Casey Kelly gave his classmates plenty of reasons to consider him for the "Most Likely to Succeed" superlative during his high school days in Sarasota, Fla. As a senior, the 6-foot-3, 194-pound shortstop hit .473 with five home runs and also showed tremendous potential on the mound by going 8-1 with a 1.16 ERA. Kelly's versatility extended beyond the diamond as well. He threw for 4,212 yards and 37 TDs as a high school quarterback and was offered a scholarship to Peyton Manning's alma mater, the University of Tennessee.
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The 2009 First-Year Player Draft is set to kick off Tuesday, and officials of all 30 big league teams are busy scouring scouting reports and making last-minute adjustments to their player rankings. Countless amateur players are holding their breath and hoping they won't have to wait long to hear their names called. And the darlings of last year's draft, the 30 first-rounders? A handful are already in the majors, one's in college, another has re-entered this year's draft and the rest are busy working their way up the minor league ladder. Let's check in on their progress.
The offseason trade that sent catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Cincinnati Reds for since-departed utility man Ryan Freel and minor leaguers Justin Turner and Brandon Waring was noteworthy at first glance primarily because it cleared Matt Wieters' path to the majors. But while Freel's tenure with the Baltimore Orioles was brief and forgettable, the 24-year-old Turner is playing well enough in Triple-A to warrant consideration for a future in the Orioles' infield and Waring, 23, has emerged as the power-hitting corner infield prospect the organization so sorely lacked.
For the first time in a long time, it's exciting to be a Baltimore Orioles fan. Homegrown talents Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, David Hernandez, Jason Berken and Brad Bergesen are giving long-suffering O's supporters hope for a bright future, and reinforcements are on the way from what has quickly become one of baseball's better farm systems. These rankings take several factors into consideration, including but not limited to minor league success, long-term potential and age. To keep the definition of "prospect" as simple as possible, any player with Major League experience is ineligible for inclusion - sorry, Troy Patton, Kam Mickolio and Bob McCrory.
In the April 1, 1985, issue of Sports Illustrated, the late George Plimpton introduced the world to mysterious New York Mets phenom Sidd Finch. The 28-year-old eccentric had dropped out of Harvard and traveled to Tibet to learn "yogic mastery of the mind-body," which allowed him to throw an absurd 168 miles per hour. Many fans were understandably disappointed when Sports Illustrated reported in its next issue that Finch had retired from baseball. The following week, the magazine confirmed that the Sidd Finch tale was nothing more than an unusually creative April Fools joke.
It's Fernando Martinez's potential that has made him a staple at the top of prospect lists in recent years, but it's his production so far this season that punched his ticket to the big leagues. The Mets summoned the 20-year-old outfielder from Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday after he hit .291 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 42 games. He'll get the majority of the starts in right field as long as Ryan Church's troublesome right hamstring keeps him on the disabled list, and could stick for good if he performs well.
The selection of Pedro Alvarez with the second overall pick made all the headlines, but the slugging third baseman from Vanderbilt isn't the only top talent the Pittsburgh Pirates snagged in the 2008 draft. Texas high school outfielder Robbie Grossman looked like a potential first-rounder as a junior in 2007, but a less impressive senior season and what was perceived as a strong commitment to the University of Texas caused him to fall to the sixth round. The Pirates pounced and persuaded him to sign by offering a $1 million bonus - more than 10 of the 16 supplemental first-rounders got - and agreeing to pay his college tuition.
The Pirates famously passed on Matt Wieters in the 2007 draft because of his record bonus demands and instead selected left-hander Daniel Moskos with the fourth overall pick. The gaffe proved to be the final straw for GM Dave Littlefield, who was fired two months later, and while Moskos scuffled in advanced Class A last season, Wieters - taken with the very next pick by the Orioles - slugged his way to Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year honors. Given that backdrop, it came as no surprise when new GM Neal Huntington took Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez, the best hitting prospect available, with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft despite reports that Alvarez's agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a $9 million major league contract.
If your fantasy team is struggling like mine is - thanks, Jon Lester! - you're probably busy scouring the waiver wire or trying to concoct a blockbuster trade that will help it bust out of its slump. After all, you're stuck with this squad for the next four-plus months - better make the best of it, right? Unfortunately, both of those quick-fix methods have inherent flaws: Players that are still on the waiver wire near the end of May are usually there for a reason, and you generally only get what you give in trades. Don't fret though, because you might find the solution to your fantasy squad's problems in the same place that big league teams often find the solutions to theirs.
Zach Britton is rarely the first guy mentioned when the subject of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospects comes up - that distinction would go to either Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta or Brian Matusz - but if the 21-year-old keeps dealing for the Frederick Keys, Baltimore's Big Three could quickly morph into a Fab Four. Britton, a 6-foot-2, 172-pound lefty, has shown steady improvement since the Orioles took him in the third round of the 2006 draft, and he's off to a great start this year in his first taste of advanced Class A ball.
No Washington Nationals minor leaguer raised his stock more than 2007 fourth-round pick Derek Norris did last season. After struggling in his pro debut, the 6-foot, 210-pound catcher put on a season-long hitting clinic in 2008 for the short-season Class A Vermont Lake Monsters. Norris slugged 10 home runs - good for sixth-best in the New York-Penn League - and easily led the circuit in both walks (63) and on-base percentage (.444). Baseball America took notice and ranked him as the fourth-best prospect in the New York-Penn League and the sixth-best in the Nationals organization.
International League pitchers breathed a collective sigh of relief Wednesday night when they learned that the Baltimore Orioles had summoned Nolan Reimold to the majors. The 25-year-old outfielder launched a mammoth shot on Opening Day and never cooled down, hitting .394 with nine home runs and 27 RBI for the Norfolk Tides in his first taste of Triple-A ball. With Luke Scott and Adam Jones dealing with injuries, the Orioles are hoping that Reimold will continue his season-long tear with the big-league club.
Defense was Steve Lombardozzi's calling card during his six-year big league career, but it's the hot bat he wielded in the 1987 World Series that he'll always be remembered for. The second baseman hit just .238 for the Twins during the regular season that year but stepped up his game in the Fall Classic, hitting a Series-best .412 with a home run and four RBI to help them defeat the Cardinals in seven games. "It's the absolute best feeling to know that in the ultimate pressure situation, I was able to come through," Lombardozzi said Monday night while watching his son, Steve Lombardozzi Jr., play for the Nationals' Class A affiliate, the Hagerstown Suns.
Legend has it that Boston Red Sox prospect Ryan Kalish didn't swing and miss at a single pitch as a high school senior in Red Bank, N.J. That may or may not be true, but anyone who has seen him take his cuts for the advanced Class A Salem Red Sox so far this season can understand how a rumor like that might get started. Through 30 games, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound outfielder is hitting .292 with five homers and 21 RBI, and he ranks fourth in the Carolina League with a .433 on-base percentage.
When the University of Georgia football coaching staff saw Xavier Avery take the pigskin and accelerate during his days as a running back at Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Ga., they envisioned him as a possible replacement for Knowshon Moreno. The Baltimore Orioles, on the other hand, believed Avery's future was on the diamond, as a speedy outfielder in the Carl Crawford mold. Luckily for the O's - and much to the dismay of the Bulldogs - baseball is Avery's first love, and he opted to sign for a $900,000 bonus last summer after Baltimore made him a second-round pick.