PEDRO MARTINEZ is working out, doing his thing, having rejected more than one early-season, lowball bid to lure him back to the big leagues for less than the $5 million he seeks. "Pedro's very patient," says his longtime agent, Fern Cuza, "and he's waiting for the right situation."
Martinez, 37, is only one of several talented players not on an Opening Day active roster who may yet make an impact this season. There are the usual marquee names on the mend, such as the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez (who is said by a friend to be "a tick ahead" of his May 15 target date), the Red Sox' John Smoltz (estimated return: June 1), Joe Mauer, Troy Glaus, Trevor Hoffman and the Angels' pitching trio of John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar (all of whom could be back by mid-May). But in addition to Martinez—who could steady a shaky Indians rotation, which had an 11.62 ERA through Sunday, or bolster an already-thin Dodgers' staff that just lost opening-night starter Hiroki Kuroda to the DL—and another veteran free agent or two (pitcher Paul Byrd, for example), more major-league-ready prospects than ever are biding their time in the minors for reasons of caution or contract. The following youngsters are prepared to provide midseason, if not earlier, aid:
1. David Price, Rays LHP.
Tampa, which scarcely ever makes a false move anymore, wants Price to refine his command and a recently added changeup in the minors. But they're also delaying his arbitration clock and free agency. Scouts, however, say Price is ready now to assume the fifth starter's role in a good rotation. "His command isn't perfect," says one scout, "but he has such great stuff that he can pitch around it."
2. Matt Wieters, Orioles C.
"He can do it all," says one scout of the strong-armed, switch-hitting slugger. "Worst-case scenario," says another, "he'll have Jorge Posada's career, and that's pretty good." Like Price, Wieters is in the minors to forestall arbitration and, later, free agency. Unlike with Price, there's no rush to bring him up, given that the Orioles don't see themselves as contenders in '09.
3. Tommy Hanson, Braves RHP.
He looked like a world-beater in the Arizona Fall League last year, but after a couple of imperfect spring outings, the Braves played it safe and sent him down to Triple A. With his mid-90s fastball, excellent slider and above-average curveball, Hanson is the best homegrown arm the Braves have developed since Steve Avery, maybe even Tom Glavine. With Glavine experiencing left shoulder discomfort in a recent tuneup start in the minors, Hanson could be up sooner than expected.
4. Stephen Strasburg, San Diego State RHP.
The reports, citing 102-mph radar readings, are otherworldly. The big question, with his expected six-year, $50 million price tag, is how fast will he sign. Your move, Nats.
5. Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, Rangers LHP and RHP.
Nobody has better prospects than Texas's, particularly when it comes to power arms in the high minors. Scouts can't decide which one they like better, but they do agree that with the imminent rise of the 22-year-old Holland (240 strikeouts in 217 2/3 innings in the minors) and the 20-year-old Feliz (250 whiffs in 198 2/3 innings), the Rangers' eternal pitching drought is about to come to an end.
6. Mike Wilson, Mariners OF.
The 25-year-old hit a club-record eight homers this spring before being sent down to Triple A. With a shortage of offense in the Mariners' lineup, he could provide a dose of power.
7. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox RHP.
He made Boston's rotation with a 9.34 ERA last spring, missed it with a 2.52 ERA this spring. Still only 24, he has the potential to be an ace despite a disastrous 2008 in which he went 2--9 with a 6.75 ERA. Only Boston's deep collection of arms—they have eight above-average starters on the 40-man roster—is holding him back.
8. Phil Hughes, Yankees RHP.
Like Buchholz, he will start the year at Triple A but has pitched his way back onto the radar after a wasted 2008 season.