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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

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