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September 15, 2006

Future Shock

Short Term Impact, NL

by Kevin Goldstein

Finishing what we started yesterday with the National League...

Teams Who Are In:

New York Mets

What they've already gotten from rookies: Nothing offensively, but nothing was really expected either. Anderson Hernandez was given a shot at the second base job, but not for long, and if there was one miscalculation by the front office, it was trading Xavier Nady to the Pirates. Lastings Milledge faltered in an everyday role, but luckily Endy Chavez has saved the day with a fluke season. Injuries have necessitated the use of a number of extra starting pitchers this year, and while Brian Bannister, Alay Soler and 2005 first-round pick Mike Pelfrey scuffled, John Maine finally lived up to his promise. He's pitching well above his head, but his statistics and scouting reports have always suggested a solid No. 4 or 5 starter, and it's a role he could fill for some time in the mold of Steve Trachsel.

Latecomers: More spare parts than anything else, with an extra outfielder in Ricky Ledee and an extra catcher in Kelly Stinnett. Pelfrey is back, and 2004 first-round selection Philip Humber has yet to pitch since being promoted in late August. The only roster expansion call-up with a shot at making the postseason is Royce Ring, to serve as an extra left-hander out of the pen.

St. Louis Cardinals

What they've already gotten from rookies: It's a veteran team that is beginning to show its age, and there is not much in the system to help. Chris Duncan has 16 home runs in 229 at-bats, but he's 25 years old and nothing in his minor-league track record speaks to this ability. I wouldn't get too excited Cardinals fans--this is basically akin to Shane Spencer's 1998 showing. Mark Mulder's injury was Anthony Reyes' opportunity, and he's been frustratingly inconsistent. In his last four starts, he's held the opponent scoreless twice, and then given up 12 runs in 5 2/3 innings in the other two outings. The bullpen has gotten solid work out of right-hander Adam Wainwright and lefty Tyler Johnson.

Latecomers: Nothing to see here, just some extra arms in Josh Kinney and Chris Narveson, and some infield depth in shortstop John Nelson. It's rare to find power in a shortstop, and Nelson cracked 21 home runs this year, but that's the only positive aspect of his offensive game, as he hit .215 at Triple-A Memphis with 152 strikeouts in 423 at-bats.

Teams Who Are Most Likely In:

Los Angeles Dodgers

What they've already gotten from rookies: As much as any playoff contender in baseball, other than the Marlins. Catcher Russell Martin stepped right into the starting role and ranks 12th among all major-league catchers in VORP. Outfielder Andre Ethier has far outplayed Milton Bradley, for whom he was traded, and both infielder James Loney and outfielder Matt Kemp contributed when injuries gave them some consistent playing time. Chad Billingsley has had some minor health trouble of late, but his 3.02 ERA leads all Dodgers starters, although his 53/50 K/BB is a bit of a concern. The bullpen has been highly rookie-centric. It's hard to classify 36-year-old Takashi Saito has a rookie, but he is one technically, and his season numbers--including a 1.96 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 69 innings--are equal to or surpass any expectations the club had for Eric Gagne. Meanwhile, zaftig right-hander Jonathan Broxton has proved to be a capable setup man, while Joe Beimel has done well as a extra left-hander.

Latecomers: The Dodgers brought up nine players from Triple-A Las Vegas when rosters expanded, and there could be some difficult decisions ahead for Grady Little when it comes to finishing off the playoff roster. Both Kemp and Loney have returned, and Loney could be a valuable left-handed bat in the late innings who has a shot at getting chosen. A pair of lefties, Eric Stults and Hong-Chih Kuo, are also up, with Kuo pitching well since moving to a starting role.

San Diego Padres

What they've already gotten from rookies: Josh Barfield won the second base job in spring training and has performed admirably. He's struggled at home, but is batting .336/.374/.517 on the road and ranks seventh among all rookie positional players in VORP. Ben Johnson has bounced up and down between Triple-A Portland and San Diego all year and been merely adequate at both locations. Acquired for reserve catcher Doug Mirabelli from Boston, reliever Cla Meredith has been the team's best reliever since his early July call-up, giving up just three runs and 28 baserunners in 40 2/3 innings.

Latecomers: The middle of the Portland lineup featured a number of established minor leaguers that give manager Bruce Bochy some solid pinch-hitting options during the final three weeks of the season. Jack Cust and Jon Knott both had big years for the Beavers, while Terrmel Sledge provides some outfield depth. Paul McAnulty is the only real prospect here, though he's a classic tweener who can't hit enough to be an everyday first baseman or outfielder. The Padres tried him late in the season at third base, and reviews were not pretty.

Teams Who Still Have A Shot:

San Francisco Giants

What they've already gotten from rookies: The only rookie hitter to get any significant playing time has been an unexpected one. Organizational catcher Eliezer Alfonzo stepped in when Mike Matheny went down with a concussion, and his .476 slugging percentage has made up for a .308 on-base percentage. Matt Cain has given up a grand total of one earned run over his last six starts as the Giants have re-entered the wild-card race. Next year, he could be a Cy Young candidate.

Latecomers: Six players came over from Triple-A Fresno on September 1. The most interesting one is lefty Jonathan Sanchez, who pitched well out of the big-league bullpen early in the season, but was moved back to the rotation after being sent back to the minors. He won't be a factor this year, but he will complete for a rotation slot next spring. Outfielder Fred Lewis is notable for the lack of weaknesses in his offensive game as opposed to any sort of singular skill.

Cincinnati Reds

What they've already gotten from rookies: It's surprising in that while most young teams with big turnarounds get major contributions from rookies, that has been anything but the case with the Reds. Second baseman Brandon Phillips only seems like a rookie, as the Indians really did try to make him their second baseman three years ago. Control specialist Elizardo Ramirez quickly controlled his way out of a rotation job, while the only rookie reliever to get significant innings is Bill Bray, who hasn't done much since coming over in the dreadful deal with the Nationals before the deadline.

Latecomers: Nothing of note. Guys like Brendan Harris and Chris Denorfia might get some pinch-hitting opportunities, but both look more like Quadruple-A hitters at this point. Many of the marginal arms have already pitched some junk innings, meaning 29 players have taken the mound for the Reds this year. This is not a good minor-league system at all. Only Homer Bailey could help, and he's not coming.

Philadelphia Phillies

What they've already gotten from rookies: Injuries turned 2005 International League MVP and two-time Rule 5 pick Shane Victorino into an everyday outfielder, and he's held his own by batting .291, but his secondary numbers point to why he's better off in a reserve role. A handful of lousy starts have inflated left-hander Cole Hamels' ERA to 4.34, but for the most part, he's been the Phillies best pitcher. More importantly, for the most part he's stayed healthy. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Scott Mathieson, who despite a 7.47 ERA in the majors is one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects, but will miss most of next year now that he requires Tommy John surgery.

Latecomers: A ton of minor-league veteran arms and not much else. Eude Brito is already 28, but the fact that he's left-handed and throws hard makes you feel like he'll be around for the next ten years if he wants, even though he's not a very good pitcher. Outfielder Michael Bourn is also up. Many see him as the team's center fielder of the future, but other than the fact that he's an exceptional runner and knows how to take advantage of it (45 stolen bases at a 90% success rate), he needs to hit .300-plus to have value because he has no power, and just an acceptable walk rate.

Florida Marlins

What they've already gotten from rookies: If we change this to what they haven't gotten from rookies, it's a much shorter paragraph, as other than Miguel Cabrera and catcher Miguel Olivo, it's almost all rookies in the lineup most nights, with shortstop Hanley Ramirez, second baseman Dan Uggla and outfielder Josh Willingham ranking 1-2-3 in rookie position player VORP. Meanwhile, Josh Johnson leads all National League rookie pitchers in VORP, Anibal Sanchez is fifth, and Scott Olsen is seventh. The bullpen has been a little more shaky with some fringier arms, but 2004 first-round pick Taylor Tankersley has been impressive and looks like he could be the heir apparent in the closer role.

Latecomers: With so many rookies up, there wasn't just much left to bring up from the upper levels. Center fielder Eric Reed is an outstanding defensive player who can't hit, and right-hander Yusmeiro Petit has struggled this year, learning deception alone isn't enough. Fellow righty Jose Garcia was arguably the organization's breakout player this year, and he could be fighting for a full-time job by mid-2007.

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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