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September 14, 2006

Future Shock

Short-Term Impact, AL

by Kevin Goldstein

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As we move into the final weeks of the major league season, let's get away from prospects for a bit and move up a level to rookies.  Who could have an impact in the races?  Who could end up on the playoff rosters?  There's no Hurricane Bob Hazle here, but there are some interesting things going on.  Let's start with the American League.

Teams Who Are In:

New York Yankees

What they've already gotten from rookies:  More than expected really.  Melky Cabrera got off to a hot start at Triple-A Columbus and has done yeoman's work filling in for the injured pair of Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui.  While he'll likely be the fourth outfielder in the postseason, a contact hitter from both sides of the plate can be enormously valuable in the late innings.  Andy Phillips has been given more than 250 plate appearances, although we're still waiting for a logical explanation for it.

Latecomers: No real prospects here as the team tries to figure who out of guys like T.J. Beam, Jose Veras, Sean Henn and semi-prospect Brian Bruney might get a bullpen slot in the postseason.  Bruney has the lead right now, and he has been fantastic, but with his track record you get the feeling that everything could go horribly wrong any minute now.  Andy Cannizaro is also up from Columbus, but merely as a guy to give the veterans some rest as they put it into cruise control.  As far as Philip Hughes goes, I still think the team would be better with him on the roster, but choosing to shut him down after the minor-league season ended became an easier decision when the Red Sox faltered.

Detroit Tigers

What they've already gotten from rookies:  Nothing really on the offensive side, but performances on the mound by first-year players is one of the cornerstones to the team's turnaround.  When was the last time a team had the best rookie starter and the best rookie reliever in baseball (using a measurement like VORP)?  Justin Verlander has pretty much clinched the former title, but even if Jonathan Papelbon ends up shut down for the year, Joel Zumaya will have a tough time passing him for the latter.  Even fringy Zach Miner held his own in 15 starts. 

Latecomers: Brent Clevlen is back as an extra outfielder, but his short run in the majors just wasn't for real in any way whatsoever.  Infielders Kevin Hooper and Ramon Santiago also arrived to provide late-inning defensive options and both should be kept away from hitting unless absolutely necessary.  One would think that Chris Shelton had a chance at earning a playoff roster slot with the release of Dmitri Young, but Jim Leyland has been avoiding him like the plague since his return, giving him seven at-bats in the last two weeks, in which Shelton has gone hitless.  Jordan Tata gives the team an extra right-hander on the mound, and while first-round pick Andrew Miller was expected to be more than just an extra lefty, he's pitched just four innings since getting the call in late August, and his control problems have likely eliminated any chance of a playoff job. 

Teams Who Are Most Likely In:

Oakland Athletics

What they've already gotten from rookies:  Pretty much nothing.  Last year was the season of rookies for the A's, so this year is the season of second-year players.  At the same time, the system had very few players ready to help, and was also decimated by injuries.  Next year will be much more interesting, as Triple-A Sacramento should be packed with a number of solid, if not spectacular prospects both at the plate and on the mound.

Latecomers:  The A's added Hiram Bocachica, Jeremy Brown and Jason Windsor with the roster expansion, but none of them will get any significant playing time until the A's clinch the West.  Windsor is the only one with a real future on the team, but don't let his 17-2 record in the minors this year fool you, he's more of a strike-thrower than a future ace; his stuff profiles him for the back of the rotation at best.

Minnesota Twins

What they've already gotten from rookies:  Offensively, it's been more of a situation of young players like Jason Bartlett, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau blossoming, as opposed to getting any sort of pure rookie production.  Jason Kubel was expected to be a major contributor, but he's played himself into a bench role by hitting .173/.221/.247 since the All-Star break.  On the mound it's a different story, as Francisco Liriano's move to the rotation ignited the team's playoff surge.  With him out for the season, it's an open question who the Twins' third starter will be in the playoffs?  Matt Garza probably has three more starts to secure the spot, as his shockingly quick rise to the majors could end on the game's biggest stage.  He's a better option than fellow rookies Boof Bonser or Scott Baker, and Carlos Silva has been just plain awful.  In the bullpen, sidewinder Pat Neshek has been nothing short of outstanding. 

Latecomers:  Catchers Chris Heintz and outfielder Josh Rabe are no more than spare parts. Infielder Alexi Casilla is being used primarily as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner; he has an outside shot of being the team's 25th man in the playoffs.

Teams Who Still Have A Shot:

Chicago White Sox

What they've already gotten from rookies:  The only rookie anything was expected out of was center fielder Brian Anderson, and while he's batting a much better .282/.327/.415 since the break, overall his offensive contributions have been minimal, leaving us to wonder if the team wouldn't be closer to Detroit and Minnesota in the standings if Chris Young was the center fielder and Javier Vazquez wasn't there.  Boone Logan went from the Pioneer League to the Opening Day roster, but that didn't go well. 

Latecomers:  The White Sox have brought up a number of players who had good years at Triple-A Charlotte, but none of them will be on the playoff roster...if the White Sox return to the postseason.  Outfielder Ryan Sweeney is getting the most playing time, but Josh Fields is the better prospect.  Unfortunately, Fields is still a third baseman for now, and Joe Crede isn't going to sit down while the Sox are still in it.  Keeping an eye on news of a position change for Fields is an offseason must.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

What they've already gotten from rookies:  The once highly-regarded trio of Jeff Mathis, Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson was a complete disappointment, but the Angels still reaped some dividends from one of the best systems in baseball.  Howie Kendrick has been a joy to watch, batting over .300 since his return and looking like a future batting champion in the process.  Mike Napoli was outstanding in the first half when he took over for Mathis behind the plate, but then he reverted back to being Mike Napoli, or even worse, going just 15-for-105 (.143) since the break.  Kendry Morales was given the opportunity to step in for Kotchman at first base, but failed to capitalize.  On the mound, Jered Weaver has been downgraded from absolutely ridiculous to merely very good, with the fact that the team has won 12 of his 16 starts being one of the primary reasons the Angels are in it at all.

Latecomers:  The Angels have brought up almost everyone on their Triple-A Salt Lake squad who didn't need their contract purchased, and are suiting up 34 guys a night.  While many of these players are a major part of the team's future, they're not part of any immediate future.  Nonetheless, on the rare occasions when Erick Aybar comes in at shortstop, enjoy the show.

Coming Friday: The National League

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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