A Quick Look at the Rookie Hitters
Yesterday I took a look at the top rookie pitchers in the American and National Leagues so far this season. Today is a perfect opportunity to view some of the young hitters who are terrorizing the pitchers in Major League Baseball. The National League certainly seems to have a slightly more impressive crop of offensive rookies this season, led by the Cubbies' backstop.
Geovany Soto, C, Chicago Cubs
At the age of 25, it has taken Geovany Soto a little bit longer to establish himself in the majors, having been drafted out of Puerto Rico in 2001 (in the 11th round). As soon as he began to take the game - and his conditioning seriously - good things began to happen. Soto plays a premium position for a first-place club and he is an offensive force with 11 homers in 226 at-bats. He also has a nice line-drive rate at 22.5 percent. One downside to his game is that he has struck out at a rate of 26.5 percent.
Joey Votto is looking to join the Dodgers' Russell Martin as one of the most impressive, young Canadian players in the National League. He has played well enough this season to put veteran Scott Hatteberg out of a job in Cincinnati and he has shown good power with 11 homers and 14 doubles. Unfortunately, the converted catcher has struggled at first base and has committed eight errors in 63 games. Votto should be looking over his shoulder as teammate Jay Bruce could very well pass him in the Rookie of the Year race in the second half of the season.
Gregor Blanco has never gotten much love as a prospect but he has put up some solid numbers in the minors, as long as you remember he is not the type of player who is going to be a superstar. Blanco is an excellent example of a solid, supporting cast member. He gets on base, can run and has good range in the outfield. What he doesn't do well is hit for power and he has also struck out a little too much this season (23.6 percent).
By all rights, Blake DeWitt should probably be playing in Double-A right now. But you have to give the kid credit for seizing the opportunity after both of the Dodgers' third base options, Nomar Garciaparra and Andy LaRoche, went down with injuries at the beginning of the season. What appeared to be a huge weakness, turned into a massive organizational strength, and LaRoche has even been tried out at a different position in the minors. DeWitt has not hit for the power one would like from the hot corner and he has not walked much (nine percent). On the plus side, he has had a solid average and he has not struck out too much (17.4 percent).
Kosuke Fukudome offers Soto some rookie companionship on the Cubs and the duo goes a long way to explaining the team's 2008 resurgence. Like your typical Japanese player, Fukudome really is not a true (or deserving) rookie, having played eight seasons in the Japanese Central League. A power hitter in Japan, Fukudome has played more like Ichiro Suzuki this season with limited power (five homers) and a high average (.296). Fukudome is perhaps a bit overrated as he does not steal many bases or hit homers, so his value is tied to his ability to get on-base (which he has done very well so far this season).
David Murphy, OF, Texas Rangers
A former first round draft pick of the Red Sox, David Murphy had a less-than-spectacular minor league career. He also came within three at-bats of expiring his rookie eligibility last season after hitting .343/.384/.552 in 46 games. Murphy has carried that momentum over to 2008 and has 10 homers and 48 RBI to go along with another solid average. On the negative side, his rates are not that impressive: 5.8 walk percentage and 18.8 strikeout percentage.
Evan Longoria, like Murphy, is a former first round draft pick but he made noise all the way through the minors and has found the majors to be a little more of a challenge. Everyone expects him to pick up his game in the second half of the year and improve upon his .249 batting average. His BABIP is only .298 so Longoria can expect that to improve and help things along.
Jacoby Ellsbury really made a name for himself in the 2007 playoffs and he has had a solid, albeit unspectacular, 2008 season. The most impressive part of Ellsbury's game this season has been his work on the base paths, as he has stolen 33 bases in 36 attempts which leads Major League Baseball. Ellsbury does not walk a ton (11.2 percent), but he also does not strike out much (13.5 percent).
Daric Barton, a former St. Louis Cardinals' catching prospect, raised the bar last season by hitting .347 in 18 games. He has struggled so far this season but his advanced approach should help him turn things around sooner rather than later. Barton will not hit for a ton of power, but he will improve upon the .338 slugging percentage. The 14.1 walk rate is pretty good, but he needs to tone down the strikeouts with his rate currently at 26.9 percent.
It is obvious (and had been for at least a year) that Ryan Sweeney needed a change in scenery. He received that change with a winter trade from the White Sox to the Athletics. Sweeney, 23, has not hit for a ton of power but he has played good defence and has gotten on base with an on-base percentage at .367. He has also shown good versatility by playing all three outfield positions. He likely will never hit for the power the White Sox expected after taking him in the second round out of high school.