Breathe it in baseball fans, the 2009 fantasy baseball season is just around the corner.
As fans, we have just begun to see a new era in sports. The word “rookie” is usually associated with the terms “inexperienced,” “amateur,” and “the new guy.” Now, the “rookie” is anything but.
We have watched as Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan led their respective NFL teams to the playoffs.
People gaze as Michael Beasley lights up the scoreboard for the Miami Heat in the NBA.
Humanity stared in awe as Evan Longoria helped the Tampa Bay Rays reach their first ever World Series.
The tide is changing in professional sports. The “rookie” is rising. Today, we look at the future of Major League Baseball.
Below are my top 10 rookies to watch for 2009.
Who do I think could become a star during the upcoming season? Let’s find out.
Before I begin with my list, I wish to point out two newcomers to American baseball. They did not make my list due to the fact that they are unproven in the United States, so I decided to just mention them as two rookies to watch.
Kenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara
Kawakami and Uehara are bursting on to the scene as they hope to make a Daisuke-type impact in 2009. With the Braves, Kawakami is expected to help lead the staff to a playoff run. Uehara is hoping to be a successful starter in a bit of a stop-gap role.
They should both be considered on Draft Day, and the tremors they cause may be felt throughout the baseball world.
Now to the regular scheduled Top 10.
10. Adam Miller (SP) (CLE)
We begin our countdown by looking at Adam Miller. Miller, the No. 4 overall prospect in the Indians organization (according to Baseball America), has had a rough road throughout his big-league career.
Plagued by injuries, Miller has never had the opportunity to become the rising star that many projected. Now, it’s make or break time. In only six games in 2008, he went 0-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 20 strikeouts.
Though some have predicted he will be a front-end starter, his injury problems have caused me to believe otherwise.
When healthy, Miller's fastball has been known to hit 98 mph, and his high 80's slider is nasty. If Adam can stay healthy in 2009, look for him to possibly make some appearances out of the bullpen. We could have a great future closer on our hands.
9. Andrew McCutchen (OF) (PIT)
In recent years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have dealt away top outfielders with hope that their young studs can step up. They have Nate McLouth in center field, Brandon Moss in right field, and the up-and-coming Andrew McCutchen.
At only 21-years old, McCutchen has proven to be an elite outfield prospect in the minors. In 2008, he hit for .283, with 9 HR, 50 RBI, and 75 runs scored in 135 games for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. With 34 steals last season, he has also proven that his speed will be a factor in 2009.
There is plenty of room for the athletic McCutchen in the Pirates’ outfield; and he may find his way up to the big leagues sooner rather than later. For now, though, he must thrive at the Triple-A level and prove to the Pittsburgh organization he is ready to become a big-league ballplayer.
This five-tool stud should be in the majors by mid-season, so watch and see how he progresses early in the year.
8. Colby Rasmus (OF) (STL)
Like Miller, Rasmus has had his share of injuries that slowed his career progression. Rasmus has always been known as a slow starter; however, his ability to bounce back late in the year keeps him in the running for the Cardinals’ outfield spot.
Obviously, the St. Louis outfield with Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, and Skip Schumaker is full at the moment. Not a big problem though, because Rasmus is one quick start away from getting his shot. If Colby can shift his hitting woes in the beginning of ‘09, he could be getting some early second-looks from the Cardinals’ front office.
Watch Rasmus’ production at the start of the year. If he produces, he'll quickly get the call to the big show. Otherwise, we may have to wait a bit longer than expected. For now, however, this five-tool prospect is only waiting for his golden opportunity.
7. Jeff Samardzija (RP) (CHC)
Samardzija was the youngster who had success coming to him while at Notre Dame University. He had the decision to either play in the Major Leagues as a pitcher, or find a spot on a National Football League team as a wide receiver.
After choosing baseball, the Chicago Cubs drafted him in 2006. He has greatly improved since then. In only two seasons he found his way up to the big leagues where he proved just how valuable he can be.
In 2008 with the Cubs, he went 1-0 with a 2.28 ERA, one save, and 25 strikeouts. Opponents hit a mere .226 against the tall righty, who showed uncommon dominance at such an early age.
In 2009, we can expect a lot from Samardzija. With Kerry Wood gone, former setup man Carlos Marmol has the opportunity to step up and become the next closer. This gives Jeff a grand chance to follow in Marmol’s footsteps.
Look for Samardzija to battle for the setup role. If he wins it, he could very well get some save opportunities along the way.
6. Alcides Escobar (SS) (MIL)
During this past offseason, talks of the Milwaukee Brewers listening to offers for young shortstop J.J. Hardy have filled the MLB rumor mill.
This bodes well for Escobar, who has proven that he has the ability to hit at the major league level. In four at-bats last season for the Brewers he had two hits with two runs scored.
Now, I know these stats don’t prove much, but it’s his potential that is intriguing. He is projected to be a top-of-the-order hitter, possibly being slotted in the No. 1 or No. 2 spot.
One other specialty that Escobar has working for him is his defense. According to MLB.com, “…many considered the 21-year old to be the finest defensive shortstop in the minors.”
If his bat can catch up with his glove, this kid could be one of the better shortstops in the majors.
Presently, the one person standing in his way is Hardy. Escobar’s best chance to grab a starting spot is if Hardy is dealt at the trade deadline. Watch at the deadline to see what Escobar’s fate in 2009 really is.
5. Elvis Andrus (SS) (TEX)
Earlier this offseason Michael Young, of the Texas Rangers, made the decision to move over to third base. This move made some room for Elvis Andrus to move to shortstop.
The youngster is expected to be the starter come Opening Day—a grand test for this rookie.
Andrus is projected to hit for a high batting average and be an above average base-stealer. However, he lacks sufficient power.
As a player, Andrus has every chance in the world to become a star in the pros. Will he live up to the Rangers’ expectations?
We should begin to see his true value after the first two weeks of the regular season.
4. Travis Snider (OF) (TOR)
Let me first begin by saying this: The kid is a stud. After being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2006, he found his way up to the big-leagues only two years later.
In 2008 he made his major-league debut with the “Blue Birds,” ending the year with a .301 average, 2 HR, 13 RBI, and nine runs scored. This rookie is expected to be the starting leftfielder on Opening Day.
I expect big things from this up-and-coming 21-year old, especially in the power category. Snider is a threat to hit 20-30 homers year-in and year-out, so he may end up being a better fantasy player than many experts anticipate.
3. Cameron Maybin (OF) (FLA)
After making my list last season, Maybin was a disappointment during the 2008 campaign as he didn’t get his call-up until late last year.
Yet, once he got his opportunity, he did not disappoint—hitting .500 average, with two RBI, four stolen bases, and nine runs scored.
In 2009, Maybin’s five-tool talent should enable him to thrive. Now the starting center fielder on a young Marlin’s squad, Maybin will get the opportunity to play every day, giving him plenty of at-bats to show his big-league potential.
Look for Maybin to be at the top of the list in steals at the end of the year.
One thing that I’m not sure of is his power. From his minor-league career we have seen that he has the “pop” in his bat, but he didn’t show any glimpses last season. We may see some glimpses of a big bat during the upcoming year, but for now, we can only speculate how his power will transfer over to the major-league level.
2. David Price (SP) (TB)
If anyone watched the 2008 playoffs, they would have seen David Price’s magical performance in the AL Championship Series.
Many people now believe that he is the future ace for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays sure know how to draft their players.
The Rays current rotation looks as follows: Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, and David Price. If you’re a fan of an American League team, I hope that a shiver just went down your spine, because that rotation is scary.
The young lefty should make a fine number five starter, and he should slowly work his way up to the top of the rotation.
In many fantasy drafts Price is already expected to be picked somewhere in the later rounds. That could end up being a bargain for the owner that claims him. This kid should be a star in the pros for many, many years to come.
1. Matt Wieters (C) (BAL)
We have finally reached the No. 1 spot, as I am here to speak about Orioles’ top prospect Matt Wieters. Let me draw a picture of what this kid could become.
Take Evan Longoria’s power, make him a switch-hitter, add Joe Mauer’s contact and defense, now you have Wieters.
In his first full season in the minors (between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie), Wieters hit for a .355 average, with 27 HR, 91 RBI, 89 runs scored, and two stolen bases. Talk about a great first season!
Some (including myself) believe that David Price and Matt Wieters will be neck-and-neck for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
As of now, Wieters is slotted as the backup catcher behind newly acquired Gregg Zaun. Zaun should be a fine mentor for the elite prospect, and Wieters will learn quicker than expected. Wieters’ fine potential should place him as the starter at some point mid-season, giving him some time to play at the Triple-A level.
If you want to draft him, try getting him with one of your later picks. If you have a keeper league, be hasty. He should go a bit faster than most expect. We should see some fine play out of him for the majority of his career.
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