Which Rookie Will Rise to Major League Stardom This Year?
Which rookie will be the toast of the major leagues in 1986?
A power-hitter like Jose Canseco of Oakland, Pete Incaviglia of Texas or Will Clark of San Francisco?
A pitcher like Jose Guzman of Texas or Juan Nieves of Milwaukee?
Or someone who already has put a dent in the big leagues, like fastballing relievers Todd Worrell of St. Louis or Lance McCullers of San Diego?
“A great deal depends on the ballclub. If you try to make a rookie into a star, you can run into trouble,” said Al Rosen, general manager of the San Francisco Giants.
Incaviglia, who will start in right field for the Rangers, will join Dave Winfield of the New York Yankees and Bob Horner of the Atlanta Braves as the only active players who jumped right from college to the major leagues.
Incaviglia set NCAA records last year with 48 homers and 143 runs batted in at Oklahoma State. He was taken by Montreal as the eighth player overall in the June draft, but he didn’t want to play for the Expos. Montreal then traded him to Texas for two minor leaguers.
It did not take the 6-foot 1-inch, 220-pound powerpack to make an impression at the Rangers’ spring training camp.
“The last guy I saw as strong as him was on top of the Empire State Building with Fay Wray in his arms,” Texas veteran Tom Paciorek said.
Incaviglia, 22, was hitting over .350 and leading the spring leagues with six homers. But what really stirred folks was a ball he hit in batting practice that tore a hole in the inch-thick plywood fence in left-center field.
“I just swing the bat and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad,” he said. “I want to hit 30 to 40 home runs and drive in 100 runs. That’s what I’m here for.”
Canseco, who will start in left field for the Athletics, already has shown he can hit. In 29 late-season games last year with Oakland, Canseco batted .302 with five home runs and 13 RBI.
Canseco, 21, played at Class AA, Class AAA and Oakland last season and hit over .300 at each stop with a combined 41 HR and 140 RBI.
Clark, 22, was playing for Mississippi State this time last year. San Francisco drafted him and sent him to Class A Fresno, where he batted .309 with 10 HR and 46 RBI in just 65 games
The Giants will start him at first base this season next to another rookie, second baseman Rob Thompson.
“Surprised? Not at all,” Clark said. “I came here with the idea to have fun, relax and try to make the big club.”
Rosen said Clark’s lack of professional experience could make the transition tough.
“How is he going to handle the emotional stress of his first slump? Rosen asked. “He will have them. Everybody does.”
But he added: “If a player gets into a lineup and no one realizes he’s there, like Vince Coleman, he can get his feet on the ground.”
Coleman was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1985 when he stole 110 bases and helped St. Louis win the East. Coleman did not start the season with the Cardinals, and was only promoted to the major leagues after Tito Landrum was hurt.
The American League Rookie of the Year was Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox.
Other promising sluggers to watch this year include Wally Joyner of California, Andres Galarraga of Montreal, Billy Joe Robidoux of Milwaukee and Danny Tartabull of Seattle.
The Angels felt comfortable enough with Joyner’s potential at first base that they released Rod Carew. Joyner, who has never played in the majors, won the triple crown in the Puerto Rican winter league by batting .356 with 14 HR and 48 RBI in 54 games.
Galarraga, who will start at first base for the Expos, starred in the Venezuelan Winter League, leading the circuit in homers and runs batted in while batting .300. The Expos tried eight players at first base in 1985, none of whom hit more than six homers.
Robidoux will start at first base for the Brewers while Cecil Cooper recovers from elbow surgery. Robidoux was the Texas League MVP last season at Class AA El Paso, where he batted .342 with 23 HR and 132 RBI.
Tartabull, the son of former major-leaguer Jose, is the latest of recent Seattle top prospects. Tartabull batted .300 with 43 HR and 109 RBI at Class AAA Calgary, and hit .328 in 19 games with the Mariners.
“His tremendous offensive potential makes him a rare commodity among infielders,” said Seattle Manager Chuck Cottier, who will start Tartabull at second base after sending veteran Jack Perconte to the minors.
Two other rookies may start at second base in the majors this season. Leon (Bip) Roberts is trying to make the jump from Class AA to the San Diego Padres, and Steve Lombardozzi could open for Minnesota, where he batted .370 in 28 games last September.
Among the highly touted rookie pitchers are three guys in Texas.
Guzman, who will start the Rangers’ season opener because of an injury to Charlie Hough, was 3-2 with a 2.76 earned run average in five starts with Texas last season. The right-hander was 7-1 with a 1.65 in the Puerto Rican winter league.
Bobby Witt, a spring sensation, and Ed Correa may also do well for the Rangers.
Nieves, a left-hander expected to be a starter for Milwaukee, is 33-9 in his last three minor-league seasons.
Bob Tewksbury made the Yankees’ rotation and will start during the first week of the season. Atlanta, which waived pitchers Pascual Perez, Len Barker, Rick Camp and Terry Forster in spring training, is counting on Paul Assenmacher, who was 9-2 in the minors last year and averaged more than one strikeout per inning.
While some teams hope their prospects can succeed in the majors, the Cardinals and Padres hope two of their rookies can duplicate their success of 1985. McCullers and Worrell both qualify as rookies because they did not play enough in 1985.
McCullers, recalled by San Diego from Class AAA late last season, relieved in 21 games and had an 0-2 record with five saves and a 2.31 ERA. New Padres Manager Steve Boros hopes the right-handed McCullers teams with lefty Goose Gossage as bullpen stoppers.
Worrell began last year in Class AAA. He was recalled by St. Louis in late August and went 3-0 with five saves and a 2.91 ERA as the Cardinals won the NL East.
St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog counted on the right-hander four times in the playoff victory over Los Angeles, and Worrell was the winning pitcher in the clinching Game 6.
Worrell, 26, worked three times in the World Series loss to Kansas City. He was tagged with loss of Game 6, when the Cards’ lost a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth.