Click here for Bryan Smith's 2006 list of Top Prospects and here for 2005.
By Bryan Smith, Special to SI.com
Professional Baseball is a smarter world than it was 20, 10, even five years ago. The information age has brought intelligence to the table, as teams now can add a bevy of statistics to the scouting reports that guide their decisions.
In compiling my fourth annual prospect list, debuting today, I noticed a new difficulty in ranking the names at the back end -- depth. While eliminating names from the list had never been a struggle in the past, it appears the minor leagues now have as much talent as they've ever had. I believe the 25 names below would have made my prospect lists in other years, but because of the depth this winter, each missed.
Presented alphabetically with their 2006 stats, here are the 25 honorable mentions for my 2007 prospect list.
Daniel Bard, RHP, Red Sox 2006 Stats: Did Not Play
After a fantastic Cape Cod League summer in 2005, Bard's final college season was plagued by the same inconsistencies as his sophomore term. However, within Bard's rocky season were traces of excellence, as the right-hander's scouting report reads much better than his statistics. Few pitchers in all of professional baseball generate mid-to-high 90s velocity with such ease in their delivery, which is why Bard projects to be an annual 200-inning workhorse.
Brian Barton, OF, Indians 2006 Stats (A+/AA): .323/.412/.511, 41 SB in 446 AB
Barton slipped through the draft cracks because teams thought he would pursue an aeronautics career. He has become one of the best power-speed outfielders in the minors. Barton's year could lead him to be a bit overrated -- his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was an unrepeatable .383 -- but he's what I call a "high basement" player. At worst, Barton should make a fantastic fourth outfielder with intelligent (and quick) baserunning, versatile defense, and a power bat.
Josh Bell, 3B, Dodgers2006 Stats (R): .308/.367/.544, 4 SB in 250 AB
The Dodgers opted for conservatism with the development of their 2005 fourth round pick, opting to delay Bell's full season debut and attempt to refine his crude offensive approach in extended spring training. The organization made great headway, as Bell quickly realized his power with a .544 slugging in the Pioneer League. There is still work to be done. Bell must shorten his swing to make better contact, add more patience to each at-bat, and work at improving his play at the hot corner.
The 2006 draft's latest bloomer, Butler, with his huge pitching frame, was all projection until weeks before the draft, when the southpaw started throwing in the mid-90s. Had his velocity been consistent all spring, his combination of size and curveball would have left him a first round pick. Instead, the Mariners will send the early vote for the draft's best steal back home to Wisconsin in 2007.
Eric Campbell, 3B/2B, Braves 2006 Stats (A-): .296/.335/.517, 18 SB in 449 AB
I recently outlined my version of minor league baseball's eight most undervalued prospects, and on the list, Campbell is the best offensive prospect. He is one of a few minor league hitters to already have plus contact and plus power, but Campbell's poor defensive skills have hurt his prospect status. If his new home at second base is a fit, Campbell would be the best at the position in the minor leagues.
Clippard, who has always relied on statistics to carry his prospect status, was in danger of proving the naysayers true in the 2006 season's first half. After 13 starts, Clippard was just 2-9, with a 5.69 ERA, a K/9 under nine and a HR/9 above 1.00. Clippard then tightened his curveball, trusted his change more, and his season turned around. He had a 1.74 ERA in his final 15 starts, going 10-1, and allowed just four home runs in those 98.1 innings.
For the season's first two months, it appeared the minors' breakout player in 2006 would be Davis. The right-hander was a revelation upon entering the Midwest League, posting a 1.00 ERA during his first 10 starts. In those 54 innings, Davis' peripheral stats were outstanding: 32 hits, zero home runs and 71 strikeouts. However, the Devil Rays did not promote Davis, and he struggled with his delivery for much of the season. With mechanics aid, the Devil Rays believe Davis can improve his command and keep consistent life on his pitches.
Meet the minor league baseball version of Rex Grossman. The former first-round pick was fabulous in the 10 starts last season, in which he walked two batters or fewer, with a 2.73 ERA in 52.2 innings. Eight times, Diamond walked exactly three batters, netting a 4.29 ERA in those 42 innings. However, true to Grossman form, Diamond was awful in one-third of his starts, walking four or more batters. These starts ruined his season: 34.2 innings of 7.01 ERA ball.