Spring training is in full swing and a lot of players are still being considered, but that will all change as we get closer to the start of the season and final roster spots turn into mortal battles of will. Many of the combatants in these conflicts will be rookies, seeking their first sustained exposure in the major leagues. Before the season is over every team is likely to have at least one rookie who makes an impact in some meaningful way on their roster. Some of these young players are well known phenoms, while others will come out of seemingly thin air to take the majors by storm.
After carefully scouring rosters, minor league reports, and my own evaluations, I have come up with one rookie you should know for each team in the American League. Not all, or even most may be stars, but these players will all make a mark in some way for their team this upcoming season or in the near future.
Baltimore Orioles- Starting Pitcher- Wei-Yen Chen: The left-handed Taiwanese pitcher pitched professionally in Japan since 2005. Several years ago he underwent Tommy John surgery, but bounced back to be one of the most effective starters in Japan, with a 36-30 career record and 2.59 ERA. If his arsenal translates to the majors, he could be a major boon for the pitching starved Orioles.
Boston Red Sox- Shortstop- Jose Iglesias: Bobby Valentine loves light hitting shortstops with magical gloves; just ask Rey Ordonez. This is good news for the offensively challenged Iglesias. With Nick Punto and Mike Aviles currently in front of him, he is not exactly facing major roadblocks. With the amount of offense in the Boston lineup, don’t be surprised to see Valentine unleash Iglesias and his fearsome leather on the rest of the league. Although he would be one of the worst offensive players in the league, he and Dustin Pedroia would make arguably the most defensively talented double play combo in baseball.
Chicago White Sox- Relief Pitcher- Addison Reed: The right-handed Reed can really bring it; able to dial his fastball near 100 mph out of the bullpen. With shaky Matt Thornton currently penciled in as the White Sox closer and Chris Sale headed to the starting rotation, it won’t be a big shock if Reed is pitching the ninth inning before the end of the season.
Cleveland Indians- Relief Pitcher- Nick Hagadone: Currently, Hagadone has no guarantees that he will even be on the Cleveland roster come April. However, he is major league ready, and will get his shot in 2012, whether because of injuries or by earning a spot outright. Having battled through numerous injuries, Hagadone and his powerful left arm (his fastball averaged 94.1 mph during a brief 2011 call-up) is poised to realize the potential that made him a first round draft choice in 2007.
Detroit Tigers- Starting Pitcher- Jacob Turner: Turner, the Tigers first round pick in 2009 out of high school is projected to step into the team’s starting rotation this season. He struggled during a major league cup of coffee last year, but has too much talent to not keep improving. That being said, with the Tigers built to win now, he will be given only so much rope before the team looks elsewhere if he can’t get the job done.
Kansas City Royals- Relief Pitcher- Jeremy Jeffress: The Royals are teeming with heralded young players; yet one of the most electric of that bunch is Jeffress, who consistently flies under the radar. He has experienced past off the field issues and stills struggles with control, but his big arm could be a major contributor to the Royals bullpen this season. He pitched decently in 14 major league games in 2011, sporting an average fastball of 96.8 mph.
Los Angeles Angels- Infielder- Jean Segura: Mike Trout is the most talented young player in the Angels system, but the soon to be 22 year old Segura is not far behind and may make a larger splash in 2012. He is not currently projected to make the Opening Day roster, but will be one of the first players called up if there are any injuries. With a .316 batting average and 102 stolen bases in 297 career minor league games, Segura could be a disruptive force for the Angels if pressed into service.
Minnesota Twins- Starting Pitcher- Liam Hendriks: Hendriks looks to be the Twins sixth starter, meaning he is likely to start the year at Triple-A. However, with Minnesota’s rotation featuring such DL mainstays as Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano, he figures to be thrown into the mix at some point. The righty already debuted last year and doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors.
New York Yankees- Catcher- Austin Romine: With their staggering payroll, the Yankees don’t expect to need much in the way of rookie contributions and may break camp entirely composed of veteran players. As the team’s top catcher in the minors, Romine may get some run if the Yankees experience any health issues with their top two receivers, Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli.
Oakland A’s- Starting Pitcher- Jarrod Parker: The A’s project to be as rookie-heavy as any team in the American League. The right-handed Parker is perhaps the team’s top prospect and will be given every chance to win a spot in their rotation. With there being as many as two other rookie starters on the team, it’s obvious they will be given plenty of chances to figure out the ups and downs of the major leagues.
Seattle Mariners- Designated Hitter- Jesus Montero: There is an excellent chance that Montero will end the 2012 season as the Mariners most productive offensive player. Finally free of the many questions of whether or not he would be able to stick at catcher in New York, Montero will be able to settle in at DH in Seattle and let his natural hitting ability take over. Initial word is the Mariners will even let him play some catcher to truly see what he can do there. He is able to rake to all fields and could easily put up a .300+ average and 20 home runs, which would be warmly welcomes by the run starved Mariners.
Tampa Bay Rays- Starting Pitcher- Matt Moore: Moore is so talented that he should be able to go as far as the Rays are willing to let him in 2012. The left-handed starter possesses a powerful fastball along with above average secondary pitches. He will be on an innings cap, but should put up double digits in wins and approach 180 strikeouts if he pitches to his ability.
Texas Rangers- Starting Pitcher- Yu Darvish: Many don’t consider players from the Japanese leagues to be true rookies, but since MLB recognizes them as such, so will I. Darvish is a polished right-handed starter who will pitch at or near the top of the Rangers rotation. He has already flashed as many as 7 different pitched and should step in like a seasoned veteran and be the most accomplished pitcher to come from Japan since Hideo Nomo.
Toronto Blue Jays- Catcher- Travis d’Arnaud: Although he doesn’t have a clear path to the majors with J.P. Arencibia blocking home plate, it will be a shock d’Arnaud, the Blue Jays most polished prospect, doesn’t make his debut this season. He is not only a solid defensive catcher, but can hit, putting up a .311 batting average and 21 home runs last year in Double-A. He was one of the primary pieces acquired from Philadelphia in the Roy Halladay deal, and Toronto is going to want to see some return on that transaction sooner or later.
Becoming established in the major leagues is the final rite of passage a young player must successfully navigate in order to enjoy a prolonged professional career. A number of prospects will make their attempt this year, but those that we have just reviewed have the best chance of emerging for their respective teams. In addition to talent, opportunity and the ability to make adjustments are key. Once the season starts we’ll finally get to see which rookies in this crop rise to the top.
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