Posted: Tuesday September 5, 2006 10:43AM; Updated: Tuesday September 5, 2006 12:28PM
Jonathan Papelbon came out of nowhere to become one of the top closers in the majors.
Got a question or comment for Jon?
13. Dennys Reyes, RP, Twins. The Fernando lookalike is one of many Twins having a lights-out season.
12. Pat Neshek, RP, Twins. A sidearmer who has just about everyone fooled, he's another great find for Minnesota's bullpen, maybe the best in baseball.
11. Jered Weaver, P, Angels. Some wonder whether a delivery similar to his older brother Jeff's will result in a similar career or, worse, an injury. But early results contradict those predictions.
10. Mark DeRosa, OF, Rangers. Rare is it that a Braves discard goes somewhere else and improves, but that's exactly what has happened for this Ivy Leaguer (University of Pennsylvania), who never before exceeded 20 extra-base hits and has 51 this year.
9. Joe Mauer, C, Twins. The Twins almost never make a scouting mistake, and now they surely have no regrets for passing on Mark Prior or even Mark Teixeira in the 2001 draft to take this St. Paul native, who's in position to become the first American League catcher to win a batting title. Not only does Mauer lead the league in batting average, he also is tops in batting average with runners in scoring position (Derek Jeter is second in both categories).
8. Chien-Ming Wang, P, Yankees. In a rotation with Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina, he's been the team's most consistent starter. Remarkably, he gets it done while striking hardly anyone out (only three per nine innings).
7. Gary Matthews Jr., OF, Rangers. The journeyman has become a very productive offensive player under the tutelage of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. And we can't forget the catch of the year, either.
6. Marcus Thames, OF, Tigers. Seemingly destined for oblivion as a Yankees farmhand, he had a great moment when he homered against Randy Johnson in his first big league at-bat. Now he's had a great season. Thames is tied with another surprise, Craig Monroe, for the team lead with 24 homers -- in only 303 at-bats, no less.
5. Justin Verlander, P, Tigers. The No. 2 pick in the 2004 amateur draft has made a major impact even sooner than most predicted. Manager Jim Leyland himself warned there'd be ups and down this year with Zumaya and Verlander, but where are the downs? Considering youth, salary and talent, many GMs would choose to start a team with Verlander if they could.
4. Jonathan Papelbon, closer, Red Sox. They knew he was good. But who knew he could match or even slightly outdo B.J. Ryan and Mariano Rivera in the division of great closers?
3. Jermaine Dye, RF, White Sox. It's not like the World Series MVP was obscure going into the season. But he has transformed into a hitting machine. He's batting 49 points over his career mark (.326 from .277) and slugging 155 points more (.641 from .486). He's on his way to becoming my new pick for AL MVP if he keeps this up (David Ortiz was the original pick).
2. Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins. You get the idea: The Twins know what they're doing. From .237 last year to MVP candidate this year. Not bad.
1. Francisco Liriano, P, Twins. When I called to see who gets credit for identifying Liriano as a player they wanted from San Francisco, with typical Midwestern modesty Twins people said it was a lucky stroke and that the pitcher who'd been hurt in Class A ball a couple of times was picked by their minor league staff and players as a pitcher with potential. Nursing a sore elbow lately, he was the best pitcher in the league for a while, is reportedly improving and could be the key to the only AL playoff race remaining.
Around the majors
In today's stadiums, which run from a half-billion dollars on up, why do they still use chain-link fences in some parks, like Philadelphia and Houston? Since the only apparent reason for the chain-link fences is to allow players in the bullpen to watch the game, they should use plexiglass. Until then, more outfielders are going to get hurt. Aaron Rowand and Carlos Beltran already have.
Willie Randolph's recent stumping for Jose Reyes as an MVP candidate was unusual in that another of his players, Beltran, is considered a leading contender (along with Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard). However, Randolph has a point about the validity of Reyes' candidacy. Reyes has a decent chance to join Willie Mays and George Brett as modern-day players to exceed 20 doubles, triples and home runs. He also leads the league in triples and stolen bases and is third in runs (behind Beltran and Chase Utley) and is playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.
Derek Lowe is telling friends that his 5-1 record and 2.12 ERA since Greg Maddux arrived in L.A. is directly attributable to the presence of Maddux, who himself is 3-1 with a 3.32 ERA since maybe the second-best deadline-day trade (after the Bobby Abreu deal).
Maybe all Alex Rodriguez needed was some support from the home folk. Is it a coincidence that he got hot as soon as Yankee Stadium crowds started to show him some love?
Best wishes to Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who's going through something no 22-year-old should have to endure.