Top 100 Fantasy Rookies for 2013: 40-21 by Jason Catania April 1, 2013 It’s time for the second annual Top 100 Fantasy Rookies, a list of 100 prospects who should make an impact on the 2013 fantasy baseball season. Just how much impact? In some cases, a lot; but in others, it may be minimal — or even negligible. That’s the inherent risk in predicting and projecting not only prospects’ development curves but also how these players possibly fit into their big league teams’ plans during the upcoming season. That’s why, much like with my Mining the Minors columns, I’ve incorporated both talent and opportunity into each prospect’s ranking. 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 last year). But there are also plenty of players in these rankings who skew toward the opportunity side of the spectrum, because they’re (nearly) ready to be in the majors on Opening Day (read: David Phelps, 2012). 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. Here’s the fourth batch, from Brett Jackson to Bruce Rondon. Nos. 100-81 Nos. 80-61 Nos. 60-41 What I hope these rankings provide for readers is some semblance of an idea of which prospects will be making an impression on the 2013 fantasy baseball landscape. If you happen to think that the guy ranked No. 12 should be No. 41 … or that there’s no way the player at No. 77 should be outside the Top 25 … well, I can’t say you’re wrong. I can only say this is my opinion based on my knowledge of these players and their teams — and where everything stands at the moment. This year, to make be even more fantasy-friendly, I’ve added two new aspects: 1) Category Strengths to indicate the primary scoring categories in which each player might best contribute. Categories considered: BA, R, HR, RBI, SB, OBP, SLG, OPS, XBH for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV, IP, K/9, K/BB, HLD for pitchers 2) Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak, which presents the best-case but realistic fantasy role for each player, specifically in 2013. Starting lineup considered: 14 hitters (C 1/2, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI, OF 1/2/3/4/5, UT); 9 pitchers (SP 1/2/3/4/5, RP 1/2/3/4) These rankings will be unveiled 20 players at a time, starting from No. 100. To be eligible, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats for hitters, or 50 innings pitched or 30 appearances for pitchers to this point in his career. All ages are as of April 1. Also to be clear: This is strictly for 2013. In keeper or dynasty leagues, many of these players are already owned, are about to be drafted or may become in-season acquisitions, but the primary goal here is to help fantasy owners in 2-0-1-3. 40: Brett Jackson, Cubs OF Talent: 7/10 Opportunity: 8/10 Age: 24 2012 Highest Level: Majors Category Strengths: HR, SB Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league OF 5 Fantasy owners are bound to have a love-hate relationship with Jackson, who could reach double-digits in both homers and steals this year — and struggle to reach the Mendoza Line along the way. He’ll have a little more value in OBP leagues because he can take a walk, but there could be serious batting average damage. 39: Tony Cingrani, Reds SP Talent: 7/10 Opportunity: 8/10 Age: 23 2012 Highest Level: Majors Category Strengths: ERA, WHIP, K/9, K/BB Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league SP streamer Things opened up a bit for Cingrani once Aroldis Chapman returned to the closer role. The Reds still have five arms ahead of this lefty, but it’s almost impossible to expect their starters to be as durable as they were a year ago — the same five made 161 of 162 possible starts — so Cingrani, the likely No. 6, should get some chances. 38: Robbie Erlin, Padres SP Talent: 7/10 Opportunity: 8/10 Age: 22 2012 Highest Level: Double-A Category Strengths: ERA, WHIP, K/BB Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league SP streamer Erlin needs to show he’s over the elbow issues that flared up in 2012, but once he does so, the southpaw could be a quality ratio play because of his elite control (1.4 career BB/9), especially when pitching at Petco. 37: Billy Hamilton, Reds OF Talent: 8/10 Opportunity: 7/10 Age: 22 2012 Highest Level: Double-A Category Strengths: SB Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league OF 5 Ranking Hamilton in a list like this is like courting criticism. Invariably, because of his incredible — nay, ludicrous — speed, some owners will think he should be in the top 20 (or higher). Fact is, though, not only is Mr. Stolen Base Record-Holder still honing his switch-hitting skills, he’s also learning a new position. Plus, there’s no clear path to PT in Cincy, unless injury hits one of the four quality outfielders ahead of him on the depth chart. Hamilton should be on every owner’s Watch List, but he may be no more than an August or September call-up, which would still make him useful for owners in need of SB help heading into the final stretch (or in head-to-head playoffs). 36: Mike Zunino, Mariners C Talent: 9/10 Opportunity: 7/10 Age: 22 2012 Highest Level: Double-A Category Strengths: BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, XBH Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league C The offseason trade of John Jaso fueled speculation that Zunino, the club’s 2012 first-rounder who reached Double-A just months after going No. 3 overall last June, could get his shot even sooner than anticipated. The M’s seem intent on giving Jesus Montero a chance at full-time duty, and Zunino should probably spend some time getting acquainted with his future battery mates in the high minors (i.e., Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker), but the team’s catcher of the future could force the issue by midseason. 35: Mark Rogers, Brewers SP Talent: 6/10 Opportunity: 9/10 Age: 27 2012 Highest Level: Majors Category Strengths: ERA, K, K/9 Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league SP streamer Rogers looked to be in line for a spot in the five-man when spring training began, especially after a strong showing late in 2012 (3.92 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 in 39 IPs), but the Kyle Lohse signing, combined with a poor spring from this right-hander, puts his role in question. Perhaps a conversion to relief is best to save what’s left of his right arm. 34: Evan Gattis, Braves C/OF/1B Talent: 6/10 Opportunity: 9/10 Age: 26 2012 Highest Level: Double-A Category Strengths: BA, HR, SLG, OPS, XBH Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league C 2 or NL-only OF 5 Gattis’ wayward journey finally brought him back to baseball in 2010, and he’s using his boomstick to make up for lost time. His versatility — he can passably handle catcher, outfield and first base — means he’ll get a chance with Atlanta in a backup role in April while Brian McCann continues to recover from shoulder surgery. Whether Gattis does enough to stick beyond that, though, is up to him. 33: Nick Franklin, Mariners SS/2B Talent: 7/10 Opportunity: 8/10 Age: 22 2012 Highest Level: Triple-A Category Strengths: SB, XBH Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league MI As a hitter, Brendan Ryan is a great fielder, one that would be more valuable to a contending team in need of shortstop help (maybe a Cardinals reunion?) and can afford a .200 average more than the M’s. Once Seattle chooses to go full-bore on the O, Franklin will have the opportunity to prove whether he can stick at short in the bigs. 32: Matt Adams, Cardinals 1B Talent: 7/10 Opportunity: 9/10 Age: 24 2012 Highest Level: Majors Category Strengths: BA, HR, SLG, OPS, XBH Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league CI Adams has lots of tools to be a starter-worthy hitter in NL formats, but unless injuries take a player or two ahead of him on the depth chart — always a possibility with Allen Craig around — it’s hard to see how he fits into the Cards lineup as anything more than a backup who could get the occasional start at first base or be used as a pinch-hitter off the bench. That, unfortunately, might not be the best way to deploy Adams, who could be stuck shuttling between Triple-A and St. Louis. 31: Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B Talent: 8/10 Opportunity: 8/10 Age: 21 2012 Highest Level: Double-A Category Strengths: BA, RBI, XBH Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league CI The Arenado hate has gone too far. Is he going to be a super-stud like everyone thought when he led the minors in RBIs back in 2011? Probably not. But will he be a very solid hitter whose contact skills and gap power play up in Coors? Don’t see why not. While Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco aren’t bad, Arenado should find his way to Colorado by midseason. 30: Rob Brantly, Marlins C Talent: 6/10 Opportunity: 10/10 Age: 23 2012 Highest Level: Majors Category Strengths: BA, XBH Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league C 2 Brantly’s main value comes from the fact that he’s got a starting job in the majors right now. He’s shown he can hit a little bit, performed well in a late-season debut last year (.290 BA, three homers, eight doubles in 100 ABs) and should be able to accumulate runs and RBIs, too (although the totals will be flattened by the surrounding lineup). Basically, he won’t be good, but he also won’t be bad. Probably. 29: Carter Capps, Mariners RP Talent: 7/10 Opportunity: 9/10 Age: 22 2012 Highest Level: Majors Category Strengths: ERA, WHIP, SV, K/9, K/BB, HLD Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league RP 3 If you like big, hard-throwing right-handers with closer potential, Capps is a very good guy to keep your eye on. (Maybe even both eyes.) He’ll have value as a bullpen filler in deep leagues for his good ratios, and if something happens to Tom Wilhelmsen (injury? trade?), Capps could become mixed league-relevant if he gets some save chances. 28: Mike Olt, Rangers 3B/1B/OF Talent: 8/10 Opportunity: 7/10 Age: 24 2012 Highest Level: Majors Category Strengths: HR, RBI, OBP, SLG, OPS Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league CI If Olt were a Meat Loaf song, he’d be “All Revved Up with No Place to Go.” The powerful righty slugger has holes in his swing (24% career K rate), but he’s otherwise just about ready to start making his mark in the majors — except for the pesky problem of having nowhere to play. Olt will have to bide his time in Triple-A, and it’s possible he could get a look at first base or DH if something goes wrong with Mitch Moreland and/or Lance Berkman. He’s also a trade candidate, although that might take a while to develop, and he’d be leaving one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball. 27: Hiroyuki Nakajima, A’s SS Talent: 6/10 Opportunity: 10/10 Age: 30 2012 Highest Level: NPB (Japan) Category Strengths: BA, R, SB Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league MI Naka…Naka…Not-gonna-start-the-season-in-the-majors, anyway. Crude Office Space reference aside, Nakajima had an awful spring and is already on the DL with a bum hammy, so the hopes that this former NPB star with a .302 career average could overcome the shaky history of Japanese middle infielders transitioning to MLB are dwindling. Still, Nakajima’s shown a semi-intriguing pop-speed combo that could make him useful in fantasy, once he’s ready. 26: Brandon Maurer, Mariners SP Talent: 7/10 Opportunity: 9/10 Age: 22 2012 Highest Level: Double-A Category Strengths: ERA, WHIP, K, K/BB Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league SP streamer Maurer finally stayed healthy in 2012, following elbow and shoulder issues the two years prior, and the right-hander put together a solid campaign with a 3.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and a K/9 approaching 8. There’s some workload concern after Maurer threw nearly 60 innings more than his previous career-high, and despite a great spring that earned him a rotation spot, he’s a mid-rotation arm, not an ace. Pitcher-friendly Safeco will help, so AL-only owners should get in while the gettin’s good. 25: Kyle Gibson, Twins SP Talent: 7/10 Opportunity: 9/10 Age: 25 2012 Highest Level: Triple-A Category Strengths: WHIP, K, IP, K/BB Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league SP streamer Gibson is among the most big league-ready arms yet to make his debut, which of course, was delayed by Tommy John surgery. The tall righty has looked healthy, though, since returning at the tail end of 2012, and it should only be a matter of time before he’s cracked a yucky Twins rotation and is pitching at comfy Target Field. 24: Chris Archer, Rays SP Talent: 8/10 Opportunity: 8/10 Age: 24 2012 Highest Level: Majors Category Strengths: ERA, K/9 Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league SP 4 Archer’s range of outcomes remains wide — is he a front-end starter or just a No. 4? or is he a dynamite late-inning arm? — mainly because he’s got iffy control (5.1 career BB/9) and two pitches. Thing is, both pitches, a mid-90s heater and wipeout slider, are plus-plus, so he’s bound to rack up whiffs. That is, if he can find his way into perhaps baseball’s deepest rotation. Says here that he does, but maybe only for 12-15 starts, so keep close tabs on the health and performances of Alex Cobb, Roberto Hernandez, Jeff Niemann and Jake Odorizzi. 23: Kolten Wong, Cardinals 2B Talent: 7/10 Opportunity: 8/10 Age: 22 2012 Highest Level: Double-A Category Strengths: BA, R, SB Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league MI Wong is not going to be a a fantasy star, but he will be a super-useful play once he’s up, especially in NL-onlies, because he does a bit of everything and will benefit from being in one of the best lineups. Matt Carpenter is in line to handle second (once David Freese gets back), so the Cards can take their time with Wong, who could still be a second-half call-up — or a first-half one, if Freese can’t stay healthy or Carpenter can’t get it done at second. 22: Trevor Bauer, Indians SP Talent: 8/10 Opportunity: 9/10 Age: 22 2012 Highest Level: Majors Category Strengths: K, IP, K/9 Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league SP 4 Bauer looks like a real wild card right now. The right-hander with the crazy-deep arsenal appeared to be a good bet to make the Indians rotation after the winter trade, but he clearly has plenty to work on back in Triple-A. You get the feeling that either he’ll flake out and be a non-factor in fantasy this year or everything will click at some point soon, and Bauer will be a real boon to those who stuck by him. Bet on the latter but be prepared for the former. 21: Bruce Rondon, Tigers RP Talent: 7/10 Opportunity: 9/10 Age: 22 2012 Highest Level: Triple-A Category Strengths: SV, K/9, HLD Potential 2013 Fantasy Peak: Mixed league RP 3 Speaking of guys who looked to be sitting pretty at the outset of spring, Rondon’s inconsistent performance in March made the Tigers brass look more than a bit optimistic about his ability to pitch in the bigs right away — let alone be the closer on a contending club. His zoomy-zoomy fastball will make him an end-game factor at some point this season in Detroit, but there are enough pock marks here for now to worry about whether the Tigers would really trust him in the ninth inning for an extended period of time. NOTE: Padres right-hander Casey Kelly, who’s a quality mid-rotation arm (i.e., a No. 3 or 4) whose home ballpark should help him, would have fit into this group, but now that he’s facing Tommy John surgery, his 2013 value is kaput.