Top Prospects Overview

by Tim Heaney on March 13, 2007 @ 16:00:00 PDT

 


Every March, baseball fans trample over themselves to get a first look at their favorite prospects. Those one-inning appearances are enough to quench the thirst of minor-league junkies, even if most of the guys on this list can't get into bars.

Some of these ten players have a chance to impact their teams in 2007, feeding their fans for more than just an appetizer. We project that all will be household names before the end of the decade.

1. Delmon Young, Right Fielder, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

MLB Experience: 126 at-bats

Player in his spot: None

Analysis: For the past few years, Young has been heralded as one of the best prospects to come through the game in the past decade. Although he surely wants to be included among legends, he has already been compared to Roger Clemens — not for his talent, but for his bat-tossing.

The 21-year-old is more than just a prospect at this point. His raw athleticism serves as his base for major league-ready play.

Young will be a promising position-player candidate for 2007 AL Rookie of the Year. He came out hot last year, driving in two runs in each of his first two games, including a home run in his first game. Despite failing to record an RBI in his final 12 games, he did accomplish one for the books, marking the first time an American League rookie grabbed 31 hits in his first 20 games since some guy named Ichiro back in 2001.

In the second week of spring training, the Devil Rays have made Young the No. 3 hitter, swapping him with the more prototypically leadoff hitter Carl Crawford. This may or may not continue into the season. With Rocco Baldelli and Crawford hitting in front of him, Young will most likely have lots of guys at second base when he steps in the box. This can only nurture his power development. 

Young has dipped below the rookie radar with the arrival of starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka in Boston, but Young will surely remind fans of his talent immediately, and serve as a prized acquisition in keeper leagues while breaking in.

Projected arrival: Opening Day starter

2. Alex Gordon, Third Baseman, Kansas City Royals

MLB Experience: None

Player in his spot: Mark Teahen (controlled through 2010) (being tried out in the outfield)

Analysis: Give this guy some extra pine tar.

The George Brett comparisons will never stop with comes to Alex Gordon, and many say he will exceed the hot-tempered Hall of Famer. The Royals took Gordon with the second overall pick in the 2005 Entry Draft, noticing his dominance at the University of Nebraska. Gordon has pure gap power to go along with his ability to find the fences. He has a very balanced textbook batting stance, which propels his already immense eye.

The Lincoln, Neb. native husked lots of corn in the minors, clubbing .325 with 29 home runs and 101 RBI in his first full-league season in Double-A Wichita. He won Baseball America's College Player of the Year then Minor League Player of the Year in consecutive seasons.
The Royals are making an effort to keep both of their superstar heirs. Teahen is currently working on shagging flies in the outfield; the Royals are confident in his athleticism and baseball smarts, and there have been whispers that Gordon might skip Triple-A Omaha altogether.

This helps Gordon's fantasy impact in 2007 tremendously, as he would not only have a job, but he would also keep the stellar lineup protection. Gordon might be up sooner than our projection if Teahen stays put in the outfield.

They certainly need the pitching help. Gordon was drafted to be the cornerstone of future Royals teams, and this season feels right to bring him into a key role.

Projected arrival: Mid 2007

3. Justin Upton, Center Fielder, Arizona Diamondbacks

MLB Experience: None

Player in his spot: Eric Byrnes (controlled through 2007)

Analysis: The first overall pick in the 2005 Entry Draft was originally slated as a shortstop in his early career. Upton has moved to the outfield to suit his strengths (or in this case, weaknesses at short) and because of the presence of fellow young stud Stephen Drew.

Scouts have raved over Upton's athleticism and balance. He has a more compact swing, with few hitches in his follow-through.

With Eric Byrnes' contract expiring after this season, the centerfielder is almost guaranteed to garner trade interest from contending teams, regardless of Arizona's position in the playoff race. This would create room for a mid-season entrance for Upton.

Upton will likely start the season at advanced Single-A Visalia. With Upton scheduled to see at least some time late this season, Arizona management could move Chris B. Young to left field, or have Upton shift to left in 2008. Either way, when he joins the ranks of his brother Devil Rays third baseman B.J. Upton, scouts are already putting him in the Vernon Wells mold. Turning only 20 in August, Upton still has time to find his position, giving the D-Backs time to groom this talent, if not this season than in 2008. Be wary of drafting him any higher than as a late-late-late-round bonus pick.

Projected arrival: September call-up

4. Felix Pie, Center Fielder, Chicago Cubs

MLB Experience: None

Player in his spot: Jacque Jones (signed through 2008)

Analysis: The Cubs had to suffer through the Juan Pierre era to wait for the arrival of Pie, who the club projects as its new table-setting leadoff hitter.

Pie reminds Cubs' brass of newly signed stud outfielder Alfonso Soriano's five-tool makeup. Pie possesses a game-changing outfield arm that will challenge baserunners, and has the bat to set the table for an expectedly improved lineup. Cubs manager Lou Piniella said in spring training that the coaching staff has cured the long, looping swing that was holding him back at the plate; remember that Lou Piniella has quite a storied history with molding young hitters.

Pie has been making some noise in spring training. Odds are, however, that the Cubs will not rush him, what with their offensive improvements in the offseason. But even with Soriano initially moving to center this year, don't expect the outfield to stay that way once Pie comes up, even if it's in the projected September call-up period. Soriano would most likely move back to one of the corner spots along with fellow young gun Matt Murton, allowing Pie to feel comfortable in his prototypical position. Either way, Pie will certainly bring some excitement to Iowa this year.

Projected arrival: Late 2007

5. Chris B. Young, Center Fielder, Arizona Diamondbacks

MLB Experience: 70 at-bats

Player in his spot: None

Analysis: Now, Young in the starting lineup, finally getting a chance with the exit of veteran outfielder Luis Gonzalez. Scouts are raving about his range and arm, saying that he can quickly become an elite center fielder within only a few years.

Young has been compared to Eric Davis, but Young did not immediately impress with his numbers last year, with two homers and 10 RBI in his 70 at-bats. Young has averaged 24 HR and 27 stolen bases over the past three seasons in the minors, and projects to be at least a 20-20 player. This dual talent has Young in the mix for grabbing the leadoff spot in the order, although manager Bob Melvin says that Young's playing time would rest primarily on match-ups.

The Diamondbacks lineup will be chock full of speed and youth, so Young will most certainly be encouraged to run no matter where he hits. His run production might not immediately surface with all these young hitters adjusting to the majors, but he could still give you upwards of 85 runs guaranteed, plus the 20-20 potential. That spells at least a solid utility option there for 2007.

Projected arrival: Opening Day starter

6. Brandon Wood, Third Baseman, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

MLB Experience: None

Player in his spot: Orlando Cabrera (signed through 2008)

Analysis: Originally one of the hottest shortstop prospects in baseball, Wood is being moved by the Angels to third base this season. Though manager Mike Scioscia said the move isn't permanent, this certainly allows for an easier time for Wood to make it up to the majors.

Orlando Cabrera is a steady shortstop, with an above-average glove and a good contact hitting mindset. With fellow prospect Erick Aybar ready to break through as well, and Maicer Izturis filling out the depth chart there, Wood wasn't plowing through that bottleneck any time soon. 

Wood's position change will be crucial in speeding up his track to the big leagues, bringing glee to keeper and single-season fantasy owners.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder doesn't scream slugger, but what he has still lacked in size, he makes up for in technical prowess. He bulked up his swing in the past several seasons, eventually hitting 25 homers at Double-A Arkansas last summer.

Wood has been projected to fit in well at third, in the mold of Troy Glaus. The Angels aren't exactly stacked with sluggers, either, so Wood could even jump up before our projected September date. Wood can eventually provide another big name at the fantasy-wise shallow hot corner position.

Projected arrival: September call-up

7. Matt Garza, Starting Pitcher, Minnesota Twins

MLB Experience: 50 innings

Player in his spot: None

Analysis: Garza was receiving some early buzz from the local media about his No. 2 starter potential. Fantasy owners counting on Garza to make the Twins' rotation this spring might have to look somewhere else or wait out the latest chapter of the Twins' mound MASH unit. After throwing two perfect innings in his first start, the Twins prospect left his second spring start only throwing two pitches after tweaking his neck.

Before his injury, Garza had a solid chance to throw his hat into the rotation ring depleted by injured phenom Francisco Liriano and retired Brad Radke. Garza could prove to be a quick study; last year, Garza proved that his learning curve is very short, as he steamrolled through the entire Twins system before reaching the big club in August.

His arrival, however, proved to be a rough turn in his 2006 stint, going 3-5 with a 5.39 ERA and giving up seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in his first go-around. Despite the injury, Garza still has a spot lined up for him this season, especially with the Twins' arm deficiencies. If Garza can display some more of that rapid maturity when healthy, he could mark double-digit wins this season as a precursor to a more promising future.

Projected arrival: Opening Day starter

8. Daric Barton, First Baseman, Oakland Athletics

MLB Experience: None

Player in his spot: Dan Johnson (controlled through 2010)

Analysis: Barton is the offensive gem of the A's system, a .311 hitter with 30 home runs and 195 runs batted in 279 career minor league games.

Barton represents the latest chapter in the junior circuit Bay Area's first base/designated hitter logjam since the exit of Mark McGwire. From Erubiel Durazo to Scott Hatteberg to Dan Johnson, the A's have tried several different combinations of starters over the past ten seasons.

Barton is the latest in the line of “solutions” to that confusion. The last positional savior, Dan Johnson, had a great first season, then failed miserably last year (nine home runs and 37 RBIs in only 91 games). His major league comparatives are normally listed as Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs.

Barton is getting over a fracture in the radial bone in his left elbow injury that he struggled to return from last season. However, he tore up the Dominican Winter Leagues last winter, and members of the A's organization were impressed with his mental growth in the game.

Frank Thomas' signing with the Blue Jays opens up a chance for the youngster, and after two struggling seasons, Johnson will be on a short leash. And with Nick Swisher moving permanently to the outfield, the position will be Barton's for the taking by late 2007. We predict Johnson won't make the A's forget about their young masher waiting in the wings. Watch out for Barton in the late rounds or the waiver wire.

Projected arrival: September call-up 

9. Homer Bailey, Starting Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds

MLB Experience: None

Player in his spot: N/A

Analysis: Unlike Delmon Young, Bailey is receiving the favorable comparisons to Roger Clemens. Bailey is considered one of the top — if not the top - pitching prospect in at least the National League.

He taught himself how to throw his own version of a changeup. He might be able to teach himself how to win 15 games in a few years. He is already receiving comparisons to the Rocket, and scouts are drooling over his mental and physical maturity as he has been grooming his control. He's becoming more of a pitcher, instead of just a (ridiculously hard) thrower.

Bailey's 3-5 record didn't reflect his outing at Single-A Sarasota (70.2 IP, 40 hits, 79 K, 3.31 ERA), which provided a basis for his stellar performance in Double-A Chattanooga (7-1, 77 K, 1.59 ERA).

His namesake has not been his downfall: he only allowed seven homers last season at both High-A and Double-A. The 6-foot-4 lanky pitcher will turn 21 in May, and will likely start the season at Triple-A Louisville. Bailey could have a greater impact than fellow string bean Jered Weaver last season, especially if he breaks through early. The Reds could throw him in the top three in the rotation after Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang to start off. Bailey is most certainly worth looking at in the upper later rounds for this season, and for keepers he should go in the top three rounds.

Projected arrival: Early 2007

10. Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, Colorado Rockies

MLB Experience: 96 at-bats

Player in his spot: None

Analysis: The Long Beach State graduate made it through the Rockies' system in less than 15 months, skipping Triple-A Colorado Springs altogether to suit up for Colorado this spring. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound shortstop is already receiving comparisons to Cal Ripken Jr., and is expected to put up some solid power numbers. Even if he proves too awkward for the position, scouts feel he can slide over to his right to play third.

Murmurs are already pouring out from Rockies camp that whoever loses the starting job will be sent down to Colorado Springs, as to further the development of both youngsters with consistent playing time.

Last season, Barmes, 27, impressed in the field but struggled with the stick. In his September call-up Tulowitzki wasn't overwhelmingly impressive in either area, and his hitting stats weren't anything to write home about (.240, .292 slugging percentage). His Arizona Fall League performance (.329 with six doubles, one home run and 11 RBI), however, redeemed his stock.

Tulowitzki is hitting eighth in the majors this year, and is not being pressured into carrying the potent offense. Tulowitzki certainly has more promise than Barmes, who fantasy-wise is too risky a pick in drafts at this point. The youngster can be a steal in the later rounds if his preseason pans out. For 2007, keep an eye toward the Mountains for a late-round option at short, but make sure you already have a starter. He could hit 15 homers this year.

Projected arrival: Opening Day starter

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.


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