All this created havoc for owners with limited roster space on such short notice.
Who should you grab first? Who should you drop? Where’s the computer?
Do you target McCutchen, the speedy 23-year-old center fielder who essentially made Nate McLouth expendable for Pittsburgh?
Or do you go for Beckham, the 22-year-old shortstop-turned-third baseman who shot through the White Sox system less than one year after being drafted?
Strike that, actually. Given all the hype surrounding Hanson since earning Arizona Fall League Most Valuable Player honors, the chances of him just hanging around the free-agent pool are slim. And let’s be honest — Beckham and McCutchen, for all their talent, don’t hold a torch to Hanson in terms of immediate upside. If Matt Wieters is the one American League rookie to own this year, then Hanson is that guy in the National League, even after getting beat up by the Brewers in his big league debut.
The choice ultimately comes down to McCutchen and Beckham, both of whom weren’t expected to be promoted this early in the season.
The smart money says McCutchen. He’s got tons of speed, blossoming power, five years of Minor League seasoning and the guarantee of playing time now with McLouth patrolling center in Atlanta. Baseball America has been drooling over his physical attributes for years, and with 34 stolen bases last year and improved power with a career-high .496 slugging percentage this year, he’s backed up the hype for the most part.
Beckham carries more risk, largely because he just hasn’t been around for long. This time last year, the guy was leading the Georgia Bulldogs to an NCAA championship. Now, he has a real chance of supplanting Josh Fields at the hot corner, despite doubts held by his own manager, Ozzie Guillen, who told several outlets during Spring Training that the club would be “in trouble” if Beckham were in the Majors this season. With that in mind, it’s fair to wonder whether the White Sox rushed him at all.
But Minor League service time is just one thing to consider.
The fact that Beckham qualifies at shortstop, third and possibly even second soon can’t be dismissed. It’s enough of a reason to go back and comb through his Minor League record carefully, all 59 games worth of it.
Are Beckham’s impressive numbers — a .322 average and a .519 slugging percentage — enough to go on? According to someone who covers Minor League players, yes, double-digit homers aren’t out of the question for the Atlanta native, who already possesses considerably more pop than McCutchen, whose pedestrian .423 slugging percentage on the farm leaves much to be desired. The real concern, according to this source, wasn’t at the plate, but on the defensive end, where Beckham could struggle given his lack of experience at third.
That leads me to think the McCutchen vs. Beckham debate depends largely each owner’s immediate needs. If speed and outfield depth are weaknesses, then the exciting new Bucs center fielder is your man, no question. But, if you need help up the middle, going for the high-risk/high-reward guy in Beckham makes sense. Even more so in points leagues, where steals aren’t nearly as valuable as they are in standard 5×5 formats.
For those reasons, I actually wound up cutting McCutchen in a points league shortly after grabbing him to get a hold of Beckham.
Regardless of whom you choose, one thing is clear: both McCutchen and Beckham have impact potential and deserve all the attention they’re receiving.
In other news …
Two days after Garrett Atkins seemingly snapped a season-long slump with two homers in one game, the red-hot Ian Stewart did the same thing, complicating the veteran’s chances of reclaiming full-time status at third base.
Another third-base situation worth watching is the one in Milwaukee, where Mat Gamel is getting more playing time at the expense of Bill Hall, whose struggles against right-handers are well documented.
Fausto Carmona’s sinker may not be sinking, but his stock sure hit rock bottom this week.
One Tribe member whose value isn’t sinking, ironically, is that of Carl Pavano, who looks more like the pitcher who helped lead the Marlins to the 2003 World Series championship than the primary subject of the boo-birds in the Bronx, having gone 7-1 with a 3.00 ERA and a 40/10 K/BB ratio since the start of May, including his first complete-game shutout in four years last time out.
Another pitcher who deserves a second chance is Jeff Niemann, who sports a scintillating 1.73 ERA and a 21/3 K/BB ratio in his past four starts after reportedly tweaking his mechanics a few weeks ago.
Oakland’s rookie starters, namely, Vin Mazzaro, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Josh Outman, seem to be figuring out how to handle Major League hitters after some tough lessons. In fact, the entire pitching staff owns a surprising 1.89 ERA this month.
— Alex Cushing, MLB.com
In case you missed it, the biggest thing since Cal Ripken swept through Baltimore this weekend.
Matt Wieters — the most highly anticipated Orioles prospect in two decades — hardly snuck in through the back door Friday. He got a standing ovation before stepping to the plate for his first big league at-bat.
One network later called it, “the dawn of the Matt Wieters era.”
One commentator even mentioned his name in the same sentence as Johnny Bench.
Now, before we begin to wrap our minds around that comparison, a little background:
Anyone following baseball closely over the past several months knew this moment would come. What Wieters brings to the table is practically unrivaled: six-foot-five, switch-hitter, catcher, starred at Georgia Tech, selected fifth overall in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, bulleted through the Orioles farm system in less than two years time and a career .343 average and a .576 slugging percentage in the Minors. Not only is he talented, he also possesses something that separates him from the pack of freakishly gifted prospects: outstanding plate discipline. Superstar is practically written all over this guy’s forehead.
But does his name really belong in the same sentence as Bench? Maybe we should roll out the carpet to Cooperstown now instead of waiting another however many years to induct Wieters into the Hall of Fame.
This whole situation raises an even larger question: When did we all start giving big-time rookies star treatment? Did it start with Lebron? A-Rod?
Regardless, it’s hard to ignore how many bright young stars have fallen victim to hype. What happened to Jeff Francoeur since gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2005? Years after Alex Gordon and Jeremy Hermida were favored to win Rookie of the Year honors, and we’re still waiting for them to arrive.
The good news for Wieters is that history is working in his favor. Only so many hitters have wrecked havoc on Minor League pitching over the last quarter-century quite like the South Carolina native. He also joins an up-and-coming Orioles lineup that is just hitting its stride.
So it really just comes down to a test of character. Will Wieters fold under the spotlight, seize the moment or stumble for a while before getting his act together?
Having watched him play a little bit, I will say that he seemed fairly calm under fire. He doubled and tripled on Saturday, and despite hitless performances on Friday and Sunday, the fact that he didn’t start swinging at everything in arm’s length shows signs of maturity.
Cynicism aside, in the face of some ridiculous expectations, Wieters can and I think, ultimately, will blossom into one of baseball’s top catchers, batting well above of.300 and rake 20-30 homers annually.
Just don’t go haywire if it takes longer than a week or two before he gets there.
— Alex Cushing, MLB.com