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25 top Rookie candidates

Eddie Altamonte

Dec 31, 2005
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Draft preview: All about D.Y. and Dice
Jan. 31, 2007
By Eric Mack
Senior Fantasy Writer

Let's give ourselves, and Delmon Young, a mulligan.

We have to admit, we didn't completely nail it last year. Our No. 1 rookie flew off the bat handle -- literally -- and failed to deliver on his promise. He spent a bulk of the first half on a Triple-A suspension for throwing a bat at an umpire and didn't get called up until September.

Delmon Young has limitless potential, but will he finally deliver? (Getty Images)
But, even with the D.Y. whiff, we did get one very big thing right: Last year was indeed the best rookie crop since the Albert Pujols-Ichiro Suzuki 2001 class. We said it would be, and it proved to be even better.

In fact, it was such a landmark year for rookies -- back-to-back years, really -- we have to now warn you: Don't look for rookies to have a similar impact in 2007.

A season of Justin Verlander, Hanley Ramirez, Jonathan Papelbon, Jered Weaver and Francisco Liriano (among many, many others) is nearly an impossible act to follow. Also, there are no complete Marlins-like rebuilds this season, limiting the amount of jobs that will go to rookies in spring training.

The organizational cupboards have been raided the past two years, but they are not entirely bare. We kick off this year's batch with the man we have come to simultaneously love and hate in Fantasy, D.Y.

Note: Rankings are based on potential relative to their position and draft value for players who retain Rookie of the Year eligibility. We focus on the players with potential jobs, but we sprinkle in prospects worth tracking for midseason rewards.

1. OF Delmon Young
Tampa Bay Devil Rays Age: 21 | Think: A right-handed Ken Griffey
2006 stats: Majors (30 games) -- .317 average, three homers, 10 RBI, 16 runs, two steals (.336 on-base percentage, .476 slugging percentage) / Triple-A (86) -- .316-8-59-50-22 (.341-.474)

Long-term OF
RK Prospect TM
1 Delmon Young TB
2 Billy Butler KC
3 Jay Bruce CIN
4 Cameron Maybin DET
5 Hunter Pence HOU
We once didn't hesitate dropping "the next Griffey" on D.Y., but last year we had to re-think he could be the next Albert Belle. It has more to do with his behavior than his skill set, though. Young has been handed the right fielder's job in Tampa Bay finally, years after he had said he would arrive in the big leagues as a teenager like Griffey did. Dmitri Young's "little" brother is a five-tool talent (average, power, speed, throw and catch) and a future five-category star (average, homers, RBI, runs and steals). While our projections on him are modest (.279-22-90-80-20), deep down we really feel he can be .300-30-100-100-30 in short order. He is a once-in-a-generation talent.

2. RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
Boston Red Sox Age: 26 | Think: Hideo Nomo
2006 stats: Japan (25 games, 186 1/3 innings) -- 17-5, 2.13 ERA, 136 hits, 34 walks and 200 Ks
Dice-K, which is how it's pronounced, comes to the majors with equal the hype and at a similar age as Nomo, smack dab in his prime. Nomo, aka "The Twister," debuted as a beast, going 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA and 236 Ks. We might have expected similar numbers out of arguably the best pitcher Japan has ever produced, but Dice-K will have to contend in a livelier offensive era, a notorious hitter's park and the stiff competition of the AL East. With all that said, he gets the offensive support from Big Papi and company and will pitch deep into games. He went the distance in a remarkable 13 of his 25 starts last season. He's not your normal rookie and not your run-of-the-mill import.

3. 3B Alex Gordon
Kansas City Royals Age: 23 | Think: A left-handed David Wright
2006 stats: Double-A (130) -- .325-29-101-111-22 (.427-.588)

Long-term 3B
RK Prospect TM
1 Alex Gordon KC
2 Evan Longoria TB
3 Ryan Braun MIL
4 Andy LaRoche LAD
5 Eric Campbell ATL
The question is not whether the 2005 No. 2 overall pick can make the jump from college to Double-A to the majors within a year. It's whether the Royals will allow him to. Gordon's pro debut last season was a smashing success and even earned him national attention when one of his rookie cards went for as much as $8,000 on eBay (The card was limited edition and printed without MLB permission.) The future five-category star will be given a look at an everyday job this spring and if he wins it, he'll be worth a middle-round sleeper pick in any Fantasy league. Calling him the next Wright might be underrating him. We could be looking at a Pujols-caliber stud here.

4. OF Chris B. Young
Arizona Diamondbacks Age: 23 | Think: Mike Cameron
2006 stats: Majors (30) -- .243-2-10-10-2 (.308-.386) / Triple-A (100) -- .276-21-77-78-17 (.363-.532)
This Young, not to be confused with the Padres starter with a different middle initial (R.), has projected to be a 30-30 candidate in the past. His first run in Triple-A didn't entirely bare that out, though, and he's going to get a trial-by-fire in Arizona this spring, potentially leading off and playing center. While we don't think he will strike out as often as Cameron, we do see him as a similar 25-25 candidate in his prime. He is a mixed-league sleeper.

5. RHP Matt Garza
Minnesota Twins Age: 23 | Think: Jake Peavy
2006 stats: Majors (10 games, 50 innings) -- 3-6, 5.76 ERA, 62 hits, 23 walks and 38 Ks / Triple-A (5 games, 34 innings) -- 3-1, 1.85, 20, 7, 33 / Double-A (10 games, 57 innings) -- 6-2, 2.51, 40, 14, 68 / Class A (8 games, 44 innings) -- 5-1, 1.42, 27, 11, 53
Garza rose quickly from the 2005 draft, impressing the Twins with a fastball that ticked up to 97 mph late in pennant-race games down the stretch. There are ample opportunities in that rotation and Garza is talented and prepared enough to hold down a full-time starter's gig. That is a contending team that can get him ample run support. He won't be Liriano-good, but Garza could definitely perform on the level of a Matt Cain.

6. RHP Mike Pelfrey
New York Mets Age: 23 | Think: Justin Verlander
2006 stats: Majors (4 games, 21 1/3 innings) -- 2-1, 5.48 ERA, 25 hits, 12 walks and 13 Ks / Triple-A (2 games, 8 innings) -- 1-0, 2.25, 4, 5, 6 / Double-A (12 games, 66 1/3 innings) -- 4-2, 2.71, 60, 26, 77 / Class A (4 games, 22 innings) -- 2-1, 1.64, 17, 2, 26
The Mets' failure to add a front-line starter this winter opens the door for their future No. 1. Pelfrey, who slipped in the '05 draft due to signability, went from Class A to the majors in just four pro months. He will have to beat out a slew of options to be the Mets' No. 5 starter, but talent + opportunity + run support = top NL ROY candidate.

7. SS Troy Tulowitzki
Colorado Rockies Age: 22 | Think: Bobby Crosby
2006 stats: Majors (25) -- .240-1-6-15-3 (.318-.292) / Double-A (104) -- .291-13-61-75-6 (.370-.473)

Long-term SS
RK Prospect TM
1 Brandon Wood LAA
2 Reid Brignac TB
3 Erick Aybar LAA
4 Troy Tulowitzki COL
5 Elvis Andrus ATL
Tulo made the jump from Double-A to the majors last season and figures to be the Rockies' opening-day shortstop. He arrives almost two years younger than the player he has been most compared to, the A's Crosby, who won AL rookie of the year honors with a .239-22-64-70-7 season in '04. Tulo is good enough to push struggling Clint Barmes to the bench, but he's raw and won't be worth drafting until baseball's other young slugging shortstops -- Stephen Drew, Crosby, Khalil Greene and Jhonny Peralta -- are off the board.

8. C Chris Iannetta
Colorado Rockies Age: 23 | Think: Paul Lo Duca
2006 stats: Majors (21) -- .260-2-10-12-0 (.370-.390) / Triple-A (47) -- .351-3-22-23-0 (.447-.503) / Double-A (44) -- .321-11-26-38-1 (.418-.622)

Long-term C
RK Prospect TM
1 Jeff Clement SEA
2 Neil Walker PIT
3 Jarrod Saltalamacchia ATL
4 Miguel Montero ARI
5 Chris Iannetta COL
Iannetta's numbers would be eye-popping even if he was a first baseman, particularly the .336 average, .433 OBP and .996 OPS combined in Double- and Triple-A. He has the everyday catcher's spot waiting for him this spring, so consider him an outstanding sleeper at his position. One word of caution is we once ranked ex-Rockies catching prospect J.D. Closser as the No. 4 rookie to target in 2005, which was met with a resounding thud. We don't think he's a Closser, especially because he's far better defensively.

9. 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
San Diego Padres Age: 25 | Think: Shea Hillenbrand
2006 stats: Majors (16) -- .214-3-11-4-0 (.279-.411) / Triple-A (27) -- .353-7-20-22-2 (.409-.647) / Double-A (44) -- .389-15-55-46-2 (.449-.660)
There might not have been a prospect who rose more from rags to riches last season and now the Kouz is in San Diego, looking to add punch to the Pads' lineup as the everyday third baseman. The Padres must think highly of him, having traded a productive young swecond baseman in Josh Barfield, who was looking like a future star. The problem(s) with Kouzmanoff are he has limited at-bats above Double-A and is not great defensively at third. Consider him a low-end mixed leaguer, but one with a great deal of upside.

10. LHP Kei Igawa
New York Yankees Age: 27 | Think: Kaz Ishii
2006 stats: Japan (29 games, 209 innings) -- 14-9, 2.97 ERA, 180 hits, 49 walks and 194 Ks
Igawa's numbers look similar to Daisuke's, but scouts are clearly not as high on him and his consistency isn't there. Just before last year, Igawa gave up 199 hits to flawed Japanese hitters in 172 1/3 innings. To be fair, though, that was his worst season as a pro. Igawa is in his prime at 27 and will be getting run support from that potent Yankees offense. Assuming he makes their rotation -- no small feat -- Igawa will be worth using in any Fantasy league. That is until he proves to be more Hideki Irabu than a Daisuke or Kaz.

Others who might earn starting jobs

11. RHP Homer Bailey
Cincinnati Reds Age: 20 | Think: Josh Beckett
2006 stats: Double-A (13 games, 68 innings) -- 7-1, 1.59 ERA, 50 hits, 28 walks and 77 strikeouts / Class A (13 games, 70 2/3 innings) -- 3-5, 3.31, 49, 22, 79

Long-term RHP
RK Prospect TM
1 Homer Bailey CIN
2 Yovani Gallardo MIL
3 Adam Miller CLE
4 Philip Hughes NYY
5 Mike Pelfrey NYM
Like Verlander a year ago, it's dangerous to rank this flamethrower this low, but we had to because of his age and the fact he might be too raw to open the year in Cincy. The Reds resisted the temptation to call him up at 20 late last year, but he might force them to let him loose out of spring training. If that happens, consider him no lower than fourth-best on this list. If you have fond memories of all those rookie pitcher breakthroughs of a year ago, this might be your diamond in the rough.

12. 3B/2B Akinori Iwamura
Tampa Bay Devil Rays Age: 28 | Think: Kaz Matsui
2006 stats: Japan (145) -- .311-32-77-84-8 (.389-.544)
Don't get too excited about Iwamura's homer totals the past three seasons (44, 30, 32). Those are empty numbers from the Japanese leagues, where Matsui once dominated, too. Even the Devil Rays say Iwamura's power won't translate to the majors, where the gaps are far deeper. They like his gap power and his versatile glove, which should get him enough at-bats to be nearly a full-timer, even if he doesn't get listed atop the depth chart at third, second or shortstop. Barring a severe miscalculation by scouts and the major league teams not named the Devil Rays, Iwamura is nothing more than an AL-only option.

13. DH/OF Adam Lind
Toronto Blue Jays Age: 23 | Think: Aubrey Huff
2006 stats: Majors (18) -- .367-2-8-8-0 (.415-.600) / Triple-A (34) -- .394-5-18-20-1 (.394-.596) / Double-A (91) -- .310-19-71-43-2 (.357-.543)
If not for the Jays' signing of DH Frank Thomas, we would have ranked this battle ax higher. He can certainly swing the bat and will have an impact in AL-only leagues even if he's a reserve. Assuming the Blue Jays don't trade Alex Rios or Reed Johnson before opening day, though, Lind will have to wait for at-bats off the bench or, worse, Triple-A.

14. DH Jason Botts
Texas Rangers Age: 26 | Think: A poor man's Adam Dunn
2006 stats: Majors (20) -- .220-1-6-8-0 (.317-.360) / Triple-A (63) -- .309-13-39-43-6 (.398-.582)

Long-term 1B
RK Prospect TM
1 Joey Votto CIN
2 Joe Koshansky COL
3 James Loney LAD
4 Jason Botts TEX
5 Daric Barton OAK
If not for a broken hamate bone, Botts would enter spring training as a clear starter in right field or as the Rangers' DH. The mountain of a man strikes out way too much, but it's the hurtin' he puts on the baseball when he does make contact that we care about. He needs to win a job still, but with everyday at-bats, he could lead all rookies in homers and RBI.

15. OF Jeff Baker
Colorado Rockies Age: 25 | Think: Michael Cuddyer
2006 stats: Majors (18) -- .368-5-21-13-2 (.379-.825) / Triple-A (128) -- .305-20-108-71-7 (.369-.508)
For a two-week stretch last September, Baker was the most impressive slugger in baseball. He's not quite that good, but he's promising enough for Colorado to consider him at least a platoon mate with fellow big man Brad Hawpe in right field. Baker won't have an everyday job, but he will get his at-bats backing up the entire middle of the Rockies' order -- Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday, Todd Helton and Hawpe. Those guys are studs, and the Rockies think they won't miss a beat on the days Baker plays for them. Also, the recent Helton trade rumors could enhance Baker's value into the top 10 on this list. As a full-time starter in right, first or third, Baker is an NL ROY favorite.

16. C Miguel Montero
Arizona Diamondbacks Age: 23 | Think: A left-handed Chris Snyder
2006 stats: Majors (6) -- .250-0-3-0-0 (.294-.313) / Triple-A (36) -- .321-7-29-21-1 (.396-.515) / Double-A (81) -- .270-10-46-24-0 (.362-.436)
Montero has put back-to-back strong seasons in the minors, but catchers take longer to develop because of the other demands of the position. Snyder had a similar rise to the big leagues a few years ago and is likely the first in line for regular duty, but if Montero hits his stride sooner than later, you could have a steal on your hands in deeper leagues.

17. 2B Dustin Pedroia
Boston Red Sox Age: 23 | Think: Mark Loretta
2006 stats: Majors (31) -- .191-2-7-5-0 (.258-.303) / Triple-A (111) -- .305-5-50-55-1 (.384-.426)

Long-term 2B
RK Prospect TM
1 Blake DeWitt LAD
2 Alexi Casilla MIN
3 Kevin Melillo OAK
4 Mark Reynolds ARI
5 Alberto Callaspo ARI
Boston is ready to hand over second base to Pedroia this spring, who should be able to provide as much pop as Loretta did. The undersized second baseman is not quite Dan Uggla, but he does have an outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio (27-48 in Triple-A). His contact bat will slot ninth in the order at least initially. Consider him a low-end mixed-leaguer.

18. C Jeff Mathis
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Age: 23 | Think: Michael Barrett
2006 stats: Majors (23) -- .145-2-6-9-0 (.238-.291) / Triple-A (99) -- .289-5-45-62-3 (.333-.430)
Mathis was a rookie bust last season after appearing at No. 9 on this list. He failed to establish himself as the regular backstop in spring and retains rookie eligibility after wallowing in Triple-A in 2006. He's back here at No. 18, despite Baseball America declining to list him among their top 10 catching prospects. Consider him a sleeper still for his offensive potential at a weak position.

19. RHP Philip Hughes
New York Yankees Age: 20 | Think: Chris Carpenter
2006 stats: Double-A (21 games, 116 innings) -- 10-3, 2.25 ERA, 73 hits, 32 walks and 138 Ks / Class A (5 games, 30 innings) -- 2-3, 1.80, 19, 2, 30
If not for the fact Hughes has almost no chance of breaking camp with the Yankees, Hughes would be top five on this list. Still, the hype on him is extremely high and his potential rewards as a member of the Yankees rotation at some point will get him drafted in many leagues this spring. He's raw and very young, so only take the chance on him in long-term keeper leagues and annual formats you can afford to stash a 20-year-old pitching prospect.

20. LHP John Danks
Chicago White Sox Age: 21 | Think: Erik Bedard
2006 stats: Triple-A (14 games, 70 2/3 innings) -- 4-5, 4.33 ERA, 67 hits, 34 walks and 72 Ks / Double-A (13 games, 69 1/3 innings) -- 5-4, 4.15, 74, 22 and 84

Long-term LHP
RK Prospect TM
1 Andrew Miller DET
2 Scott Elbert LAD
3 Chuck Lofgren CLE
4 John Danks TEX
5 Clayton Kershaw LAD
The Rangers traded Danks this winter for Brandon McCarthy, a more established young arm. Danks has the potential to be Chicago's No. 5 starter, which gives him an increase in value because the White Sox have a great chance to be a legit contender. His talent exceeds high production at this point, though, so consider him a sleeper in AL-only leagues if he wins a rotation spot.

21. RHP Jason Hirsh
Colorado Rockies Age: 25 | Think: John Lackey
2006 stats: Majors (9 games, 44 2/3 innings) -- 3-4, 6.04 ERA, 48 hits, 22 walks and 29 Ks / Triple-A (23 games, 137 1/3 innings) -- 13-2, 2.10, 94, 51, 118
If you can look past a few things, Hirsh might be the next big thing. First, ignore his struggles in his September call-up -- he was getting his feet wet. Then, ignore the fact the Astros were anxious to package him with not one, but two, other solid young players to get a so-so starter in Jason Jennings (potentially a mistake). And third, Hirsh will now have to cope with Coors Field -- although, the humidor has leveled things in recent years. Hirsh was dominating the minors at the rate '06 smash hits Weaver and Jeremy Sowers were, so consider him a solid young sleeper in deeper leagues if he wins the No. 5 starter's spot in Colorado.

22. 3B Josh Fields
Chicago White Sox Age: 24 | Think: A poor man's Scott Rolen
2006 stats: Majors (11) -- .150-1-2-4-0 (.400-.320) / Triple-A (124) -- .305-19-70-85-28 (.515-.379)
This spot could have been for fellow White Sox rookie Ryan Sweeney, who has a chance to start in center on opening day, but we like Fields' speed-and-power mix much better. Fields is blocked by Joe Crede at this point, but Crede can be a free agent after 2008 and will be trade bait in the coming months. Fields will try his hand in the outfield this spring and Scott Podsednik's recent groin surgery might open a door for him to start in left on opening day. He's an AL-only pick on Draft Day, but with at-bats, he can impact mixed leagues.

23. CF Hunter Pence
Houston Astros Age: 23 | Think: Jeff Francoeur
2006 stats: Double-A (136) -- .283-28-95-97-17 (.533-.357)
The Astros' trade of Willy Taveras opens the door for a healthy competition in center field this spring. Future second baseman Chris Burke looks like the front-runner going into spring, but we cannot count out the talent of Pence. He has produced strong power numbers in the minors and will fit nicely in that home hitter's park at some point in 2007. If it's on opening day, you will want to take a late-round flier on Pence in deeper mixed leagues.

24. RHP Jeff Niemann
Tampa Bay Devil Rays Age: 24 | Think: Chris Young
2006 stats: Double-A (14 games, 77 1/3 innings) -- 5-5, 2.68 ERA, 56 hits, 29 walks and 84 Ks
If you're looking for a new Verlander, Weaver or Sowers, you might not have to look any further than one from the same '04 draft class. Niemann is behind those instant hits because of a surgically repaired shoulder, but he was picked two spots ahead of Sowers and eight before Weaver, so the expectations are high. If he's able to win a rotation spot this spring, consider him a flier. No matter how good we realize Niemann to be, the problem is the Devil Rays aren't going to come close to .500 this season.

25. RHP Edinson Volquez
Texas Rangers Age: 23 | Think: Kelvim Escobar
2006 stats: Majors (8 games, 33 1/3 innings) -- 1-6, 7.29 ERA, 52 hits, 17 walks and 15 Ks / Triple-A (21 games, 120 2/3 innings) -- 6-6, 3.21, 86, 72, 130
Volquez has a great arm -- 95-mph stuff -- but he needs command to master the game's highest levels. Despite great Triple-A numbers, he was wild there, too. If he can prove effective enough to win a spot in the Rangers rotation, you could get some Ks and wins out of him.

Other rookies who might make opening day rosters: RHP Philip Humber, NYM; OF Kory Casto, WAS; OF Ryan Sweeney, CHW; C Carlos Ruiz, PHI; RHP Matt Albers, HOU; 1B James Loney, LAD; 3B Ryan Braun, MIL; RHP Brian Bannister, KC; 2B Alberto Callaspo, ARI; OF Jerry Owens, CHW; RHP Micah Owings, ARI; LHP Glen Perkins, MIN; RHP Tim Lincecum, SF; SS Erick Aybar, LAA; RHP Thomas Diamond, TEX; OF Felix Pie, CHC; OF Ryan Goleski, OAK; OF Adam Jones, SEA; RHP Nicholas Adenhart, LAA; RHP Hayden Penn, BAL; RHP Mitch Talbot, TB; RHP Blake Hawksworth, STL; RHP Anthony Lerew, ATL; LHP Tyler Lumsden, KC; OF Terry Evans, LAA; SS Joaquin Arias, TEX; 3B Joel Guzman, TB; OF Delwyn Young, LAD; C George Kottaras, BOS; C Jesus Flores, WAS; 2B Martin Prado, ATL; 2B Anderson Hernandez, NYM.

Preseason All-Rookie Team
(Players with jobs to lose)
POS Rookie TM
C Chris Iannetta COL
1B Jason Botts TEX
2B Dustin Pedroia BOS
3B Alex Gordon KC
SS Troy Tulowitzki COL
OF Delmon Young TB
OF Chris B. Young ARI
OF Jeff Baker COL
DH Adam Lind TOR
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka BOS
LHP Kei Igawa NYY
RP Humberto Sanchez NYY
Preseason All-Prospect Team
(Players destined to open in minors)
POS Prospect TM Level
C Jeff Clement SEA Triple-A
1B Joey Votto CIN Triple-A
2B Blake DeWitt LAD Double-A
3B Evan Longoria TB Double-A
SS Brandon Wood LAA Triple-A
OF Cameron Maybin DET Double-A
OF Jay Bruce CIN Class A
OF Andrew McCutchen PIT Double-A
DH Billy Butler KC Triple-A
RHP Homer Bailey CIN Triple-A
LHP Andrew Miller DET Double-A
RP Tony Sipp CLE Triple-A


Dec 5, 2006
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Admin Broadway will get a shot to start for the Nats in the absence of Nick Johnson. Surprised he isnt on the list of others.


Aug 25, 2004
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12. 3B/2B Akinori Iwamura
Tampa Bay Devil Rays Age: 28 | Think: Kaz Matsui

sweet.. rays must be thrilled to have the next kaz

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