|Braves' prospect Freddie Freeman|
Freddie Freeman (Braves)
Braves fans know what it's like to have a talented young rookie starting on Opening Day. Last year, Jason Heyward hit a 463 foot homer in his first major league at-bat. Freeman, age 21, can only hope for the same start. He doesn't have the same natural talent that Heyward possesses, but he has a similar build at 6'5" and 225 pounds. Last season, for the AAA Gwinnett Braves, Freeman hit .319 with 18 homers and 87 RBI. So far this spring he is 7-17 at the plate, good for a .412 average.
Aroldis Chapman (Reds)
Wait, didn't he pitch for the Reds last season? Chapman, age 23, finished the 2010 season in the Reds bullpen, but still has his rookie eligibility for the 2011 season. In 13.1 innings last season, Chapman went 2-2 with a 2.02 ERA and 19 strikeouts. He also hit 105 mph on the radar gun. Not bad for a lefty. So far this spring, Chapman has only thrown two innings for Cincinnati. He has struck out four and walked three without giving up a run.
Dominic Brown (Phillies)
With Jayson Werth in Washington, Brown (age 23) was going to have the opportunity to win the starting job in right field. However, Brown is now expected to miss up to six weeks with a broken hand and may need surgery. Even with the missed time and the lost Opening Day starting spot (most likely to Ben Francisco), Brown will still have the opportunity to play a a decent amount of the season if he comes back healthy. He definitely has the talent to succeed, having batted .327 with 20 home runs between AA and AAA last season.
|Royals' prospect Mike Moustakas|
Jeremy Hellickson (Rays)
Now that Matt Garza is playing for the Cubs, Hellickson (23) will be given an opportunity to prove that he can hold down a rotation spot. Last year at AAA Durham, Hellickson went 12-3 with a 2.45 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 117.2 innings. If the Rays still want to compete in the AL East, a good season from Hellickson would be a big boost.
Mike Moustakas (Royals)
Moustakas was the Royals first round pick in the 2007, but had underperformed expectations going into the 2010 season. However, last season he went off, combining for a total of 36 home runs between AA and AAA. He also compiled a .322 batting average and 124 RBIs. Right now, Wilson Betemit is penciled in as the starter for the Royals, but don't expect that to last long. So far this spring, Moustakas is 3-13 with 1 home run.
J.P. Arencibia (Blue Jays)
The Blue Jays did not resign All-Star catcher John Buck after last season, so Arencibia (25) is penciled in as the Opening Day starter for Toronto. In 2010, Arencibia hit .301 with 32 home runs and 85 RBIs at AAA. The Jays need all the help they can get in the AL East, and Arencibia should be a hit in Toronto if he can hit like he did in the minors.
Of course, there could, and probably will, be other rookies who perform well during the 2011 season. Unexpected performances are rookies are exciting and can have a major impact on the season. Maybe another Buster Posey-esque performance will lead an underdog team to the playoffs.