Breaking 'Em In (Part Four)
In the fourth series of Breaking 'Em In, I will complete the National League teams, and then below, I have my NL ballot up. This was a fun feature to do, looking at how rookies were implemented on every team in baseball. The next time you will be seeing many of these names is in February or so, when I do my second annual Top Sophomores List.
To recap, here is a look at the other parts of the Breaking 'Em In series:
And finally, here is the last half of the National League teams, in order of their record...
It seems like it was yesterday that the Nationals were winning the NL East, and the NL Rookie of the Year was all-but-guaranteed to a certain Nat. However, things change drastically from June to October, thanks to slumps and injuries, and suddenly, a player's resume hardly even looks impressive.
This is the case of Ryan Church. In May, Church hit .377/.406/.508, and followed that up with an even better .368/.439/.737 June. However, Church's at-bat total for the rest of the season would not match even May+June, and his production dropped considerably. For example, in the second half, Church hit just .231/.315/.352. Good rookie season for Church, but a far cry from being a top candidate for RoY.
Other than Church, not a lot of help from rookies in Washington this year. Always been a city of incumbents anyway, huh? The only two other offensive rookies were draft picks, one from the 2004 Rule 5, and the other from the 2005 June Amateur Draft. Both Tony Blanco and Ryan Zimmerman were brought into the organization as third baseman, and neither played much of the hot corner in 2005. Trust me, you will be seeing quite a bit more on Zimmerman soon, when I get to my prospect list.
Finally, moving to the pitching staff, we have Gary Majewski. Despite a low strikeout rate (50 in 86 IP), Majewski was one of Frank Robinson's most dependable relievers this season, appearing in 79 games. He probably isn't a great bet for continued success, but the Nats will most definitely give him a chance next year.
Every Cubs fan in the world will look to a scapegoat for the 2005 season, and for most, it will either be Dusty Baker or the Injury Bug. For some, those will be connected, as the Cubs injury problems on their pitching staff continued this season. Because of numerous injuries, the Cubs turned to a few rookies to handle quite a bit of innings, specifically in relief.
The two best that fit this profile are Will Ohman and Mike Wuertz, a few mid-twenties players that capitalized on what might have been their last real opportunity. Ohman is your typical LOOGY, but one of the better ones in the game, if you can stomach the walks. This season, pitching to left-handers in 81 at-bats, Ohman held them to a .173 average. Wuertz is a bit of the opposite, shutting down right-handers to a .197 average in 178 chances. Both of these players struck out hitters at a solid rate, and proved to be good middle relievers.
Rounding out the solid relief core is Roberto Novoa, who appeared in 'just' 49 games this season. Like Ohman, Novoa is prone to give up the walk, but he also strikes out hitters at a good rate. Having both Novoa and Wuertz in the same 'pen might not be needed, but you get the feeling a lot of teams could use an arm like this. Similarly, Rich Hill may have dropped his first and last chance in Chicago. The minor league strikeout leader did not do well in 10 Cubs appearances, giving up 24 runs and 17 walks in 23.2 innings.
In the field, it might surprise Cub fans that the rookie with the most playing time was Jason Dubois. But the perceived big bat did not make the most of his opportunity, hitting rather lightly, and playing some of the worst defense ever seen in Chicago. Dubois was replaced by Matt Murton on the roster, who unlike Dubois, came into Chicago with a bat hardly perceived to have any power. He left as one of the Cubs best prospects, hitting 12 extra-base hits in 140 at-bats. Finally, I should mention Ronny Cedeno, who should be at the top of every Cub fans wish list for Neifi replacements.
Following the worst season in franchise history, it looked as if 2005 would be a rebuilding year for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Then, over the course of last winter, they kept stockpiling more and more veterans, until eventually, only the catching position and a few innings on the staff had room for rookies.
There is no doubt that the D-Backs rookie catchers had their share of opportunities in '05, but they most definitely did not make the best of it. However, those that thought either Chris Snyder or Koyie Hill had big league potential anyway were flawed. Snyder hit a dismal .202/.297/.301, while Hill countered with a smaller .590 OPS. Also, neither balanced it out with great play behind the plate, as the two caught about 26% of basestealers behind the dish.
At one point in the season, when it looked as if Arizona might be able to win the division, Bob Melvin made some dramatic changes. The beneficiary of this move? Conor Jackson, who was brought up from AAA, and given the first base job in Arizona. Again, like the catchers, Jackson did not make the most of this chance. In 85 at-bats this year, Jackson hit an un-Jackson like .200, with just five extra-base hits. And you can also bet that Jackson was not the beneficiary of a different Arizona move: Tony Clark's extension.
The one Diamondback to make it through most of the season was Brad Halsey, the most surprising member of the rookie class. A throw-in with Javier Vazquez in the Randy Johnson deal, Halsey was a dependable starter at the back end of Melvin's rotation. He started off the season spectacularly, with an ERA right around 3.00 after two months of the season. However, save a good July, Halsey would fall apart after this, especially in the second half, when his ERA was 5.30. Look for Arizona to work on his stamina quite a bit this winter.
San Francisco Giants
Back in April, the Giants could not go a sentence without being described as aging. Bonds, Matheny, Vizquel, Snow, Alou. Wherever we looked, the Giants had someone over 35 staring back. So, it actually came to my surprise when I found a decent number of rookies that had an impact on the G-men.
One of the spots that demanded a lot of rookie attention was the outfield, with Barry Bonds out. Early in the season the team turned very often to Jason Ellison, a good fourth outfielder because of his good defense and gap power. The club also brought Todd Linden up at some point, as AAA had not been posing much of a threat at that point. However, Linden then hit just .216 in 171 at-bats, confirming many suspicions that Linden might be a AAAA All-Star.
The other spot on the diamond in need of help was at first base when J.T. Snow missed time. The team turned to Lance Niekro out of necessity, but the 26-year-old impressed with a solid season. However, the Giants would be best suited to find a left-handed hitting first baseman this winter, as Niekro makes the perfect platoon partner. In 108 at-bats, Niekro hit .324/.361/.657 against southpaws, but just .206/.251/.335 against right-handers. If only Jacque Jones played first, right?
A final area that was constantly in need of help this season was the san Francisco bullpen. In their quest to find an arm to handle late-game innings, the Giants stumbled across Scott Munter, who would pitch in 45 games for the Giants. And despite a very, VERY low strikeout rate, Munter's good season probably bought him another. Besides Munter, both Jeremy Accardo and Jack Taschner were aked to pitch quite a bit this season.
Finally, I want to mention that Matt Cain's big September will leave him as a borderline case for my prospect list this winter. If he misses due to too many innings, it's a good thing for Giants fans, as they probably wish that Cain had pitched every inning in 2005.
Does it seem to anyone else like the Cincinnati Reds have been treading water for years? The team seems both immune to rebuilding or reloading, either of which could help this team compete. But instead, they stay afloat, a few games below .500, with an exciting base of players.
This season was not one for adding to that base, as no great rookies came up for the Reds. Their de facto top prospect of late, Edwin Encarnacion, did play a bit. Edwin showed both plus patience and power, but was dismal in the contact category. His average of .232, combined with 60 strikeouts in 211 at-bats, means that Edwin must hit the ball on the bat more in 2006.
On the mound, as usual, was the problem for the Reds this year. However, as usual, not a lot was done to fix the problem. The club used a few rookie arms in the bullpen, with Brian Shackleford, Matt Belisle and Todd Correy three of the larger contributors. None of these players would come up in the top ten, or even top thirty rookies in baseball during 2005.
Los Angeles Dodgers
As you know, not a good year for the Los Angeles Dodgers. This is a fan base that expects to belong in the category of teams that win and lose with money, not rookies. Instead, injuries decimated the weak lineup that Paul DePodesta had created. He was then forced to turn to numerous options at the farm, and will likely have to do more of the same in 2006.
Specifically, there were two offensive positions that the Dodgers could not find an answer for this year: third base and catcher. The former was supposed to be manned by Jose Valentin, who battled injuries and bad play this season. In his spot, at various times this season, were Oscar Robles, Mike Edwards and Wily Aybar. The latter was the best of the group, with the smallest sample size, but all of these players are simply holding onto the position for the future.
DePo tried and failed to find a catcher this offseason, and the hole was clearly noticeable throughout the season. The closest person to impressing was Dioner Navarro, formerly an acquisition from the New York Yankees. In 176 at-bats, Navarro hit .273/.354/.375. Not great be any stretch of the imagination, but serviceable, and probably worth a few more at-bats before Russ Martin shows up.
Our last offensive rookie was an unknown before the season, but yet another case of a big Spring Training. Jason Repko earned a job in Spring Training, and kept it, appearing in 129 games this season. I'm sure the team could do worse on the bench, given Repko's pop, but a .281 OBP? 80 strikeouts in 276 at-bats? This kid better make a few adjustments in 2006, or his first opportunity will quickly become his last.
Like Repko, on the pitching staff, there were a couple Dodger hurlers that pitched most of the season with the big league club, without fantastic results. Previously unheard of Steve Schmoll appeared in 48 games for the Dodgers, saving three games, but not pitching well. Dodger fans can only hope his 81 ERA+ does not return next season. The same could be said for Rule 5 pick D.J. Houlton, a good pick with less than fantastic results. 5.16 ERA, 145 hits in 129 innings, 21 home runs allowed.
Finally, I'd like to quickly mention a few other arms that received chances in the bullpen, but didn't pitch enough to warrant mention: Derek Thompson, Franquelis Osoria, and of course, Jonathan Broxton.
Another not-so-hot season at high altitude for the Rockies, as this team just does not appear like they will figure out how to win in this environment. What they have figured out, however, is how to implement rookies into what they do.
We'll have to quickly move through the rookies on this team, simply because there were so many. Specifically, there were three in the infield, and two in the outfield that received a lot of time. In the infield, Garrett Atkins would lead the team in at-bats from third base, hitting .287/.347/.426 in 519 at-bats. A decent performance, and one that surely would have been topped had Clint Barmes remained healthy. Like Ryan Church, Barmes was another RoY-lock when he went down, as he finished the season hitting .289/.330/.434. Finally, we have J.D. Closser, a catcher for whom the Rockies wasted 237 at-bats, at a .219 average, on.
In the outfield, it's hard to not start with Cory Sullivan. What Matt Holliday brought to the 2004 season, Sullivan brought to 2005, breaking onto the scene and hitting a solid .294/.343/.386. Not as good as Holliday, but he'll make a good bench player. Brad Hawpe is another on the starting/pinch-hitting bubble, as he hit for a .754 OPS this season. He's less athletic than Sullivan, to be sure, but definitely has a higher offensive ceiling.
Rounding out the offensive rookies, the club also gave at least 80 at-bats to Danny Ardoin, Omar Quintanilla, Jorge Piedra, Ryan Shealy and Eddy Garabito. Shealy was the most impressive of the bunch, and has been named as a potential trade target of the Boston Red Sox. In that scenario, they would have to hope that .143 ISO goes up, not down, when leaving Mile High.
Something has to be said for 14 wins and 183.2 innings during your rookie caimpaign. However, Jeff Francis struggled in quite a bit of other areas this season, being hit too easily, and not posting the good K/BB ratio he was known for. The Rockies won't give up on him, so that 83 ERA+ should improve next season. Besides Francis, the Rockies really only used two other rookie relievers from their staff. One, a Rule 5 pick, Marcos Carvajal received a rude awakening to Major League life. However, his peripherals are solid, so I look for improvement in 2006. The same cannot be said for Ryan Speier, who to truly impress me, must strike out more than 10 hitters in 24.2 innings.
The story of the sedason for the Pittsburgh Pirates was their destruction in the second half, going from a run at .500 to a battle for last place in the NL. The team won, kind of, and will receive the NL's first pick in the 2006 draft. However, despite the losses mounting in the second half, the team had quite a bit of optimism come through in the rookie department.
There is, of course, no better example of this than Zach Duke. The 2004 minor league ERA leader was fantastic this season, with a 1.81 ERA in 14 starts. He pitched over his head, yes, but Duke showed poise that few Pirate pitchers in recent memory have had. Another with a great career start was fellow southpaw Paul Maholm, a former first-rounder that allowed just ten earned runs in his six trial starts. Besides those two, the only other pitcher was Ian Snell, who was more up and down than the two left-handers, despite posting the best strikeout rate of the bunch.
Moving to the offense, Brad Eldred is sort of the offensive version of Zach Duke. In just 190 at-bats this season, Eldred hit 12 home runs, needing to improve only on contact skills. The Pirates hoped Ryan Doumit would do for them what former-Buc Chris Shelton was doing for Detroit, but no dice. The other rookie I'd like to mention is Chris Duffy, one of many centerfield speedsters, but one who hit .341 in 126 at-bats before a hamstring injury decimated his season.
At the very least, the end of this season provided a glimmer of hope to the Bucs future. That is, to say, there is one now.
Update: Below is my National League Rookie of the Year ballot. There are some notable omissions on this list, and I would love to hear some debate in the comments. If you argue with my pick, please, post your own list as well.
1. Jeff Francoeur -- Like AL MVP race, defense sets winner above