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The 2005 draft is looking like it could go down in history
as the year of the centerfielder. Half of the 12 players listed here were
selected in the first round of last year’s pickfest, and two of the five
honorable mentions were selected later on.

1. Cameron Maybin, Tigers

Age: 19.4 Hitting: .320/.401/.477 in 79 G (A-)

Drafting sixth overall this year and tenth overall in 2005,
the Tigers have been able to add lefthander Andrew Miller and
Maybin to the system because where other teams see signability problems, Detroit’s front office sees an opportunity to move up. While Detroit knew they were
getting a top-of-the-line athlete in Maybin, they’ve been pleasantly suprised
by the maturity in his game. Maybin is a natural hitter who draws walks and
knows how to utilize his plus speed on the basepaths, as he’s successful in 25
of 28 stolen base attempts and has been clocked at 4.1 seconds to first base
despite a sizeable 6-foot-3, 200 pound frame. Maybin’s still learning how to
hit breaking balls and his swing can get long, as evidenced by 94 strikeouts in
300 at-bats. While he hasn’t shown much power yet, he’s capable of mammoth
shots in batting practice and scouts are nearly universal in believing that the
power will begin to show up in game situations once he learns how drive pitches.
The definition of a five-tool talent, Maybin is already very good and only
going to get better. Detroit makes it hard to get excited on a statistical
level about prospects as they are nearly always in pitcher’s leagues and pitcher’s
parks, but don’t be fooled. This is an elite talent by any measurement.

2. Chris Young, Diamondbacks

Age: 22.9 Hitting .276/.366/.542 in 92 G (AAA)

With Brian Anderson‘s struggles, one gets the idea
the White Sox would be a better team right now without Javier Vazquez,
and with Young patrolling center field. After being hampered by a wrist injury
early in the season, Young has found his power stroke, blasting 20 home runs in his
last 74 games. A dynamic power/speed combination, Young has 30-30 potential in
the big leagues and is a very good defensive center fielder, though his arm is a
tick below average. While he’ll never hit for a high batting average, Young
more than makes up for it with outstanding secondary skills. More than half of
his 102 hits have gone for extra bases, he’s drawn 49 walks in 369 at-bats and
he has 14 stolen bases in 18 attempts. He should be handed the Arizona center field job in spring training and has strong Rookie of the Year chances.

3. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

Age: 19.0 Hitting: .268/.350/.430 in 92 G (A-)

Every time I look at Upton’s statistics this season, I’m
reminded of Kevin Kline’s character in A Fish Called Wanda. Disappointed!
Expectations for the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft were through the
roof after an impressive spring training, but Upton’s season has been marred by
an inability to sustain any kind of hot streak, as he’s yet to hit over .286 or
total more than three home runs in any single month, though he has already
launched three in eight August games. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with
Upton’s numbers, as 11 home runs is pretty impressive for
an 18-year-old in the Midwest League, and he’s shown a patient approach and
stolen 12 bases while looking solid defensively in his transition from
shortstop to the outfield. Upton’s raw tools remain among the best in
baseball, but scouts who have seen him play this year have described his style
of play as flat and uninspired. With so many center fielders having outstanding
seasons, it’s hard to see him as one of the top three or four prospects in the
game, as after nearly 100 pro games, his reputation is only worth so much when
compared to his performance.

4. Matt Kemp, Dodgers

Age: 21.9 Hitting .330/.410/.531 in 70 G (48
AA/22 AAA)

Kemp went from good prospect to great one in about two
months, as he entered the season having never played above Class A, but found
himself in the majors by the end of May, where he hit .304 with seven home runs
in his first 92 at-bats before going back to Triple-A in mid-July when the
Dodgers got a little healthier and Kemp went into a slump. While he’s hit for
average at Las Vegas, his power shortage has continued as he’s gone homerless
in his last 81 at-bats. Kemp has struggled with plate discipline in the past
and stopped hitting in the majors when pitchers began to take advantage of his
free-swinging ways, but his minor-league walk rate is a much-improved 32 in 288
at-bats. That’s been the only real weakness in his game, though at 230 pounds,
Kemp’s plus speed could dissipate quickly, forcing a move to a corner. He’ll
likely get an opportunity to earn a starting job in spring training.

5. Fernando Martinez, Mets

Age: 17.8 Hitting: .333/.386/.532 in 51 G (1
R/45 A-/5 A+)

Martinez was the big prize in last year’s international
signing period, as the Mets won a bidding war for his services with a $1.4
million bonus. Point No. 1: 17-year-old players are not supposed to be ready
for full-season leagues. Point No. 2: 17-year-old players are certainly not
supposed to be good enough to earn a promotion to High Class A by getting a hit
in every three at-bats. Martinez is a ridiculous offensive talent with ability
well beyond his years, but he still has room for improvement. He’s coming
into his power, which should at least be average, and while he’s a free
swinger, he gets away with it because of tremendous plate coverage. The only
knock against him is his defense. A slightly above-average runner now, his
instincts in center are lacking, and he’ll almost assuredly need to move to a
corner in the not-so-distant future. This is a still remarkable season for
such a young player, and over the next couple of years we will figure out if he
develops into an ideal number two hitter, or a middle-of-the-order power
threat.

6. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

Age: 19.8 Hitting: .294/.360/.454 in 110 G (A-)

Selected 11th in last year’s draft, in between
Maybin and Reds uber-prospect Jay Bruce, McCutchen’s scouting reviews
are outstanding and while his numbers are very good but not remarkable, what I like
about them so much is that they are at the very least solid across the board,
so the building blocks for real stardom are there, as there is no current
weakness in his game. He’s hitting for average, he’s third in the Sally League
with 198 total bases, he’s drawn 42 walks in 436 at-bats with a reasonable
strikeout rate and he’s stolen 21 bases with a 75% success rate. There’s just
nothing to criticize here, so that’s quite a set of skills to build on.

7. Trevor Crowe, Indians

Age: 22.7 Hitting: .324/.435/.456 in 74 G (2
A-/60 A+/12 AA)

While the 2005 draft was loaded with high school center fielders,
Crowe was the one of the college models, and he’s quickly established himself
as one of the top pure (read: old school) leadoff prospects in the game. An
on-base machine who has gotten to first (or better) 146 times in 75 games,
Crowe has yet to go more than two games without reaching base, and only has
three two-game streaks of not getting on all season. A switch hitter with more
walks (54) than strikeouts (53) in 277 at-bats, Crowe’s approach is major
league ready, and while he lacks raw power, he does have the ability to sting
one into the gap on occasion. Crowe is just average in center and his arm is
weak, so if he’s forced to move into a corner it will greatly reduce his value.

8. Felix Pie, Cubs

Age: 21.5 Hitting: .273/.332/.416 in 114 G
(AAA)

It’s been a frustrating season for Pie at Iowa this year,
but in his defense he’s been rushed through the system, is young for the
league, and has been showing signs of life in the second half with a .327
batting average in 37 games since July 1. Pie is blessed with tremendous tools
and athleticism, and he’s just beginning to reach his potential. With 10 home
runs, he’s just one off his career high and could be good for 20+ home runs in
the majors once his power matures. Pie’s approach remains incredibly immature,
though. He’s an impatient hitter who is prone to chasing pitches outside the
strike zone, and the veteran hurlers of the Pacfic Coast League have responded
by feeding him a steady diet of breaking balls, which has led to 104
strikeouts. While he’s a plus-plus runner, he’s not a good base stealer, with
a career success rate of just 62% (94 for 150). He’d be best served by another
season of Triple-A to polish his rough edges, but the Cubs current outfield
situation might not allow for it.

9. Carlos Gomez, Mets

Age: 20.7 Hitting: .287/.347/.431 in 93 G (AA)

The Mets don’t have just one toolsy outfielder moving
quickly through their system, they have two. The organization has always loved
Gomez’s long body and outstanding tools, but strating him this year at
Double-A seemed curious, if not downright wrong. Only 20 years old at the
start of the year and coming off an uninspiring .275/.331/.376 campaign at Low
Class A Hagerstown, his performance didn’t merit skipping a level, and he was
overmatched in the first half of the season, with his batting average sitting at
.211 at the end of May when he hit the disabled list with a back injury.
Whatever happened during that time off changed everything, as Gomez now has
pretty respectable numbers thanks to a nifty .406 (41-for-101) average in
July. While Gomez hasn’t shown much power, scouts believe it’s in him, and
he’s very close to establishing new career highs in doubles, triples and home
runs with almost a month still to go in the season. He’s a plus-plus runner with 95
stolen bases in the last two years, and he covers a ton of ground in the
outfield while featuring a strong, accurate arm. Gomez still needs to refine
his approach, as with 73 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 344 at-bats, he
doesn’t work well at the top of the order, and his speed has less value at the
bottom. The Mets can afford to slow him down a little, and he might repeat
Double-A next year.

10. Colby Rasmus, Cardinals

Age: 20.0 Hitting: .282/.353/.465 in 113 G (78
A-/35 A+)

Rasmus was the 28th overall pick in last year’s
draft, and he comes from a talented family, as his younger brother Cory, a righthanded
pitcher, was the 38th overall pick this June by the Braves. After
beginning the year at Quad Cities with a 2-for-28 slump, Rasmus hit .335 onwards
before earning a July promotion to the Florida State League, showing plus power
and speed while dramatically reducing the strikeout rate from his 2005 pro
debut. Like all first-round high school center fielders, Rasmus is a great
athlete with tremendous tools, and his early ability to translate those tools
into baseball skills portends well for the future. While he’s struggled at Palm Beach, he’s still a few days short of his 20th birthday, and he’s in the
perfect system for his skills, as he’s the only bigtime outfield prospect in
the St. Louis organization and Jim Edmonds isn’t getting any younger.

11. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox

Age: 22.9 Hitting: .303/.374/.408 in 87 G (61
A+/26 AA)

Yet another 2005 draftee, Ellsbury had a storied career at Oregon State and hit .317/.418/.432 in his pro debut with Lowell in the New York-Penn League.
He’s done many things well this year–reaching Double-A while keeping his
average above .300, drawing a decent number of walks and stealing 35 bases.
Ellsbury’s power is a cause for concern, as 83 of his 107 hits this year
are singles, and with just 14 doubles and four home runs, there is little to
project in that department. He’s a good center fielder with an average-at-best
arm, but he’ll need to ramp up his on-base skills to profile as an everyday
leadoff man.

12. Dexter Fowler, Rockies

Age: 20.4 Hitting: .282/.359/.439 in 77 G (A-)

Fowler was one of the top athletes in the 2004 draft, but he
dropped to the 14th round, as most teams believed he would attend
college. The Rockies took a chance on him, and were able to buy him away from
that higher education nonsense with a nice fat check for $925,000. While
remaining incredibly raw, Fowler has shown gap power, a decent approach and a
nearly shockingly good feel for contact this year–after striking out 73 times
in 220 at-bats last year in the Pioneer League, he has a relatively tame 61
whiffs in 323 at-bats this season. He’s going to require patience, and while
he’s not nearly there yet, his potential falls into the special category. He’s
definitely one to keep an eye on.

Honorable Mention:

  • John Drennen, Indians: Should end up famous
    for more than just taking Roger Clemens deep in a minor league
    game. More a hitter for average than a power threat, Drennen will likely
    be moving to a corner soon.
  • Austin Jackson, Yankees: Dedicated solely to
    baseball for the first time, Jackson has combined a lead-off man’s eye
    with outstanding speed, but has racked up a high strikeout total without
    hitting for power.
  • Javier Herrera, Athletics: Will miss all of
    this season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but will be a perfectly
    reasonable 22 years old in the California League next year and all the
    tools are there.
  • Drew Stubbs, Reds: Eighth overall pick in
    June has good speed, decent power and top notch glove, but concerns about
    strikeouts remain with 45 in his first 41 games.
  • Reggie Willits, Angels: Ability to
    switch-hit, get on base and play all three outfield positions should lead
    to lengthy, if unspectacular career.