Head Of The Class

Three premium rookie classes are compared and rated

We thought we were lucky last season. From Huston Street to Ryan Howard to Jeff Francoeur to another dozen drool-inducing rookies, there was every reason to think it would become a historic crop of baseball freshmen.

And then 2006 came along.

It seemed as if every month--first Jonathan Papelbon, then Justin Verlander, then Francisco Liriano, then Jered Weaver--another American League phenom was blowing our eyes out. A team of rookies, the laughably underestimated Florida Marlins, caught fire in midsummer behind shortstop Hanley Ramirez and a slew of starters and wound up staying in serious contention until the season's final two weeks. The depth was just outstanding--how else can you explain Joel Zumaya, the Tigers' flamethrowing reliever, ranking just No. 16 on our list of top rookies?

This all made us wonder: Was 2006 the deepest rookie crop of all time? To investigate the issue, we took our top 20 rankings and compared each of the 20 to his counterpart from two seasons--last year, and 1982, the best rookie group since Baseball America was born the previous year. We didn't rank rookies that season, so we have attempted to rank them as we would have then--no cheating on Tony Gwynn--to keep the competition fair. Of course we don't know how the 2005 and '06 players will eventually turn out, but we get paid to have a pretty darned good idea.

The final tally? The Class of '82 took top honors with 10 winners, with 2006 getting six and 2005 four. Perhaps that's because those players are known commodities, with four Hall of Famers. But if this season's class plays up to its potential, its graduates could be as known as any to play the game . . .

For which one of the three we choose, click on The Verdict.

 1    Cal Ripken vs. Huston Street vs. Justin Verlander

 1982  2005  2006 

Cal Ripken
Orioles, 3b/ss

Huston Street
Athletics, rhp

Justin Verlander
Tigers, rhp
  1982: Most people forget two things about Ripken's rookie season. One, he played third base until July. And two, he started the year just 4-for-52 with his confidence spiraling downward. He even believed that Earl Weaver would send him back to Triple-A. But Weaver stuck with his prized prospect, and after getting hot Ripken finished at .264/.317/.475 with 28 homers and 93 RBIs to win AL Rookie of the Year.   2005: Just months out of the University of Texas, Street broke camp with the A's and pitched so well in April and May that he was promoted to closer, despite lacking particularly overpowering stuff. He didn't give up a run in June, and finished the year with a 5-1, 1.72 record, 23 saves and other statistics reminiscent of Mariano Rivera's.  2006: The No. 2 overall draft pick in 2004, Verlander entered this spring hoping to win the No. 5 rotation spot--and wound up being the No. 1, and fast. He busted out of the gate to go 13-4, 2.69 through July as the Tigers built a huge lead. Tired in the later months but still finished up 17-9, 3.63 and could be considered Detroit's MVP, rookie or not.
  THEREAFTER: Ripken immediately followed up with a .318/.371/.517 season (adding 27 homers and 102 RBIs) to win the MVP award, the only player to ever be league's top rookie and player in consecutive years. (Ryan Howard could become the second.) Ripken soon redefined shortstop position as a big man with power--he hit 431 career homers with great anticipatory glovework. Sure-fire Hall of Famer this winter.  2006 AND FUTURE: Another successful season--37 saves--but 10 blown opportunities, a 3.23 ERA and a stint on the disabled list with a strained groin made it less than stellar. The A's might take a look at Street's mechanics to see what can be improved moving forward. He still will be only 23 next Opening Day, so a fine career awaits.  FUTURE: Has everything you want in a frontline starter, from high-90s fastball (he was baseball's hardest-throwing starter this year, according to Baseball Info Solutions) to breaking ball to changeup--and already has pennant-race and postseason experience. Still needs to build stamina but should be the anchor of a fine rotation through the end of the decade.
 2    Kent Hrbek vs. Ryan Howard vs. Hanley Ramirez

 1982  2005  2006 

Kent Hrbek
Twins, 1b

Ryan Howard
Phillies, 1b

Hanley Ramirez
Marlins, ss
  1982: A native of nearby Bloomington signed in the 17th round four years before, Hrbek batted .301/.363/.485 with 23 homers and 92 RBIs as the best rookie on the young Twins (which included Tom Brunansky, Gary Gaetti and others). Chunky, fun-loving hunter and fisherman made the all-star team and became an instant fan favorite.  2005: Monster minor league slugger blocked by Jim Thome, Howard was finally recalled for good on July 1 and showed spectacular power, hitting .288/.356/.567 with 22 homers in just 312 at-bats. Ability to slam outside pitches the opposite way was particularly encouraging. Edged out by Street for BA rookie award because played only half-season.  2006: Top prospect traded by Red Sox to acquire Josh Beckett, Ramirez blossomed as much as anyone in baseball this season. The sparkplug for the shocking Marlins scored 119 runs, stole 51 bases, and displayed power with 17 home runs (not to mention 11 triples). Also showed plate discipline and an improving approach to the game.
  THEREAFTER: Hit 41 doubles in 1983 and then had best year in '84, batting .311/.383/.522 and finishing second to Detroit's Willie Hernandez in the MVP voting. Enjoyed several other fine seasons and anchored two World Series champions (1987 and 1991). Lifelong Twin wound up hitting 293 career homers and walked more than he struck out.  2006 AND FUTURE: Perhaps you heard, Howard slammed 58 homers to become most feared power hitter in baseball. Also added .314 average with that mature approach, and drove in 146 runs--many of them pushing the Phillies back into contention after the front office gave up in July. Overall, looks like 500-homer man waiting to happen. Enjoy the ride.  FUTURE: Given his development, there's no reason to think that Ramirez can't compete with the Mets' Jose Reyes for the status of best National League shortstop for next 10 years. Some believe Ramirez will even have more power in time, possibly becoming a 30-homer man. To say he could become another Barry Larkin is saying he could someday be considered for Cooperstown.
 3    Steve Sax vs. Jeff Francoeur vs. Francisco Liriano

 1982  2005  2006 

Steve Sax
Dodgers, 2b

Jeff Francoeur
Braves, of

Francisco Liriano
Twins, lhp
  1982: Hit .282 with 49 steals to become Dodgers' fourth straight NL rookie of the year and favorite of swooning L.A. babes.  2005: Hit over .400 for several weeks after July callup to become talk of baseball. Poor plate discipline led to cooling off and final .300/.336/.549 numbers with 14 homers in just 257 at-bats.  2006: After spending first six weeks in bullpen, exploded to go 11-2, 1.65 as starter through July. Only subsequent elbow trouble kept him from Cy Young Award.
  THEREAFTER: Developed into popless singles/speed artist who made five all-star teams. Errant routine throws contributed to high error totals throughout the 1980s. Retired at age 34.  2006 AND FUTURE: Got raves for 29 homers and 103 RBIs but hit just .260/.293/.449. Must walk more (23-132 walk-strikeout ratio) to be truly standout hitter.  FUTURE: Injuries are not considered serious. Should return at full strength next year, though Twins are still crossing fingers long-term.
 4    Wade Boggs vs. Robinson Cano vs. Jered Weaver

 1982  2005  2006 

Wade Boggs
Red Sox, 3b/1b

Robinson Cano
Yankees, 2b

Jered Weaver
Angels, rhp
  1982: After 5┬Ż years in minors hit a stunning .349 in 104 games while splitting time at first base with critics saying he couldn't stick at third.  2005: Earned starting job soon after season began and hit .297 with surprising pop (14 homers). Pressure eased by hitting No. 9.  2006: Despite distraction of being sent down after four starts and replacing his brother Jeff in Angels' rotation, started career 9-0 and finished 11-2, 2.32 in just 18 starts.
  THEREAFTER: Won AL batting title next season and four of five years after that. On-base machine with more than 3,000 hits, a World Series ring with the Yankees, and a Hall of Fame plaque.  2006 AND FUTURE: Improved even more and even made late run at batting title, finishing at .342/.365/.525 with 41 doubles. More discerning eye (18-54 walk-strikeout ratio) would help evolution into all-star.  FUTURE: Unspectacular fastball is helped by funky delivery and good focus on the mound, so should stay one step ahead of hitters as career unfolds.
 5    Johnny Ray vs. Jonny Gomes vs. Jonathan Papelbon

 1982  2005  2006 

Johnny Ray
Pirates, 2b

Jonny Gomes
Devil Rays, DH/of

Jonathan Papelbon
Red Sox, rhp
  1982: Top prospect traded in 1981 from Astros to Pirates (for Phil Garner), the speedy Ray hit .281 with 16 steals and led NL second basemen in total chances. Finished second in NL rookie voting.  2005: Tied for AL rookie lead with 21 homers and led with .534 slugging and .372 on-base percentages, almost all after second callup in mid-June.  2006: Was most dominant reliever in baseball for first five months, saving 35 games for Red Sox with 0.92 ERA. Tired arm shut him down after Sept. 1.
  THEREAFTER: Doubles specialist never improved much from rookie year. Two years after having his best season, with Angels (1988), he was out of majors.  2006 AND FUTURE: Hit 20 homers but lost himself at plate with .216 average. Delmon Young's arrival relegates Gomes to DH duty at best.  FUTURE: Might become greatest one-year reliever ever, as Boston plans to make him a starter next spring. Has solid No. 2-starter stuff.
 6    Willie McGee vs. Tadahito Iguchi vs. Ryan Zimmerman

 1982  2005  2006 

Willie McGee
Cardinals, cf

Tadahito Iguchi
White Sox, 2b

Ryan Zimmerman
Nationals, 3b
  1982: Hit .296/.318/.391 in regular season for Cardinals, then punctuated that with a heroic postseason with both bat and glove for World Series champions.  2005: Hit .278/.342/.438 with 15 steals and fine defense to become valuable all-around contributor to Sox' World Series champions.  2006: Displayed David Wright-type consistency at the plate while playing outstanding defense. Finished at .287/.351/.471 with 47 doubles, 20 homers, 110 RBIs--and 61 walks, indicating more will come.
  THEREAFTER: Four-time all-star hit .353 with 56 steals to win 1985 MVP award, won another batting title in 1990, and hung around long enough to get 2,254 hits.  2006 AND FUTURE: Posted virtually same numbers (.281/.352/.422, 11 steals). Will be 32 next year so still has several solid years left in him.  FUTURE: Could be blocked by Wright for starting spot in all-star games, but will be cornerstone of Nationals' rebuilding effort.
 7    Chili Davis vs. Scott Kazmir vs. Dan Uggla

 1982  2005  2006 

Chili Davis
Giants, of

Scott Kazmir
Devil Rays, lhp

Dan Uggla
Marlins, 2b
  1982: Budding power presence hit .261/.308/.410 with 19 homers and 76 RBIs for Giants. Also flashed fine speed with 24 steals in 37 attempts.  2005: Short, shmort--the 21-year-old Kazmir went 10-9, 3.77 for a horrible Tampa team, and showed excellent stuff with 174 whiffs in 186 innings.  2006: Became first Rule 5 draft pick to be selected to All-Star Game (he did not play). Hit .282/.339/.480 with 27 homers and 89 RBIs to make Marlins' offense more than respectable.
  THEREAFTER: Eventual DH hit 350 career homers and developed into clubhouse presence on three World Series winners (1991 Twins, 1998-99 Yankees).  2006 AND FUTURE: High workload hurt him, as Kazmir went 10-8, 3.24 with 163 strikeouts in 145 innings and made all-star team, but was shut down afterward with arm problems.  FUTURE: At 26 probably has less room to improve than most other players on this list, but could actually play in an All-Star Game before he's through.
 8    Gary Gaetti vs. Garrett Atkins vs. Josh Johnson

 1982  2005  2006 

Gary Gaetti
Twins, 3b

Garrett Atkins
Rockies, 3b

Josh Johnson
Marlins, rhp
  1982: Hit 25 homers with 84 RBIs and good defense for Twins, but showed he had a way to go with just a .230 batting average and woeful .280 OBP.  2005: After opening season on DL, hit .287/.347/.426 and led team and all rookies in RBIs with 89. Coors Field was a clear boost, though--he hit .238 with four homers on road.  2006: Moved into rotation in May and wound up leading NL in ERA during midsummer. Finished 12-7, 3.10 while beating Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Roy Halladay.
  THEREAFTER: Started to make more contact and developed into potent force later in 1980s; won four Gold Gloves and retired in 2000 with 360 homers.  2006 AND FUTURE: Took sizeable leap to .329/.409/.556 with 29 homers, 48 doubles and 120 RBIs while also hitting (.933 OPS) away from Coors. No David Wright but a cornerstone of Rockies' improving roster.  FUTURE: Tired arm is not considered serious, so with two legitimate fastballs Johnson should become No. 2-caliber starter for the next several years.
 9    Ed Vande Berg vs. Joe Blanton vs. Matt Cain

 1982  2005  2006 

Ed Vande Berg
Mariners, lhp

Joe Blanton
rhp, Athletics

Matt Cain
Giants, rhp
  1982: Stringbean lefty thrived in middle relief for hapless Mariners, going 9-4, 2.37 with five saves. Never had much of a fastball; relied on slider.  2005: Went 12-12, 3.53 but like Toronto's Gustavo Chacin pitched a lot (201 innings) with poor strikeout-walk ratio (116-67).  2006: Incredibly inconsistent, Cain looked less than able at times but downright filthy in others. Finished 13-11, 4.09 while leading NL rookies with 185 innings.
  THEREAFTER: Never grew out of bullpen--got lit in short stint as starter in 1984--and was out of the majors after 1988, though with a career 3.92 ERA.  2006 AND FUTURE: Won 16 games for division-winning A's but had bloated 4.82 ERA, thanks to repertoire that's just too hittable (.309 opponent average).  FUTURE: With the best pure stuff of all NL pitchers on this list, look for Cain to become an ace with a few all-star appearances sooner than later.
 10    Dave Hostetler vs. Willy Taveras vs. Russ Martin

 1982  2005  2006 

Dave Hostetler
Rangers, 1b

Willy Taveras
Astros, of

Russ Martin
Dodgers, c
  1982: Power-only player hit 22 homers in just 113 games as Rangers 1B, but started showing holes late in season.  2005: Wowed speed-and-defense types by hitting .291 with 34 steals as leadoff man for NL champs. No power or walks made him ripe to decline in 2006.  2006: Called up May 6 and jolted Dodgers into contention both at and behind plate. Threw out 32 percent of basestealers and earned respect calling games from staff.
  THEREAFTER: And what holes they were. Free swinger became quickly exposed and by breaking stuff and wound up hitting just .229 in 255-game career through 1988.  2006 AND FUTURE: Batted .276/.333/.338 this year with 33 steals; improved discipline (34 walks) but still no pop (25 extra-base hits). Doesn't hit like a frontline contributor in majors.  FUTURE: Athletic former 3B still learning nuances of catching, but could become a Paul Lo Duca type with better power, glove.
 11    Ryne Sandberg vs. Gustavo Chacin vs. Prince Fielder

 1982  2005  2006 

Ryne Sandberg
Cubs, 3b

Gustavo Chacin
Blue Jays, lhp

Prince Fielder
Brewers, 1b
  1982: Recently traded by Phillies to Cubs because he was blocked at third by Mike Schmidt, Sandberg opened season 1-for-32 but wound up at .271 with 32 steals as Cubs 3B.  2005: Went 13-9, 3.72 and led all rookies with 203 innings. Was not exactly overpowering, though, whiffing only 120 while walking 70.  2006: Substantial power source all season for improving Brewers, finishing at .271/.347/.483 with 28 and 81 RBIs. Inconsistent batting average tempered by fine eye (59 walks).
  THEREAFTER: Moved to 2B by arrival of Ron Cey, Sandberg blossomed into Hall of Famer with nine Gold Gloves, 1984 MVP award and 282 career homers.  2006 AND FUTURE: High workload probably led to elbow injuries this season--made just 16 starts with 4.90 ERA. Should be at full strength for 2007 but looks like a No. 3 starter at best.  FUTURE: Like Joe Mauer and Ryan Howard, Fielder focuses on hitting to opposite field. Should become 40-homer threat every year into his 30s.
 12    Von Hayes vs. Chris Young vs. Josh Willingham

 1982  2005  2006 

Von Hayes
Indians, of

Chris Young
Rangers, rhp

Josh Willingham
Marlins, of
  1982: Hit just .250 but added 14 homers, 82 RBIs and 32 steals for young Indians, while displaying well-rounded OF tools to make him coveted young player.  2005: Went 12-7 with impressive 4.27 ERA considering tough pitching environment in Texas.  2006: Unfit to catch, Willingham concentrated on offense as LF and thrived, hitting .277/.356/.496 and leading all rookies with .852 OPS.
  THEREAFTER: Traded to Philadelphia straight-up for five players (including Julio Franco), Hayes had some decent all-around years but never overcame that legacy.  2006 AND FUTURE: Dealt to Padres in January, Young (11-5, 3.46) was Padres' steadiest starter. Hits down and strikeouts up, he could make an all-star team or two.  FUTURE: Like teammate Uggla, older than some realize (27) but has legitimate bat. Might have shorter prime but will enjoy it sooner.
 13    Tony Gwynn vs. Zach Duke vs. Nick Markakis

 1982  2005  2006 

Tony Gwynn
Padres, of

Zach Duke
Pirates, lhp

Nick Markakis
Orioles, of
  1982: Mid-July callup played only 54 games for Padres, but displayed his fine hitting approach while hitting .289. Showed disturbing lack of pop with only one homer.  2005: Early-July callup zoomed out of the gate by allowing just four earned runs in first 39 innings. Finished 8-2, 1.81 overall.  2006: Just 22, jumped straight from Double-A and hit whopping .366 from June through August. Batted .291/.351/.448 with 16 homers as one of few bright spots on woeful Orioles.
  THEREAFTER: Won eight batting titles, became face of the Padres franchise and will enter Cooperstown this winter. Also pioneered hitters' use of video.  2006 AND FUTURE: Yielded .299 batting average for season but did improve in second half. Doesn't appear to miss enough bats to be anything more than a third starter.  FUTURE: Can hit lefties, will develop more power and has speed and defense (plus great intangibles) to become all-around threat.
 14    Jesse Barfield vs. Dan Johnson vs. Scott Olsen

 1982  2005  2006 

Jesse Barfield
Blue Jays, of

Dan Johnson
Athletics, 1b

Scott Olsen
Marlins, lhp
  1982: Hit .246/.323/.426 with 18 homers in first wave of impressive Blue Jays youth movement; flashed makings of what would become the best outfield arm in baseball.  2005: Batted .275/.355/.451 with 15 homers with 50 walks against just 52 strikeouts, and showed encouraging ability to hit lefties when he got the chance.  2006: Marlins' lefty counterpart to Johnson went 12-10, 4.04 and looked stronger down the stretch. Had control problems with 75 walks.
  THEREAFTER: Made only one all-star selection in career year of 1986 (.289-40-108) but hit 241 career homers. Traded to Yankees straight-up for young lefty Al Leiter. Career ended early at 32.  2006 AND FUTURE: Looked completely lost in April and May, was sent down to Triple-A in July and finished .234/.323/.381. Has limited tools beyond bat, so he's in trouble.  FUTURE: Late life on pitches means that Olsen will continue missing his share of bats. Needs to command them better to become high-teens winner.
 15    Tom Brunansky vs. Ervin Santana vs. Takashi Saito

 1982  2005  2006 

Tom Brunansky
Twins, of

Ervin Santana
Angels, rhp

Takashi Saito
Dodgers, rhp
  1982: Traded by Angels to Twins in May, Brunansky hit .272/.377/.471 with 20 homers in Minnesota as part of bustling youth movement.  2005: Went 12-8, 4.65 in 23 starts after May callup, and came through with heroic relief performance in Game Five of ALDS against Yankees.  2006: Japanese veteran did good Eric Gagne impression after mid-May by saving 24 games with 12.29 whiffs per nine and measly .177 average allowed.
  THEREAFTER: One-dimensional slugger reached 20 homers eight times but never drove in more than 90 runs and made only one all-star team. Helped Red Sox to 1990 AL East title.  2006 AND FUTURE: Won 16 games but 4.28 ERA and unimpressive K-BB total (141-70) were not the step forward many hoped for. Still just 23, so plenty of room to grow.  FUTURE: At age 36 won't be effective that much longer, but Dodgers system doesn't need him to be. Could become brief all-star if league doesn't catch up.
 16    Luis DeLeon vs. Nick Swisher vs. Joel Zumaya

 1982  2005  2006 

Luis DeLeon
Padres, rhp

Nick Swisher
Athletics, of

Joel Zumaya
Tigers, rhp
  1982: Throw-in in huge Templeton-for-Smith deal previous winter went 9-5, 2.03 with 15 saves while taking closer's role away from Gary Lucas.  2005: Switch-hitter batted .236/.322/.446 with 21 homers and played respectable outfield defense for player more suited for first base.  2006: Electrifying 103 mph fastball made him most talked-about middle reliever of 2006. Posted 1.95 ERA and remained strong down the stretch.
  THEREAFTER: Saved 13 games the next year but with fastball only flirting with 90 mph found league catching up with him quickly. Pitched all of four innings after 1987.  2006 AND FUTURE: Moved from LF to 1B to replace disastrous Johnson and was one of A's primary forces, batting .254/.372/.493 with 35 homers and 95 RBIs. Perfect Oakland player--power, eye and cheap.  FUTURE: Though could theoretically start, Zumaya has all the makings of dominating, all-star closer once Todd Jones moves aside in Detroit.
 17    Howard Johnson vs. J.J. Hardy vs. Andre Ethier

 1982  2005  2006 

Howard Johnson
Tigers, 3b/of

J.J. Hardy
Brewers, ss

Andre Ethier
Dodgers, of
  1982: Switch-hitting prospect hit .317 with 23 home runs in Triple-A before callup to Detroit, where he hit .316 with fine .384 OBP in 54 games.  2005: Slick 22-year-old fielder struggled in first half but hit .308 after break with eight home runs to reassert himself as top young talent.  2006: Former A's prospect called up in May and hit .335 before September collapse. Still finished at .308/.365/.477 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs.
  THEREAFTER: Was unlikely three-time 30-30 man during Mets prime from 1987-91, and led NL in homers (38) and RBIs (117) that last year.  2006 AND FUTURE: Year ended in May with gruesome ankle injury that required season-ending surgery in July. Bill Hall blossomed as replacement at SS, though Hall could play 3B or CF as well.  FUTURE: Ethier doesn't have any outstanding tool but could become solid lefthanded hitter, particularly if he can keep from overswinging.
 18    Steve Bedrosian vs. Rickie Weeks vs. Josh Barfield

 1982  2005  2006 

Steve Bedrosian
Braves, rhp

Rickie Weeks
Brewers, 2b

Josh Barfield
Padres, 2b
  1982: Went 8-6, 2.42 with 11 saves mostly in relief for division-winning Braves while shouldering high workload even for era (138 innings).  2005: Batted just .239 after June callup but displayed above-average speed (15 steals) and power (13 homers). His 21 errors caused significant concern.  2006: Hit .285/.318/.423 while showing some pop (13 homers) and speed (21-for-26 stealing bases). Also played encouraging defense with just nine errors and average range.
  THEREAFTER: Found himself after spending 1985 season as Braves starter--won 1987 NL Cy Young Award (with Phillies) and retired in 1995 with 184 saves.  2006 AND FUTURE: Made another 22 errors, then injured his wrist in late July and was lost for the season. Should return healthy next year but must improve glove to become legit all-star.  FUTURE: Doesn't appear headed to LF, so with some better discipline at the plate Barfield could develop into an above-average contributor at his position.
 19    Dave LaPoint vs. Jeff Francis vs. Anibal Sanchez

 1982  2005  2006 

Dave LaPoint
Cardinals, lhp

Jeff Francis
Rockies, lhp

Anibal Sanchez
Marlins, rhp
  1982: Posted 2.96 ERA in 21 relief appearances and went 8-3, 3.52 as starter, mostly in second half. Relied on funky change and slider for success.  2005: Embraced challenge of pitching at Coors Field and won team-high 14 games (with 5.65 ERA). Low strikeouts (128) and high walks (70) tempered some enthusiasm.  2006: Called up in late June, former Red Sox surgery veteran went 10-3, 2.83 and threw season's only no-hitter on Sept. 6 against Arizona.
  THEREAFTER: Won 24 games with 3.96 ERA in two seasons after that, but is best remembered in St. Louis for getting traded for Jack Clark. Hung around till 1991.  2006 AND FUTURE: Took step forward to go 13-11, 4.16 with far fewer hits allowed. Greater knowledge of the league could make him true frontline starter through his 20s.  FUTURE: Needs to strike out more hitters and allow fewer walks to get the most out of his stuff long-term. Looks like No. 3 starter right now.
 20    Eric Show vs. Felix Hernandez vs. Ronny Paulino

 1982  2005  2006 

Eric Show
Padres, rhp

Felix Hernandez
Mariners, rhp

Ronny Paulino
Pirates, c
  1982: Pitched extremely well in relief (6-3, 1.62) to earn starting role for second half, when he went 4-3, 3.34.  2005: Nineteen-year-old ├╝berprospect would have ranked far higher but made just 12 starts at end of season, going 4-4, 2.67 and confounding major leaguers.  2006: Not only hit .310 (with .360 OBP), but threw out runners at 37 percent clip and led Pirates' young pitching staff toward excellent second-half performance.
  THEREAFTER: Fine starter won 15 games for Padres' NL champs in 1984. Gave up Pete Rose's 4,192nd hit in 1985, developed career-ending drug problem, and died of overdose in 1994.  2006 AND FUTURE: Had disappointing 11-14, 4.65 season, partly due to early shin splints. Needs maturity but has plenty of time to develop into Cy Young Award winner.  FUTURE: Needs more power (slugged just .394) but Bucs' ballpark doesn't help. Not mobile behind plate but has makings of solid backstop for 5-8 years.