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The Next Generation
TOM VERDUCCI
August 22, 2005
As brute sluggers fade away, a crop of talented young players, led by the already proficient Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols, promises an age of superior all-around skill
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August 22, 2005

The Next Generation

As brute sluggers fade away, a crop of talented young players, led by the already proficient Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols, promises an age of superior all-around skill

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OUTFIELD: Cabrera (.341, 26, 83) Signed as a shortstop, promoted to the bigs as a third baseman, switched between rightfield and leftfield, he has never looked out of place.

Grady Sizemore, 23, Indians (.291, 14, 62) One AL scout likens him to " Jim Edmonds, once he adds the power." Three years ago the Indians heisted the energetic, five-tool Sizemore from the Montreal Expos in exchange for righthander Bartolo Colon. Says Shapiro, "He only knows one speed--all-out, from the first pitch to the last out. He sets the tone for our team in every facet: defensively, on the bases [15 steals at week's end] and at the plate."

Carl Crawford, 24, Devil Rays (.289, 12, 64) One of the fastest players in baseball, he swiped 59 bases last year, legged out 19 triples and scored 104 runs. (He had 34, 12 and 72, respectively, this year.) With those numbers, no wonder Tampa Bay wisely bought out his three remaining arbitration years with a four-year, $15.25 million contract in April.

STARTING PITCHERS: Rich Harden, 23, A's (9-5, 2.78 ERA) The righthander has been known to throw his fastball 99 mph--in the late innings of games; last season he was clocked higher than 96 mph more often than any pitcher in the majors. This season he has held the opposition to one hit twice, to two hits twice and without an earned run five times.

Jake Peavy, 24, Padres (10-5, 3.14) The 2004 major league ERA leader (2.27) is a rare young power pitcher with mound intellect. Says Towers of his All-Star righthander, "His intelligence, makeup and confidence are off the charts. Even at 19, topping out at 90 [mph] in the minors, he was a pitcher, not just a thrower. Now he has extra velocity, and he'll get it up there at 94."

Mark Prior, 24, Cubs (8-4, 3.70) An archetypal ace, the 6'5", 230-pound righty throws hard and has a wicked breaking ball and exceptional command. His 38-20 career record would be better if not for an assortment of injuries that have sent him to the disabled list five times in three seasons.

Dontrelle Willis, 23, Marlins (15-8, 2.79) The southpaw's corkscrew, slingshot delivery makes him a nightmare for hitters and a joy for fans. Among 25-and-under pitchers, only he and Sabathia have been named to two All-Star teams. "When he's on and gets in a groove with his arm slot, he's as unhittable as it gets," one AL scout says.

Carlos Zambrano, 24, Cubs (9-5, 3.17) To less fanfare, Zambrano, a 6'5", 255-pound workhorse, has won more games (43 to 38) and pitched more innings (695 to 566) than teammate Prior while being just as tough to hit (opponents' career average against Zambrano and Prior: .231 and .230, respectively).

CLOSER: Francisco Rodriguez, 23, Angels (2-2, 2.41, 27 saves in 31 chances) Groomed as closers since college, righthanders Chad Cordero, 23, of the Washington Nationals and Huston Street, 22, of Oakland have put up impressive numbers, but K-Rod, who was mostly a setup man prior to this year, is responsible for some of the most uncomfortable at bats in baseball. Opponents have hit .169 against the righty in his four-year career. His long-term durability, however, could be jeopardized by the violent arm action of his forceful, across-the-body delivery.

This next generation of stars has already asserted itself. Of the top 50 ERA qualifiers at week's end, the 25-and-under set outnumbered the 35-and-over crowd 11-4. Among the top 50 OPS marks, the young hitters edged the veterans 7-5. While no player beyond his 35th birthday ranked among the top 16 in OPS, Pujols and Cabrera placed second and fourth, respectively.

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