OpinionOctober 20, 2006

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Team Top 3 Prospects: AL Central

By Adam Foster

This article is part four of a six part series on the top three prospects in every Major League Baseball organization. We’ll be discussing the best prospects of each team in the AL Central in this piece, so grab a cold drink, sit back, and enjoy the reading.

Chicago White Sox

1. Ryan Sweeney, OF: The White Sox have developed a wealth of center field prospects over the last five years. While neither Brian Anderson nor Jeremy Reed (traded to Seattle for Freddy Garcia) look primed for All-Star careers, Sweeney, 21, and Chris Young (traded to the Arizona for Javier Vazquez) still have bright futures.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound 2nd round draft pick from 2003 finally whipped out his power stick in 2006 – albeit in a home run friendly home ballpark – as he posted .296/.350/.452 vitals. Ten of Sweeney’s 13 home runs came while he was hitting at home, but 21 of his 41 extra-base-hits came on the road and he made a huge improvement on his 26 XBH from 2005.

Sweeney makes consistent contact, is a good overall athlete, and has always responded well to challenges, so he remains an intriguing prospect. However, like Anderson and Reed, he may take a little bit longer than most prospects to adjust to the major leagues. We see the lefty as a potentially average major leaguer in 2007, but odds are he will spend more time in Triple-A Charlotte in order to continue to hone his game.

2. Josh Fields, 3B/OF: While it’s probably a misconception made from a very small sample size, former quarterbacks who were either top college recruits or NFL prospects, tend to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to grading minor league talent. Fields is no exception.

Despite not having a professional season with an OPS over .780 heading into 2006, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy was held in pretty highly regard on most prospect fronts. In Fields’ case the confidence that was placed on him due to his athleticism and intangibles looks to be paying off. He posted career highs in OPS (.894), home runs (19), doubles (32), on-base percentage (.379), batting average (.305), and most surprisingly, stolen bases (28 in 32 attempts, 87.5%) at Triple-A Charlotte.

As with Sweeney, Fields’ numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, but he now appears on course to be a solid major leaguer. He’ll likely spend at least the first half of 2007 adjusting to the outfield, and then be ready to join the major league ranks.

3. Lance Broadway, RHP: One of fourteen Horned Frogs currently in professional baseball, Broadway, 23, is the lone former Texas Christian University athlete who looks like a potential major league impact player. He throws a low to mid-90s fastball along with an excellent curve and pedestrian changeup.

A 2005 1st round draft pick, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound righty pitched well enough in Double-A Birmingham (1.30 WHIP, 0.58 HR/9, and 6.47 K/9) to earn a one start promotion to Triple-A Charlotte. He’ll likely start there in 2006, but isn’t far off from contributing with the White Sox, where we don’t see him becoming more than a No. 3 starter.

Cleveland Indians

1. Adam Miller, RHP: We’re still pretty hesitant to call Miller, 21, one of the top fifteen prospects in the game, largely because of his elbow injury history. Then again, it’s hard to argue that the 2003 first round supplemental draft pick shouldn’t at least receive consideration as one of the top five pitching prospects in the game.

The hard-throwing righty (touches 97 mph) has No. 1 starter potential and could be recognizing it as soon as midseason 2007. He dominated Double-A Akron in his 24 starts there (1.10 WHIP, 0.53 HR/9, and 9.20 K/9) before he was called up to make one start at Triple-A Buffalo – he got hit hard in that one start. Keep a close watch on Miller’s health and progress in Buffalo. If he doesn’t lose his rookie eligibility in 2007, he could enter 2008 as one of the top 10 prospects in the game.

2. Chuck Lofgren, LHP: Not only did Lofgren’s stock rise as much as any pitcher in the Indians system in 2007, it made just about as big of a leap as any pitching prospect in the minors. A fourth round draft pick out of Serra High School in California – alma matter of Barry Bonds and Tom Brady – the 6-foot-3, 205-pound lefty posted a 1.16 WHIP, 0.32 HR/9, and 8.05 K/9 ratio at High-A Kinston in just his second full minor league season.

Lofgren’s fastball tops out around 96 mph. He complements it with a good changeup and a developing curveball. Also a skilled batsman, Lofgren, will likely start the 2007 season in Double-A Akron, where he could begin to establish himself as one of the top 10 pitching prospects in the minors.

3. Trevor Crowe, OF: The No. 14 overall selection in the 2005 draft, Crowe tore apart High-A Kinston in 219 at-bats (.329/.449/.470), and earned a midseason promotion to Double-A Akron, where he wasn’t as impressive (.234/.318/.325) in 154 at-bats.

A speed demon who is still a little rough around the edges – he swiped 56 bases in 76 attempts between Kinston and Akron (73.7%) – Crowe is currently being converted from an outfielder to a second baseman, where the switch-hitter has the bat and athleticism to become an everyday player. He’ll pick up where he left off in Akron and could be in line to debut in the big leagues sometime in 2008.

Detroit Tigers

1. Cameron Maybin, OF: Generally players drafted out of high school – even first round picks –are given at least a year to prove themselves, due to the disparity between amateur and professional baseball. The Detroit Tigers might not have expected much out of 19-year-old Cameron Maybin in his first season, but the 2005 10th pick overall has performed far beyond his years.

A five-tool prospect, Maybin excelled with the bat (.304/.387/.457) and showed blistering speed on the base paths (27 steals in 34 attempts). His season earned him the Midwest League Prospect of the Year Award, as well as Tigers Minor League Player of the Year.

It’s a little early to peg him as strikeout prone (116 strikeouts in 385 at bats, 69.87% contact ratio), but even if he can’t start making more consistent contact, Maybin at least projects as a productive every-day major league center fielder. He still has a way to go in their system, but it wouldn’t be unrealistic for the Tigers to let him skip a level to start 2007 in Double-A Erie, and make his professional debut in late-2008.

2. Andrew Miller, LHP: Considering Andrew Miller needed just five minor league innings to earn his first big league call-up, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see him near the top of this list. Sure the 6-foot-6, 175-pound 21-year-old’s contract guaranteed him a spot on the team’s 40-man-roster in 2006, but the Tigers liked him enough to raise the bar by promoting him as a left-handed relief specialist on August 28th. With such a small sample size it’s difficult to accurately judge these first year statistics, but in 6.1 innings out of the bullpen his BAA is a paltry .095.

Long term, Miller projects as a front line starter – can touch 98 – and will likely begin to be groomed as a starter in his first full professional season in Double-A Erie, which is a step up from where he got his feet wet in High A-Lakeland this year. The former North Carolina Tar Heel improved his numbers every year in college, and if he continues that improvement at the professional level, he could join the Tigers rotation as early as late-2007.

3. Humberto Sanchez, RHP: The Tigers really like big pitchers, and at 6-foot-6, 230-pounds, Humberto Sanchez follows suit. The 23-year-old was a find in the 31st round of the 2001 draft, and by 2005 he had developed a plus curveball and a mid-nineties fastball. This year he split time between AA-Erie and AAA-Toledo, dominating early, then struggling towards the end of the year, before being shut down in August with elbow soreness. Combined, he struck out 129 batters in 123 innings and owned a .220 BAA.

What should concern the Tigers more than his statistics, however, is Sanchez’s injury history. He suffered several injuries 2005 along with his elbow problems in 2006. Setting those concerns aside, it’s still hard for us to project Sanchez cracking the Tigers’ rotation next year out of Spring Training, though he could get a call-up later in the year if he performs well and stays healthy.

Kansas City Royals

1. Alex Gordon , 3B: Baseball America’s 2006 Player of the Year, Gordon, 22, has all the tools to be a top notch Major League talent. After winning the 2005 Golden Spikes Award with the University of Nebraska, Gordon upped the ante by dominating Double-A pitching and finishing the season with a solid 1.015 OPS.

His post All-Star break numbers (.346/.448/.658 with 20 home runs and 20 doubles in 257 at-bats) are nothing short of amazing. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound third baseman’s explosion in the second half significantly boosted his prospect stock. While Gordon may not have 40 home runs next year, he certainly has the potential to reach that total in the future.

If Gordon heads for Kansas City in 2007, he should put up respectable numbers all around. Look for a .285/.375/.530 rookie vital line, making him a popular choice for the 2007 Rookie of the Year Award.

2. Billy Butler , OF: One of the top prospects in the minors, Butler, 20, once again showcased his amazing ability in 2006. The Royals 2004 first round selection has put up great numbers no matter where he has been, helping him ascend through the system quickly.

With great power and an exceptional ability to hit for average, Butler is viewed a potential franchise player and a force in the middle of a Major League lineup. He may not have the speed – or defensive abilities at his respective position, although he did greatly improve his defense in 2006 – of Alex Gordon, but he has the potential to match or exceed Gordon’s vitals when both are in their primes.

Like Gordon, if Butler heads for Kansas City, he should put up decent numbers. However, if his transition from High-A to Double-A is any indication, Butler may need some time before his ability truly shines through.

3. Luke Hochevar , SP: The first overall pick in the 2006 draft, Hochevar, 23, has shown great ability in limited innings. At Single-A Burlington, Hochevar was unable to grab a victory, throwing 15.1 innings with 16 strikeouts, a 1.17 ERA, and a minuscule .65 WHIP. When Burlington’s season concluded, Hochevar was promoted to Double-A Wichita for playoff experience. In his first and only outing, he threw 5.1 innings while striking out 7 and giving up two runs; a very positive outing at a new level with a great deal of pressure.

With a fastball that touches 97, an above average slider and curveball, and an average changeup, Hochevar has the stuff needed to be a top of the rotation starter. A variety of scouts have agreed that he has an above average pitching mentality and a good work ethic, which should do nothing but accelerate his development and path to the Major Leagues. If he makes the Royals’ roster in 2007, he definitely has the ability and talent to challenge for a Rookie of the Year Award.

Minnesota Twins

1. Kevin Slowey, RHP: In what’s already looking like a very successful draft, the Twins took Slowey, 22, in the 2nd round out of Winthrop in 2005 – 73rd overall, they made two picks between him and Garza. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound righty doesn’t figure to be able to overpower major league hitters, but he could move through the minors quickly and be ready to make a major league contribution as early as the tail end of the 2007 season.

Splitting the 2005 season between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain, Slowey put up a combined 0.83 WHIP to go with solid 0.48 HR/9 and 9.14 K/9 ratios. He pitches in the low-90s with a slider and changeup.

2. Anthony Swarzak, RHP: One of the top pitchers in the Twins system before Garza and Slowey came along, Swarzak, 21, was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2004 draft out of Nova High School in Florida.

While his name reminds us of a popular toy in the 1990’s, Balzac, Swarzak’s 2006 High-A Fort Meyers line (1.31 WHIP, 0.49 HR/9, and 8.09 K/9) is no joking matter. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound righty can dial his fastball up to 95 mph, and complements it with a great changeup and good curveball. He’s up for a major test in Double-A New Britain, but he has the stuff to pass it with flying colors.

3. Chris Parmelee, OF: Taken 20th overall in the 2006 draft, Parmelee, 18, jumped up into our Twins Top 3 when Matt Garza recorded his final out of his final game in the 2006 season to total 50.0 innings, and lose his rookie eligibility. Nevertheless, this 6-foot-1, 210-pound lefty is no slouch.

He put up .273/.369/.500 vitals between the Golf Coast League Rookie Twins and Single-A Beloit, hitting eight home runs, eight doubles, and four triples.

Parmelee, who was set to attend Cal State Fullerton before signing with Minnesota for $1.5 million, is a solid all-around player, but doesn’t have much speed. He’ll likely start 2007 repeating with Beloit, but he could see High-A Fort Myers before long.

Check back on soon for installment five of this six part series, where I will unveil our top three prospects for each team in the NL East.

Adam Foster is a college sports writer who has teamed up with his friend Patrick Hennessey and Cafe regular Denny Foster to launch a site called Project Prospect. Adam has also written for scout.com. You can view more of the Project Prospect team’s work at http://www.projectprospect.com.

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