BASEBALL 2010: Bopper Heyward, young aces emerge
From a big bopper who dented cars with long drives in spring training to rocket arms, Major League Baseball welcomes a bumper crop of rookies. A look at who to watch:
-RF Jason Heyward, Atlanta: This 20-year-old won the starting job with a stellar spring, picking up where he left off last year. The 2007 first-round pick batted .323 with 17 homers and 63 RBIs in 99 games over three minor league stops last season, showing off the speed and power that had scouts drooling when he was a prep star in Georgia. Just watch out for those cars parked behind the fences.
-OF Michael Taylor, Oakland, and 3B Brett Wallace, Toronto: These two prospects were involved in baseball's biggest offseason trade, a complicated four-team deal that put Cliff Lee in Seattle and Roy Halladay in Philadelphia. Toronto acquired Taylor and flipped him to the Athletics for Wallace.
Taylor, 24, and Wallace, 23, both could have an impact this year. Taylor hit a combined .320 with 20 homers and 84 RBIs at Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Wallace batted .293 with 20 homers and 63 RBIs in three minor league stops.
-LHP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati: The Cuban left-hander brushed aside questions about his control and delivery this spring, dazzling scouts with his 100 mph fastball and improving slider before being slowed by back trouble. The timeline for his major league debut could depend on how quickly he can adapt to life in the U.S.
-RHP Stephen Strasburg, Washington: The No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft will open the season in Double-A, only increasing the anticipation for his major league debut. The right-hander went 13-1 in his final season with San Diego State, leading Division I pitchers in ERA (1.35) and strikeouts (195 in 109 innings).
Strasburg got a record $15.1 million, four-year contract with the Nationals and is expected to anchor their rotation for years to come, along with Jordan Zimmermann.
-3B Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh: Should arrive in the majors at some point this year, providing a glimmer of hope for the woebegone Pirates. The ex-Vanderbilt star, selected No. 2 overall in the 2008 draft, had 27 homers and 95 RBIs in 126 games at Class-A Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona last season.
-LHP Brian Matusz, Baltimore: The 6-foot-5 lefty went 5-2 with a 4.63 ERA in eight starts with the Orioles before they shut him down to limit his innings in his first professional season. The fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft ended the year on a high note, going 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his last three outings.
-RHP Neftali Feliz and 1B Justin Smoak, Texas: Two potential stars among an impressive list of Rangers prospects. The hard-throwing Feliz will begin the year in Texas' bullpen, while Smoak heads back to the minors for more seasoning.
Feliz, who could transition to the rotation at some point, had two saves, a 1.74 ERA and struck out 39 in 31 innings with the Rangers last year. Smoak, a switch-hitter, batted .290 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs in 106 games at three minor league stops in 2009.
-CF Austin Jackson, Detroit: The Tigers got Jackson from the Yankees to replace Curtis Granderson, the All-Star center fielder they sent to New York in December's three-team trade. Jackson, 23, hit .300 last season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with 23 doubles, four homers, 65 RBIs and 24 steals.
-LHP Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco: The 20-year-old lefty made his major league debut in 2009, allowing just two runs and striking out 10 in 10 innings over four outings. The 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft begins this year at Triple-A Fresno after competing for No. 5 spot in the Giants' rotation this spring.
-SS Alcides Escobar, Milwaukee: The 23-year-old Venezuelan speedster was impressive in a short stint with the Brewers last season, batting .304 and scoring 20 runs in 38 games. It was enough to persuade Milwaukee to trade J.J. Hardy to the Twins, clearing the way for Escobar to take over at shortstop.