Click here for Bryan Smith's 2006 list of Top Prospects and here for 2005.
By Bryan Smith, Special to SI.com
This is part five of a five-part series on the top 75 prospects in professional baseball.
For the purposes of this list, a prospect is a player who played predominantly in the minor leagues last season or was drafted in the 2006 June draft. A player loses eligibility for this list once he surpasses 50 innings pitched or 130 at-bats in the major leagues. Japanese imports Daisuke Matsuzaka, Akinori Iwamura and Kei Igawa were not considered due to lengthy experience overseas. Players are judged based on what scouting and statistical reports claim on their potential. Each prospect is presented below with his 2007 baseball age and 2006 statistics.
15. Jay Bruce, 20, RF, Cincinnati Reds 2006 Stats (Class A-): .291/.355/.516, 19 SB in 444 AB
Bruce had a historic season for a teen-ager in the Midwest League, showing left-handed power unrivaled for a player of his maturity. Like so many young left-handed hitters, Bruce has work to do with southpaws, striking out in 30 percent of his at-bats against them in 2006. This is not what scares me. What does is the context within Bruce's numbers and the similarities they bear to Brian Dopirak's legendary Midwest League season in 2004. That year Dopirak became wildly hyped in prospect circles, but I made note of a 27-game stretch during the summer in which he was a decidedly better player than the rest of the season, which is the same thing that happened to Bruce in 2006. In 33 games between June 4 and July 10, Bruce was amazing, hitting .427 and clubbing 24 extra-base hits. The rest of the season? A paltry .238 batting average. However, his power did remain consistent throughout the season, so I am now cautiously confident in Bruce's future.
14. Andrew McCutchen, 20, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates 2006 Stats (A-/AA): .294/.359/.450, 23 SB in 531 AB
Speed is the name of McCutchen's game, as his quickness with his legs and bat leave the Pirates thinking big with their future center fielder. Generously listed at 170 pounds, McCutchen relies on ridiculous bat speed to hit for plus power. His power was restrained much of the season by the spacious dimensions at his home park; he slugged .536 on the road in Low-A. With quickness unrivaled for players with his power, McCutchen also profiles to steal 30 bases and win Gold Gloves down the road. Raw in both areas, McCutchen could stand at least another season and a half in the minor leagues, but his late-season success at AA might have pushed his timetable forward significantly.
In modern college baseball history, no pitcher has been as dominant in a single season as Jered Weaver was in 2004. In his final year at Long Beach State, Weaver posted a 1.63 ERA and struck out 213 batters while scouts nitpicked his game. In 2006, Weaver received his vindication for his overshadowed Golden Spikes season, dominating the Majors as a rookie. There are numerous similarities between Weaver and Lincecum, who had a 1.99 ERA and 199 strikeouts as a junior at Washington. Lincecum has better stuff than Weaver, touching the high-90s with his fastball while featuring a hammer curveball, but his height (he's about 6-feet tall) led to a drop to the 10th overall selection in the 2006 draft. Lincecum's largest pitfall could be the combination of his violent delivery and extreme workload. The Giants will work hard at managing both in 2007, preparing Lincecum to contribute in the majors by 2008.
The first player from the 2006 draft to reach the majors, Miller was also the best the draft had to offer. Since opting for North Carolina instead of the Devil Rays out of high school, Miller had long been marked as the player-to-top in his class. Miller won Baseball America's College Player of the Year award with a marvelous junior season. Extremely projectable at a lanky 6-foot-6, Miller's four-seam fastball is already 94-97 mph. As a starter, his bread and butter is a sinking two-seam fastball and a slider that few left-handed hitters can touch. A September call-up showed the Tigers how dominant Miller profiles to be, but also how raw his delivery and command still are; he struck out six batters and walked 10 in 10 1/3 innings with Detroit. Miller will likely begin in Double-A Erie next season and could be pushing for a major-league roster spot again late in the season.
Incumbent Clint Barmes struggled in 2006, which means there is nothing holding Tulowitzki back from playing every day in Coors Field. Tulowitzki is a gifted contact hitter who sprays the ball all over the field with gap power. It isn't a stretch to project him as a perennial .300 hitter who bangs out 40 doubles annually. He also has a power stroke that should produce 10 to 20 home runs a season. In the field, he is mistake-prone but shows good range and a cannon arm from the hole. Despite struggling with Colorado in September, Tulowitzki proved in the Arizona Fall League that he's ready for The Show.
Miller has gone under a distinct maturation in the minors, the type separating "pitchers" like Jake Peavy from "throwers" like Kerry Wood. Formerly known as "Mr. 101" stemming from a late-season velocity reading before an arm injury in 2004, Miller has since backpedaled his approach and trusted his stuff. These days, Miller focuses on keeping his darting two-seamer down in the zone (resulting in a 1.59 G/F ratio in AA) and striking out hitters with his plus-plus slider. Miller's maturation is still a work in progress. That was evident in 2006 as he allowed seven home runs in his first 10 starts. However, the right-hander limited opponents to a mere two home runs the rest of the season thanks largely to an improved command of his slider.
9. Billy Butler, 21, LF, Kansas City Royals 2006 Stats (AA): .331/.388/.499, 1 SB in 477 AB
Butler played in an unfriendly hitting environment (Wichita) in 2006. At home during the season, Butler hit just one home run compared to 14 while on the road. The latter number more accurately details Butler's huge power potential. Butler's combination of contact and power skills are fantastic, and his late-season performance indicates he could be even better next year. Between June 1 and his exit to play for Team USA, Butler batted .354 while striking out just 33 times. Butler creates an adventure with every fly ball in left field, but his defensive shortcomings will be forgotten if he can provide protection for Alex Gordon in the Royals' lineup.