Standout Rookies We Didn't See Coming

Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees reacts after giving up a run against the New York Mets at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Tuesday night's Mariners-Indians game featured a match-up of interesting starting pitchers: Seattle's Anthony Vasquez and Cleveland's Zachary McAllister.

Vasquez struggled, but picked up the win because McAllister struggled even more.

Their struggles weren't exactly shocking, considering that neither was considered a real prospect before the season. Neither made Baseball America's list of top 30 prospects for their respective clubs. John Sickels listed McAllister as a Grade C prospect in his book, and didn't write about Vasquez at all.

Which isn't to suggest that anyone was wrong about Vasquez or McAllister, as neither would be starting major-league games if their clubs weren't somewhat desperate. Same for Aaron Thompson, who pitched 4-1/3 innings of shutout ball for the Pirates on Wednesday afternoon, and was sent back to the minors immediately after the game.

Still, this got me to thinking about players who a) entered this season as relative non-prospects, but b) have made positive contributions to their teams.

To begin identifying such players, I consulted Baseball America's Prospect Handbook. They've got each club's top 30 prospects, but they also list depth charts for each position, which include non-top-30 prospects and generally add another 40-50 names. So I just started flipping through the book, looking for names that a) didn't show up on the numbered prospect lists, or b) showed up, but well down the list, and c) were recognizable to me, presumably because they've actually reached the majors this season and played well.*

* Yes, I know that a name can't play baseball, well or otherwise. Do you want fast, or good?

Basically, I was looking for interesting combinations of performance and unheralded-ness.

Of which there are few better examples than Arizona's Josh Collmenter. He didn't just miss BA's list of top 30 Diamondbacks prospects; he's fifth on the list of right-handed starting pitchers who didn't make the list. Yet here he is, with a 3.34 ERA and a lovely 3.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. (To John Sickels' great credit, he ranked Collmenter among the D'backs' top twenty-two prospects.)

Brandon Beachy most certainly did appear on everyone's prospect lists before this season. BA had him No. 8 on the Braves, and Sickels gave him a B- grade (top 12). Still, BA wrote, "His ceiling is as a No. 3 starter" and Sickels suggested that "Beachy has little remaining projection and is ... at least good enough to be a number four starter or very fine reliever." While Beachy is just 6-2 this season, his 3.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio suggests a pitcher who might be even better than everyone thought.

The Tigers have taken a couple of middling (at best) prospects -- outfielder Casper Wells and pitcher Charlie Furbush -- and turned them into Doug Fister, who's pitched reasonably well since coming over from the Mariners in a deadline deal. Wells was Detroit's No. 19 prospect entering the season; all he's done, first with the Tigers and now with the M's, is hitting .268/.338/.492 and has shown off a fantastic throwing arm.

It's been a rough season for the Houston Astros. At this moment, the two highest batting averages on the roster belong to Brian Bogusevic (.329) and Jose Altuve (.310) ... who were ranked before the season as the Astros' 27th and 28th best prospects. Bogusevic is old (for a prospect) and playing well over his head; Altuve is young and might be for real.

Granted, the Royals' farm system is loaded. Or was, before the season. One guy nobody was talking about, though? At all? Right-handed pitcher Greg Holland. BA didn't make him a top-30 prospect, John didn't write about him. All Holland's done is post a 1.54 ERA, fourth lowest in the American League among hurlers with at least 40 innings. And it's not all luck, as Holland's struck out nearly four times more batters than he's walked.

Javy Guerra wasn't really supposed to pitch for the Dodgers this season. Not much, anyway. He certainly wasn't supposed to close. Just a few months ago, the 25-year-old right-hander was ranked as the Dodgers' 26th-best prospect. But with Dodger relievers falling like duckpins early on, Guerra debuted with the big club in May, took over as closer in July, and has converted 11 of 12 save chances, with a 2.27 ERA. Who says the organization's in disarray?

Dillon Gee wasn't supposed to be in the Mets' rotation this season. Why would he? He came into spring training as the club's No. 16 prospect! But with Chris Young knocked out early, Gee got a shot and he's got 11 wins, tied for the team lead. And what about Justin Turner? He wasn't considered a prospect at all, but wound up playing second base by default and has held his own.

Ivan Nova did make the Yankees' prospect list -- No. 13, and Sickels gave him a B-minus -- but who had him with 13 wins and a 3.97 ERA in late August? Not me, that's for sure.

Same thing with Vance Worley. He was the Phillies' No. 11 prospect; Sickels gave him a C+. He wasn't supposed to start a single game this season; the big boys, plus Joe Blanton and maybe Kyle Kendrick, would take care of that, this season at least. But even big boys get hurt and Worley got his shot, responding with a 2.65 ERA that's almost made him one of the big boys.

It's looking like a lost season for the Cardinals. One bright spot, though? In the wake of Ryan Franklin's implosion, the Cards found a new closer in Fernando Salas, who entered the spring as the club's No. 14 prospect but has converted 22 saves while posting outstanding peripheral numbers. Seems like a keeper.

Every player listed above appeared somewhere in Baseball America's depth charts. Maybe not among the top 30 prospects. But somewhere.

Jesús Guzmán did not. Brad Hawpe was supposed to play first base for the Padres this season, and Jesús Guzmán was supposed to play first base in Tucson until an actual prospect came along. Something funny happened on the way to obscurity, though. Hawpe didn't hit, at all. Guzmán did. First in Tucson, and now in San Diego: .331/.382/.531 in 52 games with the big club. And I'm not absolutely convinced it's a fluke, as Guzmán's now been good in three straight triple-A seasons.

Meanwhile, Chicago White Sox third baseman Brent Morel was ranked as the organization's No. 2 prospect entering this season. In 320 plate appearances with the big club, Morel's got two home runs and six walks.

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