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CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Bolstered by last season’s trade with the Giants, the Sox can expect
contributions from a number of young players. Several rookies will be with the
team on Opening Day, and how much the team sticks to those commitments will
help determine how well the team does, both now and into the future.

On the offensive end, the gem of the Giant swag, SS Mike Caruso, has been
handed the starting job for Opening Day. He’ll struggle mightily both in the
field and at the plate, which means that the organization will have to show a
sense of purpose while riding those struggles out. On the home-grown side, the
Sox will count on Magglio Ordonez to start in right field. He’s ready to give
the team some power and good glove work, and is a genuinely fun player to
watch: as a hitter, he’s not particularly disciplined, but has Jorge Bell’s
ability to pound a pitch out of the strike zone. OF Jeff Abbott would be a
good regular, but with the team’s additions of Ruben Sierra and Wil Cordero,
he’s probably only trade bait. Infielder Greg Norton is being converted to a
utility role, but if the long-rumored Ventura deal ever comes to pass, he could
wind up platooning with Chris Snopek at third base. Should either catcher
(Chad Kreuter or Charlie O’Brien) go down, curiously popular Roberto Machado
will get to flash his no-hit, strong-arm credentials. CF Brian Simmons won’t
be pushing past Mike Cameron in this lifetime, but we’ll probably see him get a
cup of coffee at some point this season.

On the mound, the Sox will also be getting help from young players. Neither
lefty Scott Eyre or lefty Mike Sirotka are still rookies, but they will both be
rotation regulars to start the season. When (not if) one of the Sox starters
falter, either Jim Parque or Tom Fordham (both are, yes, left-handed) should
get short auditions. Of this whole group, Parque is the one to watch for the
long-term. In the bullpen, Todd Rizzo should open the season as the club’s
second southpaw behind Tony Castillo. There’s a small chance that palmballer
Nelson Cruz will get work as a long reliever and spot starter, but he also
isn’t likely to enjoy much success.


CLEVELAND INDIANS

If the Indians weren’t busy stocking their major league roster with talent to
win World Series opportunities already gone, they could turn to an outstanding
core of young hitting talent that is ready to contribute. First baseman Sean
Casey
can play right now, as could 1B Richie Sexson; 3B Russ Branyan is
probably a few months off, and his eventual position is still an open question.
Given the organization’s unfortunate decision to make multiple long-term
commitments to some veterans of dubious long-term value, the team is faced with
a logjam at the infield corners and DH. One rookie who could be playing
regularly by season’s end is Enrique Wilson, who may inherit most of the
playing time at second once Shawon Dunston’s usual injuries (or his problems
playing second) lead the team to do the right thing. OF Bruce Aven could help,
but he seems to get overlooked. Catcher Einar Diaz may stick around as the
third catcher, if only because he’s out of options. Don’t expect the Indians
to get any serious help from minor league pitching this season, unless they get
desperate and rush Willie Martinez well ahead of schedule.


DETROIT TIGERS

The Tigers had the opportunity to build on last season’s growth by turning to
several talented rookies within the organization, particularly 2B Frank
Catalanotto
and OF Juan Encarnacion. Both have battled injuries this spring,
which haven’t helped their cases any more than the decisions to bring in Bip
Roberts, Billy Ripken, or Luis Gonzalez. Encarnacion may finally be playing
regularly after the All-Star break, while Catalanotto may have to wait for the
organization to tire of Joe Randa and Damion Easley. For both, the key will be
the anticipated disappointment that this winter’s veteran additions won’t be
able to build on last season’s success. Of course, from what we know of Randy
Smith’s priorities, there’s a chance that if things go badly at the major
league level, they could look at speedy Ricky Almanzar at second or lead-glover
Gabe Alvarez. If the Tigers do end up trading Papo Casanova, Paul Bako could
end caddying for Joe Oliver behind the plate.

On the mound, its unlikely that any rookie starters will get more than a cup of
coffee: Mike Drumright, Seth Greisinger, Matt Drews could all come up for a
couple of starts due to injuries or for September. In the bullpen, three
rookie lefties may all see time: Rule V pick Sean Runyan and wild man Roberto
Duran
will stick, and should both be useful if given regular work, and John
Rosengren
may get called up at some point. Minor league closers Dean Crow and
Eddie Gaillard may be called up at some point, but like the starters, they’re
injury contingencies for the time being.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS

On a team that Herk Robinson could hardly make any worse if he wanted to drive
the sale price of the franchise any lower, there are surprisingly few rookies
that will play much. Second baseman Jed Hansen has played himself into a
part-time role with Jose Offerman. For the time being, Felix Martinez is the
shortstop, but he offers little offensively other than a reckless running game
for those few times he is on base, and his defensive skills are politely
referred to as “rough.” There’s a good chance they’ll get frustrated and look
at Mendy Lopez for a couple of weeks. Of greater interest is the experiment of
pushing first baseman Larry Sutton to right field, where he’ll definitely help
the moribund lineup. Keep in mind that this is probably a one-year experiment
for him as an outfielder, because there’s talk that Jeremy Giambi (and possibly
Mark Quinn) will get shots at the majors during this season. First baseman
Carlos Mendez impressed some people in camp, but he offers less power than
you’d like from the position, and brings nothing else to the table. On the
mound, don’t expect much from rookie pitchers; it’s possible Brian Barber could
get some garbage time at some point, but there isn’t enough left of his arm to
get beyond that.


MINNESOTA TWINS

In an offseason characterized by the team’s pursuit of the over-35 set, it will
be tough for many rookies to get much playing time. Second baseman Todd Walker
isn’t a rookie any more, but he should finally get a chance to play regularly
at a position he’s familiar with. Third baseman Corey Koskie earned a long
look this spring, and may be up to platoon with Ron Coomer at some point this
season. Catcher Javy Valentin will get to caddy for Terry Steinbach, which may
mean as much as 50 starts behind the plate. First baseman David Ortiz should
eventually grab most of the playing time at first base, while secondary average
machine Doug Mientkiewicz may get use as a pinch-hitter, 1B, and DH at some
point during the season. Outfielders Torii Hunter and Chris Latham may get
time on the roster if Marty Cordova’s plantar fasciitis chews up a significant
portion of this season; Hunter is merely a good defensive sub, while Latham
isn’t a good enough offensive player to be a regular. Minor league veteran
utility man Jon Shave mounted a surprising push to make the team, and may stick
around as last man on the bench. Brian Buchanan may come up because he was
part of the Knoblauch deal, and as much as he’s a nice human interest story for
his recovery from an ugly ankle injury, he isn’t a good enough hitter to man an
outfield corner as a regular.

On the mound, lefty Eric Milton has cracked the rotation, giving the Twins an
early dividend for the Knoblauch trade. Although there are accusations he’s
being rushed, he’s clearly out-pitched the competition (Frankie Rodriguez, Dan
Serafini). Expect him to get cuffed around the second time through the league,
but I suspect that he won’t get yanked in and out of the majors like LaTroy
Hawkins. Right-handed reliever Fred Rath may be called up at some point to
pitch as one of Aguilera’s setup men.

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