Around the MinorsMay 12, 2008
Looking to Avoid the Sophomore Jinx: AL
By Marc Hulet

The 2007 season saw a number of exciting players come into both the American and National leagues. The junior league received some intriguing young pitchers, while the senior circuit welcomed some promising offensive players.

We are more than a month into the 2008 so now is a good time to take a look at how the 2007 rookie class, now a collective group of sophomores, are doing. Are you as curious as I am to see how many of the promising 2007 rookies have been bitten by the dreaded sophomore jinx? Let's have a look at the American League today.

2007 AL Rookie of the Year Voting (10 points or more):

Boston        2B Dustin Pedroia      132 
Tampa Bay     OF Delmon Young         56
Kansas City   RHP Brian Bannister     36
Boston        RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka   12
Los Angeles   OF Reggie Willits       11

Others: Hideki Okajima, Josh Fields, Joakim Soria

Let’s take a closer look at those players:
Pitchers: IP AVG K/9 BB/9 ERA+

Dustin Pedroia
2007 520 .317 .380 .442 112
2008 163 .307 .343 .411 104

Pedroia is the type of player that doesn’t have too many highs or too many lows; he’s just incredibly consistent and a great complimentary player to the big boppers in Boston. He should be good for quite some time and could be one of those players who gets better as he ages, in the Mark Loretta mold.

Delmon Young
2007 645 .288 .316 .408 91
2008 133 .271 .312 .308 76

The more I think about it, the less I like the idea of Young being a Minnesota Twin. The Twins, in general, aren't exactly known for being a patient team; they have always employed athletic, toolsy players that like to hack (Torii Hunter, Jacques Jones). Young might be better off on a club that forces him to be more selective. You can’t be a superstar with his type of approach (there is only one Vladimir Guerrero).

Reggie Willits
2007 430 .293 .391 .344 096
2008 011 .455 .538 .545 201

Willits has been hurt by the Angels’ position player depth and really hasn’t received a fair shot at following up on his solid rookie season. Regardless, he probably played over his head in 2007 and is a solid fourth outfielder, similar to the Cubs’ Reed Johnson.

Josh Fields
2007 373 .244 .308 .480 101
2008 000 .000 .000 .000 000

Already stuck at Triple-A (and hitting .240), Fields has been sidelined by patella tendonitis, which never a pleasant injury for baseball players (just ask Mark McGwire). Continued low averages and on-base percentages will likely continue to hinder his major league success.

Brian Bannister
2007 165.0 .251 4.20 2.40 121
2008 042.3 .265 5.10 2.13 096

Bannister is probably a little over-hyped right now, which is hard to imagine for a major league pitcher that throws in the upper 80s and plays for Kansas City. He should probably be a solid starting pitcher for the next few years, but the loss of even a couple of miles an hour on the ol’ fastball could spell doom, regardless of how smart or observant he is.

Daisuke Matsuzaka
2007 204.2 .249 8.84 3.52 108
2008 047.2 .172 7.55 5.66 176

With a repertoire like Matsuzaka’s it is hard to believe that he's been pitching away from contact, but that is exactly what he's been doing OR his command is really, really off. Ironically, as of the writing of this article he leads the majors in fewest hits allowed per nine innings… So what is he worried about? Someone needs to remind him that he is pretty darn good.

Hideki Okajima
2007 69.0 .204 8.22 2.22 214
2008 18.0 .191 7.50 2.00 865

Okajima was an almost invisible free agent signing out of Japan before the 2007, but he has been absolutely outstanding coming out of the bullpen for the Red Sox. But we also have him to thank for teams going wild by signing mediocre Japanese middle relievers prior to the 2008 season; some of those have worked out, but others haven't.

Joakim Soria
2007 69.0 .191 09.78 2.48 189
2008 13.3 .096 10.13 0.68 INF

There were quite a few scouts that felt Soria would be one of the more successful Rule 5 picks in 2007, but I don't think there were many that thought he’d be quite this good. Soria has helped to solidify a previously inconsistent (OK, terrible) Royals bullpen. He shows no signs of slowing down.

Of the player above, we know Pedroia took home the actual award and he is as good a bet as any of the 2007 rookies to have a great 2008 and a very successful career. Soria is probably the best bet among the pitchers to have a long, productive career. As for over-hyped players, I'd pick Fields or Young.

I’ll be back later this week to take a look at the sophomore seasons for the top National League rookies of 2007.


Since you commented on Josh Fields who is not on your list of rookies receiving ROY votes, I guess it is legitimate to ask for your assessment of Akinori Iwamura who I think had a solid initial season in the American Major Leagues.

I thought Iwamura would thrive on the move to second base, where his bat plays better. But so far this year he's been a bit of a disappointment offensively in all triple-slash categories. He's seen a .050 drop in BABIP so some of it might be bad luck.

Pedroia and Soria are definitely the best of the young crop. I keep feeling like I'm waiting to see why everyone's excited about Delmon Young. Bannister can be great, but he's inconsistent...if he can just overcome that. Maybe he needs to be on a team with a better pitching coach. I don't consider Dice-K and Okajima to be real rookies any more than someone switching from the NL to AL (or vice versa).

Minor nitpick: Pedroia is slugging .411 (now .407), not .311.

There is only one Vladimir Gurrero, but there are several players throughout history who were superstars with that approach, two of them are enshrined in the outfield at the Metrodome: Tony Oliva and Kirby Puckett. A recent Twins commercial has Tony O acting like a monk in Kung Fu telling his young pupil Young to "See ball, hit ball." The commercial is more than just fantasy. Tony is on the field during batting practice for most home games, as he was for all of spring training. He is trying to teach Delmon how to hit his way, which includes not only swinging at whatever looks good, but using the whole field. So far it's mostly confused the youngster, who keeps inside outing balls he should drive over the fence. Hence is ISO is 065. We'll see how it goes longer term, but the early returns are marginal.

Pedroia actually is a lot like Vlad. In '07 he got more hits on balls outside the strike zone than Vlad. Ok, he's not a lot like Vlad, but he is in this respect.