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March 9, 1999

AL East Notebook

Rookies to Know in 1999

by Joe Sheehan

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

First baseman Calvin Pickering is a Sam Horn hit-alike who absolutely crushed a bomb in an intrasquad game Monday. Unfortunately, he has Sam Horn's chance at the first base job after the O's signing of Will Clark. He could end up getting some DH at-bats, particularly in the second half, by which time the Birds should be focusing on 2000. Pickering is going to be the kind of hitter people stop conversations to watch.

In terms of pressure on the roster, the Orioles have problems, in that Ray Miller claims he has to carry twelve pitchers, and the Orioles have too many DHs or marginal players they'll be forced to carry to fill in the back half of the roster. With only thirteen roster spots to hand out to position players, good prospects like infielder Jerry Hairston, Jr. and right-hander Chris Fussell have no chance to make the Opening Day roster, not while the Orioles make their play to be Leisure World's favorite team. Third baseman Willis Otanez is out of options, so unless he makes the roster, he'll have to be traded or go through waivers. He'd have to bump a Chris Hoiles, Rich Amaral, or Lyle Mouton to make the roster. Otanez is a better offensive player than any of them, but the Orioles don't seem to have noticed. Equally screwed is OF Danny Clyburn, but he can be sent down safely, and he should get a cup of coffee or two. More attention than necessary will get paid to 3B Ryan Minor.

BOSTON RED SOX

Has Trot Nixon's time actually arrived? The right fielder's back problems have derailed his career so far, but his 1998 finally brought him all the way to Boston. With the Sox' need for runs, Nixon has a strong opportunity. Just don't look for him to be a superstar - a .280/.350/.480 season is a reasonable expectation, and would be a definite improvement on Darren Bragg.

Donnie Sadler is something of a forgotten man, with the signing of Jose Offerman and the Jeff Frye comeback. He played about as expected in limited duty last year, and is not someone you should be getting excited about. Speed kills.

The Sox do have some great arms available to them; Juan Pena had a strong 1998 and will be up in Fenway at some point in 1999, given Dan Duquette's transaction fetish. He could be a real nice second-half contributor. The latest Korean to make a splash, Jin Ho Cho, is in the hunt for a rotation slot, and the Sox' best candidate for Rookie of the Year. Righty Marino Santana has a great assortment of breaking stuff, and after snagging him from the Tigers over the winter, should get a shot at some middle relief work.

NEW YORK YANKEES

A team that brought back over 80% of a championship team isn't exactly a breeding ground for rookie contributors. The Yankees have great prospects at Columbus and Norwich - first baseman Nick Johnson, infielder D'Angelo Jimenez, lefty Ed Yarnall, shortstop Alfonso Soriano, righthander Ryan Bradley are all blocked at the major league level. Of these, Bradley could be up later this year as a reliever, and look for at least one of Soriano or Jimenez to be traded. Both can play in the majors right now.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Their farm system is just two years old, so it would be a surprise if the D-Rays had quality home-grown rookies. What they do have is guys like righty Jason Johnson, who will get some attention but really isn't very impressive. Lefty Mike Duvall may work his way into the bullpen, and young tool-time outfielders Alex Sanchez and Luke Wilcox may come up for September cups of coffee, but overall, you'll see last year's fun bunch and Jose Canseco get slapped around. Minor league veteran outfielder Terrell Lowery could do Mike Kelly's job more cheaply and effectively, but he hasn't gotten many breaks so far, and his luck probably won't change.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This just in: Tom Evans is still screwed. Film at 11. OK, he has shown a propensity for getting hurt at inopportune times, but he is by far the Jays' best third-base option, and deserves to play ahead of Tony Fernandez. Homer Bush isn't a rookie, isn't very good, and is going to get a lot of attention. Ignore it. One name to remember for a potential September call-up is center fielder Vernon Wells, but that's highly dependent on his moving up quickly. He has the talent, but he'll also need to break out and develop faster than expected.

On the mound, the Jays are deep enough that Roy Halladay, one of the best pitching prospects in the league, may start the season at Syracuse. Don't expect a one-hitter every start, but Halladay has as much upside as any young pitcher in the division, as well as a good health record. Not working with Tim Johnson should prolong that. Several rookies may get opportunities in the bullpen: Tom Davey in particular, but also lefty Steve Sinclair and Peter Munro. Righty Isabel Giron may get some starts in September, if the Jays are out of the running, or have the wild card well in hand.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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