Rookies who bloom in the spring, tra-la, are sometimes playing second base for Keokuk in August. It is one of the hazards of the profession. Yet the 1959 big league camps, without producing one really sensational youngster, have turned up a handful of others who should be regulars on opening day and stand a remarkably good chance of sticking all year.
Best of the lot may be Vada Pinson. The Cincinnati Reds think enough of this trim 20-year-old with the sprinter's speed that they have gone ahead with their experiment of shifting Frank Robinson to first base and have moved Gus Bell to left field so that Pinson can play center. A sharp line-drive hitter with fair power (.343 and 11 home runs at Seattle), his greatest asset is that terrific speed. A left-hand hitter, Pinson can get to first base in 3.3 seconds, and he bunts well enough to hit .300 in the majors even if he only occasionally takes a full cut with his bat. Still learning defensively, he has shown great improvement since the spring of '58. Pinson, who used to play the trumpet but now likes baseball best, is the kind of kid you are happy to pay money to go see. He can be that much fun.
John Callison of the White Sox is going to be fun, too, although he may need most of 1959 to find his way around the big time. Manager Al Lopez admits that his handsome 20-year-old is still green and makes some mistakes, in the field, on the bases and at bat. But he can run like a deer and hits with an awful lot of power for his 5-foot 10-inch, 175-pound frame. In fact, he led the American Association in home runs with 29 at Indianapolis last year after a miserable start in which he had trouble against left-hand pitching. Power is what the White Sox need so desperately that they are willing to take a chance. At the moment, the left field job belongs to Callison.
Perhaps the surest starter of all, however, is no race horse youngster just out of his teens who blasts home runs all over the lot, but a sturdy, steady, 25-year-old second baseman for Philadelphia named George Anderson, who doesn't particularly like his nickname of Sparky. Seldom spectacular but always there, he makes plays that the Phillies haven't seen in years, does a beautiful job on the double play and should make the infield at least three times as tight as it was the year before. The Phillies will be happy if he can hit .250. For that matter, so will George. Last year, at Montreal, he was .269, which may be about his speed.
At least three other rookies, exclusive of pitchers, seem worth mentioning, although none of them may get a chance to start. Willie Tasby, a strong, swift young man of 26, came up to the Orioles from Louisville after being named Rookie of the Year in the American Association and is now contesting Lenny Green for a job in center field. At Louisville he hit .322, 22 home runs, batted in 95 runs and stole 20 bases. He looks pretty good. And for the Dodgers, freckle-faced Ron Fairly, still another 20-year-old, seems to be ready to play big league ball. Star outfielder for Southern California's NCAA champions last spring, he jumped from Class A ( Des Moines) to Triple-A ( St. Paul) to the Dodgers before the season was out and played well wherever he landed. Without exceptional speed or power or a great arm, he gets by because he seems to do everything quite a bit better than you could expect of such an inexperienced kid and does it all with a great deal of poise.
The third is Pumpsie Green, who can have the Red Sox shortstop job if he can outhit Don Buddin, who plays there now. Green, a slender 24-year-old switch hitter, would become the first Negro ever to play for the Sox. He is a quick, slick glove man with a weak batting record (.253 at Minneapolis). Anyway, he is a whiz in the field.
At least three rookie right-handed pitchers seem to have won regular jobs, two as starters and one as a relief man. Barry Latman, 6 feet 3 inches tall and 210 pounds, throws a bulletlike fast ball which has convinced the White Sox he belongs right behind the big three of Billy Pierce, Dick Donovan and Early Wynn. His control is good, his curve improving and his short big league record very, very impressive: 3 wins, no losses and a 0.75 earned run average at the tail end of last year.
Ernie Broglio was No. 4 on the Cardinal staff. Since they traded Sam Jones, he is No. 3. Pitching at Phoenix and Toronto last year, this big (6 feet 2 inches, 205 pounds) young man with the lantern jaw and pitching mannerisms of Bob Turley won 17 games and lost only four. His control is a little shaky, and there is a report that he cannot pitch effectively in hot weather (his ERA at Phoenix was an unspectacular 4.09, which may be why the Giants let him go), but the nights aren't so bad in St. Louis, and, anyway, who's perfect? He seems to have a big league fast ball and curve and that's all the Cardinals ask.
The relief man needed so badly by Cincinnati appears to be Orlando Pena, a pencil-thin Cuban who won 11 and lost 10 with a 3.27 earned run average at Havana last year. While Jim O'Toole and Claude Osteen and the other rookie wonders of the Red pitching staff ran into difficulty this spring, Pena became more and more impressive with each start.
There is only one thing wrong with Pena. He doesn't come from California. The other eight rookies listed above do. Probably something to do with the water.