Ten rookies to watch out for in 2007
Four righties, three third basemen head list of touted prospects
One month, many interpretations. Exhibition baseball means different things to different people.To fans huddled around radios or TVs -- byte-age update: computer monitors -- in the icy Northeast and frozen Midwest, it's a peephole into summer. To managers and their staffs, it's a rare opportunity to evaluate firsthand, with both the stakes and pressures low. To veteran players, it's already time to skip ahead to the regular season. But for wide-eyed rookies, it's the beginning of the rainbow. For both them and their teams' fans, it's a great outdoor mixer for them to get acquainted with each other. Prospect reports leap to life, and the proverbial tools come out of the shed. So, game on, and spotlight on. With the Grapefruit and Cactus League seasons under way, the curtain also goes up on baseball's "Generation Next." The 2007 rookie class has a couple of tough acts to follow; the last two seasons have brought loads of rookie gold, paced by the Braves and Marlins, respectively. The vein doesn't appear to have dried up, however. From Sarasota, Fla., to Surprise, Ariz., here are 10 names you will want to keep an eye on in '07, and probably won't be able to keep your eye off for the next decade. RHP Homer Bailey, Reds: Only 20, the right-hander is still filling out his 6-foot-4 frame, and you shudder to think what a little more beef could do to his already-untouchable stuff. Bailey lit up some eyes even last spring, but people weren't looking for him then. They are now. Bailey appeared to lose his fear of professional hitters in '06, which improved his control. Talk about a misnomer. The Texan has yielded merely 12 homers in 255 Minor League innings. Not counting some radio announcers, he could turn into the best Homer in baseball history -- not a tough act to follow (Blankenship, Bush, Davidson, Ezzell, Hillebrand, Peel, Smoot, Spragins, Summa and Thompson). RHP Matt Garza, Twins: What took you so long? Garza began 2006, his first full pro season, with a start for Class A Fort Myers and ended it with a start against the White Sox, stepping on every rung along the way. Garza barely maintained his rookie status and could exploit some of the holes in manager Ron Gardenhire's rotation. Last season, you could see the 6-foot-4, 190 pounder gain confidence through each of his nine starts for the Twins. 3B Alex Gordon, Royals: Manager Buddy Bell is trying to dispel any pressure on Gordon by suggesting that the kid's not expected to be a factor and would have to force his way into the lineup (and hence bump Mark Teahen into the outfield). In his first pro season at Double-A Wichita, Gordon hit .325 with 29 homers and 101 RBIs. RHP Philip Hughes, Yankees: Smart, plucky, with great physical tools. George Will, Harry Callahan and Roger Clemens all rolled into one. Hughes has already been wowing teammates in batting practice, and now his audience will grow.
Hughes' Minor League numbers are ridiculous and, 20 years old or not, if the bottom of Joe Torre's rotation -- Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano -- shows cracks, he's in.3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, Padres: When you give up an established young second baseman (Josh Barfield) for a 25-year-old who has been idling in the Minors for five years, there's built-in intrigue. Kouzmanoff's a high-average guy who can still develop acceptable corner power, and may be a revelation who has only been awaiting a chance. Or, GM Kevin Towers may simply have been wrong. You'll be able to judge for yourself. RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox: We don't make up the rules, just follow them. He's a Major League rookie, and who will be more closely watched this season than Dice-K, whose every appearance will be an international event. Matsuzaka's spring show won't disappoint; if pitchers are traditionally considered to be weeks ahead of hitters, his offseason work ethic will have him months ahead. Check out the mysterious gyroball in action. C Miguel Montero, D-backs: Chris Snyder is also on hand, but this 23-year-old's talent persuaded Arizona to deal Johnny Estrada to Milwaukee. With Montero's ability to quarterback a game from behind the mask, Bob Melvin was impressed by him during a brief stint in September. Said the manager: "He's low to the ground, he's great blocking balls and moving around back there." Montero is a good contact hitter who lost much of his power once he got out of Class A, but he will be an effective offensive tool at the bottom of the order. OF Felix Pie, Cubs: A 21-year-old outfielder wouldn't seem to have a role on a big-ticket team rigged out for a World Series title run, but Pie will still glow like neon in the Cactus League. Pie has to learn to harness both his speed and his bat, but this is already his fourth big-league camp, and, as long as Jacque Jones seems to dangle one foot out of Chicago, he'll be in the picture. 3B Brandon Wood, Angels: He's a shortstop by trade, but the Halos already have Orlando Cabrera stationed there. A few years ago, similar circumstances didn't stop Troy Glaus, who simply moved to the hot corner. Wood, who will turn 22 on March 2, is still learning the strike zone and could swing and miss his way out of the picture. But the Angels, who'd much rather keep moving Chone Figgins around the diamond, do have an opening for him. OF Delmon Young, Devil Rays: Young came up four at-bats under the rookie bar last season, when he backed up his prior lip about deserving a promotion by hitting .317 in his first 126 big-league at-bats. No one knows how long the outfield of Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Young will remain intact, so take a good look, and marvel while you can.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.