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With nearly one-third of all rosters consisting of
right-handed pitchers, I decided to take this list up to 20. As always, to be
eligible for the rankings, one must be in the minor leagues currently, so a guy
like Matt Garza is not eligible.

The First Ten

1. Philip Hughes, Yankees

Age: 20.2 H/9: 5.74 BB/9: 2.17 K/9:
10.40

2. Homer Bailey, Reds

Age: 20.3 H/9: 6.23 BB/9: 2.99 K/9:
10.13

Really, you are looking at 1a and 1b here. If I ranked them
tomorrow I might take Bailey. The next day I might go back to Hughes. The two
are remarkably similar. Bailey was born about 50 days earlier than Hughes and
both were 2004 first round picks out of high school. They both have classic
power-pitcher builds, with Bailey at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and Hughes a little bigger at
6-foot-5, 220. Both have electric stuff; while Bailey has a little more
juice, Hughes has better command. Both began the year in the Florida State
League, both dominated there, and both have had no problems adjusting to
Double-A, holding opposing batters to a sub-.200 average while striking out
more than a batter per inning. Both have made 25 starts, and their total
numbers are nearly mirror images. Bailey has faced 560 batters, Hughes 542.
Bailey has given up 96 hits, 46 walks and recorded 156 strikeouts, while Hughes
has totals of 90, 34 and 163, respectively. Their
immediate futures, however, couldn’t be more different. Rumors in Southern Ohio have the Reds calling up Bailey to fill a rotation slot down the stretch as
the Reds gun for a playoff slot, while Hughes will enjoy a peaceful offseason
and is more than likely beginning next year at Triple-A Columbus. Bailey is
expected to be the savior of a Reds rotation in desperate need of an ace, while
Hughes will be eased into a star-studded lineup, with only the unique pressures
of playing in New York on his shoulders. Flip a coin here folks, but my gut
gives Hughes the wafer-thin edge.

3. Nick Adenhart, Angels

Age: 20.0 H/9: 7.67 BB/9: 2.39 K/9:
8.24

Going into the 2004 season, Adenhart was the top high school
pitcher in the country. Then his elbow gave out, and Angels scouting director
Eddie Bane was smart enough to take him in the 14th round and sign
him for somewhere between one half and one third of what he would have cost had
he been healthy all year. Now he’s healthy and better than ever. The way
things are going with Tommy John surgeries these days is a bit of a concern on
a different level, and while I realize this is Will Carroll’s area, bear with
me a bit. What was once a career-threatening surgery is now pretty commonplace and
recovery times seem to get shorter every year. In addition, the number of
players who come back from the procedure stronger and throwing harder than they
ever did is a percentage that continues to grow. Are we that far away from players
having Tommy John surgery pre-emptively, or even in an attempt to become a better
pitcher? There has to be a tipping point we are approaching where the
improvements being made medically flip the risk/reward pendulum upside down,
and then we will be having some difficult discussions about ethics.

4. Luke Hochevar, Royals

Age: 23.0 H/9: 3.86 BB/9: 1.93 K/9:
9.64

Hochevar was arguably the best pitcher in last year’s draft,
and the Royals genuinely believed he was the best pitcher in this year’s draft,
and while we have just nine innings over the last two years to go on
performance-wise, we have to respect the scouting reports here. Despite the
year away from competition, Hochevar has been surprisingly non-rusty, sitting
at 93-95 mph with a sharp curveball that has served as a second out pitch.
While we’ll get a much better feel for Hochevar in the Arizona Fall League,
it’s possible that we’ll also get to see an earlier test as the Royals are
considering a move to Double-A Wichita–where he’s slated to begin next
season–for the Texas League playoffs.

5. Tim Lincecum, Giants

Age: 22.2 H/9: 4.39 BB/9: 3.04 K/9:
16.54

Lincecum is quickly becoming one of the hardest players to
rank in all of minor league baseball. While it’s only 26.2 innings, the raw
statistics are ridiculous, and the stuff is as well; Lincecum has already
touched 100 mph as a pro, and his curveball is among the best in the minors.
The only issues here are some control problems in his past and his size–but
at what point do we stop caring about the fact that the guy is 5-foot-10 and
160 pounds? He showed a rubber arm in college, never having injury problems
despite some ridiculous pitch counts on Fridays and frequent relief appearances
on Sundays. He’s an aberration, and he’s seemingly proven that what is
normally a concern shouldn’t be in this individual case. Yet, I put him fifth
here–on stuff alone, he might deserve a ranking as high as No. 1.

6. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers

Age: 20.5 H/9: 6.04 BB/9: 2.96 K/9:
10.95

No minor league pitcher has seen his stock rise more than
Gallardo in 2006. In many ways, he’s followed the Bailey/Hughes route–beginning the year in the Florida State League and showing no signs of slowing
down following a promotion to Double-A. If anything, he’s actually improved,
allowing just 48 hits in 74.1 innings. Gallardo’s raw stuff is not in the same
ballpark as Bailey or Hughes, but he already has three plus pitches: a 90-93
mph fastball that he can spot at will, a slider with two-plane break and a hard
changeup that he’ll throw at any point in the count. He’s a better pitcher
right now than many of those ranked above him, but his ceiling is not as high.

7. Mike Pelfrey, Mets

Age: 22.6 H/9: 7.57 BB/9: 3.08 K/9:
10.18

The most well-paid pitcher in the 2005 draft, Pelfrey signed too
late to make his debut last year, but he reached the big leagues this season
after just 88 pro innings. At 6-foot-7, Pelfrey gets a strong downward plane
on a sinking 92-95 mph fastball that has touched 98, and he commands the pitch
well when many young and tall pitching prospects struggle to find a consistent
release point. For anyone who saw his four big league starts, in which he had
a 5.48 ERA and a sub-standard 13/12 K/BB ratio in 21.1 innings, Pelfrey’s
issues were clear. While the fastball is plus-plus, both his curveball and
changeup are no more than average, and he lost confidence in the pitches,
learning a difficult lesson about the need for a three-pitch arsenal. He’s
expected to get another look in September as the Mets put things into cruise
control, so we’ll see if he’s made any adjustments. The secondary pitches
don’t have to be great, but he will need them to keep hitters on
their toes.

8. Adam Miller, Indians

Age: 21.7 H/9: 7.62 BB/9: 2.66 K/9:
9.10

Patience is a virtue. I detailed Miller’s background story in Monday’s
Ten-Pack
, and he’s been fantastic in the second half of the season. While he’s lost just a tick on his fastball, he’s still touching 98 mph at times. Steps forward in both his control and secondary pitches more than make up for the lack of velocity and actually improve his future profile. Throw in a groundball-to-flyball ratio of nearly 2-to-1 and an 0.92 ERA in his last nine Double-A starts, and Miller has regained his status as a potential impact starter.

9. Eric Hurley, Rangers

Age: 21.0 H/9: 7.39 BB/9: 2.81 K/9:
8.96

Hurley did something none of three pitchers from the
much-ballyhooed DVD trio was able to accomplish–mastering Double-A on the
first attempt. In six starts at Frisco, Hurley has a 1.95 ERA and has allowed
just 21 hits in 37 innings, but he’ll miss his final two starts of the year with
a ribcage injury. Still a month away from his 21st birthday, Hurley
is long and lean with a fastball that already sits in the 93-95 mph range.
While his slider has made great strides this year, Hurley still rarely throws
the changeup he’s been working on in game situations. With four power arms in
the system (DVD and Hurley), one of these guys has to work out, right? The
Rangers and their 4.67 team ERA can only hope so.

10. Jeff Niemann, Devil Rays

Age: 23.5 H/9: 6.50 BB/9: 3.13 K/9:
9.75

While he didn’t make his season debut until June, Niemann
has taken the hill every five days for 13 starts, his first healthy stretch as
a pro since being taking fourth overall in 2004. His stuff is very good, as
are his stats, but there are a number of concerns here, beginning with a
history of elbow and shoulder problems. While Niemann is huge at 6-foot-9,
it’s not a lanky, fluid height like Pelfrey or Andrew Miller
have. At 260 pounds, Niemann is chunky, clunky and unathletic, leading to more
concerns about the health history. He has a chance to be an impact starter,
but there are too many negatives to rank him higher.

The Next Ten

11. Humberto Sanchez, Tigers

Age: 23.3 H/9: 7.10 BB/9: 3.44 K/9:
9.44

In June, Sanchez would have ranked higher, but he’s only
pitched only once since mid-July because of elbow problems. He’s gotten
multiple opinions on it and the good news is that even Dr. Lewis Yocum says
that it’s just chronic inflammation, and not a damaged joint. If he begins
2007 perfectly healthy, he could be in the Tiger rotation by mid-season.

12. Kevin Slowey, Twins

Age: 22.3H/9: 6.17 BB/9: 1.33 K/9:
9.14

It’s ridiculous to compare any pitcher to Greg Maddux. Slowey is that kind of pitcher in that he doesn’t light up the radar
guns or feature a breaking ball that seemingly defies the laws of physics, but his
ability to throw any of his pitches exactly where he wants them makes him a
nightmare to opposing hitters. You really want to question Minnesota’s ability
to develop pitchers?

13. Will Inman, Brewers

Age: 19.6 H/9: 5.85 BB/9: 2.10 K/9:
11.01

Inman’s raw numbers, including a 1.40 ERA in 103 innings
line up with anybody’s, but some elbow problems, a short, stocky build and a
fastball that sits at 90-93 mph leaves many wondering if it will work at the
upper levels with the same consistency.

14. Philip Humber, Mets

Age: 23.7 H/9: 6.99 BB/9: 2.52 K/9:
9.65

Another one of those pitchers who had Tommy John surgery,
returned quicker than expected and has looked as good as he ever did, if not
better. Pitching very well in Double-A, both he and Pelfrey will compete for
Opening Day rotation slots in 2007.

15. Brandon Erbe, Orioles

Age: 18.7 H/9: 7.09 BB/9: 3.30 K/9:
10.56

As young as most 2006 draftees, the 2005 third-round pick
has been dominant at times thanks to a fastball that touches 98 mph, but his
secondary pitches are a work in progress, and he’s clearly run out of gas in
the second half.

16. Carlos Carrasco, Phillies

Age: 19.5 H/9: 5.85 BB/9: 3.78 K/9:
8.98

Possibly the least well-known name on the list, The Venezuelan has
dominated the Sally League with a low-90s fastball and plus-plus changeup–an
extremely rare commodity to find in a teenager.

17. Hayden Penn, Orioles

Age: 21.9 H/9: 7.43 BB/9: 2.91 K/9:
8.63

After blowing up in eight big league starts last year, Penn
will get a chance to redeem himself in September as he’s finally all the way
back after missing two months following an emergency appendectomy.

18. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox

Age: 22.1 H/9: 6.66 BB/9: 2.50 K/9:
10.59

Yes, he’s older than Michael Bowden, but he’s also
just a wee bit better–showing three plus pitches at times with a 92-94 mph
fastball, good slider, and swing-and-miss changeup.

19. Deolis Guerra, Mets

Age: 17.4 H/9: 6.75 BB/9: 4.39 K/9:
7.18

His ratios aren’t great, but this is a guy born in 1989
(feel old yet?) who is already in the Florida State League and holding his
own. Sitting at 89-91 mph with plenty of projection thanks to a 6-foot-5, 200
pound frame, Guerra’s changeup is already a solid offering and his curveball
has made great strides. The Mets need to slow down his development, but his
ceiling is sky high.

20. Wade Davis, Devil Rays

Age: 21.0 H/9: 8.03 BB/9: 4.01 K/9:
10.23

His season has been marred by inconsistency in velocity, command
and results, but he’s hit 97 mph at times with a breaking ball that has been inconsistent but plus at times. He’s pitched well
down the stretch, but one gets the feeling that next year in the California
League will either be a breakout campaign or a complete nightmare when he
visits the hitting-friendly environments of the Southern division.

Honorable Mention:

  • Michael Bowden, Red Sox: Two years younger
    than Buchholz and nearly his equal on a performance level, Bowden’s command
    for a 19-year-old is impressive.
  • Tyler Clippard, Yankees: He gets better
    every year, and could give the Yankees a second rookie option after Hughes
    by late 2007.
  • Sean Gallagher, Cubs: Statistics are good
    like, last season, but his stuff has taken a step forward, as he’s gained 2-3
    mph on his fastball.
  • Brandon Morrow, Mariners: Fourth overall
    pick in June has been hampered by elbow soreness since signing, but has
    excellent raw stuff.
  • Mark Rogers, Brewers: Upper 90s
    fastball/upper 80s slider combination ranks with anyone on the list, but
    extreme control problems and a sore shoulder have sidetracked him.