It's June, and you know what that means. Tiger lilies bloom. Brides walk down aisles. Kids get out of school. The heat arrives. And so do the rookies.
Usually when a baseball team sends a top, almost-ready prospect to the minors at the end of spring training, the assignment comes with an unspoken timetable of two months.
Two months gives a team time to see what it has in the majors, and it also gives the prospect a little more seasoning. Business-wise, those two months come in handy for a team trying to slow a prospect's path to salary arbitration eligibility and free agency.
In the last few weeks, we've seen a number of highly touted rookies arrive in the majors, including Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters, Tampa Bay pitcher David Price, Atlanta pitcher Tommy Hanson, Pittsburgh centerfielder Andrew McCutchen and Chicago White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham.
If the scouting reports are true, these five will emerge as some of game's biggest stars.
It was an interesting year for rookies even before Wieters, Price, Hanson, McCutchen and Beckham arrived. Detroit opened the season with 20-year-old Rick Porcello in its rotation, and the righthander, who was pitching high school ball in North Jersey two years ago, has more than held his own.
Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus has had a solid rookie season, as have St. Louis outfielder Colby Rasmus, Colorado outfielder Dexter Fowler and Baltimore outfielder Nolan Reimold, a recent promotion who is putting up good power numbers. Oakland has several good young rookie pitchers, led by righthanded reliever Andrew Bailey, a South Jersey native from Paul VI High School, Trevor Cahill and Josh Outman, one of the prospects that the Phillies dealt to get Joe Blanton.
Dan Meyer, another South Jersey product (Kingsway) is having a good year out of Florida's bullpen, and Randy Wells and Ronald Belisario have pitched well for the Cubs and Dodgers. Cleveland recently called up lefty David Huff, and Cincinnati brought up lefty Matt Maloney. Both have connections to the Phillies. Huff was selected by the club in the 19th round of the 2005 draft, but the Phils failed to sign him. Maloney, who came out of that same draft, was traded to the Reds for Kyle Lohse in July 2007.
Of course, any talk of rookies with Phillies connections has to include lefty J.A. Happ, who pitches against the Red Sox today. He is 4-0 with a 2.98 ERA in 16 games, four of which have been starts.
Happ could very well be in the discussion for NL rookie of the year by season's end. He's going to take a regular turn in the rotation for a club that scores runs. He could pile up some wins.
But there will be lots of competition, and some of the recent arrivals will have plenty of time to get into the discussion. Remember, Ryan Howard won the NL rookie of the year with a half season's work in 2005.
Let's take a look at some of the prominent rookies.
Porcello - He was the top high school pitcher in the 2007 draft but slipped to 27th overall because teams were afraid of his asking price. The Tigers weren't. They signed him to a $7 million big-league contract and now look smart for their investment. A big, strong power pitcher, Porcello has done a remarkable job for someone learning on the job. He was 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA in five starts in May.
Wieters - The Orioles haven't had a winning season since 1997. Camden Yards has long ceased being a drawing card. Fans want to see a winner. The same day they drew their smallest crowd ever at Camden Yards (10,030 on May 26), the O's announced they were bringing up Wieters, a 6-5, 230-pound switch-
hitting catcher whom a scout we know recently called "an animal. He's like [Twins all-star catcher] Joe Mauer with better power.'' Like Porcello, Wieters, a Georgia Tech product, was a first-rounder in 2007. He hit .305 with five homers and 30 RBIs in 39 games at triple A this season, including .330 with 25 RBIs in 25 games in May. This after hitting .355 with 27 homers and 91 RBIs in 130 games between single A and double A last season. Wieters joins a nice collection of young talent in the majors and minors that will make the Orioles relevant again in the not-too-distant future.
Price - The 23-year-old lefty was a postseason standout for the Rays last year, then opened this season at triple A. He is 14-5 as a pro. At 6-6, he is an imposing figure and features a power fastball, power slider and a good change-up. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft and should lead the Rays' staff for a decade or more.
Hanson - The Braves couldn't keep the 22-year-old righthander down any longer after he opened the season with a 1.50 ERA in 11 starts at triple A. He allowed just 11 earned runs and 40 hits while striking out 90 in 661/3 innings. Hanson stands 6-6 and has power stuff. The Phils will see a lot of him in the future.
McCutchen - Long a top Pirates' prospect, McCutchen is a tremendous athlete and exciting talent whose time in center field arrived when Nate McLouth was dealt to Atlanta.
Beckham - Drafted as a shortstop with the eighth overall pick in last year's draft, Beckham has come to the majors and taken over at third base for the White Sox. The 22-year-old former Georgia star might need some more seasoning - he started off 2 for 24 - but projects as a difference-maker on both sides of the ball.