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Left-handed pitchers are always at a premium, and the reasons
are obvious. While studies vary, it’s generally accepted that 10-15% of the
population is left-handed, yet in any one year 25-30% of the pitching
population is southpaw. This means lefthanders have more than twice the
chance to make it to the big leagues as a pitcher than righties, so parents:
start tying that right hand behind your child’s back as soon as possible. This also explains why it’s hard to find lefthanders with the same stuff as the top
righthanders, as we are selecting more from a much smaller pool. So in
summary, righthanders are generally better pitchers than lefthanders, but a
good lefty is more valuable. OK, enough of that, onto the sinistras.

1. Scott Elbert, Dodgers

Age: 21.0 H/9: 5.88 BB/9: 4.86 K/9:
11.03

This is another one of those mid-to-late first-round picks
that allows Logan White’s status as a scouting legend to grow. In 2003, he got
Chad Billingsley with the 24th pick, and the next year, he drafted
Elbert with the 17th overall selection. Elbert tore through the
Florida State League this year in the first half of the season, and was almost
untouchable in his last seven games:


IP H R BB SO ERA
————————-
30.2 14 3 16 44 0.88

Now that’s how you get to Double-A before your 21st
birthday. Not that the Southern League has been much more of a challenge, as
opposing hitters are batting .176 off Elbert, who has also registered 55
strikeouts in 40.1 innings. Elbert entered the year with very good stuff, but
it’s gotten better all around this season. His fastball now consistently sits at
90-93 and touches 95 mph, while he has also shown the ability to maintain
his velocity deep into games. His slider is a plus pitch if you are only measuring
break, but as you can see by the walk rate, he has trouble throwing it for
strikes at times. He’s the rare tue power lefty, he’s coming very quickly and
he could be on the Chad Billingsley development path, landing in the majors by
mid-2007 if his current run of success continues.

2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Age: 18.4 H/9: 7.00 BB/9: 1.25 K/9:
13.00

Kershaw didn’t begin the season as the top high school
talent in the draft, but he ended it as that, and nearly unanimously. It was
considered nearly a lock that Detroit would take him at number six overall, but
the Andrew Miller shenanigans dropped him one slot to the Dodgers, who where
hoping that he’d fall to them. He’s been nothing short of
outstanding in his pro debut, with a 52/5 K/BB ratio in 36 innings. If
anything Kershaw has better stuff and command than Elbert. As a pro, he’s been
sitting at 92-94 mph, and can dial it up to 96 when he needs it. His curve
ball is plus as well–a big bender thrown in the low 70s that has made Gulf
Coast League hitters look downright silly. Kershaw has the higher ceiling, but
Elbert’s success at more advanced levels gives him the edge for now–but it’s
very close.

3. Andrew Miller, Tigers

Age: 21.3 H/9: NA BB/9: NA K/9:
NA

Considered by many to be the top player in the 2006 draft,
Miller deliberately attempted to price himself out of the market, but Detroit
called his bluff at number six and signed him to what is now commonly referred
to as a “Mike Pelfrey deal,” which in Miller’s case consists
of a $3.55 million bonus, a major league deal that guarantees him $5.4 million
and a total package with incentives that is north of $7 million. It’s a very
similar deal to what number one overall pick Luke Hochevar received from the
Royals, and it guarantees a September callup, though it is unlikely that Miller
will pitch anything more than a few garbage innings in the season’s final month,
as it’s mid-August and he has yet to make his pro debut at High Class A
Lakeland. Miller is a scout’s dream. A 6-foot-7 lefthander with a mid-90s
fastball and wicked slider, Miller has the ability to dominate, but didn’t
always do so in college, at times struggling with command due to somewhat wild
mechanics that are difficult for him to repeat. Some are talking about Miller
making the playoff roster as a left-handed bullpen arm, but that seems to be a
little too optimistic. Getting some innings logged in the Arizona Fall League
and beginning next year in the Lakeland rotation makes more sense.

4. Donald Veal, Cubs

Age: 21.9 H/9: 5.47 BB/9: 4.78 K/9:
9.77

While the Cubs used their first round pick in 2005 to select
the best high school lefty available in Mark Pawelek (below), 48 picks
later they selected Veal, who has developed (at least for now) into the better
prospect. Veal is a classic power pitcher–at 6-foot-4 and roughly 225
pounds and he unleashes 92-94 mph fastballs with sink and run and compliments
the pitch with a plus changeup that can make hitters look foolish. He’s still
refining his slurvy breaking ball, and his control is spotty, but he’s allowed
so few hits that the walks have rarely hurt him in games. Beyond his raw
numbers, Veal’s consistency also stands out, as in 11 Florida State League
starts, he’s allowed one or zero runs eight times, and never more than three
runs. Size, great numbers, plenty of room for improvement–what’s not to
like?

5. John Danks, Rangers

Age: 21.4 H/9: 9.10 BB/9: 3.03 K/9:
10.13

I think we ignore the 4.51 ERA for now. Danks is younger
than Veal, in Triple-A and his ratios are very good. He has good velocity,
good command and an outstanding curve ball, but being rushed through the system
hasn’t helped his stats, and now he’s very close to the majors, but probably
still a year away from being ready. Danks’ biggest weakness is a tendency to
work up in the zone, and when he misses, he gets hammered–as evidenced by
giving up 21 home runs in 121.2 innings. So in many ways he’s like Veal, where
he’s already good now, and should get better.

6. Franklin Morales, Rockies

Age: 21.3 H/9: 7.75 BB/9: 5.26 K/9:
9.97

Morales is a bit of an x-factor, as his pure stuff grades
higher than many ranked ahead of him, yet his issues are also larger. Morales
can absolutely bring it–sitting in the mid-90s and touching 98 mph in recent
starts–but with 76 walks and 20 wild pitches, anyone can see that throwing
strikes is a bit of an issue. His secondary pitches are effective, but he’s
still learning that a strike thrown at 93 mph with good movement is more
effective than a ball in the dirt thrown at 98. If he can harness his stuff,
he can be an upper-level starter, with late-inning relief work sitting in the
shadows as the backup plan. I’d love to say we’ll see how he does once he gets
out of the California League, but Double-A Tulsa is next, so things don’t get
any easier.

7. Jacob McGee, Devil Rays

Age: 20.0 H/9: 7.14 BB/9: 4.36 K/9:
11.21

McGee is one of the reasons we use the word ‘projection’
when talking about teenage pitchers. Since being drafted in the fifth round two
years ago, McGee has filled out, gained considerable velocity, honed his
slider, and graduated from thrower to pitcher. Sitting consistently at 92-94
mph, McGee has six double-digit strikeout games and leads the Midwest League
with 157 whiffs on the season. When one thinks about the Tampa Bay system,
they think about bats, but with Jeff Niemann in Double-A and a rotation
in the California League next year that will feature McGee and Wade Davis,
there’s some pitching coming as well.

8. Troy Patton, Astros

Age: 21.0 H/9: 8.29 BB/9: 3.30 K/9:
8.88

Patton got off to a slow start this year at High Class A
Salem, but he earned a promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi after putting up a
1.90 ERA in his last nine starts. A ninth-round pick who received second-round
money to sign, Patton is a bit undersized but his fastball is plus and his
curveball grades out even better. His pitches lack a lot of movement and he’s
struggled a bit in the Texas League because his changeup is still very much a
work in progress. After moving very quickly through the system, Houston might
slow down his development somewhat as what has worked for him very well at the
lower levels will need to be adjusted a bit to work at the higher levels.

9. Gio Gonzalez, Phillies

Age: 20.9 H/9: 7.77 BB/9: 4.57 K/9:
9.75

Gonzalez was the biggest prospect to come to Philadelphia in the Jim Thome trade, and while his season has been highly inconsistent,
20-year-olds with more than a strikeout per inning in Double-A don’t exactly
grow on trees. Like Patton, Gonzales uses his plus fastball to set up an even
better curve, and while he’s even smaller than Patton, he has a bit more
velocity. Gonzalez’s struggles–he had a 6.96 ERA in 10 June/July starts–revolved around command and a tendency to give up home runs, as when he misses,
he misses up. If he’s the pitcher he was in April and May, he ranks much
higher than this. If he’s the pitcher he’s been since, he’s possibly off the
list. The truth lies somewhere in between.

10. Chuck Lofgren, Indians

Age: 20.6 H/9: 7.10 BB/9: 3.45 K/9:
8.23

After pitching well in his full-season debut last year,
Lofgren has had a bit of a breakout performance this season, leading the
Carolina League in ERA (2.46) and wins (15), while currently tied for second in
strikeouts (117). Lofgren has pure power stuff, beginning with a 91-93 mph
fastball that touches 95, a good feel for a changeup and a much-improved
curveball that has been the key to Lofgren’s success this year. He’s a bit of
a flyball pitcher and his stats have taken a bit of a dip in August, but he’s in
unchartered territory when it comes to workload and could simply be running out
of gas. Double-A will be a big test for him next year, but all the building
blocks for success are in place.

11. Mark Pawelek, Cubs

Age: 20.0 H/9: 7.62 BB/9: 3.70 K/9:
8.06

Call me crazy, but I just thought he’d be better than this. The
2005 first-round pick pitched very well in his pro debut, and it was somewhat
of a surprise to see the Cubs have him start the year in extended spring
training, although they also had highly-regarded first-round pick Ryan
Harvey
do the same after his pro debut. So now he’s in his second year as
a pro, he’s yet to pitch in a full-season league, and while he’s been dominant
at times, he’s also been highly inconsistent and hasn’t missed bats like many
expected. Already in the low-to-mid 90s and expected to gain velocity as his
skinny frame fills out, Pawelek shows plus secondary stuff at times, but like
his performances, all of his pitches other than the fastball are inconsistent.
His ceiling is very high, but there’s not enough performance yet to place him
higher.

12. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals

Age: 20.1 H/9: 8.79 BB/9: 2.07 K/9:
7.53

The late-round find of the 2005 draft, Garcia was a 22nd-round
pick last June, but has already reached High A and was selected to participate
in this year’s Futures Game. With an 80/18 K/BB ratio in 77.2 Midwest League
innings, Garcia got bumped up before his 20th birthday, and he’s
shown two plus pitches with a 92-94 mph fastball and power curve. Garcia has
struggled at times since his promotion, as opposing FSL hitters have tagged him
for a .291 average, but bad defense is the partial culprit here, as his
groundball/flyball ratio is extreme at more than three to one, and many of
those hits will turn into outs with more advanced gloves behind him. Scouts
don’t see much projection in him, but getting anything out of such a
late pick is good–getting a No. 3 or 4 starter is absolutely outstanding.

13. Jonathan Sanchez, Giants

Age: 23.8 H/9: 3.92 BB/9: 3.50 K/9:
11.75

Like Garcia, Sanchez is another late find, going in the 27th
round of the 2004 draft out of Ohio Dominican, a small NAIA school. After
striking out 166 over 126 innings in his full-season debut, Sanchez was very
impressive in spring training and the Giants moved him to the bullpen in
Double-A to prepare him for a big league callup. While he pitched pretty well
in limited relief work for the Giants, he’s back in the rotation at Triple-A
and delivered five no-hit innings in his last start. Sanchez pitches primarily
off his 92-95 mph fastball, and its movement makes it a plus-plus pitch, but
his secondary offerings are spotty and he has no projection. A solid arm who
might be better off returning to the bullpen in the end.

14. Travis Wood, Reds

Age: 19.5 H/9: 7.66 BB/9: 3.63 K/9:
9.24

A second-round pick out of an Arkansas high school last
year, Wood’s pro debut last year bordered on stunning as he struck out 67 in 49
innings while allowing just 28 hits. Wood has two very good pitches in a 91-94
mph fastball and a plus-plus changeup, but he’s also a bit on the small side
and extremely raw when it comes to his mechanics and the lack of a useable
breaking pitch. The progress he makes with his curveball will define his
future role, and his development will require patience.

15. Sean West, Marlins

Age: 20.2 H/9: 7.99 BB/9: 2.78 K/9:
7.81

While Wood is raw, West is absolutely tartare. There’s no
bigger gap on this list between what a player is and a player can be. At
6-foot-8 and roughly 230 pounds, West is an intimidating presence on the mound,
and everyone thinks that his velocity, which currently sits at 89-93 mph, has a
good chance to jump significantly. Like many young behemoths, he struggles to
find consistent mechanics, and while he’s flashed the potential for good
curveball, it’s not there yet. He’s the guy where everything needs to click.
If it does, he’s possibly top five next year.

Honorable Mention:

  • Dana Eveland, Brewers: The big (6-foot-1,
    260+ pound) lefty can’t get anyone out in the majors, but is rarely
    touched in Triple-A. Milwaukee just hopes that his mirroring of Ben
    Hendrickson
    is temporary.
  • Kasey Kiker, Rangers: Rangers hope they have
    another Scott Kazmir or Billy Wagner in the well-under six-foot
    lefty who can bring it in the upper 90s. At this point, he’s nowhere near
    as good as Kazmir was at the same age, but that kind of velocity is hard
    to ignore.
  • Scott Lewis, Indians: Speaking of hard to
    ignore, Lewis has been used very conservatively at High Class A Kinston,
    yet the 1.40 ERA, the WHIP under one and more than one strikeout per inning
    remain. Very few think he’ll be able to maintain this at higher levels, and
    as he’s nearly 23, it’s time to find out.
  • Garrett Olson, Orioles: Solid college arm
    has solid stuff and has put up solid numbers while reaching Double-A and
    should be solid big leaguer. Solid prospect.
  • Alexander Smit, Twins: The next Flying
    Dutchman? Probably not, but the import from the Netherlands has gained a ton
    on his fastball and is thriving in return to rotation.

Next Friday: Righthanded Starting Pitchers.

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