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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Updated: April 1, 9:30 PM ET
Marlins' Maybin and Yankees' Gardner ready to turn heads

ESPN.com

Steve Mitchell/US Presswire

Cameron Maybin has the tools, he just needs to concentrate on putting the ball in play.

TWO TO WATCH

By Chris Singleton, ESPN

With the regular season in sight, let's take a look at a pair of rookies we should pay close attention to this season.

Cameron Maybin, Florida Marlins

I really like Maybin. He's a strong, wiry player who has great speed and has already been compared to Eric Davis.

He'll be hitting leadoff in a strong lineup, and while there may be a little bit of concern putting a rookie in that spot, I think he'll do well. Having players like Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla hitting behind him should help.

His defense shouldn't be a concern; the kid can fly. The big issue to keep an eye on with Maybin is his ability to cut down on the strikeouts and work at putting the ball in play more often (in 81 major league at-bats, he has 29 strikeouts). He already has some pop, but that will continue to develop. Whenever you have a young kid, you want him to learn how to hit at the big league level -- stay in the middle of the field, from gap to gap. And once he has reached a comfort level over the course of the season, then he can start to turn on some pitches and hit more home runs.

That's not really going to be his role, though. The Marlins will want him to see pitches and get on base. He can't do that if he's swinging and missing. I think he can limit his strikeouts and he's my pick for Rookie of the Year in the NL.

Brett Gardner, New York Yankees

I got a chance to meet Gardner at spring training and he's a very intense kind of player. The Yankees' lineup needs a young player who can not only perform, but one who can sometimes sacrifice his body when needed.

Manager Joe Girardi has plenty of older players who might not be so eager to do that kind of thing. With Gardner, you have a hard-nosed, Aaron Rowand-type player who is going to do a good job patrolling center field. Gardner also possesses tremendous speed and will be able to ignite that lineup.

Gardner will have a chance to get acclimated and won't have the pressure of being the leadoff man. That should allow him to get comfortable, but also give him a chance to get hungry for that leadoff spot in the next year or two.

First, though, he's got to learn to handle the bat to take advantage of his speed. His hitting coach, Kevin Long, has been telling him he needs to use the left side of the field more. He can rack up a lot of extra hits over the course of a season that way. It could be the difference between a .250 average and a .270 average for him. As he does that, I think he'll not only find himself on base a lot, but with the hitters they have in that lineup, he'll be coming around to score often. He's had some success in the limited playing time he got with the team last year. That will only help his confidence this season.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: March 30 | March 29 | March 26 | March 25 | March 24

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day, ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. Gary Sheffield being released by the Tigers was a hot topic Tuesday. Buster Olney weighed in:

You would assume that someone who has a baseball card that looks like Gary Sheffield's would have more job opportunities. The slugger has 499 career homers, 2,615 hits and 1,633 RBIs, and even in what was an off year for him in 2008, he mashed 19 homers in 418 at-bats.

And when Sheffield was asked by a reporter in Lakeland, Fla., on Tuesday morning about whether he intended to retire, he responded: "It ain't close." As in, he is sure he can play.

But even after he clears waivers, as expected, and even though any interested suitor would have to pay him only a minimum salary of $400,000, he might have few offers -- if any.

"He has definitely lost bat speed," said one talent evaluator who saw him this spring. "He's missing pitches that he would've crushed just a couple of years ago."

For the rest of this entry from Buster Olney's blog, click here.


Rob Neyer had some thoughts too, wondering why the Tigers keep paying millions then sending players away:

That $14 million reminds a lot of Tigers fans of Damion Easley. Six years ago, the Tigers released Easley despite still owing him $14.3 million over the next two seasons. At the time, it was the biggest figure any club had eaten on a contract after releasing a player.

Dave Dombrowski was the general manager then, too. But he was not running the show when Easley got his four-year extension in the first place. Dombrowski inherited Easley and that contract, and it took some guts to let Easley go … and although Easley did get his career back on track eventually, he was particularly awful during the season immediately after the Tigers released him.

Still, the release of Sheffield -- while probably a good move for this club right now -- does remind us of another pattern that's definitely Dombrowski's: forking over large amounts of cash to players who don't "deserve" it. When the Tigers traded for Sheffield, he was coming off a season in which he'd played only 39 games and not been all that good when he did play. He already was under contract for the following season but had a no-trade clause he waived only after the Tigers offered a two-year extension that would pay him $28 million over 2008 and '09.

For their $28 million, the Tigers got one season and 114 games of below-average hitting.

For the rest of this entry from Rob Neyer's blog, click here.

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BBTN MINUTE: ROOKIES OF THE YEAR PREDICTIONS

BASEBALL TONIGHT MAILBAG

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MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Juan Lara• Pitcher Juan Lara, who was nearly killed in an automobile crash in 2007, will be back in uniform this week. Lara suffered severe brain trauma, a fractured spine, two broken ribs, a broken arm and a punctured lung. But now, he will return to baseball.
WORST
Sidney Ponson• Two spring starts for Sidney Ponson, two rough outings. If the Royals are indeed going to make noise in the AL Central, they will need better results from Ponson, who gave up seven runs and seven hits in five innings Tuesday. That came after he gave up eight hits and six runs five days earlier.

BBTN'S NL WEST PREVIEW

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Chipper Jones and the Braves agreed Tuesday to a three-year extension through the 2012 season. What are the Braves getting? A hitter with three straight seasons of a .300-plus batting average and four straight seasons of a .400-plus OBP.

What makes Chipper so productive? He strikes out, chases bad pitches and swings and misses far fewer than the league average and walks at a rate higher than the league average, traits of a very good hitter. Jones has averaged only 120 games a season over the past four years. When he is in the lineup, he's consistently one of the best hitters in the National League.

Chipper Jones
2007-08 Jones NL avg.
K pct. of PAs 12.0 17.7
BB pct. of PAs 15.1 8.7
Miss pct. 18.4 20.3
Chase pct. 15.4 22.6

-- ESPN Stats and Information

FANTASY: FINDING VALUE IN THE DRAFT

FANTASY BASEBALL

Fantasy Have questions about how to build your roster? Whom you should choose early or late in your draft? Which catcher you want? We have the answers. Draft Kit

CATCHING UP WITH CLIFF LEE

ESPN INSIDER

Insider The Yankees are in a title drought. Why? Check their gloves. ESPN The Magazine

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