The AFL Top 25: #10-#6

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, has put together a list of the 25 top prospects in the AFL. Here are the prospects ranking 10-6.


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, 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.

#10   Eric Duncan   3B/1B   New York Yankees  

Eric Duncan hit just .235 in the Double-A Eastern League this season, and typically no amount of AFL success would vault a player into the Top 10 after that, but Eric Duncan is a special case.

"You look at the adjustments he made in the AFL, and the fact that he was learning a new position," our Senior scout said, "and you just have to be impressed."

What was impressive? How about a .364 average and eight homers in just 94 at bats. Duncan was on fire for the majority of the AFL season, hitting safely in 17 of the 23 games he appeared in.

"I doubt he's going to be starting at Yankee Stadium next year or anything," our AL scout said, "but he will be eventually, you just can't keep a bat like that out of the lineup."

The lineup isn't the problem, the position is. After a miserable year with the glove at third base the Yankees had Duncan working on the other corner in the AFL, but it's unclear whether that was because they don't think Duncan can play third, or whether they don't think Duncan would have the chance.

"You have to remember," our Director of Player Development said, "they've got a pretty decent third baseman right now. I know Alex Rodriguez switched positions for Jeter, but I'm not sure he's moving to second base for a rookie."

That would seem unlikely, however the since the Yankees situation at first base has been a little more turbulent, that might be a spot where he could break in. Still, at least one of our analysts thinks Duncan might see time in the bigs next year.

"I don't know, I mean, even if he isn't the best fielder, they still have the DH in the American League right?" one of our players said, "If he comes out next year in Double-A and mashes the way he did down here, they've got to take a look. I don't care if he's young, he's that good."

#9   Kendry Morales   1B/3B   Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  

You don't see that many first year players in the AFL. There are a handful, but pretty typically they have to perform the way Kendry Morales performed. Which is to say, incredibly.

"I'll tell you one thing, Casey Kotchman better watch his back, because this kid is incredible," our AL scout said bluntly, "you look at those numbers, you look at that swing, and you just can't figure out a way he's not going to be a star."

Morales started his baseball career in Hi-A, which is a feat in and of itself. Didn't really take though, he stayed there only 22 games. Of course, he moved up, not down, and still tore the cover off the ball.

"There were people I heard, pitchers, who would say, 'You know, people just haven't figured out how to pitch to him yet,' and I would just laugh, because the way to pitch to him, is to not pitch to him. Just hit him in the butt, or throw four in the dirt, that's about all you can do with that guy," one of our players said.

After hitting .344 with five homers in his short Cal League stint, Morales then moved to the Texas League and really slumped, hitting just .306 with 17 homers. The scary thing is, our NL scout really did think it was a slump.

"He really wasn't on top of his game in the Texas League and that's just a testament to how good he is. He would go up against a pitcher the first time and see curveballs and be shaking his head on the way back to the dugout, and then the second time up he'd have it completely gauged. Young guys aren't supposed to be able to adjust that quickly, but he does. If he goes back to Double-A next year, he's going to destroy that league."

All he did this fall was hit .380, and an incredible .462 with runners in scoring position. He experimented at third base in the AFL, meaning that two of the top Angels prospects, Kotchman and Dallas McPherson, will both be looking over their shoulder at the same guy.

#8   Denard Span   CF   Minnesota Twins  

The most controversial player to make our Top 10 comes out of the Twins organization.

"He's in the top 10 because he's one of the guys most likely to have a starting job with a big league club next season. Period. He's good, don't get me wrong," our Director of Player Development said, "but he's a Top 10 prospect because he's going to get a shot next year."

With rumors swirling since mid-season '05 that the Twins will trade Torii Hunter before losing him to free agency, Span has become the player in waiting, and both our players think he's ready for the challenge.

"You know why he's going to be fine as a pro? Because he's not going up there trying to be Torii Hunter. He's not going up there with the idea that he's going to be an All-Star. He's going up there to play solid defense, get on base, steal a couple."

Our other player analyst concurred.

"He's so down to earth, the Minnesota fans are going to go crazy for him," he said, "he as hard a worker as I've ever seen. A lot of these guys, these 'top prospect' guys, they know they're going to get their shot, so they sort of phone it in until they do. 'D' is different, he knows its going to be tough when he gets there, and he's trying to be as good as he can right now."

Our NL scout dissented from the top 10 opinion, and had an unflattering comparison.

"What I'm afraid of is that the Twins are rushing him, and it's going to be a Corey Patterson scenario," he said, "Corey's got incredible tools, but they rushed him, he struggled, and now he might be lost, because his confidence is shot. If Span goes up there and gets beat up, it might screw him up for the long term."

Still, even the NL scout admitted that Span and Patterson are "wired different." If the Twins find the right price for Hunter, we'll all get to find out next year.

#7   Ryan Garko   C/1B   Cleveland Indians  

You see it all the time. A kid comes up playing third base or first base, and ends up playing second base or catcher, because he just doesn't produce enough to be a corner infielder. With Ryan Garko, it went the other way. His bat is so potent that the Cleveland Indians have moved him to first base from catcher.

"It's the smart move," our Director of Player Development said, "if he's your catcher, basically you count on six or seven productive years out of him. I know there are exceptions, but the bottom line is, he's going to take a year to figure out how to hit Major League pitching, and then another two to figure out how to catch it. Now he's four years into his career before he can really play everyday, and catchers don't usually last more than six or seven seasons before they start to break down."

Though he was regarded as an average catcher defensively, the move also might have something to do with the fact that the Indians already have a great young catcher, Victor Martinez, just finishing his second year in the bigs.

"They really only had two choices," our AL scout says, "they could have left him back there and had he and Martinez switch between catcher and DH, or they move him. You can't let his bat sit in the minors."

Garko certainly has the athletic ability to be a good first baseman, and all our analysts were impressed at his improvement at first base.

"I saw him really early in the year," our AL scout said, "and he looked uncomfortable, but now he's pretty fluid. He's not JT Snow, but JT Snow isn't going to hit 35 homers either."

#6   Nick Markakis   RF   Baltimore Orioles  

"The only thing you question about the kid are his power numbers," our Senior scout said, "because that swing is a thing of beauty."

So how does a first baseman who hit only 19 homers in 560 at bats between Hi-A, Double-A and the AFL rank #6 on the top prospects.

"So what?" our AL scout said, "Look at him, he's a beanpole. Two years of offseason weight training, and with that swing, he'll hit 40 at Camden Yards. He's already bigger than he was at the start of the season."

It's true that Markakis, who turned 22 near the end of the AFL season, now looks bigger than the 175 lbs he was listed at, and that appears to be the entire focus of the Orioles offseason plans for him.

"He's working out all the time," one of our players said, "he's lifting weights, he's running, and there is no way he's 175 pounds. No way."

If Markakis' body fills out, and it will, he could end up being the #3 hitter in the Orioles lineup for 10 years. One of the purest swings in the AFL, he rarely looks like he's swinging hard, and thus rarely gets fooled.

"Have you ever seen him look bad on a pitch?" our other player said, "I mean, he swings and misses, but he almost never looks bad, never overmatched, never way out on his front foot. Just really balanced."


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