Whatever else spring training means for the 26 major league baseball teams scattered throughout Florida, Arizona, and California, it is always a time for rookies.
Only a small percentage of those invited to camp will make it into the regular season. But for those whose skills have matured enough to fill a particular trouble spot, fame, riches, and a chance to travel first class come quickly.
Anyway, there are 12 rookies who, on paper, look like the most promising ones of 1982. They have been selected even though three or four of them may be returned to the minors, not because they aren't ready, but because the club they are with already has a superstar at their position.
In no particular order, they are: Montreal outfielder Terry Francona; Los Angeles first baseman Mike Marshall and second baseman Steve Sax; California first baseman Daryl Sconiers; Kansas City shortstop Onix Concepcion; Cincinnati outfielder Paul Householder; Oakland first baseman Kelvin Moore; Atlanta outfielder Brett Butler; Seattle pitcher Bob Stoddard; Baltimore third baseman Cal Ripken Jr.; Cleveland second baseman Jack Perconte; and San Francisco pitcher Alan Fowlkes.
Many other rookies have a chance to make the majors, of course, only their credentials do not seem quite as impressive at this time.
Players with a lot of natural hitting ability are always in great demand, which is why Montreal is so high on Francona, the son of former major leaguer Tito Francona. Terry, a switch-hitter, was called up late last season while the Expos were battling to make the National League playoffs and batted .274.
In Marshall, the Dodgers have a power-hitting first baseman who many scouts felt was the best player in the minors last season. Mike won the Pacific Coast League's triple crown in 1981 by batting .373, hitting 34 homers, and driving in 137 runs. But with Steve Garvey at first base, Marshall's only chance this year may hinge on how fast he can learn to play the outfield.
Sax, who does so many things well both at bat and in the field, filled in capably at second base late last season when Davey Lopes was injured. Sax played so well, in fact, that Lopes became expendable and was traded to Oakland.
Sconiers's problem with California is similar to what Marshall is fighting with the Dodgers: the presence of an established veteran (in this case Rod Carew) at first base. Daryl's arm and glove do not suggest the outfield as an alternative, but he does appear to have a big-league bat, and of course American League teams have room for one more player in the lineup because of the designated hitter.
Even though Kansas City doesn't expect Concepcion to dislodge U.L. Washington as the regular shortstop, it does expect him to make the club as a utility infielder. Onix (no relation to Cincinnati's standout shortstop, Dave Concepcion) is an outstanding glove man with lots of range.
With George Foster, Dave Collins, and Ken Griffey gone, Cincinnati will start to rebuild its outfield with the switch-hitting Householder, who also swings with power. Paul's credentials include 19 home runs and 77 RBIs last year with Indianapolis.
The fact that manager Billy Martin plans to start Moore at first base in most of the A's spring training games should tell you something. Kelvin is solid defensively and has power (31 homers at Tacoma), but could take himself out of the lineup if he doesn't cut down on his strikeouts.
Atlanta will probably have Butler, who figures to open a lot of doors with his bat, in center field. Brett has speed, a strong arm, and the kind of bat control that will turn many of his line drives into doubles.
Maturity seems to be the key word for Stoddard, who is expected to step in and start for Seattle after four years in the minors. Actually Bob had only modest success until last year, when he suddenly learned to mix up his pitches en route to a 10-4 record with Spokane.
The word on Ripken is that he will give Baltimore another outstanding glove man at third base. Cal, whose father is an Oriole coach, was voted the top major league prospect in the International League last year on the basis of his fielding, plus 23 homers and 75 runs batted in.
Cleveland will have a new second baseman this season in Perconte, who was obtained in a trade with the Dodgers. Although lacking power, Jack has six times batted over .300 in the minors, and no one complains about his fielding.
The sleeper among all major league rookies this season is probably Fowlkes, a right-handed pitcher who may wind up starting for San Francisco. What this kid has is head sense well beyond his years, a couple of breaking pitches that throw hitters off stride, and the ability to get the ball over the plate consistently.