One of the joys of fatherhood is that you get to watch animated movies with your kids, often repeatedly. One of my kids’ favorite movies is Pixar’s The Incredibles. At the end of the movie, a neighborhood child witnesses the exciting ending of the movie where the Incredibles defeat the evil Syndrome and exclaims, “That was AWESOME!” I don’t know about you, but that is how I felt after watching the 2012 rookie class strut their collective stuff on the baseball diamond last season.
Mike Trout had one of the best seasons in the history of the sport and should have taken a clean sweep of the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. Bryce Harper only disappointed because he was compared against Trout, but Harper did very well in his debut. Yoenis Cespedes was a huge part of the A’s surprise story despite battling through a few injuries, and Norichika Aoki was the first Japanese hitter to have a positive rookie impact since Ichiro Suzuki. Wilin Rosario may be an awful defensive catcher, but he was a fantasy godsend hammering 28 home runs and hitting .270 as a catcher for the Rockies while Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart both were factors in the Reds winning their division.
On the pitching side of the ledger, Yu Darvish did not disappoint, while Wade Miley, Jarrod Parker, and Mike Fiers surprised many with their success. Matt Moore did not meet the expectations of most as he struggled with command early and tired late in the season. Lance Lynn, Wei-Yin Chen, and Tommy Milone were other very late picks that became rather profitable for fantasy owners in 2012.
It goes without saying that the 2012 rookie class has left a rather high mark for the 2013 rookies to reach. Nobody in this season’s class is going to be Mike Trout, but that is an impossible standard to hold any rookie to. What Trout did last year was a once in a generation type season and not something we should expect on an annual basis. In fact, 2013 may as well be the year we all level-set our expectations of what rookies did because 2012 was quite the statistical outlier for rookies.
When preparing your own draft lists for rookies to target, it is imperative to remember one thing: not all top-100 lists are created the same. The folks at Baseball America have been doing them longer than anyone else in the industry and Baseball Prospectus continues to do a great job with them as well as a few other companies. That said, none of those lists consider a player’s fantasy potential in ranking the prospect. This offseason, there were talent evaluators that loved Arizona’s acquisition of Didi Gregorius, but from a fantasy perspective there is nothing to like there. Gregorius is a fantastic defensive player, but his offensive game is severely lacking. He may rank as an everyday player in Arizona’s future, but he will likely be nothing more than reserve material in mixed leagues even at his baseball peak.
Your own top-100 list should assume the idiosyncrasies of your league. You should know the depth charts and be aware of who stands in the way of prospects getting to the majors. You need to understand that some teams will not promote prospects until after the Super Two deadline no matter what the need is, and most of all, understand the inherent risk with pitching prospects. Consider that 19 percent of the pitchers taken in the 1990 amateur draft reached the majors and 17 percent of those drafted in 1992 did so. Since then, the percentage has never been higher than 14 percent. If we assume a prospect list has an even split of 50 hitters and 50 pitchers, the odds suggest that seven of those pitchers will never reach the majors, and that does not even factor in the odds of those pitchers incurring an injury at some stage of their development. The trick is avoiding those seven pitchers, which is not easy given that any one of them can turn into a complete bust like Brien Taylor, Ryan Anderson, and Bryan Bullington before them.
Rotowire will be updating its top-100 list throughout the season, but here is a closer look at the top-10 that you should be familiar with heading into your drafts:
1. Billy Hamilton (OF, CIN) - Hamilton is not going to start the season at the big league level, and may not even be up until later in the season, but you are only going to get one chance to draft this impact player so you have to make it count. He stole 155 bases in the minors last season and did so while improving on his walk rate and cutting down on his strikeouts. Hamilton could be to stolen bases what Randy Johnson was to strikeouts in his heyday.
2. Oscar Taveras (OF, STL) - Hamilton may have the best tool on the list, but Taveras is the most complete prospect. He has hit at every level of the Cardinals’ system and last year, blossomed with his power as he hit 69 extra-base hits including 23 home runs. His chances at impacting 2013 are slim, but like Hamilton, you want this guy now. Many consider him the best bat in the minor leagues.
3. Jurickson Profar (SS, TEX) - The small cup of coffee with the Rangers was not pretty, but Profar did manage to hit .218/.368/.452 as a 19-year-old in the Texas League (Double-A) last season. Most 19-year-olds play two to three levels lower than where Profar played last season and he more than held his own. He could end up with multi-positional eligibility this season depending on how the Rangers utilize him and he is only going to get stronger from here on out in an ideal hitters’ park.
4. Dylan Bundy (P, BAL) - Bundy also reached the majors at age 19 after dominating the competition in his first season in the minor leagues. He allowed just 67 hits in 104 innings while striking out five hitters for every one that he walked. He has only pitched 18 innings of baseball above High-A, but the only concern with Bundy will be how many inning the Orioles let him work in 2013 as his talent is amazing.
5. Wil Myers (OF, TB) - The only question with Myers is when he gets called up. The Minor League Player of the Year is ready, but unless he signs a new deal with the Rays, they will put him at Triple-A Durham until the Super Two deadline passes. Myers’ offensive potential takes a hit playing half of games in Tropicana Field, but once he is up, he will be up to stay as the Rays do not yo-yo their prospects.
6. Miguel Sano (3B, MIN) - The Twins may have troubles developing pitchers, but Sano projects to be a very good power bat for them at the corner. He had 60 extra-base hits in the Midwest League last season while walking 80 times and showing increased patience from previous seasons. He is a few years away from Target Field, but that park will not be able to hold his power down.
7. Gerrit Cole (P, PIT) - Like Bundy, Cole was dominant in his first season in the big leagues, but Cole was two years older and had the experience of pitching at a college powerhouse in UCLA. Cole pitched at three levels and struck out 136 in 132 innings while allowing 113 hits and just seven home runs. Pittsburgh has had a terrible time targeting and developing pitchers in the past, but they appear to have finally done right with Cole and a few others. Future staff ace material.
8. Taijuan Walker (P, SEA) - For a while, Walker, James Paxton, and Danny Hultzen were grouped together at the top for the battle for Seattle’s best pitching prospect, but Walker has separated himself from the pack. His minor league numbers did not look good, but Seattle also jumped him over High-A and sent him straight to Double-A as a 19-year-old. He had issues with the long ball, but allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and struck out 118 in 127 innings against much older competition.
9. Trevor Bauer (P, CLE) - Bauer had his run-ins with teammates and front office types in Arizona so they sent him off to Cleveland. He has a unique way of honing his craft and preparing for starts (look it up on YouTube) but there is a lot of talent here. If he can further harness his control, he could be even better. Perhaps a change of scenery can help him get back on the right track.
10. Jameson Taillon (P, PIT) - In another organization, Taillon would be a top prospect but even with his talent, he takes a seat behind Cole. In his second pro season, the youngster split time between High-A and Double-A while allowing just 120 hits in 142 innings and striking out 116. The Pirates do not need to rush him having learned from past mistakes of doing so.
2013 Rookie of the Year Candidates
The AL Rookie of the Year vote was a predictable landslide while the NL vote was surprisingly close due to Wade Miley’s surprise breakout year, even if Norichika Aoki’s production was overlooked by voters who largely ignored him on the ballot. As we focus solely on 2013, here are six names from each league that should be competing for Rookie of the Year honors. Why should you care about postseason awards? I have actually played in a league where you received a percentage of the final payout if you rostered award winners at season’s end, which is one of the more unique payout systems I have been a part of. I can’t be the only one who has crazy payouts like this, can I?
Jurickson Profar (Texas): By press time, hopefully the Rangers will have either convinced Ian Kinsler to move to the outfield or have traded someone on the infield to get another starting pitcher. If neither happen, then it is tough to envision a clear path to 450 plate appearances for the talented infielder. His chances at the award are good with full playing time since he is even better in the field than he is at the plate.
Wil Myers (Tampa Bay): Myers is coming off a monster season in the minor leagues in which he was named the Player of the Year by Baseball America. Sure, he struck out 140 times, but he was also just 21 years old and facing Triple-A pitching for a good portion of the season. The only question with Myers is when he will reach the majors as the Rays will slow his roll if the youngster does not work out a deal similar to what Evan Longoria did in 2008.
Trevor Bauer (Cleveland): Bauer gets a fresh start for a team that is not expected to compete in its division. Bauer butted heads with people in Arizona but one has to assume Cleveland is going to let him do what made him successful in college and work on tweaking his delivery a bit rather than trying to change everything Bauer does. Bauer will also get to pitch in one of the easier divisions in baseball.
Mike Olt (Texas): Like Profar, it is not quite clear yet where Olt is going to play. He should see time at first base as well as DH, or could even end up playing some corner outfield. Olt was overmatched in his brief callup, but that came after the Rangers skipped him over Triple-A deciding that his .288/.398/.579 slash line in Double-A was good enough. Olt is a dual threat in that he can hit and pick it in the field and a power bat in Texas is always worth following closely.
Nick Franklin (Seattle): The shortstop saw a lot of time at second base in the Arizona Fall League which hinted at what the Mariners have in store for Franklin in 2013. Dustin Ackley has not set the world on fire at second base and while Brendan Ryan has been an amazing defender at short, the bat is very limited. The Mariners clearly want Franklin at the big league level, but his work is not done. He had a good AFL and hit well in Double-A but had issues adjusting to more experienced pitchers after a promotion to Triple-A.
Mike Zunino (Seattle): Zunino had an amazing professional debut. It was only 190 plate appearances, but his .360/.447/.689 slash line was amazing. The catching depth chart in Seattle now has multiple defensively-challenged catchers with Zunino joining Jesus Montero. Even though Zunino has only seen 15 games in the advanced minors, it would not surprise anyone to see him up no later than June to stay and make an impact with Seattle.
Billy Hamilton (Cincinnati): Hamilton is the ultimate wildcard because there is no clear path for him. The Reds re-signed Ryan Ludwick and traded for Shin-Soo Choo’s OBP abilities to join Jay Bruce in the outfield. Hamilton has played both short and second in the minors, but everyone sees him as a center fielder. He could be a late callup and still make an impact on the Reds and fantasy rosters, or he could spend five months in Triple-A and get called up on August 31 so that he is eligible for the playoffs.
Oscar Taveras (St. Louis): Taveras is also blocked by an outfield of Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, and Carlos Beltran, but health is in play here as both cornermen have had their struggles with injuries in the past. Taveras is arguably the most complete hitter in the minor leagues and may not need much time in Triple-A. He skipped over High-A last year and showed no ill effects in Double-A hitting .321 with a .953 OPS.
Zack Wheeler (Mets): The Mets will not be a contender in 2013 which should allow for Wheeler to see significant time for the team save any workload limits they may put him on. Wheeler has the chance to be something special for the Mets and could make fans forgive ownership for their roster management rather quickly. Wheeler is legitimately a future staff ace and those do not just grow on trees.
Shelby Miller (St. Louis): His cup of coffee late last season was entertaining as he continued the dominance he displayed in Triple-A. Miller’s ERA was high in the minors last season, but the Pacific Coast League will do that to a guy. Focus on the 160 strikeouts in just 136 innings for the kind of upside Miller could provide in 2013 if he can work his way into the Cardinals’ rotation.
Travis d’Arnaud (Mets): The Mets traded both of their catchers to the Jays in the Dickey deal so John Buck and d’Arnaud will share those duties in 2013. D’Arnaud offers good offensive upside from a position desperate for it most of the time. Mets fans may not like trading the defending Cy Young winner, but prospects like d’Arnaud are rarely made available for trade on the precipice of their major league career.
Tyler Skaggs (Diamondbacks): Skaggs has a clearer path to the Arizona rotation with Bauer now in Cleveland. Some even said they preferred Skaggs over Bauer long term, and in him, Arizona has a talented insurance policy for their rotation. Skaggs will almost certainly go back to Reno to start the season, but only three of the five starters for Arizona last season threw more than 130 innings so the opportunities should be there for Skaggs to make an impact in 2013.
The 2013 rookie class may not have Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, but this is still a very strong 2013 rookie class with the potential to make an impact on the 2013 season. Trout’s season spoiled what many expected from rookies, but these players are the types of lottery tickets that we all chase on draft day hoping for a big prize.
Talent does not always win out because opportunity is king with the rookies. If a very talented rookie finds himself behind a crowded 25-man roster, that player will not have the opportunity to showcase his skills. Worse yet for fantasy players, that player will have less of an opportunity to earn the return on investment they had in mind for that player when they spent the pick or the dollars at the draft table. This is where Trout’s 2012 season can be a double-whammy as players will look at 2013 rookies and wonder why they did not do more. Additionally, owners will be more courageous in reaching for rookies in the draft further reaching into Pandora’s box.