It's always difficult to predict a player's future success or failure while writing in the offseason. For me, the offseason is a time to sit back and watch video, attend Arizona Fall League games, review my own scouting reports and read opinions of others. Predicting performance is not an exact science. In the space below I will share my thoughts about several players I believe to be on the cusp of a successful fantasy season. I will also share my thoughts on those I feel will struggle in 2012. I tried to avoid the obvious. The list is by no means all-inclusive.
PICKS (in no particular order)
These are players I would select in my own drafts - especially in keeper leagues.
Brandon Beachy, SP, Atlanta Braves
Command, mound presence, superb control, and an excellent pitch repertoire using good mechanics make Beachy an outstanding candidate to build upon his 2011 season. Everything works off a sinking 90-94 mph fastball. He isn't a secret anymore.
Eric Thames, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
I'm a believer. Thames' power, especially against right-handed pitching is legitimate. His good pitch recognition and plate discipline help his on-base percentage. He has struggled with lefties and probably will platoon so plan accordingly. Mediocre defense may also be an issue, but his bat is too loud to overlook by the Blue Jays or by fantasy players. Overall, I feel last season was no fluke. Look for
him to build on his power, especially protected in the lineup with the presence of Jose Bautista.
Jordan Walden, RP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Walden is a power pitcher that hits the upper-90s with ease and then changes hitters' balance with a very credible slider. Consistent command may be the last issue remaining to be resolved. I'm not concerned about a typical relief pitcher slump. His mechanics are too good for a sustained bad spell. He has the confidence of his manager and a team that should offer plenty of save opportunities.
Logan Schafer, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Schafer is a speedy, agile and athletic center fielder. He has the ability to hit for average and steal bases. He has enough speed and athletic ability to grab an extra base on gap hits. He's a very good defensive outfielder, taking good routes and closing quickly on flyballs. Look for him to challenge to be the Brewers' starting center fielder because of his combination of a solid bat and good defense. Eventually, he will win the job.
Vance Worley, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Last season, Worley dominated hitters. Everything works off the high velocity fastball. He can touch 95 mph then bring an above average 77-80 mph slider or changeup to buckle hitters' knees. He's the real deal. Once he cuts down on the free passes, Worley may become an elite starter. He often gets lost among the star pitchers on the club, but Worley will build on a great first season.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Look for the pull-side power to continue, but the strikeouts will as well. If you are penalized for strikeouts, stay away from Goldy. If you want home runs, RBI and a fairly respectable .250-ish batting average, he's yourman. Is he Ryan Howard? Time will tell. Goldschmidt is only 24 years old. He plays in the very hitter-friendly Chase Field. I like all the plus factors and they far outweigh the negatives.
J.J. Hardy, SS, Baltimore Orioles
Hardy can do some real damage with the bat. When totally healthy, he has gap and home-run power. Camden Yards is perfect for his stroke, and he should continue to make contact and drive the ball, knocking in runs in the process. He'll probably hit. .260 to .270 and score some runs for the O's. He's a great option at a position with a huge decline following the top-shelf fantasy shortstops.
Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals
The ball seems to jump off his bat. While he doesn't hit many home runs, he can certainly hit for average. His short, easy stroke results in drives to the gaps and an ability to hit the ball away from the defense. He has excellent bat control and a solid eye at the plate with good pitch recognition. I don't think he'll hit .330 as he did when the Royals' brought him up, but he'll hit.
Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
He can hit for average and for power, and will contribute in all five standard rotisserie categories given his ability to run as well. Put simply, Lawrie does it all with the bat. His bat control, pitch recognition and patience at the plate are all well above average and those skills combine with an athletic, agile player. He does tend to strike out, but so do plenty of solid hitters. Add it all up, and he could become a superstar.
Jesus Guzman, 1B, San Diego Padres
Every time I see Guzman play he hits the ball right on the nose. He makes excellent contact and he uses the entire field. The only negative? He plays half of his game in a terrible hitters' park. But Guzman can hit the gaps with awesome power, and in that regard, the park suits his swing. Don't hesitate to circle him on your list and make a play for a good hitter. He may come up short for you in homers, but you'll like him as a late-round pickup. With the acquisition of Yonder Alonso, Guzman will have to move off of first base.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Morrow, Jason Motte, Drew Pomeranz, Javy Guerra, Mike Morse, Chris Parmelee, Shin-Soo Choo, Emilio Bonifacio, Ramon Hernandez, and Gaby Sanchez
These are players I would not draft in any format.
Matt LaPorta, 1B, Cleveland Indians
I have no confidence in LaPorta's ability to hit major league pitching. He appears to be a Quadruple-A player, at best. He hasn't shown he can hit breaking balls or off-speed pitches and he gets beaten badly on high fastballs. At this point, he's on a short leash in Cleveland, and he's not on any leash for me.
Gordon Beckham, 2B, Chicago White Sox
Even if everything falls in place, I don't see Beckham hitting much more than .250. His on-base percentage of .296 was scary for a starting second baseman. Beckham has struggled with off-speed and breaking ball pitches. That alone isn't unique. However, he should Jason Bartlett have shown improvement by now. The Sox think that he bounces back, but I don't.
Jason Bartlett, SS, San Diego Padres
Bartlett has really tanked offensively as the starting shortstop in San Diego. He will provide your fantasy team with some stolen bases if he gets on base, but getting on base is the problem. His two home runs last season really hurt owners who expected a bit more power from a guy who hit 23 as recently as the 2009 season. Blame the tough hitting conditions in San Diego's Petco Park or blame the hitter. Both would be correct.
Fausto Carmona, RHP, Cleveland Indians
I don't look for Carmona to win games, strike out hitters or have a respectable ERA or WHIP. That just about does it, right? He gets behind in too many counts and has to compensate by throwing pitches that get too much of the plate. He also throws too many sinkers. Hitters sit on the pitch or back off totally, accepting his wildness and ultimately taking walks. The Indians picked up his option this offseason. That doesn't mean you have to follow suit.
Barry Zito, SP, San Francisco Giants
Zito is a breaking ball pitcher that is very umpire dependent. If he doesn't get the calls on the corner, he'll struggle. But he isn't Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux. He's Barry Zito. Any velocity he once had has disappeared. In fact, hitters can sit on the breaking balls and pound away. He'll have some good games, but more bad than good. Several bad games can doom your fantasy season. Buyer beware.
Casey McGehee, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Half of McGehee's balls in play were grounders this past season. Add the pop-ups to the infield and it translates to a recipe for disaster. Like most hitters on my "pans" list, McGehee is a fastball hitter. Period. He has major adjustments to make, and the Pirates have more confidence than I do in his ability to rejuvenate his offense. If the plan for Pittsburgh is to play McGehee at third and Alvarez at first, I think it will weaken two positions. I have little faith in both of those players and I think the Pirates will have to search for better options.
Brent Morel, 3B, Chicago White Sox
For whatever reason, the White Sox are sold on Morel as their third baseman. I haven't seen any offensive tool that leads me to include him on my fantasy team. He has shown little, if any power. He doesn't hit for average or drive in runs. Perhaps Robin Ventura will help him, but I'm not taking the chance. His swing is too long and too slow and he gets busted on pitches down and away. No thank you.
Jason Castro, C, Houston Astros
Returning from injury and hoping to claim the starting catcher position for the Astros, I saw little in the way of offensive skill. He has poor pitch recognition and struggles to make contact. In a pitcher-friendly park, I think Castro will struggle. He appears to be “reaching” for pitches and trying to hit a fiverun homer every time at the plate. He'll be behind when spring training begins after having foot surgery in December.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
After flashing some real power and good contact in Triple-A, Rizzo struggled at the major league level. He rebounded slightly, but I feel he'll revert to a long, uncontrolled swing that will result in struggles at the plate. Rizzo has the raw power, but he has to refine his mechanics, learn the strike zone, recognize and lay off bad pitches and show more discipline. He will improve, but it will take more time than you have on your fantasy team. The acquisition of Yonder Alonso resulted in Rizzo being traded to the Cubs. If anything, Rizzo may be a late bloomer, if he blooms at all.
Phil Hughes, SP, New York Yankees
He'll win his share of games because of the run support and bullpen behind him. That said, I still have concerns about what I see as inconsistency with his command and control. I think he'll fall behind in far too many counts and have to serve up a cookie or two to solid big league hitters. I think his ERA and WHIP are beyond acceptable for a solid starting fantasy pitcher. He can't overpower major league hitters so they sit on his breaking balls and off-speed pitches.
Dishonorable Mention: Adam Moore, Leonys Martin, Brett Wallace, Brandon Allen, Pedro Alvarez, Will Venable, Wade Davis, Mike Leake, Ian Stewart, Brandon Inge.