MLB Free Agency: Jesus Montero and 10 Top Prospects Preventing Big Splashes
Looking ahead to 2011, many teams will look to improve their roster via free agency or by making a major trade during the off-season.
Teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are looking to sign a major free agent and have their fan bases excited for this upcoming season. However, the secret to a team's success isn't always found by signing the biggest free agent or trading for a six-time All-Star.
The difference between a championship and missing the playoffs can be found in the minors. For some teams, the future of the franchise lay in the hands of the top-rated prospects. For others, general managers look to use their highly-touted prospects as trade bait to reel in a big name to improve their roster or, in some cases, simply to boost ticket sales.
While everyone has an opinion about where Cliff Lee will end up and speculated which team Carl Crawford will sign with, these guys aren't the only players making headlines during this offseason.
Let's not forget about the other guys.
So from Triple-A last season to the majors in 2011, here are some big-name prospects who will be more than difference makers in 2011. Because of the talent and expectations they are bringing to the Show, these top prospects are preventing general managers from making big splashes this offseason at their respective positions.
Sit back, relax, enjoy.
The winter meetings are set to begin.
Yunesky Maya, SP, Washington Nationals
With Stephen Strasburg sidelined next season, general manager Mike Rizzo is looking for a replacement to fill the void that Strasburg is leaving in the rotation.
Asking Yunesky Maya to be that guy is not a realistic request. He's obviously no Strasburg, but how many pitchers are? However, towards the end of the last season Maya drastically improved, earning the right to compete for the starting rotation in 2011. Although he finished the season with a 5.88 ERA and going winless (0-3) in five starts, during his final appearance of 2010 against the New York Mets, Maya allowed just two earned runs on six hits over five innings while striking out four.
On June 8, 2010, Strasburg made his major league debut, striking out 14 batters in seven innings, giving up just two earned runs and, at that time, the Nationals were the focus of the baseball world. However, when Maya takes the mound, don't expect a sellout.
But if his performance from last season carries over into 2011, the Nationals can expect a solid year from the 29-year old Cuban. And at the end of the season, Maya will prove that he has the talent to be a starting pitcher in the majors for years to come.
Chris Carter, OF, Oakland Athletics
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All signs point towards David DeJesus or Conor Jackson being the starting left fielder for the Oakland Athletics' next season, but don't sleep on Chris Carter.
Although these are not the household names general manager Billy Beane would like to see, Beane and A's fans alike can expect Carter to stake his claim for a spot on the 2011 roster and to become the starting left fielder.
After being among the minor-league leaders in home runs, Carter was promoted from Triple-A Sacramento, making his big-league debut in early August at age 23. He failed to record a hit during his first six games in the majors (0-for-19). But don't let his 24-game performance, in which he batted .186 with three home runs and seven RBI, fool you because there's still a lot to like about the 6'5", 230-pound slugger.
Despite playing in a non-friendly hitter's park, Carter will provide much needed power to a team that ranked 28th in the majors in home runs. Not only can Carter play the outfield, he's a versatile player and he has been a first baseman throughout his pro career. However, with 25-year-old Daric Barton establishing himself as the A's everyday first baseman, Carter stands a better chance of finding a starting spot in the outfield.
Having to improve his patience and discipline at the plate, striking out 21 times in 70 at-bats, Carter will need to prove that he's worthy of being a major leaguer. He had a rough start to his professional career last season. Don't expect the same thing this year. You'd be foolish to think otherwise.
Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
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After being called-up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season, one of the most highly-touted prospects in baseball, Domonic Brown, was asked to replace center fielder Shane Victorino, who spent some time on the disabled list in 2010. Now, he'll most likely be asked to replace Jayson Werth in right field in 2011.
While the Brown era began in stunning fashion, going 2-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and scoring two runs, the 22-year-old will now get the opportunity to become the everyday right fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies.
According to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, the Red Sox "appear to be the favorites" to sign free agent outfielder Jayson Werth, who batted .296 with 27 home runs and 85 RBI in 554 at-bats this year. If Werth were to sign with the Red Sox, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wouldn't be forced to go out and find a player to replace him.
Two words: Domonic Brown.
And although this five-tool player is struggling in the Dominican Winter League while playing for the defending-champion Leones del Escogido, let's not forget his major league debut was not a fluke.
He's simply that good.
Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
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Not only can fantasy baseball owners expect Tampa Rays phenom to be a difference maker in 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays will be expecting big things from Jeremy Hellickson to be a major part of their pitching rotation this season.
After a brief stint in the majors, winning all four games in which he started with a 3.47 ERA, the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft fourth-rounder entered 2010 rated as the 18th best prospect by Baseball America.
Appearing in 109 games in six minor-league seasons, Hellickson posted a record of 49-16, while pitching to a 2.71 ERA. His 9.8 strikeout per nine innings and 4.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 580 innings pitched carried over to the majors, as Hellickson was nothing short of impressive after making his major league debut in early August.
Finishing 2010 in the bullpen, Hellickson's success in the starting rotation was no fluke. He proved that he can be a dominant pitcher on the major league level and 2011 will be no different.
Although he won't be the ace of the Rays' staff, that title belongs to David Price, Hellickson will be an ace in his own regard. And while the Rays are expecting to lose Carl Crawford, Hellickson has Rays' fans excited about this upcoming soon.
Can you blame them? I can't.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals
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Who is going to be the starting third baseman for the Kansas City Royals in 2011?
Adrian Beltre? No.
Mike Moustakas? Maybe.
Moustakas, while spending some time Double and Triple-A last season, hit 36 home runs and batted .322 in 484 at-bats, which included driving in 58 runs in just 52 games, in Triple-A.
The power is there, but knowing the Royals, the question remains if Moustakas will get the chance to earn the starting job for 2011. If he does, the former second-overall pick of the 2007 MLB Draft, will be one of the few bright spots for the Royals next season.
Royals fans were hoping they'd get the chance to see Moustakas last season, but the Royals front office decided to keep him in the minors giving him the opportunity to refine his game.
Entering 2011, there's not much to look forward to in Kansas City. However, if Moustakas is at the hot corner when the season begins, besides Zack Greinke (that's if he remains a Royal), Royals fans might have another reason to come to the ballpark to watch their team.
It won't be because they're winning, but rather, because of their third baseman.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
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Make way for Freddie Freeman.
By declining to offer salary arbitration to Troy Glaus, Derrek Lee and Eric Hinske, the Atlanta Braves' top power-hitting prospect is expected to be a major addition to their 2011 starting lineup.
Not looking to build around Glaus (34 years old), who hit .240 with 16 home runs and 71 RBI, and Lee (35 years old), who hit 287 with three home runs and 24 RBI after he was traded to Atlanta from the Chicago Cubs, the Braves are taking a chance on Freeman. Hitting just .167 with one home run in 24 at-bats, there is much doubt surrounding Freeman and his ability to handle the pressure of playing in the majors.
Failing to have a veteran to teach Freeman might turn out to be a costly move for Atlanta if the rookie fails to improve on his 2010 performance. While Freeman has a few games under his belt, the Braves are hoping his 2011 debut will be look more like Rookie of the Year Buster Posey's and Jason Heyward's instead of Kansas City Royals rookie Kila Ka'aihue.
The is stage is set for Freeman to be the Braves starting first baseman next year.
It’s going to be exciting to see what the kid can bring to the table. Alongside Heyward and pitcher Tommy Hanson, the Braves have a young-and-talented nucleus that will allow them to be major players in the National League for years to come.
The Braves are expecting Freeman to be part of their core. He certainly has the talent to make it happen.
Aroldis Chapman, SP/RP, Cincinnati Reds
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After signing Aroldis Chapman to a six-year contract worth $30.25 million dollars, everyone waited anxiously for the "Cuban Missile" to make his major league debut.
On August 31, 2010, everyone watched in awe when Chapman took the mound for the Reds.
He throws 100-plus MPH. He's unhittable and, although he might be spending 2011 in the bullpen, Chapman will one day win the Cy Young award.
It might not be next season or in 2012.
But when his career is over, you will be thankful you got the opportunity to see one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
Remember his name. He's going to be one of the greats.
J.P. Arencibia, C, Toronto Blue Jays
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Coming off a career year with Toronto in 2010, establishing new career highs in batting average (.281), on-base percentage (.314), home runs (20) and RBIs (66) while appearing in 104 games, John Buck's departure to the Florida Marlins makes way for prospect J.P. Arencibia to establish himself in the major leagues and become the starting catcher of the Blue Jays.
Spending most of 2010 with Triple-A Las Vegas, while being named the Most Valuable Player of the Pacific Coast League after hitting .301 with 32 home runs and 85 RBI, Arencibia did not disappoint in his major-league debut, going 4-for-5 with two home runs, a double, three runs scored and three RBIs against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Over the final two months of the season, although Arencibia managed to appear in just 11 more games, he struggled at the plate after making his debut, hitting just .033 (1-for-30) with one RBI and two walks while striking out 11 times.
At 6'1" and 210 pounds, there are no questions surrounding Arencibia's athletic abilities, but his durability behind the plate remains a concern. While dominating offensively at the minor league level, it might be in the best interest of the Blue Jays to move him to another position to get his bat into the lineup on a more regular basis. But for now Arencibia remains a catcher.
With Arencibia's lack of experience, general manger Alex Anthopoulos also hasn't ruled out the possibility of signing another catcher. The Blue Jays can opt to go with veteran Jose Molina, whose $1.2 million option was picked up earlier this offseason.
If the Blue Jays give Arencibia the opportunity in 2011, newly-hired bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who spent 12 pro seasons behind the plate, will be there to guide Arencibia and help him throughout the season.
Arencibia has the offensive talent to be an everyday player, but if his inexperience at catcher proves to be costly for the Blue Jays, no matter how talented Arencibia might be, Molina will get the call.
Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
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While free-agent Carl Crawford appears to be heading for the bright lights of Hollywood, Tampa Bay Rays phenom Desmond Jennings will be looking to make his own headlines next season.
Most likely opening the 2011 season in the Rays' outfield, the 24-year-old Rookie of the Year candidate will be asked to replace Crawford's Gold Glove outfielding skills while displaying his speed on the bases.
Jennings might not provide the power Crawford is taking with him to his new team, but the Rays can expect Jennings to post a strong OBP, rack up steals and eventually become the team's leadoff hitter.
In 2010, he stole 37 bases to go along with a .362 OBP in Triple-A. In 2009, Jennings hit 11 home runs, recorded 52 steals and a .401 OBP (in Double and Triple-A combined). Never having an OBP lower than .360 at any level in the minor leagues, Jennings has proved during his minor-league career that he has the talent and finds a way to get on base.
If the Rays are expecting Jennings to fill Crawford's shoes immediately, it's going to take some time. But already deemed a superstar-in-waiting, although reaching all expectations in 2011 might be unrealistic, it wouldn't surprise if it happens.
And it shouldn't surprise you either.
Jesus Montero, C, New York Yankees
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Goodbye, Jorge. Hello Jesus.
Following a poor offensive season from the 15-year veteran Jorge Posada, batting .248 with 18 home runs and 57 RBI, general manger Brian Cashman informed the 39-year-old catcher that his days of being the starter for the Yankees are all but over.
Spending time in the minors this past season, the Yankees were minutes away from including Montero in a package deal that would've have brought Cliff Lee to the Yankees. Well, the trade failed to go through and now the Venezuelan can't-miss prospect who was already deemed a superstar at the age of 16 is getting his chance in the majors.
The Yankees are no strangers to signing the biggest fish on the free-agent market. In December of 2008, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees and during this offseason, more than likely, Lee will be the prized possession of the Yankees this winter.
From Joe Girardi to Posada, over the past two decades the Yankees' need for a big-name catcher has been few and far between. Now it's Montero's turn.
If he produces in 2010 like he did during his time Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting .289 with 21 home runs, 75 RBI and a .353 on-base percentage in 123 games, the Yankees will be fine. He took his game to another level, batting .351 with 14 home runs, in the 44 games after the All-Star break.
Four years ago, July of 2006, the Yankees signed Montero for $2-million dollars.
The wait is finally over.
Let's hope he's ready for the show.
Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals
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There's a chance we won't see Bryce Harper this season. There's even a possibility he won't be on the opening day roster when the 2012 season begins. However, last year's No.1-overall pick will be in the majors sooner than people think.
Currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League, general manager Mike Rizzo doesn't need to sign a free-agent right fielder nor trade for one either. For the time being, until his future star outfielder learns and understands his new position, since Harper was drafted as a catcher, Michael Morse will be patrolling the outfield.
Although Harper will be starting the season at Class A, my gut feeling is that it won't be long until the 18-year-old moves through the minor league system and finds himself in the majors. Stephen Strasburg began last season in Class-AA Harrisburg and it was only a matter of time until Strasburg was pitching in the majors.
Rizzo doesn't need any other player to get National fans excited about coming to the ballpark. All he needs to do is call up Harper when the time is right.
And if the Nationals begin the season struggling, the time will be sooner than expected.