Year of the Rookie: The 2010 NL Edition
One of the more exciting story lines each season in Major League Baseball is the Rookie of the Year race. The announcement of the eventual winners is really not the best part, though. The most exciting aspect of the competition is the race itself for the simple fact that we get introduced to the stars of tomorrow.
The 2010 season is shaping up to be another great year for rookies. The '09 season ended up being a pretty amazing run with fans being introduced to the likes of Florida's Chris Coghlan, Atlanta's Tommy Hanson, Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, Oakland's Andrew Bailey and Brett Anderson, Baltimore's Chris Tillman, Toronto's Ricky Romero, and Texas' Elvis Andrus... as well as many, many others.
This week, we'll take a look at the National League's most promising rookies. Over the past 10 seasons, the winners of the Rookie of the Year award have gone on to do some great things. Some of those successful winners include: Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, Florida's Hanley Ramirez, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, New York's Jason Bay, and St. Louis' Albert Pujols. A few of the past winners that have failed to build upon their immediate successes include Florida's Dontrelle Willis, and Colorado's Jason Jennings. The jury remains out of '08 winner and Chicago Cub Geovany Soto.
Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington
Yeah, last summer's top draft pick could probably hold his own in the Majors right now. But why should he? The organization would be much better off by giving him some minor league innings of experience and delaying his arbitration eligibilty, which will therefore help control his cost and possibly keep him in Washington longer. Strasburg is likely already better than three projected members of the '10 starting rotation: Scott Olsen, J.D. Martin, and Garrett Mock. And he could very well be better than John Lannan, and Jason Marquis. You really have to appreciate how rare it is for a prospect - with basically zero pro experience - to be better than all five big-league pitchers in a club's starting rotation.
The Giants club saved Molina from a chilly free agent market, but who is going to save general manager Brian Sabean from himself? The club's man-crush on veterans is once again showing its ugly face, as the MLB-ready Posey is in danger of A) beginning the year in the minors, or B) seeing his development stunted by playing multiple positions. Yes, the kid is athletic enough to play a number of positions, but he hasn't been catching all that long so he needs to keep polishing his act behind the dish. Long-term, his value is at its highest by wearing the tools of ignorance.
Over the past year, as the Heyward love has increased, readers have been asking: "Is Heyward really that good?" In a recent FanGraphs podcast I likened his possible immediate big-league impact to Albert Pujols... and yes that is extremely high praise, but the 20-year-old outfielder really is that good. Check out his triple-slash line from double-A in '09: .352/.446/.611 in 162 at-bats. With Chipper Jones in decline, Heyward could be the club's best hitter in 2010 (His biggest competitior is probably Brian McCann) and, with apologies to Tommy Hanson, he is the future face of the franchise.
Fans received a glimpse of Escobar's potential last season after he replaced incumbent shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was demoted to the minors. With Hardy's off-season trade to Minnesota (which says a lot about the club's faith in its new shortstop), the full-time gig is now Escobar's and he could have an Elvis Andrus-type of season at shortstop for the Brewers... and the Rangers' infielder's '09 season was good enough to earn him the runner-up spot in the Rookie of the Year race in the American League. Escobar is a little bit more experienced than Andrus and he has a great glove, as well as some speed on the base paths (42 steals in 52 tries at triple-A in '09). With the likes of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in the line-up, the rookie should score a lot of runs.
There has been a lot said about Bumgarner's drop in velocity in '09 but velo, although important, is not the end-all-and-be-all for a pitcher's success. With that said, the lefty could probably use a little more seasoning in the minors if you consider the fact that his FIP has risen (3.56 FIP in double-A, compared to his ERA of 1.93), while his K/BB has dropped (to 2.30 BB/K), with each promotion. Bumgarner still has the ceiling of a No.2 starter for me, but he's just 20 years old. However, the fact that Wellemeyer is the other option for the fifth spot worries me.
You can't really fault the Mets organization for nabbing Barajas. The club got great value for a veteran catcher who slammed 19 homers last year for the Blue Jays. Thole is a much different type of player, with almost zero power (.094 ISO in double-A). However, you don't find many big league catchers that can hit .300 with a solid eye at the plate.
Storen is that other guy that Washington selected in the first round of the '09 amateur draft. Well that other guy is rather talented, too, although he'll need to shed the curse that has infected the likes of Craig Hansen and Ryan Wagner - fellow college relievers who reached the Majors quickly only to burn out almost as fast. Storen's chances of closing for Washington in '10 took a significant downturn after the club acquired both Capps (free agency) and Bruney (trade).
The Washington organization has been promoting Desmond as its shortstop of the future since he was in High-A ball and he's seemingly struggled with the pressure at times. However, a strong '09 season, which included as successful MLB audtion, seemed to finally thrust him into the '10 starting role by bumping incumbent shortstop Guzman to second base. However, the club then went out and signed Adam Kennedy to play second, which now shifts Guzman back to short or it will make him a very expensive back-up.
The Reds club recently re-signed Gomes to a big-league deal so he's the favorite for playing time in left field. However, there is a rather unimpressive backlog of outfielders, including Chris Dickerson, Wladimir Balentien and Laynce Nix, vying for playing time at the position. Heisey could end up being the best of the bunch, although his long-term outlook is probably fourth outfielder due to his average power for the outfield corner.
I'm an unapologetic Young Jr. fan. As such, I have no issues with suggesting that he brings more to the table on offense than Barmes, who currently projects to receive the majority of the playing time at second base. Yes, the incumbent hit 23 homers, but he also posted a .294 OBP. The ability to get on base and steal 50+ bases from Young could have a much bigger impact in the Rockies lineup, which would wreak havoc on the base paths with four 20+ stolen base threats. Maybe the Rockies and I can meet half way if the club agrees to use Young in a super-sub role that guarantees him 400 at-bats.
Mike Stanton, RF, Florida
Stanton is one of the Top 5 prospects in all of baseball but the club is likely to receive more immediate help from first base prospect Logan Morrison. Stanton reached double-A in '09 at the age of 19 but his massive strikeout rates (33.1%) and modest double-A numbers suggest he has more work to do.
The Cubs big league club is set to infuse some youth into its veteran-laden rotation. Both Cashner and Jackson and near-MLB ready, which is good considering the health questions surrounding most of the pitchers in the starting rotation.
The tandem of Towles and Humberto Quintero will not strike fear in the hearts of many opponents. However, Towles has posted some good minor league numbers so there is still hope that he'll realize his potential. If he continues to struggle, though, Castro should be summoned to the Majors... and he has a much brighter future than rookie shortstop Tommy Manzella, who has received a lot of attention lately.
LaRoche cannot afford to slip this season. The incumbent third baseman had a respectable season in '09 (.324 wOBA) but he is now 26 and has yet to play up to his former prospect hype. Alvarez' triple-slash line at double-A in '09 (.333/.419/.590) has the former No.1 draft pick breathing down LaRoche's neck.
The Cincinnati Reds organization surprised a lot of people by making a late, successful charge at the hard-throwing Chapman. He's impressing a lot of people early on in spring training but it's probably a little much to expect him to step right into a big league rotation. The organization seems serious about trying to win in '10 so it likely won't hesitate to lean on Chapman if he has some early success.