Every season, a handful of youngsters listed outside of top prospects lists burst upon the scene, making an unsuspected impact. Here's a few faces to familiarize yourself with before they catch you sleeping:
CIF/CA Pablo Sandoval San Francisco Giants
The first thing you need to know about Pablo is that he doesn't walk. I don't mean he only walks every 20 at-bats, I mean he never, ever walks; once every 36 at-bats last season. Looking at his four walks in combination with his strikeout numbers, only 14 in 145 at-bats, you get the feeling Sandoval is a contact whore. That feeling is correct; Sandoval made contact with 86.9% of the pitches that prompted him to swing. An equal opportunity catalyst, Sandoval went out of the strike zone 53.8% of the time. That's not a typo, he swung at more than 50% of the non-strikes thrown at him. Despite Sandoval being a BABIP driven offensive player, and one with such a poor approach, I find him fascinating in the Randall Simon sense. Sandoval's BABIPs are higher than usual, as you would expect, with the career low being .308. Despite his one-track mind, Sandoval's wOBA in Double-A was .401, and in high-A he had a .456 wOBA in over 300 plate appearances. Sandoval is a bit, um, thick and is probably a first baseman, despite playing some third and catching. His legs are actually concrete blocks. A switch hitter, Sandoval is only 22, and he's going to need to master the strike zone better, or all he's going to get to eat is junk, and I'd say he's had too much of that all ready. Sandoval is going to be one of a few Giants that should be fun to watch in 2009, including...
INF Emmanuel Burriss San Francisco Giants
Another young switch hitter for the Giants, Burriss weighs considerably less than Sandoval despite being listed as the taller of the two. Burrisss also has a better idea of the strike zone, swinging outside less than 22% of the time, and having a 90% contact rate. Throughout his minor league career, Burriss walked around 8% of his plate appearances, and kept his strikeouts in rate, so a nice on-base percentage is doable. A good slugging, however, is highly unlikely. Burriss also plays defense, and seems to fit better at second base. Something worth noting: the Giants seem to have their youngsters cross train at multiple positions. I'm not sure if that's by design and an attempt to find a "true position" for the player, or simply mismanagement, I would guess the former though. Oh, and did I mention Burriss is a burner? Let's put the over/under on stolen bases next season at 50. Fun fact: in his minor league career, Burriss reached base 316 times. Of those, he attempted a steal 136 times, or 43%. For comparison: Willie Wilson attempted a steal less than 30% of the time, Vince Coleman around 48%, and Rickey Henderson let Rickey Henderson have the green light 33% of the time. If Burriss gets 600 plate appearances with a .330 on-base percentage, and runs 43% of the time, he's going to attempt 85 steals next year. Probably won't happen, but my heavens, that's more running than Sandoval has done in two lives.
OF Aaron Cunningham Oakland Athletics
There was a time where the Athletics didn't promote their youngsters until they walked 10% of the time. Cunningham has walked at least 9% of the time at every level until he reached the majors last season. It's hard to imagine Those 80 at-bats left something to be desired, but that's because a .314 wOBA from a 22-year-old is only unimpressive with his track record. Cunningham's career low wOBA in the minors was .372 in his first professional season. A plus defender in the corners, Cunningham is the total package, and if Oakland isn't happy with Matt Holliday as an "impact bat", they won't have long to wait until Cunningham posts some very nice numbers for the big league team. The only problem for Cunningham is the amassed army of outfielders the Athletics have, he's not the only one waiting to step in when/if Travis Buck gets hurt, and that could keep him down longer than originally imagined. Then again, maybe it won't.
RHP James McDonald Los Angeles Dodgers
McDonald received some national exposure during the playoffs, but he's still a relative unknown despite solid minor league numbers. Heck, he struck out more than 11 per nine in Las Vegas last season, and had a 3.78 FIP despite more than a homerun per nine, a smidgeon more than normal. McDonald was registering 14% of his pitches as swinging strikes in Triple-A, and 9.5% relieving for the Dodgers, although attach a small sample size flag to that number. McDonald should get a shot at starting for the Dodgers next season, if not, he figures to be one of their stables of solid relievers. As for pitches, McDonald featured a fastball sitting in the low 90's and a curveball along with a change in the low-to-mid 70's.
1B Gaby Sanchez Florida Marlins
Sanchez is Dayon Moore's biggest fan. The Mike Jacobs deal opened up a spot for 25-year-old who murdered Double-A pitching in 2008. Unlike Jacobs, Sanchez features walk percentages throughout his career in double digits. He also lacks strikeout issues, and has a run of increasing Iso intact. Sanchez saw eight at-bats last season for Florida, so there's not a ton of major league data to go on. The Marlins have the tendency to skip Triple-A Albuquerque for their serious prospects, in part to avoid the trippy park effects, so if the Marlins decide against going with Dallas McPherson at third and Jorge Cantu at first, they could slide Sanchez in at first come opening day.
INF Daniel Murphy New York Mets
The Mets have prospects outside of Fernando Martinez? Murphy was a third baseman for the most part, and well, there's apparently someone who called third for the Mets a few years ago, but second base is a possibility. Murphy's career minor league line is .290/.352/.444 and he's not a great defender, but neither is Luis Castillo. Murphy walks enough that he should maintain decency even if his historically high BABIPs crash land, unfortunately though he also could find himself out of a major league spot if that's the case. Murphy struck out more in the majors quite a bit more than he ever did in the minors, which indicates either he was overpowered or the total is simply a fluke, 33% liners supports the latter, but even that won't hold up.