March 14, 2009  

Welcome to a brand-new edition of Rookie Watch with Phil Plantier! It's time to break down the Freshman Class of 2009.

There are 128 rookies eligible for play next season, which is the second-highest total since we started doing Rookie Watch in 2002. (Last year set the record with 148 rookies; last year was the previous second-highest total, with 123.) The rookie class includes 54 batters, 29 starting pitchers, 42 relief pitchers and three swing men.

Barely Legal

This year's youngest rookie is Clayton KershawHoboken's Clayton Kershaw, who was born March 19, 1988 -- meaning he turns 21 on Thursday! Kershaw was drafted last year in the 4th Round (#52 overall) by the Cutters; they then stashed him away as an ineligible prospect all season and protected him this off-season. That investment is about to pay off as he's primed to make his DMBL debut sometime this season. A little less than seven months older than Kershaw is Hillsborough outfielder Justin Upton, who was born August 25, 1987. Like Kershaw, Upton was drafted last year (5th Round, #63 overall) by Hillsborough and protected as an ineligible prospect. The same goes for this year's third-youngest rookie, Jay Bruce (born April 3, 1987), who was drafted as a prospect by D.C. (4th Round, #51 overall) and protected. The youngest rookie who was drafted this year  -- and fourth-youngest overall -- is 22-year-old starter Chris Volstad, who was born Sept. 23, 1986. Volstad was drafted 8th overall by the Amityville Ant Slayers.

A pair of Japanese imports are this year's oldest rookies. The top prize goes to reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta, an undrafted Royals right-hander born on June 9, 1973. The second-oldest rookie is another undrafted right-handed reliever, Masa Kobayashi, who was born May 24, 1974. Third-place goes to another undrafted player, although this one -- switch-hitting infielder Augie Ojeda -- was born in California, not Japan. Ojeda turned 34 on December 20. We return to the Land of the Rising Sun for our only oldboy rookie on a roster -- Hiroki Kuroda, who was born three months after Ojeda on February 10, 1975.  The 34-year-old right-handed starter was drafted by Vancouver as an ineligible prospect in the 8th Round (#104 overall) and protected this off-season.

Never Give Up!

We won't know until after the season who will win the Pat Listach Rookie of the Year Award, but we do know who will take home the Jeff Reboulet Perseverance Award, which unofficially recognizes the Diamond Mind Baseball League rookie who has finally achieved eligibility after logging the most MLB service time. (To paraphrase Crash Davis, it's "a dubious honor.")

The Reboulet was first awarded, fittingly enough, to Jeff Reboulet, who in 2004 -- at age 39 --  finally became eligible for the DMBL, after toiling for 11 seasons, 925 games and 1,968 at-bats in "the minors," aka MLB. Reboulet still holds the record, as far as we know, for most seasons, games played and at-bats before achieving DMBL eligiblity.

This year one candidate stood Augie Ojedaout from the pack in terms of seasons played before becoming eligible (6), earliest MLB debut (2000) and most MLB games played before DMBL eligiblity (235). Infielder Augie Ojeda -- who, as we noted above, is this year's third-oldest rookie at age 34 -- is finally getting his big break after racking up a lot of meaningless MLB service time. Augie had 488 at-bats in The Show over those six seasons before finally getting enough PT in '08 to reach DMBL standards. Ojeda, who can play second, third or short, picked up 272 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks in '08. (His previous high was 162 plate appearances with the Cubs in '01.) The problem for Augie -- no one drafted him! His numbers aren't sensational (.242 BA, .642 OPS) but his respectable OBP (.343), ability to switch hit and multi-position eligibility all lend hope that someone will be calling if an infielder gets injured this season. The Reboulet Award can go on Ojeda's shelf right next to the bronze medal he won as a member of Team USA in the '96 Olympics.

Augie Ojeda
MLB debut: 2000 (6 seasons)
235 games, 488 at-bats
Jack Cust
MLB debut: 2001 (5 seasons)
70 games, 144 at-bats
David Ross
MLB debut: 2002 (4 seasons)
169 games, 424 at-bats
Mark Sweeney
MLB debut: 1995 (10 seasons)
765 games, 1,135 at-bats
Pedro Feliz
MLB debut: 2000 (4 seasons)
264 games, 608 at-bats
Jeff Reboulet
MLB debut: 1992 (11 seasons)
925 games, 1,968 at-bats

Other rookies who have played at least three years in MLB before finally becoming eligible this year for DMBL: C Jeff Baker (2005 MLB debut: played 3 seasons, 115 G, 239 AB before becoming eligible this year); RP Denny Bautista (2004: 4 seasons, 35 G, 115.2 IP); P Jorge Campillo (2005: 3 seasons, 8 G, 17.2 IP); OF Shin-Soo Choo (2005: 3 seasons, 65 G, 192 AB); RP Roy Corcoran (2003: 3 seasons, 16 G, 18.1 IP); RP Joey Devine (2005: 3 seasons, 25 G, 19.2 IP); SP Dana Eveland (2005: 3 seasons, 41 G, 64.1 IP); RP Hong-Chih Kuo (2005: 3 seasons, 45 G, 95.1 IP); 3B Andy Marte (2005: 3 seasons, 94 G, 278 AB); C Jeff Mathis (2005: 3 seasons, 87 G, 229 AB); RP Franquelis Osoria (2005: 3 seasons, 61 G, 75.2 IP); SP Darrell Rasner (2005: 3 seasons, 17 G, 52.1 IP); RP Royce Ring (2005: 3 seasons, 52 G, 43.1 IP); OF Skip Schumaker (2005: 3 seasons, 143 G, 255 AB); C Kelly Shoppach (2005: 3 seasons, 109 G, 286 AB); C Geovanny Soto (2005: 3 seasons, 30 G, 80 AB); C Matt Treanor (2004: 4 seasons, 209 G, 517 AB); and SP Edinson Volquez (2005: 3 seasons, 20 G, 80.0 IP).

Deserving of special mention is Rick AnkielArkansas OF Rick Ankiel, who qualifies for the first time -- but only as a batter! Ankiel was a 20-year-old rookie when he made his debut with Arkansas way back in 2001, going 9-10 with a 4.73 ERA and 1.59 WHIP (and 185 Ks in 171.1 IP), then was utterly dominant in the post-season (1 ER, 6 K in 4 IP). But the lefty was distraught after getting voted off Dancing With The Stars and never regained his confidence on the mound. After seven years of frustration, the Golden Falcons finally decided to turn him into an outfielder and he's ready to make his debut in 2009. So while Ankiel isn't technically a rookie, this will be his first season swinging a bat in the DMBL. He has the distinction of being the first player in DMBL history to qualify in one year as a pitcher and in another year as a batter!

Not This Year...

Then we have those players for whom the Reboulet -- and DMBL eligiblity -- remains out of reach. The usual candidates are utility infielders, back-up catchers and speedy outfielders -- guys who are useful to have on the bench but don't play nearly enough to become eligible for the DMBL. Raul ChavezThis year's poster boy is Raul Chavez, who broke into the bigs in 1996 and has played parts of 10 seasons in MLB -- but has never been eligible for the DMBL. Even though catchers can qualify with just 200 plate appearances, Chavez has never made it. His best shot was 2004, when he had 176 plate appearances; this year he had his second-highest total, with 122. The former Pirate, Oriole, Astro, Mariner and Expo has appeared in 212 games in his career, with 521 at-bats. His career .223/.260/.292 line may explain why he's having a tough time crossing over to the DMBL. Chavez's 36th birthday is March 18 (happy birthday, Raul!) so time is running out, but maybe 2009 will finally be the year -- he's in Blue Jays camp hoping to making the team as a back-up catcher. Keep on keeping on, Chavez!

Others who have played at least five MLB seasons, including 2008, but are still waiting for a chance in DMBL: P John Bale (1999: 6 seasons, 66 G, 145.1 IP); C Rob Bowen (2003: 5 seasons, 216 G, 378 AB); SS Eric Bruntlett (2003: 6 seasons, 440 G, 684 AB); C Jamie Burke (2003: 6 seasons, 171 G, 339 AB); C Kevin Cash (2002: 6 seasons, 167 G, 501 AB); 2B Howie Clark (2002: 6 seasons, 134 G, 302 AB); P Brian Falkenborg (1999: 6 seasons, 64 G, 75.2 IP); C Koyie Hill (2003: 5 seasons, 96 G, 231 AB); C Paul Hoover (2001: 5 seasons, 28 G, 74 AB); C J.R. House (2003: 5 seasons, 32 G, 60 AB); C Corky Miller (2001: 8 seasons, 132 G, 335 AB); C Wil Nieves (2002: 5 seasons, 131 G, 319 AB); 2B Pablo Ozuna (2000: 7 seasons, 309 G, 677 AB); C Paul Phillips (2004: 5 seasons, 62 G, 153 AB); 1B Robb Quinlan (2003: 6 seasons, 381 G, 964 AB); C Humberto Quintero (2003: 6 seasons, 152 G, 391 AB); C Guillermo Quiroz (2004: 5 seasons, 95 G, 234 AB); IF Cody Ransom (2001: 6 seasons, 166 G, 183 AB); C Mike Rivera (2001: 6 seasons, 140 G, 414 AB); 2B Jason Smith (2001: 8 seasons, 257 G, 551 AB); OF Chris Snelling (2002: 5 seasons, 93 G, 225 AB); OF Joe Thurston (2002: 5 seasons, 59 G, 66 AB); SS Jorge Velandia (1997: 8 seasons, 174 G, 244 AB); OF Dewayne Wise (2000: 6 seasons, 240 G, 468 AB); and IF Jason Wood (1998: 5 seasons, 153 G, 200 AB).

Phil Plantier, one of the top prospects of the last decade, was picked by baseball guru Bill James in 1991 as the player most likely to lead the majors in HRs during the 1990s. In 1994, at age 24, he hit 47 round-trippers with 118 RBIs for the Charleston Chiefs, his first and last DMBL season. He's currently an analyst for Click Here for past articles.