We've been looking at free-agents and trade scenarios ad nauseam for a month now. Let's see if we can focus our attention on something else. We can do it if we try. Take a deep breath.
Now answer this question. Besides trades and free-agency, where can you find other players to help your team win? If you answered the minor league system, you win! Something? No not really. I just wanted to keep you on the edge of your seat. If you didn't answer the minor leagues, go learn to play cricket and don't bother me.
Ah, here come the rookies. There could be can't-miss top prospects that make the most of their opportunity in the majors (see Jason Heyward). But there also might be young players that jump out of virtually nowhere and make a splash. Let's take a look at 50 of them and see just what kind of impact each may have this season.
Raw but explosive. That's one way to describe this guy. One hundred forty-four steals in three seasons is unheard of these days, but he was also caught stealing 50 times over that same period. His bat seems to be good enough, but his defense needs refinement. He has the physical tools, but barring a revelation, he will be spending most of the season in the minors.
He's still young, topping out as high as Double-A last year. He strikes out a lot, but he also walks a lot, giving him an OBP just under .400. He had 56 extra base hits and 30 steals as well. The odds are he may get a look later in the season when the Cubs are out of contention.
On a team like the Indians, White should have an opportunity to show what he can do sooner rather than later. We'll just have to see if he seizes that opportunity when it comes.
He's raw, but he's got good stuff. If the Royals struggle, they may want to take a closer look at some of their talented young pitchers. If Crow gets a few issues ironed out, he may just stick with the big club.
Played in 11 games for the Jays in 2010 following a huge season at Triple-A Las Vegas where he hit 32 bombs with a .986 OPS. The only question it seems will be his defense. His opponent CS percentage has gone down each of the last three seasons. At the very least his bat should buy him some at-bats at DH.
Espinosa isn't a great player by any stretch of the imagination. But he does have talent that is currently being developed. There is a strong possibility that it will happen in Washington at some point during the 2011 season. Maybe he'll surprise us.
This guy will only be 20 in January, but he has already hit Double-A in the Braves system. It would be crazy to think he would make the team right out of spring training, but By I could see him on the mound at Turner field in a relief role come August. The experience would serve him well, but 2012 will be his year to shine.
Gamel still hasn't been given a chance to show what he can do at the major league level. He was stuck behind Ryan Braun and Casey McGehee at third base. This past season he was asked to work at both first and in the OF as well. In both those cases he still doesn't have a position with Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and Ryan Braun blocking his way.
Gamel can hit and he should get his chance to play somewhere very soon.
This guy is 6'10" of imposing huge beast. So far the majority of Brackman's work in the Yankees' system has been as a starter. I think long-term, he fits in better at relief. There is an outside chance he's brought up this season, but with past Yankees bullpen woes, they may need him sooner rather than later.
As with most of the Rays pitching prospects, McGee has been very good in the minors. His 2010 season was especially impressive. He made 20 starts, but also threw in relief 10 times. His place may be out of the bullpen with the Rays. With all the starting pitching they have, that may be the only place McGee will get a chance to see the field.
Mark Rogers is a feel-good story. He has battled injuries, including a shoulder problem that forced him to miss the entire 2007 and 2008 seasons. He has slowly made his way back, culminating with a September call-up in 2010.
In four games, including two starts, Rogers pitched 10 innings giving up 2 hits, 2 runs while striking out 11. The club was very cautious with him.
It is expected that Rogers will battle for the No. 5 starter spot or a place in the bullpen.
This tall, lanky left-hander is destined for the bullpen. He is seemingly being groomed for a lefty specialist role. Based on his minor league numbers, he should have some success.
He would be higher if the Yankees hadn't just signed Russell Martin. Apparently the powers that be don't think Montero is ready. He is only 21, but he has moved steadily up the ladder in the Yankee's system. One more year and I think the Yankees may be willing to hand the keys over to him. Russell Martin has been brittle, so it wouldn't surprise me to see Montero in Yankee Stadium at some point this season.
Weglarz has been biding his time in the Indians system, and 2011 may just be his year. He has tremendous plate discipline and a solid left-handed bat. His OPS has been in the .880-.900 range over the last several years. If he doesn't play in Cleveland this season, something is wrong.
His seasoning should be just about complete. He had a nice season in 2010 in Triple-A showing plate discipline, a .300 batting average and a high OBP as well. He threw opposing runners out at a 29 percent clip. He should definitely hit the bigs at some point this season.
This imposing 24-year-old seems to be ready for the next step. Carter was able to get a few at-bats with the A's last season, but this year the first base job should be his to lose. He's got power and he can hit for average as well. He should be in the middle of their order this season from day one.
Gee is versatile, having started a bunch of games but also finishing a number as well. His pure stuff as a starter may not translate into a starting role at the major league level, however—it's likely his work will primarily be in relief. There's no reason to believe he won't do that for the Mets this season.
While he won't start this season in the bigs, the odds are he'll be there before it's over. Jayson Nix and utility man Luis Valbuena are currently ahead of him. You can see why I think he'll be getting some at-bats in the show.
Allen has shown what he has to offer—he should get his shot in 2011. I'm not sure why the Diamondbacks are afraid to just let him play. He has the tools to hit and hit with power. Aren't teams always looking for that? At the very least he will platoon at first.
Why in the world does this guy keep getting traded? He's a very good hitter with a high OBP. Maybe the problem is that he doesn't hit for much power and he doesn't have a position. He should get more comfortable at first base and he's going to hit. He'll be the Astros' starter at first this season.
Jeffress was one of the four players the Brewers sent to the Royals in the Zack Greinke deal. His struggles with the munchies are well documented. One thing that's undeniable is that the dude has a power arm. He can bring it 97-99 mph with a decent breaking ball. He had a brief opportunity to get a few innings this past September with the big club. He'll probably start the season in Triple-A, but he'll be up at some point during the season.
This well-built lefty should be ready to go for the O's right from the start of the 2011 season. He's probably best at limiting the number of hits he gives up. He walks some but not at an alarming rate. He's done pretty much all he can in the minors. Let's see how Camden Yards treats him.
A member of the 2009 draft class, Oliver has had only one year in the minors. He had solid numbers all around and if he just cuts back on his walks a wee bit, he'll be very dangerous. He'll start at some point for the Tigers this season, but I don't see it being before August.
Scheppers is a work in progress. It seems as though he will need to find his own role in the bullpen. While that isn't the most glamorous place for a rookie, it may just be the best place for him. He'll probably start the year in Triple-A, but he should sniff Arlington at some point this season.
Jansen was a catcher, outfielder and first-baseman. Now he's a pitcher. That sounds odd because it is. Spending his first five seasons in the minors as a position player, Jansen was moved to pitcher. Scouts are morons at least in this case.
As a pitcher, he dominated EVERYONE. I'll leave you with these two numbers: 78 and 45. That is how many strikeouts he had in how many innings he pitched last season. He'll be in L.A. this summer.
This guy is NASTY! Between two stops last year, Archer went 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA and only gave up 102 hits in 142.1 innings. That's just dominant on any level. He's 22 years old, and if things fall just right, he'll be starting for the Cubs by mid-season.
Beachy completely and totally dominated his competition in a relief role in 2010. He notched a 1.73 ERA while striking out 148 and walking only 28. He had a few starts thrown in, but he should be pitching in a relief role with the Braves from day one in 2011.
This guy is big and a long strider. By the time he releases the ball it seems like it's already halfway to the plate. As big as he is, he's not quite the power pitcher you might think. But he doesn't walk people and he doesn't give up gopher-balls. He'll probably start the season in Triple-A and be up with the Padres by the All-Star break.
There is one main drawback to Alonso's game, his position. With reigning NL MVP Joey Votto entrenched at first base, Alonso will have to switch positions to crack the Reds' lineup. The most likely spot is probably left field. If he can show he can handle the position shift, he could easily overtake Jonny Gomes.
Hosmer is another of the up-and-coming young hitters that have taken plate discipline seriously. He's only 21, but his bat may already be ready for the show. He hit .338 last year with a .977 OPS. That's not a typo. They need to decide on a position for him. He's at first base right now, but a corner outfield spot is also a possibility.
Francisco is the third baseman of the future. With Scott Rolen's injury history, the future could come as soon as week one of the Reds' 2011 season. In any event, he will be in Cincinnati this season. If given the playing time, odds are he won't be leaving.
Ackley probably won't be a stud or a difference-maker. How many guys actually are? It looks like his major league home is at second base. He's one of those guys that hits just enough, plays pretty good defense and doesn't do anything to actually hurt the team. He'll play a lot and he should be solid, but don't expect anything spectacular.
While Ramos is not the best hitting catcher around, he knows how to catch and catch well. The number that jumps out at me is the 45 percent opponent CS percentage that Ramos has put up so far in his career. Even if he's no more than an average-hitting catcher, his defense will take him a long way.
I don't know much about this guy except that the Twins signed him. I do know he's a switch-hitter and will be starting at SS from day one. That in itself should tell you he will score a lot of runs if he hits at the top of the batting order. I'm interested to see just what this guy can do. For the Twins' sake, I hope he's not Kaz Matsui reincarnated.
He's 22, spent a year at Triple-A and has been groomed as the Braves closer of the future. Guess what boys? The future is now. If his 23 saves and 1.62 ERA don't convince you, how about 55.2 innings, 28 hits and 83 K's? I thought so.
Luebke is a little on the older side, but a lot of left-handers develop later, or so they say. He's not a strikeout pitcher, but he doesn't walk anyone either. His career WHIP of 1.163 is a telling stat. If you're going to get on base, you're going to have to earn it. He figures to start the season at the back-end of the Padres' starting rotation.
Pineda is filthy, sick and downright dominant. He's following in the footsteps of King Felix almost literally. He'll be 22 in January and his lanky body has yet to fill out. His only numbers I will mention are 34 walks and 154 K's. That's just not fair. He'll be right behind Felix in that rotation come Opening Day.
There isn't that much to say about Castro except the Astros love him, and he's their guy. They gave him some time to audition last season and it's all his in 2011. He's a good hitter but really good defensively. His forte is throwing out would-be base stealers. That's always a good thing.
Jennings is a run scorer. He hits for a high average and has a stellar OBP. He steals bases and creates havoc on the base paths. He's finally going to get his chance to shine, and I have no doubt that he will. While he won't make people forget Carl Crawford, Rays fans may stop cringing when they hear Crawford's name.
Smoak was the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade with Texas. The Mariners gave him a shot right away and he stubbed his toe. OK maybe more like dropped a bowling ball on his toe. He's a good hitter with a smooth swing and a keen batting eye. That's why it was so baffling when he started flailing at everything thrown to him. He'll regroup and be the Mariner's starter all season.
Freeman is a tall, rangy first-baseman with oodles of upside. In fact it looks like the Braves are willing to let him be THE guy in Atlanta in 2011. That may be a lot to ask of a 21-year-old. He's a good hitter across the board and plays good defense as well. Welcome to Atlanta Freddie!
Storen is another of the pitchers from the 2009 draft that are on the cusp of the majors. In fact, he will most likely start the season in the Nationals' bullpen. He should play a prominent role in the relief corps and may eventually develop into a closer. That may just happen sooner rather than later.
This guy totally blew through all three levels of the Twins' system in one season. I'm not going to go through all of his numbers, but I will say this: He's a horse. He started 26 games and logged 152.0 innings. He might not begin the season in the Twins' rotation, but he most certainly will end it there.
Santana got an audition in 2010 to show the brass just what he could do. He did not disappoint. The most impressive numbers to me were his .401 OBP and walking 37 times and striking out only 29. That is uncommon plate discipline for even a seasoned veteran. He's the unquestioned starter and due for big things in 2011.
We all know he has the pedigree. I've heard he's got the focus and intensity as well. He was the centerpiece of the Roy Halladay trade to the Phillies. Was he worth it? Watch him this season and find out. The Jays traded starter Shaun Marcum to the Brewers, so Drabek will be thrown right in there to sink or swim. I have a feeling he will swim and do a little more than the dog paddle.
There had been some rumors flying around about the Brewers having interest in Minor in a possible deal involving recently traded Brewers CF Lorenzo Cain. Obviously that never materialized. The Braves will be glad nothing came of those discussions. Minor will jump right into the rotation and hit the ground running.
While his ERA was a bit high in 2010, he only allowed 93 hits in 121.1 innings. His 1.155 WHIP is also impressive. He will make a big splash in 2011.
Brown just turned 23 and is more than ready to jump right in where Jayson Werth left off. He shows all the signs of being the next big thing in Philly. He hits for a high average, gets on base regularly and had an OPS of .980 last season. He should start from day one of spring training 2011. Like the Phillies needed any more weapons.
If anyone is wondering how the Rays can be contemplating trading Matt Garza, all they need to do is check out this guy. He is not a big guy by any stretch, but he knows how to pitch. At age 23, he was 12-3 with a 2.72 ERA. He struck out 127 in 119.1 innings with only 37 walks. He'll be in the rotation come opening day.
Ridiculous. That word describes the natural abilities Aroldis Chapman possesses. It's becoming clearer every day that he also has control over those abilities. He had the opportunity to show everyone what he could do against major league hitters late last season. He pitched in 15 games logging 13.1 innings giving up 9 hits with 19 K and a 2.08 ERA.
He will most likely begin the season in the bullpen, but if he can show he can be economical with his pitches as well, he may just get a shot at starting. Stay tuned.
This guy put up some sick numbers last year between Double-A and Triple-A. He hit .322 with 36 HR, 124 RBI and an OPS of .999. All that at age 22. He could walk a little more, but that should come with maturity. He's going to be a cornerstone of the Royals' offense for years to come starting in 2011.