2011 Rookies to Watch; National League Edition
This two part series is not an attempt to define the best prospect on each team, I believe each of us would have no problem finding a listing or two without much effort if we truly wanted to find the information.
This is an attempt to identify the one guy who make the most impact to his team in 2011. If you are looking for my predictions for Rookie of the Year, you can stop reading now, if you are looking for a late round sleeper in your Fantasy Draft or to win an argument with the guy who sits next to you at the office, then this is for you.
Because position battles vary by team, as do overall organizational strength and talent, some teams have more potential candidates than do some others. Kansas City, for example, is loaded with pitching prospects, but none are close to being ML ready, so even though the major league rotation is sub-standard, most won’t be considered.
National League today, American in a few days, alphabetical by team.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RSP Jarrod Parker, LHRP Wade Miley, RHRP Kam Mickolio, OF Colin Cowgill.
Mickolio is the choice here because he’s had a taste of the majors in each of the past three years with Baltimore, and because he was a key in the Mark Reynolds trade. It was important for Arizona to land bullpen help in the Reynolds deal, it would be hard to fathom they’d make the deal and have Mickolio spend the season closing in Reno. Mickolio’s an intimidating (he’s 6′9″) righthander with a power fastball and breaking ball and should see important, quality innings right from opening day.
Atlanta Braves: 1B Freddie Freeman, RP Craig Kimbrel, RHSP Brandon Beachy, LHSP Mike Minor.
While Freeman is expected to be the opening day starter at first base and with Minor all but penciled in as the fifth starter, my choice here is Kimbrel, who posted solid numbers in his twenty-one game trial in Atlanta’s bullpen after Billy Wagner went down with an injury. Kimbrel takes over for Wagner as the full-time closer for 2011 and with Atlanta considered a post-season candidate, Kimbrel will have to contribute early and often.
Chicago Cubs: CF Brett Jackson, RHSP Chris Carpenter, 2B Darwin Barney, LHRP Scott Maine, RHSP Jay Jackson, RHSP Esmailan Caridad.
If not for the injury Brett Jackson suffered playing in the Arizona Fall League, he’d have a shot at a starting role right out of the gate. If Carpenter pitches well in Iowa’s AAA rotation he could see second half action out of the Cubs’ bullpen and be in position for a rotation spot in 2012. The guy to watch, however, is Darwin Barney. He’s a shortstop by trade and actually led PCL shortstops in FP in 2010, but he does have experience at second and is blocked by Starlin Castro at shortstop in Chicago. With utililty players Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt the only second base candidates on the forty man roster, the likelihood of Barney winning the job earlier rather than later are pretty good.
Cincinnati Reds: LHRP Aroldis Chapman, C Devin Mesoraco, SS Zack Cozart, INF/OF Todd Frazier, LHRP Donnie Joseph, SS Chris Valaika, OF Dave Sappelt, RHSP Sam Lecure.
The heralded Chapman and the equally unknown Lecure are both certain bets to land spots in Cincinnati’s opening day bullpen. Incumbent catcher Ramon Hernandez was brought back on a one year contract to allow Mesoraco additional development time but his AFL performance showed he may not need a year. Frazier can be a valuable utility player who can play everywhere but catcher and pitcher. Rookie Paul Janish played decently enough, but not enough to prevent the Reds from bringing in World Series hero Edgar Renteria as competition. The bet here is Janish starts early, Renteria takes over for a short while, with Cozart grabbing the starting role around, say, July first.
Colorado Rockies: LHSP Christian Friedrich, LHRP Rex Brothers, OF Charlie Blackmon, C Jordan Pacheco, LHRP Matt Reynolds, OF Cole Garner, 2B Chris Nelson.
The Rockies have problems at two positions heading into the spring; second base, with Eric Young Jr. penciled in as the starter, and at closer, where Huston Street has battled injuries and inconsistencies the past two years. Lefty Rex Brothers, a Billy Wagner clone, is the heir apparent to the closer’s role, and former shortstop Chris Nelson ready to take over at second. The Rockies brought in former Mariner Jose Lopez as infield insurance, plus Nelson has a minor league option remaining, so he doesn’t have to make the team. The one guy who will, however, based off his strong performance the second half of last year, is Reynolds. He appeared in twenty-one games last year for the Rox, pitching eighteen innings and posting a 0.83 WHIP, so he’s the pick here.
Florida Marlins: 3B Matt Dominguez, SS Osvaldo Martinez, CF Scott Cousins, LHRP Mike Dunn, C Brett Hayes, RHRP Jhan Martinez, RHSP Elih Villanueva, RHRP Steve Cishek, OF Bryan Petersen.
The Marlins led Major League Baseball in 2010 in using a franchise record twenty-one rookies, a trend which likely will continue in 2011. While they won’t get the impact from last year, every guy on this list could see ML action during the season. Dunn has major league experience and is virtually assured a role in the bullpen. Hayes as well has ML experience and with backup catcher John Baker recovering from Tommy John surgery could see action behind John Buck. I’m going with Cousins here for a couple of reasons. First, he’s a good player, he is versatile enough and has enough skills to be able to play each outfield position. Second, the Marlins reallly don’t want Wes Helms playing everyday at third base, conversely, they don’t necessarily want Chris Coghlan playing everyday in center, either. Centerfield is Cousins best position, third base is Coghlan’s, and coming off the bench suits Helms, and Florida, best at this stage of his career. Really doesn’t seem like a tough call, does it?
Houston Astros: RHSP Jordan Lyles, OF J.D. Martinez, RHSP Aneury Rodriguez, LHRP Fernando Abad, RHRP Henry Villar, OF Brian Bogusevic.
While super prospect Lyles probably will see Houston at some point, and while Abad and Villar each could make Houston’s bullpen right from the start, the two guys I’m watching here are Rodriguez and Bogusevic. Rodriguez will battle journeymen Ryan Rowland-Smith and Nelson Figueroa for the fifth starter spot, but my pick is Bogusevic. A guy who took the Rick Ankiel career path, top prospect as a pitcher, then all the way back to Rookie ball to learn the outfield and hitting, then all the way back up. As is stands now, Houston’s three OF starters and top two primary backups are all righthanded hitters, Bogusevic is a lefty. He can also play first base, and with Brett Wallace still being a question mark could see time there when, not if, Wallace struggles.
Los Angeles Dodgers: SS Dee Gordon, RHSP Rubby De La Rosa, LF Jerry Sands, LHRP Scott Elbert, RHRP Kenley Jansen, RHRP Javy Guerra.
The obvious choice here would seem to be Jansen, the former catcher turned setup man who turned heads and opened eyes with his 0.68 ERA and 1.00 WHIP for the Dodgers last year in twenty-five appearances. Elbert also has major league experience, turning in a total of thirty appearances since 2008, but the guy on my radar is Sands. The Dodgers 2010 Minor League Player of the Year, Sands is primarily a left fielder, although he can play both infield corners. With a LF platoon of Marcus Thames and Tony Gwynn Jr., it won’t take much for Sands to get a shot if either falters, although probably not until the second half.
Milwaukee Brewers: RHSP Amaury Rivas, OF Caleb Gindl, OF Logan Schafer, RHRP Mike McClendon, RHRP Brandon Kintzler.
Milwaukee’s farm system was the worst in baseball BEFORE the Zack Greinke trade. The fact that Kintzler, a 40th round draft pick from 2004 is a consideration should tell you just how barren the system really is. If the Brewers decide to carry five outfielders, the choice likely would come from either Gindl or Schafer. Schafer has the highest ceiling, Gindl is the most versatile. McClendon is the choice here, he was impressive in a brief, seventeen game trial last season and should inherit the middle relief role the Brewers had targeted for the dispatched Jeremy Jeffress.
New York Mets: RF Kirk Nieuwenhuis, 2B Reese Havens, CF Fernando Martinez, 1B Lucas Duda, RHSP Dillon Gee, 2B Brad Emaus, RHRP Manny Alvarez, RHSP Pedro Beato.
The problem here is everyone on this list is a candidate. Beato and Emaus are Rule V guys, Gee is the fifth starter, Alvarez could be the last guy in the pen if Beato doesn’t make the team in the spring, and Martinez is still hanging around, albeit this time without the protection of Omar Minaya. Duda had some ML time last year but he can only play two positions, first base and left field, and neither he plays well enough to be a regular. The presence of Jason Bay and Ike Davis deems that point moot anyway, leaving Duda’s role as a lefty pinch-hitter at best. The intriguing guy here for me is Nieuwenhuis. I had honestly not heard of him until his appearance this past fall in the AFL, and I was impressed. He can play all three outfield positions and is a lefty hitter, which the Mets desperately need. He’s a non-roster guy, so he’ll have to have an impressive spring to beat someone out, but it’s possible. He’s a low risk/high reward type of player who fits right into Sandy Alderson’s mode of player.
Philadelphia Phillies: RF Domonic Brown, RHSP Vance Worley, LHRP Antonio Bastardo, RHRP Scott Mathieson, RHP Justin DeFratus.
The appearance of Brown on this list would give the impression he’s my pick but I’m not as high on him as some others, and his poor performance during Winter Ball and his so-what attitude surrounding almost guarantees he starts the season in AAA. If the Phillies trade Joe Blanton, then Worley becomes the fifth starter, but with a front four like the Phillies have their fifth starter could be Bugs Bunny and no one would care. I’m a Bastardo fan if for no other reason than his name but the presence of JC Romero means another year closing in Lehigh Valley. The guy for me is Mathieson. You have to respect a guy who’s had three elbow surgeries, including two TJ’s, in the past four years. Once considered a potential front of the rotation starter, Mathieson is right now the heir apparent to Brad Lidge and should see significant, meaningful innings out of the pen.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHSP Bryan Morris, LHSP Rudy Owens, OF Alex Presley, INF Josh Rodriguez, SS Pedro Ciriaco, LHRP Daniel Moskos.
The Pirates, as of right now, have no designated closer, leaving the position open for battle. Moskos has major league experience and racked up twenty-one saves at AA Altoona last year. Rodriguez is a Rule V pickup from Cleveland and should easily make the team as the primary infield reserve.
St. Louis Cardinals: UT Allen Craig, RHSP Lance Lynn, RHSP PJ Walters, RHSP Adam Ottavino, RHRP Fernando Salas, 2B Daniel Descalso, SS Pete Kozma, 3B Matt Carpenter.
With news breaking today of the likelihood of ace Adam Wainright missing the season with an elbow injury, it brings to the forefront the possibility of the Cardinals staying in-house for rotation help. Lynn, Walters and Ottavino are all major league ready, or close to it, with Walters and Ottavino already having ML experience. It was announced on Tuesday that utility infielder Nick Punto will miss up to three months after undergoing surgery, which could see Skip Schumacher taking over the utility role with Descalso starting at second. Another possibility would be Chambers at third, with David Freese the super sub. While it’s unlikely he’d start at the hot corner, long-time Tony LaRussa fav Allen Craig is a lock to make the team as the primary corner INF/OF reserve.
San Diego Padres: RHSP Cory Luebke, RHSP Simon Castro, RHRP George Kontos’
Not much meat on this bone, Luebke is penciled in as the fourth starter, Kontos is a Rule V guy who’ll be the bottom of the bullpen guy. Take your pick.
San Francisco Giants: 1B Brandon Belt, OF Thomas Neal, 3B Conor Gillaspie, OF Darren Ford, RHRP Henry Sosa.
One would assume Belt the obvious choice here, excepting the Giants, who inexplicably resigned both Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell during the off-season. The only scenario which works for the Giants is if Pablo Sandoval plays himself into a starting role in Fresno, which would either move Mark DeRosa to third and Huff to left, or Huff to third and DeRosa to a reserve role. Gillaspie would be a possibility if the Giants decided to give Belt additional AAA time. I’ll go with Belt anyway, he’ll impact at some point.
Washington Nationals: 2B Danny Espinosa, RHRP Cole Kimball, RHSP Yunesky Maya, LHSP Tom Milone, RHSP AJ Morris.
The Nationals recently DFA’d starter candidate Luis Atilano, which gives thirty year old Cuban import Maya the fifth spot in the rotation. Both Morris and Milone are just a phone call away and each could get the call if he, or John Lannan, falter. Kimball should see some ML work this season as he is on pace to take over the setup role for Drew Storen. My guy is Danny Espinosa. I saw him in the AFL in 2009 and he has some Dustin Pedroia in him, an aggressive, take no prisoners approach on every pitch. I’m not anointing him my ROY selection, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t pay attention to him.
American League in a few days..let the debates begin.