2006 Minor League Ball Pitching Prospect of the Year
This one is a difficult decision, as there at least eight strong candidates. Phil Hughes, Matt Garza, Homer Bailey, Jason Hirsh, Adam Miller, Yovanni Gallardo, Scott Elbert, and Kevin Slowey all deserved strong consideration. I chose not to include 2006 draftees such as Tim Lincecum because of their much smaller professional track records, plus the fact that I needed to find a way to pare the field down.
As with the hitters, the reward is based on a combination of 2006 performance, long-term potential and projection, and "intangibles."
The first step is to see if we can eliminate any of the eight guys right away. Note that all eight of them are excellent pitching prospects; I don't mean to diss any of them.
The first casualty is Elbert, due to his 173/85 K/BB ratio in 146 innings. The walk rate is simply too high compared to the other guys. Next, we will eliminate Slowey....yes, he had a combined 1.88 ERA and a 151/22 K/BB in 149 innings, but he has the "least" physical potential of the group since his fastball isn't overpowering. Third we'll eliminate Hirsh. He is a personal favorite of mine. . .anyone who can go 13-2, 2.10 in the Pacific Coast League deserves immense respect. . .but again, his scouting reports and long-term projectability don't quite match the other guys. The next victim is Bailey, who went 10-6, 2.47 with a 154/50 K/BB in 139 innings. I love him, but his command isn't quite as good as the remaining candidates.
Now, it starts to get really tough. We have Garza, Hughes, Miller, and Gallardo left on the list. Miller has the highest ERA at 2.84 on the season. It's true his components are very strong (161/46 in 158 innings) and he went 15-6 in a full season of Double-A, not having split the campaign between different levels. But his 2005 arm problems are a factor. . .he wasn't hurt this year, of course, but his '05 problems (drop in velocity and movement, soreness, etc.) might indicate that he has some durability concerns down the road.
So that leaves Garza, Hughes, and Gallardo. Hughes went 12-6, 2.16 with a 168/34 K/BB in 146 innings on the season. Garza went 14-4, 1.99 with a 154/32 K/BB in 136 innings in the minors. He has been erratic in the Show, but is just a year out of college. Gallardo has received the least press of the three, but he went 11-5, 1.86 with a 188/51 K/BB in 155 innings combined, and was outstanding down the stretch in Double-A. Brewers officials are full of praise for his improvement this year.
They all have comparable fastballs. Hughes is the youngest and has the most long-term physical projectability. . .but he also has some injury and durability concerns in previous seasons that Garza and Gallardo don't have at this point. Garza is the oldest, but is also the closest to being fully ready for major league action. Garza and Hughes are a touch ahead of Gallardo in command at this stage. Hughes is the most ground-ball-oriented of the trio.
Can it get any closer?
Right now, at 12:35 PM central time on September 25, 2006, I think I will go with Garza. He is further down the injury nexus track than Hughes or Gallardo, and is closer to being ready to help in the majors.
What do you guys think? I haven't made up my mind for the book yet and could still be persuaded to pick Hughes.