Crosby, Greene top of the class
From the A's Bobby Crosby to the Expos' Terrmel Sledge, a number of rookies played major roles in 2004.
Six months ago, I wrote an article about "Rookies on the Spot," trying to predict what would happen with some of the more interesting rookies who earned jobs in spring training. We strive for accountability here at Down on the Farm, so let's take a look and see how our predictions held up.
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
Our bet: Will hit for average and draw walks, but don't expect homers at this point.
Actual result: A knee injury limited him to just 35 games, although he played very well when he took the field. Hit .308 with .369 OBP and .570 SLG, hitting for average and drawing walks, as expected, but showing more power than we anticipated. His bat was everything advertised and more. The only question now is health.
Bobby Crosby, SS, Oakland Athletics
Our bet: AL Rookie of the Year.
Actual result: Excellent in the first half, not as good in the second half. Finished the season hitting just .240 but knocked 34 doubles and 22 homers while providing steady defense. Still has a good chance to win Rookie of the Year if current buzz among sportswriters is accurate. What Crosby did this year was at the lower end of what he is capable of; I expect he will get much better.
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Atlanta Braves
Our bet: .270 or so, with enough homers and doubles to keep the Braves happy.
Actual result: Hit .276 with 12 homers and 27 doubles, .331 OBP, .477 SLG, along with good defense. Could use better plate discipline to boost his on-base percentage, but at age 24 he still has plenty of time to improve. Was especially effective late in the season, posting a .951 OPS in August and a blistering 1.085 OPS in September.
Kazuo Matsui, SS, New York Mets
Our bet: A slow start, but still ends up as the best shortstop the Mets have ever had.
Actual result: Hit .272/.332/.397, adequate but not quite what the Mets expected. Missed most of August and September with a back injury, which hurt his final numbers of course. If healthy, I think he'll be better next year.
Aaron Miles, 2B, Colorado Rockies
Our bet: Should hit .280 or higher, but in a normal park he's a .250 hitter with marginal secondary numbers.
Actual result: Hit .292, but with mediocre production numbers: .329 OBP, .368 SLG. Hit .308/.355/.387 in the thin Coors air but just .275/.299/.347 on the road. He should continue to produce similar numbers over the next few years: a pretty batting average, steady defense, but not a lot of power or walks.
Khalil Greene, SS, San Diego Padres
Our bet: A quick start, followed by a slump as the pitchers adjust, but will have a solid career.
Actual result: Hit .273 with 31 doubles, 15 homers, .349 OBP, .446 SLG, along with solid glove work. Fast start prediction panned out: he hit .304 in April, before slumping to .220 in May. He then righted the ship and produced steadily the rest of the way. I think he's a fine player and likely to be underrated throughout his career.
Ryan Wagner, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Our bet: Excellent season in middle relief and will pick up some saves.
Actual result: Tale of two seasons for Wagner. He was horrible at first, posting an 11.25 ERA in April and getting sent back to the minors. He came back up in late May and pitched better and was especially effective in August, with a 1.65 ERA. But he struggled in September and ended the year on the DL with forearm tendinitis. This prediction was a definite "miss."
Terrmel Sledge, OF, Montreal Expos
Our bet: Don't expect big home run numbers, but should hit for average and knock doubles.
Actual result: Hit .266 with a .333 OBP and .461 SLG, .793 OPS, 20 doubles, 15 homers. Although his final composite OPS was about what I expected, I thought his line would look more like .280/.370/.420. He did hit .281 on the road, but with a .350 OBP and .512 SLG. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to Washington. If RFK plays like a hitter's park, or even a neutral park compared to Stade Olympique, Sledge could be a big sleeper in 2005.
Tyler Yates, RHP, New York Mets
Our bet: up-and-down performance punctuated by occasional control problems.
Actual result: A 6.36 ERA can be described as "up-and-down" if you're in a generous mood. He pitched adequately in April, July and September but was horrible in May (8.68 ERA). His command was erratic overall, although his K/BB ratio improved significantly in September (13/4 in 10 innings), leading rise to hopes that he can contribute something positive in 2005.
J.J. Davis, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Our bet: Hits several long home runs, but pitchers adjust quickly, eventually forcing him into a reserve role.
Actual result: Another big miss, as he played just 25 games because of injuries and hit .143 with no homers. Limited by a broken finger and a strained hip flexor. He did hit eight homers in just 27 games in Triple-A, although his plate discipline was horrible. Davis goes into 2005 as a very big question mark.
Matt Riley and Erik Bedard, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
Our bet: The Orioles would like Riley/Bedard to parallel Barry Zito/Mark Mulder. That won't happen this year, but this organization has made progress rebuilding its roster, and this pair is a solid foundation. Expect league-average or slightly worse performance for now. Note that Bedard is starting the year in the minors but will be promoted as soon as the No. 5 starter is needed.
Actual result: Bedard finished 6-10 in 26 starts, with a 4.59 ERA, very close to the league average. Riley was less effective, posting a 5.63 mark in 13 starts, although a 2.43 September ERA augurs well for his future. Overall, while neither pitcher was outstanding, both flashed enough promise to make the Orioles optimistic about their ability to contribute.
Sergio Mitre, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Our bet: He's not quite ready and will struggle at times until Mark Prior comes back.
Actual result: 6.62 ERA in nine starts, although he pitched much better in Triple-A and is still regarded as a good prospect.
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.
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