In the AL East, that could mean the difference between making the playoffs and waiting until next year.
Here are 10 young talents to watch in the near future in the most competitive division in baseball.
10. Michael Bowden, pitcher, Boston Red Sox
Bowden was once considered the Robin to Clay Buchholz‘ Batman, but his stock has dropped considerably over the past season. The right-hander has been pitching better lately, however, and with Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, and Daisuke Matsuzaka all candidates for frequent trips to the DL, Bowden likely will get a chance to rebuild his value. He was moved to the Pawtucket bullpen this week, so he could help Boston in that role.
9. Brandon Snyder, first baseman, Baltimore Orioles
Although Snyder has underwhelming stats in Triple-A, Orioles first basemen have produced two home runs, 22 RBIs and a .284 OBP this season. With Garret Atkins gone and Ty Wigginton viewed as a prime trade candidate, look for the O’s to give Snyder some serious playing time in preparation for 2011.
8. Lars Anderson, first baseman, Boston Red Sox
Based on talent alone, Anderson ranks as the third- or fourth-best player on this list, but he’s followed a terrible 2009 campaign with mixed results this season. After raking in Double-A, Anderson has struggled mightily in Pawtucket. Still, don’t be surprised if the Red Sox make use of his power come September.
7. Zach Britton, starting pitcher, Baltimore Orioles
After dominating Double-A with a 2.48 ERA and 64.1 ground-ball percentage, Britton was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk last week, where he threw six scoreless innings in his debut. Although he lacks the upside of Brian Matusz, Britton is the type of innings eater who could help the rebuilding Orioles as soon as this September.
6. J.P. Arencibia, catcher, Toronto Blue Jays
With a resurgent John Buck ahead of him and hotshot prospect Travis d’Arnaud behind him, Arencibia may have a limited window to stick in Toronto. He’s doing his best to press the issue, however, and his .319-19-52 line at Triple-A is sure to garner him some second-half playing time.
5. Ryan Kalish, outfielder, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2009, Kalish has split time between Portland and Pawtucket this season, posting a combined line of .289-9-35 with 16 stolen bases. Given the plethora of injuries to Boston outfielders, Kalish should get the chance to showcase his five-tool potential come August.
4. Jesus Montero, catcher/designated hitter, New York Yankees
Montero is the player with the highest ceiling on this list. His monster power and great batter’s eye give him Frank Thomas-like upside. Although Montero started slow in Triple-A, he hit .283 in June, and while there’s no chance he stays behind the plate long term, he could make an excellent second-half DH for the Yankees.
3. Desmond Jennings, outfielder, Tampa Bay Rays
After suffering through a wrist injury early in the season, the lighting-quick Jennings hit .359 at Triple-A in June and is ready for the big show. Jennings should supplant the struggling B.J. Upton in short order and is the perfect long-term replacement for free-agent-to-be Carl Crawford.
2. Brett Wallace, first baseman, Toronto Blue Jays
With incumbent first baseman Lyle Overbay hitting just .239 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs, look for the surprising Blue Jays to rely on Wallace and his Michael Young-type hitting skills in the second half. Wallace may lack the prototypical power of a corner infielder, but he has the ability to hit .300 or better for years to come.
1. Jeremy Hellickson, starting pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays
Wade Davis beat out Hellickson for the Rays’ final rotation spot in spring training, but Hellickson always has been considered the better long-term prospect. With Davis now struggling in the majors while Hellickson dominates at Triple-A, Hellickson could replace Davis soon and improve an already formidable Rays’ staff.