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2004 Top 20 Rookies

Selected by baseball America
Text by jj cooper

1. Kazuo Matsui ss • Mets

Even though he topped 30 home runs in each of the past two seasons in Japan, the Mets aren’t expecting Matsui to be a power hitter. They’re looking for a high-average/speed combination at the top of their lineup with top-notch defense.

2. Joe Mauer c • Twins

The most heralded catching prospect since Johnny Bench carries a .330 career minor league average to Minnesota, but his glove might be ahead of his bat this season. Before long, he’s expected to be an all-star fixture.

3. Bobby Crosby ss • Athletics

The A’s groomed Crosby to be Miguel Tejada’s replacement at shortstop, and he appears ready for the task. After putting up a .939 OPS at Triple-A, Crosby should provide enough offense with a surprisingly solid glove.

4. Adam LaRoche 1b • Braves

A great defensive first baseman, LaRoche’s power is starting to blossom (.615 slugging in Puerto Rico this winter). With a solid stroke and great defense, he could be the steady fielder and hitter that Bobby Cox loves.

5. Edwin Jackson rhp • Dodgers

Jackson has sped through the Dodgers system with a fastball that touches 98 mph. He profiles as a top-of-the-rotation starter, and he gets the luxury of working in pitcher-friendly Dodgers Stadium.

6. Jason Bay of • Pirates

He’s been traded three times in the past two seasons, but Bay has done nothing but impress wherever he plays. Despite offseason shoulder surgery, Bay is expected to be ready to take over left field in Pittsburgh this season.

7. Khalil Greene ss • Padres

Greene doesn’t have any spectacular tools, but he’s always managed to exceed expectations. The Padres won’t ask him to be anything more than solid, but he could be better than that.

8. Ryan Wagner rhp • Reds

Everyone knows about Wagner’s meteoric rise from college to Cincinnati. But Wagner’s filthy power slider will be what people talk about this season.

9. Jesse Crain rhp • Twins

Crain’s stuff ranks right with Wagner, his former college teammate at Houston. With Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins gone, he figures to eventually emerge from the Twins’ closer competition.

10. Freddy Sanchez 2b/ss • Pirates

Sanchez has topped .300 in six different minor league stops, and last season he started to show improved power. He figures to be a part of the Pirates infield, whether it’s at second, short or third.

11. Chad Cordero rhp • Expos

A 2003 first-rounder, Cordero also rode the fast lane to the majors, and like Wagner he has a nasty fastball-slider repitoire. With only Rocky Biddle and Luis Ayala ahead of him, Cordero could earn saves this season.

12. Matt Riley lhp • Orioles

Riley actually debuted in the majors during the 1990s. It’s been a long road back from Tommy John surgery, but he returned to form last year with a low-90s fastball and big curve and should earn a spot in the Orioles rotation.

13. Jason Lane of • Astros

Lane has spent more time in Triple-A than he or the Astros would have liked. Even now, he has no clear spot to start every day, but whether they trade Richard Hidalgo or not, the Astros promise to get Lane 300-400 at-bats. With 2,000 minor league at-bats, he’s more than ready.

14. Justin Morneau 1b • Twins

Morneau will either mash his way to a big league spot or get to mash homers for Team Canada in the Olympics. With his plus power (26 home runs in three stops last season), the Twins’ gain might be Canada’s loss.

15. Jeremy Reed of • White Sox

The White Sox say they want Reed to break camp in Triple-A to give him more seasoning. But his bat (.356 career minor league average) could finally solve the White Sox’ center-field problem, whether he fills the job in April or July.

16. Grant Balfour rhp • Twins

There’s debate about whether Balfour fits better in the bullpen or the rotation, but the Twins are leaning toward handing him their No. 4 starter job. How he performs could be a key to the Twins’ pennant hopes.

17. David DeJesus of • Royals

With his all-out style, DeJesus will be a fan favorite when he arrives in Kansas City. DeJesus has to earn the left-field job, but the Royals are excited by his ability to get on base consistently.

18. Doug Waechter rhp • Devil Rays

The Devil Rays have had more success developing position players than pitchers. Waechter could start to change that. He impressed in last season’s cameo as much with his makeup as his stuff.

19. Chin-Hui Tsao rhp • Rockies

If Tsao and Edwin Jackson switched teams, they could also change places on this list. Tsao’s stuff compares with any pitching prospect in the game, but he will have to prove he can handle the high altitude.

20. Alexis Rios of • Blue Jays

Like Rocco Baldelli, No. 20 on this list a year ago, Rios’ ceiling means he could finish No. 1 on our postseason rankings. Despite an exceptional winter, though, he isn’t assured a major league job right away.

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