— When it comes to the potential impact of rookies, it's often equal parts talent and opportunity.
Forty years after the fact, Don Baylor still is a bit miffed that he couldn't break into the outfield of those championship Baltimore Orioles teams of the early 1970s until after two All-Star seasons at Triple-A Rochester.
But Dave Winfield walked off the University of Minnesota campus and right into the uniform of a 103-loss San Diego Padres team in 1973, and never spent a day in the minors.
Just last season, AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz's chance to emerge didn't come until closer Frank Francisco went down with an injury in April. And NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey had to wait until late-May for an overdue promotion from Triple-A Fresno.
So with that in mind, we look at the possible impact of this year's rookie crop — with opportunity winning out over longer-term upside on this list. We won't see a rookie class like last year's for awhile, but there are some key 2011 contributors here:
1. Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Tampa Bay: Locked into the back of the Rays' rotation, the 23-year-old right-hander has a polished assortment of plus pitches. His 36.1 innings down the stretch in 2010 indicate he may be the Rays' second-best starter by season's end.
2. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta: There are only a handful of rookie position players who have starting jobs out of camp, and the 21-year-old has proven this spring that he deserves the opportunity. The power is a bit short at this point, but batting average should be there.
3. Craig Kimbrell, RP, Atlanta: His spring hasn't been overly impressive, but his 2010 stretch run certainly was. He and lefty flame thrower Jonny Venters figure to be pitching a lot of eighth and ninth innings for new manager Fredi Gonzalez, and we'll see how it shakes out.
4. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati: The Reds have enough rotation depth and Francisco Cordero entrenched in the closer role, so there's no need to push it with Chapman's electric stuff. But a mid-season move out of the setup role certainly is possible.
5. Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco: After almost waiting too long to promote Posey last season, the Giants strongly are considering keeping Belt on the Opening Day roster, as his strong spring continues. He could rise to No. 2 on this list with a full-season opportunity, and figures to be in the big leagues by no later than June.
6. Kyle Drabek, SP, Toronto: Doug's son has middle-of-the-rotation stuff, and with the Blue Jays looking at another non-contending season in the AL East, they might as well see what they have in the 23-year-old right-hander who was the Double-A Eastern League's 2010 pitcher of the year.
7. J.P. Arencibia, C, Toronto: He's 25 and coming off a 32-homer season at Triple-A — enough to convince the Jays to let John Buck leave through free agency. Arencibia fits that low-batting average/20-homer profile catcher, and has the majority-playing-time role to lose.
8. Mike Minor, SP Atlanta: Yes, another Braves rookie. That bodes well for the Braves in the near future, but may indicate an over-reliance on youth in the first year of the post-Bobby Cox era. The seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft figures to win the No. 5 spot over fellow rookie Brandon Beachy.
9. Chris Sale, RP, Chicago White Sox: Nobody reached the majors faster from last June's amateur draft, as Sale was up a month later, and proved he belonged. The 21-year-old left-hander has had some ups and downs this spring, and will start the season in a setup role, as opposed to closer. Command is the key; the stuff is there.
10. Danny Espinosa, 2B, Washington: There just aren't many middle infielders who have a power-speed combination, and Espinosa was one of only a handful of minor-leaguers who put up a 20-homer, 20-steal season in 2010. The concern is a low batting average that could land him back in Triple-A if he struggles. But if you're the Nats, why not give him the opportunity?
11. Jake McGee, RP, Tampa Bay: The hard-throwing left-hander isn't shying away from taking on an important role in an unsettled Rays bullpen. And with a decided lack of a quality proven veteran option to close games, McGee has a chance to emerge.
12. Michael Pineda, SP Seattle: Scouts in Arizona are raving about the huge (6-7, 260) right-hander's stuff, which is at least No. 2-starter-caliber. He's talented enough to be in a shaky Mariners' rotation coming out of camp, but his big-league debut may be delayed for experience and service-time-clock reasons.
13. Kenley Jansen, RP, Los Angeles Dodgers: As recently as the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the Curacao native was catching for Team Netherlands. His conversion to the bullpen came shortly thereafter, he could be the Dodgers' closer by the end of the season if Jonathan Broxton's inconsistencies continue. The hard-throwing right-hander will begin the season in a setup role.
14. Ivan Nova, SP, New York Yankees: There is a relatively limited ceiling here, but a nice spring that included a six-inning no-hitter against the Orioles in his last outing will win him a spot at the back of the Yankees' rotation. With their offense, that could translate into double-figure wins.
15. Matt Dominquez, 3B, Florida: The spring audition is going well for the 21-year-old top Marlins prospect. He's hitting enough to hang onto the starting job at this point, and there has been little question about his defense.
16. Brett Morel, 3B, Chicago White Sox: He hasn't received Ozzie Guillen's nod as the starter, as Mark Teahen is having a big spring. But Morel showed well in his late-season callup, and assuming his defense stays solid, the Sox can afford to have him hit at the bottom of their order.
17. Zach Britton, SP, Baltimore: The Orioles' top prospect has pitched himself into rotation consideration this spring, piggy-backing a strong 2010 minor-league season. There's too much excitement about a potential .500 season in Baltimore, and when that wears away, you'll see Britton, 23, brought along slowly at the big-league level.
18. Jordan Walden, RP, Los Angeles Angels: A big right-hander with a high-90s fastball but inconsistent command, Walden figures to start the season in a middle-relief role. But the back of Mike Scioscia's pen is anything but firmed up, so Walden could take on a higher profile as the season progresses.
19. Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia: He'd be much higher on this list, but had surgery to repair a fracture in his hand, and will miss about six weeks. Then he'll need a couple of months at Triple-A, so don't expect him until the second half. In the meantime, it's Ben Francisco and John Mayberry Jr. in right field for the Phillies.
20. Dustin Ackley, 2B, Seattle: The 2009 No. 2 overall pick is in the midst of a transition to second base, and veterans Adam Kennedy and Brendan Ryan currently are in the way. But at some point in what figures to be another lost Mariners' season, the job will turn over to Ackley.
21. Jesus Montero, C; Manny Banuelos, SP, New York Yankees: Most likely, it will take an injury or ineffectiveness at the big-league level — or a trade — for either to get much of a shot this season. But few question Montero's power bat, and the 20-year-old Banuelos is convincing Joe Girardi — if not Brian Cashman — that he can succeed now at the big-league level.
22. Mike Moustakas, 3B; Eric Hosmer, 1B; Mike Montgomery, SP; Will Myers, C, Kansas City: The foursome of Royals prospects — all rated in the game's top 20 — aren't quite ready at this point, but aren't far off, either. With the Royals heading for another 95-100-loss season, there will be pressure on the organization to give fans something to get excited about later this season.
23. Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay: Already sent down, he'll have to tear up Triple-A to force an early-season recall. His best chance in 2011 may be the Rays falling out of the playoff chase, and then deciding to give the 23-year-old center fielder some at-bats.
24. Chris Carter, OF, Oakland: There just aren't many true power-hitting outfielders out there these days, and nobody can question Carter's power. But average and strikeout concerns will limit opportunity after the A's spent off-season money on Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui.
25. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels: Ranked first or second on all prospects lists, the 19-year-old center fielder could make a September cameo. Will the Nationals do the same with the game's other teenage sensation, 18-year-old Bryce Harper?