Every Spring Training has its usual suspects.
One player comes to camp saying he plans to run more, maybe even steal 60 bases this season. Another can't stop bragging about what great shape he's in, thanks to this new workout regimen and diet. And, of course, who can forget the guy who suddenly sees rainbows again after undergoing the latest form of laser eye surgery.
The possibilities seem endless.
Then there are the pundits, clowns like me whose days start and end with the word "breakout." In fact, that term gets thrown around so loosely this time of year, someone unfamiliar with baseball lingo might think viruses are running rampant througout Arizona and Florida.
The reality is, only so many truly break out in any given season, and too much hype can jinx even the most talented youngsters.
Take last preseason, when everyone and their grandmother predicted Royals third baseman Alex Gordon would win American League Rookie of Year honors. What followed was a typical up-and-down freshman campaign. Or in 2006, when injuries transformed right fielder Jeremy Hermida from National League Rookie of the Year favorite to the only Marlins rookie who disappointed.
With everyone so caught up in hunting down the next big thing, it's easy to get carried away with all the hype and hearsay.
Which begs the question -- who are the fakeout breakouts of 2008?
Delmon Young, OF, Twins: There's no doubting Young's five-star talent. The issue is whether he'll adapt to big league pitching or continue swinging at every pitch within arms' length. The Rays bet on the latter this winter, shipping him to Minnesota for pitching help instead of attempting to further his development. Young's attitude came under scrutiny in Tampa Bay, and not just because of run-ins with umpires. He earned a reputation as someone difficult to coach, occasionally not running out popups and rarely drawing walks. That doesn't bode well for an inexperienced slugger who still has a lot to learn. Maybe the presence of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and more veterans will help. Plus, he's only 22, so there's time to turn things around. Bottom line, this is still a box of tools, not a player on the brink of a breakout.
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Rockies: Players coming off outstanding postseason runs are usually surrounded by unwarranted hype by the time draft day rolls around. But don't be fooled by the 2.25 ERA Jimenez delivered over three playoff starts. His sloppy stint at Triple-A Colorado Springs last year (5.85 ERA, 1.67 WHIP) is more indicative of what can be expected from him over a full season on the big stage. Although he throws hard, it's not often that Jimenez knows where it's going. That won't cut it this time around, and it wouldn't be surprising if he ends up back at Colorado Springs once again.
Cameron Maybin, OF, Marlins: One of the few mistakes Detroit made last year was rushing this prized prospect to the Majors. With practically no experience in the upper Minors (only 26 plate appearances at Double-A Erie), Maybin looked lost last year in the Majors, batting .143 in limited time. Unfortunately, the Marlins may be about to make the same mistake with the 21-year-old phenom. Rather than give him a year to develop in the Minors, the team will give him every opportunity to win a full-time job in center field. His future is bright, and the offseason trade raised his profile, but there will be plenty of growing pains if Maybin opens the season with the big club.
Yunel Escobar, SS, Braves: Escobar could be the most overrated shortstop heading into the 2008 season. Although the 25-year-old hit an impressive .326 as a utility infielder and part-time starter last year, he'll be taking over for the departed Edgar Renteria, and it remains to be seen whether he can handle the job. Not only does Escobar's defense leave much to be desired, especially behind ground-ball pitchers Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine, but his offense isn't all that it's cracked up to be. During his time in the Minors, Escobar posted a pedestrian slugging percentage of .413. With more exposure to big league pitching, his batting average should dip to the .275-.285 range. Don't be shocked if Brent Lillibridge starts eating into his playing time.
James Loney, 1B, Dodgers: Everyone loves Loney. Maybe a little too much. In several mock drafts, I've seen him go ahead of proven first basemen like Paul Konerko or Todd Helton -- even as high as the sixth round. That has disappointment written all over it. Loney hit an outstanding .331 in 344 at-bats last season, but he compares more favorably to a poor man's Paul O'Neill than a batting champ at this point. Over his Minor League career, Loney put up a .296 average and .430 slugging percentage -- decent, but hardly the kind of output that suggests he'll sustain last year's numbers over a full season.
Joba Chamberlain, P, Yankees: Chamberlain enjoyed a historic debut last year, surrendering only one earned run in 24 relief innings. So why the mention here? Because the Yankees aren't ready to take the training wheels off their prized fireballer just yet, and rightly so. In an effort to keep his workload at a minimum, the burly Nebraskan is expected to open the season in the bullpen and probably won't even reach the rotation until the All-Star break. And though his ability is unquestionably intriguing, how can he possibly live up to the expectations generated by last year's incredible run?