Top prospects (cont.)
Wood is not alone. There are several other former top prospects who in 2010 no longer qualify for rookie status, but who now appear ready to finally be given a full-time role and for whom this will be a year where they have the chance to confirm (perhaps, once and for all) whether or not we should have believed the hype.
(This might be an appropriate place to suggest that it is probably time to reexamine the standard by which baseball identifies players as "rookies." For nearly 40 years now, a rookie has been defined as a player who has never before accumulated 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days on a club's active roster -- not including days spent on the disabled list, or as a September call-up -- in a season. Surely all of those numbers could be doubled, at the least, without risking that some pot-bellied graybeard would defile the sanctity of the Rookie of the Year award. Particularly in an age in which teams tarry more than ever in giving to their prospects full-time big league gigs, for reasons both developmental and financial, as clubs are increasingly wary of starting their young players' service clocks and hastening the day on which they are eligible for arbitration, and then free agency.)
These eight players are listed in alphabetical order, along with their current ages, historical rankings in Baseball America's annual Top 100 Prospects list, and major league stats so far.
RELATED CONTENT: How have the Top 100 fared in their careers?
Homer Bailey, SP, Reds
The Reds selected Bailey No. 7 overall out of Texas's LaGrange High in 2004, and since then he has been a model of inconsistency. He had a difficult 2005 in Single-A Dayton (8-4, 4.43 ERA), then a great 2006 with high-A Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga (10-6, 2.46). Then he followed a solid 2007 in Triple-A Louisville (6-3, 3.07) with a poor 2008 there (4-7, 4.77). His nascent major league career, which has spanned parts of three seasons, has been similarly hit-or-miss. He allowed five earned runs in a game three separate times during the first three weeks of last August, but was terrific in seven September and October starts, compiling a 4-1 record with a 2.08 ERA. Reds GM Walt Jocketty can only hope that Bailey's season-ending stretch is a sign of things to come. Jocketty calls his rotation "the strength of our club," and Bailey, the No. 4 starter, will be the rotation's x-factor, at least until Aroldis Chapman comes along.
RELATED CONTENT: Homer Bailey's long odyssey
Daric Barton, 1B, Athletics
Barton, the '03 first round pick whom the A's acquired along with Dan Haren and Kiko Calero in the 2004 trade that sent Mark Mulder to St. Louis, has reason to be jittery this spring. He was supposed to hold down Oakland's first base job well into this coming decade, but he has thus far shown very little power in parts of three seasons at the big league level and now he has a host of players -- including veterans Eric Chavez and Jake Fox and slugging prospect Chris Carter -- breathing down his neck. Oakland GM Billy Beane says that Carter might even break camp with the big league club, so if Barton is going to once and for all prove that he's the A's long-term answer at first, he is going to have to do it rather soon.
Jeff Clement, 1B, Pirates
The Mariners picked the catcher out of USC third overall in the 2005 draft, behind Justin Upton and Alex Gordon and ahead of Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun. Upton, Gordon and Zimmerman were all 2009 All-Stars, but Clement spent the entire season in Triple-A -- first in Seattle's organization, and then, after he was one of five players sent to the Pirates for Ian Snell and Jack Wilson, in Pittsburgh's. The Mariners didn't like him as a catcher, and neither do the Pirates, but his new club's first base job is his to lose. He'll try to prove that the power he demonstrated in the minors and in college can translate to the big leagues.
Carlos Gomez, CF, Brewers
Gomez doesn't really belong on this list, and there is no argument to be made that he should qualify for rookie status, as two years ago he played in 153 games for the Twins and has not spent a day in the minors since 2007. But he remains a young player, one whose star was once high enough that was the centerpiece of the four prospect package that landed the Mets Johan Santana before the 2008 season. This is a make-or-break year for him in Milwaukee, where he was traded last November in return for shortstop J.J. Hardy. He will have the chance to prove that he's more than a physically impressive and speedy player who has, as they say, "no idea" at either the plate -- he has struck out in nearly a quarter of his big league at bats, and has a sub-.300 career OBP -- or on the base paths, as anyone who watched his crushing base running blunder in Game 2 of last year's ALDS will tell you.
Luke Hochevar, SP, Royals
Picked behind Hochevar in the '06 draft? Everyone, including Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum. Hochevar went first. Hochevar has over the past two seasons proven that he can dominate Triple-A hitters -- he was 6-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 11 starts with Omaha in 2008 and '09 -- and while he's shown flashes of brilliance with the Royals (a three-hit, complete game shutout of the White Sox last Sept. 18), those have been few and far between (in the starts immediately before and after that shutout, he allowed five and six earned runs). Unlike Bailey, Hochevar ended 2009 sourly -- he was 1-5 with a 9.38 ERA in September and October -- and he still seems a long way from becoming the ace the Royals have long expected him to be, as evidenced by the fact that they cut his salary by the maximum 20 percent for 2010.
Matt LaPorta, 1B/LF, Indians
LaPorta has less major league experience than anyone else on this list, Wood included, and, as a veteran of all of 52 games played, is a player who really should be eligible to win the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2010. Alas, he has 51 at-bats too many, as the Indians brought him up for most of May, and then, with an eye on his service clock, delayed another recall from Triple-A Columbus until the end of August. By then it was too late for him to get any sort of power rhythm going, and his numbers look somewhat disappointing, for a slugging former first round pick who was the prize in the July 08 trade that sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers. He was, however, hampered by injuries to his left hip and left big toe, which were surgically repaired in October. Now he's finally set to be an everyday starter for the Indians -- probably mostly in left field, as Cleveland signed veteran first baseman Russell Branyan to a one-year deal on Feb. 19.
Cameron Maybin, CF, Marlins
Maybin, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2005 draft, was the Marlins' Opening Day starter in center field last year and was supposed to lock the job down, but he was clearly overmatched. He was hitting .202 when the club sent him to Triple-A New Orleans on May 10, where he watched as a less-touted Marlins rookie, Chris Coghlan, hit his way to the NL Rookie of the Year award. Maybin played better as a September call-up, raising his batting average to .250. He should again start in center for the Marlins on Opening Day this season, and even though he'll never be the Rookie of the Year, he's still awfully young and will have another chance to display the five-tool skill set that made him the linchpin of the December 2007 trade that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from Florida to Detroit.
Travis Snider, OF, Blue Jays
Snider is even younger than Maybin -- he just turned 22 on Feb. 2 -- but Toronto undoubtedly hoped for more from their 2006 first round pick on the big league level than he gave them last year. He hit just .241 in a season in which he was sent down to Las Vegas from late May to mid-August (where he destroyed Triple-A pitching, batting .337 with 14 home runs and 40 RBI, with a 1.094 OPS in 48 games). Now he's the Jays' full-time right fielder, although if he struggles new GM Alex Anthopoulos has indicated that he will again be sent southwest to Vegas. At least he is of Craps-rolling age, if only barely.
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