This article is part of our NFBC Trends series.
The World Series may be over, but baseball is alive and well right now. The Arizona Fall League is in full swing at this point and astute fantasy owners would be wise to either scout some of those players or at least pay attention to their development. Each MLB team sends six of their top prospects to the AFL and many of those prospects will be top fantasy players soon.
I'm headed to the AFL this weekend and will produce an AFL column in a few weeks. But for now it makes more sense to stay in the minor leagues and take a look at the Top 8 fantasy rookies for 2012. This has the potential to be a very solid rookie class and fantasy owners would be wise to put these 8 players on their Cheat Sheets:
2012 MLB Top 10 Rookies:
1. Matt Moore, SP, Rays: Moore is easily the top prospect to get in 2011 and he could be one of the top left-handers in baseball very soon. The 22-year-old went 8-3 with a 2.20 ERA at Double-A Montgomery, before going 4-0 with a stellar 1.39 ERA at Triple-A Durham. He won the J.G. Taylor Spink Minor League Player of the Year award with a combined 12-3 record, 1.92 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 210 strikeouts with only 46 walks in 155 innings. Just to show he's ready for the bigs, Moore struck out 11 Yankees in five innings during his lone September start and then was stellar against the Rangers in the Game 1 NLDS, allowing just two hits with six strikeouts. His 98 mph fastball and composure on the mound is impressive and he will contribute to fantasy teams right away. Already in two NFBC pay drafts, he's gone in the Top 115 both times and I'd expect that trend to continue through Opening Day. Get him if you can.
2. Jesus Montero, DH, Yankees: The Yankees are in need of a new fulltime catcher next year and Montero could fill the void. But there's no doubt that he needs more defensive tutelage and may find his name in the lineup more as a DH than catcher in 2012. He starts 2012 as a UT-only fantasy player, having caught just three of his 18 games with New York last year. Still, the 21-year-old is talented enough to draft this year and I believe he will be a solid producer in 2012. He hit .288 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs in 109 games last year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with a solid .348 OBP before hitting .328-4-12 with a .406 OBP in 18 games in New York. He's going to get 400+ ABs as a DH/part-time catcher and fantasy owners will like the results. In NFBC drafts, he's already going in the Top 175 and his stock could rise once the Yankees state what his role will be for this season.
3. Yu Darvish, SP, Free Agent: It's unfair to list Darvish in our Top Rookie Rankings because he's not even an MLB player yet. Darvish pitches in Japan, but if he's allowed to be a free agent it could take $50 million just for an MLB team to have exclusive negotiating rights for him. Then it's probably $10+ million a year just to sign him. Here's why the 25-year-old is so coveted: he has unbelievable control and a fastball that hits the high 90s. For Nippon last year, he went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts with only 36 walks in 232 innings. Several scouts believe he can be a solid No. 2 starter with most MLB teams and he could be an impact fantasy player right away. Now we know these things don't always work out as expected with Japanese pitchers, but if Darvish lands with the right team he seems to have the goods to hold his own as a rookie. He's a worthy gamble who could go in the Top 200 on Draft Day if he signs with an MLB team.
4. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals: Before doing everything you can to get Harper on Draft Day, remember one thing: He just turned 19 on Oct. 16th. As an 18-year-old last year, he dominated Lo A Harrisburg with a .318 average, 14 homers, 46 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and a .423 OBP before Washington promoted him to Double-A Harrisburg. There he met his match, hitting just .256 in 37 games with three homers, 12 RBIs, 7 Runs and a .329 OBP. He then continued his development by going to the Arizona Fall League, where he was mashing the ball and had an 11-game hitting streak as of Tuesday. This kid is the real deal and he will be a fantasy first round pick some day. But that day isn't today and this might not be the year to expect value from him. The Nationals would be foolish to start him above Double-A this year and if he progresses to Triple-A this year and gets a cup of coffee in the majors in September it would be a good year. But folks are drafting him as if he will be called up by June 1 (his ADP in the NFBC is around 215). I think that's too high, but I sure do like his future potential.
5. Mike Trout, OF, Angels: Trout made his MLB debut last year at the age of 19 and played 35 games in the outfield, hitting a mere .220-5-16 in 123 at-bats. But don't let those numbers fool you because Trout is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. In 91 games at Double-A Arkansas last year, Trout hit .326-11-38 with 33 stolen bases and a .414 OBP. It's very possible that he could start the 2012 season at Triple-A, but there's no doubt that he will be starting in the Angels' outfield at some point next year. He has five-tool skills and the baseball acumen to be a superstar very soon. Trout is going in the Top 240 in NFBC leagues now, but that's a bit high if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster. Still, watch his progress in the AFL and at spring training because he's going to be a good one. The only concern is whether the Angels can fit him in their outfield now or by the All-Star break.
Other top rookies to watch include Yonder Alonso, 1B, Reds, who could start in the outfield if Joey Votto remains in Cincinnati; Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Padres, who hit .331-26-101 at Triple-A before bombing in San Diego; and Julio Teheran, SP, Braves, who went 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett.
There are at least a dozen more rookies who will have an impact in 2012 fantasy leagues. Look for a deeper list soon, but for now plan around these eight prospects above.
(Greg Ambrosius is the founder of the National Fantasy Baseball Championship and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame and the Fantasy Sports Trade Association's Hall of Fame. For more information on the NFBC, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to nfbc.stats.com).