WTNYFebruary 04, 2004
The Rookies
By Bryan Smith

See, I have this problem. I'm addicted to baseball magazines. Put a baseball player on the cover of a magazine, and chances are if I see it, I'll soon own it. The winter months often deprive me of this need, that is, until the Sporting News comes out with their baseball annual.

For some reason, the Sporting News annual magazines, one for fantasy and one for the average fan, come out in late January, so forget about any insight on Pudge moving to Detroit, or how Greg Maddux will fare in 2004. But, there are a lot of players talked about, and it's always fun to start thinking about baseball, whether in be from a fantasy perspective or not, in January.

One of my favorite sections in annuals is the page or two devoted to rookies. While many magazines focus on prospects, I like the magazines that will dedicate a page or two on the players that could win a Rookie of the Year crown. Granted, Dontrelle Willis nor Brandon Webb was likely to be on those pages last year, but it's a fun thing to think about.

This year, the Sporting News list was very incomprehensive, not giving nearly enough players to fill my craving. So when in doubt, come up with your own lists. So I went through the depth charts I have for all the Major League teams, and circled any player that will be a rookie in 2004. So here is my list of rookies that will/could be Major League regulars, or have spots in a rotation.

First, the National League players, listed in alphabetical order:

Jason Bay, OF- Pittsburgh Pirates- Bay, one of the better outfield prospects in the game, will finally get an everyday job with his third Major League organization. His OPS was above .900 in a 79AB stint with the Pirates at year's end, so he'll be a favorite to win Rookie of the Year.

Brandon Claussen, LHP- Cincinnati Reds- Acquired for Aaron Boone, Claussen has become the posterchild to quick Tommy John recoveries, thanks to being publicized by Will Carroll. His pitching is just what the Reds need, and he should be penciled in for at least 25 starts.

Kevin Correia, RHP- San Francisco Giants- He'll need a good camp to beat out Dustin Hermanson, Ryan Jensen, and Jim Brower, but Correia showed real promise in seven starts with the Giants last year. Might not be up to start, but he'll be in the second half rotation guaranteed.

Jorge De La Rosa, LHP- Milwaukee Brewers- The Brewers have no reason not to give DLR a chance, so he should be there the whole season. He dominated the Eastern League, and has more electric stuff than the aforementioned Claussen.

John Gall, 1B- St. Louis Cardinals- I'm under the belief that Pujols should be playing left field, and the Cards should go with this kid. He'll remind many of Tino Martinez, but has much more upside than their former first basemen. Won't win any awards, but keep him under your radar.

Khalil Greene, SS- San Diego Padres- Will need to convince Bruce Bochy in Spring Training that he is more deserving of an everyday job than Rey Ordonez and Ramon Vazquez...fat chance. He could use some PCL work, but could flourish given 350 bats from June on.

Aaron Heilman, RHP- New York Mets- Once was the #2 Mets prospect behind Jose Reyes, but those times have changed. Jim Duquette is hot after Scott Erickson's trail, which would push Heilman back to AAA. He could use the work, he wasn't ready last year.

Edwin Jackson, RHP- Los Angeles Dodgers- I'll give you a hint: when my top prospect list comes out, this guy will be in the top 10. He beat Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday last September, and Jim Tracy recently talked about how Jackson will have to pitch his way out of a fifth hole. Along with Bay and a certain Japanese shortstop, Edwin should be considered one of the ROY favorites.

Adam LaRoche, 1B- Atlanta Braves- Will likely hold the strong side of a platoon with Julio Franco, the most unlikely of partners. LaRoche has the potential to win a Gold Glove next year, and might mix in 20 HR to boot. Is a sleeper choice to be this year's top rookie.

Luis Martinez, LHP- Milwaukee Brewers- His age and AAA performance will keep him off prospect lists, but Martinez put a hurting to AA at the start of the 2003 season. Might land the fifth spot in the rotation, but his future is likely in the bullpen.

Kaz Matsui, SS- New York Mets- It seems like everyone you talk to has a different opinion on Kaz, I've heard everything from MVP to flamed out. He should be right around 15-15, with an off chance of being this year's Angel Berroa.

Aaron Miles, 2B- Colorado Rockies- Often mentioned on this blog, I can't say enough good things about Miles. He has been a AA MVP and AAA Rookie of the Year each of the last two seasons, and the Rockies must give him a chance. His bat plus thin air could produce interesting results for a second basemen (upside being Marcus Giles).

Bubba Nelson, RHP- Atlanta Braves- Should be this year's rookie in the Atlanta rotation, and has more potential than anyone who has tried out in quite some time. Under Mazzone's tutelage, Nelson could be great, but he may be better suited for relief.

Freddy Sanchez, 2B- Pittsburgh Pirates- Wherever he goes, Freddy Sanchez hits, and hits, and hits. He could very well hit .300 with the big league club this year, mixing in 10 home runs and a few highlight reel defensive plays. Bay's the better player, but Sanchez might have more immediate success.

Terrmel Sledge, OF- Montreal Expos- A sabermatrician favorite, Sledge's fifteen minutes of fame were when he was caught for taking steroids. He'll need to prove he can play center field well, as Brad Wilkerson and Carl Everett hog the corners. If not, he's trade bait.

Chin-Hui Tsao, RHP- Colorado Rockies- In any other stadium, he's the favorite for this award. But he drops in prospect rankings because of where he will pitch, and I doubt he'll be one of the top 10 rookies of the 2004 seasons. But that won't be because of his stuff, which is second to only Edwin Jackson on this list.

Ryan Wagner, RHP- Cincinnati Reds- The only reliever in the NL with a chance for the award, Wagner did set K/9 records while closing for University of Houston. He proved he was ready for the Majors last year, and might win if the Reds give him 30-40 opportunities to save games.

Most choices will come down to Bay, Jackson, or Matsui in the National League, with the latter garnering much of the publicity. As for the American League, here are the 11 that I will keep close attention on...

Grant Balfour, RHP- Minnesota Twins- Weak depth in the rotation almost assures Balfour a job, who did well moving back to starting last year. He doesn't have ace-like stuff, but he's as Major League ready as anyone else.

Neal Cotts, LHP- Chicago White Sox- The stuff will never be questioned, but his stamina, health, and control might be. Cotts should step into an incomplete White Sox rotation quickly, but needs to get over the walk problems that plagued his call up a year ago.

Jesse Crain, RHP- Minnesota Twins- If given the closer job, Jesse Crain will make noise for Rookie of the Year. The Twins figure to give the kid about forty save chances, and he won't blow many. Might start the year in AAA, bringing the Soriano/K-Rod effect in the second half.

Bobby Crosby, SS- Oakland Athletics- Will be seen as the favorite by many, seeing as though he replaces Miguel Tejada this season. Crosby hit like hell in the PCL last year, and could hit 20-25 home runs as a rookie. If he does so, he'll be deserving.

Alex Escobar, OF- Cleveland Indians- Remember that great outfield prospect the Mets used to have? Five tools? Horrible plate discipline? Traded in the Robbie Alomar deal? Out for a year with knee surgery? Returns to almost win the International League home run crown? Oh yeah, same guy.

Chad Gaudin, RHP- Tampa Bay Devil Rays- A perfect game in AA Orlando put him on the map, starting a rapid ascent that finished in Tropicana Field. He'll have lots of competitors in Spring Training, but has the most potential out of the bunch...Lou should like this guy.

Joe Mauer, C- Minnesota Twins- As someone pointed out to me recently, Butch Wynegar started huge before his rapid descent to failure. I'm not sure if Mauer's ready for the Major Leagues, but if I'm wrong, he'll hit .300 and play Gold Glove defense immediately.

Justin Morneau, 1B- Minnesota Twins- Will have to fight much harder for a job, and is likely starting the year in Rochester. Morneau has fantastic power, and may end up hitting about 15 home runs if given the chance to have about 350 at-bats, kind of like a 2002 version of Kevin Mench.

Jeremy Reed, OF- Chicago White Sox- If Reed wins the White Sox centerfield job, he'll have to be the favorite. Reed could steal 40 bases, have an OBP above .400, and play very good defense, all in his rookie year. Has a huge future, but his timetable is up to Ozzie.

Matt Riley, LHP- Baltimore Orioles- Formerly a top prospect, Riley re-ignited the prospect talks with a great comeback season this year. He'll be handed a rotation slot, and could be a left-handed, American League version of Webb.

Cody Ross, OF- Detroit Tigers- Will Alan Trammell give Ross the job over Bobby Higginson and Craig Monroe? Probably not. Would I? Yes. Ross could hit thirty doubles right away, and would be more consistent than what Higginson would bring to the table.

My thoughts are always subject to change, but for the time being I'm going to pick Edwin Jackson and Matt Riley. It may be silly to be guessing this before pitchers and catchers report, but I wanted to give readers what the Sporting News missed out on, a good rookie review section. If I missed out on anyone, let me know, and you'll have a synopsis of that player both in your e-mail and in tomorrow's article, guaranteed.