2011 MLB Predictions: Projecting Where This Year's Rookies Will Be in Five Years

Shaun McPartlinCorrespondent IIIApril 29, 2011

2011 MLB Predictions: Projecting Where This Year's Rookies Will Be in Five Years

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    SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 12:  Starting pitcher Michael Pineda #36 of the Seattle Mariners points to a pop foul against the Toronto Blue Jays at Safeco Field on April 12, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The transition from the minors to the big leagues is not an easy transition for most players. Even first-round draft picks sometime have difficulty taking their game to the next level. The jump in talent is just that significant.

    This year, quite a few rookies have made their way onto big league rosters. Quite a few have adjusted seamlessly, while others have stumbled a little bit.

    Rookies in today's game are nurtured. Pitchers have innings limits and hitters are put into roles where they can succeed.

    This is done either to preserve their abilities and not burden them with a massive workload, or to keep their confidence high during inevitable slumps.

    These young studs will either bud into a superstar or wilt under the pressure. Only time will tell.

Michael Pineda, SP Seattle Mariners

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    SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 12:  Starting pitcher Michael Pineda #36 of the Seattle Mariners walks back to the dugout after retiring the side during the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Safeco Field on April 12, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Gr
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Let's start with the cream of the rookie crop so far, Michael Pineda.

    Pineda is looking to follow in the footsteps of 2010 Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez. His stuff is nasty and at times looks to be unhittable.

    He knows how to work ahead of hitters, as he starts out with an 0-1 count 70 percent of the time. His ERA and WHIP are ridiculously low at 1.78 and 1.07, respectively.

    Last season in AAA-ball, his K:9 was an incredible 10.97, so you knew he would mow down hitters even at the big league level. He has done just that with 21 K's in 25.1 innings.

    As he continues to mature, a Cy Young Award is not out of the question and as the No. 2 man behind King Felix, we could be looking one of the most dominant one-two punches we have seen in years.

Zach Britton, SP Baltimore Orioles

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    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 26:  Pitcher Zach Britton #53 of the Baltimore Orioles delivers to a Boston Red Sox batter during the third inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 26, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Zach Britton handled the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday with relative ease, becoming the first Oriole rookie to win four starts in April. Quite a feat to say the least.

    Britton has been on the radar for quite some time now, as he was masterful in the minors. Through 27 games at both AA and AAA, he went only 10-7, but his ERA was 2.73.

    Being a lefty also helps as we all know a strong lefty starter is at a premium.

    So far, Zach has been quite successful at the next level and has an ERA of 2.84. His strikeout totals are down—19 K's in 31.2 innings, but he has been able to keep the ball on the ground which is all you can ask for.

    To give you the numbers, his ground-ball percentage is over 50 percent at 57.3.

    If not for the injury to Brian Matusz, Britton might still be in the minors waiting for his name to be called.

    He has seized this opportunity and given us a glimpse as to what he is capable of. Matusz and Britton will be the best left-handed starting combo in the AL East down the road.

Jerry Sands, LF Los Angeles Dodgers

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - APRIL 26:  Jerry Sands #47 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after striking out during a game against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on April 26, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Jerry Sands has a chip on his shoulder. He was drafted in the 25th Round in 2008 and has torn up the minors during his short stint there. He plays like he has something to prove to everyone who doubted him.

    In 2010, Sands climbed through the ranks and left his mark on both A- and AA-ball. He hit .302 and clubbed 35 HR.

    The Dodgers offense was rather stagnant during the beginning of 2011 and even though the sample size was small, Sands was demolishing AAA-ball.

    Through 40 at bats, he hit five home runs and was boasting a .400 BA.

    He made a splash and roped a double in his first major league at bat, but has since struggled quite a bit. Through nine games, he is hitting .235 and his BABIP is .325 so he has lady luck on his side.

    The adjustment to big league pitchers is quite difficult. The transition seems to be a bit easier for a pitcher, but gets progressively more difficult as the season continues.

    Sands can steal bases and has plenty of pop in his bat. Once he gets his feet under him, I would expect big things from this slugger.

    He has the mentality to succeed and will be a big-time middle-of-the-order bat for the Dodgers down the line.

Kyle Drabek, SP Toronto Blue Jays

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    SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 13:  Starting pitcher Kyle Drabek #4 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on April 13, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Kyle Drabek was a major prospect in the Phillies system and became the cornerstone prospect in the Roy Halladay deal that brought him to Philadelphia.

    He has lived up the billing and has pitched like a soon-to-be ace. In five games, he has gone 2-0 with a 3.30 ERA. He has been working ahead in the count more though, as he has worked an 0-1 count 57 percent of the time.

    His 17 walks and 21 K's in 30 innings are promising, but fewer walks need to be in order since that will work against you when you pitch in the tough AL East.

    The Jays have an arsenal of young studs in their starting rotation. Drabek, Morrow and Romero will be a strong bunch for years to come.

Craig Kimbrel, Closer Atlanta Braves

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    ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 08:  Teammates Brian McCann #16 and Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Atlanta Braves celebrate after a 6-3 victory on their opening day game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on April 8, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Stre
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Craig Kimbrel has closer stuff and a closer mentality. He knows how to put the nail in the coffin and could lead the league in saves in the next five years.

    He made his debut in 2010 and through 20.2 innings, Kimbrel struck out 40 hitters. He only closed one game, but he still was able to take it to the big leaguers he faced.

    Kimbrel relies heavily on his fastball, but has a nasty slider in his repertoire.

    At only 23, Craig has a bright future ahead of him. The Braves have a strong core of players coming up through their system.

    Jason Heyward might be the face of Atlanta's offense, but Fredi Gonzalez has a lockdown closer in his ranks and will for years to come.

Brandon Belt, 1B San Francisco Giants

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    PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 17:  Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants at bat during the Major League Baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on April 17, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 6-5 in the twelft
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Brandon Belt started his major league career with a bang, homering in his second game. That was the lone highlight of his stint at the majors, as he was recently demoted to AAA-ball.

    Being sent down to the minors is not based solely on his play, as the Giants knew he still had options left on the table and they could delay his major league payday by bringing him up later in the season.

    Belt has been able to crush the ball in the minors and his stats show just that. In his 138 games, his BA sits at a pretty .353 with 24 HR and 78 extra-base hits. He has the ability, but how it will translate is still up in the air.

    I wouldn't write off Belt just yet, as he is still harnessing his full ability. Buster Posey made quite the smooth transition to the major leagues and Belt was not as fortunate.

    Both are stars in their own right and will provide a deadly middle of the lineup once Belt finds his groove.

J.P. Arencibia, C Toronto Blue Jays

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    TORONTO, ON - APRIL 20:  J.P. Arencibia #9 of the Toronto Blue Jays (R) celebrates his home run in the second inning with Travis Snider #45 during their game with the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on April 20, 2011 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Scott
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Arencibia can do two things well. He can mash and he tallies up the K's. During his time in the majors, he has went down on strikes nearly 30 percent of the time, but he also has five home runs through 26 games.

    Arencibia has laid claim to the catcher role for the Jays and looks to have his name penciled in for quite some time.

    As he matures at the plate, the power numbers will carry over. In his last two seasons in the minors, Arencibia accumulated 53 HR.

    Playing in the dome in Toronto will help to keep his power numbers on track. His BA will never be over or even near .300, but he will definitely put up quality numbers for a backstop.

    Over time, I could see Arencibia being one of the top catchers in the American League. He has the potential to be a premier hitter in the majors.

Jake McGee, RP Tampa Bay Rays

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    CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 06:  Pitcher Jake McGee #57 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at Bright House Field on March 6, 2011 in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Image
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Jake McGee claimed this offseason that he wanted to take over the closer duties for the Rays. After the departure of Rafael Soriano, the spot was open and McGee saw it as his for the taking.

    McGee has come up through the Rays farm system as a starter and was quite the strikeout machine. In high A and AA-ball, he averaged over 10 K's per nine innings.

    During that time, his record was a pedestrian 3-10, but his BABIP against was an inflated .364. That could possibly account for the lopsided record.

    In 2010, McGee appeared in five innings and struck out six and allowed only two hits. That small sample size looked as if it would help propel him into the closer role this season.

    Manager Joe Madden had a different idea and has since handed the role over to Kyle Farnsworth.

    It is hard to blame him as McGee has not been nearly as effective this season. In the same sample size as 2010—five innings—he has surrendered three runs and eight hits.

    Opposing batters are hitting .348 off him. That is not what you want to see from your so-called closer of the future.

    As much as I like McGee's confidence, it is hard to overlook the numbers. He has not been the lockdown pitcher they were looking for, and it looks like he could be destined for a specialty role. 

Jeremy Hellickson, SP Tampa Bay Rays

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    ST PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 17:  Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson #58 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the game at Tropicana Field on April 17, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Jeremy Hellickson left his mark on 2010. He started in four games and won each of them. Through four starts in 2011, he has not been as fortunate and his record stands at 1-2. His ERA has also taken a turn for the worse at 4.32, which is up from 3.47 in 2010.

    The numbers tell a different story than what Hellickson brings to the table. He has a four pitch repertoire which includes a fastball, change up, cut fastball and curve. What is getting really getting the best of him the free pass. He has given up nearly four walks per nine innings.

    Hellickson has the composure and the skill set to be a dominant pitcher at the big league level. I do not see him at the same level as David Price, but a nice middle of the rotation pitcher is definitely in the cards for Hellickson.

Freddie Freeman, 1B Atlanta Braves

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 24:  Freddie Freeman #5 of the Atlanta Braves in action against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on April 24, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Freddie Freeman was handed the first base position by the Atlanta Braves this season and he has had some struggles along the way. Through 25 games, he is hitting .238 with three home runs.

    What is promising is Freeman is showing that ability to take pitches. He has been awarded a free pass in 12 percent of his plate appearances. That shows maturity at the plate, which usually takes time for rookies to develop.

    Freeman doesn't have the pressure that other rookies have since the Braves have extended their hand to their promising prospect, just like they have with their other young stars.

    This confidence will help Freeman grow and develop which will propel him to the next level in the next few years.

Brett Wallace, 1B Houston Astros

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    HOUSTON - APRIL 26:  Brett Wallace #29 of the Houston Astros singles to left field in the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Minute Maid Park on April 26, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Brett Wallace really struggled when he was brought up in 2010. He hit .222 in 51 games and only had two home runs. 

    Even though he only has one home run this season, the power numbers will come, as he hit 18 HR in AAA-ball last year. 

    What you like to see is a young hitter making adjustments at the plate, and Wallace has done just that. In 2010 during his call up. he struck out nearly 35 percent of the time.

    He has cut that almost in half this season and has only been called out on strikes during 19 percent of his at-bats.

    Wallace is hitting .367 at the moment, but seems to have lady luck on his side since his BABIP is well over .400. This will come down, but a .300 is not out of the question since he averaged that during the course of his minor league career. 

    Brett Wallace can be quite the player, and just like Freddie Freeman in Atlanta, the opportunity is on the table and the Astros' brass believe in him and have instilled their confidence in him. He will be a steady bat in Houston down the road. 

Chris Sale, RP Chicago White Sox

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    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 26:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox poses for a photo on photo day at Camelback Ranch on February 26, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Chris Sale has a rocket of an arm and he is a southpaw to boot. He is a strikeout machine and has closer stuff with a fastball in the mid-90s.

    Through 23.1 innings last season, Sale struck out a whopping 32 batters. 

    Due to his performance in 2010, it looked as if he would be vying for the closer spot with the departure of Bobby Jenks in the offseason. Manager Ozzie Guillen rewarded the position to Matt Thornton, but he proved to not have what it took, blowing four saves in four opportunities

    Sale was given his chance to shine and converted one save while blowing another. The leash was short on Sale, and it seems as if Sergio Santos has taken over closer duties for the Sox

    Sale has what it takes to get the job done in the ninth inning, but looks like he will have to wait his turn, or until Santos coughs up a lead. 

    In the future, the closer will be Sale. Will he be effective? Most likely, but it will have to be perfect when he gets the chance, since Guillen doesn't take failure too well.  

Hank Conger, C Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 05:  Hank Conger #16 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is congratulated after his second-inning home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 5, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J.
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    When Mike Napoli left the Angels, it looked as if the door was open for Hank Conger to take over catching duties. Instead, Jeff Mathis has caught he majority of the games for Mike Scioscia's club.

    Since Mathis is not much of a hitter, it seems as if it is only a matter of time until Conger starts the majority of the games for the Angels. 

    Conger can hit for power and average as he averaged nearly 12 home runs per season and a near .300 BA during his minor league career. 

    He has shown some pop in the batter's box so far this season, hitting two home runs in 44 at-bats.

    Conger is no slouch on defense as well, throwing out 33 percent of would-be base stealers. 

    Conger is the future of the Angels franchise. He and up-and-coming star Mike Trout will be making noise in the AL West.

    Mike Scioscia seems to still favor Mathis, but soon the stats will force him to change his tune. 

Jordan Walden, Closer Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 25:  Jordan Walden #31 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim poses during photo day at Tempe Diablo Stadium on February 25, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    With the closer situation up in the air, Mike Scioscia turned to his young rookie in Jordan Walden to hold down the ninth inning.

    So far, the move has paid off as Walden has converted three saves, even though he recently blew his first save this week. 

    This seems to be a common trend for these young rookies. More and more young arms are showing enough promise and poise to handle the rigors of closing out games for their clubs. 

    Through 11 innings, Walden has surrendered five hits, but has walked six which is a few too many. You do not want to allow free passes in pressure situations. When he eliminates this issue, he will be a shut-down reliever. 

    His 0.79 ERA shows just how dominant he has been. Walden is making his manager look smart by relieving Fernando Rodney of his closing duties early this season. 

    With his performance thus far, Walden is showing no signs of ever removing his grip from the closer role.