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September 9, 2008
AL Great Leaps Forward
A first-round pick in 2005, Brandon Snyder missed much of 2006 recovering from shoulder surgery, and then was moved from behind the plate to first base. His bat really needed to come around, and it did just that with a monster second half of the season, leading to an overall line of .315/.358/.490 at High-A Frederick. While this is a step in the right direction, he needs to develop more power for the position, and though it feels like he's been around forever, he is still only 21.
Runner-Up: Righty Brad Bergesen was among the minor league leaders with 16 wins, and the Orioles hope that while he doesn't miss many bats, his ability to throw strikes and generate ground balls will be enough form him to develop into a back-end rotation starter.
After suffering through a case of Steve Blass disease in 2007 and walking more than a batter per inning, 2006 first-round pick Daniel Bard was moved to the bullpen and became one of the most dominant relievers in the minors, finishing the year with a 1.51 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 77
Runner-Up: After battling through injuries in 2007, Venezuelan lefty Felix Doubront struck out over a batter per inning and more than held his own in a trio of California League starts as a 20-year-old. He doesn't have overwhelming stuff, but his outstanding command and deceptive delivery are enough for most to make big-league projections for him.
A fifth-round pick in 2004 who has always teased with his power potential yet frustrated with his rawness, massive first baseman Brandon Allen started to put it all together this year by walking more, striking out less, and slugging 29 home runs. His last six weeks at Double-A Birmingham really impressed scouts, as he mashed at a .275/.358/.614 line in 41 games, with 14 home runs in 153 at-bats.
Runner-Up: A minor league vet in his sixth professional season, outfielder David Cook hit .284/.410/.493 between Double- and Triple-A, while showing a wide range of skills with 19 home runs, 14 stolen bases, and 93 walks.
While he struggled following a promotion to High-A Kinston, 20-year-old Dominican left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz flashed a 93 mph fastball, solid curve, and plus change while compiling a 1.69 ERA in 18 starts for Low-A Lake County. With a long, lanky six-foot-five frame, he offers much in the way of projection, and he's already pretty damned good other than his occasional control problems.
Runner-up: Also just 20, Dominican righty Hector Rondon struck out a batter per inning at High-A Kinston and was selected to the Futures Game roster after finding a few extra ticks on his fastball and consistently touching 95-96 mph throughout the year.
Always among the toolsiest players in the system, outfielder Wilkin Ramirez finally began to blossom at Double-A with a .303/.371/.522 campaign at Erie while showing power, speed, and an outstanding arm. Many scouts see big-league 20/20 potential, but his issues with plate discipline have others wondering if that just makes him the next incarnation of Juan Encarnacion.
Runner-up: An obscure 14th-round pick in 2005 who had played the majority of his first three years in short-season leagues, outfielder Casper Wells slugged 27 home runs, including 17 in a half-season at Double-A as part of a .269/.366/.532 season.
First baseman Kila Ka'aihue went from organizational soldier to one of the top sluggers in the minors with a .314/.439/.640 season split between Double-A and Triple-A that included 37 home runs and a minor league-leading 104 walks. With just 67 strikeouts, he has that rare combination of power and contact skills that often leads to big-league success.
Runner-up: Joe Dickerson lacks the power or patience to project as a big-league regular, but his .297/.376/.442 line at High-A Wilmington with 24 stolen bases showed enough to earn some projections as a fourth outfielder type from scouts.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
All but written off after receiving a $1.425 million bonus in 2005 but doing little since, first baseman Mark Trumbo suddenly exploded thanks to a Cal League assignment, but a solid showing during a final month in Double-A had scouts believing in him that much more. He finished the year with 32 home runs, a .540 slugging percentage, and tied for second in the minors with 286 total bases.
Runner-up: A surprise first-round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2001 who always had a great fastball, righty Jason Bulger finally began to put it all together at the age of 29, putting up a 0.63 ERA in 37 Triple-A appearances with 75 strikeouts in 43 innings to earn a late-season big-league look.
Aussie infielder Luke Hughes came out of nowhere showing unprecedented power with a .309/.369/.524 season split between Double- and Triple-A. Scouts think he really can hit, and the Twins have a pressing need at third base that Hughes could fill with some refinements against right-handers.
Runner-up: A third-round pick out of Puerto Rico last June, outfielder Angel Morales was known more for his plus speed than his merely average power, but he shocked even the Twins by leading the Appalachian League with 15 home runs as part of a .301/.413/.623 season. He's still only 18, with tools, athleticism, and enormous potential.
A third-round pick out of a tiny high school in central Illinois, Zach McAllister had no problems dominating at either of the Yankees' A-ball affiliates, compiling a 2.09 ERA in 25 starts. He lacks a true out pitch, but has three solid offerings, has fantastic polish for his age, and uses his height (6-foot-6) and arm angle to generate a lot of ground balls.
Runner-up: Lefty Phil Coke suddenly began to flash consistent plus velocity to go with what was already plus command, and he began missing bats in bunches, going from Double-A to the big-league bullpen by the end of the season.
Brad Ziegler went from a nice story to a record-breaking season, as in his second year as a side-armer, he had a 0.37 ERA at Triple-A to force his way to the majors, where he's established himself as one of the top situational relievers around.
Runner-up: Coming off of a 5.33 ERA in the California League, right-hander Vince Mazzaro became a very real prospect with a 1.90 mark at Double-A Midland. Always in possession of an outstanding sinker, more strikes and a better breaking ball were the keys to his breakout.
After failing to hack it (or hacking too much) in a full-season league last year, athletic outfielder Greg Halman suddenly found success at both High- and Double-A, finishing the year with a .272/.326/.528 line that included 29 home runs and 31 stolen bases in 128 games. He's still striking out too much (142 K), but the upside remains huge.
Runner-up: Tall, skinny, and very projectable, Dominican righty Michael Pineda put up a 1.95 ERA in 26 appearances for Low-A Wisconsin and saved the best for last, whiffing 14 in a complete-game one-hitter in his final start of the year. His funky delivery shows batters a lot of arms and legs, and his fastball is notable for both its velocity and location, but the secondary stuff needs work.
An eighth-round pick last year out of a New Mexico high school in a town of 2,000, 19-year-old southpaw Matt Moore spent the first half of the year in extended spring training but came out firing bullets in the New York-Penn League, putting up a 1.66 ERA in 12 starts while striking out 77 in 54
Runner up: As a third-round pick in '07, right-hander Nick Barnese entered the year with even higher accolades than Moore, and nearly matched his rotation-mate with a 2.45 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 66 innings. He touched 94 with his lively fastball, and showed some promise in refining a slurvy breaking pitch.
A draft-and-follow who signed for $200,000 last year, left-hander Derek Holland suddenly began touching 97 mph with his fastball and shot through three levels, finishing the year at Double-A with a 13-1 record, 2.27 ERA, and 157 strikeouts in 150
Runner-up: Entering the season as one of many offense-first catchers in the minors, Max Ramirez made a little bit of progress defensively, and really exploded with the bat, putting up a .347/.439/.628 year split between Double- and Triple-A to further clutter up the Rangers' depth chart at catcher.
Never living up to expectations as a six-foot-five power lefty, David Purcey finally seemed to conquer his command troubles and has lined himself up for a 2009 Opening Day rotation slot for the Blue Jays with a solid late-season showing in the big leagues.
Runner-up: Left-hander Brad Mills used plus command and the best changeup in the system to put up a 1.95 ERA in 27 starts while cruising through three levels and actually improving at each one. He's gone from simply an organizational arm in the eyes of many to a possible fifth starter, with a backup plan as southpaw relief as an option.