With 11 days until Spring Training, it inspired me to write about 11 underrated young players around the league looking to put up lofty numbers in the upcoming season. These are 11 players, in no particular order, who are likely to have huge seasons in 2009.
Chris Davis—1B, Texas
In only 295 at-bats at the big league level last year, Davis put up some very impressive totals, finishing with 17 home runs and 55 runs batted in while hitting .285.
I repeat: 295 at-bats. That's some serious power.
With the starting first base gig for the Rangers, fantasy baseball owners in the know are salivating over drafting this kid.
Johnny Cueto—SP, Cincinnati
Cueto may have posted mediocre numbers as a rookie in 2008—a 9-14 record to go with a 4.81 ERA—but his potential is through the roof. Cueto looks to have better run support this year, which will definitely help him compile wins with his electric stuff.
However, he needs some self-improving. Cueto will only be able to live up to his potential if he can cut back on his walks and home runs allowed. In 2008, he gave up 29 round-trippers and 68 free trips down to first.
Despite these control issues, it is imperative to keep in mind that Cueto is young, and these issues should straighten themselves out as he matures.
Daric Barton—1B, Oakland
Barton is hyped up to be a great pure hitter. He was noted to have explosive bat speed, with no real weaknesses at the plate, and he was also said to be incredibly patient at the dish.
Barton hasn't been able to live up to this hype in the Majors with Oakland, so far. Playing in 140 games this past season, Barton hit .226 with nine dingers and 47 runs batted in among a relatively weak Athletics' lineup.
Barton didn't exemplify much of this patience, either, striking out 99 times while collecting 65 walks.
Now hitting in a more potent lineup, Barton should see better pitches and be given a legitimate chance to improve himself in 2009.
While more casual baseball fans and fantasy baseball players will have all but given up on Barton, more savvy fantasy managers will be able to pick him up in the later rounds and wait for the production to come, because it will.
Clay Buchholz—SP, Boston
Did Buchholz set the bar too high for his expectations with his no-hitter back in 2007? I think he did.
In 2008, Buchholz was ineffective, as an understatement, at the Major League level, going 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA. He walked 41 batters in only 76 innings, and got tagged for 11 home runs.
However, there is still a glimmer of hope for Buchholz. In 2008, Buchholz also pitched at AAA, where he boasted a 2.47 ERA to go along with a 4-2 record.
With a back end of the rotation with a lot of old guys who are injury prone, Buchholz should see some starts in this coming season where he can re-prove himself.
Alex Gordon—3B, Kansas City
Gordon has the potential to be a premiere power hitter on the baseball scene. However, that hasn't culminated yet.
With two years of playing time, Gordon has hit 15 home runs in 2007, and 16 home runs in 2008.
However, he is now in the middle of a much better lineup, and he should start seeing better pitches. This should lead to some increased power numbers in 2009.
Yovani Gallardo—SP, Milwaukee
After being out with injury for the better part of the 2008 season, Gallardo missed a lot, including the Brewers' first playoff appearance in 26 years, and a miracle stretch run led by C.C. Sabathia.
Now, without Sheets and Sabathia, the Brewers are back, with Gallardo as their ace. Gallardo did pitch briefly in '08, posting a 1.88 ERA in 24 innings.
With one of the best offenses in the National League backing him up, Gallardo looks ready to explode in '09 and make up for the season he missed.
Felix Pie—LF, Baltimore
After being completely ineffective with the Chicago Cubs, Pie gets a new chance as the team's starting left fielder to show what he can do.
Pie joins Luke Scott, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis in a crowded outfield.
Michael Pelfrey—SP, New York Mets
After a very good 2008 season in which Pelfrey went 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA, the young Mets starter is looking to improve upon these numbers.
Supported by a great offense and a greatly improved bullpen, Pelfrey looks ready to break out in 2009 and try to help carry the Mets back into the postseason.
Matt Cain—SP, San Francisco
Cain has pitched very well in his brief Major League career. Cain has a career 3.74 ERA in four seasons, as well as a 1.27 career WHIP. However, due to abysmal run support, Cain has only compiled a career 30-43 record, including 16 losses in 2007 and 14 losses in 2008.
In the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Cain posted ERAs of 3.65 and 3.76, respectively.
Now that the Giants have Major League talent all over the field, including a revamped bullpen and a slowly-but-surely improving offense, Cain should have a better season than he has in years past.
Chris Perez—CL, St. Louis
With Jason Isringhausen all but a memory for the Cardinals, Perez is the closer of the future.
In 2008, Perez fanned 42 batters in 41 innings, posting a 3.46 ERA and seven saves.
There will be some pressure on Perez, because he isn't the only candidate for the job. If he messes up, Ryan Franklin and Jason Motte will be breathing down Perez's neck for the St. Louis closer job.
Max Scherzer—SP, Arizona
With a staff headed by Brandon Webb and Danny Haren, it's pretty easy to get lost at the bottom of the Diamondbacks' starting rotation, never to be heard from again.
However, Scherzer was not exactly lost in the pile.
In 2008, Scherzer pitched in only 56 innings. However, he posted a 3.05 ERA and struck out 66 batters.
In a division with weaker offensive teams like San Diego and San Francisco that Scherzer will be able to feast upon on a regular basis, expect some big things out of this kid.