As the midway point of the 2004 season approaches, it's time to take a look at the potential impact call-ups for the second half. Kansas City's Zack Greinke, promoted a few weeks ago and already the ace of the Royals rotation, is just the first in a series of intriguing rookies who should get the chance to display their skills as the summer heats up. Some of these players could have a considerable impact in the pennant chase, while others (particularly those playing for teams out of the postseason hunt) will be auditioning for jobs in 2005.
This isn't a comprehensive list of every rookie we could see in July, August, or September. Rather, the focus here is on rookies with the greatest chance to make a major contribution in '04. In some cases, they may be prospects who could possibly be included in trades for big-name players, at least according to the current buzz. This is another way that rookies often "contribute" to their teams down the stretch.
If there's someone important you feel has been left out, write in and we'll examine them in our Down on the Farm mailbag.
In no particular order:
Jeff Francis, LHP, Colorado Rockies
As the eternal search for pitching continues in the Rocky Mountains, eyes will likely turn toward Double-A Tulsa, where lefty Jeff Francis is tearing up the prairie in the Texas League like an F-5 tornado. Francis is 10-1 with a 2.03 ERA and 114/18 K/BB ratio in 93 innings for the Drillers, and a promotion to Triple-A could come at any time. He has a classic combination of stuff (90-mph heater, curveball, changeup) to go with superb command, and his dominant numbers this spring imply that he should be ready quickly. Like all Rockies pitchers, he faces steep odds in being able to adjust to the thin air and difficult pitching environment, but on his own terms he is one of the best pitching prospects in the upper minors, perhaps the closest to being ready for major league action.
Gavin Floyd, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Another Double-A arm of great note is Reading right-hander Gavin Floyd, who wowed the Phillies this spring and has continued to pitch well in regular-season action. Floyd is just 3-4 but has a 2.39 ERA in 14 starts, with a 63/28 K/BB ratio in 79 innings. He isn't as close as Francis is to being ready, but his ultimate ceiling is higher. The Phils are generally cautious about promoting pitchers too quickly, but you can expect to hear Floyd's name in trade rumors. It seems unlikely the Phillies will give him up, and of all the Philadelphia pitching prospects who could see September cups of java, he's got the brightest future. He throws in the 90-95 range and has a killer curveball.
David Wright, 3B, New York Mets
When teams contact the Mets about possible trades, the name brought up most often is David Wright, the subject of our recent Down on the Farm profile that you can access by clicking here. The Mets don't want to give him up, and would likely only do so as part of a blockbuster deal. Wright was promoted to Triple-A last week, and is hitting .346 in seven games. In my opinion, he is ready for major league action, both offensively and defensively, and would make an impact as soon as he gets an opportunity. If injuries or trades intervene, that will happen soon. If not, he'll have to wait for September.
Dallas McPherson, 3B, Anaheim Angels
Like David Wright, Dallas McPherson is a top-notch talent at a position that is frequently hard to fill. Teams contacting the Angels for trades covet McPherson, but so far the Halos have refused to part with him. Given his stick (.321, 20 homers already in 68 games) this is easy to understand. McPherson doesn't have Wright's glove at third, and his plate discipline is weaker, but he brings a lot of juice from the left side of the plate, and plays with intensity. With Troy Glaus out, McPherson's shot should come soon. Chone Figgins is hitting well, but how long will they stick with the struggling Adam Kennedy? Sticking Figgins at second, McPherson at third, and Kennedy on the bench looks great, at least on paper.
Joe Blanton, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Blanton has struggled at times in Triple-A this year, but he was overpowering in his last start, and his name is popping up in trade rumors. Blanton's 4.04 ERA is credible for the difficult Triple-A Pacific Coast League, and while there is no room for him in the current Oakland rotation, more than one club covets him for their own. His curveball and slider are both plus pitches, and when he has control of his 89-94 mph fastball, he dominates a game. Expect to see Blanton in Oakland in September, or for another team sooner if a trade is made.
Mark Teahen, 3B, Oakland Athletics
Although he hasn't quite lived up to the Jason Giambi comparisons made when Oakland picked him out of St. Mary's in the Moneyball draft, Teahen has taken a big step forward this year refining his bat, pulling the ball more often for power while maintaining his plate discipline. Recently promoted to Triple-A, he's 14-for-58 (.241) with a .353 OBP so far. He was hitting .335/.419/.543 for Midland before moving up from Double-A. Teahen is also a sound defensive player at third base. His name is cropping up in trade rumors, like Blanton's, and if he continues to hit well he will get an opportunity shortly, for Oakland or someone else.
B.J. Upton, SS, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Since being promoted to Triple-A 36 games ago, Upton has hit .304/.400/.507 with eight steals, despite being the youngest regular player at that level. His bat is almost ready for The Show ... he only needs to cut down on his strikeout rate. Tampa Bay likes to push its prospects, and there are rumors afoot that Upton will be promoted in the second half. His main problem right now is erratic defense at shortstop, but given his age (19) that is eminently forgivable.
Felix Diaz, RHP, Chicago White Sox
With the White Sox locked in a tight pennant chase, some pitching reinforcements are likely to be needed down the stretch. The best guy at Triple-A Charlotte is right-hander Felix Diaz, currently 8-2 with a 3.51 ERA and 61/15 K/BB ratio in 77 innings. Diaz was hit hard in two May starts with the big club, but the White Sox still haven't settled on a consistent fifth starter, and Diaz should get another opportunity. He has the best combination of stuff and command of all the candidates, and has little left to learn in Triple-A.
David DeJesus, OF, Kansas City Royals
Another guy who failed an initial May trial in The Show, DeJesus is hitting well again after a post-demotion slump at Triple-A Omaha. A line drive hitter with on-base ability, gap power, and good defense, he will play center field in Kauffman Stadium as soon as the Royals find a taker for Carlos Beltran. DeJesus usually plays with reckless enthusiasm, but appeared to lack confidence in The Show earlier this spring. The Royals don't feel it is a long-term problem, and considering his balance of skills they believe he will thrive once the job is handed to him full-time.
Ben Hendrickson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
With the Brewers still in the NL Central race, right-hander Ben Hendrickson could be a crucial pitching reinforcement down the stretch. He held his own in his major league debut earlier this month against Los Angeles, and should get another chance later this summer. Hendrickson has one of the best curveballs in the minor leagues, and has thrived now that he's learned how to mix in his 90 mph fastball properly. He is 6-2 with a 2.54 ERA and a 56/17 K/BB ratio in 13 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis this year, and outdueled Felix Diaz and Charlotte for a sweet 1-0 victory on June 12th. He is one of the better prospects people haven't heard much about.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.