As I write my first article of the 2011 baseball season, I can't help but reflect on how much the game has changed in a few short years.
Gone are the majestic, too good to be authentic home runs that turned out to be too good to be authentic. Gone are the ripped bodies of superstars and average players who were transformed from regular human beings to larger than life masses of muscle and who knows what else. Instead, we have a game that appears to be more balanced between pitching and hitting with fewer home runs and an increase in masterful pitching gems and an appropriate emphasis on defense.
For most, fantasy baseball has become even more exciting. Trying to find that hidden gem or identify the fluke outlier season is the challenge. Were the numbers for real? Was that just a one-time spike? Has he reached his peak and is now in decline?
Those of us at RotoWire are here to help.
In my case, I do my best to see players repeatedly and give you my best judgment from the perspective of a baseball scout. I use a few principles when I evaluate players:
1)Can he play the game?
2)Does he have appreciable tools that can help my club win?
3)Does he have the character, heart, makeup, intangibles and desire to succeed?
Baseball scouts are not correct all the time. Great debates occur on each and every team about the value of players. However, scouts usually stick to their convictions based on what they observe. A bit of speculation, gut feelings and prior experiences are mixed into the recipe. Once the recommendation is down on paper it is there for an entire front office to see. The same holds true for my recommendations on this site. I will give you my best evaluations based on what I have observed. I will give you some of my gut reactions and I will use my experience to provide my best evaluation of players. But I won't guess. I won't rank players because I don't know what criteria I would use to separate No. 1 from No. 2 and so on. Many are so close it is just a guesstimate. Rather, I will share opinions and recommendations in random order or by category.
For the first article of the year, I have chosen to share my thoughts on prospect players that should make the major leagues at some point during the season. To be classified as a rookie, a player may not have had more than 130 plate appearances, more than 50 innings pitched or have been on a major league roster for more than 45 days. For the purpose of this article I am not concerned with rookie status as officially defined. I am looking at players who have not been on a major league club for an extended period of time. In other words, they will be relatively new to their team and some may not have “true” rookie status.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals
I believe the Royals when they say they're going to give the Moose a chance to win a job in spring training. Why not? Third base is a position of need for the club and Moustakas could be ready to take the job permanently. Once he figures out quality pitching, I believe he will be a fixture at the hot corner as part of the resurgent Royals. He will hit for average and power from the left side of the plate. He can drive in runs and score them, but he can't steal bases and he doesn't play good defense yet. I would not hesitate to take Moustakas in a mixed league draft and stash him for a while if he doesn't win the job in spring training. I believe.
Jeremy Hellickson, P, Tampa Bay Rays
Hellickson made a positive debut in 2010, but the best is yet to come. On a staff of excellent pitchers, Hellickson could quickly climb to the top of the rotation. He isn't overpowering, he doesn't always have great command and he doesn't always have great movement on his pitches. But he gets guys out, induces groundballs, and he makes hitters miss with a wide variety of quality pitches. With the Rays concerned about their payroll, Hellickson offers a reasonable price for a high quality pitcher. I think he'll have a good year.
Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Jennings was set to become a full time outfielder for the Rays until they decided to pump up the offense by adding Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. How does that impact Jennings? The club will have to decide if they want their prized prospect to play every day in Triple-A or rotate with Matt Joyce in the Rays' outfield. Frankly, I don't think Jennings has much more to prove in minor league baseball. I look for him to make the club out of spring training and get at-bats from a platoon position in the outfield. He can run, hit for average and score runs. I don't see big power numbers from Jennings, but if he can stay healthy he can contribute a big year to fantasy owners. Especially scoring runs and stealing bases. There is very little long-term risk here. In the short-term, his role may be limited. However, he will make the best of his opportunity.
Kyle Drabek, P, Toronto Blue Jays
Drabek had arm issues in his first two professional seasons. Since then he has worked hard to improve his mechanics and establish himself as a major prospect. Originally drafted by the Phillies, Drabek had been the subject of trade talks by opposing teams for several seasons until the Phils gave him up to the Blue Jays. His repertoire is based upon a medium velocity (89-92 mph) fastball, a good curveball and a changeup that continues to be in development. I believe he is best suited for the bullpen, but the Blue Jays will likely start him in the rotation this coming season. If you don't have high expectations, you won't be disappointed.
I think he's very hittable and my expectations are that he will gradually reach his potential as a quality mid-rotation starter, but it may be slower than expected getting there.
Carlos Carrasco, P, Cleveland Indians
Carrasco is among the new power arms the Indians are hoping will revitalize their pitching staff. Converting from soft-tossing lefties to power pitchers with plus fastball velocity, the Indians feel Carrasco is a top prospect. Once he gains some consistent command of his pitches, he will be more successful. I would also like to see more movement and less of an attempt to blow people away with 96 MPH heat. Carrasco is improving with every outing. He may start slowly, but by midseason I think he will have a breakthrough and show his team what they thought they were getting in the Cliff Lee deal. I would buy him low, stash him and not worry about it.
Chris Sale, P, Chicago White Sox
Here's a guy I wouldn't let slip past me in the draft. Why? Because he can command an electric fastball as well as pitch as though he has ice water in his veins. Sale may be in line to close for the White Sox in only his first full year with the big club. The favorite entering spring training is Matt Thornton, but Sale could be in the mix. That is if the team doesn't want him as part of their starting rotation. So, he can start, close or pitch as a setup man on a good ball club. He has all of the ingredients for success. This is a pitcher you can count on for years to come as long as his mechanics don't cause an injury. I mention that only because his delivery is a bit unorthodox. But you'll be happy he's on your team and not the other guy's. Sale? Yep, I'm Sold!
Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle Mariners
I still find it hard to believe that Seattle had a chance to get Jesus Montero and instead they chose to go after Smoak. It shows again that most talent evaluators don't see Montero as a catcher. But wait. He could have been a DH for Seattle or maybe he could have played 1B. Regardless, that ship has sailed. Smoak is the man. I still don't see him as a home-run threat especially in Seattle. The Mariners sent him down last season and I hope they don't plan on yo-yoing him between Triple-A and the major leagues in 2011. For now, my mind has still not changed from the very first article I wrote about him a long, long time ago. He has trouble with quality pitching. He could develop this coming season. If he does, fine. Don't be the first guy to bust your budget on Smoak's potential. Pay for performance and wait a bit. Smoak is a player I would allow someone else to bust his or her budget on.
Brent Morel, 3B, White Sox
I have never seen him play, but I will see him in spring training and I will update you on my opinion. As of this writing, he is the choice of Ozzie Guillen to start the season as the club's 3B. I have to see it to buy it.
J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays
I have gone both ways on Arencibia. At times I like his power from the catching position and at other times I see him as overmatched by big league pitching. Right now I say buyer beware. I'm not sure he can hit in the bigs. I'm not sure he is ready for the role the Blue Jays have penciled in for him as their No. 1 catcher. When I saw him he was guessing an awful lot at the plate and mediocre pitchers were getting him out with mediocre stuff. He wasn't facing CC or Lester or any of the other studs in the AL East. And that's another reason I'm hesitant; the AL East is plenty tough on hitters. Buy with some caution here and look at more seasoned veterans if they are available. Perhaps Arencibia will land on your waiver wire and you can pick him up later in the year if he proves me wrong.
Jesus Montero, C, New York Yankees
I hope he's a catcher and I hope he's on the Yankees. Why? Because I traded Delmon Young for him in an AL-only league. Delmon Young you say? Don't you love Delmon Young, Bernie? Yes, but that was the price I had to pay to get a catcher with the upside of Montero. Risky? You bet. Will he catch or be a DH? Will he be traded to the NL making him worthless to me? Who knows? Here's what you'll get with Montero over years and years to come; average, home runs, runs, and runs batted in. He'll do everything but steal bases. I loved V-Mart when he was just a puppy. Now my attention turns to Mr. Montero. He isn't even on the Yankees' 40-man roster, but that didn't stop me. He'll play somewhere in 2011 and then the sky is the limit. Catchers who can hit are rare birds. Especially in AL only leagues. Hence, the reason I dealt Young. Are you a gambler? I like Montero's chances of hitting somewhere this coming season. I just hope it's in the American League.
Hank Conger, C, Los Angeles Angels
Goodbye Mike Napoli. The dealing of Napoli left an open roster space for a backup catcher. Will it be Hank Conger or will it be Bobby Wilson? Conger is a switch-hitter with some pop in his bat. That's what the Angels may need. Starting catcher Jeff Mathis is excellent behind the plate, but he doesn't bring much offense to his game. That's why a combination of Mathis and Conger may make sense. On many clubs it would be the opposite. Conger would start and the good defender would be on the bench. But not on a club of Mike Scioscia's. He likes defense from his catcher. And that's why Napoli is now in Texas. I look for Conger to contribute at the plate for the Angels this season. Maybe not at the start, but at some point.
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
This one is tough to call. If the Angels need offense, they may rush him to the big leagues. But I don't think so. It's very tempting. He's an awesome hitter. He is an impact player with a chance to be a perennial All-Star. He has great speed, superb baseball instincts and an ability to hit for a very high average. His power may come eventually. But that isn't who he is. He's a premiere baseball player who loves to play the game and use the entire field when he hits. Trout is only 19 years old, but he represents the future in Anaheim. I would draft him, smile and stash him away until you can insert him in your lineup when the Angels do the same with theirs. When will that be? I just don't know but we may find out more during spring training.
Dustin Ackley, 2B, Seattle Mariners
If you've followed my evaluations of Ackley you'll know that I've gone from being very skeptical about his hitting mechanics and overall hitting ability to praising him for his improvement in the time frame of one year. He has improved, there's no doubt about it. His weight shift and balance in his hitting approach is much better. However, I'm not convinced he will be an impactful player for Seattle yet. That's a big yet. Eventually, he will hit for average. He has to gain more experience against quality pitching and gain more seasoning at second base. In short, the Mariners recent infield signings have indicated they may want to give Ackley more development time. Bravo! Good decision by Seattle if that's what they do. Look for him late in the season. He'll struggle for a while and then he'll turn it around. He's better long term than for '11.
Chris Carter, OF/1B, Oakland A's
There are lots of people who want to see Carter succeed. The brass of the Oakland A's are rooting for him to cut down on his strikeouts, be more disciplined at the plate and gain better pitch recognition. There is no question that Carter has the tools to be a legitimate major league power hitter. The question is when? With the rather light hitting Daric Barton at first base, the door could be open for Carter to win that job in spring training. However, Barton plays outstanding defense. Carter does not. The superb pitching staff of the A's deserves a good defender at first. That isn't Carter, at least not yet. However, let's see what happens in spring training. Carter is big and strong and he has the pop to end a game with one swing. I see him playing somewhere in 2011 for Oakland. He's worth a late-round flyer.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B/SS, Minnesota Twins
Here's what we know about the Twins' new middle infielder. He hit a very robust .346 last season, scored 121 runs, hit 11 homers, drove in 59 runs, and stole 22 bases. He did none of that against Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer. He hasn't faced Mark Buehrle or Matt Thornton. There are some good pitchers in the AL Central and we don't know yet how the switch-hitting Nishioka will respond. This one is buyer beware. We haven't seen him yet. We will.
Next Week: National League Rookie Roll Call