Youngsters on track to break through in second half
Posted: Tuesday July 10, 2007 11:38AM; Updated: Tuesday July 10, 2007 11:38AM
Edwar Ramirez wasn't one of the Yankees' highly touted prospects entering the season, but he could have a regular spot in the pen.
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During the first half of 2007, 97 players made their big league debuts. Some have had huge impacts like NL batting leader Hunter Pence who, despite starting the year at Triple-A is having a rookie season comparable to Albert Pujols' in 2001, and Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie, who has become one of the AL's toughest starting pitchers. The second half promises to be even more fruitful and we'll try to keep you up to speed on those newcomers you need to know. This week's group that includes the hottest pitcher in the NL, a strikeout artist in the Bronx and a Colorado retread getting a second chance in Arizona.
Matt Chico, SP, Nationals: Since being torched for eight runs in four innings against the Tigers on June 18, the southpaw Chico has been among the NL's top pitchers, allowing just one earned run and 19 base runners (14 hits, five walks) in 19 innings, lowering his ERA nearly a whole run in the process. Acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Livan Hernandez deal, Chico was rushed to the big leagues because of the Nationals' shortage of starters. While he's struggled at times, he's become more comfortable as the weather has gotten hotter. Chico isn't overpowering and pitches to contact, so don't expect many K's and since he's on the Nats, wins will be few and far between. He's a good risk for a team in serious need of ratio help, but be ready to jump off the bandwagon if and when this current hot streak goes south.
Edwar Ramirez, RP, Yankees: The slinging bespectacled righty is no youngster, making his big league debut after his 26th birthday, but what an introduction it was. Ramirez struck out all three Twins he faced, including 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau. He earned his first big league victory in his next outing against his original organization, the Angels, despite allowing his first major league earned run. Signed as a free agent last July following an Independent League stint for Edinburg, Texas, in which he had 16 saves with a 1.07 ERA in 25 games, Ramirez was nearly untouchable this year, leading Scranton-Wilkes Barre by striking out 47 in 26 2/3 innings, leading to a microscopic 0.67 ERA. Ramirez's out pitch is a changeup and coupled with a funky delivery, he's obviously not fun to face. He's a perfect pitcher to pick up for strikeout help, knowing that if he has a couple of bad outings, he'll be right back in the minors. However he could end up passing Scott Proctor and even Kyle Farnsworth in the Yankees bullpen pecking order.
Jeff Salazar, OF, Diamondbacks: Caught in a numbers game with the Rockies, Salazar, a former top prospect who played 19 games last September for Colorado, was claimed by Arizona at the end of spring training. The 26-year-old is part of the group expected to take the at-bats of former starter Carlos Quentin who was optioned to Triple A earlier in the week. Salazar has displayed good power and speed in the minors popping 76 homers and swiping 108 bags but with Mark Reynolds and Scott Hairston in need of playing time and Jeff DaVanon coming off the DL soon, Salazar will once again be caught up in a numbers game. At best he's a fourth or fifth outfielder type. It's best to leave him alone unless he somehow earns regular at-bats.
Jo-Jo Reyes, SP, Braves: By going on the DL, John Smoltz left some pretty big shoes to fill in the Braves rotation so a big guy was needed to fill them. Enter Reyes, a 6-foot-2, 230 pound (listed but likely more) lefty who was promoted from Triple-A Richmond. Reminiscent of Sid Fernandez, Reyes has had problems with durability throughout his career, having undergone Tommy John and ACL surgeries. However, this year the West Covina, Calif., native has been awesome, posting a 10-1 record with 98 strikeouts in 97 minor league innings split between Mississippi and Richmond. He was lit up by the Padres for five earned in three innings in his first big league appearance, but the Braves staff wasn't deterred from giving him one more start in place of Smoltz before heading back to Virginia. He's a perfect candidate to stash on your bench to have in the fold for the stretch run or for next season.
Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cardinals: Entering 2007, Ludwick had played 104 major league games over four seasons but had spent most of his time at Triple-A where he played for eight straight years and for five organizations. Simply put, Ludwick is the definition of a Four-A player, someone good enough to have a solid minor league career (140 minor league home runs) but not good enough to stick in the majors. Until this year: the Cardinals outfield has been devastated by injuries and Ludwick, who was hitting .340 at Triple-A Memphis, has stepped up, blasting six home runs while hitting .258. He's been especially hot of late, collecting hits in all seven games he's played in July, including a 3-for-4 day on Sunday and a two-homer game the previous Sunday. He's not a frontline player and will never be, but Ludwick's recent hot streak is certainly one to ride if you're looking for an outfielder with pop.