ROOKIE EXCITEMENT AHEAD
More Glamour Following 2005’s Huge Class
By Glenn Guzzo
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, baseball-prospect lovers. After The Year of the Rookie in 2005, your gift will be a record supply of useful and promising future stars when Strat-O-Matic’s new cards and disks arrive. And Major League Baseball seems resolved to give you a flood of new rookies in 2006.
Amazingly enough, an off-season that has seen 47-year-old Julio Franco sign a two-year contract and the Detroit Tigers sign a pair of 41-year-old free agent pitchers to be their No. 1 starter and closer, Major League Baseball rosters might actually get younger in 2006.
With nearly more than three months until Opening Day, dozens of unsigned free agents and many teams still looking for trades to fill obvious holes, much described here could change. Still, with the free-agent pool shallower than ever, and trades to date made with the intention of giving the open jobs to youngsters, it’s clear that many rookies and second-year men are going to get more playing time next season.
To appreciate how remarkable this is, consider that the 2005 season card set already will feature more guys who made significant debuts than ever. And that doesn’t count guys like Chase Utley, Joe Mauer, Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore and
C: Brian McCann, Atlanta; Ryan Doumit, Pittsburgh; Dioner Navarro, Los Angeles.
1B: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia; Dan Johnson, Oakland; Chris Shelton, Detroit; Lance Nierko, San Francisco; Brad Eldred, Pittsburgh; Prince Fielder, Milwaukee; Casey Kotchman, Angels; Conor Jackson, Arizona.
2B: Robinson Cano, Yankees; Tadahito Iguchi, White Sox; Richie Weeks,
SS: J.J. Hardy,
OF: Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson and Ryan Langerhans, Atlanta; Willy Taveras and Chris Burke, Houston; Nick Swisher, Oakland; Jonny Gomes and Joey Gathright, Tampa Bay; Curtis Granderson, Detroit; Matt Murton, Cubs; Cory Sullivan, Colorado; Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth, Pittsburgh; Jeremy Reed, Seattle.
Starting Pitchers: Felix Hernandez, Seattle; Gustavo Chacin, Toronto; Joe Blanton, Oakland; Ervin Santana, Angels; Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay; Chris Young, Texas; Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees; Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh; Matt Cain, San Francisco; Jeff Francis, Colorado; Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio, Houston; Kyle Davies, Atlanta.
Relief Pitchers: Huston Street, Oakland; Bobby Jenks and Neal Cotts, White Sox; Jesse Crain, Minnesota; Chris Ray, Baltimore; Chad Qualls, Houston; Blaine Boyer and Macay McBride, Atlanta (among many others).
Nowhere is this continuing trend more obvious than in
Just two years after winning a World Series, the Marlins may be starting seven players who spent most of 2005 in the minors. We’ve got to figure the Marlins will add some veterans, especially in the outfield. But as of now, it looks like this:
C: Josh Willingham (23 Florida AB, after starting 2005 in High-A and getting 219 AB in AAA). Willingham can hit but is even worse at throwing out runners than LoDuca. Backup would be Matt Treanor, a rookie last season (134 bad AB). Replacing: Paul LoDuca (traded to the Mets).
1B: Mike Jacobs. Promoted from AA last year, he hit 11 HR in 100 AB for the Mets. Backup/platoon could be big Jason Stokes, not yet a major-leaguer. Replacing: Carlos Delgado (traded to the Mets).
2B: Josh Wilson (10 Florida AB) is ahead of veteran bench-sitter Alfredo Amezaga (5 AB in 2005). The Marlins backup could be Daniel Uggla, who had a breakout minor-league season with
SS: Hanley Ramirez (2
LF: Chris Aguila (78
CF: Eric Reed. Speedy, gifted glove man, long expected to be Juan Pierre’s successor. He regressed with the bat in his second AA season last year. With no power, he needs to stick to line drives and grounders, ala
RF: Jeremy Hermida (4 HR in 41 Florida AB after promotion directly from AA). Smooth left-handed stroke showed breakout power last season. Could be an elite hitter. Defense a work in progress, so far without the progress. Replacing: Juan Encarnacion (free agent).
Totals: Cabrera (613 AB) and 13 others who averaged 31 big-league AB in 2005 (400 combined). And the Marlins figure to turn most of the bullpen duty over to newly acquired minor-leaguers, including flame-throwing closer Travis Bowyer (5.59 ERA in 10 IP with Minnesota in 2005).
Of course, every season sees a new batch of never-heard-of-‘em relievers. Some end up with great new Strat-O-Matic cards. This article is not concerned with 40-70 innings-pitched guys. We’ve got plenty to talk about now just with the position players ready to get major playing time.
Philadelpia traded Jim Thome to give the first base job 2005 Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard. That means more than the 312 AB he had last season after Thome went down with injuries. Similarly,
The White Sox’ trade of Aaron Rowand for Thome gives young Brian Anderson (34 AB) the first shot at to fill the opening in the Sox’ outfield. And
After CF Ryan Church’s decent 331 AB in 2005,
The Braves exported youth by trading Andy Marte, an elite prospect despite 57 not-ready-for-prime-time AB in
Expect Edwin Encarnacion to get more than last year’s 211 AB at 3B in
Others in the wings: Unless