With seven weeks left in the season, roughly half of the teams in the majors can reasonably consider themselves a shot to play into October. If you're a fan of one of the teams in the other half, well . . . while all the attention from here on out will be paid to the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Mets and the Phillies, and even the upstart Rays and Marlins, there are actually good reasons for many of you to send in your ticket deposits for 2009. Here are five of them:
Matt Wieters, C, Orioles. Baltimore's top draft pick in 2007 could be the game's top prospect in '09. The 22-year-old backstop is rocketing through the farm system in his debut season as a pro, batting a combined .351 with 72 walks and 42 extra-base hits, including 24 home runs, at high Class A and Double A. Wieters also plays his position well, with a strong arm and good athleticism despite a 6' 5" frame. This is a franchise player, the Orioles' version of Joe Mauer (with better power), who next season could be not only the Opening Day starter but also the American League's best catcher.
Trevor Cahill, RHP, Athletics. Oakland fans frustrated by the ugly turn their team's season has taken -- through Sunday, the A's were 6-22 since the Rich Harden trade on July 8 -- can take heart in an outstanding crop of top-of-the-rotation pitching prospects that includes another potential ace, lefthander Brett Anderson. Cahill is the best of the bunch now, having succeeded this season in some pitcher-hostile environments: a 2.61 ERA in the High A California and Double A Texas leagues combined, with 136 strikeouts in 124 1/3 innings. Cahill has no one dominant offering, just three above-average pitches (fastball, curve and change) and good command of all three.
Travis Snider, OF, Blue Jays. Just promoted to Triple A last week, Snider has some of the most impressive raw power in the minor leagues, slugging .512 over three seasons. Drafted out of high school in 2006, Snider is only 20, making him one of the youngest players in the International League. There are concerns, though. For one, he is 5' 11", 245, and conditioning will be a challenge. More worrying is Snider's contact rate; he struck out in 18 of his first 32 at bats at Double A and has whiffed in just shy of 30% of his career at bats. A Toronto team desperate for offense could have Snider batting fifth come next April, taking the strikeouts along with the power that comes with them.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates. A true centerfielder with strong leadoff skills, McCutchen has made a steady climb through Pittsburgh's system since being the team's top pick in 2005. At each level that he's played, McCutchen has been among the youngest players, yet his contact rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio (key statistics for any front office in assessing a prospect) have improved in each of the last three years. Scouts look at McCutchen's arms and see power potential as well, giving him middle-of-the-order upside, not dissimilar to that of the Indians' Grady Sizemore.
Henry Sosa, RHP, Giants. Already enjoying Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, San Francisco fans can look forward to more great pitching next season, when Sosa joins 2007 first-round picks Tim Alderson and Madison Bumgarner in the team's next wave of dominant hurlers. The hard-throwing Dominican reaches 98 with his fastball and has a plus curve; the development of his change-up, currently a nonfactor in his arsenal, will determine whether his future is as a starter or a short reliever.
While we're at it, here are three more reasons for this year's bottom-feeders to look forward to 2009:
Chris Tillman, RHP, Orioles. Big 20-year-old from Erik Bedard trade has owned Double A Eastern League (7-4, 124 strikeouts in 112 innings).