added 3/9/2005 by Scott Barzilla
Every Spring we find ourselves in the same old trap. Wisdom tells us that we are better off with the devil we know, but many of us are tired of that same old devil. Therefore, Spring is the time to turn to the kids for hope and every year there is an abundance of it. This is year is no different. Here is a look at some kids knocking on the door.
C Hector Gimenez
Gimenez is a smallish catcher that has slowly made his way up the system. He is earmarked for Round Rock this year after several strong defensive campaigns. The only thing holding Gimenez back right now is his bat. If he can develop enough punch and patience at the plate to be passable he could become the catcher of the future in 2006.
1B Todd Self
Self hasn’t made an appearance this Spring, but he is the best hitter in the organization right now. He has put up 400+ OBPs consistently and shown the kind of plate discipline that would make Lance Berkman proud. The problem with Self is that he is blocked at first and has yet to develop the kind of pop that would force the organization to find a spot for him. He has been shagging flies this winter. He if he can develop some versatility he could make the team as a bench player in 2006 or as soon as mid-season.
1B Carlos Rivera
Rivera is further down the chain than Self, but he is more athletic and powerful than Self. Rivera appears to be on the right kind of progression to challenge for first base. He should be in Corpus Christi in 2005 which would put him in Round Rock in 2006. If he follows that progression and performs well he could be in line to be the first baseman in 2007.
2B Chris Burke
A SABR buddy just came back from Spring Training and was not complimentary of Burke’s defensive skills. Either way, I can’t see Burke not being on the Opening Day roster, but Biggio has been playing a lot of second base. Burke must prove he can hit at the big league level to stick. If he produces as he has in the minors then we have a young Biggio on our hands.
SS Tommy Whiteman
As unimpressed as the SABR scout was with Burke, the opposite was true of Whiteman. I’ve seen Whiteman first hand and have to echo that assessment. Everett appears to have shortstop held down, so Whiteman will probably have to convert to third base. That means that 2006 is the earliest we will see Whiteman, but he is long and smooth as a fielder. That size also gives him some pop.
INF Eric Bruntlett
Bruntlett’s days as a “prospect” are done, but it’s hard to understand why the team desperately hangs on to Vizcaino when Bruntlett can perform the same role. The infield looks pretty crowded right now, so Bruntlett might have to move to short with Whiteman at third in Round Rock. He should be the first infielder recalled though.
INF Royce Huffman
I have a soft spot for Huffman because he is a fellow Horned Frog. Yet, it is hard to deny he is blocked in a lot of different ways. Huffman has been shagging some flies in the outfield, fielding some grounders at third, and played some second this Spring in addition to his customary first. His best chance is to hang on as a Joe McEwing type some day. If he can play second at Round Rock he will increase his stock.
OF Willy Taveras
From what we have seen, I would find it hard to believe if Taveras doesn’t go to Houston this April. He has looked too good in the field and at the plate. Listen folks, he isn’t a Brian Hunter or Gerald Young, but he isn’t Kenny Lofton either. I think Juan Pierre is a great comparison. Early in Colorado he was not a great offensive centerfielder and neither will Taveras in 2005.
OF Luke Scott
Scott may have seemed like filler in the Jeriome Robertson deal, but he has an outside chance to make the final 25 man roster. He hits the ball with authority and has enough athleticism to be a decent corner outfielder. Realistically, he could be a decent corner outfield candidate in 2006 depending on what happens with Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio.
OF Charleton Jimerson
Jimerson is an enigma. The club drafted him out of the University of Miami, but he is much more athletic than polished. Jimerson can do everything on a baseball field except draw a walk it seems. If he learns plate discipline he could be a superstar. If he doesn’t he will go the way of the do-do bird.
SP Ezekial Astacio
Astacio was the big young star coming into camp, but his star has faded for the moment. He throws the mid 90s fastball, but he needs consistent off-speed stuff to stick at the big league level. He has learned so much in camp, so hopefully he will develop that at Round Rock in 2005.
SP Taylor Buckholz
Buckholz was the 2004 version of Astacio and then turned in a very disappointing season. However, he is a couple years younger than Astacio and still in line to pitch at Round Rock. He is coming off of major surgery in November, but if he turns in an impressive season he could become a permanent fixture in the rotation in September.
SP Jared Gotthreaux
Gotthreaux could wind up being converted into a reliever. He throws hard and hard throwers can always find a spot in the bullpen. The club announces he wasn’t a candidate to make the team this year, so he could find himself back in the Round Rock rotation with Buckholz and Astacio.
RP Wandy Rodriguez
The smallish lefty has been difficult to pick up in Spring Training. John Franco has taken the lefty specialist role, so the club will be looking for a second lefty that can get out lefties and righties. He could fit that bill.
RP Fernando Nieve
Nieve is one of the many fireballers that always make their way into Spring Training. Like with the others, he must show mastery of another pick and good overall control this year to get a look in September or sooner.
RP Philip Barzilla
Okay, the gig is up. I couldn’t resist the temptation. Philip wasn’t invited to Spring Training, but he finished the season in New Orleans last year. He should return to Round Rock and serve as one of their lefty relievers. Unlike Rodriguez, Philip must rely on pinpoint control with his fastball and slider. It worked in Round Rock but not so well in New Orleans. If he can prove that he can get out AAA hitters he might get a chance to do it at the next level.
Scott Barzilla is the author of “Checks and Imbalances” and “The State of Baseball Management.”