Top 100 Fantasy Prospects for 2012: 20-1 by Jason Catania March 8, 2012 From Hisashi Iwakuma to Matt Moore. After spending the past few weeks at a secure, undisclosed location (Code Name: Parent’s Basement), I’ve emerged with a list of 100 prospects who, I’m fairly confident, will make an impact on the 2012 fantasy baseball season. Just how much impact? In some cases, it could be a lot; but in others, it could be minimal — or even none. That’s the inherent risk in predicting and projecting not only prospects’ development curves but also how these players could possibly fit into their big-league team’s plans during the upcoming season. That’s why, much like I do with my Mining the Minors columns, I’ve done my best to incorporate both talent and opportunity. Sometimes, a player’s talent is so elite that it’s worth bumping him up the rankings even if his path to playing time isn’t all that clear (think: Mike Trout). But there are also plenty of players in the rankings who will skew more toward the opportunity side of the spectrum, as in: talent aside, they’re (nearly) ready from Day One. Trying to weigh and balance these two aspects — talent and opportunity — is what makes a list like this so challenging. And so fluid. Which is to say, my mind could change on any of the players on the list between today and tomorrow. Or even today and later today. What I hope this ranking provides for you readers is some semblance of an idea of which prospects will be making an impression on the 2012 fantasy baseball landscape. If you happen to think that the guy ranked No. 18 should be No. 93 … or that there’s no way the dude at No. 47 should be outside the Top 10 … well I can’t say you’re wrong. I can only say this is my guess based on my knowledge of these players and their teams — and where everything stands at the moment. So over the coming weeks, I’ll be unveiling my rankings 20 players at a time, starting from No. 100 and working all the way to the top of the list. Remember, to be eligible for this, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (or 30 appearances) in his career. Also to be clear: This is strictly for 2012. While some of these players are already owned, about to be drafted or could make for nice in-season acquisitions in keeper leagues, the goal here is to help fantasy owners in 2-0-1-2. Previous Installments Nos. 100-81 Nos. 80-61 Nos. 60-41 Nos. 40-21 20: Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners SP Talent: 6 Opportunity: 10 2011 Highest Level: Nippon Professional Baseball The soon-to-be-31-year-old righty had been one of NPB’s top starters for quite some time (2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP since 2007), and he’s going to be in Seattle’s rotation, so we’re talking instant impact. But his 7.0 K/9 rate leaves a bit to be desired, so don’t expect him to be more than a streaming option in deep mixed leagues or a passable SP5 in AL-onlies. He won’t hurt, but he doesn’t exactly move the needle, either. 19: Tyler Pastornicky, Braves SS Talent: 6 Opportunity: 10 2011 Highest Level: Triple-A If not for the Fallow Fantasy Shortstop Era, Pastornicky would be much lower. He’s just 22 with all of 27 games north of Double-A, and his .719 career OPS is evidence of a somewhat hollow hit tool. But Pastornicky has Atlanta’s starting job — for now — and is capable of swiping 15-20 bases if given regular PT, which makes him an option in deep NL play. Hey, it’s hard out here (at shortstop) for a fantasy owner. 18: Shelby Miller, Cardinals SP Talent: 9 Opportunity: 7 2011 Highest Level: Double-A Miller kicks off a quartet of uber-prospects who are here more for their talent than their opportunity. While some would argue that the Cards righty won’t sniff the majors until September, there’s a case to be made that if he’s good enough in his first shot at Triple-A, he could force the Cardinals hand — and Jake Westbrook out of the rotation. And this precocious 21-year-old’s stuff and moxie indicates success might just be immediate, whenever the debut happens. 17: Bryce Harper, Nationals OF Talent: 10 Opportunity: 7 2011 Highest Level: Double-A Folks, your guess is as good as mine. If you think Harper — who’s the top prospect in baseball in this guy’s book — makes it to Washington for Opening Day, then he’s probably in the Top 5; but he could just as easily spend four months in the minors before getting his first big-league look-see. My personal feeling is it would be better for everyone involved — and fantasy owners — if the Nats go the latter route, allowing Harper to conquer at Triple-A rather than sputter in the majors. After all, how many beastly MLB seasons have their been from 19-year-olds exactly? 16: Trevor Bauer, D-backs SP Talent: 9 Opportunity: 7 2011 Highest Level: Double-A Bauer, the No. 3 pick in 2011, could adapt to pitching in the bigs right now, so it was a bit unfortunate when Arizona brought back Joe Saunders to plug the final spot in its rotation. But between Saunders’ so-so-ness and Josh Collmenter’s he-can’t-do-that-again-can-he-ness, there’s no reason to think Bauer can’t tear through the high minors and start whiffing major league hitters by, say, late May or June. The peripherals could be a bit icky on occasion, but the strikeouts will be plentiful enough to satisfy even some mixed-league streamers. 15: Danny Hultzen, Mariners SP Talent: 8 Opportunity: 8 2011 Highest Level: N/A Despite signing too late to make his pro debut during the minor league season after going No. 2 overall last June, there’s at least the possibility that Hultzen, 22, pulls a Mike Leake and makes Seattle’s Opening Day starting five. The lefty squashed the Arizona Fall League comp (19.1 IPs, 3 ERs, 16 Hs, 18:3 K:BB) and has the poise and know-how to survive should that possibility become a reality. More likely, though, he’ll head to Double-A and pitch his way to the bigs by mid-season. At that point, Hultzen will be a credible AL-only play, given his favorable ballpark. 14: Brad Peacock, A’s SP Talent: 7 Opportunity: 9 2011 Highest Level: Majors Peacock has come a long way in a year, his 2011 was flat-out nasty (2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 10.9 K/9) and his new digs will only help. Plus, he’s all but got a rotation slot locked up. Still, he’s not quite the elite prospect some would have you think — his low-90s heater is pretty straight — so don’t expect oodles of swings-and-misses, meaning he could blow up your ERA and WHIP on occasion without brining much to your K tally. It’s just too hard to ignore the cozy situation he’s in. 13: Jacob Turner, Tigers SP Talent: 8 Opportunity: 8 2011 Highest Level: Majors Since being drafted in 2009’s first round, Turner has been extremely consistent. The 6’5″ right-hander may have only a slightly-above-average 7.7 K/9 rate for his career but his power stuff could play up in Detroit. If that sounds familiar to Rick Porcello, well, it is — and it isn’t. Turner’s heater is a four-seamer that bodes better for Ks, as opposed to Porcello’s two-seam, sinking fastball that gets grounders. Plus, Porcello’s minor league strikeout rate was just 5.4/9. Turner’s in a battle for the No. 5 spot, and if he gets it, he should be able to post a useable ERA, decent WHIP and earn enough wins to matter in all AL-onlies. And maybe some mixed leagues. 12: Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics OF Talent: 8 Opportunity: 9 2011 Highest Level: Serie Nacional Count me among fantasy owners who were disappointed to see Cespedes land in the anti-hitter confines of the Coliseum, simply because a guy with this much power deserves to be able to take advantage of it. The other worry is the growing likelihood that the 26-year-old starts his MLB career in the minors, which obviously hurts his 2012 value. If given around 400 ABs, there’s a good chance he could reach double digits in homers and swipe some bags, but after what we saw in his Winter Ball showing, Cespedes could also struggle in his initial exposure to major league pitching, strike out a ton and hit sub-.250. Don’t overdraft him in AL leagues, and until we know whether he’s made the club, don’t bother drafting him in mixed formats. 11: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs 1B Talent: 8 Opportunity: 9 2011 Highest Level: Majors Everyone, including the Padres, might just have been too quick to jump off the Rizzo bandwagon after a mere 128 ABs in the scariest hitting environment imaginable. Yes, the stats — .141/.281/.242 — were brutal, but Rizzo’s power (back-to-back 25-homer seasons) and patient approach (14% BB during his disastrous MLB debut) are legit, and he’s still only 22 years old. Once he gets to Wrigley, his bat will play up, too. So long as Rizzo uses his time at Triple-A to work on the holes exposed in the majors while Bryan LaHair does what he can to hold down the gig at first, Rizzo can still be an impact hitter. And sooner than those of you who’ve already moved on think. 10: Julio Teheran, Braves SP Talent: 9 Opportunity: 8 2011 Highest Level: Majors In 2011, Teheran suffered a bit from the Rizzo Effect — that’s what I’m calling it when there’s an overreaction to a brief yet unsatisfying introduction to the majors — when he posted a slightly-unsightly 5.03 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in his first 19.2 IPs over a few fill-in starts. Combined with a drop in K/9 from 10.0 to 7.6, and you can see why there were the makings of an uprising in the non-Teheran camp. But one look at his other digits (15-3 W-L, 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) in his intial campaign at Triple-A, not to mention the fact that he just turned 21, and it’s worth pointing out that Teheran justifiably deserves the benefit of the doubt. He’s not yet settled into a rotation spot with Atlanta, but injury concerns plague the starting five, and if a spot opens up, the right-hander could be ready to seize his next opp. 9: Mike Trout, Angels OF Talent: 10 Opportunity: 7 2011 Highest Level: Majors Before you go all up in arms, remember that Trout is still a pup (20) and has approximately 13 big-leaguers to climb over on the depth chart. While Trout’s power-speed combo would be a great fit for the Angels offense — perhaps even as a leadoff hitter — the club is clearly not going to rush him when there’s no need to. But as soon as one or two of Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu, Kendrys Morales or Mark Trumbo either gets hurt or slumps, Trout will be on call to inject some explosion into an otherwise aging lineup. Until then, expect his dynamic Double-A performance in 2011 (.326/.414/.544) to translate rather well to Triple-A, a level he’ll be seeing for the first time, by the way. Yet another reason it’s tough to rank Trout any higher. 8: Jarrod Parker, A’s SP Talent: 8 Opportunity: 9 2011 Highest Level: Majors The 2007 first-rounder pitched about as well as you could expect in his first year back from TJ surgery, putting up a 3.79 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 7.7 K/9. Most importantly, those stats came over 130.2 injury-free innings, a career-high. That means Parker is ready to pitch close to a full slate of innings in 2012, or at least “full” by the standard that applies to a player who should exhaust his rookie eligibility this year for his new club. Speaking of that, while his move from the NL to the AL isn’t going to do Parker any favors, he does have a much better park and a much clearer path to an Opening Day job as a member of a big-league starting rotation, especially while Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden remain DL’d. Expect Parker to make an impact in all AL-onlies and deeper mixed leagues. 7: Devin Mesoraco, Reds C Talent: 8 Opportunity: 10 2011 Highest Level: Majors The elephant in the room here is Dusty Baker’s Dusty Bakerness when it comes to sticking by his veterans rather than handing jobs to more-than-ready prospects. While that could certainly be an issue — and fact is, Ryan Hanigan ain’t a bad alternative at backstop — the guess here is that Mesoraco makes the team out of camp, starts out as the backup in April then hits too well for even Dusty to ignore, thus seizing the starting job by early May. Hanigan will still get more play than a typical No. 2 catcher, but Mesoraco’s stick will fit right into a strong Cincy lineup and the former first-rounder will be mixed-league worthy before Dusty can say Michael Barrett. 6: Zack Cozart, Reds SS Talent: 7 Opportunity: 10 2011 Highest Level: Majors Another Reds player? What in the name of Dusty Baker is going on here! Okay, hear me out. Cincinnati hasn’t had a reliable shortstop capable of doing good things on both sides of the ball since, like, Barry Larkin. Cozart isn’t a high-end talent, but he should be steady on D, and the 26-year-old is ready to put his solid all-around offensive game to the big-league test. To some extent, his value will depend on his spot in the batting order, but even if he spends most of the time hitting in the bottom third, Cozart has enough pop and baserunning savvy to produce double-digits in homers and swipes. Coming from the shortstop spot, that would make Cozart a starting SS in NL leagues and a mixed league MI. 5: Yonder Alonso, Padres 1B Talent: 8 Opportunity: 10 2011 Highest Level: Majors Alonso isn’t your prototypical power bat at first (career .466 SLG and 15 HRs is his best total), but the 2008 top pick by the Reds — yes, that team again — has a swing tailor-made for the alleys in Petco. The 24-year-old, now out from behind Joey Votto and no longer forced to fiddle with left field, can focus on knocking doubles left and right and maybe even a few balls over Yonder. (Hey oh!) He won’t get much in the way of lineup support, so runs and RBIs could be lacking for a power position, which is why you won’t want to draft him to be anything more than a reserve in mixed leagues. But Alonso will make for a fine CI in almost all NL formats. 4: Addison Reed, White Sox RP Talent: 7 Opportunity: 10 2011 Highest Level: Majors The thinking here is that Reed could very well turn out to be 2012’s version of the guy the Sox just traded away this winter, Sergio Santos. That is, a hard-throwing, whiff-inducing reliever who works his way from set-up man to closer over the course of the season. Reed’s first full pro season was a thing of beauty — a 1.26 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 1.6 BB/9 and 12.6 K/9 across four minor-league stops — that culminated in a very strong 7.1-inning MLB debut (12:1 K:BB) in September. Assured of an Opening Day role in a bullpen sans Santos and reliever-turned-starter Chris Sale, the 23-year-old Reed could approach 100 Ks and 15-plus saves, even if Matt Thornton and/or Jesse Crain is the closer to start the year. 3: Jesus Montero, Mariners C/DH Talent: 9 Opportunity: 10 2011 Highest Level: Majors Before anything else, it’s important to clarify something: This ranking is based on Montero being catcher-eligible in your format heading into the season. If your league requires anything more than 20 games played at a position to gain eligibility, that could hinder his value enough to drop him back a few spots. While the bat is very much for real — the 22-year-old could hit .280 with 18-20 HRs this year — the problem, of course, is that using up your Utility spot to roster him just doesn’t do much good. He could hit enough to be worthy of starting there in AL-onlies or deep mixed, but don’t waste a valuable lineup position on a rookie. If you can plug him in at catcher, though? Yeah that’ll work in every AL league and even some mixed. But catcher is actually deeper than you think this year, so don’t go overpaying for Montero just because he’s a hyped rook. Also, even though he’s guaranteed ABs with Seattle, I think his value is hurt much more by the Mariners’ lineup and ballpark than it would have been had he stayed in a more tenuous role with the high-scoring, friendly-park Yankees. 2: Yu Darvish, Rangers SP Talent: 9 Opportunity: 10 2011 Highest Level: Nippon Professional Baseball By now, you should know all about him. The chances that the Japanese phenom turns out to be the best rookie this year are rather high, given that he’s experienced 25-year-old who is ready to contribute — if not dominate — in the majors from Opening Day. Darvish could certainly sport a low-3s ERA, WHIP in the 1.10-1.15 range and approach 200 Ks in his inaugural campaign. But he’s No. 2 on this list for two reasons: 1) The guy at No. 1 is pretty freaking fantastic; and 2) there are enough questions about the transition from NPB to MLB (and Japan to the U.S.) to give pause. How will he adapt to the different baseballs? How will he hold up pitching every five (not six) days over a longer season? How frustrating will it be to pitch in hitter-friendly Rangers ballpark? How much tougher of a challenger are major league hitters going to pose? You get the idea. I borderline love Darvish, but I’m not willing to rely on him to be anything more than an SP3 this year, at least on draft day. 1: Matt Moore, Rays SP Talent: 10 Opportunity: 9 2011 Highest Level: Majors Ranking Moore ahead of Darvish — and No. 1 overall for 2012 — is a bit of a gamble. Not on the talent, which is as good as it gets, but on the opportunity. Make no mistake, Moore is pitching in the major leagues this year, but he also isn’t guaranteed of an Opening Day rotation spot because Tampa still has five other starers. And let’s not forget that the 22-year-old’s innings and workload will likely be monitored, especially in the second half. But Moore is way too good for the Rays not to find a way to get him 25+ starts, and if any first-year pitcher is going to pull a 2010 Strasburg and flat-out pwn (yes, pwn) the competition, it’s Moore. Even going up against the wicked AL East — hey, he shutout the Yanks over 5 innings with 11 Ks in his MLB debut — Moore’s mid-90s power stuff from the left side is going to be too much to handle on more days than not. And the Rays’ defense is also among the best in baseball, so he’ll have some help even when batters manage to, you know, make actual contact. Again, you can’t count on Moore to be your SP1 or 2 because those should be horses, but he might just be an ideal SP3 with a crazy mix of whiffs and miniscule periphs.