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Plenty of prospects in Texas League03/15/2006 10:04 PM ET
By Michael Echan / Special to MLB.com
In baseball, success and failure often run in cycles. Players, teams and leagues all experience periods of great achievement followed by times of unrealized potential, and vice versa.
Sometimes things happen in such a way that for a short period of time, a great collection of talent assembles in one particular league. Such is the situation with the star-studded Texas League for the 2006 season.
The rosters are not finalized, but the eight-team circuit could be where many of baseball's top prospects call home, at least for the first part of the season. Both the Tulsa Drillers and the Wichita Wranglers figure to have loaded lineups. The Drillers may have a legitimate Major League prospect at several infield positions.
Third baseman Ian Stewart is regarded by many scouts as the Colorado Rockies' best prospect, while shortstop Troy Tulowitzki draws favorable comparisons to Oakland's Bobby Crosby. Joe Koshansky looks to be an anchor at first base and catcher Chris Iannetta's defense and short swing may earn him a quick promotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Tulsa also may feature some promising pitchers. Ubaldo Jimenez throws a mid-90s fastball to go with a solid curveball and change-up, while Juan Morillo reportedly has been clocked at 104 miles per hour.
The Arkansas Travelers had a similar situation last year when they trotted out one top prospect after another, including Jered Weaver, Kendry Morales, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar.
"It will be hard to top last year's squad, as far as talent and potential go," Travelers director of media relations Phil Elson said. "But there definitely will be some squads out there that will have a lot of scouts in the stands."
Along with Tulsa, Wichita figures to be one of those clubs. The Wranglers boast an impressive group of young hitters, led by promising third baseman Alex Gordon. Hailed by many as one of the top overall prospects in the Minors, the second pick in last year's draft impressed many during the Arizona Fall League and might find himself at Kansas City's hot corner by the end of this season.
Gordon won't be the only former first-rounder in Wichita. Billy Butler, the Royals' top pick from 2004, swings one of the organization's best bats and could find his 1.041 career on-base/slugging percentage in the middle of the Wranglers' batting order.
Chris Lubanski might find himself patrolling the outfield at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and should join Butler in the heart of Wichita's lineup. Lubanski, the fifth overall selection in 2003, had a stellar 2005 season with the Class A Advanced High Desert of the California League, batting .301 with 28 homers and 116 RBIs. He kept it up during the Cal League playoffs, rattling off eight straight hits at one point.
The biggest name in the Texas League, though, could be last year's Minor League home run leader, Brandon Wood. The lanky shortstop came out of nowhere to club 43 homers in the Cal League and another 14 in 29 Arizona Fall League games. Most scouts feel he is still a year away from the Major Leagues and might have to learn to play third base with the Los Angeles Angels' surplus of middle infielders. That means Wood might help close out Arkansas' historic Ray Winder Field with another explosive season.
Of course, there usually are a few surprises along the way. The Texas Rangers quietly are building pitching depth throughout their system, and there's a chance Thomas Diamond and John Danks will provide the Frisco RoughRiders with the league's best one-two combination on the mound.
Jeff Clement, the third selection in the 2005 draft by the Mariners, is slated to start the year in the Cal League, but may find himself behind the plate for the San Antonio Missions quickly if last year's results are any indication. All in all, April and May might be the hottest months in the Texas League, thanks to this talent.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.