Some talented rookies make their appearances in the big leagues this week with the potential to alter a team’s fortunes this season. These late spring call-ups are significant because they are normally impact players left to marinate in the minors at the start of the season in order to delay their service clock.
Last year’s group of call-ups included seven impact players. Before we examine this year’s group, let’s first look back for fun to see how that class fared:
#1 - Carlos Ordaz, LF Milwaukee Brewers
Ordaz was ranked as the top impact call-up and he didn’t disappoint, as the rookie hit major league pitching like a seasoned veteran. He struck out just 37 times in 516 plate-appearances while posting a line of .307/.407/.557. Hitting for average and power, he swatted 31 doubles to lead the team despite only playing 112 games and scored 92 times. His 25 home runs were icing on the cake.
#2 - Shayne Everett, COF, Oakland Athletics
I felt Everett was a close second to Ordaz at the time of his call-up and he posted similar numbers to him all season long. The A’s slugging rookie finished the season with a line that read .303/.398/.491. He lead the team in walks, finished tied for second with 27 doubles, scored 89 times and chipped in 18 home runs. His post-season play was even more impressive, as his 16 walks and .344 batting average helped him lead the club by crossing the plate 25 times.
#3 - Sawyer Cross, SP, Montreal Expos
When the Expos called up Cross, they added their number one to the starting rotation and he helped deliver a world championship to the unlikely wildcard team. The rookie worked like a warhorse all season, starting 33 games while finishing 15-10 with a WHIP of 1.29. His 164 strikeouts were second on the club.
#4 - Elmer Kozlowski, RP, Baltimore Orioles
At the time of his call-up, I wrote that Kozlowski stood to play a very big role in the Orioles bullpen, and he did just that. He made the most appearances out of the bullpen (74) and finished the season with nearly 97 innings pitched, the most of any non-starter. His K’s per 9 of 8.57 lead the team.
#5 - Ariel Mateo, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
After appearing in 95 games, Mateo was leading his team in Slugging Percentage when he tore his hamstring and landed on the 60-day DL, bringing a premature and disappointing end to his rookie campaign. At the time of injury, he posted a line of .269/.307/.485 while driving in 67 runs, helping St. Louis to complete a run to the division title.
#6 - Andy Montague, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
Montague turned in a decent rookie season at the plate, posting a line of .267/341/.425, but when the Cardinals chose to leave the streaking Quentin Austin in the line-up at his natural position in right field, Montague struggled defensively at the hot corner. His 8 poor plays lead the team while committing 15 errors to finish second in that dubious category.
#7 - David Macias, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee’s young shortstop turned in a fine rookie season, with Macias doing more than he was asked to do at the plate. He finished with a line of .280/.346/.350. His work in the field came with mixed results: his field percentage of .963 was nothing to write home about, but he did make 8 positive plays from deep in the hole at short.
Will Season 4’s impact rookies measure up to the lofty standards set by Season 3’s "Magnificent Seven?" Here are the top seven players, listed in order of the impact they’ll make in my opinion, for your review:
#1 - Alex Hart, 1B, Baltimore
You have to feel some sympathy for AL North, as Hart is the latest addition to a club that’s been legitimately contending for a World Series title for four seasons now. Baltimore’s rookie has an elite understanding of the strike zone, and when he swings the bat, he usually hits it. Despite his lack of speed, he should finish with an OBP well above the norm. He can see the ball better against righties and thus drives it longer. He’s slightly underpowered at first but should post decent slugging percentages nonetheless.
#2 - Moises Gonzalez, C, Houston
Chosen with the fifth overall pick in last season’s amateur draft, Gonzalez finds himself calling the signals for the Astros less than a year later. While his defense and ability to call a game aren’t his core strengths, the Astros have called upon the rookie for his work at the plate. Gonzalez should add punch to a line-up that’s lacking a bit of power. He is blessed with great strength and an eye to put mistakes over the wall. He will struggle to make contact against someone’s out pitch, but he won’t be fooled too often into swinging at pitches out of the zone. He drives the ball well, and his power should translate those line drives into doubles and home runs. Surprisingly, Gonzalez is not the first player from season three’s amateur draft to make the bigs: two other players are playing key roles already.
#3 - Benj Fox, 2B, Oakland
The AL adds another impact rookie with the promotion of Fox, season one’s second overall pick in the amateur draft. The only question will be how many games Fox will appear in, as he is blessed with a diminutive frame (174 lbs) and the rigors of 162-game season will wear on his body. Fox has a good understanding of the strike zone and will walk his fair share of times. There are few holes in Fox’s game: he makes consistent contact on at the plate and drives the ball equally well against lefties and righties with decent power.
#4 - Bryant Koskie, SP, Baltimore
The Orioles’ blockbuster trade of three-time Cy Young uber-ace Edgar Martin to the division rival Indians did more than ship his 77-18 record over to the Land of Cleves, it cleared the way for Koskie’s promotion to the starting rotation. The Orioles won’t be asking Koskie to replace Martin’s production but they will be looking for a lot out of the rookie in the future. Koskie has a durable frame to pitch every fourth or fifth game and has a plus-plus fastball that hitters chase. He stands to K his fair share of guys.
#5 - Ronnie Robinson, 2B, Montreal
Blessed with good arm strength and accuracy, Robinson will bring good defense to the second base position in Montreal and strengthen their defense up the middle. As good as he can be defensively, Robinson will also hold his own at the plate. He stands to hit with decent contact and has an above average eye for pitching, so he won’t be fooled easily. While he doesn’t have major league power, he does drive the ball well off the bat so he will hit a few home runs between the foul poles and power alleys, but not to straight-away center.
#6 - Vladimir Gutierrez, 1B, Houston
The second of four players called up recently, Gutierrez is a decent hitting first baseman but lacks the power you might normal see at the corner infield spot. His best asset at the plate is his batting eye, but he will occasionally struggle to drive the ball well against either type of pitching. He makes decent contact at the plate, and when combined with his sense for the strike zone, should put him on-base a decent amount of time.
#7 - Bud Lackey, SP/LR, St. Louis
The Cardinals tap their pitching-laden minors to shore up a sore spot in the bullpen. Lackey gives the team a genuine long reliever and can be counted on to spot a start in the rotation. Of his five pitch repertoire, only one can be counted on as a plus-pitch but the rest are decent. Lackey will be far tougher on righties than lefties, and his Achilles heel is his lack of ability to pitch deep into a ball game.