Friday, April 3, 2009
Young players who impressed the most this spring
This year's spring training wore on for close to two months with lineups that were second cousins of the '95 replacement players. But it gave general managers, managers, coaches, scouts and some of us hangers-on a chance to see a lot more young players than most springs.
So that begged four questions that were asked of close to five dozen baseball people who saw all these young players:
Question 1: Which young players have made major impressions on you?
1. The top three names on this list dominated the questionnaire, but 19-year-old Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton got the most votes. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Stanton -- for whom the Red Sox offered Manny Ramirez (minus his entire salary) for even-up last July -- has tremendous power, speed, athleticism and studies the game like Greg Maddux. When this current Marlins management staff was working under Jim Beattie in Montreal, Jim Fleming drafted Grady Sizemore in the third round. Two years ago, Fleming drafted Stanton in the second round and took him away from playing college football at USC for coach Pete Carroll; in Stanton's first full pro season he hit 39 homers in Class A at the age of 18.
2. Matt Wieters, Orioles catcher. There has been some questioned Wieters' starting the season in the minors, but Andy MacPhail is a wise man who also realizes he has a very talented future pitching staff that is opening in the minors, as well. And while Wieters may be a switch-hitting Joe Mauer with power, the Orioles want him to arrive on his own schedule, and considering the preparation, hitting, catching, footwork and relationships that go into catching, it isn't a bad thing. The O's are on their way back after a dozen sub-.500 seasons; Nick Markakis is a star-level player, Adam Jones is on his way and there are layers of young pitchers.
3. David Price, Rays left-handed pitcher. We have seen his stuff, his cool under fire, his intelligence and grace. The American League East must be pretty good if Price, Wade Davis, Phil Hughes and Clay Buchholz will all begin the season in Triple-A.
4. Carlos Santana, Indians catcher. Acquired from the Dodgers last season in lieu of L.A. having to pay Casey Blake's salary, Cleveland grabbed a future star (one club still loves him as a third baseman). He has a great arm, live bat from both sides and put up an OPS of more than 1.000 last season. This next generation of Indians players is extremely impressive.
5. Brian Matusz, Orioles left-handed pitcher. Scouts raved about Matusz and right-handed pitchers Chris Tillman and Jake Arrietta, but the consensus is that in terms of stuff and command, Matusz is the closest to being ready to play in the majors.
6. Rick Porcello, Tiger right-handed pitcher. Porcello is 20 and has 125 pro innings under his belt, but Jim Leyland loves talent, and Porcello has it. He has great delivery, sink on his pitches and throws a great breaking ball. With a lot of breakdowns on his staff, Leyland is going to throw Porcello and Ryan Perry, a 2008 first-rounder out of Arizona, into the fire.
7. Tommy Hanson, Braves right-handed pitcher. It won't be long until something happens and he's in Atlanta. But after a year in which opponents batted .175 against him and he struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings, he dominated the Arizona Fall League, was superb in the spring and, as one GM says, "with his four-pitch mix, [he'll] be in that rotation soon, and for a long time."
8. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates third baseman. "His approach was better than one would expect for a kid a year out of college," one GM said. "His power is scary."
9. Daniel Bard, Red Sox right-handed pitcher. Two years ago, Bard went through a nightmare by issuing 78 walks in 76 innings pitched. This spring, the refrain through the southwest portion of Florida was "the easiest 100 [mph] I've ever seen." His presence changed, he got up on top, his breaking ball tightened and that 97-102 comes out of his hand so easily that it looks as if he's playing catch with his mother. Just a matter of time before he'll be pitching in Boston.
10. Alcides Escobar, Brewers shortstop. Milwaukee already has one of the most underappreciated premier shortstops in J.J. Hardy, but Escobar dazzled scouts with his size and skill set. "He needs some refinement," says one Brewers coach. "But the talent is tremendous."
11. Logan Morrison, Marlins first baseman. "He plays the game right at all times, and he's got a major league approach," says one scout. Last year's Florida State League MVP will be at first base or in the outfield for the Marlins come the second half of the season.
12. Gordon Beckham, White Sox second baseman. Ozzie Guillen would have had no problem opening the season with Beckham and his 14 games of minor league experience. He has the big league player walk, much like Evan Longoria and Chase Utley.
13. Buster Posey, Giants catcher. The other teams in the AL East were joyous when the Rays decided to take Tim Beckham over Posey with the first pick last spring. Posey is athletic, has a great arm, has incredible power and is a lover of the game. And he's Beckham's sidekick from their Cape Cod League days together.
14. Dexter Fowler, Rockies center fielder. Clint Hurdle will probably break Fowler in slowly -- after all, Ryan Spilborghs is a very good player -- but the comparisons of Fowler with Devon White say enough. It must say something about baseball that Fowler turned down playing basketball to sign with the Rockies, and A's rookie pitcher Trevor Cahill turned down Dartmouth to sign with Oakland.
15. Junichi Tazawa, Red Sox right-handed pitcher. This was the biggest surprise of the spring. Signed out of an industrial league in Japan, the 22-year-old shocked people with his command (he threw one ball per inning in his last two minor league starts). "He'd have been in the top six to 10 in this June's draft," says one scout, "and his feel might have moved him him into the top five."
16. Josh Lindblom, Dodgers right-handed pitcher. With a very thin major league staff, Joe Torre brought in the Dodgers' second pick from June's draft (with 34 pro innings under his belt) to throw in relief near the end of spring training. "Best young arm I saw all spring in Arizona," said one scout. "He's going to leap into that L.A. bullpen by June," said another scout.
17. Jason Heyward, Braves outfielder. The only reason he isn't near the top is that not as many scouts saw him. He is 19, a 6-4, 220-pound beast, and he and first baseman Freddie Freeman may blow through the organization. Once again, the Braves are lined up with future talent thanks to scouting director Roy Clark and his staff. Along with Heyward and Freeman, Hanson is going to be in the rotation in time. Jordan Schafer is going to be in center field. The player most asked for this winter was left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke. As they used to say in Macon, Ga., the road goes on forever.
18. Jason Motte, Cardinals right-handed pitcher. His power arm helped him jump into the St. Louis bullpen, likely in front of Ryan Franklin, for now. If Chris Perez gets healthy, he'll be there. And don't be surprised if the remarkably talented Colby Rasmus doesn't win the Cardinals' center field job.
19. Sean Doolittle, A's first baseman. The smooth, sweet-swinging Doolittle opened a lot of eyes and should be ready quickly. "Mark Grace with 20-homer power," says one personnel man. In a spring when the A's showcased young pitchers Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Vin Mazzaro, Doolittle was a surprise to some. Cahill and Anderson should be in the Athletics' rotation, pronto.
20. Michael Brantley, Indians outfielder/first baseman. The player to be named later along with Matt LaPorta in the CC Sabathia deal last season had a great spring. As the season wears on, Brantley, Trevor Crowe, Carlos Santana, Matt LaPorta, third baseman Wes Hodges and second baseman Luis Valbuena could all contribute. Now if they can get two out of the pitching group of Aaron Laffey, David Huff, Jeremy Sowers and Hector Rondon into the picture, this could be a prolonged time in the high life for the Tribe.
Others receiving at least two notices: Chris Tillman and Jake Arrietta, Orioles; right-handed pitcher Wade Davis, Rays; catcher Wilson Ramos, Twins; right-handed pitcher Jordan Walden, Angels; right-handed pitcher Nick Adenhart, Angels; right-handed pitcher Jarrod Parker, Diamondbacks; infielder Brandon Wood, Angels; right-handed pitcher Neftali Feliz and left-handed pitcher Derek Holland, Rangers; outfielder Andrew McCutchen, Pirates; first baseman Lars Anderson, Red Sox; outfielder Austin Jackson, Yankees; outfielder Travis Snider, catcher J.P. Arencibia and left-handed pitcher Brett Cecil, Blue Jays; outfielder Mike Wilson, Mariners.
Question 2: Which players have you watched who convinced you they are on the brink of a breakout season?
1. Adam Jones, CF, Orioles
2. Chris Volstad, RHP, Marlins
3. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers. If he doesn't get rushed too quickly.
4. Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies (One scout says, "He's the most improved player in the majors over the last two years.")
5. Chris Davis, 1B, Rangers
6. Cameron Maybin, CF, Marlins
7. Ian Stewart, 2B-LF-3B, Rockies
8. Josh Fields, 3B, White Sox
9. Alexei Ramirez, SS, White Sox
10. Andrew Miller, LHP, Marlins (His past two starts have highlighted the work on his delivery.)
11. Brett Gardner, CF, Yankees (If you can't root for him, you can't enjoy the game.)
12. Mike Pelfrey, RHP, Mets
13. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Twins
14. Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers (Willie Randolph has him slowing down his overall approach.)
15. Kyle Davies, RHP, Royals (His stuff is like it was last September, and back where it was during his rise with the Braves.)
Question 3: Which players coming off injuries convinced you they are back?
1. Chris Carpenter, RHP, Cardinals
2. Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays
3. Chien-Ming Wang, RHP, Yankees
4. Jorge Posada, C, Yankees
5. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
6. Victor Martinez, C-1B, Indians
7. Yovani Gallardo, RHP, Brewers
8. Brad Penny, RHP, Red Sox
9. Ryan Church, OF, Mets
10. Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies
Question 4: Who had the best arm you saw this spring?
This wasn't close. Boston's Daniel Bard got three times as many votes as anyone else. Actually, tied for second were a catcher (Carlos Santana) and an outfielder (Rick Ankiel), although the latter doesn't qualify as a kid.
1. Daniel Bard, RHP, Red Sox
2. Brandon Morrow, RHP, Mariners
3. Derek Holland, LHP, Rangers
4. Josh Lindblom, RHP, Dodgers
5. Jordan Walden, RHP, Angels