The Cardinals have played a big league-leading 91 games to this point, illustrating that the All-Star break splits the season into asymmetrical portions. So the idea of the break functioning as the halfway point to the season is a bit of a misnomer. What the break does, however, is afford us a chance to catch our breath, as well as provide the ideal backdrop to evaluate the top rookies of the 2009 season. (We checked in during spring training with our preseason Top 25 Rookies.)
Let’s begin with the all-rookie team, something you’ll find in our most recent issue, which features Mike Stanton on the cover and a Top 100 Prospects update inside.
C— Ryan Hanigan, Reds. 1B—Travis Ishikawa, Giants. 2B—Casey McGehee, Brewers. 3B—Gordon Beckham, White Sox. SS—Elvis Andrus, Rangers. OF—Brett Gardner, Yankees; Andrew McCutchen, Pirates; and Colby Rasmus, Cardinals. DH—Nolan Reimold, Orioles.
SP—Brad Bergesen, rhp, Orioles; J.A. Happ, lhp, Phillies; Scott Richmond, rhp, Blue Jays; Ricky Romero, lhp Blue Jays; and Randy Wells, rhp, Cubs. RP—Andrew Bailey, rhp, Athletics.
And on to the top 20, where an asterisk (*) denotes a lefthanded batter or thrower and a pound sign (#) signifies a switch-hitter. Click names to head directly to our player finder pages.
|1. RICKY ROMERO*, LHP, 24, BLUE JAYS|
Performing in the major leagues was the only way Romero was going to shed his perceptions as an overdraft. And that’s exactly what he has done this season. Infamously selected one spot ahead of Troy Tulowitzki in ’05, Romero has put his plus offspeed offerings to good use this season, generating a fair share of strikeouts and groundouts. Romero has averaged a firm 91 mph on his fastball this season, but it’s improved command of the pitch, more than anything, that has made the difference.
|2. J.A. HAPP*, LHP, 26, PHILLIES|
Though he didn’t make his first start of the season until May 23, Happ has been a revelation since joining Philadelphia’s beleaguered rotation. He’s a perfect 4-0, 3.03 in his 10 starts, while posting about twice as many strikeouts (43) as walks (23). Happ saved his finest work for his four starts before the break, a span covering 30 innings in which he allowed just six runs while amassing 19 strikeouts and four walks. How do you think he does it? (I don’t know.) What makes him so good? The natural deception in Happ’s delivery helps him compensate for a straight fastball and average secondary stuff.
|3. COLBY RASMUS*, CF, 22, CARDINALS|
A historically slow starter, Rasmus batted just .229/.300/.389 through the end of May, meaning that he’s done much of his damage just in the past six weeks. In those 37 games, he batted .333/.364/.579 with 11 doubles and six homers, providing a glimpse of the type of impact player he can be one day. Life is good when one bats in front of Albert Pujols.
|4. BRAD BERGESEN, RHP, 23, ORIOLES|
You won’t confuse Bergesen, an ’04 fourth-round California prep product, with a front-end starter. But armed with three average pitches he can throw for strikes and an unorthodox, deceptive arm action, he’s a perfectly suitable rotation option. Bergesen’s solid first half gives him a leg up on occupying one of the two rotation spots left over after Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman arrive in Baltimore.
|5. RANDY WELLS, RHP, 26, CUBS|
The Blue Jays briefly held the rights to Wells after selecting him in the ’07 Rule 5 draft. Had they kept him, he might have joined Ricky Romero and Scott Richmond as fellow Blue Jays on this list. Instead, Toronto returned Wells to Chicago two weeks into the ’08 season. Armed with an 88-90 mph fastball that he works in and out, as well as an improved slider, the converted catcher has made his presence felt in the NL Central, with a 1.99 ERA in five starts against division opponents.
|6. ANDREW McCUTCHEN, CF, 22, PIRATES|
Though unpopular with fans and within the Pirates’ clubhouse, the organization’s decision to trade Nate McLouth did at least clear room for McCutchen to roam PNC Park’s center field. And after batting .291/.367/.424 in 881 plate appearances over two years in Triple-A, the ’05 first-rounder had little left to prove in the International League.
|7. ELVIS ANDRUS, SS, 20, RANGERS|
A throwback shortstop with great range and arm strength, splendid contact ability and a dash of speed, Andrus has helped to fortify the Rangers’ pitching staff, which in turn has propelled the club to the upper regions of the AL West standings. And because he’s still just 20, it’s hard to expect much more than incremental improvement from Andrus’ bat this season.
|8. SCOTT RICHMOND, RHP, 29, BLUE JAYS|
In all likelihood, he’s the only former Edmonton Cracker Cat ever to crack a ranking of top rookies. Richmond is death on righthanded batters, who have managed a line of just .191/.225/.301 this season. The 6-foot-5 righthander angles his low 90s fastball to the plate and mixes in a borderline plus curveball. Lefthanded batters, on the other hand, have accounted for a .538 slugging percentage and 12 of those 15 home runs allowed. Signed out of a Northern League tryout in November ’07, Richmond already has exceeded any reasonable expectation.
|9. BRETT GARDNER*, CF, 25, YANKEES|
Singles hitters have value, too, especially when they have quick bats, a discerning eye and explosive acceleration and speed. Gardner is one reason for the Yankees’ strong offensive showing in the first half, when they led the AL in runs—with an assist from the new Yankee Stadium. Gardner hit just three home runs in 94 Triple-A games last season, but—before you ask—he has hit two of his three homers this season on the road. On the other side of the ball, Gardner’s plus glove has helped energize an aging, slowing defensive unit.
|10. JEFF NIEMANN, RHP, 26, RAYS|
The Rays traded Jason Hammel this spring to make room for Niemann, who was out of options, and haven’t regretted that decision. While Hammel has pitched well for the Rockies, Niemann has been even more effective, stepping to the forefront for Tampa Bay as Scott Kazmir and Andy Sonnanstine have scuffled. Niemann’s emergence is more significant given the growing pains endured by fellow rookie David Price. The extra year in Triple-A may have benefited the 6-foot-9 righty, who learned to hold up over a long season while refining his repertoire: a low-90s fastball thrown at a steep angle, a sharp slider and a split-finger pitch that serves as his changeup.
|11. NOLAN REIMOLD, LF, 25, ORIOLES|
An athletic big man with enough power to hold down an outfield corner (and the defensive chops to keep defensive replacements at bay), Reimold has totaled 18 home runs this season between the International and American leagues. Interpret it as a sign of things to come.
|12. DEXTER FOWLER#, CF, 23, ROCKIES|
Sure, Fowler receives a sizable boost from playing half his games in Coors Field (.797 OPS at home versus .696 on the road), but that also means he’s spent the entire season patrolling the park’s spacious center field.
|13. ANDREW BAILEY, RHP, 25, ATHLETICS|
An A’s reliever in the All-Star Game? Coming into the season, smart money would have been placed on Joey Devine or Brad Ziegler. But it’s Bailey, an ’06 sixth-round rounder from Wagner (that’s on Staten Island), who earned his place on the team by confounding opposing batters with his hard cutter that never dallies in the middle of the plate.
|14. RICK PORCELLO, RHP, 20, TIGERS|
A first-round pick out of New Jersey’s Seton Hall Prep just two years ago, Porcello has backed up his Florida State League ERA title last season with an encouraging first half in the big leagues. See, especially, the month of May, when the 20-year-old went a perfect 5-0, 1.50 in five starts, striking out 20, walking 10 and allowing only one home run in 30 innings. Porcello commands an explosive low-90s fastball that lives down in the zone and flashes a quality curveball.
|15. BRETT ANDERSON*, LHP, 21, ATHLETICS|
Anderson may have surprised even himself when one of his fastballs lit up the Fenway Park radar gun at 97 mph during his July 6 shutout of the Red Sox. On the season, he’s averaging 92 mph, so it’s no fluke. Combine that velocity with a feel for pitching and strong command of secondary stuff and the A’s may have something.
|16. TOMMY HANSON, RHP, 22, BRAVES|
Love the sub-3.00 ERA and the 26-inning scoreless streak. The nearly 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio? Not so much. Don’t fret: Hanson earned his callup to Atlanta by leading the International League in strikeouts (90) and ERA (1.49).
|17. CASEY McGEHEE, 2B/3B, 26, BREWERS|
A seemingly inconsequential waiver pickup by the Brewers last October, McGehee has provided Milwaukee with an offensive boost while filling in at second base for the injured Rickie Weeks and at third base for the ineffectual Bill Hall. The Cubs drafted McGehee, a Fresno State product, in the 10th round of the 2003 draft, and they probably miss him now that they’ve cycled through utility infielders Mark DeRosa and Ryan Freel. They recently tried to address the shortcoming by trading for the Rockies’ Jeff Baker.
|18. RYAN HANIGAN, C, 28, REDS|
Thirty teams passed on Hanigan through every round of the 2002 draft. The Rollins (Fla.) product settled on a free agent deal with the Reds that August. Hanigan may have gotten lost in the shuffle because of his NDFA status, but he has real defensive tools, including a plus arm and outstanding receiving skills, to go with a patient approach. Among catchers with any meaningful playing time this season, only Joe Mauer (.447) boasts a higher on-base percentage.
|19. GORDON BECKHAM, 3B, 22, WHITE SOX|
Beckham required only a 59-game stopover in the minor leagues on his flight from Athens, Ga., to Chicago. All he did while on his apprenticeship this season was lead the minors in doubles while playing every infield position but first base. The White Sox expect the natural shortstop’s maturity and energy to translate into immediate results. And so should you.
|20. JORDAN ZIMMERMANN, RHP, 23, NATIONALS|
Give Zimmermann credit for enduring the last-place Nationals’ dreadful offense and defense for half a season. One can only hope it doesn’t wear on him. But on the bright side, Zimmermann’s low-90s velocity and two plus breaking balls mean that Steven Strasburg, assuming he signs, won’t be uncontested ace of the Washington staff.
JUST MISSED: Trevor Cahill, rhp, Athletics; Jake Fox, 3b/lf/c, Cubs; Josh Outman, lhp, Athletics; Gerardo Parra, lf, Diamondbacks; Matt Wieters, c, Orioles.
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