I've become very interested in the recent youth movement that has been picking up steam throughout MLB the last few years. As much as I love watching the Yankees and their living legends, I also enjoy seeing new blood come in and excel. A changing of the guard if you will. I looked through all the opening day rosters to see what players I am most excited to see play. There are definitely young minor leaguers who could burst onto the scene (Harper, Trout), but I wanted to stick with players on their team's opening day roster, because nothing is guaranteed. This is a list of players who i find interesting and i'll explain what I like about them, but keep in mind, this is all opinion so feel free to agree, disagree or list your own players on your own watch list! I know this is a Yankee site, but on top of being a Yankee fan, I am also a baseball fan and good players are good players, regardless of who they play for.
Ackley, Dustin (24, 2B, SEA)- After he finished 6th in Rookie of the Year voting and accumulating a 2.7 fWAR in just 90 games, I'm expecting a big year. Ackley shot through the system in a year and a half OPSing 1.339 in Rookie Ball, .767 in AA and .847 in AAA. He hasn't hit a lot of home run but he does have a .516 SLG% in the minors so he does have some power. He does have the ability to steal a few bases, but he is very good at drawing walks and that talent has so far translated into the majors (10.6%). Look out for Ackley to lead the Mariners growing core of young talent.
Freeman, Freddie (22, 1B, ATL)- With both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder moving over to the American League, Freddie Freeman has climbed that much higher in the NL first baseman totem pole and at such a young age. Freeman has transitioned well into the majors (.263/.336/.420 vs. .282/.346/.448 in 2011) and after finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting he is now ready to take his game to the next level. He already provides decent home run power (good for around 20) and should be a member of the Braves young new core for years to come. SHAZAM!
Goldschmidt, Paul (24, 1B, ARI)- Last year Paul Goldschmidt got a lot of media attention for coming onto the scene and hitting a few well timed home runs. However, though small sample size, a .224 ISO (above three in the minors) is nothing to ignore from a 24 year old. He was named to Baseball America's 2011 Minor League All-Star Team after smashing 30 dingers! (35 the previous year) and while he strikes out a lot, he actually has shown the ability to walk in both the minors and the majors. Speaking from someone who is also 24 and half Jewish, it's cool to see someone named Goldschmidt find success!
Gordon, Dee (23, SS, LAD)- Dee Gordon, son of Tom Gordon, is on my watch list for one reason - his speed. He had 24 stolen bases in 56 games while stealing almost 200 bases in the minors over five years. Gordon will never be known for his bat or his power (sub.100 ISO since 2009) or his ability to take walks and even his defense was rated poorly, but if he can manage to maintain an OPS+ somewhere around 100 and continue to run like hell on the base path, then he should be an exciting player to watch.
Hosmer, Eric (22, 1B, KC)- After a year and a half of mediocrity in the minors, Hosmer seemed to flip a switch and make up for lost time in a big way. He started off 2010 back in Rookie Ball, and after 19 games he was brought back up and never looked back. Before his promotion back to A ball vs. After: .256/.362/.380 .123 ISO vs. .368/.440/.580 .212 ISO. On top of that he he started stealing bases and brought in double digit home run power. When he jumped to the majors about the only part of his game that took a hit was his ability to walk, but at just 22 he has time to improve.
Jennings, Desmond (25, OF, TB)- Desmond Jennings his finally finally finally going to get a chance to play. I guess there's only so long you can be Dominic Brown'd by the likes of Sam Fuld. Simply put: Desmond Jennings tore up minor league baseball. In 6 seasons in the minors Jennings averaged an ISO of .150, a walk rate of 11.2%, an OBP never under .360, a SLG never under .390, almost 200 stolen bases and has shown the potential for double digit home runs. During his time with the Rays it was pretty much business as usual for him. If he can keep this up over a full season he will quickly and easily become an elite player. Crawford who?
Kipnis, Jason (25, 2B, CLE)- As a fan of all Jasons, I can say that I was really impressed with Kipnis last year. He has shot up the system since being drafted in 2009. He has never had a wRC+ under 130 in any level and has improved his ISO every year, going from .153- .204 before being called up in 2011 and continuing to hit. He has some home run power, contributes a few stolen bases, walks at a decent amount and limits his K%. In the minors his OBP has also never been lower than .330 while usually sitting in the .380 range. If he can translate that ability into the majors he can really challenge opposing pitchers. (as I write this, Jason Kipnis just drew a walk!)
Lawrie, Brett (22, 3B, TOR)- When I looked at his numbers I went in with the thought of how could the Brewers give this guy up for Shaun Marcum? It looks like the Brewers traded away a different player than the one they thought they did: 2 years in the Brewers system .276/.325/.403 vs. 2011 in the Blue Jays system .353/.415/.661. Lawrie himself went on record to say he needed a change of scenery and it seems to have done wonders. Along with the ability to hit double digit dingers and steal bases, this once disappointing prospect has blossomed into the future face of a franchise.
Maybin, Cameron (25, OF, SD)- I know Maybin has been in the majors for awhile now, but he's never been a starter until 2011. Ever since he made his major league debut i knew he was going to scorch up the base path. With a full season under his belt, Maybin had 40 stolen bases to go along with a respectable career .130 ISO and a career high 9 home runs. As a minor leaguer he was great at taking walks, however, while improving every year, he has yet to transition that ability into the majors. If he can combine his speed and great defense with decent power he can be a cornerstone of the next great Padres team (if that ever happens).
Moore, Matt (22, P, TB)- Lets talk about Matt Moore. 12.73 K/9, 0.42 HR/9, 2.5 FIP along with a sparkly 2.40 ERA in 497.1 minor league innings. That's ridiculous. About the only thing that could cause him trouble is his walk rate, but even that has been steadily decreasing with every higher level and now sits in the high 2's. Even after David Price and Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays system still spits out an even better model, one that has real juggernaut potential. If Moore can start getting to 200 innings he could seriously be considered a top 5 starter before he's even in his prime. Look out AL East!
Pomeranz, Drew (23, P, COL)- I know Pomeranz did not make the opening day roster, but will be called up in a week when the Rockies finally need a 5th starter. In July 2011, despite only having a few months of professional experience, Drew Pomeranze was ranked the #14 prospect in all of baseball, the #7 pitching prospect and the #4 left handed pitching prospect, according to Baseball America. One month later he was traded for Ubaldo Jimenez. During his limited time in the minors Pomeranz dominated in A ball (11.1 K/9, 0.23 HR/9, 1.87 ERA, 2.35 FIP) before being promoted to AA and soon traded. He then earned a brief callup at the end of the season. If he can continue to keep his home runs down and manage his walk rate Pomeranz can develop into a killer left hander, even in Denver.
Stanton, Giancarlo (22, OF, MIA)- At 22 you can already see he has all the makings of a superstar. After bashing his way up to AA as a teenager, Stanton completely skipped AAA and continued to bash in the majors. He currently owns a .260/.341/.522 triple slash across his 20 and 21 year old seasons and has already hit 56 home runs and could average around 30-40 home runs per season. As an added bonus he provides good speed on the base path and a solid glove in the outfield (7.5 UZR/150). The slugger formerly known as Mike has the makings of a complete players and if you're mouth is watering over this guy, just remember: we drafted Andrew Brackman instead.
Trumbo, Mark (26, 1B/3B/DH?, LAA)- After being lost in the Albert Pujols shuffle he will have to figure out where he fits before he can show where he belongs. Trumbo was the homerun leader for rookies in 2011 with 29 so he has massive power potential. If he can get his sub-.300 OBP to something remotely acceptable and cut down on his strikeouts he could be a dangerous hitter. While so far he has hit righties and lefties equally, he has hit for power primarily against righties so look for him to evolve into a righty masher (the reason why i thought we should trade for him to DH).
Weeks, Jemile (25, 2B, OAK)- Jemile, brother of Rickie, did not spend much time in any level in the minors. When making the jump to the majors, he didn't seem to slow down much. His ISO remained in the .100-.170 range is always has been, his SLG stayed over .400 and he doubled his previous stolen base total (22). Weeks' value will be measured by his speed and ability to get on base. Unfortunately his ability to draw walks took a huge hit when transitioning and went from Bobby Abreu levels to Robinson Cano levels, while still maintaining his propensity to strike out. If he can harness his ability to walk and let loose on the base paths he should be a very valuable leadoff hitter for the A's.
Wieters, Matt (25, C, BAL)- Despite being weighed down with the stigma of the Lolrioles, Wieters is actually a shining light within the abyss known as Baltimore. Out of all qualified catchers since 2009, Weiters ranks 7th in hits (344), 10th in home runs (42), 8th in BB% (8.6), 7th in WAR (8.8) and while he may look to be the middle of the pack, he is also the youngest catcher on the list so the potential is there. He enjoyed somewhat of a breakout year in 2011, improving his numbers in every offensive category (besides walks). I think this year is where we see what Wieters will ultimately become. Will he be an above average catcher or is this just the beginning and are we just waiting for him to put it all together.
Jesus Montero!!!! good luck, buddy.
This is just a small sample of all the exciting young stars just hitting the scene and making a name for themselves. Has anyone jumped out at you that you hadn't really noticed before? These are the guys that interest me (though I have a lot more on my watch list), who interests you?