The list of rookies for 2012 will include some impact type players that could be difference makers for their own organizations and fantasy teams in every format.
Some of the names I mention below may see big league playing time at some point this season. There is no way at this point to determine if a) they will earn a promotion with their 2011 minor league play or b) their organization will give them a shot this season. Whatever the case, barring injury or a catastrophic season, these names should be getting the ink next season. They are good prospects to squirrel away now in fantasy keeper leagues.
Bryce Harper, OF, WAS - As desperate as I believe the Nationals will be for offense this year, I don't think they'll bring Harper to the big leagues this season. First and foremost, to this point he hasn't played one inning of professional baseball for a minor league team. He played twice a week in the Arizona Fall League where he flashed tremendous potential, but it was his first real taste of good pitching.
Harper had experience using wood bats at the Junior College of Southern Nevada following the completion of his sophomore year in high school. He has outstanding bat speed with quick hands and wrists, a combination of power, speed and good baseball instincts that should propel him to the top of the heap as a star for years to come.
Some experts feel he won't be on the big league roster until 2013. I think he'll show enough this season and next to be called to the big club at some point in 2012. Depending upon your keeper league's rules, Harper is certainly a guy to snag and keep warm until he breaks down the clubhouse door.
Julio Teheran, SP, ATL – Teheran is a very special pitcher. At 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, Teheran has a power arm with the ability to throw a 97 mph fastball. His other two quality pitches are a curveball and a slider that he can throw in any count.
The Braves may be tempted to call upon Teheran later this season, but with a strong rotation in place, they will likely allow him to fully develop by splitting the season at Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett.
Teheran just turned 20 years old, but he has unlimited upside because of excellent command and control and an ability to repeat his delivery. He will be the subject of one of my early season profiles. Don't let your opposition steal this future top of the rotation pitcher.
Mike Trout, OF, LAA - It's very possible the Angels will need any offense Trout can provide this season. As I look at their club, I can't help but wonder who other than Kendry Morales will provide long ball power. And what happens if Morales' ankle (with multiple screws still in place) doesn't allow him to push off the way he needs to at the plate? Trout becomes one of the internal offensive options available to the club.
Trout is a big-time offensive force with the ability to put the ball in play and hit the gaps regularly. He doesn't have awesome home-run power, but he can hit for average and steal bases. Big time. He's a major prospect with a game-breaking RBI bat.
Wil Myers, OF, KAN – Depending on who one consults, Myers just may be the best overall prospect in the deeply stocked and highly touted Royals farm system. There are so many prized prospects that five scouts may have five different answers if asked who would be the top prospect in the organization. Put simply, the man has outstanding offensive ability.
This spring and possibly for the coming season, Myers will be playing the outfield, a rather thin position in the Royals' system. He was signed as a catcher, but the organization will give Myers time in the outfield to speed his path to the big leagues. Questions will be asked regarding Myers' ability to hit for enough power from a corner outfield position, but those should be answered soon enough.
Like Teheran, Myers will be a topic of one of my early-season player profiles in this column.
Dee Gordon, SS, LOS – Several factors lead me to believe that Gordon could be the starting shortstop for the Dodgers in 2012. Of course, there are some qualifications to that opinion. First, he plays a position that is thin on prospects in the Dodgers' system. Further, the incumbent Rafael Furcal is in his 30s and has been prone to some injuries.
Gordon is lightning fast. While he lacks the power to hit the ball out of the park, he has the ability to hit the gaps for doubles and triples. He should steal bases in bunches, but a more selective eye and a less aggressive approach at the plate will help him gain more free passes, and he will ultimately have to get on base to earn his keep. To date, his defense is sporadic and insufficient to play in the big leagues, but that can certainly change during the course of this season. If he is to play regularly for the Dodgers, he has to improve that defense.
Tony Sanchez, C, PIT – The Pirates have an organizational need at catcher. They are planning on Chris Snyder to handle the bulk of catching this season and while he's adequate defensively, Snyder isn't the answer with the bat. That's why the Pirates hope that Sanchez, their first-round draft pick in 2009, will be a long-term answer. He has both offensive as well as defensive promise. Sanchez will be the subject of one of my weekly profiles in the coming season. The Pirates may want him to spend an entire season in the minor leagues and position him for a big league job in 2012.
Tyler Matzek & Christian Friedrich, SP, COL – The Rockies are loaded with high ceiling pitchers in their system. The top two are probably Matzek and Friedrich. Both are left-handed, and both could be pitching in Colorado before this season is history. But I don't think so. I think the Rockies have enough pitching depth on their big league roster to allow Matzek and Friedrich to complete their development. I think 2012 is a good guess as their debut time.
Matzek and Friedrich are of similar build at 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4, respectively. Matzek is only 21 while Friedrich is a bit older at 23, but both are pitchers with complete repertoires including high velocity fastballs and very solid secondary pitches.
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, CLE – I give the Indians some credit for not panicking about their Grand Canyon-type hole at third base. They found out the hard way that Andy Marte was not the answer. Prior to that, they learned that it wasn't Jhonny Peralta or Jayson Nix either. This season, Jason Donald will keep the position warm until Chisenhall arrives. When it happens, he will arrive with pressure.
Chisenhall is seen as the long-term answer at the hot corner. He comes with a gap-type bat, good offensive skills and a lukewarm glove. This season is meant to refine his defense at Triple-A Columbus.
If Donald is absolutely terrible, Chisenhall may be summoned sooner than later. But the plan is for him to play third on a permanent basis in 2012. The Indians are known to want players to finish their development before bringing them to the big leagues, and I believe that will be the case with Chisenhall.
Mike Montgomery, John Lamb and Danny Duffy, SP, KAN – The above named trio may be the first wave of the flood that will be the Royals' future pitching staff. Of course, Chris Dwyer and Aaron Crow may beat the other three to Kansas City. Interestingly enough, Montgomery, Lamb, Duffy and Dwyer are all left-handed. How many teams can say they have four-top shelf southpaws lined up to dominate their rotation for years and years to come? What the Royals needed most was outfield help and a quality shortstop. They got both in Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar when they traded Zack Greinke to the Brewers.
Montgomery, Lamb and Duffy each bring different backgrounds and qualities to the mound. I will profile this entire group of potential starting pitchers in a separate article early in the season. Until then, circle their names on your draft sheet and give them consideration for your keeper fantasy teams. The Royals aren't going to remain the disappointing franchise you've come to know over the years much longer.
Jacob Turner, SP, DET – The Tigers have yet another quality right-handed pitcher in the pipeline to go along with the arms of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. Turner throws a “lights out” fastball that can touch 96 mph as well as secondary pitches that are currently above major league average. His changeup and curveball certainly work, although he can lose the consistency in his windup at times. This is the year for Turner to refine his motion, learn to repeat his delivery and work on all his pitches because he'll be on the big league mound in 2012.
Dellin Betances & Manny Banuelos, SP, NYY - I group these two together because they really are among the future rotation starters for the pitching thin Yanks. Betances is the righty, while Banuelos is the southpaw. I don't think they will see full-time action on the roster this season unless the pitching on the club is a true disaster. And it could be.
Betances is the older of the two. He will be 23 in March while Banuelos turns 20 in the same month. Both pitchers throw high velocity, mid-90s fastballs. Betances is a huge presence on the mound at 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds. Banuelos is the opposite at 5-foot-10 at 155 pounds. So their physical differences are profound.
Keep your eye on both pitchers as the Yankees' season rolls along. They are quality arms that need more time to develop. But along with guys like Ivan Nova and Andrew Brackman, the Yanks' pitching should be getting some help in the future.
Kyle Gibson, SP, MIN – There isn't much buzz about the Twins' best pitching prospect. He doesn't have an overpowering fastball, typically sitting in the mid-80s to low 90s. However, his slider is top notch.
The other key to Gibson is his quality command of all his pitches. He knows how to throw strikes – the trademark of Twins pitchers. They have low tolerance for bad control/command.
Gibson won't miss many bats, but he does induce groundballs with regularity. I see him as a potential 2012 back end of the rotation candidate and a mediocre fantasy pickup due to his lack of strikeouts, but good WHIP.
Jose Iglesias, SS, BOS – Iglesias is seen as the heir apparent to Marco Scutaro as the Red Sox's shortstop. With Jed Lowrie on the roster, the Red Sox are extremely well stocked with good defenders up the middle for years to come.
The 21-year-old Cuban is a slick fielder with little power. He has an above average major league arm with the ability to throw out runners from the hole. The only concern relates to Iglesias at the plate. Can he hit? I have seen him during two Arizona Fall League campaigns and he hasn't shown much offense. However, in his first season of big league baseball, he hit .285 at Double-A Portland in the Eastern League. The sample was small, with him getting only 221 at-bats at that level. Regardless, the plan seems to be that Iglesias will be playing at Triple-A Pawtucket this season and coming to Boston next season. That's a bit too soon for my liking. He's still young and he has to gain more experience before they can count on him consistently.
I'm sure there are other major prospects that will make big league rosters next spring. However, I wanted to share my thoughts about some keeper league candidates for drafts that may be coming up in the next six weeks. Naturally, some of these players will have greater success than others. However, each of them has a chance to see plenty of playing time next season.
Next Week: Kansas City Royals Prospects Profiled