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Baseball's Impact Kids

   by Bryan Leonard - 04/03/2007

The part of handicapping that’s easy to analyze with April baseball is veteran players. You can gauge last season, their career numbers, and what has been happening in spring training (such as injuries or a new pitch some hurler has developed) to get a sense of how they might play this season.

That can then be used to asses how they might impact their team. Not so with rookies. You really can’t project minor-league numbers into major league success or failure. With that said, here’s a look at some interesting young players who could surprise, for Fantasy Players or for sports bettors.

Matt Garza (pitcher, Twins): This guy throws hard and is a projected strong starter at some point. He saw a little time late last season and was average (3-6, 50 innings). Garza was selected No. 25 overall in the 2005 draft. With the injury to Francisco Liriano, you are likely to see much more of Garza in 2007 than was expected. He could be a nice complement to lefty ace Johan Santana.

Josh Barfield (2B, Indians): My beloved Indians picked up a potential keeper this offseason from the Padres. This sparkplug second baseman hit .280 with 13 HRs in San Diego, the worst hitter’s park in baseball. Now he goes to hitter-friendly Jacobs Field, so don’t be surprised if he significantly increases his home runs and doubles. He’s got speed, too, and is an above-average glove.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (pitcher, Red Sox): Dice-K, as he’s called, is no sleeper as he’s been front page news from Tokyo to Boston since the Sox dished out a $51-million posting fee for the 26-year old righty. He struck out 10 or more batters 10 times last season in Japan, and a season-high 14 three times. He impressed in spring training, with a great fastball and several varieties of change-ups that at times were baffling hitters. He would appear to have an edge in the first half of the season with so many teams seeing his stuff for the first time. His adjustment will be that in Japan he threw around 140 pitches a game in a 6-man rotation. Since Japan doesn’t play baseball on Monday’s, he basically pitched once a week. Now he is in a 5-man rotation on a 100-110 pitch count. He’s scheduled to face Seattle in his Fenway debut, which means his first pitch will be to another Japanese legend, Ichiro Suzuki!

Chris Young (CF, Diamondbacks): White Sox GM Ken Williams said he still regrets trading Young. On a team loaded with pitching but needing some offense, Young is a legitimate young triple-threat, with potential power and base stealing ability.

Kevin Kouzmanoff (3B, Padres): This is the guy the Indians traded to get Barfield from San Diego. He led the minors in slugging with a .656 slugging percentage and has a .332 career average. Like the D-Backs, San Diego has ample pitching but needs hitting, so keep an eye out for KK at third.

Alex Rios (OF, Blue Jays): This kid had two seasons in 2006. He faded in the second half because of a staph infection, but through June he was hitting .330 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs. He was an All-Star, but missed the All-Star Game because of the infection. He has been healthy in spring training and appears ready for a terrific 2007 season.

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