>Each new season sees a new group of young players bust onto the seen in the North American Baseball Champions League – highly touted rookies that are bringing the promise of youth, talent, and fresh legs, arms, and minds to their parent big league clubs. The NABCL has a great history of these rookies who have transformed their first seasons’ success into league stardom. This group of AL rookies is hoping it can follow in the footsteps of the the greats like Ray Riley, Ricardo Johnson and Walker Wilkins.
7 AL rookies to watch for season 10:
Michael Chiba, 2B – Pawtucket. Michael Chiba burst onto the scene in the NABCL in season 9 and announced his presence with authority. That rare International Free Agent that comes stateside ML ready, Chiba – from Kobe, Japan – hit 3 HR and posted an 1.183 OPS in his 7 game audition in late September of season 9 with the Patriots big club and entered season 10 with the starting 2B position all but locked up. All Chiba does is hit line drives all over the park and only swing at strikes while showing impressive range around second base for such a young player. Chiba must be considered the favorite to win the ROY award in the AL this season as he is penciled into the #3 spot in the lineup for the up and coming Patriots.
Victor Fernandez, SP – Pawtucket. Chiba isn’t the only rookie expected to do big things this season for the Patriots. Season 8’s #1 overall pick, 22 year old right handed starter Victor Fernandez makes the jump from AA to the Big Club this season. Fernandez commanded a $4m signing bonus after Pawtucket picked him #1, but has proven to be worth it so far winning 20 of 32 decisions in the minor leagues while striking out better than a hitter an inning (283 K’s in 273 IP). Fernandez is one of four rookie hurlers on Pawtucket’s staff, but the biggest expectations of the bunch are obviously on him. Exiting Spring Training as the #2 pitcher in the rotation, we should see just what he’s made of soon enough.
Earl Lincoln, Closer – Philadelphia. It isn’t often that a rookie comes out of Spring Training with the closers job at the ML level, but that’s just what Philadelphia’s 22 year old righty Earl Lincoln is doing. Lincoln, a supplemental 1st round pick for the Milkmen back in season 6 out of Northeast Guliford High in McLeansville, NC, has breezed through Philly’s minor league system posting cumulative numbers that impress: 2.87 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 112 saves in 127 save opps, 130 K’s in 135 IP, 4 Reliever of the Year awards and 3 All-Star appearances. He showed great velocity and control of all 4 of his pitches (4-seam fastball, slider, curve and change up) this spring – though he primarily relies on his fastball and slider – and heads into the regular season as the anchor of the bullpen for a Philadelphia team that has won their division 3 of the past 5 seasons.
Norman Harris, Catcher – Boston. The 24 year old Harris came to Boston in a pre season trade in season 9 and quickly proved his worth in AAA, earning a promotion to the big club even before rosters expanded on September 1. In 29 games and110 ABs, Harris showed the promise at the plate that the Colonials had been sorely lacking over the past few seasons, hitting .336/.365/.464 while doing a passable job handling the young Boston pitching staff. Being a RH hitter in Fenway definitely helps his stock, as does his status as the starter for Boston.
Al Mendez, 2B – El Paso. former 3rd round pick Al Mendez has that one skill that scouts always say “you can’t teach” – speed. And lots of it. Mendez was fast in High School and has always showed promise on the basepaths as a Pro, but he took it a step further last season in AAA as he swiped an amazing 165 bags. No, that isn’t a type. Though that pure number alone is astounding, the 3 stats that are even more amazing are that Mendez’s steal total actually bested his HIT total (154), he was only caught FOUR times, and that he stole those 165 bases in 127 games. Mendez wisely doesn’t try to do too much at the plate and usually slaps the ball around (only 118 career XBH and 9 career HR), but he has used that technique to accumulate a .332 career average in the minor leagues. Look for him to burn around the bases for the Ultraviolence this season.
Mo McFeely, RP – Washington D.C. The defending AL East Champs, the D.C. Federals, have a few new faces on the ballclub this season, but perhaps none will prove as important as the former 1st round pick from Chicago, righty reliever Mo McFeely. McFeely has a good fastball and slider, very good control, and a rubber arm. No doubt Washington will lean on this rookie heavily in the late innings as they aim to improve on their 4.83 team ERA and 15 blown saves from a season ago.
Tex Leach, 1B – Norfolk. We stay in the East to find another young impact player – potential power bat Tex Leach. This 2nd round pick from season 6 hit 123 HR in his 4 minor league stops winning a minor league MVP and 3 Silver Slugger awards along the way. Leach pairs a great batting eye with his power and Norfolk is counting on him to be a big presence in their lineup this season.