2010 MLB Predictions: The Top 10 National League Rookies to Watch
Spring training is upon us, meaning another MLB season is on its way. Every season a new crop of stars comes around and alters the balance of the league.
There are no sure things when dealing with prospects. Some "can't miss" blue-chippers never amount to anything (see: Brien Taylor). Other players come out of nowhere and become Hall of Famers (see: Albert Pujols).
Last year we saw a wealth of NL rookies make an immediate impact on their respective teams.
Tommy Hanson got the call in June and pitched "lights out" baseball from then on. Many argued that the Braves would have made the postseason had Hanson started the season in the "Bigs."
Chris Coghlan won NL Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .372 after the All-Star break. Coghlan carried on the Marlins' tradition of hot prospects making a difference.
The Pirates had a fire sale last season, trading away the majority of their lineup and entrusting the future of the offense to a rookie class that included Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones.
McCutchen led the team in runs and steals despite not getting called up until June. Jones led all rookies in home runs and slugging.
Here are 10 youngsters looking to make the leap to the big leagues this season. Keep an eye out for these names, as they may be around for quite a while. Also, don't forget to check out the American League rookie watch that is currently posted.
Jason Heyward - OF Atlanta Braves
Personal: 6'4" 245 lbs.
Drafted: First Round (14th overall) 2007
Experience: A, AA, AAA—In 99 games at all levels in 2009, Heyward hit .323 with 17 HR, 69 R, 63 RBI, and 10 SB while boasting a .963 OPS.
Primary Competition: Matt Diaz (When Heyward makes the leap, expect him to be plugged into the starting lineup immediately.)
Estimated Call-Up: An Opening Day starting spot is not out of the question.
Additional Notes: Jason Heyward is one of the best all-around hitting prospects in years, drawing comparisons to Darryl Strawberry. The two biggest differences are positive: Heyward doesn't carry the psychological baggage of Straw and has shown up to spring training with vastly increased muscle mass.
With this potentially the last year for manager Bobby Cox and, possibly, Chipper Jones, the Braves are looking for a big season. Bringing on the monster bat of Heyward could make all the difference.
Heyward will bring a reliable bat to the middle of Atlanta's order and should supply great power. With an already impressive lineup, Jason could benefit greatly from an Opening Day spot on the team.
Stephen Strasburg - RHP Washington Nationals
Personal: 6'4" 220 lbs.
Drafted: First Round (first overall) 2009
Experience: Arizona Fall League, 2008 US Olympic Team—The only collegiate player on the 2008 Olympic team, Strasburg held the Netherlands to one hit in his seven innings in his first start.
Primary Competition: John Lannan, Jason Marquis (Strasburg is expected to compete for the role of ace upon his call up.)
Estimated Call-Up: June 2010 (If the Nationals wait until June, they can retain Strasburg for a longer span.)
Additional Notes: Described as a "once in a generation" pitching prospect, Stephen Strasburg has the ability to throw as high as 103 mph. He possesses a power breaking ball that many consider a curve and a vicious slider that have been nearly unhittable.
Strasburg displayed an effective change-up in the AFL that had not been seen much in college.
After throwing sessions early in spring training, many referred to Strasburg as "Jesus," a reference to what came out of hitters' mouths after facing his fastball. Washington signed Stephen to a rookie record four-year, $15.1 million deal at the 11th hour after tense negotiations with agent Scott Boras.
The Nationals want to make sure to use caution with their new pitching sensation, careful not to burn him out too early and maximize the dividends he brings. Washington is hoping for a Randy Johnson-like career as opposed to a Mark Prior-like flame-out.
Buster Posey - C San Francisco Giants
Personal: 6'1" 205 lbs.
Drafted: First Round (fifth overall) 2008
Experience: A, AAA, MLB—In 35 games with AAA Fresno, Posey hit .322, 5 HR, 21 R, and 22 RBI while posting a .902 OPS. In 17 AB with the San Francisco Giants, Posey was only able to notch two hits.
Primary Competition: Bengie Molina (With Molina turning 35 this year, expect Posey to share time with the veteran, at least for the first half of the year.)
Estimated Call-Up: Posey should make the Opening Day roster.
Additional Notes: Buster Posey is money with the bat, connecting for average and some real power potential. Often overlooked is Buster's prowess on defense, throwing out 46 percent of runners in 2009.
Posey is near the top of a bright new crop of catching prospects that includes Carlos Santana, Jesus Montero, and Matt Wieters. Besides Wieters, who played a good portion of 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles, Posey is considered the most MLB-ready.
Posey has a knack for hitting all over the field with some power, but not 30-40 HR range. With surprising speed for a catcher, expect loads of extra-base hits from Buster.
Aroldis Chapman - LHP Cincinnati Reds
Personal: 6'4" 180 lbs.
Drafted: N/A (Cuban defector) Signed as a free agent with Cincinnati
Experience: Chapman has pitched with the Cuban National Series and for the Cuban national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Primary Competition: Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto (if Chapman pitches well early on, he could move up the rotation quickly.)
Estimated Call-Up: Expect Chapman to be part of the Opening Day rotation.
Additional Notes: Aroldis Chapman is considered to be a "left-handed Strasburg" by many observers. His pitches have registered as high as 102 mph in games.
Chapman struggled in the WBC, posting only a 5.68 ERA in 6.1 innings. He often complained about the umpire's small strike zone and looked to be frustrated easily.
Chapman will have to learn to keep his cool and harness his abilities. Otherwise, he is in danger of flaming out as a hard-throwing disappointment, something the Reds have had too much experience with in the past.
Mike Stanton - OF Florida Marlins
Personal: 6'5" 240 lbs.
Drafted: Second Round (78th overall) 2007
Experience: A, AA—In 129 games in both A Juniper and AA Jacksonville, Stanton hit 29 HR and 92 RBI while hitting .255 and a .842 OPS.
Primary Competition: Cody Ross (Ross will start in RF until the Marlins feel that Stanton is ready to come on board.)
Estimated Call-Up: June 2010 (If Stanton can't improve his average and avoid strikeouts, he may have to wait until 2011.)
Additional Notes: Because of his size and slugging ability, Stanton has drawn comparisons to a young Dave Winfield. Scouts have been impressed with his defensive abilities in RF, showing great range with his throwing.
The Marlins have had immense success with young prospects brought through their farm system. Now that MLB has basically forced them to retain their talent (see: Josh Johnson, Dan Uggla), Florida will be able to plug guys like Stanton into a potent roster. This should benefit Stanton's production as a rookie.
Pedro Alvarez - 3B Pittsburgh Pirates
Personal: 6'3" 235 lbs.
Drafted: First Round (second overall) 2008
Experience: A, AA—In 60 games with AA Altoona, Alverez hit. 333 with 14 HR, 42 R, and 40 RBI. Alvarez had an impressive 1.009 OPS to boot.
Primary Competition: Andy LaRoche (Alvarez should bump LaRoche for the 3B spot early on this year.)
Estimated Call-Up: Will likely make Opening Day roster, if not earn the starting gig by then.
Additional Notes: Pedro Alvarez has earned the nickname "El Toro" (the Bull) because of his large build. That build may force him to leave 3B behind at some point as he continues to grow.
Alvarez hits for major power, though he has trouble with left-handed pitchers. With a youth movement going on in Pittsburgh, Pedro should get every opportunity to get regular playing time and a chance to make a huge impact on the Pirates.
Madison Bumgarner - LHP San Francisco Giants
Personal: 6'4" 215 lbs.
Drafted: First Round (10th overall) 2007
Experience: A, AA, MLB—Lowest ERA in the Minor Leagues in 2008 (1.46), 10 innings pitched for MLB Giants in 2009 (0-0 10 K, 3 BB, 1.80 ERA)
Primary Competition: Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito (SF may try to acquire another veteran starter to push Bumgarner.)
Estimated Call-Up: Madison will likely start the season in the fifth spot of the Giants rotation.
Additional Notes: Bumgarner's pitches can reach the mid-90s, though his velocity has dipped a bit according to reports. As he improves his secondary pitches, Madison hopes to move up the rotation to the third spot.
Bumgarner impressed many in his one start, filling in for Tim Lincecum. The southpaw notched a combined record of 27-5 in his two minor league seasons.
Alcides Escobar - SS Milwaukee Brewers
Personal: 6'1" 180 lbs.
Drafted: N/A (signed as an amateur free agent in 2003)
Experience: A, AA, AAA, MLB—Escobar is the most experienced player on this list. In six years of minor league ball Escobar hit .293 with 400 R, 256 RBI, and 176 SB. In 38 games with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009, Escobar hit .304 with 20 R, 11 RBI, and 4 SB.
Primary Competition: Craig Counsell (The Brewers traded away J.J. Hardy last season based on the production of Escobar.)
Estimated Call-Up: Should be Opening Day starter.
Additional Notes: In his limited time with the Brewers last year, Castro proved to be their best defensive infielder. Though he continued to hit for average, steals were a bit low. Look for Castro to get the green light more this year.
Starlin Castro - SS Chicago Cubs
Personal: 6'1" 160 lbs.
Drafted: N/A (Dominican Republic)
Experience: A, AA—In 31 games for AA Tennessee, Castro hit .288 and had 11 runs, 14 RBI, and six stolen bases.
Primary Competition: Ryan Theriot
Estimated Call-Up: Castro could get the call if Theriot gets injured this season, according to Cubs manager Lou Piniella. If not, he may come to MLB later in the season as a sub for Theriot.
Additional Notes: With a sharp eye for the ball and cannon arm, Castro is brilliant in the field. The Cubs are also impressed by his bat. Castro has a knack for making contact with the ball and, considering his age, should develop some power and speed on the basepaths.
Though Theriot has proven a worthy SS in Chicago, Castro is seen as an All-Star-caliber prospect. Alan Trammell has expressed a fondness for Castro, but don't expect the Cubs to rush him along if they don't have to.
Drew Storen - RHP Washington Nationals
Personal: 6'2" 180 lbs.
Drafted: First Round (10th overall) 2009
Experience: A, AA—In 10 games with AA Harrisburg, Storen accumulated nine saves and one win with 12 K in in 12.1 innings while allowing only three hits and no runs.
Primary Competition: Matt Capps, Brian Bruney
Estimated Call-Up: June at latest. Matt Capps was signed as a stopgap until Storen takes the closer role. If Capps slips, Storen should expect the call.
Additional Notes: Storen is a hyper-competitive pitcher with a great off-field personality. For evidence, find him on Twitter @DrewStoren.
With a three-pitch repertoire, Drew has been know to throw into the upper-90s. Storen is also able to hit from both sides of the plate.