By Thom Henninger
Going into the 2009 season, the American League Central lacks the impact rookies that are getting so much attention in the AL East, but all three prospects featured here begin the year with a regular job. Only Detroit’s Rick Porcello has potential star power, but for now, it’s too soon to anticipate the mound success associated with a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Chris Getz, White Sox, 2B
In a competition amongst a trio of rookies, Getz won the second-base job over Jayson Nix and Brent Lillibridge. Nix got off to a terrific start this spring (6-for-13 with three doubles), but suffered a right quadriceps strain two weeks ago and will start the season on the disabled list. Lillibridge hasn’t hit much, as was the case with Triple-A Richmond and Atlanta last season, while Getz is batting .324 (22-for-68) with four doubles, a homer and 10 RBIs in 22 games. The 25-year-old left-handed hitter has batted .301 with a .372 OBP in the high minors the last two seasons, indicative of his ability to work counts, make good contact and leg out hits. He’s adequate defensive and can play a few positions. All three options seem more like utility types, but Getz is the best bet to reach base often enough against right-handed pitching to get most of the playing time in 2009. Lillibridge will make Chicago’s roster as a utilityman, so it’ll be interesting to see if the right-handed-hitting Nix gets a look when he’s healthy.
Rick Porcello, Tigers, RHP
Less than a year after making his pro debut with high Class-A Lakeland, the 20-year-old Porcello has secured a spot in Detroit’s rotation. The 6-foot-5 right-hander is polished with good command of a sinker and changeup — the makings of a frontline starter — though starting 2009 in the majors may be rushing him. He’s moving from a slider to a curveball, and that may be the reason he would benefit from a brief stop in the high minors. Porcello wasn’t overmatched and pitched well right from the start in Florida this spring. Although he posted a 2.63 ERA over 13.2 innings, he wasn’t dominating and will endure his share of rough patches with Detroit. The Tigers have a veteran group and they’re looking to win now, and Porcello made his case for a job while Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson and Zach Miner all struggled. With both Willis and Jeremy Bonderman starting the season on the DL, Miner won a rotation spot anyway. Porcello is in line to make his major league debut on April 9 against the Blue Jays.
Scott Lewis, Indians, LHP
Lewis prevailed this spring, securing a rotation spot over Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers, two pitchers with far more big league experience though limited big league success. By no means did the 25-year-old Lewis overwhelm the competition, as he allowed 35 hits and six home runs in 22 innings. Perhaps the impression he made last September had a payoff. After going 8-4 with a 2.40 ERA with Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo, the southpaw won all four of his starts with Cleveland, blanking Baltimore and Minnesota in his first two major league outings and finishing with a 2.63 ERA over 24 innings. Lewis, who throws in the 80s, has little margin for error. His command will have to be terrific to succeed. He’s managed to climb steadily through the minors without big radar readings, enjoying success in the high minors the last two years, but now his stuff will face the ultimate test. If Lewis doesn’t get the job done, Laffey, Sowers and prospect David Huff will loom as possible replacements.