Tony DeMarco MSNBC.com Sports Columnist Tony DeMarco
MSNBC.com Sports Columnist Tony DeMarco
Q: Who is going to be a better major league player, Bryce Harper or Mike Trout? Are there any young players more exciting than these two?
- Danny Bender, New York
A. You can't go wrong here. At this point, there is every reason to believe both will be superstars soon enough.
Trout, born Aug. 7, 1991, is a bit more experienced and ready not only to be an everyday player, but to carry the load for his team. His time in the majors last season helped, as many players say that once you go back to the minors and return to the majors, everything is more familiar and easier.
Look at Trout's improvement from 2011 to 2012:
40 games, 135 plate appearances: .220 BA/.281 OBP/.390 SP, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 4 SB.
2012 (through Monday)
21 games, 92 plate appearances: .350/.413/.600, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 6 SB.
The prevailing opinion on Trout projects him as a .300 hitter/20-25 homer/40-50 steal player who could be a Gold Glove-caliber defender.
Trout's blazing speed could keep him leadoff for a long time, ala Rickey Henderson. But as he gets older, Trout also could drop to third in the order. But either way, he should be among the league leaders in runs scored.
As long as defensive whiz Peter Bourjos stays with the Angels, Trout will be a corner outfielder. And when the Trout LF-Bourjos CF-Mark Trumbo RF combination debuted Monday, the "outfield of the future" label quickly was attached. But Trout certainly has the speed and ability to be an outstanding center fielder.
Harper, born Oct. 16, 1992, has one less year of professional experience than Trout, so he's more of a work in progress - especially defensively, as he hasn't played much outfield. Remember, he was a catcher for much of his amateur career.
Harper's power potential projects as a No. 3-4 hitter, and in fact, he recently joined this illustrious group of teenagers who hit big-league homers on back-to-back days: Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Conigliaro, Gary Sheffield and Ken Griffey Jr.
But what has been equally impressive about Harper's early big-league experience is how well-rounded his game is - speed, powerful throwing arm, aggressive base-running, etc. Harper projects as more of a .300 hitter/40-45 homer/25-30 steal type.
Nobody really knows what these two are capable of doing in the future. But it's sure going to be fun to watch and see how they develop.
Q: Since the Orioles still are in first place in the AL East, should they look to push stud pitcher Dylan Bundy to the majors sooner rather than later?
- Mike, Baltimore
A: We're talking about separate issues here. No prospect ever should be rushed just because of the big-league team's place in the standings. And that's certainly not going to be the case here, as Bundy is in low-A ball, far from the majors at this point.
For the uninitiated, Bundy - born Nov. 15, 1992 - was the fourth-overall pick in the June 2011 draft, behind fellow pitchers Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen and Trevor Bauer.
Bundy's numbers for the Dalmarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League are among the most eye-popping I can remember: 30 innings, 5 hits, 2 walks, 2 HBP, 40 strikeouts. Ridiculous, right?
But again, he was pitching in high school a year ago at this time, and a likely promotion or two still will top him out at the Double-A level this season. Maybe we'll see Bundy in an Orioles uniform in 2013 at the earliest, but only if his success continues as he rises through their system.
As for the Orioles' early success this season, most signs are pointing to an upcoming regression, especially considering their AL East competition. A run differential of +12 through Monday points to a 23-20 record, rather than the Orioles' 27-16 mark.
The staff's ERA of 3.58 also is on the rise. We're already seeing hot April starters Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen take a few lumps of late, and five relievers currently have ERAs of well under 2.00 - unlikely to continue.
Q. Derek Lowe is pitching out of his mind and the Cleveland Indians are in first place. Can either keep it up?
- John Lawson, Cleveland
A. Probably not in either case. But that doesn't mean Lowe won't have a solid season, or the Tribe won't stay in the AL Central race - at least as long as the Tigers keep stumbling around .500.
Remember, the Tribe finished 80-82 last season, so a jump to the 90-win mark isn't a huge stretch, especially with one of the game's underrated managers in Manny Acta in charge.
However, through Monday, the Indians had a run differential of -4 despite being five games over .500. Occasionally, a team can win a division with a negative run differential - the 2007 Diamondbacks (90-72, -20 run differential) are a recent example - but it's very difficult. The 2005 Padres also did it, but won the NL West with an 82-80 mark and a hard-to-believe -42 run differential.
At this point, the Indians are middle-of-the-AL-pack in terms of team offense and pitching, and besides Lowe, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and closer Chris Perez, the individual numbers are nothing special.
But they are fourth in the majors in on-base percentage, and they're staying healthy - with only one use of the disabled list (Rafael Perez) since Grady Sizemore's spring loss.
A series this week against the Tigers - the teams' first meeting in 2012 - isn't crucial, but could indicate how that very important season series will go.
As for Lowe, give him credit for rebounding from a terrible (9-17-5.05) 2011 season in Atlanta and doing what he's done - first in the AL wins, second in ERA - as his 39th birthday approaches on June 1.
However, Lowe's strikeout rate is alarmingly low even for an extreme sinkerball pitcher - only 15 Ks in his first 58.2 innings (as opposed to 18 walks), and that doesn't bode well. But you can be sure Acta will be satisfied if Lowe amasses close to 200 innings with anything lower than a 4.00 ERA.