Here is a look at some Rookies on the Spot for 2004. This is not a comprehensive look at every rookie who has made a 25-man roster. Rather, I want to focus on players who are under pressure to perform immediately, guys who will play a major role at the outset of the season, and whose teams are investing a lot of hope in their immediate success.
At the end of the week, we will look at players who didn't make teams, but who should be up at some point later in the season. In no particular order:
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins: Met expectations this spring and most observers are optimistic about his immediate chances to succeed. He is certainly ready defensively. The only real questions revolve around how much power he will show immediately. Our Bet: Will hit for average and draw walks, but don't expect homers at this point.
Bobby Crosby, SS, Oakland Athletics: Like Mauer, he had a good camp and has met or exceeded front office hopes. Knocked seven homers this spring, and while he won't replace all of Miguel Tejada's numbers immediately, his long range future could look similar. Our Bet: AL Rookie of the Year.
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Atlanta Braves: Won the hearts of the coaching staff with his glovework and has shown he can swing the stick as well. Optimists think he can hit .290; pessimists think he'll hit .240. Our Bet: He'll hit .270 or so, with enough homers and doubles to keep the Braves happy.
Kazuo Matsui, SS, New York Mets: Hit only .197 this spring, fighting nagging injuries. Speed, defense, and doubles power seem a given, but Shea Stadium (and the general adjustment to a new continent and culture) could cut into his batting average and OBP. Our Bet: A slow start, but still ends up as the best shortstop the Mets have ever had.
Aaron Miles, 2B, Colorado Rockies: A decent-enough player, your basic second baseman, does the little things well but not spectacular in any category. Thin air will boost his numbers, however, inflating his fantasy value. Our Bet: Should hit .280 or higher, but in a normal park he's a .250 hitter with marginal secondary numbers.
Khalil Greene, SS, San Diego Padres: Eased concerns about his bat by hitting .333 this spring. Offers steady defense and good work ethic to keep the manager happy if he does struggle with the stick. Our Bet: A quick start, followed by a slump as the pitchers adjust, but will have a solid career.
Ryan Wagner, RHP, Cincinnati Reds: Blistering spring (0.61 ERA, 14/4 K/BB in 15 innings) convinces Reds he is ready for action. His slider is unhittable, and the only thing that worries scouts is a somewhat-awkward delivery that may stress his arm. Our Bet: Excellent season in middle relief, and will pick up some saves.
Terrmel Sledge, OF, Montreal Expos: Failed steroid test last year hurt his reputation this spring, but he still hit .356 and won a job. Home run spike in Triple-A had as much to do with thin Pacific Coast League air as anything else. Our Bet: Don't expect big home run numbers, but should hit for average and knock doubles.
Tyler Yates, RHP, Mets: Surprise entrant into the Mets rotation, but his spring performance was strong. Has overcome injury problems, showing improved control of 93-mph fastball and hard slider. Our Bet: Up-and-down performance punctuated by occasional control problems.
J.J. Davis, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: Erratic this spring, but out of options so he makes the roster. Big power potential, and has a window of opportunity with Jason Bay on the DL, but will have to show he can take a pitch now and then. Our Bet: Hits several long home runs, but pitchers adjust quickly, eventually forcing him into a reserve role.
Matt Riley and Erik Bedard, LHPs, Baltimore Orioles: We have a bit of Triskaidekaphobia here at Down on the Farm, so we'll combine Riley and Bedard to avoid having 13 separate entries. Riley and Bedard are both former top prospects who went under the knife, but have come back successfully. Riley has slightly more movement on his 90-93 mph fastball, but Bedard isn't a soft-tosser at 91-92. Both have excellent curveballs; Bedard's command is a bit better. Riley has also overcome concerns about work ethic and emotional maturity. Both have pitched well this spring, and both need to continue to pitch well for the Orioles to have any hope of keeping pace with the Yankees and Red Sox. Our Bet: The Orioles would like Riley-Bedard to parallel Zito-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.
Sergio Mitre, RHP, Chicago Cubs: Surprise pick as No. 5 starter, taking advantage of Mark Prior's injury. He's received less notice than other hot prospects in the Cubs' pitching-rich system, but his sinker is nasty and he usually throws strikes. Our Bet: He's not quite ready, and will struggle at times until Prior comes back.
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 on-line book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas, and feline friends Toonces and Spot.