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Potential for surprise among NL rookies

Potential for surprise among NL rookies

In 2008, there were clear favorites for National League Rookie of the Year. The big buzz last spring surrounded Reds outfielder Jay Bruce.

A funny thing happened on the way to his coronation. Well, a few things. First, Bruce didn't come up until late May. Second, Geovany Soto had a terrific year as the everyday catcher for the playoff-bound Cubs. Third, Bruce wasn't even the top rookie on his team, with Joey Votto and Edinson Volquez finishing ahead of him in the voting.

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This isn't meant to disparage Bruce in any way. He's indeed a superstar in the making and had a solid rookie season. But he's the perfect example to use as a warning when considering this list of 2009 candidates: expect the unexpected.

1. Cameron Maybin, OF, Marlins: Some may have thought last year would be his year, but not making the club out of camp last spring may have been the best thing for him. He had a solid season in Double-A, where he continued to run extremely well and began to show the development of the power most thought would eventually come. Sure, his September callup was brief, but it looked like he belonged. He'll still be just 22 for the entire '09 season. He's had a solid spring and it's time for him to use all five of his tools in the big leagues full-time.

2. Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals: Another high school outfielder from the same draft class as Maybin (2005), Cardinals fans may feel like they've been hearing about their own toolsy outfielder forever. He was supposed to win the job last spring, but got sent down despite playing well. Injuries cut short his season and kept him from going to the Olympics and getting called up for the first time. He's also only 22 and has the ability to do everything well. After a slow start, he's come on in big league camp and should be a part of the Cardinals outfield. He's been a slow starter in the past. If the Cards are patient with him, it could pay huge dividends for them, and for him, by year's end.

3. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Nationals: When word came out before Spring Training opened that Zimmermann was going to get a long look for a rotation spot, ROY prognosticators everywhere took note. Then the 2007 second-rounder, the one with just more than one full season of pro ball under his belt, promptly went out and won the No. 5 starter spot in Washington's rotation. The 22-year-old will be the last starter in name only. By season's end, it shouldn't surprise anyone if he's the most effective one on the staff. By the way, No. 4 starter Shairon Maris is an interesting dark horse to consider as well.

4. Jordan Schafer, OF, Braves: A decision hasn't been made yet about the Braves' vacancy in center field, but it seems more and more likely that Schafer is ready to fill it. With all due respect to Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson, Schafer has the most upside, and if his spring is any indication, he's ready to live up to it. His suspension in 2008 for using human growth hormone now a thing of the past, the left-handed-hitting (and throwing) outfielder appears poised to give it a shot in Atlanta. He's got some power and some speed and he can go get 'em in center. Braves fans should enjoy watching his all-or-nothing style as the season progresses.

5. Tommy Hanson, RHP, Braves: Picking a guy who just got sent down, doesn't have an apparent opportunity looming and might even have a guy (Jo-Jo Reyes) ahead of him when and if that opportunity arises, is admittedly a risk. But life is no fun if you're not willing to take a chance. Besides, after watching this guy pitch in the Arizona Fall League, there's no questioning he's legit. He was the first pitcher to ever win that hitting-friendly league's MVP award, and he then pitched well in big league camp. Even if it takes a little while, here's a sneaking suspicion he's going to force his way up with his performance in Triple-A in time to make a ROY-worthy contribution in the big leagues.

Dark horse
It took him a little while, but Reds OF Chris Dickerson is ready to establish himself at a slightly older age (he'll be 27 in April) than the others on this list. Some guys develop at different paces and now is Dickerson's time to shine. He opened many eyes with his big league debut last year and finished the season with a combined 17 homers and 31 steals in 128 games. He might end up in a platoon, which would hurt his chances, but he could put up good-enough numbers regardless to warrant serious consideration.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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