Rating The Rookies: The Postseason Edition
When it comes to prognosticating rookies, we’d like to think Baseball America does it best. After all, we’ve been following most of these players since they were in high school’"in the U.S. or Japan’"or since they were 16-year-olds who signed out of Latin America.
But this is still baseball, where predictions are often worthless. That doesn’t stop us from ranking rookies before and after the season, and hindsight sure helps. Ten rookies from our preseason Top 20 this spring failed to make our postseason list.
Our Rookie of the Year, Ryan Braun, ranked 12th in the preseason, and we wrote that in the best-case scenario, “Braun takes advantage of Corey Koskie’s slow start, mashes his way to Milwaukee and becomes the righthanded power complement to Prince Fielder.” Check, check and check, please. He did enough to just edge Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, No. 5 in the preseason, who also lived up to his best-case scenario: “Tulowitzki mashes 15-20 homers (he hit 24) while playing an above-average shortstop, helping propel the Rockies to their first winning season since 2000.”
On the guys we missed, the worst-case scenarios we wrote about often came true. Take Mets righthander Mike Pelfrey, our preseason No. 11 pick: “Pelfrey’s new slider comes and goes, and so does he between New York and Triple-A New Orleans.”
Still, we’ll stand by most of if not all 10 of those that didn’t make the list, such as the righthanders like Pelfrey, Philip Hughes (6), Matt Garza (7) and Homer Bailey (10).
Of the hitters we “missed” on, the only true disappointment was Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta (15), who lost his starting job to Yorvit Torrealba. Iannetta still should be the Rockies’ catcher of the future, but this list is about the top rookies of 2007’"guys like Chris Young, fourth in the preseason and fourth when it was all said and done.
1. RYAN BRAUN, 3B, BREWERS
Braun was the third third baseman picked in the 2005 draft, after Alex Gordon (second overall, Royals) and Ryan Zimmerman (fourth, Nationals). His bat was never in question; defense, as in could he play third base, was. He’™s certainly proved he can hit, so now he’™ll have to get better with the glove.
2. TROY TULOWITZKI, SS, ROCKIES
The former Long Beach State star jumped from Double-A last year to lead his team to the playoffs. He made a late run at Braun for the No. 1 spot, but his home-road splits point out Braun’™s offensive advantage. Tulo’™s Coors Field OPS: .960. Away from Coors: .719.
3. DUSTIN PEDROIA, 2B, RED SOX
Some scouts have compared Pedroia to David Eckstein, noting Eckstein had more tools because of his speed. But scouts consistently have underrated Pedroia’™s hand-eye coordination, great defense and bat. Like Tulowitzki, he took advantage of his home park, with a .912 OPS at Fenway Park, .729 away.
4. CHRIS YOUNG, OF, DIAMONDBACKS
The entire Diamondbacks season is inexplicable, leading the National League with 90 wins with a negative run differential. Our rookie list helps explain some of it as three “Baby ‘˜Backs” made the Top 20, led by Young, who made a strong run at the first 30-30 season ever by a rookie.
5. HUNTER PENCE, OF, ASTROS
Craig Biggio’™s successful quest for 3,000 hits in his final season distracted Houston fans from the disastrous Astros season, but Pence may have emerged as the new face of the franchise. Sidelined at midseason by a wrist fracture, he brought passion, energy and power before and after his injury.
6. DAISUKE MATSUZAKA, RHP, RED SOX
Until September, Dice-K was on pace to fulfill all but the most enthusiastic expectations. Questions about his ability to hold up over the longer American season were justified, though, as he posted a 5.93 ERA in the season’™s final two months. He still led rookies in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts.
7. TIM LINCECUM, RHP, GIANTS
Three Pacific-10 Conference pitchers in 2006 were big league rookies in 2007. Washington alumnus Lincecum was the Pac-10’™s pitcher of the year in ‘˜06 and again had a better year than Cal’™s Brandon Morrow (Mariners) and USC’™s Ian Kennedy (Yankees), as he averaged 9.22 strikeouts per nine innings.
8. JEREMY GUTHRIE, RHP, ORIOLES
A 2002 first-round pick, Guthrie struggled for four seasons in the Indians system before the Orioles picked him off the scrapheap. While he faded in the second half (5.02 ERA after the all-star break), he still led rookie qualifiers in ERA while ranking second in innings and third overall in strikeouts.
9. JAMES LONEY, 1B, DODGERS
Loney led the minors in batting in 2006, but it wasn’™t enough to earn him a big league job out of spring training. He struggled in his return to Triple-A but blossomed as the Dodgers’™ best hitter after his return to Los Angeles, adding a career-best 15 home runs.
10. KEVIN KOUZMANOFF, 3B, PADRES
The Padres were looking for help after Kouzmanoff’™s poor first half, which included a .228 average. By September, he was their hottest hitter, sometimes batting third. His defense at third base (22 errors) and modest tools cloud his long-term role, but his bat gives him a chance to overachieve.
11. YOVANI GALLARDO, RHP, BREWERS
Gallardo was the second homegrown starter the Brewers have developed in the last decade, joining Ben Sheets. Gallardo’™s emergence as the team’™s second-best starter, after the oft-injured Sheets, almost got them to the playoffs. Like other young Brewers, he hit for power, with two homers in 40 at-bats.
12. BRIAN BANNISTER, RHP, ROYALS
The Mets, who got Ambiorix Burgos for Bannister, could have used their former farmhand. Perhaps they were linked by karma, because like the Mets, Bannister collapsed down the stretch, posting a 10.26 ERA over his last four starts. He led the Royals in wins, tied with Guthrie for second among rookies.
13. DELMON YOUNG, OF, DEVIL RAYS
At 22 the youngest player on this list, Young became just the third player in the last 40 years to play all 162 games as a rookie. Grinding it out for a last-place team helped Young lead rookies in RBIs, but his lack of plate discipline hurt his overall offensive production.
14. MARK REYNOLDS, 0F, DIAMONDBACKS
A year ago, some dismissed Reynolds as a creation of high Class A Lancaster, where he slugged 23 homers in 78 games. But Reynolds kept hitting homers at every level, including the big leagues. He tied a dubious mark with strikeouts in nine straight at-bats, but the ball jumps when he connects.
15. JOAKIM SORIA, RHP, ROYALS
As good as the Padres’™ bullpen was this season, it could have used Soria, whom the Padres neglected to protect on the 40-man roster last winter. The Royals snapped him up in the Rule 5 draft and found a consistent, young power arm, one that led the team in saves and averaged 9.8 strikeouts per nine.
16. KYLE KENDRICK, RHP, PHILLIES
Kendrick’™s strikeout-walk ratio makes predicting future success dicey, but he gets groundball outs, to the tune of 1.42 groundouts to every flyout. He had the same ratio in the big leagues as he had in the Double-A Eastern League. He was Philadelphia’™s Game Two starter in the Division Series.
17. ALEX GORDON, 3B, ROYALS
Last year’™s Minor League Player of the Year didn’™t get his batting average above .200 until June 14. Still, he ranked second on the Royals in home runs and RBIs while leading the team in stolen bases. Royals fans should take heart: George Brett hit just .282/.313/.363 as a rookie.
18. MICAH OWINGS, RHP, DIAMONDBACKS
Owings attracted attention as a hitter and pitcher as an amateur’"his 69 prep home runs ranks among the top five all-time, and he hit 48 homers in college. Owings put together an excellent second-half performance (3.72 ERA) on the mound and added a pair of four-hit games and four homers as a hitter.
19. YUNEL ESCOBAR, SS, BRAVES
After leaving Cuba, Escobar entered the draft rather than become a free agent, and reached the majors in just two years. His energy and bat helped the Braves weather Edgar Renteria’™s injury and give them a low-cost middle-of-the-diamond option heading into a crucial offseason.
20. JOSH HAMILTON, OF, REDS
For $50,000’"the cost of a major league Rule 5 draft pick’"the Reds got one of the year’™s best stories, and a possible building block for the future. Hamilton had just 50 at-bats since 2002, but he showed little rust, and plenty of the talent that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft.
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