OpinionNovember 9, 2006

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Team Top 3 Prospects: AL East

By Adam Foster

This article is the final instalment of a six part series on the top three prospects in every Major League Baseball organization. Click the following links for the previously published articles in this series: NL West, AL West, NL Central, AL Central, and NL East.

Baltimore Orioles

1. Brandon Erbe, RHP: While there’s a lot of speculation that Erbe, 18, will end up as a reliever, it’s pretty tough to deny his awesome potential. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound righty absolutely dominated A-ball, striking out 10.44 batters per nine, while maintaining a WHIP of 1.18 and giving up just two home runs in 114.2 innings (0.16 HR/9).

A third round draft pick in 2005, Erbe dials his fastball up to 98 mph, but his abnormal delivery and lack of a plus secondary pitch won’t fly in the upper levels of the minors. If Baltimore decides to groom Erbe as a closer, he’ll easily become one of the best relief prospects in the minors. Otherwise, he will continue to spend time polishing his pitching arsenal in the minors.

2. Billy Rowell, 3B/SS: The ninth overall pick in the 2006 draft, Rowell, 18, immediately showed the power that made him such a coveted high school prospect. He combined for a .503 slugging percentage between Rookie Bluefield (152 at bats) and Low-A Aberdeen (43 at-bats).

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound lefty — throws right – only hit three home runs, but his 19 doubles and .328 combined batting average highlight the kind of studly hitting potential he has. Rowell could end up at shortstop, third base, or a corner outfield position. His bat will carry him no matter where he ends up playing.

3. Nolan Reimold, OF: Nick Markakis, Adam Loewen, Hayden Penn, and Chris Ray all lost their rookie status this year, thinning out the Oriole prospects under consideration. That is the main reason why Reimold, 23, made this list. While the second round draft pick from 2005 does possess star potential, he didn’t do much to help fuel his ascention to the majors in 2006, posting .255/.379/.455 vitals in 415 at-bats in High-A Frederick.

Reimold (6-foot-4, 207-pounds) did hit 19 home runs and steal 14 bases, but he was caught stealing 8 times, for a 63.6-percent success rate. He’s starting to gain a reputation as a streaky player — he tailed off significantly after the All-Star break. Double-A Bowie will be a huge step for Pennsylvania native, as he’s likely be challenged with a steady stream of breaking balls, a pitch that he has stuggled against in the past.

Boston Red Sox

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: Instrumental in getting Oregon State to its first College World Series in over 50 years, Ellsbury, 23, made a very smooth transition to professional baseball in his first full season, putting up .303/.382/.425 combined vitals between High-A Wilmington and Double-A Portland.

He doesn’t look like the same kind of prospect as Johnny Damon was (Ellsbury had an .821 OPS as a 22-year-old in AA; Damon had a .968 at 21-years-old in AA), but the 6-foot-1, 185-pound left-handed centerfielder has had slightly better stolen base success than Damon in the upper levels of the minors. Ellsbury will likely spend all of 2007 in the minors, but he could be ready to make a major league contribution by midseason.

2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B: Known in his home town (Woodland, CA) for his legendary ability to make contact with a baseball, Pedroia, 23, has never struck out more than 45 times in a season. Not once – high school, college, minors, limited time in the majors. Every season, every level, he’s never struck out more than 45 times in a season.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound former Arizona State Sun Devil put up .305/.384/.426 vitals at Triple-A Pawtucket. Referencing Ellsbury, it’s fairly easy to compare Pedroia to the Red Sox centerfield prospect – just without the speed and at second base. Pedroia is a great candidate for top second baseman in the minor leagues, and he’s right on the cusp of being handed the Red Sox starting second base job for 2007.

3. Michael Bowden, RHP: Taken as a first round supplemental pick in 2005, Bowden, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound power righty, really started gaining national attention when he threw a perfect game in which he struck out 19 high school hitters during his senior year. Concerns about his delivery caused him to fall to Boston at 47th overall.

The Red Sox believe that Bowden’s delivery will not make him a major injury risk, great news for the Fenway Faithful, especially when they look at the twenty-year-old’s sensational first full minor league season. Bowden struck out 9.86 batters per nine, gave up 0.75 HR/9, and maintained a 1.13 WHIP in Single-A Greenville. The Illinois native was promoted to High-A Wilmington for his final start of the 2006 season and it wasn’t pretty (5 ER in 5.0 innings). Despite his struggle in that game, he is still likely to begin the 2007 season in High-A Lancaster.

New York Yankees

1. Phil Hughes, RHP: While it’s doubtful that Hughes, 20, will ever become the poster child of the Yankees franchise – he was a big Red Sox and Mo Vaughn fan growing up – he’ll undoubtedly enter 2007 as one of the best pitching talents in the minors. We’ll default to the SportsCenter anchors to go into more detail about the Yankees top prospect being a Red Sox fan and give you a short rundown of why Hughes, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound righty, may be the best pitching prospect in the minors.

A product of Foothill High School (Santa Ana, CA), Hughes torched through High-A Tampa (9.00 K/9, 0.00 HR/9, 0.70 WHIP in 30.0 innings) and continued to baffle hitters with his high 90s fastball and plus curveball in Double-A Trenton (10.71 K/9, 0.39 HR/9, and 0.91 WHIP in 116.0 innings).

Hughes will look to continue to maintain his sub-1.00 minor league WHIP (0.86 in 237.1 innings) in Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre to open 2007. That SportsCenter episode about him growing up a Red Sox fan could air by the All-Star Break.

2. Jose Tabata, OF: The biggest question surrounding Tabata at the national level is: how does this guy differ from Fernando Martinez? On the local scene, it’s probably more like: who has the best pair of outfield prospects, the Mets with Lastings Milledge/Martinez or the Yankees with Melky Cabrera/Tabata?

Our answer: every other team in baseball would gladly take either duo.

Tabata has the tools to become an All-Star and maybe even a MVP-caliber player, but he’s still just a 5-foot-11, 160-pound (height and weight from MiLB.com) eighteen-year-old. His .298/.377/.420 vitals in 319 Single-A Charleston at-bats show that he is primed to climb to the next level in the Yankees’ organization (High-A Tampa). There he’ll continue to attempt to use a plate approach that is beyond his years to compensate for playing against much older competition.

3. Austin Jackson, OF: An eighth round draft pick from 2005, Jackson, who signed with the Yankees despite the common belief that he would ultimately play basketball at Georgia Tech, continued to grow as a baseball player in 2006.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound all-around athlete put up .260/.340/.346 vitals and stole 37 bases in 49 attempts (82.2%) in Single-A Charleston. In 2007, Jackson will attempt to continue to show fans why he has caught the eyes of scouts since he was in middle school, as he will likely start the season along side Tabata in High-A Tampa.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

1. Delmon Young, OF: An early favorite for the top slot in our Top 50 prospect list – which will be published in December – Young, 21, grew up idolizing Vladimir Guerrero, a player who he could someday match talent-wise (he already has the arm).

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft, Young (6-foot-3, 205-pounds) put up .316/.341./.447 vitals in 342 at-bats at Triple-A Durham only to better that with a .328/.349/.492 line in 126 at-bats with the big club.

Young’s weakness of inside fastballs shows in his 0.246 Triple-A and 0.043 MLB walk to strikeout ratios, but it’s pretty tough to find any other holes in his game. Young is as much of a shoo-in for 2007 American League Rookie of the Year as Joe Girardi is to get another managing job by the winter meetings.

2. Evan Longoria, 3B: We are pleased to introduce one of the many surprises from the 2006 draft. Longoria, 21, who wasn’t even drafted out of high school – he has grown a few inches and added a lot of muscle since – looked like a potential above-average major leaguer coming out of college, but he has quickly established himself as a potential All-Star, giving the Devil Rays yet another elite infield prospect.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound former Long Beach State Dirtbag put up .315/.360/.597 combined vitals in 248 at-bats between Low-A Hudson Valley, High-A Visalia, and Double-A Montgomery. He slowed down a bit once he got to Montgomery, but started mashing again in the Southern League Playoffs (.345/.387/.724 in 29 at-bats), as the Biscuits went on to win the Southern League Championship.

Longoria could start 2007 in Triple-A Durham. He’s in line to follow Tigers lefty Andrew Miller as one of the first members of the 2006 draft class to break into the majors.

3. Reid Brignac, SS: Tampa Bay’s 2006 Minor League Player of the year, Brignac, 20, saw his stock rise about as much as any minor league hitter last season. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound left-handed hitter finished the year sixth in the entire minors in total bases (281) and hits (168), putting up .321./376/.539 vitals between High-A Visalia and Double-A Montgomery.

With Troy Tulowitzki likely to open the season on the Rockies’ roster and Brandon Wood probably destined for third base, Brignac could easily become the top shortstop prospect in the minors. And we’re not knocking the depth at shortstop in the minors; Brignac is that good.

Toronto Blue Jays

1. Adam Lind, OF: Sometimes the guys who sneak past scouts as potential “average major leaguers” end up making a bigger name for themselves than even their own organization expected. A third round draft pick from 2004, Lind, 23, didn’t appear on many 2006 top prospect lists, but suddenly he looks to perhaps have All-Star potential.

The lefty isn’t Matt Kemp, but he could very well go on to have a better major league career than Gabe Gross. Lind (6-foot-2, 195-pounds) put up .330/.394/.556 combined vitals between Double-A New Hampshire (348 at-bats) and Triple-A Syracuse (109 at-bats), earning a September call-up. Lind may be the outfield version of Lyle Overbay. We’ll see in 2007.

2. Travis Snider, OF: A flat-out masher, Snider, 18, is without a doubt the best baseball prospect to come out of the State of Washington since Grady Sizemore. The Jackson High School graduate doesn’t project as an above-average defender, but his power left-handed stroke will put him on the fast track to the majors even if it means he ends up having to focus on his defense or moving to DH once he gets to Toronto.

Snider hit .325/.412/.567 in 194 at-bats with Rookie Pulaski – no longer an affiliate of the Blue Jays, who chose to cut back to one Rookie Ball team. The 5-foot-11, 245-pounder gave up football after injuries started to impact his baseball stock. Although the decision to put his efforts into baseball was a very emotional choice for Snider, he’s now reaping the benefits of being a well-oiled baseball-crushing machine. Don’t be surprised if Toronto challenges him in High-A Dunedin before the 2007 season ends.

3. Ricky Romero, LHP: We’re definitely not as high on Romero, 22, as most of the people in the industry, more convinced that he will round out the back of a rotation than come close to leading one. While the 6-foot-1, 200-pound lefty was dominant in college with Cal State Fullerton, he has been unable to translate his raw ability to the professional baseball ranks as well as we expected.

With a low 90s fastball leading his arsenal of pitches – followed by a changeup and curveball – Romero combined for a 7.30 K/9 ratio, 1.22 WHIP, and a 0.86 HR/9 ratio between High-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire. He’ll likely repeat in Double-A, where he stuck out just 5.48 batters per nine and owned a 1.35 WHIP in 67.1 innings.

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

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