when they signed Gonzalez out of Venezuela in 2002. Now 21, Gonzalez is coming off a fantastic season at High-A last year. He struggled somewhat after a late-season promotion to Double-A, but still showed a nice batting eye even when he wasn’t excelling. Gonzalez is ticketed for Double-A to start the year, and with the abundance of solid young outfielders in the Arizona system there’s no need to rush him, but judging by his .429 mark this spring, the wait shan’t be long.
22. Nick Adenhart, P, LAA ‘ The Angels rolled the dice and won when they plucked Adenhart with a 14th round pick in 2004. He was a first round talent who slid because he needed Tommy John surgery. The Angels opted to take him anyway and they are now being rewarded for their decision. The 20-year-old righty was almost untouchable at Low-A last season and more than held his own after shifting to High-A. For a kid who’s never pitched above A-ball, Adenhart sure has opened some eyes this spring, surrendering just four hits 9 2/3 innings. By next spring, he could have a legitimate chance at a rotation spot as part of a strong, young Angels’ staff.
23. Justin Upton, OF, ARZ ‘ The D-Backs weren’t about to go through with Justin what Tampa Bay went through with older brother B.J., namely take several years to decide his future wasn’t at shortstop. As an outfielder, the 19-year-old faces stiffer competition in the Arizona system, but he enjoyed a solid pro debut at Low-A, flashing power-speed potential and good patience. Some question his attitude, but no one doubts his ability. Upton is of interest only to keeper league owners, as he won’t see a major league at-bat for another 18 months or more.
24. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, LAD ‘ Kershaw, the seventh overall pick from last year’s draft, looks like he may be the next great Dodger pitching prospect after he made a mockery of the GCL last year, fanning 54 while walking just five in 37 innings. Having just turned 19 last month, this lefty has a long way to go before he arrives at Chavez Ravine, but if he can come close to duplicating his 2006 results in Class-A this year, expect him to move way up this list for 2008.
25. Fernando Martinez, OF, NYM ‘ After more than holding his own in full-season ball as a 17-year-old kid, Martinez looks poised to become the next great Latin American star. Because he’ll probably spend the entire season at High-A, Martinez is mainly of interest in keeper leagues with minor league protection slots. Long-term, once the Mets tire of Lastings Milledge’s act, Martinez will get his chance.
26. Andrew Miller, LHP, DET ‘ After just five professional innings, Miller found himself pitching in the bigs, but only because he had a clause in his contract that promised a September call-up last season. The 21-year-old lefty, taken sixth overall last year, had some minor control problems this spring and will start the season at High-A, but he won’t be there for long. This dude is going to move fast, so you need to monitor his progress this season as get ready to snap him up off the waiver wire.
27. Scott Elbert, LHP, LAD ‘ Elbert was treated rudely by opponents in his very brief taste of spring training this year, but fear not: this 21-year-old lefty is among the top young arms in the minors and yet another product of the great Dodger pitching machine. Elbert, also a football star in high school, is absolutely nasty against lefties. Once he improves his control at Double-A, he’ll be ready to take on major league hitters.
28. Jose Tabata, OF, NYY ‘ This kid is the real deal. He won’t be 19 until August, yet already has a year of full-season ball under his belt. Tabata was undeterred by his first taste of spring training, batting .429. The potential power-speed-average combo he brings to the table is scary good. Think Manny with stolen bases. Expect him to be at or near the top of this list in a year’s time.
29. Jason Hirsh, P, COL ‘ There’s nothing left for the 6’8’ Hirsh to prove in the minors after becoming the only pitcher to win Texas League Pitcher of the Year (2005) and Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year (2006) honours. Yet, his reward for that was being included in the deal that sent Jason Jennings from Colorado to Houston. Having to pitch at Coors dampens his prospects somewhat, but I am very bullish on Hirsh’s long-term prognosis and the fact that he’s won a job right out of ST bodes well for an immediate return.
30. Hunter Pence, OF, HOU ‘ The top prospect in the Astro system looks like a future star in the making. He’ll start out at Triple-A, but this second rounder from 2004, who turns 24 later this month, had 28 homers and 17 steals at Double-A last season with a good OBP and a nice BA. Any doubt that he’s close to the majors was eliminated this spring when he hit .571 in 19 games with 10 runs, four doubles, two triples, two homers, nine RBI and two steals. Slugging percentage? Try 1.071. Pence could very well be a factor this season.
Graduating from last year’s top 25 prospects: Francisco Liriano (2), Ryan Zimmerman (4), Howie Kendrick (5), Stephen Drew (9), Justin Verlander (10), Jeremy Hermida (11), Nick Markakis (12), Prince Fielder (14), Chad Billingsley (16), Matt Cain (18), Joel Guzman (19), Conor Jackson (21), Andy Marte (22), Kendrys Morales (23), Hanley Ramirez (24) and Carlos Quentin (25).
Dropping off the list this year: Lastings Milledge (6), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (7), Ian Stewart (15) and Daric Barton (17).