Today it is my turn to highlight a few of the players that were part of my personal Top 40 Prospects list but did not make the consolidated Top 40.
As a reminder, here is the overall Top 40, with my list next to it. Highlighted are the names unique to each list.
||Group Top 40
As can be seen in the above table, there were seven players in the group’s Top 40 that were not on my Top 40 list: Mike Parisi, Tyler Norrick, Eddie Degerman, Dennis Dove, Randy Roth, Gary Daley and Isa Garcia. As mentioned in my Randy Roth write-up, he was originally my #40 but I replaced him. The rest of the six were omitted for various reasons. Four of the six are 2006 draftees and I have reservations about ranking the newest professionals on such a limited performance period, although one of the four highlighted in this article is a 2006 draftee. Additional weight is also given for the higher level performances.
The seven players I did rank in the Top 40 were all in the bottom eleven slots. That part of my Top 40 was fairly fluid and an argument can be made for including/excluding a number of players in that range. Brian Walton discussed three of the seven in his article: Juan Lucena, Josh Wilson and Travis Hanson. Hence they will not get further coverage in this article.
That leaves four players to be highlighted here. All four are pitchers with three of the four pitching out of the rotation. Only one of the four was drafted in 2006. The other three were not ranked in last year’s Top 40, either personally by me or collectively by the group. Now I will make my argument for why I think each deserved a Top 40 nod.
At number 29 on my 2006 list is right-handed starter Matt Lane.
Matt Lane was selected in the 16th round of the June 2005 draft, out of the University of Louisiana-Monroe which brought us former pitcher Chuck Finley. He spent 2005 at Rookie League Johnson City where his 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings average was sixth-best among Cardinals’ minor league starters.
Lane pitched in Short-season A State College in 2006 where he got better results in several pitching categories than some of his more highly-touted teammates. He had the best batting average against, WHIP and BB/9 IP of any State College starter, including Adam Ottavino, Brad Furnish and Eddie Degerman.
Lane compiled a 0.97 WHIP in 65.2 innings pitched and walked an average of 1.78 batters every nine innings, both of which led the 28 starters in the system that qualified for Pitcher of the Year consideration. He held opposing batters to a .209 average which led all State College starters. Lane ranked eighth among starters in the system in the DIPS stats of strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed.
On the down side, Lane pitched at the rookie level after being drafted out of college in 2005. He did not make either a full season rotation or the initial State College rotation in 2006. That appears to be an indicator that he is not highly thought of within the organization. His strikeouts were down this season.
Lane turned 22 in August 2006 which puts him right at the league-average age for Short-season A ball. He is younger than either Eddie Degerman or Tyler Norrick and only five months older than Brad Furnish.
Both Lane’s draft slot and subsequent handling by the organization indicate that he does not have the ‘stuff’ to compete with Degerman, Norrick or Furnish. I am not trying to indicate otherwise. But his 2006 season had enough to it that he merits watching. He is a groundball pitcher. At 6-feet-8, Lane has the size to be a possible innings-eater. I think the total package he showed last season is worth a Top 40 slot.
I placed reliever Matt Scherer as my 32nd-ranked prospect. There were 24 pitchers in my Top 40 and six of them were relievers. Scherer is the only one of the six with no prior professional closing experience. He slid in between Matt Lane and Josh Wilson in the pitcher rankings.
There were only six relievers in the system in 2006 that pitched in full-season ball and averaged double-digit strikeouts per nine innings. Scherer was one of those six. (The other five are Troy Cate, Cory Doyne, Mike Sillman, Matt Trent and Mark Worrell.) Scherer averaged just under 12 strikeouts every nine innings (11.88) while walking an average of just over two (2.24) while pitching for the High A Palm Beach Cardinals. He compiled a 5.30 K/BB ratio and a 1.13 WHIP.
Scherer was moved into the bullpen this season after spending all of 2005 in class A Quad Cities’ rotation. That works against him as the highest ceiling pitchers are generally starters. He was 23 for the entire 2006 season as he turns 24 this month. While that places him right at the average age for the level at which he pitched, prospects are expected to be a bit younger than the league average age.
But his strikeout average almost doubled over his 2005 numbers of 6.45 while his control improved a bit. (He walked 2.88 batters every nine innings in 2005.) Scherer was somewhat more effective against righties than lefties but still held the latter to a respectable .246/.318/.407/.725 in 31 innings. In the end I simply love the strikeout average and the strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The next stop in my ‘Unranked and Overlooked Tour’ is at starter Trey Hearne’s place. Hearne is my 35th-ranked prospect. 2006 was his first full season of professional ball after being picked in the 28th round of the June 2005 draft.
Hearne began 2006 in the Swing bullpen before moving into the rotation in late May. He went on to compile a 1.06 WHIP in 128 innings and averaged 7.5 strikeouts every nine innings while walking 2.4 batters. He held opposing hitters to a .216 average.
Since I have an oft-stated bias towards on-the-field performance, let us compare Mr. Hearne’s performance against that of Tyler Norrick. The latter was The Birdhouse’s 31st-ranked prospect this season.
Norrick, a sixth-round 2006 draftee, compiled a 1.45 WHIP in 65.2 innings at Quad Cities to go with an average of 8.2 strikeouts and 4.8 walks every nine innings. Opponents batted .252 against him. So, Norrick outpitched Hearne in one category, strikeout average, and has the decided advantage of being left-handed.
Well, let us look at their respective ages. Trey Hearne turned 23 in August 2006 and Tyler Norrick turned that exact same age the next month. That category is a wash.
I maintain that Norrick got the Top 40 recognition because of his higher profile which is due, in no small part, to his much higher draft slot. Trey Hearne put up better numbers at the same performance level and did it over almost twice as many innings.
Lefty Brad Furnish is my 37th-ranked prospect. The second rounder was one of eight 2006 draftees that made my Top 40. The final Birdhouse Top 40, in comparison, had ten 2006 draftees.
Furnish held the opposition to a .234 batting average while compiling a 1.12 WHIP in 15 game starts over 75.1 innings. He averaged 8.1 strikeouts and 2.3 walks every nine innings for a 3.58 K/BB ratio.
Furnish outpitched both of his State College teammates, Eddie Degerman and Gary Daley, in many categories. Furnish had the best WHIP, K/BB ratio and control of the three and was bested by Degerman only in batting average against (.227) and average strikeouts per nine innings (11.27 – hard to not get excited about that little number). But Degerman also averaged over four walks a game and pitched only 42.1 innings. Daley was in third place of the three in batting average against, WHIP, K/BB, average strikeouts and average walks.
Age-wise, Furnish is 16 months younger than Degerman and nine and one-half months older than Daley. Furnish turns 22 this month and was the highest drafted of the three. He also has the added benefit of being the only lefty of the three.
Yet Furnish did not make the Birdhouse’s Top 40 while all three of my Birdhouse counterparts ranked Degerman and Daley. Degerman was our 32nd-ranked prospect and Daley came in at number 35. I admit that I do not understand why he did not make the overall Top 40.
However, choosing a Top 40 is, in the end, very subjective and each of us brings our own inherent bias. I simply try to be as fair as possible and give all factors equal consideration. The most fun part of this will come in a few years when we are able to check and see how well we prognosticated.
Leonda Markee can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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