All of Loney's career, the term "pure hitter" has followed his every step. The Dodgers drafted him in the first round in 2002 for his bat and he succeeded immediately in short-season ball. But in a story that would give Ryan Sweeney hope, Loney then struggled in full-season ball, posting an OPS below .800 from 2003-2005. His "pure" offensive approach never left, but his power never developed. Until 2006. Loney dominated in the Las Vegas heat, still showing more gap power than home run ability, but mixed with his bat control and defense, it will be enough. Loney hardly profiles as the typical first baseman, but the Dodgers will have no problem employing a pure doubles hitter for the considerable future.
I was not an unquestioned supporter of Hirsh entering last season. Despite his fantastic 2005, I still worried about his command, his secondary stuff and his flyball tendencies. I almost felt validated after an April of struggles for Hirsh, when his control wavered and his ERA was 6.46. Then he started pitching well, and then kept doing it. In his final 18 minor league starts, Hirsh won 12 games, lost zero and allowed more than one earned run in an outing just three times (1.13 ERA). Then, when I finally started to believe, Hirsh was traded to Colorado, where I again worry about his flyball tendencies. So, while Hirsh has the size, stuff and durability, he no longer has the ballpark. That's why he's not higher on this list.
35. Luke Hochevar, 23, SP, Kansas City Royals 2006 Stats (A-): 1.17 ERA, 8H/15.1IP, 16K/2BB
With Billy Butler and Alex Gordon headlining the Royals' system, it made little sense for the organization to look anywhere but the pitching ranks with the first pick of the 2006 draft. For much of the season, everyone assumed they would draft left-hander Andrew Miller, the consensus top talent. Fiscally, though, it made sense to go with Hochevar, whose year-long holdout from the Dodgers had decreased his leverage. The team also believes very much in Hochevar's right arm, his live mid-90s fastball, very good curve and average change. Most important for Hochevar now is showing a clean bill of health, and, of course, distancing himself from the inevitable Miller comparisons.
Baseball Prospectus' Nate Silver said it best when he noted thatPie "has gone from being an overrated prospect to an overlooked one." Pie, weeks from becoming the Cubs' center fielder in 2005, suffered a hamstring injury that cut his breakout season short. His stock went bearish in 2006 after a May and June when he combined to bat .226, successfully stealing just 1-for-8 on the basepaths. Pie rebounded at the start of July, and the BP projection system has chosen to believe his second-half performance. "PECOTA sees Pie developing into a .290/.350/.500 player within a couple of years, with plus defense in center field."
Hurley is the Rangers' top pitching prospect, though his 2006 went underappreciated due to his environment. Hurley spent most of the season in the hitter-friendly California League, posting a 4.11 ERA. Like Rockies farmhand Morales, Hurley struggled terribly in the California heat, allowing 24 earned runs in 22.1 innings between June 20 and his mid-July promotion to the Texas League. Also, Hurley had some bad luck; his LOB percentage was five percent below league average. Look for those two things to change substantially in 2007.
32. Joey Votto, 23, 1b, Cincinnati Reds 2006 Stats (AA): .319/.408/.547, 24 SB in 508 AB
Votto is the rare prospect who finds himself in the middle of the contact skills, power and intelligence Venn diagram. While the power is obvious, Votto's smarts are more subtle: He has fantastic patience, plus-baserunning instincts and has become a plus-defender at first base. After striking out 54 times in his first 56 games, Votto began making contact more often, whiffing just 55 times in his last 80 games. Very nearly a polished product, Votto's only remaining work is an improvement against southpaws after slugging .399 against left-handers in 2006. Nonetheless, he remains an early 2008 Rookie of the Year favorite.
31. John Danks, 22, LHP, Chicago White Sox 2006 Stats (AA/AAA): 4.24 ERA, 141H/140IP, 154K/56BB
The White Sox's offseason approach of stockpiling young pitchers was admirable, and Danks was the class of their acquisitions. Chicago's long-standing pursuit of Danks is curious, as we have to wonder what lies in the Sox's scouting report that did not in the Rangers'. The team has shown a large interest in left-handed pitchers, and Danks is the best in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Danks has a clean delivery, yet pitching coach Don Cooper will spend the spring hard at work on Danks' fastball command. Danks' largest problem has been his home run ratio, so the White Sox will also have hard work to do on keeping his two-seamer, plus-curve and plus-change low in the zone.
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.