This is a very old team with few openings for rookies. At the top
of management’s list is infielder Danny Klassen, who has a shot
at the utility spot for 1999. A considerably more interesting player to
anyone who paying attention is 2B Jackie Rexrode, whose skill set
reminds one of vintage Lance Blankenship, only better. Arizona could
really use someone who can get on base, but it’s not like they know it. In any
case, he’s probably a year or two away, and although it’s early, it’s
an open question whether he can break a .300 SLG at the major league
level. More importantly, the D-Backs have a traffic jam of highly-paid players
qualified to play middle infield, so he’ll probably remain in the minors
this year; there are early rumblings that he might get moved to the
outfield. It’s possible but unfortunate that former Giant prospect Dante
Powell will grab an outfield spot, but it is the logical extension of a team
policy of finding ways to keep Dave Dellucci from playing.
With all the signings on the pitching staff, it’s almost inconceivable
that a rookie is going to make any mark on this year’s D-Backs pitching
staff. Two rookies may get significant time in middle relief: Cuban Vlad
Nunez and the very large Ben Ford. Of the two, Nunez is the better
prospect because of his greater potential, but either one of them are capable of
putting up 70-80 good innings this year. Brad Penny is moving up the chain
quickly, and he is one of the best prospects in baseball, but he’ll have a tough
time unseating any of the starters in Arizona in 1999.
With an experienced rotation, bullpen, and starting eight, the Rox
don’t have much place for rookies on this year’s team either. There’s probably
only one spot on the Opening Day roster that’s open, and it wouldn’t be out
of character for Jim Leyland to hand it to John Wehner. In the outfield,
Derrick Gibson might get a backup spot this year. He’s really not
much of a prospect at this point, having failed to progress much in the last
few years, but he should enjoy hitting in the thin air as much as anyone else does.
If not Gibson, either Angel Echevarria or Edgard Clemente could
nab the last outfield spot that’s open.
Pitcher Mark Brownson might grab a starting spot with a good spring
training and an injury or two. He’ll need some luck to get it, and he’ll
need a lot more luck to keep it: he’s not ready to start in the majors.
If given the shot, look for a tateriffically short stay on Planet Coors. Lariel
Gonzalez may get a crack at some time in the bullpen if one of the veteran
relievers goes down, and the Rox might goof off with Jim Stoops briefly if they
don’t want to bring Gonzalez up just yet.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Adrian Beltre isn’t officially a rookie, but he’s an official stud
with little major league experience. The Dodgers never bothered starting
Dave Hansen when they needed another option at third, so don’t expect
them to do so now. There’s nothing standing in Beltre’s way but plain bad luck.
Creaky Hundley’s elbow may or may not hold up, and look for catcher
Angel Pena to be the first receiver in line if Hundley can’t catch.
Pena may be the last in a line of top-notch prospects the Dodgers
chain has presented to the big league club, and Johnson and Malone
seem to know it. He’s a great dark horse Rookie of the Year
candidate with the uncertainty surrounding Hundley’s health. Paul
LoDuca may get to stick around, caddying for either Hundley or Pena.
Los Angeles’ starting staff is almost as deep as Peter Gammons thinks
it is, so chances are they won’t be bringing up prospect Mike Judd
to start many games this year. It is especially unlikely they bring Judd
up to relieve again. Scott Radinsky and Mark Guthrie are both gone, so
lefty Jeff Kubenka shouldn’t have any problems making the staff–and
terminating the competition–in 1999. His minor league numbers have been
overwhelming so far.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
The Padres are looking to start the season with two rookies in their
staff. Matt Clement is one of baseball’s top prospects, and with
the loss of Joey Hamilton and Kevin Brown from the rotation, he’s virtually
guaranteed a regular starting spot. Scouts have said he pitches like Brown,
but that’s really too much to expect from a 24 year old. Look for an effective
campaign at the bottom of the rotation. Clement was outpitched by Stan Spencer
last season, and if that happens again the Padres will be in pretty
good shape. Spencer is way too old to be a serious prospect, but he finally appears
to be healthy after years of injury problems and is a good bet to be effective this
The Pads’ position players are set, but newly acquired Damian Jackson
might start the season as the second baseman if Quilvio Veras hasn’t
recovered from his shoulder surgery by then. Jackson has been a prospect
forever, and is better and younger than Andy Sheets, so he may play himself
into the utility job this spring. Catcher Ben Davis will have to fight
his way through Carlos Hernandez, Jim Leyritz, and Greg Myers to get meaningful
time with the big club in 1999. Don’t bet on it happening. With Tony Gwynn’s
bad wheels, and Reggie Sanders’ constant health problems, don’t be surprised
if either Mike Darr, Gary Matthews Jr., or Pete Tucci
come up for cups of coffee.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
This is another old, generally established team; the Giants
have some holes, but don’t have anyone of note in the minors to
fill them. As a result, there won’t be much help coming from the
minors this year. Russ Ortiz isn’t a rookie, but he has good
stuff, and should start the season in the Giants rotation. He’s likely
to be bombed early and often, but keep an eye on him. He’s still young
and is a good bet for future success. There’s probably one spot open in
the bullpen, and minor league veteran Robby Crabtree has as good
a shot as anyone for it. Highly touted prospect Jason Grilli will
probably get called up to fill in for whichever starter goes down or
slumps, but as much progress as he’s made since being the highest-picked
starting pitcher in the ’97 draft, it may be much too soon.
With Rey Sanchez’ departure, Wilson Delgado will probably back up
Richie Aurilia at short this season. Delgado isn’t a prospect;
all that can really be said about him is that he’s cheaper and
likely a more effective player than Sanchez. There are worse
backup infielders in baseball, and some of them (David Howard
comes to mind) have fashioned remarkable careers for themselves.
Armando Rios will get a long look in camp in the competition
for the job in center field, but late-season heroics against the Dodgers
aside, he is not a top-notch prospect or even an improvement on Stan