OpinionSeptember 19, 2006

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Team Top 3 Prospects: AL West

By Adam Foster

This is the second installment of a six part series on the top three prospects in every major league organization. Our NL West Top Threes were published on September 12. We will continue to rank the top three prospects on every team, this month working our way through the AL West.

Los Angeles Angels

1. Brandon Wood, SS/3B: Going into the season, Wood was ranked as Baseball America’s number three prospect. At 21 years of age and in his first full season at AA-Arkansas, Wood did little to diminish his stellar ranking by further solidifying a place among the elite infielders in the game. Following a 43 home run campaign in 2005, the former first round draft pick hit 25 dingers with a .907 OPS and stealing bases at a 19/22 clip. His strikeout totals may be high, but not high enough to offset his superior potential. Wood’s size, combined with the presence of Orlando Cabrera at shortstop seem to hint at a move to third base. Nonetheless, it will be difficult to keep him in AAA-Salt Lake and out of Anaheim next year.

2. Nick Adenhart, RHP: Judging by his performance this year, it’s hard to believe that the twenty year old Adenhart was drafted in the 14th round in 2004. An elite pitching prospect in high school, Adenhart blew out his elbow the month before the draft and required Tommy John surgery, thus lowering his draft stock and forcing him to miss his first professional season. If Adenhart’s comeback year in 2005 was encouraging, then his 2006 season must have made Angels executives ecstatic. Adenhart dominated Low A-Cedar Rapids to the tune of a 1.95 ERA and .215 BAA in 16 starts. This performance earned him a midseason promotion to High A-Rancho Cucamonga, where his numbers came back down to earth a bit (3.78 ERA and .258 BAA). Adenhart features an impressive 12-to-6 curveball and a fastball that tops out in the mid 90s. His strikeout numbers aren’t dominant (8.24K/9 combined), but he has given up just three home runs in 208.1 innings as an Angel farmhand. It’s looking like Adenhart has fully recovered from his 2004 surgery. He could begin 2007 in AA-Arkansas and torch through the minors.

3. Erick Aybar, SS: The Angels farm system is loaded at shortstop with Wood, Aybar and Sean Rodriguez. Like Wood, Aybar is solid defensively up the middle and although he trails Wood in power, he brings more speed to the table. Signed out of the Dominican in 2002, Aybar’s 2006 season was another step in the right direction. His .283/.327/.413 Triple-A vitals aren’t overly impressive, but his 89.38% contact ratio is top notch. Aybar should also turn in double-digit steal totals in the majors. At 22 years of age, Aybar is ready to contribute full-time if the Angels are willing to give him the opportunity.

Oakland Athletics

1. Daric Barton, 1B: Before last season, Barton (the blue chip Cardinals prospect coming over in the Mark Mulder trade) appeared primed to jump up to the elite prospect level. However, he fractured his elbow in a collision at first base last May. At 21, Barton put up 2006 a .259/.389/.395 line to go with two home runs and seven doubles in 147 AAA at bats before his injury. Still, the 2003 first round draft pick’s scouting report looks almost the same: mature hitting approach and excellent plate discipline (0.81K/BB), with questions about power potential. If Barton cannot develop more power, he may turn into a player similar to Kevin Youkilis. The left-handed hitter will get a shot to make the Athletics out of spring training, but will more likely get additional time at AAA-Sacramento to make up for the at bats he missed in 2006.

2. Travis Buck, OF: While Barton’s value may be on the decline, Buck’s is on the rise. Starting the year in High A-Stockton, the 2005 first round draft pick turned in a 1.003 OPS, earning a promotion to AA-Midland in mid-May and finishing the year with .302/.376/.472 vitals to go with 7 home runs, 39 doubles, and 11 steals in 13 attempts between the two levels. Buck, 23, is above average defensively and Oakland believes he is capable of improving his power numbers. He could start the year with AAA-Sacramento, but is more likely to begin in AA-Midland, depending on the parent club’s needs.

3. Kurt Suzuki, C: The A’s farm system is made up of a lot of boom-or-bust players who still need more development time, but Suzuki, 23, ranks third for us. This is not because he’s going to be a superstar, but because he already has a good amount of polish and should produce at the big league level. Right now, Suzuki projects as either an effective starter or a great bench player. Solid behind the plate and with his bat (he Suzuki put up a .285/.392/.415 line with 7 home runs and 26 doubles in AA-Midland) he should be in line to start 2007 in AAA-Sacramento and could be up with the big league club come September.

Seattle Mariners

1. Adam Jones, OF: In his first full season at AAA-Tacoma, Jones not only handled a position change (shortstop to outfield), but mashed as well. He hit .287/.345/.484 with 16 home runs and 19 doubles while stealing 13 bases in 17 attempts. A five-tool prospect, the 21 year old is Chris Young-lite to us, a tier below because of his inconsistency, lack of plate discipline, and lesser power numbers. Jones is still raw, but the Mariners big league team doesn’t have much to offer, so we expect him to start the season in Seattle’s outfield. Jones could be a 20/20 man someday with an OPS around .800.

2. Bryan LaHair, 1B: A late bloomer, LaHair has continued his hot hitting after finding his power stroke in 2005 at single-A. Also encouraging he, at 24, has improved his numbers slightly at each level as he has climbed the minor league ranks. He went from a vital line of .293/.371/.428 in AA-San Antonio to .327/.393/.525 in AAA-Tacoma in 2006. Not encouraging though is his continued his inability to hit left-handed pitching. He rakes right-handers (.977 OPS in AAA) which makes it likely that he’ll see the big leagues in 2007, but not until he sufficiently adjusts to southpaws. At the same time it’s doubtful the Mariners will make any major changes in order to get his bat into the everyday lineup.

3. Brandon Morrow, RHP: After blossoming in the Cape Cod League in 2005 and continuing his success in his final year at Cal, Morrow’s draft stock rocketed like his 99 mph fastball, landing him in the first round. While Morrow, 22, now has the tools to be an elite major league pitcher, he doesn’t have the kind of experience with those tools that indicates he will be a factor in the major leagues for another few years. In other words, he has a lot less polish than a typical college pitcher. The 6-foot-3 190-pound power righty has been effective in his first few innings of professional ball, earning a call up to High A-Inland Empire for their playoff run. Still, along with improving his secondary pitches, Morrow will need to show that he can consistently avoid walking hitters before he is put on the fast track to the big leagues. He looks like someone who could end up coming out of the bullpen, but the Mariners will make that option a last resort.

Texas Rangers

1. Eric Hurley, RHP: A first round pick out of high school in 2004, Hurley, 20, has flashed immense potential, but still has some flaws that need to be overcome in order to reach his high ceiling. A Jeff Kent look-alike, Hurley started the season in High A-Bakersfield and put up very similar numbers to his 2005 stats in A-Clinton (4.11 ERA and .243 BAA in Bakersfield vs. 3.77 and .234). He earned a late-season promotion to AA-Frisco, where he continued to improve upon his numbers – 1.95 ERA and .168 BAA in six starts. The only major flaw on his statistical resume is his propensity to give up the long ball, 1.05 HR/9 between A+ and AA. His changeup is also still a work in progress, but Hurley is still very impressive, striking out 137 in 137.2 innings in 2006 and holding hitters to a .222 BAA. The Rangers are taking it slow with Hurley, so they’ll probably have him start the year in AA-Frisco again, and he likely won’t see the majors until 2008.

2. Edison Volquez, RHP: Volquez has almost put it all together, culminating in his great AAA season and a promotion to Texas, but his control remains a major issue. He has been hit to the tune of a .330 BAA (as of 9/13/06) with the Rangers, but the 23 year old still is a top 100 prospect. Volquez sports a mid-90s fastball and a plus changeup to go along with his occasionally spotty curveball. His 130 strikeouts in 120.2 innings at AAA-Oklahoma shine, but his success at the major league level will depend on his control, and how well he can avoid loud contact. He has some big adjustments to make if he’s ever going to live up to his front-line starter potential.

3. John Danks, LHP: The Rangers First round pick from the 2003 draft could benefit from another season in AAA-Oklahoma, but if the team decides they need him at the big league level, he shouldn’t disappoint. Danks, 21, sports a plus curveball, a low 90’s fastball with good movement, and a run of the mill changeup. His 2006 strikeout ratio was solid in AA-Frisco and AAA-Oklahoma, as he totaled 154 strikeouts in 140 innings, but Danks likely won’t develop into a top-tier starter – he projects more as a No. 2 or No. 3. Still, in a system historically devoid of pitching, that’s not something to scoff at.

Adam Foster is a college sports writer who has teamed up with his friend Patrick Hennessey to launch a site called Project Prospect. You can view more of their and the Project Prospect team's work at http://www.projectprospect.com. Also, remember to check back for Part III of the six part series next week.
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