Posted: Tuesday December 26, 2006 12:35PM; Updated: Tuesday December 26, 2006 12:35PM
Rich Hill was 6-7 with a 4.17 ERA in 17 appearances for the Cubs last season.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Tom Verducci will answer select questions from SI.com users in his Baseball Mailbag.
4. Rich Hill, 26, LHP, Cubs. Chicago pushed Hill to 199 1/3 innings between Triple-A and the majors last season -- way beyond his pro high -- so a potential breakdown looms. But if Hill stays healthy and gets a regular turn in the crowded Chicago rotation, he has the stuff to win 15 games. Believe it not, the Cubs, who are considering Neil Cotts as a starter, have eight starting pitchers 30 years old and younger: Sean Marshall, 24, Carlos Zambrano, 25, Hill, Cotts, 26, Mark Prior, 26, Jason Marquis, 28, Ted Lilly, 30, and Wade Miller, 30.
5. Luke Scott, 28, OF, Astros. Houston will need to find more at-bats for Scott, who hit 30 homers and drove in 100 runs between Round Rock and Houston last season. Scott should find himself at worst in a platoon situation in right field and, if the Tigers get their way in a trade, perhaps even a job in Detroit.
6. Chad Gaudin, 24, RHP, Athletics. Gaudin did have something of a breakout year with his 64 relief innings for Oakland, but he has earned an even more prominent role in the bullpen for 2007. Among AL relievers, Gaudin ranked fourth in inherited runners scored percentage (20.0), sixth in OBP against the first batter faced (.204), sixth in opponents' average with runners on (.170) and 10th in batting average against right-handers (.196).
7. Ryan Shealy, 27, 1B, Royals. Buried behind Todd Helton in Colorado, Shealy was sprung from positional jail last year when the Rockies traded him to Kansas City. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Shealy is a lesser version of Ryan Howard, but if he throws up a 30-homer, 100-RBI season in his first full big league season in the year in which he turns 28, the Royals will be thrilled with it.
Three more to watch: 8. Chuck James, 25, LHP, Atlanta Braves. After an 11-4 rookie season stayed below most people's radar, James won't stay unnoticed for long in his first full season. ... 9. Jeremy Sowers, 23, LHP, Indians. Much like James, Sowers is an impressive young left-hander who hit the ground running last season (7-4, 3.57 in 14 starts). ... 10. Mike Napoli, 25, C, Angels. He hit a wall after the All-Star break last season -- about the only thing he hit while batting .164 -- but Napoli impressed manager Mike Scioscia and should be better equipped for his second season.