Overall the Rookie Crop is not particularly strong this year, especially in the American League. And that's too bad, because with two expansion teams starting play, an additional 50 major league jobs are available this spring.
Still, just as the Angels are relying on a handful of rookies to perform regularly this season, the Pirates are asking for immediate help from several first-year players: first baseman Kevin Young and second baseman Carlos Garcia, both of whom are included below among our other top rookies to watch, plus outfielder Al Martin and pitcher Steve Cooke.
? Ryan Thompson, centerfielder, Mets. "I think he's one of those guys who, if he doesn't make it big, he won't make it." says Blue Jay general manager Pat Gil-lick, who traded Thompson and infielder Jeff Kent to New York for pitcher David Cone last August. "If he gets off to a good start, he could be very, very good." Thompson, 25, is a terrific athlete ( Georgetown recruited him to play basketball), and he has power and speed that are well above average.
However, some observers question how Thompson, who batted .282 with Triple A Syracuse last year, would handle a slow start at the plate. Says one minor league manager, "He has a very high opinion of himself." Thompson, who hit .222 in 108 at bats (and had 24 strikeouts) with the Mets in the final month of last season, will probably bat sixth or seventh in the order this year. That should take the pressure off him to produce immediately.
? Bret Boone, second baseman, Mariners. More than one major league general manager believes Seattle made a mistake in rushing Boone into an every-day role when he was called up last August after hitting .314 with Triple A Calgary. Boone was inserted into the Mariner lineup in place of the popular Harold Reynolds, and he hit only .194, with 34 strikeouts in 129 at bats. But an American League scout says, "Bret's a real tough, hard-nosed kid who knows how to play." It helps that Reynolds signed with the Orioles in the off-season, thus clearing the way for Boone, now 23.
? Mike Piazza, catcher, Dodgers. A former first baseman, Piazza learned to catch three years ago by spending three months at a baseball camp in a remote area of the Dominican Republic rarely visited by U.S. players. He then improved his catching skills in the minors, in winter ball and in the Arizona Instructional League. Piazza, 24, entered spring training with a good chance to become L.A.'s everyday catcher, thanks to his strong arm and improved defense, plus the fact that he batted .341 (the fourth-highest average in Triple A) with 16 homers for Albuquerque in '92. Piazza has always been a good hitter; he had a batting cage in his backyard as a kid in Valley Forge, Pa., and once even got a hitting lesson from Ted Williams.
? Wil Cordero, shortstop, Expos. Last year Cordero batted .302 in 126 at bats for Montreal, and now—with Spike Owen's departure via free agency—he's the starter. Despite limited range in the field, which could hurt him on the Expos' artificial turf, Cordero, 21, is a fabulous talent, especially as a hitter. The main concern is that he knows how good he is and might not feel the need to prove himself.
? Kevin Young, first baseman, Pirates. Pittsburgh hitting coach Milt May raves about Young's discipline at the plate (he had as many walks, 67, as strikeouts last season, when he batted .314 for Triple A Buffalo) and his short stroke. The 6'2", 213-pound Young, 23, also can play third base, though defense isn't his strength.
?David Nied, pitcher, Rockies. The No. 1 pick in the expansion draft, he's a can't-miss prospect who will probably be Colorado's starter on Opening Day. One scout describes Nied as "sneaky fast, with good breaking stuff," and more than one has wondered what the Braves were thinking when they left him unprotected. Nied, 24, won 14 games last year for Triple A Richmond before going 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in six appearances for Atlanta.
?Carlos Garcia, second baseman, Pirates. A natural shortstop, Garcia becomes Pittsburgh's every-day second baseman after the Pirates' off-season trade of Jose Lind to the Royals. Garcia, 25, who hit .303 with 13 homers in Buffalo last season, is a workaholic. "You have to stop him," says Pirate coach Tommy Sandt, "or he'll want to take 200 grounders a day."