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BASN 2005 Baseball Preview: 10 Players To Watch
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Just a few days before the Yankees and Red Sox open the 2005 major league campaign, BASN takes a capsule look at some players who should have pivotal roles for their respective teams this season.
Not only for the contenders, but also for the teams who are maybe a player or two away from being a part of the pennant race. And for those who’ll make enough noise to factor in as to who’ll win their divisions and wild card berths.
RHP FRANKIE RODRIGUEZ, ANGELS With reliever Troy Percival’s defection to Detroit and Troy Glaus’ exit to Arizona, the Angels need FRod to step in the closer role. While he only converted 12 of 19 save opportunities last year, manager Mike Scioscia feels he ready. A 4-1 record (1.82 ERA) along with 123 K in 84 IP last year says that Rodriguez is more than ready to be one of the league’s best closers. Not to mention that the league hit only a measly .172 against in 2004 as well. He was even tougher against righties, who only managed a .127 mark on him.
3B MELVIN MORA, ORIOLES Coming off a season where he set career highs in batting average (.340, 2nd in the AL), homers (27), RBI (104), and runs scored (111), the Baltimore third sacker could possibly put up better numbers this season. In a lineup that already includes two MVPs (Tejada, Sosa), a future Hall of Famer (R. Palmeiro), and a pair of up-and-coming outfielders (Bigbie, Matos), Mora could eclipse his 2004 totals. If the O’s get any sort of consistent pitching, the AL East could be more than Boston, New York, and no one else.
LHP C.C. SABATHIA, INDIANS If there’s going to be a Tribe revival in Cleveland this year, it’s going to have to start of the left arm of Carsten Charles Sabathia. Unfortunately, Sabathia will open the season on the DL with a strained right oblique. C.C. slumped in the second half and his 2004 season ended in September with a strained left hamstring. Adding Kevin Millwood to this staff could make the Indians a sleeper in the AL Central. But for them to contend, they need the 6-7 Sabathia to bounce make from a mediocre 11-10 mark.
SS B.J. UPTON, DEVIL RAYS Even though he’ll start the season in Triple-A Durham, don’t be surprised if this phenom is back in the bigs before the end of April. The D-Rays will already be without OF Rocco Baldelli (off-season knee surgery) for at least a few months. While he’s still a work in progress, Upton showed in his brief stint last year (.258 in 159 at-bats) that he can handle major league pitching. Whether manager Lou Piniella and the Tampa brass wants to believe it or not, the time might be now for this youngster.
OF/DH MAGGLIO ORDONEZ, TIGERS Many teams shied away from the ex-White Sox All-Star after his injury plagued season of 2004. Coming off two knee surgeries, the Tigers bit the bullet and gambled on Ordonez by signing him to a long-term deal. A career .307 hitter with 187 homers, he missed 36 games last year after hurting his knee May 19 — then went on the disabled list for good on July 22 with bone marrow edema. If he can approach anywhere near his average numbers, a lineup with Dmitri Young, Carlos Guillen, and Rondell White looks formidable.
RHP RUSS ORTIZ, D-BACKS One of baseball most under appreciated starters now finds himself back on the West Coast, this time in Arizona. 2004 saw Ortiz post his fourth straight 200-inning season while leading the Braves in victories. All it got him was a one-way ticket out of Dixie. But if he stays true to form, Ortiz could have the last laugh. He joins a D-Back staff that includes young veterans like Brandon Webb and Javier Vazquez. Considering what has happened in L.A. and San Francisco, Arizona could find themselves back in the hunt in the NL West.
OF WILLY TAVERAS, ASTROS Why would we include this rookie center fielder in our players to watch section? He has the unenviable task of trying to replace Carlos Beltran’s bat and glove in Houston. He’s definitely got the credentials to be successful. Taveras led the Texas League with a .335 batting average while also leading the league in steals (55). He was also named a Texas League regular season and post-season All-Star. He probably wont match Beltran’s amazing second half and post season, but he appears to be no slouch either.
OF CARLOS LEE, BREWERS At some point this year, Chisox GM Jerry Reinsdorf is going to kick himself for letting Lee go to Milwaukee. He just missed having his second straight 30-homer, 100 RBI campaign (by 1 RBI ) last year and he should fit in well in the Brewers. A Milwaukee lineup including of Lee, Geoff Jenkins, Wes Helms, Lyle Overbay, and a healthy Junior Spivey could prove to be potent for manager Ned Yost. Unfortunately, it may also stir up a stiff wind at Miller Park with all those strikeouts.
RHP GUILLERMO MOTA, MARLINS Arguably, he’s the most important pitcher on the Marlins’ staff not named Beckett, Burnett, Willis, or Leiter. Florida allowed All-Star Armando Benitez and his club record 47 saves to walk due to money issues. Now Mota must step into some very big shoes. He did lead all NL relievers in innings pitched (96.2) and he held lefties to a .196 average. But the biggest question facing him and manager Jack McKeon is will his psyche be able to handle the role of being a closer for a World Series contending ball club?
OFs JORDAN/MONDESI, BRAVES Lost in the Tim Hudson trade was the departure of J.D. Drew and spark plug Charles Thomas in the Braves’ outfield. The front office was forced to economize and spend a combined $1.6 million on veterans Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi. Jordan hit .222 in an injury-plagued 2004 season at Texas while Mondesi hit a combined .241 with Pittsburgh and Anaheim last year. This pair will have to enjoy a better than average season if Atlanta is going to win a 14th straight division title and match its 2004 total of 803 runs scored.