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March 6, 1999

NL East Notebook

Rookies to Know in 1999

by Keith Law


The real deal: lefty pitchers Bruce Chen and Odalis Perez. Inevitably, both will be overhyped because they're Braves pitchers, and many observers seem to believe the Braves genetically re-engineer pitchers who enter the organization with Mazzone's ancient recipe for pitching success. That may make their rookie seasons seem like disappointments if they don't jointly win Rookie of the Year honors, which is silly. Chen will be one of the senior circuit's top rookie starters this year, earning a large win total because of his employer, while Perez - if he makes the team - could surprise as one of the league's top setup men, or could make a strong emergency starter if Mike Remlinger is unavailable.

Should make the team, but won't: OF George Lombard and lefty Adam Butler. A tools goof turned star prospect when he found plate discipline, Lombard is easily the team's best choice for left field now that Klesko is at first. However, the innate need managers have to put a speedster atop the lineup has led Cox to blindly pencil in Otis Nixon as the starting left fielder. For a team seeking pop to replace the Big Cat, Lombard is the perfect cheap and readily available solution. Butler is a solid lefthanded reliever who would be the rookie buzz of about a half-dozen major-league camps if he were elsewhere, but here he's behind Odalis Perez in the hype line and in the organization's eyes. The Braves will probably head north with just Perez and John Rocker as their pen portsiders, but Butler could sneak onto the staff and might just outperform Perez this year. One caveat: he threw 105 innings last year, mostly in relief.

For later: Kevin McGlinchy has started to get some attention as the "closer of the future," for all that tag entails. That said, he's a top-tier pitching prospect who could show up in the Braves pen in May when Rudy Seanez winds up in traction again.


The real deal: Shortstop Alex Gonzalez, sort of. He's a fine prospect - anyone who hits Triple-A like that at his age is - but his plate discipline remains poor. If he does indeed take the starting shortstop job, it will be as a gloveman, and his bat may arrive later, and it may not arrive at all. He will outperform Rey Ordonez pretty handily, both on offense and defense.

Don't believe the hype: Reliever Braden Looper. No, he's not going to step in and be the closer, but he's every bit as capable as Matt Mantei, right down to the 3-inch-thick medical dossier, and a medicine cabinet full of horse tranquilizers. The problem is that Looper still doesn't have a strong second pitch to go with his fastball, and he's going to get smacked around a bit until he develops one.

Should make the team, but won't: Armando Almanza might not head north (south?) with the Fish, but he's good enough to pitch in the majors right now. Righty Mike Tejera isn't getting much notice in the race for the fifth spot in the rotation, but his strong season at Double-A should earn him at least as much consideration as perennial underachievers like Rafael Medina are getting. Another spot will open up when the team deals Alex Fernandez, and Tejera might get his shot then.

For later: 3B Mike Lowell and righty A.J. Burnett. In all likelihood, June is a more reasonable timeframe for Lowell to be back at full strength. By that time, Orie will be hurt and the Fish will be able to insert Lowell into the lineup, where he'll remain for a few years. You're probably hearing a ton about Burnett and his famous nipple rings, but blowing A-ball hitters away is a far cry from starting successfully in the majors. His time will come, but not this year.


Don't believe the hype: Michael Barrett. Yes, he's a good hitting prospect. No, he's not a great one, and he sure as hell isn't a "phenom," unless you mean that in a Gregg Jefferies sort of way. Barrett's claim to fame is a great ability to make contact, and good stats at a young age. His flaws are low walk rates and a lack of a true position; drafted as a shortstop, he has shifted from third to catcher and back in the last two seasons. That's not his fault, but it doesn't help him claim a role this spring. Guillermo Mota is suddenly fashionable because he's one of those ex-shortstop pitchers, most of whom haven't worked out at all. Problems with Mota? He missed time last year for surgery, and came up sore again last week. Right now he's still a project, with a great fastball and a long education ahead. Great arm, but not for 1999.

Should make the team, but won't: Outfielder Peter Bergeron is the answer to the Expos' leftfield problem; plug Bergeron into center and let him lead off, with Rondell White safely in left field wearing full body armor. Having someone atop the lineup to get on base will be worth at least 10-15 runs scored, and will put someone on for all of Vlad's homers. Keeping folks like Mike Mordecai around is just silly when your organization is churning out good-field/no-hit infielders like Trace Coquillette. Neither is anything special, but the Expos, concerned enough about $50K to take Ricky Williams in the Rule 5 draft and sell him, should take advantage of the chance to save a little cash.

For later: First baseman Fernando Seguignol really needs to go to Triple-A for a year to prove his '98 progress was no fluke. If he can, he should push Fullmer later this year, or next spring at the latest. Don't be surprised to see Ted Lilly in the rotation by the All-Star Break. He could sneak in during spring training, but the Expos will probably want to let him return to Ottawa for a dozen starts or so.


The real deal: We rated Octavio Dotel as the #2 pitching prospect in baseball in our 1999 edition. The best situation for all concerned would be for Dotel to make the team as a reliever, stay in the pen for at least half of the season, and then have him move into the rotation when something inevitably happens to one of the starters (this is the Mets, after all). With Allen Watson and the two remaining whiz kids (Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen) hanging around, Dotel won't need to be rushed. Reliever Oscar Henriquez is in Dotel's competitive set, with the added bonus of some major-league experience. Henriquez pitched poorly last year, but he throws a fastball up to 98 and usually has great control. He won't get to close in this environment, but people focused on Benitez could be surprised if Henriquez makes the team and succeeds.

Don't believe the hype: Outfielder Jay Payton will never be healthy. Repeat after me: Jay Payton will never be healthy. Too many surgeries have left him a DH prospect at best, and unless I missed a news flash, the Mets don't use the DH particularly often. He didn't even hit well in his Triple-A time last year (.261/.318/.404).


Don't believe the hype: Second baseman Marlon Anderson has his believers, but BP is not among them. He had a nice year at Triple-A to back up all the raves he's received in years when he didn't deserve them, but it came in his second year at the level, and he still didn't walk enough to be a valuable offensive player. He will play, he will disappoint, and he'll still play some more; after all, they left Desi Relaford out there all year last year.

For later: Pat Burrell should have 1B Rico Brogna's job by the All-Star Break; he's already everything Brogna is, and is considerably less expensive. Lefty Randy Wolf is the team's top pitching prospect, but serious overuse last fall put a damper on his star and his performance. He should surface some time this year. Righty Cliff Politte will return to Triple-A to try to put himself back together again after a horrible 1998, but this is the Phillies, and their need for pitchers is commonly referred to in finance as a "perpetuity." He'll get his shot, so check on his Triple-A numbers before he comes up to see whether he's ironed himself out.

Related Content:  The Who,  Triple-A,  Managers Of The Year,  Hype

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