Young Guns: AL West
We’re back with the third installment of Baseball Analysts’ look at the rookies most likely to have an impact in the majors in 2008. The American League West will continue to feature mostly veteran teams in 2008, with one notable exception – the Oakland Athletics organization, which has jumped feet-first into a rebuilding mode. Oakland could have as many as six rookie play key roles on the club for the majority of the season.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels club, in recent years, has been a veteran team that has always made room for talented youngsters, such as Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick and Jered Weaver. This year will be no different as the club needs to finally find room for slugging prospect Brandon Wood, who could play either shortstop or third base.
Brandon Wood SS
Worst case scenario, Wood could be the next Mark Bellhorn. Best case scenario, he could play adequate defence while providing 30 homers annually. First things first, though, as Wood will have to beat out fellow youngster Erick Aybar for the position vacated by Orlando Cabrera, who is now in the Windy City. Wood certainly offers more offensive potential than Aybar, who is more of a defensive-minded gap-hitter that relies on speed. Some caution is obviously due, as Wood struck out 32.9 percent of the time at Double-A in 2006 and 27.5 percent of the time in Triple-A in 2007. As well, during his 13-game MLB stint in 2007, he had a low line-drive rate at only 9.5 percent and hit groundballs 52.4 percent of the time, with neither number being impressive for a power hitter.
As mentioned above, the A's have a plethora of talent ready to solidify themselves as major league players. The club received an impressive haul of talent prospects this past off-season, at the expense of veterans Nick Swisher, Dan Haren and Mark Kotsay. The club also received a number of interesting prospects not mentioned below, who are a few years away from reaching their potential in the majors. The rookies most likely to impact the big league club in 2008 are: Dan Meyer, Joey Devine, Daric Barton, Ryan Sweeney, Carlos Gonzalez, and Gio Gonzalez.
Dan Meyer LHP
A significant drop in velocity plagued Meyer in 2006 during his debut with the Oakland organization after being a top prospect in the Braves’ system before coming over in the Tim Hudson trade. He rebounded somewhat in 2007, has learned to pitch without his peak velocity and has positioned himself to win one of the vacant rotation spots created by Oakland’s fire sale. Meyer’s high walk ratios and diminishing strikeout numbers suggest he won’t be an impact starter, but he could eat 170-180 innings as a fourth or fifth starter. Yes, there are more promising starters in the system, such as the hurlers obtained for Swisher, but Meyer is the closest to making an impact.
Joey Devine RHP
Devine was drafted in the first round by the Braves in 2005 with the thought he was almost major league ready. But like a number of other “advanced college relievers” such as Ryan Wagner, Bill Bray and Craig Hansen, Devine has found pro ball a little more challenging than expected. The big concern with Devine is his command. If Devine could face right-handed batters all the time, he would be a very dominating reliever, as they hit only .169/.235/.221 against him in 77 Double-A at-bats this year and .140/.159/.256 in 43 Triple-A at-bats. His BB/9 against left-handed batters in Double-A was 6.97 (compared to 1.66 against righties) and at Triple-A it was 5.9 (compared to 0.69 against righties).
Daric Barton 1B
Barton doesn’t have the air of a perennial All-Star (it’s too bad he couldn’t stick as a catcher), but he should be a solid, dependable regular - and perhaps a little better than some expect. The biggest knock on Barton is his lack of 30-homer power as a first baseman and he certainly isn’t going to slug .639 as he did in his 18-game MLB trial in 2007. Throughout his minor league career, Barton has shown that he will hit for a good average, drive in runs and get on base. The left-handed batter can also handle southpaws respectably so he should be able to take the field on an everyday basis.
Ryan Sweeney CF
Sweeney, a former top prospect of the White Sox, has fallen on hard times and fell out of favor with his former club after stalling in Triple-A. His swing got messed up in 2007 and he was having difficulty making consistent, hard contact. A change of scenery may be just what the doctor ordered, though. Sweeney could also find himself as a platoon outfielder, having hit just .237/.322/.281 against Triple-A lefties last year. His line against righties - .281/.351/.449 – was respectable. On the positive side, he did handle lefties better earlier in his career. During his two brief MLB trials, Sweeney hit the ball on the ground 55.9 percent of the time, which is an encouraging sign given his lack of usable power.
Carlos Gonzalez CF
The trade from Arizona to Oakland likely did wonders for Gonzalez, who goes from an organization with a glut of outfielders to a club with a wide-open battle for outfield playing time. In a perfect world, Gonzalez could use some more minor league seasoning since he has only 42 at-bats above Double-A. And his numbers at Double-A (.286/.333/.476) can be described as good, but not great. The All-Star potential is there, but he walked only 6.5 percent of the time at Double-A to go along with a strikeout rate of 22.5 percent. The left-handed batter also struggled against southpaws to the tune of .213/.247/.331. Gonzalez did make adjustments as the year progressed, though. After hitting .210/.250/.346 in April and .267/.273/.362 in May, he slugged .344/.410/.622 in July and .338/.395/.494 in August before a late-season promotion to Triple-A.
Gio Gonzalez LHP
Gonzalez’ head might still be spinning. Initially signed by the White Sox, he was then traded to Philadelphia, then back to Chicago and then most recently to Oakland. On the plus side, it shows he’s a wanted commodity, which isn’t surprising given he’s left-handed with above-average stuff. He repeated Double-A as a 21-year-old in 2007 and dominated, leading the minors in strikeouts with 185 in 150 innings. Gonzalez, like his outfielder namesake (although no relation), would likely be best suited by spending some time in Triple-A but the starting rotation cupboard is nearly bare in Oakland. His walk ratios have been too high in Double-A the last two seasons (4.71, 3.42 BB/9), which could create some growing pains in the majors. Gonzalez has performed well against both right-handed and left-handed batters in his career. In 2007, left-handed batters hit .217/.277/.309 and right-handed batters hit .213/.294/.316.
Like Los Angeles, the Mariners are traditionally a veteran club. The club traded away its top young player recently in Adam Jones. The club's top rookie, though, is still in the fold: Jeff Clement, and he could very well be in the running for Rookie of the Year in 2008.
Jeff Clement C/DH
The Mariners were somewhat criticized for paying through the nose recently for Canadian left-hander Erik Bedard but the club managed to hold on to its No. 1 prospect. The issue with Clement, though, is that he has nowhere to play with Kenji Johjima entrenched behind the dish in Seattle. As a result, Clement’s value could take a bit of a hit in 2008 as he seeks at-bats at first base and designated hitter. Although he has more than enough bat to play at either spot, there is some danger of his catching skills getting rusty. Clement showed improved plate discipline in 2007 at Triple-A, walking 15.8 percent of the time. Clement held his own against right-handed pitching, but he creamed lefties to the tune of .317/.427/.675 in 126 at-bats.
Traditionally, Texas' starting pitching prospects burn brightly in the minors for a year or two and then quickly fade into obscurity. The organization can only hope the same cannot be said for top pitching prospect Eric Hurley, who is poised to make an impact in the starting rotation in 2008.
Eric Hurley RHP
The Rangers’ biggest Achilles heel in recent years has been pitching. Hurley could be a homegrown solution to that problem, which is something the Rangers don’t currently have. While the Rangers have done a nice job developing relievers (C.J. Wilson, Joaquin Benoit, Wes Littleton, Kameron Loe), the projected rotation features three free agent signees (Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Jason Jennings) and two pitchers obtained via trades (Kason Gabbard, Brandon McCarthy). And worse yet, all five pitchers’ numbers dipped significantly after becoming Rangers. As a result, it won’t be a surprise to see Hurley in Texas sooner rather than later. He handled left-handed batters in Triple-A well: .176/.286/.380. It could be a bumpy first year in the majors, though, as he allowed a few too many homers in Triple-A in 2007 (13 in 73.1 innings) and his BB/9 was a little high (3.44). Batters also hit below .300 against Hurley in the first four innings of the game, but batted more than .350 from the fifth innings on. The talent, though, is there to weather the storm.
Next up: National League East