This column is the final part of a six-part part series looking at the sophomore players around the Major Leagues. We finish up with a look at the National League West, which introduced some very talented pitchers to the league in 2008, especially in Los Angeles. The Arizona Diamondbacks went with quality over quantity with just one rookie making a significant contribution last season.
Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and left-handed pitcher Greg Smith both spent their rookie seasons in Oakland, but the (now) sophomores came over to Colorado in the off-season trade for veteran outfielder Matt Holliday. Gonzalez has spent a good portion of the season in triple-A in 2009, although he is currently on the Rockies MLB roster. In the minors, the outfielder hit .339/.418/.630 with 10 homers in 192 at-bats. Called up to the Rockies, he is hitting .180/.226/.280 in 14 games. He’s been striking out a lot (more than 30%, while walking less than 6% of the time). Last season in 302 at-bats with Oakland, Gonzalez hit .242/.273/.361 with four homers and a strikeout rate of 20.2%.
Smith has yet to pitch with the Rockies this season while rehabbing from shoulder woes. He made 32 starts for Oakland as a rookie in 2008 but it remains to be seen how effective he can be in Colorado with a modest fastball and fly-ball tendencies.
Ian Stewart is a former first round selection (10th overall in ’03) of the Rockies, but he has yet to truly display the same potential that he hinted at as a prep player. Stewart, 24, has struggled two hit for average this season with a line of .223/.306/.489 with 13 homers in 184 at-bats. Last season he hit .259/.349/.455 with 10 homers in 266 at-bats. His strikeout rate has actually dropped from 35.3 to 28.3 K% from 2008. The biggest differences have been his BABIP, which has gone from .364 to .235, and his line-drive rate, which has gone from 25.0 to 12.8%.
Starters Franklin Morales and Greg Reynolds have made brief appearances on the Rockies’ pitching staff over the past few years. Morales appeared in eight games in 2007, five in 2008, and two in 2009 – with varying levels of success. Reynolds, 23, made 13 starts for Colorado in 2008 but posted an 8.13 ERA and allowed 83 hits in 62 innings. This season he’s been unable to stay healthy and has made just one appearance in triple-A.
Blake DeWitt was a surprise contributor to the Dodgers club in 2008, but he has not had the same impact in 2009. Last year, the infielder hit .264/.344/.383 with nine homers in 368 at-bats. This year, DeWitt has spent the majority of the year in triple-A where he’s produced modest results. In 19 big league at-bats, though, he has a triple-slash line of .158/.238/.158 with zero extra base hits.
Although not a typical rookie, right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, now 34, posted a 3.73 ERA with 181 hits in 183.1 innings of work for the Dodgers in 2008. This season has been a different story as the Japanese hurler missed most of April and all of May due to injury. When healthy, though, he has a 3.44 ERA with 28 hits allowed in 36.2 innings.
Southpaw Clayton Kershaw was one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball entering the 2008 season, but he struggled with consistency while making 22 appearances, including 21 starts. In 109 innings, he allowed 107 hits and an ERA of 4.26 (4.08 FIP). He posted a walk rate of 4.35 and a strikeout rate of 8.36 K/9. In 2009, the 21-year-old hurler has an ERA of 3.76 (3.79 FIP) with 57 hits allowed in 76.1 innings. His strikeout rate has been similar to 2008, but the walk rate has risen by more than one free pass per nine innings.
Cory Wade, now 26, came out of nowhere last season to post a 2.27 ERA (3.78 FIP) in 71.1 innings as a reliever. The right-hander allowed just 51 hits, while posting rates of 1.89 BB/9 and 6.43 K/9. Wade has not been as sharp in 2009 with 23 hits allowed in 25 innings and an ERA of 4.68 (3.62). His walk rate has risen to 3.60 BB/9 and his strikeout rate has dropped to 5.76.
Chase Headley‘s 2008 MLB debut was highly anticipated and the club found room for him at the Major League level by moving him from the hot corner to left field (to accommodate incumbent third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff). Headley, 25, had an OK season and hit .269/.337/.420 with nine homers in 331 at-bats. His walk rate was OK, but not great, at 8.3 BB%, while his strikeout rate was worrisome at 31.4 K%. This season, the rates have been similar, although the strikeout rate is down four percent. Headley has a line of .233/.309/.365 with six homers, while spending time back at third base for the injured Kouzmanoff.
It definitely helps if you have a younger brother that is your employer’s best position player. Edgar Gonzalez finally received his MLB break in 2008 when he made his way to the San Diego organization so he could play with his brother Adrian. A 30-year-old rookie, Edgar hit .274/.329/.385 with seven homers in 325 at-bats as a second baseman and back-up infielder. This season, he has not hit well with a line of .189/.250/.368 and three homers in 95 at-bats.
Catcher Nick Hundley has pretty much been as advertised in his brief Major League career. In 2008, he hit for a low average while producing a line of .237/.278/.359 with five homers in 198 at-bats. His home ballpark mutes his power potential. In 2009, Hundley is showing a little more patience at the plate while hitting .236/.340/.379 with three homers in 140 at-bats. He has a pretty good arm behind the plate but the rest of his defense is average.
Josh Banks was a minor-league acquisition from the Jays organization. The right-hander has a modest fastball and struggles with his command. Last year, he allowed 94 hits in 85.1 innings of work and posted an ERA of 4.75 (5.18 FIP). He had a walk rate of 3.38 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of just 4.54. In triple-A in 2009, Banks had a 2.47 ERA while making 14 appearances, including eight starts. Called up to the Majors, he has made one appearance out of the bullpen and allowed just two hits and no runs in three innings of work.
Pablo Sandoval has done nothing but hit since coming to the Majors in 2008. Last year, he produced a line of .345/.357/.490 with three homers in 145 at-bats. The 22-year-old former catcher has continued to hit for average in 2009 with a line of .336/.385/.544 with eight homers and 22 doubles in 241 at-bats. His walk rate has also improved by four percent, although the strikeout rate has also risen by six percent. Sandoval will also have to watch his conditioning, especially if he hopes to remain at the hot corner, or move back behind the dish.
John Bowker was the Giants’ first baseman almost by default in 2008 and he hit .255/.300/.408 with 10 homers in 326 at-bats. The 25-year-old hitter also posted rates of 7.0 BB% and 22.7 K%. Unhappy with his production, the club has kept Bowker in triple-A all season despite a line of .346/.445/.595 and 13 homers in 237 at-bats.
The club utilized a number of rookie players in the infield in 2008, including Eugenio Velez (who appeared in 98 games and also played the outfield), and Emmanuel Burriss (94 games). Only Burriss has seen significant playing time at the MLB level in 2009 with a line of .238/.292/.267 in 202 at-bats. Velez was seeing time as a utility player and had a line of .194/.216/.222, which earned him a ticket to triple-A.
The Diamondbacks organization knew it had a pretty good pitching prospect in Max Scherzer, but the right-hander has surpassed expectations – both in 2008 and 2009. Last year, he allowed 48 hits in 56 innings and posted rates of 3.38 BB/9 and 10.61 K/9. This year, Scherzer has allowed 77 hits in 79.0 innings, while posting rates of 3.65 BB/9 and 9.23 K/9.