As those who followed our Top 40 Prospects countdown over the last month and a half know, the selection of the final list was a melding of the individual views from four of us here at stlcardinals.scout.com.
As a result, a handful of deserving players on each of our personal lists did not make the consolidated Top 40. This is the first of four articles where each of us will highlight those prospects – the best of the rest, so to speak.
As a reminder, here is the overall Top 40, with my list next to it. Highlighted in bold are the names unique to each list.
In summary, the four players that made the group’s Top 40 but were ranked lower on my list are Andy Cavazos, Mike Sillman, Dennis Dove and Donovan Solano. This illustrates my already-stated prejudice against minor league relievers in comparison to starters, with the latter generally considered the superior prospects.
On the other side of the ledger, the four players I was higher on than the others each have their warts. Two are coming off disappointing seasons while the other two are looking to rebound from injury-wrecked 2006 campaigns.
Each of the four was highly-ranked in our Top 40 countdown just one year ago. I guess the bottom line is that I am less inclined to jump off these particular bandwagons just yet.
At number 30 on my 2006 list is third baseman Travis Hanson.
We have all stumbled in our lives. Yet, the struggles of some are more highly visible than others due to their past success. Such is the case with Hanson.
Just 12 months ago, Hanson was, in the vernacular of the entertainment industry’s Billboard, number nine with a bullet. That was his ranking in our Top 40 prospect list right here.
The 25-year old clearly had everything going his way. Coming off a 97 RBI 2005 season, he was arguably the organization’s most highly-decorated player last off-season.
Hanson was named the Cardinals’ Minor League Player of the Year and added to the Cardinals’ 40-man roster. He had been sent to the Arizona Fall League, competed for Team USA and was a member of the Topps/Minor League Baseball Double-A All-Star Team.
In the span of about 120 days during 2006, all that progress, all those accolades, went right out the window.
Hanson’s difficult 2006, struggling at Triple-A Memphis before being returned to Double-A Springfield, is well-documented. Injuries didn’t seem to be the cause; just a surprising ineffectiveness. Some scouts have gone as far as to suggest that Hanson may have peaked as a professional.
I am not as sure about that, though. Until I get a look at Hanson this coming spring, I am simply not ready to join those who have thrown in the towel on a young man’s future that looked so bright just 12 months ago.
I placed shortstop Juan Lucena as my 34th-ranked prospect. He was the consensus number 27 player here 12 months ago, yet couldn’t crack our combined Top 40 this year.
Nothing happened during 2006 to alter Lucena’s reputation as a good glove man who hits for average but has no pop. He has a 2004 Appalachian League batting title and a 2005 accolade as the best defensive infielder in the system that can’t be taken away from him.
Lucena’s batting line from Palm Beach (A-Advanced) illustrates the likely reason for his fall from grace - .288 average/.320 on-base percentage/.347 slugging percentage. The organizational favorite turns 23 during January, so 2007 will be his make-or-break year in terms of his ranking here.
The first of the bounce-back candidates is pitcher Josh Wilson. The Cardinals invested over a half million dollars in the right-hander from Texas following the 2005 Draft. The 6-foot-2 Wilson's fastball reaches the low-to-mid 90s and his curveball showed great promise.
The now 20-year old had a decent professional debut at Johnson City in 2005, posting a 4.22 ERA in 12 starts, best among the starters there. After a stint in extended spring training in 2006, Wilson was called upon to join the Class-A Quad Cities rotation, but struggled.
After posting a 0-2, 9.00 ERA mark in three starts, Wilson was returned to Florida, where soon labrum surgery did in his sophomore campaign. Wilson faced lengthy rehabilitation on his shoulder and will likely not show his stuff again until well into the 2007 season.
One year ago, Wilson was the number 23-ranked player in our Top 40 countdown. His ability to come back from the shoulder surgery is clearly the key to his future. Wilson has the benefit of the resiliency of youth on his side.
The other potential rebounder from injury is pitcher Mark Michael. The former fourth-rounder in 2003 has all the potential in the world, but has yet to demonstrate he can remain healthy for an entire season.
The 6-foot-4, 215 pound righty missed time with a rotator cuff problem in 2004, almost two months in 2005 with shoulder tendinitis and pitched only half a season in 2006 due to an elbow nerve problem, with the injuries blamed at least in part on his mechanics.
Michael still has a very good repertoire that includes a fastball that hits 93 to 95 MPH, along with an above-average changeup plus a curveball. He is a solid fielder and has a fine pickoff move.
But, I can see why others might lose faith in Michael, coming off his poorest season to-date, a 2-7, 5.63 ERA campaign in his second year at Palm Beach. In 2007, Michael may either rocket back up my list or drop off completely.
In fact like Lucena, if Michael is not added to the Cardinals’ 40-man roster next winter, he will be exposed to the Rule 5 draft for a second consecutive year. Michael was our number 26 prospect one year ago.
Over the next three days, look for companion articles to this one coming from Jason Scott, Leonda Markee and Ray Mileur. We really enjoyed bringing our top prospects list to you again this off-season and hope you found our reports informative, too.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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