It’s time again to look ahead to the 2013 fantasy baseball season by highlighting the top potential impact rookies at each position. Why? Because it’s never too early to begin thinking about next year, even if you’re still trying to win your league right now.
For those of you in keeper leagues, particularly deeper ones, these primers will be especially helpful, because you’ll find out which young players may be worth snatching up now — before other owners get a clue — so you can hang onto them next season, when their value kicks in. Think of it like an investment requiring only a little up-front cost that could pay off big in the near future.
Much like my Mining the Minors columns on this site, which focus on current-season impact more than long-term upside, these 2013 rookie primers are meant for players who will exhaust (or are expected to exhaust) their rookiedom next year. Also much like my MTM work, the point here is to find the right mix of opportunity and talent, so that you’re picking up a player who can contribute, either in a starting role or as a reserve, from Opening Day or soon thereafter. For now, it’s good to get ahead of the curve with a snapshot of the young talent at each position.
In case you need a brief example of how this sort of strategy can be worthwhile: In two deep leagues, one AL-only and one NL-only, that allow for up to 10 keepers, I picked up Jarrod Parker, Addison Reed and Will Middlebrooks, as well as Paul Goldschmidt, Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart around this time last year, keeping them all for dirt cheap. Worked out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
Here are the previous position primers: Catchers
Next up? Corner infielders (aka, first and third basemen).
To be considered, the players must currently be eligible for rookie status in 2013, meaning they have yet to exceed 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 30 appearances. Certainly, a few listed below may surpass these numbers down the stretch this season, but nonetheless, it’s worth pointing them out now. The players are ranked in order of their potential 2013 fantasy impact and their current level is listed in parentheses.
The first thing that comes to mind in fantasy baseball when you think of first basemen and third basemen is power. We want our corner guys to hit homers and drive in runs. There are, for sure, a few prospects on this list who fit that profile, but perhaps it’s an indication of the changing offensive game over the past few years that many of the names below could wind up earning the “pure hitter” label rather than the “slugger” one. Neither position is devoid of power — the first third baseman and No. 2 first baseman have masher-ability — but don’t expect more than 20 homers if you keep any of these players. At least not for 2013.
Mike Olt, Rangers 3B/1B (Majors)
For now, Olt gets the nod as the top fantasy rookie among corners heading into next year, mainly because as a 24-year-old who plays for Texas and killed it at Double-A (.977 OPS, 28 HRs in 354 ABs), his mix of readiness, experience, ballpark and lineup set him up nicely to succeed immediately. Yes, there’s whiff worries (24% K in 2012), but the biggest issue facing Olt for 2013 is that he doesn’t have an easy path to a full-time job. The natural third baseman is totally blocked by Adrian Beltre at the hot corner, and even though first baseman Mitch Moreland isn’t all that great and DH/utility man Michael Young has been downright brutal, both guys are still going to get at-bats. Despite all this, the right-handed slugger is capable of putting up power numbers in a limited role — say, platooning with the lefty-swinging Moreland. And Olt would become significantly more productive if injury (or trade?) opened the door just a little bit wider. That makes Olt a good gamble in fantasy.
2013 ETA: The bet here is Olt starts out in Triple-A but gets the call by the end of May, either because someone ahead of him on the depth chart goes down, or Olt is crushing the PCL or he’s traded elsewhere first.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Starting 3B in 12-team mixed leagues or corner infielder in 10-team mixed leagues (with possible eligibility bonus).
Matt Adams, Cardinals 1B (Triple-A)
How do you not like a guy who owns a career .318/.365/.565 slash line in the minors and was on his way to yet another studly season (.329-18-50 in 258 ABs), only to be interrupted first by a call to help the big league club and then by season-ending surgery to fix bone spurs in his right elbow? With Lance Berkman likely to retire, this 24-year-old would appear to be an Allen Craig injury away from being a regular at first base in one of baseball’s better lineups. And if one 2013 prediction is a given, it’s that Craig will miss some time.
2013 ETA: Adams probably begins the year in the minors but will be on speed dial if needed to replace Craig. The fact that he already has 27 games’ worth of service time means he might be up sooner than later anyway.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Corner infielder in 12-team mixed leagues or starting 1B in NL-only.
Jedd Gyorko, Padres 3B/2B (Triple-A)
Many expected Gyorko, 23, would have made his debut by now, but the Pads experimented with him at second base, which pushed his call-up off until it became too late for 2012. Of course, with Chase Headley turning into Barry Bonds over the second half, it looks more and more like Gyorko will have to find another position, be it second or a corner outfield spot. Like Adams, Gyorko has hit at every level leading up to a career-best 30 bombs this season, but just how much his power will translate at Petco remains a question. If he somehow finagles his way into 2B eligibility in fantasy, his offensive profile as a career .319 hitter would become all the more interesting.
2013 ETA: Gyorko should have a shot to break camp with the team, but if not, he’d certainly be up soon thereafter.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Corner infielder in 12-team mixed or NL-only leagues.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B (Double-A)
Coming off a big 2011 that included leading the minors in RBIs and winning the Arizona Fall League MVP, Arenado looked to be on the fast track to Coors. But things got just a bit tougher at Double-A, and we started hearing whispers about Arenado’s alleged attitude issues. All of which meant that a player who might’ve locked down the very available hot corner in Colorado failed to be promoted at all. Still, while Arenado’s stock may have taken a hit, he posted stats similar to his breakout 2011 in areas like batting average, extra base hits, and walk and strikeout rates; it’s just that his overall line looks less gaudy with merely 56 RBIs compared to last season’s 122. Arenado doesn’t have a typical corner profile as a masher, but there’s still a lot to like here, considering he’s all of 21 and has shown impressive contact skills in the high minors, something that should benefit him when he reaches hitter-friendly Coors. Even if it’s a little later than everyone expected.
2013 ETA: A good spring in big league camp next March would go a long way toward putting Arenado on pace for a call-up in the first two or three months.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Corner infielder in NL-only leagues.
Jonathan Singleton, Astros 1B (Double-A)
Singleton, 20, is perhaps baseball’s top first base prospect, but he comes in a few notches lower here simply because he has yet to play above Double-A and thus, is unlikely to be rushed to the majors in 2013, especially by an organization that is still years from contending. A lefty hitter, Singleton has above-average plate discipline (16% BB in 2012) and power (.497 SLG), both of which will play even at the crazy-high first base standards.
2013 ETA: It’s unlikely Singleton shows up in Houston before the second half of the season, but he could do enough damage to matter over the final month or two.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Corner infielder in 12-team mixed or AL-only leagues (remember, the Astros will be in the AL).
Matt Dominguez, Astros 3B (Majors)
Known more for his glove than his bat, Dominguez obviously has less value in our version of things. That’s not to say that a player who possesses at least some extra-base pop and the ability to put the ball in play (15% K rate career) won’t help owners. The 23-year-old was acquired for Carlos Lee and has shown enough in a late-season audition (.298/.327/.553 with three homers in 47 ABs) to be the Astros third baseman for the foreseeable future — or at least until something better comes along.
2013 ETA: Barring a move in free agency or on the trade front, Dominguez will get a shot to start for Houston next Opening Day.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Corner infielder in 14-team or AL-only leagues.
Nick Castellanos, Tigers 3B/OF (Double-A)
Another prospect being warp-speeded through the Tigers system, Castellanos is just 20 and already at Double-A. More of a pure hitter than a power bat to this point, he tore through High-A, hitting .405 in 55 games to get bumped up, but a .264/.296/.382 line — not to mention, a spike in his whiff rate and drop in his walk rate — indicate that perhaps Detroit should allow Castellanos a little more time to cook. And yet, it appears that the position switch from third base to the outfield, done in order to get Castellanos to the bigs faster, is for real — ifnot necessarily going all that well in the field. This could, of course, work out well for the org in the short-term, but it’s not hard to see how a case of too much, too soon could curtail Castellanos’ development and potentially, muck him up long-term.
2013 ETA: The range here is very wide — as in early 2013 to possibly Opening Day 2014 — and it depends almost entirely on how Castellanos responds to the gauntlet he’s being put through.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Corner infielder in 12-team or AL-only leagues, provided he maintains 3B eligibility.
Matt Davidson, D-backs 3B (Double-A)
Davidson, 21, has one of the more classic corner profiles on this list. His above-average power projects well to the majors, and he improved both his strikeout and walk rates in his first taste of the high minors, which is a good sign going forward. There’s still work to be done to address some of his swing-and-miss and his so-so defense, but neither Chris Johnson nor Ryan Wheeler will get in Davidson’s way once he’s ready.
2013 ETA: The D-backs likely wish Davidson could become their starter early on next year, but chances are the org puts him at Triple-A and makes him hit his way up in the second half.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Reserve corner infielder in 14-team mixed or NL-only leagues.
Josh Vitters, Cubs 3B (Majors)
Vitters managed to regain some of his prospecty goodness and make some legitimate improvements in his plate discipline at Triple-A this year. Problem is, he’s given it back with his poor debut, getting just seven hits and four walks — against 25 Ks — in his first 81 big league plate appearances. Now obviously that’s not even a small sample size, it’s a miniature one, and Vitters is being given very irregular PT, but the big concern here is that by the time it takes him to adjust to major league pitching — something he had to go through at every level in the minors, too — the Cubs may have seen enough to decide that Vitters shouldn’t be part of their long-term plans. His shaky glove won’t help matters either. Really, it might come down to just how patient the Cubs are with Vitters. Good news is, let’s face it, this is a club that can afford to wait out Vitters’ transitional struggles in the hopes that he can become a quality, if average, big leaguer.
2013 ETA: Given the Cubs’ utter dearth of options at third base, Vitters would seem to be in line to start next year in Chicago, but his awful introduction could earn him a ticket back to Triple-A to work on his pitch recognition and selection for a couple months.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Reserve corner infielder in NL-only leagues.
–Darin Ruf, Phillies 1B/OF (Majors); Ryan Wheeler, D-backs 3B (Majors); Brandon Laird, Astros 3B (Majors); Mike McDade, Blue Jays 1B (Triple-A); Zack Cox, Marlins 3B (Triple-A); Lars Anderson, Indians 1B (Triple-A); Luis Jimenez, Angels 3B (Triple-A); Clint Robinson, Royals 1B (Triple-A); Matt Curry, Pirates 1B (Triple-A); Vinnie Catricala, Mariners 3B/1B (Triple-A); Taylor Green, Brewers 3B/1B (Triple-A); Chris Marrero, Nationals 1B (Triple-A); Matt Hague, Pirates 1B (Triple-A); James Darnell, Padres 3B/1B (Triple-A); Hunter Morris, Brewers 1B (Double-A); Joey Terdoslavich, Braves 1B/3B (Double-A); Anthony Rendon, Nationals 3B/2B (Double-A)
-Ruf, who spent all season at the Double-A level, led the minor leagues with 38 homers, including — get this — 20 in the month of August alone, but he’s more of a fringe big-leaguer than a real prospect. To wit, he’s 26 already and had all of 29 homers in his first three pro seasons. The Phils brought him up and will give him some time in the outfield as well as first base to see if he can’t fill a bench/utility role next season.
-Anderson, Jimenez and Curry are all intriguing simply because there isn’t much ahead of them on the major league depth chart: The Indians and Pirates both could stand to take a chance and see what else they’ve got at first, while the Angels third base switch has been unresolved for years.
-Rendon is in the Top 10 among corner infield prospects, but he brings up the rear here because he’s missed so much time due to injuries the past two seasons that there’s almost no way he sees meaningful action in the bigs in 2013. He was promoted to Double-A primarily so the Nationals could add him to the Arizona Fall League roster.
-If you’re wondering about Manny Machado, who’s been the Orioles primary third baseman since his surprise call-up a month ago, he’ll be included in the Middle Infielder primer, mainly because there’s less talent in that bunch, so adding Machado in there pumped it up a bit. Plus, he’s bound to be the club’s shortstop eventually. He would give Olt a run for his money, though, atop this batch.
Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11