The good part about prospects and the related subset of rookies is that every team — no matter how lousy otherwise — has someone down on the farm who inspires hope for the future. So as we cast our longing, plaintive gaze toward the 2011 season, let's talk rookies — impact rookies, to be precise. The criteria for inclusion? It's mix of potential and the likelihood of producing at the major-league level in 2011. Here, then, are the rookies that will make a difference next season. — Dayn Perry
Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox
Sale thrived in Chicago in a late-year relief role, but his rookie status remains intact. If all goes as planned, he'll be in the White Sox rotation for 2011. Sale has command of three pitches, and all show good movement. His max-effort delivery raises some concerns, but Sale has the stuff to thrive as a starter. If his arm doesn't hold up, he can resume his role as a shutdown reliever.
J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays
Arencibia doesn't seem to get much ink, but he possesses rare power for a catcher. Yes, Triple-A Las Vegas is a hitters’ haven, but that doesn't explain away Arencibia's 32 spanks and 36 doubles in 104 games last season. He strikes out too much and doesn't draw enough walks, but his defensive skills and excellent raw power make him a commodity. Now that John Buck is a Marlin, expect Arencibia to be the regular catcher in Toronto.
Kyle Drabek, RHP, Blue Jays
Last season, Drabek looked strong in almost a full season of Double-A (he ranked third in the Eastern League in ERA and strikeouts), and he continued to fare well after a September call-up. Drabek gets outs with a “plus” fastball and slider, and he's still young enough to develop a strong third offering. He's the favorite to open the season as the Jays' fifth starter.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals
Moustakas didn't quite play a full season in 2010, but he still managed 36 bombs. As you may have guessed, the power is outstanding. Moustakas boasts once-in-a-lifetime bat speed, and he doesn't strike out much, particularly for someone with his power. He doesn't have great range at the hot corner, but his throwing arm is at the top of the scouting scale. Don't be surprised if he one day leads the league in homers. As for Moustakas's immediate future, the Royals want to delay his arbitration timetable, so expect a "phased roll-out" of sorts. That's the only reason he's not higher on this list. At some point in the first half, he'll be in KC for good.
Jesus Montero, C/DH, Yankees
Montero is classified as a catcher, but there's some doubt as to whether he'll be able to stick at the position. What's not in doubt is his bat. Last season, Montero overcame a slow start to tally 58 extra-base hits in the International League. In 2011, he'll likely split time in the Bronx between catcher and DH, but he'll get ABs. With Jorge Posada pushing 40, Montero will see the majority of time behind the plate. He'll hit, but his future role depends on how well he develops defensively.
Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
Jennings' power isn't yet fully developed, but he's already an on-base threat who, given enough playing time, will challenge for the league lead in steals. While his homer totals won't be gaudy, he does have pop to the gaps. Given Carl Crawford's imminent departure, Jennings will probably be a regular in the Tampa Bay outfield next season. Expect him to do well in a table-setting role and flash Gold Glove-caliber skills in the field.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves
So long as Freeman's injured thumb heals as expected, he'll open the 2011 season as the Braves' starting first baseman. Freeman enjoyed a breakout campaign this year as he batted .319 and smacked 35 doubles for Triple-A Gwinnett, and he did so despite being much younger than his peer group. He hits to all fields, projects as a .300 hitter in the bigs and has exceptional defensive skills at first base. Freeman's a strong Rookie of the Year candidate in the NL.
Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies
Since Jayson Werth is likely bound elsewhere, the Phillies' right-field job will almost certainly go to Brown. Expect him to justify the decision. Brown boasts exceptional power from the left side, solid defensive skills and speed on the bases that belies his large frame. Across two minor-league levels last season, Brown put up a stellar batting line of .327 AVG/.391 OBP/.589 SLG, so he's ready for the next challenge. A 20/15 rookie campaign is a distinct possibility.
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays
The Rays keep churning out the high-ceiling arms. Hellickson has a full repertoire, including a “plus” fastball and a change with good late movement. He keeps the ball down and will throw any pitch in any situation. Tampa Bay has a deep rotation, but Hellickson should be a part of it when the ball drops on the 2011 season. Will they trade one of their arbitration-eligible starters to make room for him? The budget-conscious Rays are always looking to get cheaper, and Hellickson allows them to do just that.
Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Reds
For all the hype surrounding Chapman and his 105-mph "fastball of God," it's easy to forget that he's logged just 13.1 innings at the highest level. It remains to be seen what his role will be in 2011 — starter or reliever — but his fastball-slider combo will serve him well regardless. Simply put, Chapman has the highest upside of any pitching prospect in baseball.