08-08-2007, 05:39 PM
Espn.com mentions Smoak as one of the young ones who could someday challenge Bond's record. Editor's Note: Major league veterans like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones are well on their way to hitting 500, 600 or even 700 home runs … or more, and perhaps someday challenging Barry Bonds' home run record. But who are the game's future sluggers? ESPN.com asked Keith Law to project the top hitters at the lower levels in terms of their future power potential at the major league level. Bruce In the minors Jay Bruce, RF, Triple-A Louisville (Cincinnati) When it comes to raw power, Bruce has the edge. The left-handed-hitting Bruce is just 20 years old but already has above-average power to right field. As he continues to get stronger, some of his prodigious doubles power will develop into home run power. (Bruce already has 69 extra-base hits in 110 games, a pace of 102 per 162 games played.) He's cut down on his swings and misses and showed significant improvement against left-handed pitchers this year. Playing in a good hitters' park (Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park) when he gets to the majors won't hurt his home run totals either. Just drafted Jason Heyward, CF, Atlanta Braves Michael Burgess has more raw power, and Matt LaPorta does as well, but Heyward has a better combination of probability and youth than either of those guys. Heyward, who is still unsigned at this writing, went 14th overall in this June's draft to the Atlanta Braves, who do have a habit of taking high school kids from their home state. (Heyward comes from La Grange, Ga., about an hour southwest of Atlanta.) Heyward is very strong, with a simple swing that allows him to let the ball travel before he commits, and he already shows a good idea of the strike zone and the ability to get to and drive the ball down. He has 40-homer potential down the road. Smoak Still in school Justin Smoak, 1B, University of South Carolina Smoak sits at the top of a relatively thin class of collegiate power hitters for the 2008 draft, but that top tier -- with bats like Vanderbilt slugger Pedro Alvarez, Arizona State's "professional hitter" Brett Wallace and Miami's Yonder Alonso -- is going to produce some big home run totals in pro ball. Smoak is a switch-hitting monster, a hitter with excellent bat control and plus-plus power from both sides of the plate. Smoak hit 22 homers this spring while playing in the best baseball conference in the country and led the wood-bat Cape Cod League in homers last year with 11 (three more than anyone else hit). He's struggled playing for Team USA this summer, hitting .227 with a .391 slugging percentage. Keith Law, formerly the special assistant to the general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, is the senior baseball analyst for Scouts Inc.