Five under-the-radar teams/performers that should enjoy breakout levels of success in ’09.
1. Wandy Rodriguez- A guy known for his disastrous road performances despite pitching in a hitter friendly home park, Rodriguez has all the makings of a breakout season. Just trust the stats: his home/road splits have gotten better two years in a row; his K/9 rate has risen three years in a row; his BB/9 rate has lowered three years in a row; his HR/9 rate has lowered three years in a row; and 2008 was his most complete campaign yet. This guy is trending in all the right directions.
2. The Oakland Athletics- When you add Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, and Orlando Cabrera to a lineup devoid of any punch, you’re simply going to keep more games close. That part isn’t hard to figure out. Giambi had a quiet 32 home runs in ‘08 and I think he sees a statistical boost across the board going back to the relaxing West Coast. He can now leave pinstripes and steroid talk behind for good.
Holliday is a legitimate star, while Cabrera is a major upgrade over the fragile Bobby Crosby at shortstop. His defense alone will win Oakland some games, and he has an underrated offensive skill set.
Oakland’s pen should be serviceable as well (although Joey Devine’s elbow is troubling), and the influx of young pitching they have coming through the system gives Bay area fans hope. Anderson and Cahill are names that we’ll all know a year from now.
I see Oakland adding 8-10 wins in 2009 and competing out West with the Angels into August.
3. Anthony Reyes- Once the crown jewel of the Cardinals system, Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa got tired of Reyes’ post-World Series underachievement and released the youngster out into the wild last year.
Cleveland scooped him up and might have nabbed a hungry young talent with a chip on his shoulder. Reyes put together six impressive starts last August and September and flashed the balanced, potent repertoire that made him a hot commodity in St. Louis. He’s not a flame thrower, but his slurvy breaking pitch and deceptive change-up are plus side offerings. He works backwards in a way, but his “stuff” can make hitters mighty uncomfortable.
The Tribe have very little pitching depth, so Reyes is likely going to get ample time to prove himself in 2009. If he puts it all together, he could be a big part of a Cleveland resurgence.
4. Matt Gamel- Who? Yea, well few people had heard of Ryan Braun in 2007 before his monstrous breakout season.
Gamel is actually fairly similar to Braun: he’s a third basemen by trade who can’t field much and will likely be transferred to the outfield at the big league level. His bat does all the talking though, and at the age of 24, Gamel is less raw and more polished than some of the other big name prospects hitting prospects getting hyped, such as Maybin and Schaefer.
In AA and AAA last year, Gamel’s combined stat line looked like this: .323, 20 HR, 99 RBI, 99 R, .924 OPS. He can flat out hit and the Brewers have no real favorite at third base (Bill Hall?).
Gamel could get a May or June call up, and when he does, he could contribute more than most rookies being talked about this pre-season.
5. Ian Stewart- The biggest factor for Stewart is playing time. The ‘ol PT.
With Helton and Atkins at the corners, and Hawpe/Spilborghs/S. Smith in the outfield, Stewart’s only real place to fit in is at 2B, his natural position. Problem is, Clint Barmes had a nice second half last year and has been tentatively named the starter, so Stewart is likely to platoon.
Most people believe, however, that Colorado is going to eventually have to find a place for this kid to play. He hit 10 home runs in just 266 at bats last year and has had an outstanding spring. He flashes gap power and has an ascending line drive rate, one that has followed him throughout the minor leagues. He’s also not a liability defensively and most scouts agree that he’s a star in the making that simply needs the at bats and experience to thrive.
If Colorado struggles out of the gate, something many believe is likely, they may look to deal Atkins by July 31. This would allow Stewart to shift to 3rd. An injury to aging vet Todd Helton at 1st baseman would also allow a similar opportunity to open up for the 25-year-old riser.
Stewart will have to either bide his time waiting for a trade/injury, or simply hit his way into the everyday lineup. When he gets a full-time shot, he’s going to make waves.