Topps honors Short-Season/Rookie stars

Pair of Billings Mustangs highlight list of dozen standouts

(Billings Mustangs)

By Minor League Baseball | November 28, 2006 6:40 AM

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Chris Valaika, whose 32-game hitting streak was tops in Minor League Baseball this season, highlights the Topps Short-Season/Rookie All-Star team. The Billings Mustangs, a Cincinnati Reds affiliate, are the only club with a pair of players, Valaika and Justin Turner, on the team. Nine of the 12 team members were taken in the most recent June draft, including all three outfielders in the third round. The best performances in all Minor League Baseball classifications are again being honored by the Topps Company of New York, N.Y., in conjunction with Minor League Baseball.

Chris Carlson (22) of Topeka, Kan., almost won the Triple Crown with the Tigers in the Gulf Coast League. Carlson led the league in home runs and RBIs and finished tied for fourth in batting average. His .588 slugging percentage led all domestic short-season players. Carlson was also valuable in the field, leading GCL first basemen with a .987 fielding percentage. The Detroit Tigers drafted Carlson in the 29th round in 2006.

Justin Turner (22) of Bellflower, Calif., provided a spark at the top of the Billings Mustangs' lineup. Hitting primarily first or second in the order, Turner finished tied for fourth in the Pioneer League in batting average and runs scored. The Cincinnati Reds picked Turner in the seventh round this June.

Josh Bell (20) of Lantana, Fla., ranked in the top five in the power categories of homers, RBIs and slugging percentage in the Pioneer League. The Ogden Raptors third basemen's .308 batting average was the best among switch hitters in the circuit. The Los Angeles Dodgers selected him in the fourth round in 2005.

Chris Valaika (21) of Valencia, Calif., was among the league leaders in hits, runs, RBIs, doubles and extra base hits for the Billings Mustangs. His 32-game hitting streak was the longest in the Minors this season and also broke the Pioneer League mark. The Cincinnati Reds tabbed Valaika in the third round this June.

Cyle Hankerd (21) of Covina, Calif., led all domestic short-season players with his .384 batting average while playing for the Yakima Bears. The left-fielder hit .311 in June, .353 in July and .519 in 13 August games before the Arizona Diamondbacks promoted him to the California League. Arizona drafted Hankerd in the third round this June.

Cedric Hunter (18) of Decatur, Ga., is another 2006 third-rounder who made an immediate impact. Hunter was in the top three for the Padres in the Arizona League in runs, hits, total bases, walks, RBIs and on-base percentage. He hit over .400 when leading off and walked 40 times while striking out just 22 times. The San Diego Padres, who drafted Hunter in June, promoted him to the Northwest League for the last week of the season.

Travis Snider (18) of Mill Creek, Wash., was named the Appalachian League's player of the year. The Pulaski Blue Jays outfielder led the league with his .567 slugging percentage and he ranked in the top five in batting average, round-trippers, RBIs and on-base percentage. The Toronto Blue Jays picked Snider with the 14th overall pick in this year's draft.

Nevin Ashley (22) of Bruceville, Ind., paced classification catchers with a .333 batting average with the Princeton Devil Rays. He also led the Appalachian League in on-base percentage (.440) and threw out over 50% of the runners who tried to steal a base. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted Ashley in the sixth round in June.

Chris Davis (20) of Longview, Texas, reeled off a 19-game hitting streak while with the Spokane Indians. Despite owning the second longest streak in the Northwest League this season, Davis was known more for his power numbers. He ranked in the top four in the league in doubles, homers, slugging percentage and extra base hits. The Texas Rangers selected Davis in the fifth round in 2006.

Adam Cowart (23) of Pearland, Texas, exhibited outstanding control this season for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. The right-hander walked just eight batters while fanning 55 in tying for the classification lead with ten wins. His ERA was second best in the class. The San Francisco Giants picked Cowart in the 35th round in 2006.

Brent Fisher (19) of Goodyear, Ariz., was the epitome of a power pitcher for the Royals in the Arizona League. In 68 2/3 innings, he struck out a league best 98 batters, 34 more than his closest competitor. Fisher also just issued 19 free passes. The Kansas City Royals took Fisher in the seventh round in 2005.

Neil Wagner (22) of Eden Prairie, Minn., didn't allow a run on the road while recording nine saves in 13 innings for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Wagner exhibited great control as well, striking out 50 and walking just nine in 32 1/3 innings. The Cleveland Indians selected him in the 21st round in 2005.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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