Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NL Rookie Preview '09 - NL Central

We are back to previewing our rookie of the year candidates in the National League. We've already taken a look at the NL East, so today we move to the NL Central.

The division has produced the last two winners - Ryan Braun, MIL, in 2007 and Geovanny Soto, CHI, last year. Jeff Samardzija tops the list of Cubs prospects that could have an impact this season, but he was on the MLB roster for more than 45 days last year, so he's not rookie eligible. The Cubs don't have any other players that are major league ready among their rookies.

The Brewers have J.J. Hardy as their every day shortstop, with their #1 prospect Alcides Escobar waiting in the wings. Hardy is coming off a very good year - .283-24-75 and is making $4.65 million this season. The Brewers don't keep high salaries, which means eventually Hardy could be elsewhere. For now though, he's the man.

The Cardinals have one of the rookie of the year favorites in Colby Rasmus, Baseball America's #3 prospect in all of baseball. The 22-yr old opened eyes when he 29 home runs at Double-A in 2007. Last season, his first in Triple-A, Rasmus was bothered by injuries and hit just 11 home runs with 36 RBI.

He could see significant playing time in all three outfield positions for the Cards this season. Rasmus also has speed, he's topped double figures in steals each season in the minor leagues and is an above average outfielder with a strong arm.

Among those battling for the Cardinals closer role are second year player Chris Perez and Jason Motte, who stood out in a 12 game appearance last season. Motte struck out 16 batters in 11 innings and is the anti-Rick Ankiel. That is, he was a catcher in the Cards system prior to converting to pitcher in 2007.

The Pirates are a franchise that is always infusing youth, and lack of salary, into their lineup. Dan McCutchen, part of the Xavier Nady-Damaso Marte trade with the Yankees, is competing for the back end of the rotation and could be a bullpen option as well. But it's the other McCutchen that everyone is waiting on.

22-yr old outfielder Andrew McCutchen hit .283 in his first full season at Triple-A last year. McCutchen is a spark plug type of player that could eventually develop some power as well. He hit 9 home runs last season and stole 34 bases in 52 attempts. He also showed some patience at the plate in garnering 68 walks.

McCutchen has the dreaded 5-tool tag that many players find hard to live up to. But McCutchen is expected to be an every day centerfielder. Of course, Nate McLouth may have something to say about that.

The Astros roster is filled with veterans. Players like Hunter Pence (3rd year) and J.R. Towles (2nd year) are the exceptions. The Astros top prospect is catcher Jason Castro, who was selected in the 2008 amateur draft out of Stanford, but won't have an impact on the lineup for at least a couple of years.

The Reds had a rookie rampage last season. Outfielder Joey Votto was the runner up to Soto in last year's ROY vote. Pitchers Johnny Cueto and (2nd year player) Edinson Volquez (who finished 4th in the voting despite not being eligible) and outfielder Jay Bruce (5th in the voting) should have an impact on the Reds lineup for years to come.

Though no rookie should have an impact this season, 2008 1st round pick, Yonder Alonso, could be pushing Votto as first base before you know it, and New Jersey native and Rutgers grad Todd Frazier could be competing for the starting shortstop job next season.

Ranking the NL Central ROY candidates

1. Colby Rasmus
2. Andrew McCutchen
3. Jason Motte

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