The release of 2008 Donruss Elite Extra Edition on November 26 will bring to the marketplace new cards and fresh autographs of some of the game's top young players.
Among those are these five names to remember:
1. MICHEL INOA, RHP, OAKLAND A'S - It didn't take the Oakland A's long to sign Dominican native Michel Inoa, inking the 16-year-old pitching phenom on July 2, the very first day of the international signing period.
And the kid didn't come cheap: The A's reportedly signed him to a deal that included a hefty $4.25 million bonus, a record that, according to Baseball America, is the largest in history for a non-Cuban defector from Latin America.
The A's don't usually toss money around carelessly, and the organization has said they believe Michel - he will be known as Michael within the organization and with teammates - is a once-in-a-lifetime pitching talent. At 6-foot-7 and weighing 205 pounds, the kid is already reaching the low 90s with his fastball.
Donruss baseball brand managers began working with Inoa's representatives to secure an autograph deal shortly after he signed his A's contract. The biggest issue came with finding suitable photography, since Inoa was only in the U.S. long enough to take a physical and sign his deal. Inoa's representatives in the Dominican sent a couple of shots from Michel's amateur team and one of those was used on his EEE card.
2. LOGAN MORRISON, 1B, FLORIDA MARLINS - A 22nd round pick of the Marlins back in 2005, Morrison was a draft and follow sign by Florida who ultimately signed with the club in May 2006 after one year at Maple Woods Community College in Missouri. In just three years, he's developed into one of the organization's top players - much of it through hard work, much of it with natural power.
As a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League in 2007, Morrison slugged 24 home runs. Last year in the Florida State League, home of the spacious major-league caliber stadiums, he slugged another 13 while leading the FSL in batting (.332), doubles (38), hits (162) and on-base percentage (.402) while earning league Most Valuable Player honors.
Morrison is not flying under anyone's radar, and the hype he is generating appears to be legitimate.
3. RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ, OF, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS - Like Michel Inoa, Rafael Rodriguez is a 16-year-old Dominican international sign who one day could be playing in the Bay Area.
But Rodriguez, signed by the Giants in mid-July for a deal that reportedly included a $2.55 million signing bonus, the most ever for a Latin America amateur hitter, is a 6-foot-5, 200-pound power hitter who can run and whose game will almost certainly continue to improve with experience and natural physical maturity. He signed his deal with the Giants on his 16th birthday.
"We scouted him extensively this season with many people on our staff evaluating him," Giants GM John Barr told MLB.com. "To a man, we all agree that Rafael is the type of player that we want to bring into the Giants organization."
4. SAM FREEMAN, LHP, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS - If you asked him, Sam Freeman would likely tell you that he's a centerfielder who happens to pitch. As a high school player in Carrollton, Texas, Freeman used to do both. . .but the pitching part of the game came purely out of his team's necessity. He got the most kicks out of leading off and playing center field.
When he arrived at North Central Texas College in the fall of 2005, Freeman continued playing both ways but eventually became a pitcher-only, and was used that way last season at the University of Kansas.
And what a pitcher he's become. So effect was Freeman coming out of the bullpen against lefties in rookie league Johnson City (Tenn.) that St. Louis promoted him to the high Class A Jupiter Cardinals for the Florida State League playoffs where he fanned four in his first two innings pitched after arriving.
He was a 32nd round pick of the Cardinals in 2008, but Freeman isn't exactly flying under the radar anymore. In the Cardinals' annual Draft Report Card, Baseball America recognizes Sam as the draft class's fastest runner, and lists him as Best Athlete, having the Best Fastball and being the club's Best Late-Round Pick.
Who needs centerfield anyway?
5. JOSE DURAN, SS, MILWAUKEE BREWERS - In just one year, Duran went from junior college shortstop, to the Big 12 Player of the Year, to being drafted by the Brewers in the sixth round last June.
How did that happen?
It happened because Duran can hit. At Texas A&M, he raked to the tune of conference-best .397 during the regular season, leading the Big 12 with 94 hits while ranking second in RBI (61) and triples (seven). In conference games alone, Duran led all conference players with a .432 average and hit safely in all but two Big 12 games all year.
Duran also has developed into an outstanding fielder making even tough plays appear routine. . .at least for him. Interestingly, Jose took over at shortstop for a player who appeared in 2007 Elite Extra Edition - Brandon Hicks, drafted and signed by the Atlanta Braves.
Duran was injured during part of his first professional season, but when healthy he is clearly one of the best players on the field.
Donruss brand managers were able to secure a game-worn Texas A&M batting practice jersey and a very rare game-worn cap from Duran (we're guessing he wore one cap all season) as part of the Throwback Threads insert.