Rookies can make — and break — your team

For fantasy baseball owners, there is no gamble quite like signing an unproven rookie.

With all the hype and boasting of can’t-miss prospects, figuring out which young talent will succeed is usually nothing more than a crapshoot. For every rookie that comes out of nowhere with a masterful opening year (Albert Pujols), there is a highly touted bust that never materializes (the troubled Jeff Allison).

This year has been no different, as rookies continue to delight, annoy and — most often — confuse owners who have taken a chance on them.

Take, for instance, New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes, who has crammed a season of highlights and lowlights into only two games. In his first start against Toronto, he was shelled for four earned runs and seven hits in four innings. But in his very next appearance on the mound, he threw six innings of no-hit ball against Texas before leaving with a hamstring injury.

So, the question remains when Hughes returns from the disabled list for fantasy owners — is he an unhittable phenom, a youngster with average stuff or an overrated, injury-prone rookie?

Tim Lincecum, the Giants’ diminutive rookie pitcher, is also an enticing prospect. Like Hughes, he was bounced around pretty good in his opening start (an 8-5 shellacking against Philadelphia), but he has rebounded nicely, giving up just four earned runs in 22 innings over his last three appearances. Lincecum is 2-0 with a 3.08 ERA, but at a svelte 170 pounds and less than a year out of college, it is still unclear if he’ll be able to withstand the rigors of a full season.

One rookie that appears to be bucking the trendof first-year inconsistency is Houston Astros center fielder Hunter Pence. Since jumping to the majors in late April, Pence has done nothing but hit, going no more than two games without picking up a base knock. Pence is batting .341 with four homers, six doubles and 16 RBIs in less than a month of work.

While he appears to be good for the long haul, fantasy owners can easily attest that it may be a tad early to canonize a player after just 23 games.

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