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Five less-heralded players to make their 2007 debut

Posted: Thursday April 5, 2007 5:14PM; Updated: Thursday April 5, 2007 5:14PM
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Travis Buck discovered the future was now thanks to injuries in the A's lineup.
Travis Buck discovered the future was now thanks to injuries in the A's lineup.
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During the first four days of the season, 21 players made their major league debuts, including well-known names like Alex Gordon, Akinori Iwamura and Josh Hamilton. However, also included in the count are some less well known but equally interesting players who surprised many onlookers simply by making their respective teams. Here are this week's five new names to know:

Travis Buck, OF, Athletics: When Dan Johnson went down with torn cartilage in his left hip, which followed back surgery to center fielder Mark Kotsay, the door opened wide for Buck, the A's top-hitting prospect, to make the team as a regular right fielder. A first-round pick in 2005 out of Arizona State, Buck led the A's in spring hits with 21 while batting .339. He batted .328 for his two-year minor-league career, which culminated last season at Double-A Midland.

However, he has yet to develop a power stroke, hitting only 19 round-trippers in three seasons with the Sun Devils and only 10 in his first 497 pro at-bats. Buck is one of the players GM Billy Beane plans to build the franchise around, so with a fast start (he was 1-for-3 in his debut in Seattle, just 2 1/2 hours from Richland, Wash., where he grew up) Buck could become a fixture in Oakland's lineup for a while. He's worth using as a fourth or fifth outfielder to bolster your batting average and RBIs.

Alejandro de Aza, OF, Marlins: The competition for the Marlins' starting center field job was supposed to be between Reggie Abercrombie, Eric Reed and veteran Alex Sanchez, but De Aza, who had never played above Double-A, took the job by hitting .354 with six RBIs and four steals in the Grapefruit League. At 6-foot and 170 pounds, he reminds you of a left-handed hitting Willy Taveras, who the Marlins were hoping to make a deal for this past offseason.

De Aza is a speedster, having swiped 27 bags in just 69 games at Double-A Carolina, but his stolen base production will be limited as long as he's batting eighth, since Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla are locked into Florida's first two spots. He's not much more than a fantasy reserve in re-draft leagues unless you're desperate for stolen bases. He's an intriguing player in keeper leagues, however.

Elijah Dukes, OF, Devil Rays: Unlike Oakland's Buck, all indications were that Dukes was going to make the Devil Rays' 25-man roster out of spring training, but before an injury to starting centerfielder Rocco Baldelli forced him to DH for the opening week, no one expected Dukes to be an Opening Day starter, let alone to hit his first major league home run in Yankee Stadium.

A disciplined hitter with great power and speed, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Dukes has all of the physical tools to put up monster numbers in the big leagues, but he's been his own worst enemy, as confrontations with his manager, teammates, and an umpire have resulted in multiple suspensions. He's working on anger management, which can only be a plus for his fantasy value. Even with limited at-bats when Baldelli returns to the field, Dukes is at worst a third or fourth outfielder in a lineup that's looking for an identity. A season in which he hits 12-15 home runs and steals 10-15 bases wouldn't be surprising.

Don Kelly, IF, Pirates: Proving that you can go home again, the Pittsburgh native returned to his hometown team as a minor league free agent after six years in the Tigers organization. Not really a prospect, Kelly, 27, was an afterthought when camp began, but he earned his way onto the Opening Day roster over veteran Jose Hernandez because of his glove and versatility (and most likely bargain salary) rather than his bat.

Splitting the 2006 season between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, Kelly batted .250 (111 for 444) with no power (0 HRs, .312 slugging percentage and 43 RBIs) and stole a career-high 23 bases (after stealing only 36 bases in his first four seasons). With Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Jose Castillo and Jose Bautista ahead of him, it's likely that Kelly's fantasy value this season will be limited to a few steals and ability to play all around the infield and in the outfield.

Brandon Morrow, P, Mariners: Less than a year removed from pitching at Cal, the right-handed Morrow made his debut by closing out Seattle's 8-4 win over the A's on Tuesday. Drafted in the first round of last year's amateur draft, Morrow's minor league career lasted just eight games, seven in the Arizona Rookie League, where he developed a sore forearm.

Morrow has closer's stuff, including a mid to high 90s fastball, split finger and slider, and could be in line to be one of the top performers in an already deep Seattle bullpen. Incumbent J.J. Putz needn't look over his shoulder just yet, but Morrow is clearly the heir apparent. However if he struggles, a return to the minor leagues at some point this season isn't out of the question, so be careful not to go overboard in obtaining him.