The AFL Top 25: #20-#16

It's only 32 games long, and virtually nobody plays everyday. Pitchers spend the first two weeks (at least) on a pitch count, guys play out of positions, and top prospects are relegated to six at bats a week if they're unlucky enough to be stuck behind hotter prospects at the same position. Still, it might be the most competitive Minor League in America, and the best of the best are there, so has put together a list of the 25 top prospects in the AFL.


Since it is the most recent data, extra weight is given to those who performed well in the AFL, but this list takes into account all of the 2005 seasons, and looks to predict which prospects might have the biggest effect on their Major League teams, and which might do it the soonest.

Rankings were compiled with the help of three team affiliated Major League scouts, a director of player development, and two AFL players, all of whom were granted anonymity. The final rankings were determined by James Renwick, who covers the AFL for Anyone with more than 130 Major League at bats, or more than 50 Major League innings pitched is disqualified (sorry Matt Murton and Casey Daigle), and anyone with less than 75 AFL at bats (sorry Guillermo Quiroz), or 20 AFL innings (sorry Jeff Clement and Wade Townsend) is also exempt from the list. So on we go, to the AFL Top 25.

#20 Eric Patterson 2B Chicago Cubs

To a man, all five of our annalists said the same thing, "He's way better than his brother." All five also said that the younger Patterson might be paying for the sins of his older brother, who basically everybody thought was a sure thing.

"We all watched Cory and said, 'This kid is the next five tool super star,' and I wonder if I'm not remembering how often I've eaten those words and I'm taking it out on Eric," our Director of Player development said.

Though Eric doesn't have the tendency to try and jerk every fastball the way his brother does, he still jumps at pitches, especially early in the count, though one of our players, who saw him during the regular season, thinks he's made some improvement.

"He still jumps a little early in the count, but he's gotten a lot better at staying back and just making contact with two strikes," the player said, "During the season if you got two on him, pitchers would just throw him breaking ball and change ups in the dirt and he'd flail, he wasn't doing that down here."

The Cubs would like to move him along, but some feel that was part of the problem with Cory, that he was rushed, so they will likely err on the side of caution with Patterson the Sequel.

#19 Travis Hanson 3B St. Louis Cardinals

Frankly, almost everybody we talked to was disappointed with the AFL season Hanson put together, and one scout went so far as to suggest he may have peaked.

"He just doesn't seem to be progressing. He's smart, and he'll make an adjustment to do one thing better, but the pure talent might not be there," our AL scout said, "My team was, for a time, actively pursuing him, but we've backed off over the last year."

It's not that Hanson did anything poorly, his glove was fine and he hit nearly .300, but he rarely drove the ball.

"He looked off balance a lot," our Director of Player Development said, "which is a testament to his hands, because they are strong enough he could still hit the ball hard, but he never seemed to have his legs under him."

Strikeouts continued to be a problem for the Cardinals corner man, which was distressing since that was a major reason the Cardinals sent him to the AFL. He was moved back to third base partially to take stress off an injury and partially as a backup plan for the seemingly always injured Scott Rolen, but without more consistency at the plate it seems the Cards may have to look in a different direction.

"I'm not sure he didn't just suffer from comparison," our one dissenter, a players said, "on that Scorpions team if you didn't hit .400 with 10 homers in 100 at bats you were a disappointment. He's a solid player, he might not be a superstar, but I think he's going to have a nice solid Major League career, he was the best defensive third baseman down here except for Ryan Zimmerman."

#18 Steven White RHSP New York Yankees

All the way through October White was leading the AFL in ERA, but back to back down outings to end the season raised his ERA and dropped his ranking, though at least one of our annalists, the Director of Player Development, doesn't understand why.

"It's not like his stuff changed, he just got unlucky in those last two outings," he says, "When you watch him pitch its fun, because he's like a chess player out there. He's three pitches ahead of the game, in fact, it can sometimes get him in trouble."

White had something of a disappointing season at Double-A Trenton of the Eastern League, finishing there with an ERA over 6.00, but our AL scout, who saw White early, before an injury put him out of action for three months, says he saw some mechanical adjustments that should be very good for him in the long run.

"He's tweaked his delivery, using his legs more, and it's completely changed things as far as I'm concerned. The ball moves more, and he might even be throwing harder. He looks better to me now than ever before, those last two outings not withstanding."

As one of the Yankees top pitching prospects, one can never be sure if and when he'll get the opportunity, but one of the players noticed something about White's outings that no one else mentioned.

"Every time he threw there were twice as many scouts to watch as any other pitcher. I think everybody just assumes they'll have a shot at him in a trade, and so everybody's taking a look. I don't know if they liked what they saw or not, but it was every outing, every single one, that there were more scouts than usual."

#17 Billy Butler LF/OF Kansas City Royals

"This probably won't come as a shock to anybody, but my guess is Butler will get called up to stay next season, and that's if he doesn't make the squad coming out of the spring," our AL scout says of the 19 year old Butler.

Yes, he's that good, but the bigger issue is the organization, it's no secret that KC isn't shy about giving their young players a shot at the big stage whether they are ready for it or not.

"I've heard that too," one of our players said, "and he's going to get eaten alive. Don't get me wrong, he's got massive talent, but he, you know, needs to see a decent breaking ball before he goes to the bigs."

Butler moved from third base to left field early in the season, and is continuing to improve out there defensively, but the draw is his bat, and it's possible the player in question never played in the Texas League, where curve balls are plentiful (though admittedly not as consistently good as in the Southern League). Butler's time in the Texas League was solid, hitting over .300, and though his power numbers weren't spectacular, none of our contributors were worried.

"Are you kidding? That kid's going to hit 30 for 10 straight years in the big leagues. He's 19, he's huge, and he's still growing. He's got the right approach right now, just making contact, hitting it hard. Talk to me next year when he hits 15 in the first two months in the minors and then another 15 in the last three months in the bigs," our NL scout said, shaking his head.

"Quite simply the highest ceiling of any player in the league," our AL scout said.

So why #17?

"He's in KC," one player said, "he won't be any good until they trade him, and you said you wanted us to balance short term and long term. He's four years away from being really really good. Right about the time the Angels trade for him."

#16 Humberto Sanchez RHSP Detroit Tigers

All five of our guest analysts compared Humberto Sanchez to Bartolo Colon. But not all five were complimentary about it. Sanchez looks a bit like the Angels' 2005 Cy Young Award Winner, which is to say he's...girthy. He also throws a bit like him, which is to say hard, and occasionally wild, and often up in the zone. He's also shown that he may be injury prone like Colon, and that's where the comparisons stop being favorable.

"It's tough to say whether you want the kid to drop a bunch of weight," our AL scout said, "because you have to believe that's where at least some of his power comes from, and you never know how that is going to affect his arm. But you wonder if that might be the reason he's had some trouble up until now."

Our two players gushed over the big right hander.

"Oh man, you step in the box to face that guy and you are just not comfortable," one said, "I know it from experience, you just feel like if it hits you, it's not going to stop, it's going to go right through you. And with that curveball..." the player tails off, obviously remembering a personal experience, "it's just not fun to hit against him."

Consistency is the name of the game for Sanchez, both in health and in his stuff.

"If he had that nasty curveball every start, and spotted his fastball every start, he'd win 20 at any level," our NL Scout said. He also let us in that near the trading deadline last season, his team was pushing hard to get Sanchez included in a deal, and that the Tigers nixed the deal because of it.

"They're not letting him go anywhere," the scout says, "and they're smart not to."

In Sanchez's last start of the AFL season, he showed why. Against a Phoenix Desert Dogs lineup that included studs Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Stephen Drew, and Andy LaRoche Sanchez threw seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out four. That came after a five shutout inning stint against the Grand Canyon Rafters the week before. Sanchez's AFL ERA was a sparkling 2.15 for the season. Among the league leaders.

"He's the real deal," our Senior scout said, "if he can stay healthy he could dominate."

--------------------------------------------------------------------- *Note: Guillermo Quiroz would have made the AFL Top 25 list if he had the at bats needed to qualify. The only concern scouts that we spoke with that were watching the AFL had was his ability to remain healthy. Other than that they call him the 'real deal.

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