By Joe Lemire
September 09, 2010
MLB Power Rankings
21 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 20
Two of the Angels' best prospects -- first baseman Mark Trumbo and catcher Hank Conger -- happen to be local products from Orange County, so their September call-up on Tuesday was especially rewarding. Trumbo, who hails from Villa Park, led all of minor-league baseball with 36 home runs in Triple-A. Conger, a native of nearby Huntington Beach, already had one thrill at Angel Stadium, earning Futures Game MVP honors with a three-run homer during All-Star week festivities in July.
22 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 23
Rookie left-handed starter Brian Matusz's season resembles a parabola. (For a math refresher, go here. Very good early in the year (2-2 with a 3.93 ERA in his first six starts) and now brilliant late in the year (4-0 with a 2.00 ERA in his last four starts), Matusz has defied common rookie trajectories of either starting slow or fading late -- he did neither of those and instead hit his valley in the middle of the season, when he went 2-10 with a 5.81 ERA in 18 starts from May 9 to Aug. 14.
23 Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 22
While Trevor Hoffman, who was demoted from his closer role earlier in the year, was force-fed a few final save opportunities to become the first player ever to save 600 games in his career -- a small tarnish on a Hall of Fame career -- of greater concern to the Brewers is that slugger Prince Fielder likely won't reach the more mundane milestone of 100 RBIs. He's been pitched around (92 walks) and pitched at (21 hit by pitches) a lot this season. He has batted just .232 with runners in scoring position and 24 of his 30 homers have been solo shots, so he has just 74 RBIs after tying for the league lead with 141 in 2009.
24 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 24
No discussion of the best starters of the past month would be complete without old friend Carlos Zambrano. You remember him, right? He was the $18 million man reduced to pitching as a reliever ostensibly to help the bullpen though it was in many ways a demotion. He was later suspended indefinitely by the team after one too many tantrums. But since rejoining the rotation on Aug. 9, he has gone 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA over 36 1/3 innings. You know, production befitting a man making $18 million this year.
25 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 27
Contrary to common belief, the Nationals' young prospects are not limited to starting pitchers or guys named Bryce Harper. There are also promising young players like 23-year-old infielder Danny Espinosa, who began his major-league career 9-for-18 with three home runs. According to NatsTownNews, he also became the first player to have at least two home runs and six RBIs in one of his first five games since MLB began tracking such things in 1920. Espinosa accomplished that against the Mets on Monday.
26 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 29
Talk about pressure: Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, like all able-bodied South Korean men, is required to give two years of military service, but winning a gold medal for Korea in the Asian Games this November may release him from that obligation. So while most major-leaguers try not to even think about baseball in the first month off after the playoffs, Choo will have even more at stake than he did during the season.
27 Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 26
It has been another dazzling year for Joakim Soria, again one of the best closers in baseball. He has saved 37 of 39 chances with a 1.71 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 58 innings. But with the Royals he's like a convertible in Alaska -- nice, but not useful all that often. While Kansas City has a promising crew of prospects rising through the system, a young starter to complement Zack Greinke as another rotation building block may be more useful. It might be time for the Royals to trade Soria -- their most marketable player not named Greinke -- this offseason.
28 Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 25
Mike Hampton will never shake the fact that the eight-year, $121-million contract handed to him by Colorado in 2001 will forever be one of baseball's alltime worst contracts. For two years with the Rockies he was terrible. And then with the Braves he was good for three years before missing two seasons entirely with injury and then making a mediocre cameo in 2008, the final year of the albatross of the contract during which he was 56-52 with a 4.81 ERA and an average of 18 starts for the eight seasons. He started 21 games for the Astros in 2009 and recently made his 2010 major-league debut with the Diamondbacks in a role that could give the 38-year-old a little extra life: as a reliever.
29 Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 28
Before Tuesday's 7-5 win over the A's, the Mariners had scored three or fewer runs in 11 straight games and 14 of 15, with the offense having plated a whopping four runs in that 15th game. That 11-game streak is tied for third-longest since 1990 but, miraculously, isn't the worst of this season. The Phillies scored three or fewer runs in 12 straight games from May 22 to June 4. The worst such drought of the past two decades belongs to the 2003 Expos, whose streak was 13 games.
30 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 30
Neil Walker, the Pirates' No. 1 pick in 2004, is yet another NL rookie having a nice debut season. For now Walker may best be known for the notoriety of living at home with his parents, but his offense could change that. He's batting .310 with a .351 OBP and 10 home runs in 87 games this year. Amidst the despair of the Pirates, Walker -- in the words of FanGraphs author R.J. Anderson -- is "like an uplifting calypso tune on an otherwise scratched record."
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