WTNYOctober 13, 2004
Rookies of 2005 (2.0)
By Bryan Smith

Lets pick it up where we left off yesterday, looking at the rookies of 2005. Yesterday I did the AL, today with the NL. While I thought there would be a lot more great names in the National League, only to come up a little disappointed. Lets get into it

Starting in the NL East lies the Atlanta Braves, an organization proven to succeed despite many changes. Three-fifths of the 2004 rotation become free agents at seasons end, but still, John Scheurholtzs top concern will be re-signing J.D. Drew. This creates a little necessity for young pitching, enter Jose Capellan and Dan Meyer. Ive always thought of Capellan as a reliever, but admitted after seeing him that he could possibly make it as a Bartolo Colon-type. Im not sold, and would much rather see Meyer land a spot, a pitcher who reminds me of a more polished version of Mark Redman.

Both top position prospects Andy Marte and Jeff Francoeur finished the season in AA, and will be ready before too long. Yesterday I advised Billy Beane to trade one of the Big Three, today I will comment that Braves brass should consider dealing Chipper Jones for some pitching. Jones moved from left back to third mid-season, which are fittingly the two positions of the prospects listed above. Marte should be ready about when Alexis Rios was last season, meaning the team needs just a temporary replacement there. And if the Charles Thomas/Eli Marrero continues to succeed, stick with it, though be ready to put in the former top pick.

In the rest of the division, the highlight will be the possible appearances of four great arms: Gavin Floyd, Scott Olsen, Yusmeiro Petit and Mike Hinckley. Floyd is the most likely to stick, as he had some ups and downs in a September call-up in Philly. I would call Olsen, with some of the best southpaw stuff in the minors, the longshot of the group. Petit could be up there quick if the Mets are in a semi-rebuilding mode, though you know that is not likely. Finally, I have always liked Hinckley, and think he could be ready for the new Washington (Insert Name Here)s.

There should also be some hitters. Should Mike Lowell option out of his contract, as rumored, expect the team to give Joe Dillon a chance at the hot corner. While old for a prospect, the team should look at successes of Bucky Jacobsen and Terry Tiffee to tell you that more important than age sometimes, is performance. The team could also insert Josh Willingham behind the plate, who showed a lot of power in the pitcher-friendly Southern League. Avkash Patel will see a rookie next year in New York, and hell tell you hed much prefer Victor Diaz to Jeff Keppinger. But if Peter Gammons is right, and hes known for that, expect Jose Reyes to be dealt, and the high-average, low-else Keppinger to be inserted at second.

With new teams, oftentimes comes new promise for some players. Ownership in Washington wont be inserted until mid-way through the winter, giving the team no leadership to develop a team. That means that holes on the left side, are likely to be filled by Maicer Izturis and Brendan Harris. This is hardly despicable, as both did quite well last year in AAA. Ryan Church was even better, but looks blocked by a decent Washington outfield of Wilkerson-Sledge-Rivera. Should one be moved, and Wilkerson might, look for Church to get the first look in the outfield.

For years the St. Louis Cardinals have had one of the games worst farm systems, leaving Walt Jocketty to build the now champion team out of mostly spare parts (minus Albert Pujols). But things are slowly changing in the land by the Arch, as the Cardinals are developing a few players that might be worth a look. While Ill always hope Rick Ankiel gets the first look at any opening in the rotation, also expect competition from Anthony Reyes, Brad Thompson, and Adam Wainwright. The latter fell of the truck with a terrible season in AAA, making the J.D. Drew trade look even better for Atlanta. Thompson began the season amazingly, got hurt, and finished Wainwrightish. Reyes is the stud, posting some jaw-dropping AA numbers, and could be in by midseason.

Houston will be targeting one name this offseason, and Gerry Hunsicker will tell you: Carlos Beltran. This means the team will decline Jeff Kents option, giving second base to collegiate product Chris Burke following a great PCL season. The team could also give Fernando Nieve a role in the back end of the rotation, a la Brandon Backe, if he continues to impress. The Cubs will also be after Beltran, likely blocking Jason Dubois from the spot he so rightfully deserves. Furthermore, dont expect Dusty Baker to be calling for Southern League batting champ Richard Lewis to be his Opening Day second basemen, though I could see him taking Grudzis spot in the second half of that platoon.

And then there is, yawn, the rest of the NL Central. I think Zach Duke is going to be a good Major Leaguer for the Pirates, specifically looking at his ridamndiculous HR/9 rate this season. In my book, hes more likely to achieve success than John Vanbenschoten or Ian Snell. Ben Hendrickson has too many innings to still be a rookie, and he could be the Brewers only hyped prospect in the Majors next year. But, dont rule out significant contributions from Dave Krynzel or of course Rickie Weeks, who needs a bounce back season. Cincinnati has nothing until you get to AA, where they might break their 3B drought with Edwin Encarnacion, or actually develop a pitcher in Richie Gardner. Dont bet on either.

Lets close out this party with the NL West, and specifically the division champs. I commented extensively in the comments of Jons great offseason preview article at Dodger Thoughts, but will re-echo my thoughts here. Despite Baseball Americas concerns, I think the Dodgers should give Joel Guzman a chance at short. Let him start the season in the minors, with Izturis-Antonio Perez up the middle in L.A. If Guzmans successes continue, either move Izturis to second, or to another team. And finally, I think Chad Billingsley actually might have as much of a chance at a rotation slot as, huh, my 2003 #3 prospect Edwin Jackson.

At the back end of yesterdays article, I mentioned Felix Hernandez in the American League. His National League counterpart? Well, Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants. I could see him fly to the Majors, though I wont be asking for any lines for him from the Bellagio either. More likely Giant candidates are Brad Hennessey or even Merkin Valdez. Also, expect David Aardsma to get a look-see out of the bullpen.

The two good pitching prospects getting 2005 opportunities will be Jeff Francis and Tim Stauffer. I could have, of course, misunderstood the rookie rule, meaning Francis is not a 2005 rookie, so please correct me. But if he is, hes the Scott Kazmir of the NL, the young pitcher that could struggle badly, or be the odds-on favorite to win the ROY. Stauffer is solid, and probably your safest bet. Hes never really struggled at any level, but lives on edge. I love what I saw in the Futures Game, and if he continues that, should be a success story.

Predicting the future of the Arizona Diamondbacks is a fools game. In the outfield, they could go with Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson or Josh Kroeger. They could use Dustin Nippert in their rotation. They could sign Stephen Drew, send him to AA, watch him tear it up, and promote him by June. For this organization, anything can happen. But the prospects are coming in floods, and by 2006, Joe Garigiola Jr. wont know what to do with himself.

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Well, that is a lot of names in two days. While you might have preferred the simplified version before the two days and 3,000 words, here would be my top five contenders for each leagues 2005 Rookie of the Year.

American League Contenders
Dallas McPherson
Nick Swisher
Russ Adams
Scott Kazmir
Jason Kubel

National League 6 Contenders
Dan Meyer
Gavin Floyd
Chris Burke
Brendan Harris
Jeff Francis
Tim Stauffer

Comments

There have been rumors in the NY papers of Robinson Cano getting a shot at the '05 2B job and I think he should be a rookie name to ponder for '05.