I live in Charleston, practically right down the street from Oriole’s prospect Matt Wieters’ hometown of Goose Creek, South Carolina. I’ve heard Goose Creek and the words “hick” and “incest” in the same sentence. A common bar joke down here is, “Who here’s from Goose Creek? Your donkey just took a shit outside the bar.”
Joking aside, chances are you’ve heard of this year’s two top prospects: Baltimore’s catcher Wieters and Tampa Bay’s LHP David Price. If you haven’t, you’re probably not going to win or even come close, so you should just quit now.
But I suppose there is some hope for you. There’s a bunch of guys in this year’s rookie class who promise to make a smaller impact and who, with a little luck, can improve your squad in some tangible way. The following is a list of five guys, in no particular order, who I think will contribute in 2009. If you don’t see the name of your favorite prospect it’s because I don’t see him getting the call this year. For instance, the Brave’s Tommy Hanson has an adequate rotation blocking his future in Atlanta. Mike Stanton of the Marlins probably won’t make it to the big club because the Marlins have been slow in giving guys chances (see: Dallas McPherson). Hold your horses though, I’ll be addressing “keepers” in the future.
And the top five guys I’m giving “blowies” to (Thank you, I Love You, Man) in 2009 is…
1. Brett Anderson, LHP, Oakland and Trevor Cahill, RHP, Oakland – It’s going to be hard finding a pair of rookie pitchers who will amass more innings than these two during the 2009 season. Oakland’s pitching staff, without the brittle Justin Duschereoeureruoer, is utterly anemic and Billy Beane will be looking for someone, anyone, to eat innings in the rotation. Anderson profiles as the better prospect simply because he’s a lefty and because he has a better array of pitches than Cahill.
I, however, prefer Cahill.
Both pitchers moved through Oakland’s farm system at the same rate during the 2008 season, both first pitching in High A Stockton and then AA Midland. Both pitched extremely well, but Cahill’s Batting Average Against (BAA) between the two stops was a paltry .182 while Anderson’s was .237. In addition, Cahill accomplished this while pitching 20 more innings than Anderson. Yes, the differences between AA and Major League Baseball is exponential, but if Cahill polishes his changeup to go along with his plus 2-seamer and plus knuckle-curve, he and Anderson should be on an even keel come June or so.
With Oakland’s improving offense and defense, I’d look for each of them to grab (generously) 11 or so wins with 100 strikeouts and a 4.5 ERA.
2. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Texas – Over the past couple years, Texas has had its fair share of fireballers come and go. They traded Chris Young (not the outfielder) to San Diego for peanuts in 2005. They traded Edinson Volquez, Cincinatti’s new ace, for Josh Hamilton. While that trade panned out well for both sides, it has to hurt seeing Volquez’s success when the pitching staff you’re fielding is helmed by Kevin Millwood.
So it was nice to see them get something back in Neftali Feliz, who is clearly the Ranger’s top prospect. Acquired in the Mark Teixeira deal, Feliz routinely hits 99 on the gun. Like all flamethrowers, he has trouble with control, something hitters will take advantage of at the big league level. Throwing from the 3/4 arm slot, Feliz also tosses an able curve and changeup, though they need refining. Like Volquez, Feliz has an extremely high ceiling that will only be limited by Texas’ patience with him.
Feliz won’t break camp with the Rangers, but should be one of the first to get the call should any of the volatile rotation implode or get injured.
3. Jordan Schafer, OF, Atlanta – With the trade of Josh Anderson, it looks like Atlanta has made Jordan Schafer its Opening Day centerfielder. Gregor Blanco should put up some fight but, in my opinion, it’s the hot-hitting Schafer’s job to lose. It’s hard to believe that this time last year, Schafer was on the verge of being sentenced to a 50-game HGH suspension. C’est la vie.
Schafer should contribute at the big league level in much the same way Hunter Pence did during his rookie season in Houston. Expect a slightly lower batting average and possibly a few less homers, but scouts see Schafer as a 20/20 guy so there’s room for big impact. Like Carl Crawford, Schafer tends to notoriously streaky so keep an eye on him if he heats up.
If, by chance, he loses the job to Blanco, he could provide a boost to teams midseason just as Pence did in 2007.
4. Travis Snider, OF, Toronto – There’s a lot of people who like Snider more than I do. But, I think it’s simply because Toronto baseball sucks. The boring product on the field (Alex Rios taking a step back last year hurt), the dreary ass stadium, or that goddamn Astroturf; there’s just something about Toronto’s recent clubs that just feels faceless and uninteresting.
But Toronto really does have an exciting player in Travis Snider, their opening day left fielder. He’s got a sweet left-handed swing that should hit well in Toronto’s gaps and on the Astroturf. Between three minor league levels last year, Snider hit 23 bombs, adding an exclamation point to his great season by stroking 2 more during his September call up with the big club.
With an ailing Vernon Wells, I’m looking at Snider as this year’s impact rookie. His minor league track record, although short, is solid and extremely consistent and should earn him a spot right in the middle of Toronto’s order. It is fair to predict a .275/20/90 season from him with Toronto’s current lineup, with possibly even more upside if Rios bounces back and Wells’ health improves.
5. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Washington – I like the underdogs. I’ll watch a Nationals’ game before I watch a Cub’s game simply because I haven’t seen many of the Nationals’ players. And what’s better than learning about a new team?
So, I’ve been keeping my eye on this guy for a while. For a few years, he was overshadowed by his teammate Ross Detwiler but now Jordan Zimmermann has burst onto the scene with an amazing Spring Training, pitching four scoreless outings before giving up five runs in his flu-plagued fifth. Still, his efforts were enough to make the Nationals’ rotation.
To be honest with you, there is no telling what Zimmermann’s 2009 holds. He is less proven than Cahill, Anderson, and a few other prospects that could burst onto the scene, but he is a polished pitcher for his age. He needs to work on a changeup, but still, Zimmermann has four pitches that are serviceable at the big league level. He could be good or bad. That’s why I’d grab him anywhere after the 17th round or so.
Honorable mentions: Cameron Maybin, OF, Florida, Jarrod Parker, RHP, Arizona, Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh