Youth is served

Mike Harmon
Yahoo! Sports

There has yet to be that awe-inspiring rookie to make a big splash. I wrote last week about the success enjoyed by San Diego Padres reliever Akinori Otsuka. His highly-touted countryman Kazuo Matsui has failed to live up to the hype, and those who drafted Twins catcher Joe Mauer anxiously await his return behind the plate.

No, April was generally a month for those second- and third-year players who earned an everyday job out of camp or inherited the job from a struggling teammate as the season began. But there are a couple of rookies sprinkled throughout the list. We'll start behind the plate.

Gerald Laird, C, Texas Rangers
Laird hit .339 in April and was named AL Rookie of the Month. It's a soft .339 with only four extra-base hits, but that's a high average nonetheless. Laird won't add much to your other scoring categories with only eight RBIs in his first 20 games. Fellow catcher and teammate Rod Barajas has more pop, in half the at-bats.

Casey Daigle, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Daigle earned his first career victory on Wednesday night, taking down the Cubs. Sure, he only pitched 5⅓ innings, but take a peek at this guy's game log. Since his first two big league outings (I'm willing to chalk it up to first-start jitters and the Colorado effect), Daigle has been effective. He's allowed only five earned runs in his last three starts, spanning 18 innings pitched. With starts against the anemic offenses of the New York Mets and Montreal Expos on the horizon, Daigle makes for a great addition to your staff.

Closing out Daigle's starts will be the recently promoted Jose Valverde. After shining in the closer role for a brief period in 2003, Valverde will excel. He's good for better than a strikeout-per-inning pitched combined with a low WHIP and ERA. Matt Mantei owners who failed to handcuff him to Valverde are in a panic.

Shingo Takatsu, RP, Chicago White Sox
Takatsu, still technically a rookie, came over from Japan with the nickname of Mr. Zero. Like Daigle, since his appearance for the Sox, Takatsu has been lights out. He's picked up two wins in relief and has struck out more than one-hitter-per-inning pitched.

Incumbent stopper Billy Koch has allowed earned runs in only four of 14 appearances, including a disastrous four-run April 14th outing against Tampa Bay. He has firmly established his grip on the closer role, so Takatsu will be relegated to middle relief opposite Kelly Wunsch upon his return. With that said, Takatsu will pick up several more victories and a mound of strikeouts due to the Sox starters' inability to eat innings.

Bobby Crosby, SS, Oakland Athletics
Crosby took over for the departed Miguel Tejada at shortstop this past offseason. He's performed admirably in the field, committing only one error in 19 games. Unfortunately, that's not going to cut it in your fantasy league. Errors and games played (Oakland management insists that he's the guy all season even if he's stays below the Mendoza line) aren't your typical scoring categories, so Carlos Guillen of Detroit and Juan Uribe of Chicago are better long-term plays.

Crosby, who had three home runs in April, still is out-slugging the notoriously slow-starting Tejada and another top draft choice, Edgar Renteria.

Laynce Nix, OF, Texas Rangers
Nix's ascension to the starting lineup has been overshadowed by Alfonso Soriano's arrival and A-Rod's departure from Arlington. OK, those Teixeira and Blalock guys are pretty good too.

In 21 games, entering Wednesday night, Nix's batting average is more than 100 points higher than in 2003 and he's already hit five home runs. With 12 extra-base hits in those contests, Nix won't be hitting in the eighth spot for long. He's a 25 home run, 80-RBI hitter before season's end.

Lyle Overbay, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers
Overbay already has driven in 24 runs on the young season, almost eclipsing the total earned in 86 games in 2003. Even more impressive is that his batting average is up more than 40 points as well and he's cutting down on his strikeouts.

The Brewers are fifth in the National League in runs scored with Overbay hitting in the fifth spot. Scott Podsednik is proving to be a legitimate table setter and Geoff Jenkins can mash when sound. The schedule is rich with games against Montreal in the coming weeks, so look to Overbay to boost his RBI totals.

Jason Frasor, RP, Toronto Blue Jays
The latest in a long line of would-be closers stepped up on Tuesday night for the Blue Jays, succeeding Justin Speier and Aquilino Lopez. To put their disappointing start to the 2004 campaign into perspective, Frasor's save was only the SECOND by Toronto's relief corps this season.

Frasor's striking out just less than one batter per inning and has been scored upon in only one outing. The dormant Toronto bats will awaken shortly and open up save opportunities.

Rafael Betancourt, RP, Cleveland Indians
Bob Wickman went down before spring training broke and David Riske scuffled through the month of April. Enter Betancourt to the closer role. He's already closed down two games successfully for the Tribe, striking out 18 in 15 innings pitched.

The quick maturation process of Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook to support veteran southpaw C.C. Sabathia will keep Cleveland competitive in the AL Central. Betancourt's also picked up two victories in the first month of the season to boot. So there's a five-category boon to your relief corps.

Khalil Greene, SS, San Diego Padres
The Padres welcomed a new ballpark and a new shortstop in 2004. Greene's been up to the task so far, hitting a respectable .287 in 26 games. But he's yet to make a dent in any other major category, driving in only 10 runs and failing to hit a home run or steal a base.

He's stuck in the eighth spot for the time being, but the Padres have big hopes for his future. You're stuck with him in NL-only leagues, but if you're in a mixed league, there's going to be better value on the waiver wire.

Adam LaRoche, 1B, Atlanta Braves
LaRoche earned the starting nod out of spring training and has yet to get on track. He's striking out once every four at-bats and failing to capitalize on the brilliance of Marcus Giles and Johnny Estrada. It appears that he needs another season in the minors. Now is the time for Atlanta to reconsider the move of Chipper Jones to first base, which would let him get his hamstring back in shape easier than tracking down fly balls in the outfield. Mike Hessman is hitting an anemic .125 and Julio Franco is their only other option.

And one on the comeback trail

Robby Hammock, C, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hammock's return to the lineup is another bright spot for the Diamondbacks. He's versatile, having logged time in the outfield and at third base last season. But his true value is behind the plate. Hammock hit eight home runs and stole three bases in 65 games with the big club in 2003, prompting fantasy owners in need of some added pop to the waiver wire in droves.

As Matt Romig outlined in his tour of the minor leagues these past two weeks, a number of future stars are set to make their debuts this summer. And as you're well aware, opportunity will knock for these prospects sooner than expected because of injuries, fire sales and white flag waving at the trade deadline and the pressures of impending salary arbitration. Stay tuned.

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