Every year, a group of prospects comes out of the woodwork and leaves us scratching our heads and revising our prospect lists. For example, Jason Kubel had a .761 OPS in the Florida State League in 2003, and the next year, added 250 points to his OPS. Brandon Wood went from 46 total extra-base hits in 2004 to 43 home runs this past season. There are multiple cases of this each season in which the player gave just a hint of his potential.

Last season, I (luckily?) predicted the breakouts of Jon Lester, Chris Young, Francisco Liriano, Ambiorix Burgos and Andy LaRoche. Of course, along with those selections were the inclusions of about seven duds. This is just part of the game, as quite often, a breakout has to do with a lot more than raw statistics.

Below I have selected eight prospects who are good bets to break out during the 2006 season: four hitters and four pitchers. The reasons for each are different, but mostly, I am drawn to underachieving pitchers with plenty of stuff, and hitters with undeveloped power potential. The eight are presented in the order in which I would rank them as prospects, and the age and level given (in bold) are applicable for 2006.

Homer Bailey – SP – Cincinnati Reds – 20 (A+)

Level     IP     ERA     H/9     K/9     BB/9     HR/9     G/F
A-      103.2    4.43   7.73    10.85    5.38     0.43     1.06

A year later, I’m still confused that the Brewers drafted Mark Rogers before Bailey. There had been a consensus among scouts that Bailey had better stuff, poise and control. This season, as many expected, Rogers struggled mightily, walking 70 in 98.2 innings.

What we didn’t see coming, however, was control problems for Bailey. The Texan right-hander had been praised for his control in high school, as he walked less than 20 hitters during his senior season. However, this year he walked 62 batters in 103.2 innings. Furthermore, only six times Bailey gave up less than two walks. His presence on this list is predicated on the belief that with more experience and maturity, Homer’s control will improve.

Even if there is not a significant improvement in control, Bailey could become a dominant reliever. His two-pitch combination ranks among the best in the minor leagues. He also gives up very few home runs–just 5 all season. In fact, in his last 12 appearances (spanning 45 innings), Bailey did not allow a single long ball. If control prevents a future in starting, you can bet he is the closer of the Reds future.

However, it’s way too early to begin giving up on the notion of Bailey as a starter. At times, he can be dominant, and may have just reacted negatively to being coddled in 2005. The Reds will likely give Bailey a little more room to grow in 2006, and as a result, he should start to blossom.

Adam Lind – 1B/LF/DH – Toronto Blue Jays – 23 (AA)

Level    AB    AVG    OBP   SLG   BB   K
A+      495  0.313  0.375 0.487   49  77

Adam Lind’s polished bat was good enough to draw the Blue Jays to draft him. It was Lind’s contact skills that first drew me to him. Few real prospects strike out in less than 20% of their at-bats, and in 2005, Lind was at just 15.6%. Furthermore, he also had five hitting streaks of eight or more games. It is this skill that originally brought me to compare Lind to Paul Molitor, who had a similar skill set at the Major League level.

For months, however, Adam’s batting average was all he had. Lind sat out the Blue Jays game on July 14 with just two home runs on the season. What followed is what I believe makes Lind one of the game’s top 100 prospects:

July 14    AVG    OBP    SLG    AB    K
Before    0.291  0.349  0.406   320   53
After     0.354  0.410  0.634   175   24

In just about one-third of his season, Adam Lind hit five-sixths of his home runs and about half of his total extra-base hits. His strikeouts dropped, he drew more walks, and suddenly, he was one of the best hitters in the Florida State League.

The real issue with Lind, however, is defense. He split time between left field and DH this year, as third base is simply a position of the past. There is hope that he can stay in left, or even be playable at first, but both positions will likely be reaches. His bat will be playable at DH. Moving to the Eastern League in 2006, it’s likely that more of Lind’s doubles will clear the fence. If he can continue to make good contact, look for Lind to become one of the minors’ most dangerous hitters.

Garrett Mock – SP – Arizona Diamondbacks – 23 (AA)

Level     IP     ERA     H/9     K/9     BB/9     HR/9     G/F
A+      174.1    4.18   10.43    8.26     1.7      0.98   1.53

With minor league prospects, context is everything. Garrett Mock is proof of this, as he pitched the entire season in one of the game’s worst pitching parks: Lancaster of the California League. And we can certainly forgive him for taking a little while to adjust to pitching in the Golden State. In this case, it took Mock four starts. After his first four, in which he gave up 33 hits and 19 ER in 23.1 innings, Mock’s ERA dropped to 3.70 in his next twenty-four starts. He always showed good strikeout numbers, great control, and the ability to provoke groundballs at a fantastic rate.

Very few pitchers in the minor leagues registered as many strikeout-plus-groundball outs as Mock. However, his groundball tendencies also should receive part of the blame for his high H/9 ratio. During the 2005 season, Mock had a BABIP of .333, which is about 50 points over what most pitching prospects sit at. When he moves up to AA, not only will the environment cause fewer home runs, but better defense should also help regulate his hit ratio.

At worst, Garrett Mock should be a back-of-the-rotation pitcher in the Major Leagues. His value comes from the fact that he eats innings and doesn’t give up free passes. If 2006 brings fewer weak singles and fewer home runs, which it should, then Mock will fly right past Dustin Nippert on the organizational depth chart.

Christian Garcia – SP – New York Yankees – 20 (A+)

Level     IP    ERA    H/9    K/9    BB/9    HR/9    G/F
A-       106   3.91   8.66   8.75     4.5    0.25   1.72

Very seldom do the K/9 and G/F leaderboards contain the same names. When they do, however, the pitchers are often among the very best in the league: Chris Carpenter, Carlos Zambrano, A.J. Burnett, Daniel Cabrera. These players represent Garcia’s absolute ceiling.

A former catcher, Garcia was drafted after touching the low 90s as an amateur. Once he adds weight to a lanky frame, Christian’s velocity is expected to settle in the mid-90s. Garcia also has one of the minors’ sharpest curveballs as well as a working changeup. Stuff never has been, and will never be, Garcia’s problem.

Consistency is the issue. In the past, he’s had problems repeating his delivery, as a quarter of his starts yielded four or more walks. Garcia is also at his best when inducing -a lot of groundballs, but worsened at the art when he returned from injury. With more experience, Christian should tighten his control, increase his velocity, and provoke even more groundballs.

If any arm can meet such high demands, it’s this one. In a year, expect Garcia to be among the game’s top 50 prospects.

Reid Brignac – SS – Tampa Bay Devil Rays – 20 (A+)

For comparison’s sake, here’s a look at three Midwest League (A-) shortstops:

Player    AB     AVG     OBP     SLG      BB    K
A        510    0.267   0.314    0.404    33   124
B        512    0.264   0.319    0.416    40   131
C        478    0.251   0.322    0.404    46   117

Brignac is in the middle, sandwiched between two pretty good 2004 players: Adam Jones (A) and Brandon Wood (C). This is high praise for Brignac, as the other two players broke out in 2005, and are featured prominently in offseason prospect lists. Apparently, a .260/.320/.410 line is about what we should be expecting from highly-regarded, teenage skill-position players.

However, Brignac failed to meet expectations in 2005, though that’s likely to stem more from his billing than numbers. Drafted in the second round of the 2004 draft, Brignac came into the Tampa Bay system deemed the “Cajun God of Baseball.” He then validated the nickname by performing excellently in his short-season debut, hitting .361/.413/.474 in 97 at-bats.

It was unlikely that Brignac would have met the lofty expectations set for him. Now, it’s very likely that Brignac will surpass revised predictions for 2006. In his last 125 at-bats–about 25% of his season–Brignac hit .312 with eight walks, 25 strikeouts and fourteen extra-base hits. If the Devil Rays can simply preach patience, Brignac’s left-handed sock has serious potential. Look for him to prove that soon, playing in the same place (the California League) that Jones and Wood broke out.

Adam Bostick – SP – Florida Marlins – 23 (AA)

Level    IP    ERA    H/9    K/9    BB/9    HR/9    G/F
A+      91.1  3.84   9.36    9.26   3.55    0.69    0.64
AA      44.1  4.67   8.53    7.92   5.08    0.61    1.14

Pitching statistics are so easily manipulated. One bad start can have a major effect on ERA, and two starts can begin to have an effect on year-long counting stats. Often, consistency is a learned trait among young pitchers, as many will have a few bad games tarnish their record each year. In the past, I predicted breakouts from Jeff Francis and Jon Lester because this happened to them.

This year, I’ve noticed that southpaw Adam Bostick is the latest victim of manipulation. Like Francis and Lester, Bostick’s numbers don’t speak to how well he pitched. In four out of every five starts, Bostick was one of the minors’ better pitchers. However, the other 20% of the time, he was one of the worst:

GS Type    GS    IP    H    ER    SO    BB    HR
Regular    16  116.1  97    35   120    49     7
Bad         5   19.1  40    27    13    12     3

Big difference. It should be mentioned that two of the bad starts finished Bostick’s year, which could mean one of two things: he lacks endurance, or he’s injured. I’m leaning towards the former. If true, Bostick could be poised for big things in 2006. This past season, he had eight starts in which he struck out seven or more batters. The potential for dominance is there.

This past June, the Marlins made pitching a priority in their farm system. Holding five of the first forty-four picks of the draft, the team used each pick on a pitcher. This winter, the philosophy has continued as they have stockpiled arms in their fire sale. Yusmeiro Petit, Anibal Sanchez, Gaby Hernandez and about eight other good arms have been added to the Florida system. Lost in the abyss is Bostick, the southpaw with one of the system’s best curveballs.

If he can only add consistency, control and endurance, a tall order, he will rise to become one of the system’s best.

Brad Harman – 2B/SS – Philadelphia Phillies – 20 (A+)

Level    AB   AVG     OBP    SLG     BB    K
A-      419   0.303   0.38   0.442   45   89

Teenagers often have trouble adjusting to a full season of play. For many of the kids, the season starts early and ends late. As a result, we often see debuts in which the summer months are the only ones that tell the true story. Brad Harman, a middle infielder signed in 2003 from Australia, had his full-season debut at just 19 this season. For his first two months, going halfway into June, Harman was not quite living up to expectations with the bat. And again, at the end of the season, the Aussie fell flat on his face.

But it’s the middle two months that put Harman on this list. Just 175 pounds, you wouldn’t think there would be a lot of pop in Harman’s bat. However, in 218 at-bats from mid-June to mid-August, Brad slugged 22 extra-base hits. Nine of those were home runs, despite playing half his games in Lakewood, an extreme pitcher’s park. During that time, Harman hit .326/.392/.514, showing good offensive skills across the board.

Of course, I’m cherry-picking numbers here, and what we don’t see is the .384 slugging through his first 159 at-bats, or his 8/42 finish in his last ten games. But, from my experience, young players are best judged by how they perform during the middle or end of their season. Endurance comes with age.

Another bonus that Harman provides is that he plays the middle infield. Bad speed should make shortstop a stretch, and soon, I expect him to make 2B his home. This should allow him to add 15 pounds of muscle, thus creating even more power potential. Next year, Harman will move to a more neutral park in the Florida State League, and will have his second trial at a full season. Should he become more consistent, it will be exciting to see what kind of numbers the 20-year-old can put up.

Mark Trumbo – 1B/OF – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 20 (A-)

Level     AB     AVG    OBP     SLG     BB    K
SS        299   0.274   0.322   0.458   21    67

Trumbo had 29 teams convinced he was destined to be the next great USC pitcher before the 2004 draft. Eddie Bane and the Angels were the lone exception, and also saw something else that no one else did: an early-round caliber bat. So, the Halos drafted Trumbo in the fifteenth round, and then promptly gave him second round money to give up pitching.

A year and a half later, the Angels look to have pulled off a heist. Trumbo, as could be expected, is still quite raw, so the Angels had him spend his first year in the short-season
Pioneer League. Rather than showing the immense power that Angels brass had seen a year earlier, Trumbo displayed glimpses of what could be. At 19, he’s still just a doubles hitter, but we can see promise in the fact that 11.4% of his at-bats went for extra bases. For comparisons sake, Delmon Young was at 10.6%.

When considering his potentially powerful LH bat, ex-pitching arm and solid plate discipline, Nick Markakis seems to be the best comparison. But rather than utilize Trumbo’s arm in the outfield, like the Orioles have done with Markakis, the Angels have left him at 1B. Even if Trumbo has Pat Burrell’s range–as he does lack a bit of athleticism–it’s an experiment worth trying, especially given the first basemen in front of him in the system.

Once Trumbo’s doubles start clearing the fence, which might not happen until 2007 (but it will happen), he will fly up prospect lists. The Angels should make sure that he’s doing so in left field.

That’s all she wrote. Remember that it is quite unlikely that all of these players will breakout, though I do believe all eight have the potential to enter top fifty discussions at one point. As always, if you have any suggestions on players I missed, please feel free to e-mail me.

Bryan Smith is co-writer and proprietor of the
Baseball Analysts, where he focuses on minor league and college baseball. He welcomes any feedback through e-mail.

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