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Josh Bell, 3b, Short-season Ogden (Dodgers)

The Dodgers feel like they got a steal in Bell when they
were able to nab him in the fourth round of the 2005 draft after a case of
draft-itis led to a disappointing senior season. After a solid pro debut, the
Dodgers left Bell in extended spring training, and while his Pioneer League
campaign has its fair share of warts–including 42 strikeouts against seven
walks in 143 at-bats–he undoubtedly had an impressive weekend, going 4-for-5
with two home runs on Friday, hitting two more on Saturday, and finishing off
with a double on Sunday that raised his season averages to .301/.338/.559. As
good as the Dodgers system is, there are not many power bats in the organization,
and Bell is worth watching when he makes his full-season debut next year.

Tony Butler, lhp, Short-season Everett (Mariners)

A third-round pick in June, Butler has made a name for
himself in just two months as a pro, striking out 25 in just 14 Arizona League
innings, and more than holding his own in the much more advanced Northwest
League. Overall, he’s allowed just four hits over 12.2 innings, including five no-hit frames
on Friday night. Opposing batters are 9-for-81 (.111) with 41
strikeouts when facing Butler, although he has walked 19 batters, so there is
room for improvement. A six-foot-seven lefthander who can already touch 90 mph
and has the makings of a plus curve, Butler has proven to be nowhere near as
raw as expected, and the Wisconsin native will likely be pitching in his home
state next year with the Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League.

Matt Garza, rhp, Triple-A Rochester (Twins)

To say Garza has exceeded expectations this year is more
than a bit of an understatement. The 25th overall pick last June
had a good pro debut in 2005, and began the year at High Class A Fort Myers
with expectations of maybe a brief look at Double-A if he pitched well. His
timetable has accelerated greatly, and he’s now on a verge of being put into
the big league rotation of a team gunning for a playoff spot. On Friday, the
22-year-old fired seven shutout innings at Charlotte, allowing four hits and
striking out 11 to lower his International League ERA to 1.85 in five starts.
In 23 starts across three levels, Garza has a 1.99 ERA in 135.2 innings with 154
strikeouts while allowing a miniscule 87 hits and 32 walks. Everything about
Garza’s stuff has taken a step forward this year. His fastball is sitting at
92-94 mph with plenty of 96-97s thrown in nightly and, unlike most prospects,
he has not one, but two quality breaking balls: a sharp slider and
big-bending curve. Desperate for a fifth starter, it is rumored that the Twins
will call Garza up this week, making them even more dangerous in the very
crowded American League Wild Card race.

Alex Gordon, 3b, Double-A Wichita (Royals)

The Royals’ top prospect hit his 21st home run of
the year on Friday, and is swinging a very hot bat of late, going 26-for-63
(.413) in his last 15 games with six doubles, seven home runs (.841 slugging)
and 21 runs batted in. At .315/.416/.562, Gordon has nothing left to prove in
the minors, but the Royals suddenly have an issue–what to do with Mark
Teahen
. In case you missed it (and who’s been paying much attention to the
Royals of late?), Teahen has been their best hitter in the last few weeks,
coming off a .319/.442/.642 July to go along with seven home runs, which is how
many he hit in all of 2005. It’s obvious that Gordon is the better player, but
the club needs to find a place for both Gordon and Teahen in the lineup next
year as they seem to be finally ready to commit to young talent–so a position
change may be in order for one, even though both are solid defenders at the hot
corner. It will be interesting to see what the Royals do here, as they’ve been
far more familiar of late with having too little talent at one position,
instead of too much.

J.R. House, 1b, Triple-A Round Rock (Astros)

House was a fifth-round pick by the Pirates in 1999, and
they steered him away from Division-I football offers as one of the top high
school quarterbacks in the county. In his full-season debut, he hit
.348/.414/.586 for Low Class A Hickory and was seen as one of the best
offensive prospects in the game. The Pirates were too aggressive with House,
starting him the next year at Double-A Altoona, and he struggled, then the
injury bug hit as he missed most of 2002 with a torn muscle in his rib cage and
most of 2003 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He received a pair of
oh-so-brief callups in 2003 and 2004, totaling six games, but hung ’em up after
the 2004 season to return to football, serving as West Virginia’s backup
quarterback in 2005. By the end of the year, he was looking to give baseball
another chance and the Astros signed him. Starting the year at Double-A Corpus
Christi, House was among the league leaders in batting at .325/.376/.475 before
earning a promotion to Triple-A, where he has been moved permanently to first
base, and his hot hitting has continued. Now 26, House has had three hits in
each of his last three games, and is an easily calculable 18-for-36 in nine
games with 12 runs batted in and just one strikeout. If he makes it to the big
leagues in September, it’s one of the feel-good stories of the year.

Fernando Martinez, of, High Class A St. Lucie
(Mets)

Martinez was the prize in last year’s international signing
period as the Mets won a bidding war to ink the toolsy Dominican for $1.4
million. In his brief pro career, Martinez has proven to be much,
much more than just a raw package of athleticism; he has shown himself to be a very good
baseball player as well. After missing nearly a month with a strained knee, Martinez hit .361 in 14 games for Low Class A Hagerstown to raise his averages to
.333/.389/.505, earning a promotion to the Florida State League, an assignment
nearly unheard of for a 17-year-old. He went 3-for-13 over the weekend in his
first three games for St. Lucie, and led off Sunday’s game with a home run.
Although his reviews as a defender in center field are poor, his offensive
accomplishments at his age move him into elite status.

Andrew McCutchen, of, Low Class A Hickory (Pirates)

When the Pirates selected McCutchen as the 11th
overall pick in 2005, they knew his development would require patience. While
he played his high school ball in the hotbed of Florida, it was in the
middle-of-nowhere Florida at a small school, and McCutchen had limited
experience against players anywhere near his level. This year, his game has
proven to be surprisingly mature. With two-hit games in all three contests
over the weekend, McCutchen is 16-for-41 in his last 10 games and batting
.289/.357/.448 overall with no glaring weakness in his statistical line. He
has 36 extra-base hits (including 14 home runs), has drawn 42 walks in 426
at-bats, has 20 stolen bases and is a very good center fielder. For me, he’s
passed Neil Walker as the top prospect in the Pittsburgh system.

Alexander Smit, lhp, Low Class A Beloit (Twins)

Yet another find by legendary international scout Howard
Norsetter, the Twins signed Smit out of the Netherlands when he was 17, and his
career has been filled by stops and starts. After two years of short-season
play, Minnesota assigned him to Beloit last year, but he wasn’t ready, putting
up a 5.98 ERA in 14 games. Pushed back to the Appy League and placed in the
bullpen, Smit dominated, allowing just 25 hits in 46 innings and striking out
a whopping 86. Back in Beloit this year, Smit struggled early in
the year but has come on strong lately, moving back into the rotation after
striking out 21 over 10.2 innings in his last six relief appearances. On
Friday, Smit had his best outing of the year, striking out 12 over six innings
against Dayton while giving up just two hits. Despite the bumps in the road,
Smit is still only 20 years old, and he’s found some consistency in his
fastball; what was mid-80s last year now sits at 89-92 mph and is
bolstered by a deceptive delivery. Just what the Twins need–another pitching
prospect.

Donald Veal, lhp, High Class A Daytona (Cubs)

Ho hum, another great start out of Veal. On Saturday, Veal
allowed one run on four hits over 6.2 innings and struck out seven against Lakeland, which raised his Florida State League ERA to 1.20. Just another day at
the office for the power lefty who has allowed one or zero runs in eight of
nine starts since getting promoted from Peoria where he had a 2.69 ERA in 14
starts. Overall, he’s allowed just 77 hits in 126.1 innings and clearly
established himself as one of the top lefthanders in the minors. Only 21,
he’ll likely begin 2007 in Double-A, and could be showing up at Wrigley Field
by mid-season, where if Dusty is still there he’ll find a way to screw this all
up.

Chris Young, of, Triple-A Tucson (Diamondbacks)

Maybe it was seeing Carlos Quentin and Stephen
Drew
moving up to the big leagues. Maybe it’s nothing. Whatever it is,
Chris Young is officially hot. 5-for-14 over the weekend with a pair of home
runs and 10-for-26 with four long balls in his last six games, Young is now
batting .282/.371/.552 overall and has scored 35 runs while driving in 29 in
his last 30 games. Eric Byrnes‘ fine year in the big leagues will
probably prevent Young from getting anything more than a September call up, so
the good news is he’ll be a strong contender for Rookie of the Year honors in
2007.