Tomorrow approaching fast for budding stars
Ackley, Belt among potentially impactful rookies waiting in wings
Last year, Buster Posey didn't break camp with the Giants, but the 23-year-old broke the hearts of the rest of the National League on the way to Rookie of the Year honors and postseason stardom.
Mike Stanton's Major League Opening Day didn't come until June 8, but the 21-year-old hit 22 home runs in 359 at-bats for Florida and showed the tools to be a serious power threat for years to come.
Pedro Alvarez crushed Triple-A pitching until June 16, when he started crushing big league pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
2010 Spring Training - Major League Baseball
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Spring Training Info
Other late-starting difference-makers from the 2010 season included Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, Mets first baseman Ike Davis, Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner and Indians catcher Carlos Santana.
None were around for early April, but none were forgotten by the end of September, and Bumgarner, of course, shined in October, when it counted the most.
With so much talent waiting in the wings, teams often let super prospects like these grab a little extra seasoning in-season -- if their place in the standings can let them afford to keep that ability and spark in the Minors.
In other cases, holding a prospect back for a few months can be an economically driven decision based on service time.
If a rookie with no prior big league experience is called up before roughly May 20, he will likely reach Super Two arbitration status, which means that in the 2013-14 offseason, he'll be in the top 17 percent of players with more than two but fewer than three years in the Majors and therefore eligible for arbitration. That could cost teams big bucks, especially with big talent.
Whatever the reasons, the game has evolved to the point where the great players of tomorrow are seemingly more and more often able to ply those skills at the Major League level today.
So who will be the next party-crashing stars who could shape the 2011 pennant race after arriving on the scene in late May or June?
Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners: When he'll begin his Major League journey is the only question mark for the team's top Draft pick in 2009 and the No. 5-rated prospect in baseball this year, according to MLB.com's rankings. He has looked good in Cactus League play and will probably begin at Triple-A Tacoma while veterans Adam Kennedy, Brendan Ryan and Jack Wilson trade time at second base, warming it up for him.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals: How about this compliment about the Royals' third baseman of the future from the team's third baseman of, well, all time?
"His way is not set in stone. He's always open to suggestions, anything to get better, and those are the type of guys that get better," said Hall of Famer George Brett, a camp instructor watching Moustakas every day during the 22-year-old's second Spring Training.
Moustakas split time at Double-A and Triple-A last year and hit a combined .322 with 36 homers and 124 RBIs.
Lonnie Chisenhall (3B)/Jason Kipnis (2B), Indians: Both players can hit. Chisenhall, 22, batted .278 with 17 homers, 22 doubles and 84 RBIs over 117 games in Double-A Akron last year, and he did it despite suffering a right shoulder injury early in the year. Kipnis hit .307 with 16 homers, 32 doubles and 74 RBIs over 133 games between stops with Class A Kinston and Akron. Defense seems to be the area of the game both need work on, but they might not need too much work. The big leagues are seen as a possibility for both in 2011.
"You can't let your thoughts drift," Chisenhall said. "But waiting for the phone call is going to be exciting."
Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants: Belt hit .352 with 23 homers and 112 RBIs while climbing all the way from Advanced-A to Triple-A in his first pro season. Giants general manager Brian Sabean, while extolling the 22-year-old's talent, has already said he'd like to see Belt get more at-bats with Fresno this year, and he's already got Aubrey Huff signed on to play first. Belt, who's impressed in Spring Training, played in only 13 games at Triple-A in 2010.
Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds: The team's first-round Draft pick in 2007 had a breakout year in 2010, when he hit a combined .302 with 26 homers and 75 RBIs while also moving all the way from Advanced-A to Triple-A. With starter Ramon Hernandez turning 35 in May, this position might be Mesoraco's to inherit, possibly sooner than later.
Zach Britton, LHP, Orioles: He's 23, he's left-handed, he's a starter, and he's MLB.com's 19th-best prospect in baseball. He's also coming off a season in which he went 7-3 with a 2.48 ERA in his first 15 starts with Double-A Bowie and 3-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 12 starts with Triple-A Norfolk.
And impressing O's manager Buck Showalter in Spring Training won't hurt, either: "He's got that nice mix of respect for the people who are here and what it is and what it takes, but also some confidence in what he brings," Showalter said recently. "So far, so good."
Jordan Lyles, RHP, Astros: Lyles is barely 20 years old and appears ticketed for Triple-A at the end of the spring -- not because he doesn't have the talent to pitch in the Major Leagues but because he only appeared in six games at that level last year after spending most of the season at Double-A Corpus Christi.
"If we're only focusing on the fifth spot [in the Major League rotation], we do have competition and we do have some experienced guys there who conceivably could put Jordan in a position where he's back at Triple-A getting more experience," Astros GM Ed Wade said recently.
Lyles, the No. 38 overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, is ranked No. 31 among prospects by MLB.com entering this year.
Kyle Gibson, RHP, Twins: The Twins' first-round Draft pick in 2009 has risen through the ranks in a hurry and is firmly in the conversation for 2011. Gibson, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, began 2010 at Class A Fort Myers, followed that with a stint at Double-A New Britain, and ended the year at Triple-A Rochester. He went a combined 11-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 26 starts.
"He's fluid, the ball comes out of his hand," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Gibson this spring. "It's got some little zip to it. ... We're pretty excited about that young man. He's a nice-looking player."
Tanner Scheppers, RHP, Rangers: The shoulder injury that pushed the hard-throwing Scheppers into the second round of the 2008 Draft is long gone, as is the notion that he will be a reliever. Scheppers, whose fastball reaches the upper 90s, is being groomed to be a starter.
"For them to give me the chance to start in Spring Training, I'm really happy that they're going to give me that shot," Scheppers said. "Hopefully, I'll prepare myself and be ready physically and mentally."
And hopefully for the Rangers, the lower-back stiffness that is forcing Scheppers to visit a specialist will be nothing serious.
Christian Friedrich, LHP, Rockies:The 2008 first-rounder didn't put up dazzling numbers while starting 18 games at Double-A in 2010, but scouts still love his mid-90s fastball from the left side and advanced secondary stuff. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Rockies call him up to the Majors at some point if the 23-year-old begins to deliver on his promising talent.
Michael Pineda, RHP, Mariners: At 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, Pineda, 22, is an imposing presence. And as MLB.com's No. 13-ranked prospect in baseball, the right-hander from the Dominican Republic is an impressive talent, too. Pineda made 12 Triple-A starts last year after dominating Double-A, and he'll likely get more time in Tacoma in preparation for a possible midseason promotion to Seattle.
"He's hungry, he wants to learn, he wants to be the best he can be -- and he's got all the physical abilities," Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said. "Like many of us, he still needs to learn how to play the game, and prepare to play the game."