Prospect Chatter

Welcome to Prospectlandia! It’s a magical place filled with potential…that I just made up right now. This isn’t exactly peak season here, so to speak, but don’t be disappointed. There’s Arizona Fall League action and various instructional sessions going on, but for the most part, there won’t be any major developments or news for a few months.

But! That doesn’t mean we should stop talking shop around these parts. Which is why I’m going to continue my usual end-of-the-week in-season prospect coverage (read: Mining the Minors) by instead focusing on, well, whatever comes to mind, topical or otherwise. In the interest of straightforwardness — the whole concept of Prospectlandia is already sketchy enough — let’s just call this thing Prospect Chatter.

And by “this thing,” I mean anything from random ramblings on specific players who are either in the news or in my head for some reason or another, to reactionary ruminations on upcoming rankings churned out by FanGraphs, as well as other veritable sources. And of course, if there’s a prospect in particular that any of you wants to discuss, please weigh in below.

So come visit Prospectlandia — a destination for all seasons.

1) Top 20 Fantasy Prospects For 2012, According To ESPN’s Jason Grey

A few weeks ago, the very respected, very savvy Mr. Grey came out with this piece on his Top 20 Fantasy Prospects for next season. It’s a good list, and certainly worth checking out. My initial takeaway is that beyond the top name, the 2012 rookie class doesn’t look all that promising as far as fantasy impact. But, oh, that No. 1 guy is gonna be a good one. After Matt Moore absolutely dominated the minors (1.92 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 12.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9), then capped everything off by whiffing 11 in 5 IPs while winning a do-or-die game in Yankee Stadium in late-September, and shutting out the Rangers over 7 IPs in Game 1 of the ALDS, he has to be the leading AL Rookie of the Year candidate. Honestly, even if he doesn’t break camp with the Rays, considering they already have a full rotation barring any offseason trades, I think a Michael Pineda-like season is certainly within range for Moore.

Assessing the rest of Grey’s list, I realized that many of the top-tier talents, like Mike Trout and Julio Teheran, don’t have a clear path to regular playing time just yet. That means A) they won’t get a chance to make a real impact until later in the season, B) their teams might favor other, more experienced options to allow the rooks to be broken in slowly or C) any initial struggles at the big-league level will likely result in a return ticket to the minors to work on things. That’s to say, I don’t at this point see a Freddie Freeman type next year, a stud prospect who is given a starting job outright from Opening Day as a rookie, with no questions asked. Part of the problem is that several players who would fit this bill actually exhausted their rookie eligibility over the final months of this season, namely Paul Goldschmidt and Brett Lawrie.

In my opinion, the two most likely possibilities from Grey’s inventory to be in that kind of situation are a pair of catchers, oddly enough. The Yankees’ Jesus Montero should have a shot at the DH job after his impressive late-season debut (.328/.406/.590 with 4 HRs in 61 ABs). And Cincinnati’s Devin Mesoraco, who despite not being nearly as good in his first 50 MLB ABs, has shown he’s ready for the majors after hitting 18 HRs and 39 doubles (.482 SLG) while getting on base at a .364 clip in a season’s worth of ABs at Triple-A across 2010 and 2011.

Before moving on, I do want to draw your attention to the update at the very bottom of the list, which I had a part in. At the time that these rankings were published, Jason Kipnis was still shy of the rookie minimums but wound up being an oversight. After I pointed this out in the comments (that’s me: jaycee211705), to his credit, Grey mentioned that the Indians second baseman would actually rank No. 3 overall. Alas, Kip surpassed 130 ABs, making him ineligible for rookiedom next year. But similar to my fellow prospect-tracking writer, I would have had him in the top three and perhaps as high as No. 2 — ahead of Trout — because not only is Kipnis a top prospect with a shot to post 15 HRs and 15 SBs in 2012, he also has a starting job all to himself, and at a premium position to boot.

2) RotoGraphs Top 50 Fantasy Rookies — Coming Soon

Spinning ahead, I want to point out to those of you who are interested that I’ll be putting together my own rankings for 2012 impact rookies. Much like my Mining the Minors columns (and similar to Grey’s work), the list will take next season — and only next season — into account, so there will be a balance between opportunity and talent. To give you a better sense of what I mean: Off the top of my head, I envision Nationals phenom Bryce Harper will make an appearance among the Top 50, but I anticipate his name will come closer to the end than the beginning.

If you’re familiar with my MTM pieces on this site, you’ll know that I give every prospect a rating (out of 10) in both categories, with the idea being that even the most talented prospect can’t make an impact without opportunity. For the purposes of my preseason rankings, I will do the same, which means after the top bunch of players, which will be geared more toward talent, there is likely to be more of an emphasis on the opportunity. Look for this some time in February, to give you plenty of time to get familiar with some new names.

3) Addison Reed, White Sox RP

Because I didn’t do a relief pitcher list among my 2012 Impact Rookies columns last month, Reed is a guy I didn’t cover. (If you want a preview of some players who will populate the forthcoming RotoGraphs Top 50 Fantasy Rookies, you can click through the positions from that series.) But the 2010 third-rounder leads a handful of relievers I wanted to name for their expected fantasy impact as rookies.

Reed, 22, pitched at — count ’em — five levels this season, including 7.1 IPs in the majors. The fireballing righty with back-of-the-bullpen stuff blew through the minors, thanks to these ridiculous stats: 1.80 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 12.8 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9.
At worst, I see Reed as a potential setup man with plenty of holds, a few saves and great peripherals. But if a few things fall his way — primarily, Chris Sale making the expected move from the bullpen to the rotation, and talented-but-still-somewhat-shaky closer Sergio Santos suffering a slump or two — I could see Reed working his way into the mix for more saves than a typical seventh- or eighth-inning guy.

As for those other relievers I mentioned, here they come, lightning round-style:

A) Lance Lynn, Cardinals: You know him from his time in St. Louis this year before an oblique strain knocked him out. Long-term, he’s a No. 3/4 starter, but the 24-year-old right-hander was great out of the pen this year, and with the Cards rotation pretty full heading into 2012, he could be a reliever-slash-swing man.

B) Phillippe Aumont, Phillies: Converted to relief full-time this year, Aumont’s power sinker really played up (2.68 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 13.1 K/9). The righty’s now thought of as a setup man with closer upside, and given that both Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge’s contracts are up, Aumont, 22, should find a place in Philly’s pen in 2012, perhaps by Opening Day.

C) Kelvin Herrera, Royals: If you thought KC had used up all of its young, power-armed relievers this year, well, you’re wrong. The 22-year-old northpaw jumped four levels this year, starting in Hi-A and making his big-league debut in Septemeber. His 1.60 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in the minors, along with 14 saves, will keep the train of relievers chugging along to KC.

D) Tanner Scheppers, Rangers: Once a top prospect as a starter, the 2009 first-round pick has been switched to relief, primarily because of injury concerns. He walks a few too many (3.9/9), but his K rate is strong (9.7/9). The righty was nearly ready to join the Rangers bullpen at the end of last season, but he should get a shot some time next year, even with the rebuilt relief corps in Texas.

E) Shawn Tolleson, Dodgers: A 23-year-old right-hander, Tolleson was filthy in his first chance at full-season ball, whiffing 105 over 69 IPs across three levels. Oh, and he saved 25 games, too, so if the Dodgers bullpen is as much of a mess in 2012 as it was this year, count on him to factor in.

We hoped you liked reading Prospect Chatter by Jason Catania!

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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

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