One of the questions I didn’t answer during Monday’s chat session was about “my guys,” which is a concept I’d introduced a couple of years ago. There’s no rhyme or reason to the players I pick for the list, and it often ranges from prospects to bounceback veterans, and includes guys who will play, as well as guys who won’t. Last year’s list included Brandon Webb and Corey Patterson…as well as Brad Wilkerson and Joey Gathright.
When I sat down to do the list this season, I found that I wasn’t as enthusiastic about it as in past years. This was for a number of reasons-the guys I like are too obvious, a number had good seasons last year, some have already been injured-and the names I kept landing on eliminated themselves. So while I present the following 10 names to you under the banner of “My Guys,” understand that it’s just not with the same gusto that I have had for the concept in the past.
- Shin-Soo Choo, Indians. The signings of David Dellucci and Trot Nixon–two older players who are similar in type–pushed him down to Triple-A to start the season. Choo has played well for three years running in the minors, tearing up right-handed pitching and providing at least 20 steals a year. He’s more than ready to hold down a platoon spot in the majors, although it’s now going to take an injury or a trade-both well within reason-to get him that chance. The Cardinals, Braves, White Sox, and Reds could all use him.
- Corey Hart, Brewers. The physical comparison is a bit odd, but Hart reminds me of a pre-injury Jermaine Dye, another athletic, rangy right fielder with good tools who plays above-average defense. Hart’s strengths at the plate are similar as well, hitting for average and power, while still working on his plate discipline. He may cede some playing time to Gabe Gross against tough right-handers, keeping his counting stats low.
- Casey Kotchman, Angels. You have to be getting sick of hearing about him, but Kotchman’s failure to emerge last season was a fluke, as he caught mononucleosis. Healthy again, he’s capable of a .300/.380/.460 season, and is one of the few Angels likely to walk 70 times. His lefty bat and OBP are critical to their chances, and as long as he stays healthy-even before last year, something of a problem for him-he’ll fulfill expectations this year.
- Jason Kubel, Twins. I think I just underestimated how much the knee injury hindered his development, costing him a year of at-bats and making last season essentially one long rehab. While it may be a bit much to keep the Edgar Martinez comparisons alive, Kubel is poised to bounce back to produce a high OBP and a lot of doubles, making him a key part of any Twins repeat in the AL Central.
(Followup: I dinged Kubel a few weeks back for not having walked to that point in the Grapefruit League, and was rightly called out by reader M.S. With the exception of a large boost in slugging, as noted by John Dewan, spring training stats are meaningless. I shouldn’t have even looked.)
- Oliver Perez, Mets. Perez retains the ridiculous stuff that made him a dominant pitcher in 2004. Since then, however, his command has mostly been AWOL, leading to his posting a 6.22 ERA in the two seasons since, with a homer allowed every five innings. He showed flashes with the Mets late last season and in the playoffs, in part because few situations in baseball are better for a flyball-throwing, high-pitch-count, strikeout pitcher than starting for these Mets in Shea Stadium. Perez doesn’t need to get all the way back to his ’04 level; he just needs to dial it back enough to keep his walk rate around 3.5 per nine and let the defense, the park, and the bullpen do the rest.
- Al Reyes, Devil Rays. Rightly, the Rays want to try and develop some of their young arms, which is why they lost Monday’s game to the Yankees without getting their best reliever into the game. I’ve often cited Reyes’ career stats to make the point that he’s underrated, but consider this: since being let go by the Orioles in the spring of 2000, Al Reyes has a 2.43 ERA in 141 innings for four teams, with 131 strikeouts against 51 walks. The guy can pitch, although what he has left after Tommy John surgery is in question.
- Chris Snelling, Nationals. The injury to Nook Logan should create an opportunity for Snelling over the next two weeks. That he needed an injury to Logan is unfortunate-he should be playing, regardless-but this is his chance to make an impression. Snelling’s bat has never been doubted; it’s his ability to stay in the lineup that has kept him from making progress, and that eventually led the Mariners to send him to the Nats for Jose Vidro. At the least, he’s a platoon outfielder who should be good for a high OBP and doubles power, two things the Nationals desperately need in their drive to find any positive.
- Sammy Sosa, Rangers. Sosa can still hit well enough to be an effective half of a DH platoon, and he can even play some right field, although the Rangers don’t really need him to do so. The question is whether he can make enough contact against right-handers, and generate enough power, to be the everyday DH. He’s started the first two games against the Angels, going 1-for-7 with a walk and three strikeouts. I’m looking for a .510 SLG and 15-20 homers, with more possible if he plays every day.
- Willy Taveras, Rockies. I see enough year-over-year improvement in his walk rate and K/BB to project continued progress in his batting average and OBP. If the contact rate goes up again, his BA should by a significant amount in Colorado, making him a new version of Juan Pierre, but with a better stolen-base rate, a little more power, and an arm. The more he’s on base, the more he can run as well, and he’s a career 77% base stealer.
- Chris Young, Diamondbacks. It’s not much surprise to see him on this list, although he may be a bit too obvious. Young has both a terrific performance record and a broad skill set, and is my pick for NL Rookie of the Year. In addition to his projected offense, his range in center field is critical to the Diamondbacks’ projected improvement in the NL West.