The Cubbies' catching sensation, Geovanny Soto, took home the rookie of the year honors last season, doing a great job both at, and behind the plate. He took 31 of the 32 first place votes, with Cincy's Joey Votto grabbing the lone hold out vote to in finishing in second place. Who will be this year's NL top freshman? Let's start by taking a look at the NL East.
The defending world champions have one of the best young players in the game in pitcher Cole Hamels. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are both young in experience, but have either hit 30 years of age or are about to.
No rookie should have an impact on the Phillies lineup this season, though starter J.A. Happ, ranked 7th in the organization by BA, could eventually supplant Jamie Moyer or Kyle Kenrick, if either struggles.
Like their Bronx counterparts, the Mets are a team filled with veterans. But the outfield and starting rotation could see rookies have a major impact.
Fernando Martinez, the Mets top prospect, will likely start the season in Triple-A, but with no start in the outfield other than Carlos Beltran, he could be recalled early on. A couple of things must be remembered though. Martinez won't turn 20 until after the season has ended and he has not played above Double-A. That being said, a fast start at Triple-A could land him in Flushing, with Ryan Church, Dan Murphy, and Fernando Tatis contending for playing time.
The back end of the rotation could be bolsted by Jon Niese. The 3rd best prospect in the Mets organization and number 77 in all of baseball, per Basbeall America, Niese made 22 starts for Double-A Binghamton before a promotion to Triple-A New Orleans. He made 7 starts for the Zephyrs, posting a very respectable 3.40 ERA and struck out 32 in 39.2 innings pitched.
With a fastball in the low 90's and a good curveball, Niese should get a long look for the back end of the rotation, and could beat out retreads Freddy Garcia and Livan Hernandez.
The Braves have two of the brightest young players in the game in their middle infield combo of Yuniel Escobar and Kelly Johnson. One "veteran" rookie and one true rookie, could have a big impact on the Braves 2009 season.
Though not a true rookie, this is Japanese veteran Kenshin Kawakami's first year in MLB. The 33-yr old won 112 games in 11 season with the Chunichi Dragons. Kawakami isn't over powering, his fastball tops out at about 91 mph, but he has a sinker, forkball, cutter, and curve ball. Greg Maddux is one of Kawakami's idols, and just like his hero, the key to Kawakami's success is his ability to control his pitches.
Tommy Hanson has worked his way up the Braves charts the traditional way, via the minor leagues. Hanson, whose fastball has been clocked at 99 mph, was recently named the first pitcher to garner Arizona Fall League MVP honors.
Hanson has struck out 373 hitters in 323 innings. As you would imagine, a player with that velocity also has a tendency to walk hitters - 119. The number four rated prospect, by BA, in all of baseball will most likely start the season in Triple-A.
Florida is of course continually pushing youngsters into their lineup, but the regular center fielder could be the guy everyone has been waiting for to hit it big. Cameron Maybin was part of the blockbuster deal that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit. After looking like a fish out of water in 24 games for the Tigers in '07, Maybin bounced back nicely, going 16-32 (.500) with 4 stolen bases in an eight game call up this past September.
Like the Mets' Martinez, Maybin has never played above Double-A, where he struck out 124 times last year. He has a shot to play every day for the Marlins, but might better off taking it slowly with him.
The Nationals are another team that won't hesitate to put younger players out on the field in order to save money. That approach shouldn't change with GM Jim Bowden's resignation earlier today.
The Nats are hoping that former top prospects Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes still pan out, and that Ryan Zimmerman produces the way he's expected to. Starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (No relation to Ryan) is the top ranked prospect in the organization and should be in the starting rotation at some point in '09.
In two seasons in the minor leagues, Zimmermann has struck out 205 batters in 187 innings, while posting a 15-7 record and 2.74 ERA. He's a plus fastball with a heavy sinking motion, and has a solid curve and change up. He had a good slider in college, but the Nats had him stop throwing it. That could change of course.
Ranking the NL East ROY Prospects
1. Jordan Zimmermann
2. Kenshin Kawakami
3. Jon Niese
4. Fernando Martinez
5. Tommy Hanson
6. J.A. Happ