Who are the cream of this year's crop of rookies? Well, the crème de la crème are two highly prized catchers, the Cleveland Indians' Sandy Alomar Jr. and the St. Louis Cardinals' Todd Zeile (page 42). But before we get to them, let's look at four other players who could have a big impact this spring.
•Eric Anthony, outfielder, Houston Astros. Four years ago Anthony was an 18-year-old high school dropout working on an assembly line at a Houston plastics company. Looking for a new direction in life, he talked his way into an Astro tryout in 1986 and dazzled everyone present with his raw power. Since then he has slugged his way to the top of the organization, averaging 30 homers a year in the minors in '88 and '89. Unfortunately he also averaged 120 K's per season over the same period. One thing is certain: Anthony won't be spooked by the Astrodome. His first major league hit was a 414-foot home run in the Dome last July.
•John Olerud, designated hitter, Toronto Blue Jays. In September, Olerud became the 15th player in history to make his pro debut in the majors, going straight from Washington State to the Jays. Not bad for someone who had undergone life-threatening surgery to repair a brain aneurysm only seven months earlier. In 1988, Olerud became the first player in NCAA history to hit 20 homers and win 15 games in the same season, fueling speculation that he might become the first two-way star since Babe Ruth. However, Toronto has, at least temporarily, shelved any plans to use Olerud on the mound.
•Greg Vaughn, outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers. He has power to all fields, he can hit for average, and he has excellent speed. After Vaughn was brought up by the Brewers last August, he hit .265 with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 38 games and batted .480 with runners in scoring position. He also averaged 26 steals a year in the minors. His main drawback is his spotty fielding. But the Brewers are convinced Vaughn will be baseball's newest 30-30 man and are trying to trade either Rob Deer or Glenn Braggs to make room for him.
•Ben McDonald, righthanded pitcher, Baltimore Orioles. The No. 1 draft pick in the nation last year, McDonald has an impressive repertoire: an overpowering fastball, an explosive curve and a better-than-average changeup. But his most valuable asset is his ability to control the game like a seasoned veteran. At 6'7" and 210 pounds, "Big Ben" has an ideal pitcher's build. He's coordinated (he went to LSU on a basketball scholarship) and strong (he says he likes to catch alligators with his bare hands), not to mention competitive. In 152 innings for LSU last year, he struck out 202 batters and walked 40. The Orioles will probably put McDonald in the rotation hoping that he will come through with a Rookie of the Year performance like reliever Gregg Olson's last year. Says one scout of McDonald, "He's the best young pitching prospect I've ever seen. Ever"
RONALD C. MODRA