OpinionSeptember 12, 2006

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Team Top 3 Prospects: NL West

By Adam Foster

One thing I’ve discovered in my prospect ranking ventures is that there just aren’t enough rankings to appease my large appetite during the season. Waiting around for each season’s new batch of prospect information like it’s Christmas can be tough for those of us who crave prospect information as often as possible. So, I worked with a friend to create top three prospect lists for every major league organization.

Assembling these rankings, which are based on a combination of player potential and the likelihood of reaching that potential, was an arduous process, so much so that it pulled us away from our usual nightly MLB Extra Innings dosage for more than a week. We missed a full evening alone trying to audition players for organizations without a lot of top-tier talent such as the Nationals, Padres, and Cardinals.

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Justin Upton, OF: The No. 1 overall pick from the 2005 draft didn’t put up great numbers in South Bend (A) with a .263/.343/.413 line. He also doubled 28 times, hit 12 home runs, and stole 15 bases in 22 attempts. Upton, 19, did rate well in one indicator, K/BB, with a 96/52 ratio (1.85) and still owns the record for the largest signing bonus in amateur draft history ($6.1 million). His brother (Melvin/Bossman Jr./B.J.) played in A-ball and AA in his first professional season. Justin, perhaps baseball’s second most “toolsy” prospect (behind Delmon Young) will likely be eased through the minors and kick 2007 off in A+ Lancaster.

2. Chris Young, OF: Javier Vazquez who? One of the few 21-year-olds in AAA, Young did not disappoint in his new franchise. His .276/.363/.532 line brought him from Tucson across the desert to Phoenix by the middle of August. The 16th round 2001 draft pick – he severely broke his left forearm a few days before the draft – out of Bellaire High School in Texas was also on the verge of going 20/20 in Tucson before he was called up; he had 20 home runs to go along with 17 steals in 22 attempts. Young looks like a very special talent, drawing comparisons to Carlos Beltran, Eric Davis, and Mike Cameron.

3. Carlos Gonzalez, OF: Signed in 2002 out of Venezuela, Gonzalez, 20, started the season in A+ Lancaster and finished in AA Tennessee, accumulating a combined line of .289/.348/.543, and launching 23 bombs to go along with 41 doubles, while stealing 16 bases in 24 attempts. Yet another “toolsy” outfielder, Gonzalez lost to Young in our rankings mainly because Young, the former White Sox farmhand, is closer to the majors, but also due to Gonzalez’s poor 75.0% contact ratio. With Carlos Quentin, Upton, Young, and Gonzalez, the Diamondbacks have the problem of trying to figure out who doesn’t fit into their long-term plans – Mike Rizzo and company A+.


Colorado Rockies

1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS: Known as a slick fielder will a powerful bat, the 2005 first round draft pick put up a .291/.370/.473 line in AA Tulsa before getting an August 30th promotion straight to the big league club in Colorado. Tulowitzki, 21, hit 13 home runs and 34 doubles in AA with just 6 steals in 11 attempts. Fans have tried to end the Tulowitzki to Bobby Crosby comparisons due to the peanut brittle factor surrounding the other former Long Beach State shortstop. While we still like the comparisons since both players sport similar plate discipline – Crosby had a 1.69K/BB ratio in the minors to Tulo’s 1.62 – we recognize that Tulowitzki isn’t too far from challenging his fellow former Dirtbag in the major league baseball shortstop ranks.

2. Franklin Morales, LHP: What’s not to like about a 20-year-old lefty who can touch 98 and struck out 10.46 batters per nine innings in A+ Modesto? Morales also compiled a 1.40 WHIP (.223 BAA and 179K/89BB incase you prefer it that way). Signed out of the Dominican in 2002, Morales projects as a frontline starter. He entered the season at just 6-foot-0, 170-pounds, but Glenallen Hill, his Modesto coach, is big strong man, so Morales figures to have added a significant amount of muscle under Hill’s tutelage.

3. Corey Wimberly, 2B: A .325/.404/.383 line in A+ Modesto looks kind of funky, until you see that the 6th round draft pick from 2005 out of Alcorn State in Mississippi had 50 stolen bases in 66 attempts. With his speed and ability to play all over the diamond, it’s no wonder that he has drawn comparisons to Chone Figgins. Wimberly, 21, is 5-foot-8, 180-pounds – still taller than ½ our staff members and more ripped than our entire staff combined. He can hit from both sides of the plate and, more importantly, is one of the few prospects who has added us as friends on MySpace – we’re casual at this stage of our website, don’t take us too seriously.

P.S. Chris Iannetta, we feel for you. Just understand that you and Wimberly are neck and neck in an organization that is full of talent; if you had a MySpace or even a Xanga, you may have gotten the nod as our No. 3 Rockies prospect.


Los Angeles Dodgers

1. Andy LaRoche, 3B: Last year, the younger LaRoche brother had 56 extra base-hits in A+ and AA combined. This year, he totaled 47 in AA and AAA. But for some reason, LaRoche, 22 (turns 23 on 9/13), doesn’t get much mention as one of the game’s elite prospects. His .315/.410/.514 line is elite – as in top 10 overall prospect – as far as we’re concerned. Only really rating below average in the speed department, LaRoche has the tools to be a standout major league third baseman, and he’ll be ready to contribute by midseason 2007 at the latest.

2. Scott Elbert, LHP: Elbert, 21, is another prospect who will help keep the Dodgers in contention for the rest of the decade. A power pitcher with the potential to headline a rotation, the 2004 1st round draft pick struck out 10.66 batters per nine innings while splitting time between A+ and AA. He did, however, give up 15 home runs in 146.0 total innings and walked 85 batters vs. his 173 strikeouts. But the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Missouri native limited opposing batters to a .190 batting average, though, and he measures up as one of the top five pitching prospects in the game in our minds.

3. James Loney, 1B: Perhaps the first baseman of the future for the Dodgers, Loney, 22, only hits about as many homeruns as current Los Angeles first baseman, Nomar Garciaparra. Loney turned in a .380/.426/.546 line with 33 doubles and 8 home runs for AAA Las Vegas in 2006. He hit a career-high 11 home runs at AA Jacksonville in 2005, but only batted .284 that season. It’s not like they relied on power in 2006, so stay tuned for how the Dodgers plan on using this immense talent.


San Diego Padres

1. Cedrick Hunter, OF: When it came to digging for top talent in the Padres organization, we not only reached water tables, but discovered some ancient confined aquifers, too. So, players like Cedrick Hunter, 18, aren’t the type of guys who should be considered for anything but dynasty leagues that require owners to build mineshafts. Hunter was drafted in the 3rd round in 2006. He could some day be a 20/20 center fielder, evidence by his 89.67% contact ratio along with 951 OPS and 17 stolen bases in 213 rookie ball at bats last summer. The lefty should be in line to start 2007 in A-ball. He’ll need to keep on raking to maintain his rank midway up the mineshaft for San Diego.

2. Chase Headley, 3B: A few years ago, Sean Burroughs ran into Headley at a slip and slide competition, eyed up his nearly identical frame, and said, “I shall call him mini-me.” Headley, 22, hit just 12 homeruns in 484 A+ Lakewood at bats and put up a .291/.389/.434 line with four steals in nine attempts. He doesn’t project to have the power to be a viable corned infielder, but the Padres are cool with that – San Diego has not had a third baseman hit more than 15 home runs since Phil Nevin hit 41 at Qualcomm in 2001.

3. Cesar Carrillo, RHP: Drafted in the first round in 2005 out of Miami, Carrillo, 22, undoubtedly has frontline starter potential, but he’s also building up a bit of an injury history. The 6-foot-3, 177-pound righty had his stock drop out of high school due to bicep tendonitis. After throwing just 53.1 innings in the minors in 2006 (nine starts in AA Mobile and one in AAA Portland), Carrillo was shut down with a strained right forearm flexor. He could easily jump back up to the top of our list in 2007 – he still has thrown a total of just 109.2 innings between A+ and AAA – but Carrillo certainly has something to prove before he gets to hang out in the Gas Lamp District.


San Francisco Giants

1. Tim Lincecum, RHP: On the day the Giants signed Lincecum, Jason Schmidt tied Christy Mathewson’s 1906 franchise record of 16 strikeouts in one game. The tiny (5-foot-8, 160-pounds) flamethrower who has a fastball that touches 98 miles per hour could be the next San Francisco pitcher to challenge that record. Lincecum struck out more than 11 batters per nine every year he pitched at the University of Washington – 14.29 in 2006. And he has continued to show that his feats were no fluke, sending 15.60 batters per nine to grab some pine in his 27.2 innings in A+ San Jose, holding his opposition to a .135 batting average while walking 12. Giants fans will soon realize – if they haven’t already – that the team isn’t going to have to do too much rebuilding with Matt Cain, Lincecum, and Noah Lowry already in hand.

2. Jonathan Sanchez, RHP: While the Giants haven’t made much of a mark with hitting prospects during the Brian Sabean era – we’re anxious to research the kind of resources they’ve poured into hitting vs. pitching – they have been exceptional when it comes to pitching prospects. Sanchez, 23, is a great example. Drafted in the 27th round in 2004 out of Ohio Dominican, Sanchez has the ability to throw in the mid-90s and he sports a plus curveball. Don’t let this scare you, Baseball America compared him to Oliver Perez entering the 2006 season; both are wiry lefties who throw hard. Sanchez was mishandled when the Giants brought him up from AA Connecticut to the majors in late May in order to use him as a reliever. He was later send down to AAA Fresno where he didn’t disappoint- 10.63 K/9 in 23.2 innings and a .163 BAA. Control problems (27 walks in his 49.0 innings between AAA and the majors) are the only thing holding Sanchez back from becoming a mainstay in the Giants rotation.

3. Nate Schierholtz, OF: Rivaled by Kevin Frandsen now and perhaps Angel Villalona in the near future, Schierholtz, 23, looks like the Giants best bat despite his .270/.325/.443 line because he played a majority of his games in the pitcher-friendly Dodd Stadium (AA Connecticut). Schierholtz turned a rough start around to finish the season with 14 home runs (8 in August), 25 doubles, 7 triples, and 8 stolen bases in 11 attempts. He doesn’t project as more than a No. 3 quality outfielder right now, but the San Ramon Valley High (California) Wolf – also where Randy Winn attended high school – and Chabot College Gladiator could be in the big leagues before long if he performs well next season with AAA Fresno in the hitter-friendly PCL.

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 articles at www.projectprospect.com. Also, remember to check back soon for part II of this six part series.
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