The San Francisco Giants are currently the toast of Major League Baseball. Featuring the best rotation in baseball and coming off a World Series championship, the Giants look to become the first team since the 1999-2000 New York Yankees to win consecutive World Series.
A crucial contributor to the 2010 San Francisco Giants was NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, a can't-miss prospect who made good on his potential with the Giants by becoming one of the team's leaders both on and off the field.
In 2011, the Giants have another such player in Brandon Belt, a five-tool first baseman (how often do we say that?) who ripped up the minor leagues in his first season of pro ball and is looking to make the Giants out of spring camp.
Belt will not be the only impact rookie in the majors this season, though.
Here we take a look at 30 rookies looking to make an impact at the major league level in 2011.
Strange things would have to occur for the Pirates to need Tony Sanchez at catcher in 2011. Nevertheless, stranger things have happened—especially for the Pirates—and Sanchez appears to be a wonderful and distinguished talent, with the ability to hit for power and get on base ahead of a .400 clip.
Ivan Nova only technically qualifies as a rookie in 2011, since he pitched 42 innings in 2010; in order to qualify as a rookie, a pitcher must have pitched no more than 45 innings in order to qualify.
The reason Nova is so interesting is because the Yankees have no arms in their rotation this spring. He has already been penciled in for the fourth spot on the pitching staff despite a mediocre showing in 2010.
Luckily, Nova's minor league career revealed him to be a good worker and not prone to the long ball. In Yankee Stadium, this will be an asset.
With a star or superstar at every position and veterans on the bench, the Boston Red Sox will not have much room for youngsters in 2011.
Nevertheless, if a rookie is going to break through this season, it would likely be happen on the mound, where the Red Sox will feature three pitchers in Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey who have not been putting up consistent play the last couple of years.
Keep the names Jacob Turner and Chance Ruffin in your mental rolodex, because we'll be hearing from them soon enough.
However, if a rookie is going to break out with the Detroit Tigers in 2011, it is more than likely going to be Andrew Oliver, a 6'3" lefty whom the Tigers drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft.
In his first year in professional ball in 2010, Oliver split time between Double-A and Triple-A and managed well, posting a 9-8 record with a 3.45 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 130 innings pitched.
Cliff Lee's journey from the Indians to the Phillies to the Mariners to the Rangers and now back to the Phillies has seemed so epic that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it really has only been 18 months since the adventure began.
Carlos Carrasco was one of the players the Phillies sent to the Indians for Lee, and it would appear that after seven years of seasoning, he may be ready for the big time. In 2010, Carrasco was 10-6 with a 3.65 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 150 innings pitched.
And really, for this pitcher, on this team, the only two real questions are: If not Carrasco, then who? And if not now, then when?
The Jeff Bagwell Era gave way to the Lance Berkman Era, and now, the Lance Berkman Era is over. The Houston Astros are hoping that the Brett Wallace Era will provide the same sort of returns.
There is reason to be optimistic; as a 23-year-old in the Toronto Blue Jays organization in 2010, Wallace hit .301 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI in 95 games.
Wallace's career to this point, though, raises several red flags. First of all, he is now with his fourth organization since being drafted with the 13th overall pick by the Cardinals in 2008 after having been traded three times.
Wallace's big 2010 came in the Pacific Coast League, which is well known as a hitters' league. And Wallace also strikes out way too much, which won't play well in Houston.
Only 22 years old, Michael Pineda looks to make a weak Seattle Mariners rotation out of camp. A 6'5" right-hander from the Dominican, Pineda struck out 154 batters in 139.1 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2010.
He also walked only 34 hitters, displaying a rare ability in a young power pitcher to get batters out without being wild.
According to new Mariners manager Eric Wedge, Pineda is most definitely in the hunt for a rotation spot. After his start on March 2nd, Wedge said that Pineda had good control of all of his pitches.
"And he was throwing downhill," Wedge said. "I liked what I saw today."
Michael Kirkman made a huge splash with the Texas Rangers in 2010, striking out 16 batters in 16 innings with a 1.65 ERA (266 ERA+) in 14 relief appearances. Kirkman is a 6'4" left-hander who went 13-3 with a 3.09 ERA in 22 starts in Triple-A a year ago.
Kirkman, like teammate and 2010 AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz, was a starter in the minors and hopes to remain a starter at the major league level. However, Kirkman will have to work through some control issues he's exhibited at the major league level; in his 16 major league innings, he has issued more walks than he has allowed hit.
One thing working in his favor, though, is that Kirkman does not give up home runs. He allowed none with the Rangers in 2010, and he allowed only 29 home runs in 487 minor league innings pitched. If there is one thing that can get a Rangers pitcher fast-tracked to the majors, it is the ability to avoid home runs.
The New York Mets Rule 5-poached Brad Emaus from the Toronto Blue Jays, which means that he will be on the Mets' 40-man roster for the full season.
With Luis Castillo aging (which is an understatement) and Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy not doing much to impress the Mets, Emaus could be the Mets' starter at second base come Opening Day.
Dom Brown ripped up Double-A and Triple-A in 2010 then made his major league debut, and things have fallen apart since. He was overmatched in the majors, then he was a forgotten man in the playoffs. Then he got sent home from the Dominican Winter League and now is struggling in the spring.
Word around Clearwater is that the Phillies are looking to acquire a right fielder, an indication that Brown may not be coming north with the club.
A 20th-round pick in the 2007 draft, Matt Reynolds is a big 6'5" left-hander from Illinois who made his major league debut last season and struck out 17 batters in 18 innings with a 2.00 ERA and 0.833 WHIP.
Reynolds did give up two home runs in just the 18 innings. However, with the Colorado Rockies, this is the cost of doing business. The Rocks expect Reynolds to be their primary lefty reliever in 2011.
Danny Espinosa will be a 24-year-old rookie for the Washington Nationals in 2011, and the Nationals have enough problems to worry about that they won't be itching to move Espinosa if he can show up consistently and the field the ball without too many problems.
And if he can build upon his 22 home runs in Double-A and Triple-A combined from a year ago, the Nationals might have a pleasant surprise on their hands.
Mike Dunn came over from the Atlanta Braves along with Omar Infante in the Dan Uggla deal. He has pitched a combined 23.0 major league innings with the Braves and Yankees in the last two years, and in that time, he has 32 strikeouts and 22 walks and a 2.74 ERA in 23.0 innings pitched.
Obviously, he'll need to improve upon the walks allowed, but he is right where he needs to be in terms of his overall pitching.
If Aramis Ramirez does in fact end up killing Carlos Silva, Jay Jackson will be the first pitcher called up from Triple-A to take his place.
In 2010, the St. Louis Cardinals had an elite defensive shortstop and a rather poor defensive second baseman. They got rid of the shortstop, Brendan Ryan, and kept the second baseman, Skip Schumaker.
Amaury Rivas started 25 games in Double-A in 2010 and went 11-6 with a 3.37 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 141.2 innings pitched. If Randy Wolf or Chris Narveson struggle with injuries or consistency, the Brewers may bring up Rivas to pitch as either fifth starter or an extra arm in the bullpen.
It appears that there is currently an abundance of players named after the former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver in Major League Baseball. This Chris Carter played 24 games for the A's in 2010 and struggled his way to .186/.256/.329. This, though, came after he hit 31 home runs and batted .258 with an .894 OPS in 125 games in Triple-A.
Carter's real problem won't be with the bat; his offense will come around. The real issue will be finding a place for Carter to play. He is a first baseman who tends towards DH, but the A's have Daric Barton at first and Hideki Matsui at DH going into the spring.
If Carter can catch on in left field, he is a Rookie of the Year candidate.
It will be an interesting year for the once-proud Baltimore Orioles. Their strong finish under new manager Buck Showalter last season has raised expectations for a club that will still finish in fourth place in 2011, and despite a talented crop of pitchers, the Orioles have a poor pitching-support system that will inevitably lead to lots of runs being given up.
When that happens, watch for Zach Britton to be called up. He is the next in line for the Orioles and looks like an excellent control-oriented lefty for a team needs control pitchers to survive.
Lorenzo Cain came over in the Zack Greinke deal and instantly gives the Kansas City Royals a bona fide star in the making in center field.
Cain will be competing for the starting role in center field with Melky Cabrera, whose continued employment as a major league center fielder is no doubt maddening for fans of good baseball but certainly maximizes Cain's chance of being named the starter on Opening Day.
Can you keep a secret?
The Los Angeles Dodgers secretly have a terrible outfield right now. Matt Kemp is probably the worst defensive center fielder in baseball. Andre Ethier has yet to demonstrate his ability to hit consistently when Manny Ramirez isn't around. And Jay Gibbons...Jay Gibbons?!?!
The time may be now for Trayvon Robinson, a 10th-round pick out of high school in 2005. Robinson is a speedster, having stolen 232 bases in six minor league seasons, and in 2010 at Double-A, Robinson had a .404 on-base percentage.
Frankly, whether he's ready or not, he'd be a better bet than any of the current Dodgers outfielders.
In 138 games at High-A ball in 2010, Paul Goldschmidt hit 35 home runs with 108 RBI, 102 runs and a .314 average. His OPS for the season was .990, and he also hit 42 doubles. Goldschmidt is a big boy at 6'4", 220, but displays athleticism nonetheless.
According to Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson, this spring, Goldschmidt has been getting out to the practice fields early and taking between 100 and 200 ground balls in order to work on his defense.
Though he is still young and inexperienced, it is beginning to sound as though the Diamondbacks may be serious about Goldschmidt in 2011.
The San Diego Padres are currently in flux, and Cory Luebke may stand to benefit. A 6'4" left-hander, Luebke should be inserted into the Padres rotation some time this season to fill the vacuum left by the departure of Chris Young, Jon Garland, Kevin Correia, Jake Peavy and everyone else who has had success for the Padres in recent years.
Luebke would be part of a good young rotation, also featuring Mat Latos and Clayton Richard, that has no chance of winning any games because of how awful the Padres' offense will be.
Okay, this one is cheating because Nishioka is already an established star in Japan, having won the batting title there.
Nevertheless, the Twins are hoping he can solidify the infield as the Twins continue to make do with what they have and continue to win in ways that no one can understand.
Excitement abounds in the South Side about young lefty Chris Sale. Sale is from Lakeland, Florida, the spring training home of the division rival Detroit Tigers, and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox with the 13th overall pick in last year's draft.
Sale went 11-0 with a 2.01 earned-run average in 103 innings at Florida Gulf Coast University, then dominated in the minors to the tune of 19 strikeouts and six walks in 10 innings between Single-A and Triple-A.
Then he joined the Sox and dominated some more, to the tune of a 1.93 ERA, four saves and 32 strikeouts in 23 innings.
And, by the way, Sale is a 6'5" lefty who weighs 175 pounds, which happens to be the same number of pounds that adorn my 5'8" frame.
Peter Bourjos' 2010 debut with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was a bipolar affair. At the plate, he struggled mightily, barely batting over .200 while posting an OPS that started with the No. 5.
On the other hand, he appears to be a transcendent defensive player, as his range and throwing ability seem almost superhuman. In only 51 games, he amassed 16 fielding runs, which is great for a full season. He also had 10 outfield assists and only one error.
Bourjos' defense is so good that it might make up for his bat even in the American League. And if he can hit his weight, he is a Rookie of the Year candidate.
The payoff in the Roy Halladay deal: Kyle Drabek pitched well in Double-A last season and is listed fourth in the rotation on the Blue Jays' depth chart.
The time could be now.
This is, of course, year two of the Aroldis Chapman Experiment/Project/Disaster/Plan. Chapman will work almost exclusively out of the bullpen this season, with a view towards moving to the rotation for the 2012 season.
Freddie Freeman and Jayson Heyward have been best friends and roommates essentially from the time they were both taken by the Atlanta Braves in the 2007 draft. Last season, Heyward made his debut and nearly won the NL Rookie of the Year.
This season, it is Freeman's turn. The first base job is his to lose in Atlanta where he doesn't even really appear to have any competition, from Eric Hinske or anyone else.
Freeman is not quite as polished as Heyward, but he doesn't have to be to have a great year for the Braves.
Jeremy Hellickson is the latest in what has been an absolute pitching factory for the Tampa Bay Rays. He has absolutely dominated the minor leagues to the tune of a 49-16 record with a 2.71 ERA and 634 strikeouts in 580.1 innings pitched over six seasons.
At the end of the 2011 season, if the Rays somehow make the playoffs, it will have been in part due to the contributions of Hellickson.
Brandon Belt is going to be the next great San Francisco Giant. Quite frankly, he has all the tools.
He can hit for average, hit for power and get on base. He plays a good first base defensively and already has a charismatic presence in the clubhouse. In his only season of pro ball, Belt hit 23 home runs and stole 22 bases while batting .352 with 112 RBI and 99 runs.
Look for the Giants to delay his arrival like they did with Buster Posey. Belt will be up for good by June 1st.