2011 Rookies to Watch: American League Edition
Sorry for the delay on this, my work schedule and responsibilities have change three times since the first week of February, I hardly know what day it is anymore, much less have time to do anything. Plus, with Spring Training in full swing, any free time I have is usually spent watching a handful of guys wearing uniform numbers higher than their IQ’s trying to hit Neftali Feliz or Felix Hernandez in an intra-squad game.
A comedy show and a baseball game at the same time, can’t beat it.
Leading up to the National League edition, I wanted to point out and make clear this series isn’t meant to identify the top candidates for Rookie of the Year, but those first year players who have the best chance to make a contribution to their respective teams because of things such as positional depth or injury.
As was the case in 2010, the list of candidates in the American League isn’t as deep as those in the Senior Circuit, although this year it appears, at least on paper, the better players are in the AL.
Baltimore Orioles: LHSP Zach Britton, RHRP Wynn Pelzer, CF Matt Angle, 1B Brandon Snyder.
Snyder appears to be the odd man out in the battle for playing time at first base…free agent signee Derrick Lee hasn’t seen the field much to date during spring training which would appear to leave an opening for Snyder, instead, displaced third base prospect Josh Bell has been given innings there. Pelzer, he of the funky delivery reminiscent of former Royal Kevin Appier, came over from San Diego in the Miguel Tejada trade and is considered the Orioles future closer. He pitched well in the Arizona Fall League and could make the team out of spring training, more likely he closes in Norfolk and would be called upon if a need arises. Angle is a speed guy who offers little offensively but is a good defensive player capable of playing all three outfield positions. Britton eventually will fill in nicely as Baltimore’s #2 guy in the rotation behind Brian Matusz, but for now he’s likely to build up arm strength and innings in AAA, but with the O’s having some question marks at the bottom of their rotation it isn’t out of the question Britton could see some consistent second half opportunities.
Boston Red Sox: OF Josh Reddick, SS Jose Iglesias, LHP Felix Doubront, INF Yamaico Navarro
The signing of free agents Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks and the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez, for three top prospects, not only filled major league needs but also guaranteed Boston not receiving much contribution in 2011 from any rookie. While most Red Sox followers believe Ryan Kalish to be the second coming of Fred Lynn, Reddick is the better player and has the higher ceiling. He can play all three outfield positions, has the strongest arm in the Sox system and, unlike Kalish, is a power threat at the plate. Doubront has experience as a starter and reliever and could fill an emergency need in either role should one arise. Navarro is in competition with Jed Lowrie and Drew Sutton for one of the backup infield roles. I was hesitant to put Iglesias on the list because the understanding was he would spend all season in AA or AAA, but the Sox have been pleased by his new found maturity and willingness to learn. If Marco Scutaro struggles or is traded during the season, Iglesias, and not Lowrie, will be given the starting role in Boston.
Chicago White Sox: LHP Chris Sale, INF/OF Dayan Viciedo, 3B Brent Morel
You could pick any one of these guys and not go wrong, as all three are locks to make the team out of spring training. The caveat to that is Viciedo, who suffered a broken thumb when hit by a pitch this past Thursday and may miss up to six weeks. He had had a solid spring to this point and had taken to the OF well, enough so where he was the favorite for the final roster spot. The surprising performance to date for Jake Peavy means the ChiSox won’t be pressured to rush Sale back into a starter role and could give him transition time in AAA or keep him in the ML bullpen. Morel is penciled in as the starter at third, and while he’s facing a better than expected battle from the resurgent Mark Teahen, there’s no indication from Ozzie Guillen or Ken Williams that their minds have been changed. I like Morel, I first saw him in the AFL in 2009 where he won the batting title and was named best defensive infielder.
Cleveland Indians: 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, RHSP Alex White, 2B Jason Kipnis, OF Nick Weglarz, 2B Cord Phelps, RHRP Jess Todd, RHRP Josh Judy.
Realistically, short term, the only two guys on this list who could help in Cleveland are Judy and Weglarz. Judy has a chance at a bullpen role early, and either Judy or Todd or both could see time in Cleveland’s pen. Weglarz’ chances are contingent on the health of Grady Sizemore, at least during the early part of the season. If Sizemore can’t go full-time, that forces Trevor Crowe into the everyday role in center, with Weglarz becoming the lefthanded reserve. Same could be said at first, struggles from Matt LaPorta would put RH reserve Austin Kearns at first base with Weglarz filling his role as the last OF reserve. The sleeper here is Chisenhall, clearly the Indian’s top prospect. The Indians depth chart has Jason Donald as the starter, with Jayson Nix and Luis Valbuena the reserves. Cleveland was hesitant to consider Chisenhall for the starting role because he only has one year of AA experience and none higher than that. But as of today, Chisenhall is hitting .550 in spring training and would be leading all hitters except he is two AB’s short of qualifying. He’s also in the top five in hits and total bases and is errorless at third. Plus he’s a lefty hitter, if Sizemore isn’t healthy that leaves only Shin Soo Choo and the washed up Travis Hafner as everyday lefty options, and Hafner won’t see the field against a lefty anyway.
Detroit Tigers: LHSP Andy Oliver, RHRP Robbie Weinhardt, LHRP Duane Bellow, OF Casper Wells.
Weinhardt could end up seeing some bullpen time this year, Wells has ML experience and in all likelihood will see more this year but the signing of Victor Martinez eliminates any possible DH at bats for him and the Tigers are already overloaded with righthanded hitting outfielders. The guy to watch here is Oliver. He had five rather unimpressive ML starts in 2009 and Detroit would really like him to spend the season in the rotation at AAA Toledo, but with a bottom two in Detroit of Brad Penny and converted reliever Phil Coke, the odds are pretty high Oliver wil get an opportunity this year sooner rather than later.
Kansas City Royals: 3B Mike Moustakas, LHSP John Lamb, LHSP Mike Montgomery,LHSP Danny Duffy, RHRP Patrick Keating, RHRP Jeremy Jeffress, CF Jared Dyson, OF David Lough, RHRP Henry Barerra, 1B Clint Robinson, 1b Eric Hosmer, OF Wil Myers.
Royals GM Dayton Moore said recently that “we won’t consider other factors, players wil get the call when we feel they are ready”. One could assume “other factors” to mean the starting of arbitration clocks. Now, it’s silly to assume everyone on this list would see time in Kansas City this year, but it makes one wonder, right? The guy with the best chance to make the biggest impact sooner rather than later is Jeffress, who pretty much has a bullpen role nailed down. I saw him in the AFL this past year and his arm is legit..he hit 101 on the gun and has a pretty good curveball to go with it. With all the attention lavished on Moustakas, Hosmer and Myers, first baseman Clint Robinson quietly went out last year and won the Texas League Triple Crown, playing on the same team as Hosmer and the Moose. He’s a bit challenged defensively so first or DH are his only options, but with the competition limited on both, why not? According to Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list, Lamb and Montgomery rank as the second and third best lefty pitching prospects, right behind Tampa’s Matt Moore. A good first couple of months in AAA could have Moustakas in Kansas City as the first of their blue chip position prospects to reach the show, with Hosmer not to far behind. Myers was a finalist for BA’s POY award last season as a 19 year old catcher, now that he’s an outfielder he’s on a faster track to the majors.
Los Angeles Angels: C Hank Conger, RHRP Jordan Walden, RHRP Michael Kohn, 1B Mark Trumbo
Both Kohn and Walden finished the 2010 season in the Angels’ bullpen, the combined for 37 appearances and a 2.24 ERA. Walden is viewed more as a closer type and if Fernando Rodney falters would inherit the role. Conger’s bat is ML ready but needs work on his defense, especially with his footwork and compensating for a less than solid arm. With Kendrys Morales still experiencing problems in his recovery from last season’s broken leg, Trumbo could at least start the season in LA, filing in when Morales needs a day off.
Minnesota Twins: LHP Scott Diamond, RHRP Anthony Slama, CF Ben Revere, RF Joe Benson, INF Trevor Plouffe.
As is the case in Cleveland with Sizemore, the healh of a star player will impact who, and how much the Twins can expect from their rookies. While the recovery time from knee surgery is dependent on the type of surgery and the player, recovering from post concussion syndrome isn’t, and it could be a threat to the player’s career. While he’s back DH’ing in intrasquad games, Justin Morneau has yet to play the field or appear in a regular game. This obviously will mess with their lineup, possibly moving Michael Cuddyer to first and Jason Kubel to right, with Jim Thome becoming the full time DH…again. The Twins could also leave Kubel in the DH role, with Benson filling in as the rightfielder. Revere has a chance as it is to beat out Jason Repko for the last OF spot. Former first rounder Plouffe has seen time at first base during ST, and is also out of options. He can play short and third in addition to first base and has taken reps in left field as well. Diamond is a Rule V pick from Atlanta, and while he’s been a starter in the minors, the Twins are short on lefties throughout the organization, so he could fill the bullpen spot vacated by Brian Duensing.
New York Yankees: C Jesus Montero, C Austin Romine, RHSP Andrew Brackman, RHSP Hector Noesi, RHSP Ivan Nova, INF Eduardo Nunez, UT Brandon Laird, OF Greg Golson, OF Colin Curtis, INF Jorge Vazquez.
The reason some prognosticators rank the Yankees system so high this year is because a few players, pitchers especially, had career years last season. And unlike most of these prognosticators, I actually watch baseball and believe that most of them will regress this year. One would assume Montero would step it up in his bid to win the backup job in New York now that Francisco Cervelli will be out until May with a broken foot, but it’s been the good glove, questionable bat Romine who’s taken the lead. When the Yanks unwisely brought in Andruw Jones on a minor league deal it was assumed Golson and Curtis chances at a spot were gone, but Jones has not played well, but then again, neither have the other two. Nunez’ name has come up in trade rumors lately with the Phillies as they are scrambling for options with the Chase Utley situation. Nova’s in a battle with Bartolo Colon for the fifth rotation spot, and regardless of who wins it now, what’s important is who has it in September. As usual, Brackman’s hurt again, although this time it’s a mild hamstring strain. He pitched well in a brief outing on Tuesday, although it’’s becoming more likely he remains in extended ST when camp breaks. I’d like to see Nova win the rotation spot, but with the Yanks’ seemingly more interested in a retro roster, I guess we’ll have to wait on that.
Oakland Athletics: 1B/DH Chris Carter, OF Michael Taylor, RHP Tyson Ross, INF Adrian Cardenas.
Carter’s the choice here because of the A’s need for RH power. He’s in a battle with Conor Jackson for the reserve corner OF spot and can spell Daric Barton at first or Hideki Matsui at DH. The advantage Taylor has in all this is he an play all three OF spots and DH, but has no experience at first base. Cardenas can play anywhere in the infield and with super-sub Adam Rosales injured there is an opening in Oakland for the first couple of weeks of the season. Ross has a pretty high ceiling as a starter and heads to spring training a contender for the fifth spot in the rotation. He’s had some injury issues the past two seasons and Oakland has tossed around the idea of having Ross pitch out of the ML bullpen instead of the AAA rotation partly because they want to monitor his health.
Seattle Mariners: OF Greg Halman, 1B Mike Carp, RHSP Michael Pineda, 2B Dustin Ackley, RHRP Dan Cortes, RHRP Josh Lueke.
Halman’s homered 115 times in 532 career minor league games; he’s struck out 715 times. He’s been in the organization since signing as a 16 year old in 2005 and may finally be in a position to get a reserve OF role, if only because of his option status. Same situation applies with Carp, the only two spots he can play are filled with younger players, so a LH pinchhitting role appears to be his only shortterm option for playing time. After his ridiculous Arizona Fall League season, where he was named MVP, the assumption was the Mariners would just hand Ackley the second base job for 2011. Everyone but the Mariners, apparently, as they went out and brought in Brendan Ryan and Adam Kennedy to fight it out. Kennedy’s a non-roster invite and no matter how well each plays in the spring it’s unlikely both will head North. Either way, it’s just a matter of time. Both Cortes and Lueke should see ML time this year. Lueke was dominant in the AFL and has picked up where he left off in spring training. Cortes has the inside track on an opening day spot. Pineda’s ranked as the 16th overall prospect by BA and barring a ST collapse should break camp as the fifth starter. The M’s won’t require anyone in that role permanently until April 21st, so Pineda could head to AAA and grab some innings but should be up to stay by May first.
Tampa Bay Rays: OF Desmond Jennings, CL Jake McGee, RHSP Jeremy Hellickson.
The signing of Johnny Damon pretty much ended whatever chances Jennings had of starting the season in Tampa. Manager Joe Maddon has said he’ll have a closer by committee early in the season until someone steps up and wins the job outright, McGee will see some of those early appearances. The guy here is Hellickson, the Rays traded Matt Garza to the Cubs in part to open up a spot for Helly this year.
Texas Rangers: LHRP Michael Kirkman, OF Craig Gentry, RHP Tanner Scheppers
Scheppers is being converted back to a starter, but has already experienced problems with the switch; if the Rangers change their minds he could see time out of Texas’ bullpen and has the stuff to be the replacement for Neftali Feliz. Kirkman gives the Rangers a lefty option out of the pen as well. There aren’t many inning available in Texas for rookie contributiions, equally due to the depth at the ML level and lack thereof in the minors. Gentry is the one guy who adds a speed option, something the Rangers are lacking. His ceiling isn’t as high as Engle Beltre, for example, but could provide a shortterm spark until he’s ready.
Toronto Blue Jays: RHSP Kyle Drabek, 3B Brett Lawrie, C J.P. Arencibia, RHSP Zach Stewart.
Native Canadian Lawrie was obtained in the off-season from Milwaukee and immediately moved from second to third. His bat is what will get him to the majors, once he proves comfortable at the hot corner he’ll come up. Arencibia should be the everyday catcher, how much time he gets depends on him staying consistent, he has a tendency to be streaky, both offensively and defensively. Drabek has already been handed a rotation spot, if he falters or if an injury plays a role then Stewart is the closest of Toronto’s many pitching prospects to the majors.