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2006 "15 to Watch" Update

Tim LincecumOctober and November proved to be quite hectic for me, and as a result three posts that I have been planning to write for a long time stayed on the back burner. Now, with 2007 nearly complete, it seems fitting to look back at the 2007 season that was with those posts I put off. The first (this one) is a look at how the players on my 2006 "15 to Watch" (15TW) List fared last season. Tomorrow will look at the 2007 "25 to Watch" (25TW). Finally, Friday I will highlight players who have stood out in the fall and winter leagues this off-season. This is a great way to finish out the calendar year because young guns that make noise in the majors in 2008 will likely have made some noise in the minors in 2007.

Now, on to the 2006 15TW. Honestly, this list started as a day project only about a week before the draft. I was convinced that, as a general rule, the best baseball players in college tend to become the best players in the pros. So, I set out to find the best players in college and I came up with the list of 15. Most of the 15 prospects I highlighted back in 2006 now have a full professional season under their belts, so it is time to take a look and see how they fared:

15. 1B Whit Robbins (39/64), Twins - Robbins was impressive the summer after getting drafted, but he struggled mightily in high A. He hit for absolutely no power, and ultimately his season was cut short by an injury. Maybe the injury caused all his problems.

14. 3B Evan Longoria (63/85), Devil Rays - The Rays are moving Akinori Iwamura (73) to second base to make room in the lineup for Longoria next year. He is an early favorite to be the Rookie of the Year, though I think he will not end up winning the award. I see Longoria's year being similar to the one Alex Gordon (72/83) just completed. Regardless, Longoria has bolted through the minors and is one of the better position prospects in baseball right now.

13. OF Chad Huffman (54/80), Padres - Rather quietly, Huffman hit very well in high A and earned a mid-year promotion to AA, where his numbers dropped significantly (.269 average, .362 OBP, .793 OPS). Still, if Huffman continues to progress at his current rate, he could be in the majors by 2009.

12. INF Luke Hopkins, Blue Jays - He did not play at all last season after playing every day in short season A ball in 2006. I cannot find any information on Hopkins, so I do not know what has happened to him.

11. 1B Ryan Strieby (44/75) - Strieby did not fare well last year, but bounced back considerably from his 2006 summer. Strieby's numbers were not outstanding (.253 average, .342 OBP, .769 OPS), but they were pretty solid, especially for a 21-year old in a pitcher-friendly league.

10. SP Brad Lincoln, Pirates - Like Hopkins, Lincoln did not play at all this year, though I know Lincoln did not due to an injury.

9. SP Steven Wright (44/72), Indians - Wright's home run rate in low A was high, but the rest of his numbers were impressive enough to convince the Indians to promote him to high A mid-season. However, Wright struggled in high A, though ironically his home run rate went down a ton. Even after a full season's worth of numbers, the drastic difference between the numbers at the different levels makes it hard to say how good Wright is.

8. SP Wade LeBlanc (56/82), Padres - LeBlanc is one of the more underrated pitching prospects in baseball right now. He was very impressive in high A this year, earning a promotion to AA where he was impressive as well. Baseball America ranks LeBlanc's slider as the best in the Padres' farm system, and it should propel him to AAA in 2008, if not all the way to the majors.

7. OF Jon Jay (48/74), Cardinals - Jay looked great last year, but he struggled some between AA and high A in 2007. He only accumulated 228 at-bats total, so it appears that he was limited by an injury.

6. OF Cole Gillespie (49/74), Brewers - Much like Jay, Gillespie looked unbelievable in 2006, but to a certain degree struggled in 2007. Cole batted only .267 in high A, though he still showed good plate discipline and good speed on the bases. He is already 23, which is a relatively older age for someone in high A too. Gillespie should be in AA next year, and he will need to produce at a pretty high level to be a legitimate prospect.

5. SP Max Scherzer (62/84), Diamondbacks - Max just about did not sign with the D'Backs, so he almost was on the 2007 25TW list. Upon signing and dominating for a few starts in high A, Scherzer spent his summer in AA, where he showed quite a bit of promise. Scherzer has overpowering stuff, as evidenced by a high strikeout rate with low hit and home run rates, but he does not have great control yet, as evidenced by averaging a walk roughly every other inning. He's much like Brandon Morrow (75/86), though more raw.

4. SP Eddie Degerman (51/78), Cardinals - At 23 years old after a fairly strong showing in short season A ball, I am not sure why the Cardinals started Degerman in low A this year. However, they did, and he dominated, eventually getting called up to high A. Eddie's walks went up a ton, but he was still pretty tough to hit. Looking at his numbers, his 5.93 ERA in high A should have been much lower. I would start him in AA next year and see how he does in a league where he is not one of the older members, but to this point St. Louis does not seem quite as interested in pushing him.

3. 1B Craig Cooper (51/78), Padres - Cooper does not have as much power as teams like to see in a first baseman, but he hits for great average with pretty decent gap power. Cooper's lack of power may keep him from being a great prospect, but his pure hitting ability should not be ignored. He will likely start next year in AA, and may be pushing for a bench spot on the Padres by 2009 or 2010.

2. SP Andrew Miller (67/81), Marlins - Originally drafted by the Tigers, he was one of the keys to the deal that landed Detroit 3B Miguel Cabrera (88/92) and SP Dontrelle Willis (70/78). It did not take Miller long to make the majors, and especially considering he is now on the Marlins, he is in the majors to stay. Miller has been a highly regarded prospect since his junior year at North Carolina, and his stuff is among the best in the game. Most see him as a future star, though just to play devil's advocate, for fun compare Miller and Jeff Weaver (63). The starts of their careers are awfully similar.

1. SP Tim Lincecum (89/93), Giants - I raved about Lincecum before the 2006 draft, and was not happy when the M's passed on him. Fortunately, Morrow looks like a really good pick, but he's still not better than Lincecum. Tim has exceeded all expectations, and is already one of the best pitchers in the majors, regardless of age. The combination of his diminutive stature, funky wind-up, and blazing fastball are what he is known for, but it is his curveball that has made him so successful in such short time.

The 2006 15TW List was largely the product of sitting at a computer and staring at stats for only six hours. It was a rather rudimentary statistical analysis, but the results thus far are promising. It helps that Lincecum has already hit it huge. By 2007, I had my player rating formula, and I used it to compare way more college players in a much more formal, impartial way. The rating system was what allowed me to feel comfortable expanding the list to 25 players. Check back tomorrow to see if the early returns on my 2007 25TW list measure up to these 15.