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Grey Matter

Meet two top National League hitting prospects

Posted: Thursday March 29, 2007 2:12PM; Updated: Friday March 30, 2007 10:31AM
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By Jason Grey, Special to SI.com, FantasyBaseball.com

The minor league portion of your National League draft takes on greater importance with two potential impact bats likely available that could make an impact by the second half of the season.

Two players of this caliber deserve some in-depth scouting reports so you know what you're getting on draft day:

RYAN BRAUN, 3B, BREWERS

Braun is a legitimate five-tool player and middle-of-the-order bat. There is very little he does not have the potential to do on the field. Offensively, he has a beautiful-looking swing with natural plus power. The thing that stands out is his bat speed. The ball just jumps off of his bat thanks to his quick hands.

In his first pro season in 2005, he had a tiny bit of a hitch in his swing, but he found better balance in 2006 and corrected his stroke.

He has deceptive plus speed -- timed at 4.2 to first base from the right side of the plate. That's the kind of speed that could steal double-digit bags if he gets the green light. He was 26-for-30 in thefts in the minors last season, illustrating how smart a baserunner he is.

The biggest thing to watch about Braun is that he can get a little pull-happy at times and it's something he'll have to be careful about as he goes forward in his career. His swing will get a little loopy at times because he tries to pull everything, especially sliders and pitches low and away. Some scouts say his swing can look a little awkward at times, and that is the time they are referring to

However, he usually stays on breaking stuff very well and has good pop to the opposite field when he stays back on the ball. He knows the strike zone, will take a walk and is very good at waiting for pitches that he can drive rather than just make contact with.

Defense is the reason he did not make the jump from Double-A to the majors for Opening Day. He made 31 errors last season, mostly due to poor footwork. He has taken yoga classes to improve his balance but still had some issues this spring that caused him to be sent to Triple-A. Some scouts feel that he will eventually have to move to the outfield, while others say that with his work ethic and raw skills, he could become at least an average defender at the hot corner. He has the tools but he just needs consistency.

As one National League GM told me: "If he hits them everywhere like he's been doing, it doesn't matter what position he plays."

Braun will start the year at Triple-A, but a hot start and improved defense should get him up to Milwaukee by mid-season for at least 200 at-bats considering the Tony Graffanino/Craig Counsell platoon ahead of him.

What's his potential impact? If nothing else he'll be excellent against left-handed pitching, but he's a pretty safe bet to be more than that.

The only thing that concerns me is that pull tendency. It's the same thing that has caused Hank Blalock to not meet expectations, but I think Braun is likely to have the impact expected of a former fifth overall pick. He could eventually produce comparable numbers to Scott Rolen.

Bobby Magallanes, who manager Braun in the Arizona Fall League has a good summary: "This kid has a feel for the barrel. He's not a big physical guy, but he squares the ball up and it's loud when it comes off the bat. He drives it and he's got serious bat speed and power. He can be an impact bat. His bat will play anywhere in the big leagues."

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