Sadly, the 2011 baseball season is hurtling towards its regular season conclusion. This season has seen a number of young players playing in their rookie campaigns. These rookies have had varying degrees of success, and many of them will be looked upon to become even more significant contributors in 2012. Their development may have a major impact on the success of their respective teams next year.
Just about every team has one rookie who could be a major part of their squad next year. I will break down one rookie from each American League team who I believe has the potential to have the greatest impact on their team in 2012. I will explore the National League candidates in a future entry.
Baltimore Orioles- Zach Britton (Starting Pitcher): Britton started out of the gate like a champion, but saw his results diminish as the season has progressed. He has struggled with injuries of late, and is currently on the 15 day disabled list.
The Orioles sorely need one of their young pitchers to step up and take the lead position in their rotation. Brian Matusz looks like a major question mark right now, so the next obvious candidate is the lefty Britton. He has an impressive arsenal of pitches, highlighted by his sinker, and is a good bet to take a major leap in production next season, if he can get healthy.
Boston Red Sox- Josh Reddick (Outfielder): He came within 9 at bats last season of no longer being considered a rookie in 2011, but Josh Reddick survived as my pick for Boston. The veteran Red Sox have given little playing time to any rookies this season, and while that essentially makes Reddick the default choice; I also believe that he is a player to watch for 2012.
J.D. Drew and his inflated contract and monotone expressions will undoubtedly not be resigned after this year, leaving a hole in right field. Boston may choose to pursue a free agent, and they also have another exciting young player in Ryan Kalish who has proven he can play as well. However, Reddick may end up being the choice. He has shown a much better batting eye this season, and at worst should expect to be a significant bench contributor next year.
Chicago White Sox- Chris Sale (Relief Pitcher): The lanky lefty drew the ire of skipper Ozzie Guillen, at the beginning of the year, for not being able to hold down the closer job. Since then, Sale has been dominant as a set-up man. He has averaged better than a strikeout an inning for the season, and has an ERA of 1.08 since June 1st. He should be a vital member of the Chicago bullpen once again in 2012, whether it is as their 8th inning man, or trying the closer position again if Sergio Santos falls out of favor.
Cleveland Indians- Jason Kipnis (Second Baseman): Cleveland manager Manny Acta recently called Kipnis a “dirtbag,” but he meant it in the best possible way. Kipnis is a one of those players who fills up a stat sheet and invariably has a dirty uniform by the end of every game. He started his major league career with a bang, including having one stretch where he homered in four straight games. The Indians offense is slowly starting to rebuild, and Kipnis figures to be a big part of that, with Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Detroit Tigers- Al Alburquerque (Relief Pitcher): Prior to his recent concussion that forced him on to the disabled list; the right-handed Alburquerque had been one of the most under appreciated rookies in all of baseball. He seemingly came out of nowhere to be an important cog in the Detroit bullpen. His ability to get strikeouts (57 in 37 innings this season) makes him an excellent tool to bring into a game with men on base. Assuming he bounces back from his injury, Alburquerque should be part of the 2012 bullpen, an area where no team can ever have enough good arms.
Kansas City Royals- Aaron Crow (Relief Pitcher): Most people probably expected I would give this spot to Eric Hosmer. I have no doubts that Hosmer will have an excellent season in 2012, but feel that Aaron Crow could prove to be even more valuable. He has anchored a shaky Kansas City bullpen this year, serving as the setup man for Joakim Soria.
Soria has regressed noticeably from his All Star days, and with his higher salary, is a candidate to be pitching elsewhere next year. If that were to happen, Crow would be the natural choice to step into the closer role. Regardless, on a team that has been bereft of good, solid pitching for years, Crow will have a prominent role in some form.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- Tyler Chatwood (Starting Pitcher): At the age of 21, Tyler Chatwood is one of the youngest players in the major leagues this year. He has been simply ordinary as a starter, but since he pitches at the end of the rotation, it is hard to expect any better from the youngster. It is encouraging to see how Chatwood has held his own all season, and there is nothing that should prevent him from being even better in 2012. With Weaver, Haren, and Santana already in place, Chatwood can continue to take his time to develop his final polish, and round out the Angel rotation.
Minnesota Twins- Ben Revere (Outfielder): Baseball insiders projected Ben Revere as a plus defensive outfielder, with good speed, and slap hitting ability. He has shown exactly that since being summoned by the Twins earlier this season. Revere will likely be the Twins’ fourth outfielder in 2012, but has shown the ability to be a starter if he is needed to step into the role.
Revere’s skill set is similar to that of incumbent centerfielder Denard Span, but he still has a ways to develop at the major league level. The cost-conscious Twins will likely appreciate having a cheap talent like Revere around that they can plug into the lineup whenever the need arises.
New York Yankees- Ivan Nova (Starting Pitcher): Nova may slightly exceed the innings limit to be considered a rookie this year, but I am going to call him one anyways. He is close enough to qualifying that I am going to make an exception.
The winning ways of the Yankees often obscures the black hole that has been the back end of their starting rotation for the last several years. Nova was regarded as a good prospect, but I am sure the success he has enjoyed in 2011 has surprised even his most ardent supporters. With 11 wins thus far, he is clearly the team’s second best pitcher after C.C. Sabathia, and makes the least amount of money.
Nova will be given a rotation spot next year, and if he continues to develop, he could have a huge year. The Yankees offense is so good that most nights if Yankee starters allow three or four runs or less, they have a good chance of earning a win. Barring a significant pick-up in the offseason, Nova might enter 2012 with as high as the number two spot in the rotation.
Oakland A’s- Fautino De Los Santos (Relief Pitcher): The bullpen has been the most consistent aspect of recent Oakland teams. While they have had an anemic offense, and a young starting rotation, their relievers have consistently been viewed amongst the best in the game. This year the A’s have added another weapon to that arsenal. Fautino De Los Santos is a fire-balling right-hander who was traded to Oakland along with Gio Gonzalez in 2008.
Although De Los Santos does struggle with his control, he is also capable of prodigious strikeout numbers. His emergence in the pen will either give the A’s one more option to use in 2012, or perhaps allow them to trade one of their more established relievers for a bat.
Seattle Mariners- Dustin Ackley (Second Baseman): The Mariners’ offense has been weak for the past few years. Ichiro has been about the only dependable contributor, though even that has changed this season. Dustin Ackley has been on the lips of most Mariner fans since he was taken as the second overall selection in the 2009 MLB Draft, as a savior to turn the team’s offensive woes around.
Ackley’s bat has always been his most indisputable tool, but it was only this past year that his defensive position was finally set as second base. Since coming up to Seattle in mid-June, Ackley has hovered around the .300 mark, and shown good pop. If the Mariners want to turn things around, they will need Ackley to continue to develop and become a long term anchor of their offense.
Tampa Bay Rays- Desmond Jennings (Outfielder): The Rays have played well in 2011, but are not at the same level they were the past few seasons. Budgetary constraints led to the team saying goodbye to team leaders like Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford. Fortunately, the Rays have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, and have moved quickly to plug their holes with fresh talent.
Desmond Jennings is the most recent addition fresh off the farm. He is an outfielder who languished for what seemed to be forever in the minors, before finally getting called up last month. Jennings does a little of everything, from solid defense, to stolen bases, to surprising pop in his bat. He should be a clear cut starter in 2012, and is capable of putting up Carl Crawford-esque numbers.
Texas Rangers- ? (?): Although I can’t come up with a single Ranger 2011 rookie who I believe will have an impact in 2012, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Rangers have a solid veteran team that is currently in first place. In particular, their lineup is flush with good veteran talent. Perhaps 2012 is when they will start incorporating some rookies and infusing a little more youth on to their roster.
Toronto Blue Jays- Brett Lawrie (Third Baseman): It seemed that the baseball world waited a long time for Brett Lawrie to get called up this year. He was poised to come up in June, but a fractured bone in his hand pushed that back to August.
If his numbers in the minor leagues, and his first couple of weeks in the majors are any indication, Lawrie is going to be an offensive monster. The deep lineup that Toronto has will allow Lawrie to hit towards the bottom if the team feels it is necessary to work him in gradually. His defense continues to need work, but his bat is too good for Toronto to keep down. His enthusiastic grandslam indicates that his infectious emotion will also fit in well with the Blue Jay team.
While there is still baseball to be played in 2011, it never hurts to look ahead to the next year when trying to figure out how each team’s roster will fill out. As you can see, there has been a good crop of rookies this year, and most teams are planning on at least one of them playing an integral role in 2012.