Last year’s World Series featured each league’s top rookie, with Buster Posey and the San Francisco Giants getting the best of Neftali Feliz and the Texas Rangers. Hard to match that impact, but check out this list of promising newcomers looking for similar success in 2011:
• 1B Freddie Freeman, RHP Craig Kimbrel and LHP Mike Minor, Atlanta: A year after Jason Heyward helped the Braves reach the playoffs in his rookie season, the N.L. East contenders could have three more prospects in starring roles.
The sweet-swinging Freeman takes over at first after batting .319 with 18 homers and 87 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett. Kimbrel could grab the closer role this year, and Minor should soon be in the Braves’ rotation.
• LHP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati: The Cuban left-hander helped the Reds reach the playoffs last season for the first time in 15 years, his 105 mph heat sending a charge through the ballpark every time he entered the game. He will set up for closer Francisco Cordero again this season, perhaps auditioning for that role in 2012 or just preparing for his eventual transition to the rotation.
• LHP Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: Matt Thornton won the closer role during spring training, but the hard-throwing Sale is sure to get the ball in key spots as the White Sox try to get back to the playoffs. The 6-foot-6 Sale, who turns 22 on Wednesday, made his major league debut last August and finished with a 1.93 ERA and four saves in 23 1/3 innings.
• OF Domonic Brown, Philadelphia: Brown is expected to take over for Jayson Werth in right field, but his development was slowed when he broke his right hand this spring. The 23-year-old slugger was OK in a short stint with the Phillies last season, but hit .327 with 20 homers and 68 RBIs in 93 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
• RHP Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay: The 6-foot-1 Hellickson, who turns 24 on April 8, had his spring debut pushed back due to strained right hamstring, but he was still on pace to be a part of the Rays’ rotation on opening day. Last summer he became the first pitcher in franchise history to win his first three major league starts and finished 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA in 10 games, including six relief appearances.
• INFs Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, Kansas City: There is hope in Kansas City, where the Royals have accumulated an impressive collection of prospects, headed by this pair of bashers. Each split time between two minor league stops last season, with Moustakas hitting .322 with 36 homers and 124 RBIs and Hosmer batting .338 with 20 homers and 86 RBIs.
• 2B Dustin Ackley, Seattle: The MVP of the Arizona Fall League should make his major league debut this season. After a slow start, Ackley reached Triple-A Tacoma, where he hit .274 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 52 games.
• INF Brandon Belt, San Francisco: The fifth-round pick in the 2009 draft was impressive during his first season of pro ball and turned some heads during spring training this year. The 6-5 first baseman batted .352 with 23 homers and 112 RBIs in 136 games between high Class A, Double-A and Triple-A in 2010.
• RHP Kyle Drabek, Toronto: The son of 1990 N.L. Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek made it to the majors last season and went 0-3 with a 4.76 ERA in three starts for the Blue Jays following a September callup. He earned the promotion after going 14-9 with a 2.94 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A New Hampshire, including a no-hitter against New Britain on July 4.
• C Jesus Montero, New York Yankees: Francisco Cervelli broke his left foot during spring training, leaving the door open for Montero to make the Yankees’ opening-day roster while All-Star Jorge Posada becomes the DH. The 6-3 Montero batted .289 with 21 homers and 75 RBIs in 123 games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010.