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Slew of prospects ready for primetime03/31/2011 10:00 AM ET
By Josh Jackson / Special to MLB.com
For most of MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects, the start of the season presents renewed challenges to exceed expectations and work their way up the Minor League ladder.
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, the top overall pick in last year's Draft, will adjust to the daily grind of baseball with Class A Hagerstown. Angels catalyst Mike Trout likely will climb a level to Double-A after hitting .352 and .341 in his first two seasons as a pro. And Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas will work on his defense at Triple-A Omaha.
Some of the game's best youngsters, though, are swapping the prospect tag for a new one on Opening Day: Rookie.
Here's a look at some of the talented young players ready to graduate from the Minors to baseball's highest level:
J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays: The 25-year-old catcher needed only 104 games to rank third in the Pacific Coast League with 32 homers last season. Blue Jays fans surely haven't forgotten his debut in Toronto, where he tallied 11 total bases by homering twice, doubling and singling, even though he finished his 11-game big league stint with a .193 average. The up-and-comer would have had more time to adjust to Major League pitching if not for Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos' preseason promise to John Buck that the veteran would be his everyday catcher. This year, Arencibia should get a better shot.
Brandon Belt, Giants: Last year, Belt went from Class A Advanced San Jose to Triple-A Fresno in his first pro season, hitting .352 with 76 extra-base hits and 112 RBIs along the way. He punctuated his sensational 2010 with a strong Arizona Fall League campaign, then picked up where he left off in Spring Training by earning the Harry S. Jordan Award as the Giants' most impressive newcomer. Belt received a more coveted reward Wednesday -- a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Aroldis Chapman, Reds: Louisville Bats fans can be forgiven for hoping to see him again in a starting role, but that's not going to happen. Conventional baseball wisdom suggests that if you're a contender and you have a 6-foot-4 southpaw who can throw 105 mph out of the bullpen, there's no point in letting him fiddle around in the Minor Leagues. Although Chapman's control has been erratic and his changeup occasionally left something to be desired last year, he reportedly worked on his off-speed stuff in side sessions this spring and is becoming more comfortable in Cincinnati.
Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays: A 2006 first-round pick traded by the Phillies in the Roy Halladay deal, Drabek has gotten sharper each year as a pro. In his first season in the Blue Jays system, he went 14-9 with a 2.94 ERA and tossed a Fourth of July no-hitter. His terrific season earned him a September callup to Toronto, where he did not allow more than three runs in any of his three starts, struck out 12 and walked five (he had six-inning outings against the Yankees and Orioles). Drabek's success carried to Spring Training, and there's every reason to believe he'll turn in a strong rookie campaign.
Freddie Freeman, Braves: The reigning International League Rookie of the Year could be a candidate for the National League version of the award this season. He hit .319 with 18 homers and 87 RBIs in 2010 and, after batting .263 in Spring Training, the 2007 second-round pick is set to join former Minor League roommate Jason Heyward on the Braves. Dave Brundage, Freeman's manager at Triple-A Gwinnett last season, said that watching Freeman gave him the rare pleasure of seeing "a 20-year-old outmatch Triple-A." What will he do as a 21-year-old in the big leagues?
Jeremy Hellickson, Rays: After posting a sub-3.00 ERA in four straight seasons, Hellickson was named USA Today Minor League Player of the Year and a 2010 Topps Triple-A All-Star. It's hardly surprising that the Tampa Bay front office believes he's ready for the Majors. A 6-foot-1 right-hander who boasts near-perfect accuracy in the low-90s, Hellickson was 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA in 10 American League appearances last season. He was 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in four Grapefruit League games this spring and will begin the season as the Rays' fifth starter.
Michael Pineda, Mariners: Still only 21, Pineda has cruised through the Minor Leagues. After going 8-1 with a 2.22 ERA in 13 starts in his first try at the Double-A level, he hit his first hiccup in pro ball after a late-June promotion to the Pacific Coast League. The big right-hander was 3-3 with a 4.76 ERA in 12 outings but struck out 76 -- and walked only 17 -- over 62 1/3 innings. This spring, he looked right at home with the Mariners, most notably in limiting the Brewers to two hits over six innings while striking out seven on March 26.
Chris Sale, White Sox: After pitching only 10 1/3 innings in the Minor Leagues last year, the 2010 first-rounder made a name for himself on Chicago's South Side. He struck out 32 and walked only 10 over 23 1/3 frames for the White Sox, appearing in 21 games and going 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA. There was some discussion about Sale moving into the rotation this season, and he was in contention for the closer role in Spring Training. He'll open the year in the bullpen after mixed results in Arizona, setting up another hard-throwing lefty in Matt Thornton.