Click here for Bryan Smith's 2006 list of Top Prospects and here for 2005.
8. Cameron Maybin, 20, CF, Detroit Tigers 2006 Stats (A-): .304/.387/.457, 27 SB in 385 AB
Maybin lived up to all the hype in his first pro season. He might not be the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr., but Maybin has a generational five-tool set. Many have pointed to Maybin's .408 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) and called his season overrated, but I don't believe this is true. Maybin has the same kind combination of speed and line-drive ability that allows Ichiro to post high BABIPs every season, albeit not quite as high as .408. While his numbers could come down a bit with worse luck in 2007, it also could be pointed out his numbers took a hit by an early return from a thumb injury. Maybin struggled horribly in his first 15 games coming off the DL, hitting just 12-for-56 without much power. With a healthy season, I think Maybin could improve on his 2006 numbers in the Florida State League; the speedy center fielder has greater power than he showed in the tough Midwest League.
Like his brother, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton is an extremely divisive prospect as people struggle to understand why his output has not matched his talent. The latter was obvious for four years of high school, and nationally on display in spring training when Upton looked fantastic against the Chicago White Sox on WGN. Upton has a mature body with extremely long legs, which combined with his speed give him fantastic home-to-first times. Upton draws deserved comparisons to Alfonso Soriano, who has a similarly long, controlled and powerful swing. Most people have questioned Upton's makeup due to his poor season, but the concerns are overdone; expectations were just too high for the 2005 draft's top pick. Upton might not be as major-league ready as we thought last March, but his All-Star ceiling should not be altered because of an average debut.
6. Chris Young, 23, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks 2006 Stats (AAA): .276/.363/.532, 17 SB in 402 AB
While the exit of fan favorite Luis Gonzalez provides a public relations hit to Arizona in 2007, the entrance of Young should quickly make D-Backs fans forget their former hero. This will be most evident defensively, as Arizona adds Young's fabulous range in center, pushing Eric Byrnes to left field and surely saving the pitching staff many runs. Offensively, Young should be at least on par with Gonzalez next season, if not better. Young has the chance to be a 25 homer/25 steals threat as a rookie and is the odds-on favorite to capture National League Rookie of the Year honors. Young began making better contact last season as well, but his batting average didn't go up, the product of bad luck against southpaws. His BABIP was .100 points worse against left-handers, and when that number improves, Young could threaten to break the .300 barrier for his first time as a pro.
5. Brandon Wood, 22, SS, Los Angeles Angels 2006 Stats (AA): .276/.355/.552, 19 SB in 453 AB
After a breakout season of epic proportions in the hitter-friendly California League in 2005, Wood entered last year with a considerable amount of pressure. Was it a fluke? Can his offensive approach continue to produce big results? Will his power sustain at higher levels? What Wood proved in 2006 was that he was indeed a top prospect, showing substantial power throughout the season. Wood is going to suffer through a lot of variance in his numbers because of his high strikeout rate, but his ability to hit the ball out of any park offsets concerns about his swing-and-miss tendencies. By walking more often last season, Wood became a more valuable prospect, making a potential move to the hot corner far less daunting. Expect Wood to push the Angels to a decision on whether to call him up in 2007 as Salt Lake's altitude should lend to Wood's 100th minor-league home run by midseason.
4. Philip Hughes, 21, RHP, New York Yankees 2006 Stats (A+/AA): 2.16 ERA, 92H/146IP, 168K/34BB
If Roger Clemens does not return to the Bronx in 2007, Hughes will be the hot-button issue in New York come June. By then, Hughes will be dominating AAA with every outing. The Yankees have done a fabulous job preparing Hughes for his midseason call-up, slowly increasing his workload in the minor leagues. With 146 innings last year, Hughes should be able to pitch consistently through October, by which time he might already be the Yankees' No. 2 starter. Far more impressive than Hughes' heavy sinker or jaw-dropping curveball is his understanding of pitching; he is the most intelligent phenom in recent memory. Hughes does not give in to any bat, rarely allows free trips to first base, and gets groundballs consistently from the stretch. Hughes is as good as a New York pitching prospect has been in a long time.
A year ago, things did not add up with Homer Bailey. The prep star's full season debut began in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, where he allowed a 7.73 H/9, struck out 125 batters and allowed just five home runs in just over 100 innings. However, his ERA was 4.43. The reason? Sixty-two walks, indicating poor command that Bailey had not shown as a high schooler. The anomalies I saw straightened themselves out in 2006, when Bailey became the game's best pitching prospect. The electricity of Bailey's stuff -- the life of his fastball and break on his curve -- are fantastic, and Bailey already attacks hitters like a veteran. In 2005, Bailey walked fewer than two batters just six times. In 2006, he raised the number to nine starts. If he can make a 50 percent improvement on that number again next season, Bailey will finish the year in Cincinnati.
I wanted Young to be my top prospect this season. He held that role a year ago and I have long predicted his future superstardom. My views on Young's future are unchanged heading into this season, but Young was downgraded to the No. 2 spot on this list because of one negative trait: patience. Young does not have great makeup (see: bat toss at umpire), but he would hardly be the first superstar to combine success with anger. What I can't overlook is Young's allergy to drawing walks, as he has just 20 since a mid-July promotion to AAA in 2005. Young must walk more in the majors to reach his full potential, but his power, hand-eye coordination, speed and throwing arm will make him an All-Star regardless.
1. Alex Gordon, 23, 3b, Kansas City Royals 2006 Stats (AA): .325/.427/.588, 22 SB in 486 AB
Gordon is the ultimate hitting prospect. A left-handed hitter with a gorgeous swing, the 2005 Golden Spikes award winner made the transition to wooden bats look easy. He thrived in the Texas League, becoming a potential savior in the eyes of Royals fans. Unlike Butler, Wichita's pitcher-friendly tendencies did not faze Gordon, who hit 19 home runs in the seasons' final 60 games. This did correspond with a rise in strikeouts (63 over that span), but the Royals do not question Gordon's ability to hit for average. Also an intelligent player, Gordon understands the value of a walk and also is fantastic at picking out the right times to steal a base. The Royals expect him to hit and hit quickly as a rookie in 2007.
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.