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Top prospects: Nos. 60-46 (cont.)

Posted: Thursday January 18, 2007 2:27PM; Updated: Monday January 22, 2007 12:31PM
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By Bryan Smith, Special to SI.com

Erick Aybar may need to a change of scenery to get a shot at the major leagues.
Erick Aybar may need to a change of scenery to get a shot at the major leagues.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Top Prospects Countdown Schedule
Wednesday, Jan. 17: Honorable Mentions
Wednesday, Jan. 17: Nos. 75-61
Thursday, Jan. 18: Nos. 60-46
Friday, Jan. 19: Nos. 45-31
Monday, Jan. 22: Nos. 30-16
Tuesday, Jan. 23: Nos. 15-1
  • Click here for Bryan Smith's 2006 list of Top Prospects and here for 2005.
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    53. Elvis Andrus, 18, SS, Atlanta Braves
    2006 Stats (A-): .265/.324/.362, 23 SB in 437 AB

    No prospect has been as difficult to place throughout his career as Andrus, who debuted in 2005 as a 16-year-old shortstop. Thrown into the full-season fire just a year later, Andrus held his own in a better-than-average South Atlantic League. Andrus is fantastically raw, with enough speed to steal more bases, enough hand-eye coordination to make better contact and enough bat speed to have more power. However, discerning the real from the imaginable from a teenager is a difficult art, so for now we can watch how Andrus handles the difficult test of pitching-friendly Myrtle Beach.

    52. Humberto Sanchez, 24, RHP, New York Yankees
    2006 Stats (AA/AAA): 2.63 ERA, 97H/123IP, 129K/47BB

    With the Tigers, Sanchez would have entered spring training with questions surrounding his role. Given Joel Zumaya's 2006 season, many fans would have wanted Sanchez converted to a reliever, hoping his powerful arsenal would add power in one-inning outings. Others would insist on Sanchez using his large frame to become an innings-eating starter. Now a Yankee, Sanchez is likely a reliever going forward, and his heavy fastball and big slider should make for one smooth transition.

    51. Ian Stewart, 22, 3b, Colorado Rockies
    2006 Stats (AA): .268/.351/.452, 3 SB in 462 AB

    In 2004, Stewart made the mistake of setting expectations too high. Then a teenager in Low-A, Stewart hit .319/.398/.594 in Asheville, numbers competing directly with the other blue-chip talent in the league: first overall pick Delmon Young. Since then the two have been linked together. Unfortunately, Stewart has been left in the dust. Despite what the numbers say, however, Stewart had a better season in 2006 than in '05. While his average dropped six points with a trip to AA, he struck out 10 fewer times in 27 more at-bats. If Stewart's contact skills continue to improve, he has enough power to once again become an elite prospect.

    50. Troy Patton, 21, LH SP, Houston Astros
    2006 Stats (A+/AA): 3.37 ERA, 140H/146.2IP, 139K/50BB

    Give the Astros credit for resisting the urge to rush their talented pitching prospects. Drafted in the ninth round in 2004 and then bought away from a college scholarship, Patton has been a revelation in the minor leagues, with a 2.75 ERA in almost 300 innings. That number should top 400 next year, a plateau few players of Patton's caliber reach. Patton will return to the Texas League in 2007, and to continue his minor league success he must show the command he had in 2005, not the lack of control he featured last season. Still, Patton had a good season last year, and with his arsenal from the left side, it would be foolish to not predict big things in his future, probably thanks to the Astros' careful handling.

    49. Erick Aybar, 23, SS, Los Angeles Angels
    2006 Stats (AAA): .283/.327/.413, 32 SB in 339 AB

    Aybar's season was standing the tallest on July 30, 2006, when the talented shortstop raised his average to .325. The Angels had spent the month in trade talks, using Aybar as bait in attempts to add power to their lineup. As if it were a contract year, Aybar had blossomed with a .410 batting average in June, and once the possibility of trade went out the window, so went his statistics. In August, Aybar's season derailed as he hit .177 in 23 games. Aybar is between a rock and a hard place with the Angels, blocked from all sides, leaving 29 organizations the chance to acquire one of the minor league's best contact hitters on the cheap.

    48. Dexter Fowler, 21, CF, Colorado Rockies
    2006 Stats (A-): .296/.373/.462, 43 SB in 405 AB

    While he has drawn some high-profile comparisons (i.e. Andre Dawson) for his five-tool season, the most useful comparison might be between Fowler and Cubs prospect Felix Pie. While the Cubs prospect entered Low-A at 18, two years younger than Fowler, the two showed similarly raw skill sets at the same level. Both have fantastic speed and good contact skills, but neither proved polished at baserunning or defense immediately. In coming years, Fowler's role will need to be determined, whether he's a middle-of-the-order hitter with power to come, or an improved baserunner destined for gap power and the top of the order.

    47. Donald Veal, 22, LHP, Chicago Cubs
    2006 Stats (A-/A+): 2.16 ERA, 91H/154.1IP, 174K/82BB

    One of the most interesting statistics tracked at The Hardball Times is LOB percentage, a number that tracks the rate that pitchers strand baserunners. It has been found that a great deal of LOB percentage is luck, so a high figure usually means a pitcher is either very good or very lucky (or both) and a low number means the opposite. In the site's three years of data, just seven pitchers have logged seasons above 80 percent, including Jake Peavy, Roger Clemens and Johan Santana. Veal, in A-ball last season, had an 83.7 LOB percentage, which indicates his fantastic dominance but also hints toward some regression in the future. A flame-thrower, Veal could assuage all concerns about luck with an improved walk rate in 2007.

    46. Chuck Lofgren, 21, LH SP, Cleveland Indians
    2006 Stats (A+): 2.32 ERA, 108H/139.2IP, 125K/54BB

    Perhaps the most difficult expectation on the scouting community is success in determining a player's future role. Often the highest-profile players are both great hitters and pitchers, leaving scouts in a conundrum. It appears Indians' scouts made the right decision in putting Lofgren on the mound rather than signing him simply for his left-handed power bat. In an organization chock full of southpaws, Lofgren's big season and four-pitch arsenal have left him as the top prospect in the system.

    Bryan Smith, co-founder of Baseball Analysts, is a freelance writer with work appearing at the Hardball Times, BaseballProspectus.com and Baseball America. Feel free to e-mail Bryan here.

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