Here is a look at some Rookies on the Cusp for 2004. This is not a comprehensive look at every rookie who could be called up this year. Rather, I'm focusing on players who are the best bets to be promoted later this season and take a major role in the Show. All of them could conceivably have an impact down the stretch, given the right set of circumstances, of course.
In no particular order:
Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota Twins: His bat is ready now; only roster issues have kept him in the minor leagues. If the Twins continue to suffer from their current rate of injury attrition, Morneau will be up sooner rather than later. This is an impact bat, someone who will hit for both power and average, and only needs consistent playing time to show what he can do. He is capable of hitting .290+, with home run production, in the Show right now.
Zack Greinke, RHP, Kansas City Royals: Ideally, the Royals want him to stay in the minors until August. Word is that he may not even be the first pitcher promoted if the Royals need a starter. But with Brian Anderson and Jeremy Affeldt looking rather iffy in their initial outings, pressure to promote Greinke will grow as the pennant race heats up. This assumes that Greinke pitches well at Triple-A Omaha, obviously something I will track closely here at Down on the Farm.
David DeJesus, OF, Kansas City Royals: The Royals front office says that DeJesus is ready for a regular major league job. So why is he in Omaha? The key word is "regular." They don't want DeJesus sitting on the bench, burning service time and gathering rust, so he'll play every day in Nebraska while waiting for someone to get hurt. Since that someone is named Juan Gonzalez, DeJesus is a good bet to see significant playing time at some point this year. Whatever happens in '04, he'll take over for Carlos Beltran in '05.
Edwin Jackson, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers: Jackson didn't make the Dodgers rotation, but he pitched well in his first start for Triple-A Las Vegas on Thursday, and is a good bet to continue pitching well. He has great stuff, good command, and an excellent statistical record on his resume. I somewhat recklessly predicted he would be the NL Rookie of the Year. It could still happen if he gets promoted soon enough.
Joe Blanton, RHP, Oakland Athletics: Blanton's 2004 should look a lot like Rich Harden's 2003: excellent minor league numbers followed by a mid-season promotion, and flashes of success at the major league level. He combines a 92-94 mph fastball with a nasty curve, an almost-as-nasty slider, and good control of all three pitches. Polish on the changeup will finish the package.
Adam Wainwright, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals: Part of the J.D. Drew trade, Wainwright quickly took the top notch in a thin Cardinals farm system, and is a step ahead in development compared to prospects Blake Hawksworth and Chris Narveson. Wainwright features sharp control of a three-pitch arsenal. Remember when someone like Jason Simontacchi was the hot midseason call-up in St. Louis? That day is nearly over.
Jesse Crain, RHP, Minnesota Twins: He should probably have begun the year in the major league bullpen. His stuff and control are both top-rate, and I'd rather see what he could do than rely on retreads like Joe Roa and Seth Greisinger to hold down the fort while the Twins try to deal with their spate of injuries. In any event, Crain is the best relief prospect in baseball this side of Ryan Wagner.
Dustin McGowan, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays: He doesn't get all the press of some top pitching prospects, but he's as good a prospect as Jackson or Greinke. McGowan is a power right-hander just a few small adjustments away from being ready for major league action. He compares favorably with Roy Halladay at the same stage of development, and if he remains healthy he has a good chance to become a rotation anchor. Of course, "good chance" is still something less than 50 percent when you're talking about young pitchers. But as young pitchers go, McGowan has everything you look for.
Charlie Zink, RHP, Boston Red Sox: The other pitchers on this list throw hard and are pitching prospects in the classic mode. But Zink is different; he throws a knuckleball, a rarity nowadays. The Red Sox are intrigued with him, and a second half chance could come if he shows sufficient control of the pitch. He started Thursday for Double-A Portland, and gave up just two runs in five innings, but walked five. I get lots of questions from Red Sox Nation about Zink, so I'll keep close track of him this year.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers: His bat should be ready soon, so it all comes down to his defense. If he demonstrates adequate reliability at second base, he could see Milwaukee in the second half of the season. If Weeks develops as expected, he could be similar to Alfonso Soriano, with a bit less power and somewhat better plate discipline. The Brewers are a dysfunctional franchise in many ways, but their upper-tier of prospect talent (Weeks, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, etc.) is among the best in the game.
B.J. Upton, SS, Tampa Bay Devil Rays: With Bobby Crosby in the Show, Upton is the best shortstop prospect in the minor leagues and likely a better long-term property than Crosby. The Devil Rays like to promote prospects aggressively, so a quick start from Upton should get him to Tampa sometime in the second half. Geoff Blum and Julio Lugo are unlikely to stand in his way for long.
Jeremy Reed, OF, Chicago White Sox: A somewhat disappointing spring training cooled Reed's fires somewhat, but Aaron Rowand isn't exactly stiff competition in center field. A decent start in the minors should get Reed a chance in the second half, at least as part of a platoon. Optimists think he could be a potential batting champion down the road, and while that may be getting a bit ahead of things, he should at least hit .280+ with speed and doubles.
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.