Rookies are one of the hardest things to predict.
Every year, Major League Baseball has those can’t-miss prospects who are supposed to run away with the Rookie of the Year award. And every year, it seems a few of those guys swing and miss.
The Alex Gordon’s of the world disappoint instead of being their team’s immediate savior.
The Delmon Young’s hit 13 homeruns, instead of instantly turning into Ken Griffey Jr. or Willie Mays while the Lastings Milledge’s sit on the bench with a bad attitude.
As often as a sure thing becomes not-so-sure, a guy comes along and explodes onto the scene.
Both winners of the award last year essentially didn’t show up until May.
Dustin Pedroia slumped under .200 in the opening month of 2007, and critics claimed they were right in saying he wasn’t ready, or that he would never hit at the big league level. Pedroia didn’t buy into that mindset and proceeded to hit well over .400 the next month.
Pedroia served as a catalyst for the Red Sox all year, and even set the tone for the World Series when he sent a ball over the Green Monster to lead off for Boston.
Ryan Braun was drafted behind supposed future phenoms Gordon and Ryan Zimmerman. He couldn’t even jump over Cory Koskie coming out of Spring Training.
And once he was called up?
All he did was put together one of the finest rookie seasons ever seen, and rivaled statistics of Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, and Matt Holliday for the rest of the season with .324 BA, 34 HRs and 97 RBIs.
Does this mean that Braun and Pedroia will have better careers than Gordon, Young, and Milledge?
Maybe. Maybe not.
It does mean they were better last year. The other guys were supposed to be All-Star caliber as soon as they stepped foot on the field, yet were surpassed by players who weren’t considered on the same level.
Here’s a look at how the top rookies at each position could fair this year:
2008 Pre-Season All-Rookie Teams:
C-Jeff Clement, Seattle Mariners
Clement is going see at-bats behind the plate, at 1st base, and as a DH for the Mariners in the coming season. He holds the key to his playing time in the form of the lumber he swings every time he steps to the plate. Expect .260 with 15 homers in about 110 games.
1B-Daric Barton, Oakland Athletics
Barton is a pure hitter who has moved past Dan Johnson in the eyes of the A’s organization. A brief September call-up showed the baseball world this 21 year old is ready for full-time action, as he’s done nothing but produce. Not your typical first baseman, Barton lacks the homerun power often needed from the position. He will however post a good average and a great on-base percentage, and may be the safest bet of all of 2008’s rookies to hit .300 this year. Could easily hit.305 with an OBP pushing .400 with 15 round trippers and 35 doubles.
There will be very little rookie impact at 2B in the AL in 2008. A guy like Jed Lowrie could move over there if the Red Sox were to lose Dustin Pedroia for an extended period of time, but even then he would probably share time with Alex Cora, while also logging some time at SS to spell Julio Lugo.
3B-Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Longoria will be given every chance to start for the Rays come opening day. He’s going to hit towards the bottom of the order to start the season in an effort to keep pressure off of him. The Rays have enough confidence in the 2006 2nd overall pick that they moved incumbent 3B Akinori Iwamura to 2B despite solid defense and a bat no one could complain about. Longoria is going to be solid this season, but will not woo anyone just yet. Will be better then Alex Gordon last year, but both are still a few years away. Expect the Long Beach State product to hit between .260 and .270 with 20-25 homers, while adding 35 doubles. Will compete for Rookie of the Year honors.
SS-Brandon Wood, LA Angels of Anaheim
Wood will assume the Shortstop job by mid June as long as he doesn’t flounder the first two months in AAA. He has Ruthian-like power, but strikes out at a more than alarming rate. Could end up a player similar to Adam Dunn down the road but should wind up hitting about .235 while pushing the 20 HR mark by season’s end. If the Red Sox give Jed Lowrie the chance to surpass Julio Lugo, he could slip ahead of Wood as his bat is more major league ready. If Lowrie can make it to the big leagues about the same time as Wood, he could wind up hitting .275 and carrying an on-base about .350. His power isn’t as good and he would wind up with 10-12 homers and about 30 doubles.
OF-Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
Ellsbury has already shown the World what he can do. How does one follow up a World Series title run in which they hit .458 before their rookie year? For the former College champion, its to win the centerfield job and spend the year getting on base in front of last year’s Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia. Ellsbury is going to blow 100 runs away as a rookie simply by letting David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez drive balls all over the field. At least some of their hits will stay in the ballpark giving Ellsbury a chance to show off the speed that rocketed him to the MLB. Ellsbury is a safe bet to steal 20, and joins Barton on this list as potential .300 hitters this year. .285 is a more likely number, but that would be good enough to give the rookie from Oregon a lot of RoY votes and a chance to bring the award to Boston for the second straight year.
OF-Carlos Gomez, Minnesota Twins
One of the keys to the Johan Santana trade, Gomez is competing with Jason Pridie and Denard Span for the opening day CF job and leadoff spot in Minnesota. If Gomez is beat out by either, they’ll just be keeping the spot warm for him while he puts the finishing touches on development in AAA. Gomez has enough speed to make Jose Reyes look average, and could turn into a prolific basestealer. Should push 30 steals this season.
OF-Wladimir Balentien, Seattle Mariners
Balentin should get a chance to showcase some of his tremendous raw power this year. With Adam Jones going to Baltimore, Balentien becomes the top outfield option in the minors. He could find his way onto the big league field with a hot start or injury to one of Seattle’s other outfielders. The average won’t be great, but he could wind up with 15-20 homers this year in fairly limited at-bats.
SP-Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox
Buchholz won over the hearts of Red Sox fans last September when he no-hit the Orioles in his second big league start. He’s got 4 pitches that grade out as at least plus, and some say his 95 MPH fastball is his “weakest” offering. Curt Schilling’s injury means a rotation spot is open, and it will be Buchholz who fills it unless the Red Sox decide he needs a bit of finishing touch in Pawtucket. Even if he starts in AAA, it won’t be long before he pitches his way into the rotation. As soon as he becomes a fixture of the starting five, the Red Sox will feature four very good starters under the age of 27. Buchholz could be a big part of the playoff race this year, and should wind up with double digit wins and an ERA anywhere between 3.75 and 4.25.
SP-Aaron Laffey, Cleveland Indians
Laffey looks to be the Indians number five this year, as he has moved past Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers on the depth charts. Laffey uses superior control to be effective, as none of his pitches are dominant. The control has allowed for him to put together solid seasons in the minors the last few years. Given the Indians are a potential front-runner to win the Central and 90 games, Laffey should get a chance to capture upwards of 15 for them.
RP-Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees
Chamberlain used his fastball to rocket to the majors last season, making the jump from High-A. Upon reaching the majors, all he did was get out after out, and make Yankee fans stop worrying about their current aging closer and who would replace him. Some say Chamberlain ends up a starter down the road, but he has the electric fastball to be one of the game’s great relievers. He could rack up close to 100 Ks this year in about 70 innings.
AL Rookie of the Year: Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox
Runner Up: Daric Barton, 1B, Oakland Athletics
3rd Place: Joba Chamberlain, RP, New York Yankees
C-Geovanny Soto, Chicago Cubs
Soto edges JR Towles here based on the fact that he will see more games. Soto is a future All-Star catcher, and an offensive monster in the waiting. Down the road he could end up hitting 25 homeruns on a regular basis, but anywhere from 10-20 to accompany a .270 average is more likely for this season.
1B-Joey Votto, Cincinnti Reds
Though Votto lacks typical 1B power, he does things most can’t. He has the ability to be a rare 5-tool first baseman down the road, and could even be a 20-20 guy. He also plays quality defense, and his arm is good enough that Cincinnati has used in the outfield at times. Votto will battle Scott Hatteberg for the starting job, and should assume it by mid-June. Given he’s a somewhat advanced hitter, he should be able to hit around .280 with 10-15 homers and 10-15 steals this year.
2B-Ian Stewart, Colorado Rockies
Stewart worked on 2B in the fall and winter in an effort to get to the big leagues faster. He’s proven to the Rockies he can hit, but his natural position of third base is occupied by Garret Atkins, whose coming off of a 25 HR, 100 RBI year. Stewart appears to be behind Jayson Nix for the opening day job, but is a much better hitter and will force his way onto the field by June if he continues to improve on his AAA season last year. He could end up hitting about .275 with 10 homers in the second half for the Rockies.
3B-Andy LaRoche, LA Dodgers
LaRoche has a serious pedigree in baseball. Well known is his brother Adam, the 1B for Pittsburgh whose seen fair amounts of success throughout his career. Lesser known is their father Dave, a former All-Star pitcher and currently the pitching coach of the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats. LaRoche has been a big time prospect for a few years, and given Nomar Garciaparra’s power outage last year, the 3B is very much in the air. LaRoche is probably heading back to AAA when camp breaks, but it can’t be long before he finds himself hitting amongst the propsects he came up with. If LaRoche gets the at-bats, he is one of the few NL rookies who could approach .300.
SS-Brian Bixler, Pittsburgh Pirates
Bixler is a career .284 hitter in the minors whose demonstrated above average ability to utilize his speed once he reaches base. Capable of turning himself into a super utility player in the mold of Chone Figgins, Bixler must first cut down on the big strike out totals he encounters to have any shot at turning into that type of player. With another good year at AAA he’ll make his way to Pittsburg’s bench earning time at 2B, 3B, and SS. He could provide a .250-.260 average and steal 20 bases this year as long as he handles his return to Indianapolis well.
OF-Colby Rasmus, St. Louis Cardinals
Rasmus has been the heir apparent to Jim Edmonds in centerfield since the Cardinals drafted him in 2005. The 1st round pick has moved steadily through the minors and appears ready to fulfill the role they hoped of him. The Cardinals traded Edmonds to San Diego this winter seemingly opening a hole in their outfield for him. With an impressive spring, he could skip AAA and start the season in St. Louis. His combination of power and ability to get on-base are sure signs of success in the future. As for the here and now, Cardinals fans could see a guy with a .350 OBP who hits 15-20 homers and plays solid defense in center.
OF-Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
Bruce seems heading for AAA with very little left to prove in the minors. A lot of teams may have thrust him into the fire after lighting up every level he played at last season, but the Reds seem resigned to not moving him until he’s absolutly ready to go on. The 21-year old has it all, and will force Cincinatti to bring him up by midseason. Could easily get half a season’s worth of at-bats for the Reds, and should hit anywhere between .280 and .300 while adding about a dozen round trippers.
OF-Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs
The most recent Japanese outfield import, Fukudome is going to slide right into the middle of a very good Cubs lineup. Getting to hit in front of Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano means Fukudome is a safe bet to score his share of runs. Coming over an advanced hitter whose already proven he can hit quality pitching, Fukudome still qualifies despite being 30 years old and a Japanese league MVP. Given the increased pitching talent he will see on a regular basis, he is sure to fall off of his numbers from his 2006 MVP campaign. .351 with 31 homers and 47 doubles would be a bit much to ask of any player in his first season in MLB. Hitting .300 with 25 of each though is a very real possibility, and would ensure the Cubs being competitive in an improved NL Central.
SP-Franklin Morales, Colorado Rockies
The young power lefty pitched his way from AA into the Future’s Game and finally settled in the Rockies rotation just in time for a run to the World Series. Slated to get an entire season in their rotation, the 22-year old should easily eclipse 15 wins with Colorado’s offense. The key for him to become one of the games elite is his control, as well as learning to command his pitches effectively. Success in both these areas should lead to a quick rise to the top.
SP-Hiroki Kuroda, LA Dodgers
Kuroda joins an already formidable rotation in Los Angeles, and will slide in as the 4. A polished starter with more experience then most rookies, expectations are fairly high for the Japanese righty. Dodger fans can expect about 15 wins while Kuroda helps the team push toward the playoffs.
RP-Joe Smith, New York Mets
Drafted in 2006, Smith pitched his way to the 2007 opening day roster. He saw success throughout his time with the Mets, but didn’t eclipse 50 innings thus retaining his rookie eligibilty. Should be given his chance to see a full season of action at the big level, and could wind up with an ERA under 3.30 while striking out a guy an inning.
NL Rookie of the Year: Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Chicago Cubs
Runner Up: Geovanny Soto, C, Chicago Cubs
3rd Place:Hiroki Kuroda, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers