It might be that the 2010 rookie class will go down among the greatest to ever break into the big leagues. On the other hand, the 2010 class may just signal a new era of relying on rookie players to make a major impact.
In the past, only a few rookies cracked a starting lineup each year, while others gradually worked to become an everyday player over time. However, last year the two World Series finalists just happened to have rookies starring in central roles, while players like Ike Davis, Mike Stanton, Jaime Garcia and Madison Bumgarner all became solid big leaguers.
2011 will likely again feature several rookies making a big impact early in the year. Who will be this year’s Buster Posey or Neftali Feliz? Read ahead for the rookie from each team destined to make a major impact.
It’s worth remembering that rookie status is granted to a player with fewer than 130 big league plate appearances, no more than 50 innings pitched or no more than 45 days on a big league roster.
It wasn’t long ago that the position players the Giants produced were defense-first players still learning to handle big league pitching (Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz). However, with Brandon Belt in the fold, 2011 stands to be the second year in a row that the Giants have produced an offensive threat that could power the middle of their order for years to come.
Belt is among the top hitting prospects in baseball, and has quickly ascended the Giants’ minor league ladder since being drafted in the fifth round in 2009. He compiled a solid 2010 (.352/.455/.620) and at age 22, should fit in easily without the pressure that usually accompanies a big-time prospect. That’s because the attention will find Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and the rest of the defending champs if the offense gets off to a slow start.
While Belt hasn’t landed the starting 1B job yet, and he won’t have it handed to him, It seems certain that once he claims the job it’ll be his for the next several years.
Rosario compiled an outstanding 2010 in AA, batting .285 with an .894 OPS and 19 HRs. However, his season ended suddenly when he tore his ACL in August. He is still recovering, and the Rockies expect him to play at some point during the spring.
Rosario’s 2011 will depend on the knee and on Chris Iannetta, who scuffled through 2010, and could be on a short leash this season. Iannetta was up and down (mostly down) last season, even getting sent to the minors. With Miguel Olivo gone and Jose Morales still working on defense at the big league level, the door could be open quickly for a healthy Rosario to assume the role.
The catcher position could be a key to the Rockies’ success this season. Iannetta was once a future star, and signed a big contract before achieving anything at the major-league level. Expect the Rockies to allow Rosario to push for the job when healthy.
Most teams with a $40 million payroll are forced to go through rebuilding programs, using rookies and prospects to fill holes and crossing their fingers in hopes of rapid development. Not the Padres. The Padres just reload, even after trading away the heart of their order.
Few rookies will make an impact on the Padres roster this year, with the most likely candidate for success being Simon Castro, the Padres top pitching prospect. Castro has a huge 6'5" frame, and throws mid to high 90s with a nasty slider. He notched strikeouts by the bunches at AA before being called up to AAA late in the year.
He may start back in AAA to work on changing speeds, with the likelihood that he’ll see action in the majors if Cory Luebke, Aaron Harang or Tim Stauffer falter early in the year.
While the early ROY sentiment follows Belt or Chapman, Jansen could wind up asserting himself as a candidate early in 2011. With the injury to Vicente Padilla, Jansen will almost certainly make the 25-man roster, with the likelihood that he will slot alongside Hong-Chih Kuo in a setup role to closer Jonathan Broxton.
It’s been a dramatic climb for Jansen, who tossed only 56 innings before landing his role at the back of the Dodgers bullpen late last season. In 27 innings, Jansen struck out 41 batters and posted a 0.67 ERA. He throws mid to upper 90s and changes speeds effectively, all of which is more stunning considering his conversion from catching two years prior.
Chances are that the Dodgers consider Jansen to be a future closer candidate, and with the command issues Broxton struggled through, and the injury concerns of Kuo, Jansen’s chance to finish games could come in 2011.
After having his rapid climb through the minors derailed by Tommy John surgery late in 2009, Parker appears ready to claim a spot in the D-backs very hittable rotation in 2011. Parker’s fastball hit mid-90s in his initial appearances in D-backs camp this spring, an encouraging sign that he is completely healthy following the injury.
Parker is the club’s top pitching prospect, and there is little on the big league club to stand in his way. It seems likely that he will break camp as the sixth starter in a five-man rotation, and manager Kirk Gibson says he will be sent back to AAA, rather than fill a long-relief role if that is the case. However, he is only a few rough outings by Zack Duke, Joe Saunders or Barry Enright away from an early call up.
Schafer was considered the Brewers’ future centerfielder prior to missing nearly all of 2010 with injuries. He is still highly thought of by Brewers’ management. His defense is major league-ready, he has the speed to occupy the lead-off spot and was a .300+ hitting during his brief minors career prior to the injuries.
Which brings us to Carlos Gomez, the Brewers’ current centerfielder. It’s Last Chance Saloon for Gomez, who has yet to drive a breaking pitch on purpose in the majors and appears to be the weak link in Milwaukee’s offense. Another slow spring or an injury will likely catapult Schafer back into the Brewers’ immediate plans.
Schafer appears slated to start the season in AAA Nashville, but it is doubtful he’ll be there long.
The questions for Chapman in 2011 surround his command and his role, with the answer to the first question leading to the second. There are no questions about his jaw-dropping fastball and knee-buckling slider. If he can command the two consistently, the innings will likely increase steadily. Let’s just say Dusty Baker is slightly less concerned about pitch count than the average manager.
Chapman will almost certainly pitch the entire year in the bullpen, as the Reds have six legitimate starters. Their relievers’ ERA in 2010 was eighth in the NL, a mark they will have to decrease in the improving NL Central. A setup role to Francisco Cordero is most likely, with occasional opportunities if Cordero falters in his contract year.
Chapman has the look and feel of a future star, and the question is when. Will it be 2012, when he is fits in as a starter or as the Reds’ closer. Or is it now?
As a backup to David Freese and Lance Berkman in right, Craig is almost a lock to make the club. Backup infielder Nick Punto is also sidelined with a sports hernia, meaning Craig will likely get consistent ABs even if he doesn’t have a starting job.
At 25, Craig has slowly climbed the minor league ladder, hitting .308 over his career with 90 HRs. He struggled in his cup-of-coffee call up last year, and seemed overmatched against quality pitching. He may look the same at times in 2011, but it’s likely he’ll get a chance to contribute regularly when camp breaks at the end of the month.
Pedro Ciriaco is the rookie most likely to emerge this year for the Pirates because the players who were slated to be rookies this year (Brad Lincoln, Neil Walker, James McDonald, Charlie Morton) all played for the big league club last year, when they lost a league-high 105 games.
But here’s another compelling reason for Ciriaco to have an impact with the Pirates: Ronny Cedeno. Re-signing Cedeno to be the everyday SS might be the single worst idea in baseball in the last year; worse than Yankees fans heckling Cliff Lee’s wife. Cedeno gets on base at less than a 30 percent rate, has no power and little speed. He’s a defense-first SS who committed 18 errors last year.
Meanwhile, Ciriaco is 25 and major-league ready. He has a ton of speed, good range at short and line-drive power to all fields. He should be an injury or a bad week away from taking over the job.
At 27, Diamond is the only non-prospect on this list, which is credit to his perseverance and debit to the Cubs’ depth in the high minors. Diamond has bounced in around the minors and bounced his way up the Cubs system last season, where he gave up 23 runs in 29 innings.
On the plus side, Diamond throws hard and offers an intimidating presence on the mound. He can start or relieve and changes speeds effectively. On the negative side, he got hit pretty hard by the Cubs last season, struggles to throw breaking pitches consistently and is injury-prone.
Despite the downside, he should figure in the Cubs’ plans this season and could win a rotation spot as soon as this month.
After putting together a solid 2010, the Astros are giving Lyles a chance to win a spot in the rotation this spring. Lyles is not their brightest pitching prospect, and he struggled at AAA after his September call up.
Lyles’ strength is his smooth, steady delivery and low-90s fastball, which he locates very well for a young pitcher. He used the two to remain very consistent prior to September, and the Astros are hoping he just ran out of gas at the end of the year.
His competition for the fifth spot in the rotation makes it likely he’ll pitch in Minute Maid soon. For now, only Nelson Figueroa, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Aneury Rodriguez stand between Lyles and a starting spot.
Gee is slated to compete against Chris Young and Chris Capuano in the spring for the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. If Gee pitches anything like he did last year in five starts down the stretch, it’s likely he’ll figure in the Mets’ plans.
Already heavy on thirty-something junkballers looking to resurrect their careers, the Mets will likely stick with Gee if he demonstrates the same command and composure he did in compiling a 2.18 ERA in 2010.
Gee is not a top prospect and only emerged as an emergency starter after a rash of injuries. He has a low-90s fastball with movement, and changes speeds effectively. Otherwise, he has hittable stuff and will have to rely on a good gameplan and strike one to have success over the long term.
However, with a shaky top of the rotation and Johan Santana out at least until late in the summer, Gee’s early success could get the Mets off on the right foot.
Among the young Braves expected to make the leap to the bigs in 2011, Freeman is the most ready to contribute right away. Certainly, the Braves seem to agree after allowing Derrek Lee and Troy Glaus to leave in the offseason. Freeman’s greatest assets are his maturity and short, compact swing. He’s already a standout defensive player, and he has the ability to hit for average with moderate power right away.
The questions about Freeman are long term. The Braves feel he has superstar potential, while scouts who have watched him climb through minors are skeptical that he’ll bring the power and run productivity of a corner infielder on a contending club. In other words, Braves fans should not expect another Jason Heyward, or Brian McCann or Chipper Jones for that matter.
Honorable mention goes to Craig Kimbrel, who impressed last year by striking out 40 batters in 22.2 innings. Kimbrel will be given the opportunity to win the closers’ job over the next three weeks, and should be dominating opposing hitters with his mid-90s heat this beginning in April.
How could a young phenom walk into a better situation than Brown finds with the Phillies? They are the three-time division champs and are picked by most as the favorites to win the National League. The All-Stars around the infield and the aces on the hill will attract most of the attention, meaning all Brown has to do is play.
Sure, he struggled in 62 ABs last year, as pitchers took advantage of his lengthy swing. But Brown has all five tools and excelled everywhere else, compiling a .976 in 2010 while forcing his way to Philly. If he can get on base consistently, he could be the speedy leadoff hitter the Phillies could use at the top of their lineup, giving their offense an added dimension.
Brown suffered a hand injury over the weekend, and will be examined on Monday, the possibility of surgery on the horizon. This would be just a speed bump for the Phillies on their way to the postseason.
What more do you need to know about the Marlins in 2011 than the idea that they are practically giving 3B to Dominguez this spring? Dominguez could be a Gold Glove candidate for years to come, and has the maturity and make up to handle the transition. The Marlins’ success hinges on their young players having success for a full season in new roles, as Gaby Sanchez did at 1B last year.
However, Dominguez’ bat continues to trail his glove. He batted just .252 in AA last season, with a .754 OPS.
Nonetheless, the Marlins are emphasizing defense in 2011, and plan to do so by shifting last year’s 3B Chris Coghlan to CF and letting Omar Infante handle 2B. However, if Dominguez falters Coghlan could move to 2B (here’s where it gets tricky), with Infante shifting to 3B and someone like Emilio Bonifacio taking over in CF.
That would all be irrelevant if Dominguez proves he can hit occasionally. Marlins management had to have been pleased when he homered in his spring debut against the Cardinals last week. They’ll need to see a little more of that to feel comfortable when they break camp.
The Nats’ middle infielder of the future arrived last fall and struggled down the stretch. However, Espinosa finished up a 25-25 campaign across three levels and will team with Ian Desmond to provide speed and power at the bottom of the Nationals’ lineup.
Espinosa is a free swinger and has just a .270 BA during his three minor league seasons. The holes in his swing and his limited range at 2B could limit his value during his adjustment to the majors.
Carter strikes out too much and is still learning to play the outfield. He struggled once he found his way to Oakland last season, beginning his big league career in an 0-for-33 slump. Just last week he committed two errors in a game in right field, increasing the chances he’ll start the season in the minors.
That said, the A’s need Carter to find his stroke and establish himself in the majors. Carter has the bat speed and power to supplant light-hitting Daric Barton at first, and could easily fill in for Josh Willingham/Hideki Matsui if/when he gets hurt/traded.
If Carter gets it together this spring, he could demonstrate a tantalizing combination of speed and power that the A’s lineup screams for.
Sure, Jeff Mathis is a stud behind the plate and calls a great game. And sure, Mike Scioscia was the same thing as a Dodger catcher throughout his playing career. But Mathis might be the worst hitting regular in baseball this season (.195 BA in 2010).
With Mike Napoli two teams removed from Anaheim, this could wind up as Hank Conger’s job at some point in 2011.
Conger is a switch-hitting slugger with high upside and the ability to draw walks and get on base. He batted .300 with a .848 OPS in AAA last year and improved behind the plate. The 2006 first-round pick has slowly climbed through the Angels’ farm system and appears ready to establish himself at the big league level this spring.
Most teams let the defensive specialist back up the slugging catcher (i.e. Jose Molina and J.P. Arencibia), but this isn’t most teams. Conger will have to learn to handle the Angels’ staff on the fly to play consistently this season.
The Rangers’ acquisition from the Nippon Ham Fighters this offseason could claim a major role in the bullpen this spring, following the departure of Frank Francisco and questions about Neftali Feliz’s role in 2011.
Tateyama is a righty specialist who throws from a side-arm slot and features a frisbee slider that dazzles right-handed batters. 2010 was his best season in Japan, posting a 1.80 ERA and sub-1.0 WHIP. He has a deceptive delivery, strikes out more than a batter per game and has been healthy throughout his career.
A good spring could land a setup role for the rookie reliever.
The Mariners need more help than Ackley can offer in his rookie campaign, but he is a start. Ackley is a pure athlete, has added muscle during the offseason and is coming into his own as a hitter.
He dominated the Arizona Fall League and won the MVP after hitting .424, showing renewed patience and confidence at the plate. He already represents a huge upgrade over Jose Lopez, along with representing the future face of the franchise.
On the other hand, Ackley did not exactly burn up the minors since being drafted in 2009, and his cumulative .267 BA and .407 OBP do not exactly guarantee success. The Mariners also have Brendan Ryan or Jack Wilson, either of whom could slide over to 2B if Ackley fails to win the job in the spring.
In the end, the Mariners have little chance of rebounding from their dreadful 2010 to contend for anything except as a platform for their young players. Ackley will be in Seattle soon, whether he’s ready or not.
One issue delaying Moustakas’ arrival in Kansas City is the Royals’ desire to avoid starting his arbitration clock as long as they can. One issue not delaying his arrival is any competition at 3B, where the incumbent, Wilson Betemit, can fill in elsewhere in the Royals’ punchless lineup.
Moustakas is among the top prospects in the game, and backed it up by batting .322, and slugging .630, with 36 HRs while splitting time between AA and AAA. There is nothing left for him to demonstrate to the Royals by remaining in AAA, and even a tepid spring shouldn’t prevent him from breaking camp with the big club and challenging Betemit and Mike Aviles for the starting role in K.C.
He may need a solid March to win the everyday job, but he’ll doubtless be starting soon for the big club.
There’s no Brennan Boesch on the rookie horizon for Detroit in 2011, which is fine with the Tigers. They’ve compiled a veteran roster with few holes to fill, meaning a top flight rookie would have few opportunities to compete for ABs.
However, if you’re looking for a light-hitting defensive replacement with no pop and a slick glove, Danny Worth is your man. The Tigers will likely slot the 25-year-old rookie to be their Nick Punto clone and back up Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Inge and Scott Sizemore around the infield.
Worth handled his late season call up last year just fine and could be an important, if somewhat overmatched, cog in a playoff contender in 2011.
Nishioka has already been named the everyday 2B by Ron Gardenhire to help ease his transition to the U.S.. Nishioka comes to the U.S. with many of the same credentials Ichiro did 10 years ago. He led the Pacific League in batting (.346), driving in 121 runs and stealing 22 bases. He is the consummate table-setting leadoff hitter the Twins haven’t had roaming their middle infield since, well, since Chuck Knoblauch (sorry, Twins fans).
Other Pacific League stars have come to the U.S. and struggled (Dice-K, Kaz Matsui, Kei Igawa), but Nishioka has the look and feel this spring of a line drive machine who’ll do anything to get on base in front of the Twins’ big sluggers.
If you’re wondering how a cash-strapped organization with little chance of contending could have so few prospects at the upper levels of the minor leagues, welcome to Cleveland, where rebuilding prospects have turned to crossed fingers and thankfulness for the Royals.
The lone rookie with a chance to impact the Indians this spring is Jason Kipnis, who has already been told he’ll start the season in AAA. Kipnis is a scrappy 2B with a quick bat and a good eye at the plate. He has enough defense to play with the big league club, and will get an extended look by Indians’ management.
He is two years removed from playing at Arizona State, and he has the look of another former Sun Devil—Dustin Pedroia.
Kipnis has a chance to play soon because the starter at second is likely to be Orlando Cabrera, and there is little competition on the horizon.
Sale is the first of the 2010 draftees to ascend to the bigs, and is just one year removed from starting at something called Florida Gulf Coast University. He has a funky delivery, and concerns related to the torque he generates caused him to fall to 13th overall, where the White Sox were happy to take him.
The White Sox claim they want to give him a chance to start this season, but all signs point to him setting up Matt Thornton in the bullpen. Sale has tons of strikeout upside, fanning 32 batters in 23.1 innings in 2010. He changes speeds well for a young pitcher, and overpowered when he needed to.
Sale will need to learn greater command and situational pitching on the fly for the White Sox. The expectations are high for the club and for Sale, who can deflect the attention with a hot spring and strong start from Thornton and the rest of the bullpen.
Despite the additions to the lineup and the signing of veteran bats to keep fans interested, the O’s success depends on the development of their young arms.
With Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta having made the transition to the bigs last year, the stage is set for Britton to be the next in line to stick his toe in the big league water.
Britton excelled in AA and AAA last year, and the O’s consider him to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter down the line. Britton has very good command for a young pitcher and possesses a variety of pitches to keep hitters off balance. He kept his ERA at 2.70 in his two stops in the minors last year, and will most likely compete with fellow prospect Chris Tillman for a spot in the rotation.
With Victor Martinez out of the picture, the Sox’ plans at catcher are more questionable than Charlie Sheen’s media tour. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is in line to open the season as the starter, with 39-year-old Jason Varitek likely to back him up. The former is a month-long slump and a few errant tosses back to the mound away from losing the job, while the latter is an injury away from having two injuries.
Exposito was added to the 40-man roster this offseason and is the team’s most complete catching prospect. He is a solid game-manager and has above-average skills behind the plate. He also had a solid season in AA last year and could leave camp making the roster as the third catcher.
Even if he doesn’t, it’s likely Exposito will make an impact soon with the Red Sox behind the plate.
Montero’s chances of making the big-league roster were boosted last Friday, when Francisco Cervelli was diagnosed with a broken foot. With Cervelli hurt, Posada transitioning to DH and Russell Martin signed to a one-year deal, the time may be now for Montero, the future at catcher in the pinstripes.
No one questions Montero’s bat (.870 OPS) at AAA last year. The questions regard his defensive skills and his ability to call a game. Even if he starts in AAA, his prowess at the plate will likely be too much for the Yankees to ignore, especially if Martin gets off to a slow start.
Montero is the third rated prospect by Baseball America, and should fill in nicely at the bottom of the Yankees lineup.
Hellickson was an elite pitching prospect prior to 2010, when he combined to go 16-3 between AAA and the bigs including four wins in four starts down the stretch for the playoff-bound Rays. The Rays felt so strongly about Hellickson in 2011 that they traded Matt Garza, even though he still had two years of team control and a $6 million per year salary.
Hellickson has the make-up of a strikeout machine in Tampa— with excellent, late movement on his fastball and a deceptive delivery. At only 23, he has demonstrated the confidence and command to pitch effectively at every level, and it is a matter of time before he does so with the Rays.
With a suddenly anemic offense and a barren bullpen, Hellickson and the entire staff could struggle for wins in 2011. However, his impact will be felt early on from the five-spot in the rotation.
The Jays let two catchers go (John Buck and Mike Napoli) to make room for Arencibia to take over the starting role. Arencibia and other Blue Jays prospects hold the key for the team’s hopes to one day compete for a division title again. The Jays hope that day begins now, with the arrival of their catcher of the present and future.
Arencibia has huge power and run productivity upside. He batted .302 with 32 bombs in AAA last year, and shows all the signs of one day being one of the top hitting catchers in baseball. His defensive and game-calling skills are a work in progress, and he could lose games to veteran Jose Molina if he struggles behind the plate.
For the Jays to compete for a playoff spot this year, Arencibia has to quickly gel with fellow battery mates Kyle Drabek, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil in Toronto.