If we were coming off a typical major league season in terms of rookie production, then I'd use my introductory paragraphs today to caution you against an over-reliance on first-year players. I'd recommend that you avoid the pitfalls of prospect hoarding — that you view these kids as trade chips, not as key contributors.
But of course we're not coming off a typical season. In 2012, Mike Trout finished atop the overall fantasy ranks despite spending the first month of the season with the Salt Lake Bees. Bryce Harper, at age 19, gave the Nats a 22-homer, 18-steal campaign while scoring 98 runs and hitting .270/.340/.477.
There's no reason to think that 2013 will produce another Trout or Harper, obviously, so fantasy drafters shouldn't expect any rookie to carry their fake teams. However, I'm also not gonna tell you that you shouldn't quietly hope for a monster season from one of the new arrivals.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Today, we're ranking the prospect class for short-term fantasy impact, looking only at the year ahead. REPEAT: We're looking only at the year ahead. If you're hoping to draft the nucleus of your 2015 title winning team this spring, then you'll want to work from a different list. But if you're planning for 2013 — as most of you should be — then here are a dozen names to target, in the order I'd draft 'em...
1. Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks – As of this writing, the 24-year-old is expected to be the Diamondbacks' opening day center-fielder and lead-off hitter, which gives him a clear advantage over the rest of the rooks. He swiped 44 bags in the minors last year, in a season spent mostly with Triple-A Reno, then stole two more bases for Arizona in September. His career minor league slash line is a ridiculous .355/.456/.510, so getting on base isn't an issue. Eaton led the Pacific Coast League in runs, steals, batting average and OBP last season. It's easy to imagine him emerging as a three-category fantasy asset in the year ahead. Think of him as a low-cost alternative to Michael Bourn.
2. Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals – Miller, 22, enters spring training with a realistic shot to claim the fifth starter's role in St. Louis. If he gets the job, He struck out 160 hitters over 136.2 innings at Triple-A last year, then racked up another 16 Ks in 13.2 frames for St. Louis. He was at his best in the second half, holding PCL opponents to a .217 average after the break, issuing just seven walks and whiffing 70 batters over 59.1 innings. This year, he'll pitch in a friendly home park with an excellent bullpen behind him.
3. Jedd Gyorko, 3B, San Diego Padres – Gyorko is blocked at third base by Chase Headley, so the Pads are hoping he'll claim the second base gig with a solid spring. Defense is clearly a worry here, but that's a real-life problem, not a fantasy concern. Gyorko spent the 2012 season at Double-A and Triple-A, batting .311/.373/.547 with 30 bombs and 100 RBIs. Second base is a power-starved position, where Jedd's contributions would be greatly appreciated by the fantasy community.
Because he has a realistic shot at an opening day role, Gyorko gets a favorable spot on today's list of impact prospects. For dynasty purposes, however, you'd prefer the position players ranked below. (These next two are personal favorites...)
4. Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals – Yup, another Cardinal. This team has a deep system with elite talent near the top. Taveras has been a monster at every pro stop thus far, winning the Midwest League batting title as a teenager in 2011 (.386/.444/.584, 8 HR), then making a successful jump to Double-A in 2012. He added power last year (23 HRs) while maintaining a high average (.321) and reducing his K-rate (10.5 K%, down from 15.0). Taveras was fantastic in the Dominican Winter League, too, hitting .316/.379/.507 and claiming the circuit's Rookie of the Year award.
No, he isn't going to open the year in St. Louis, but I'm assuming he'll find a path to the big leagues by mid-season (because I'm assuming he'll destroy the pitching he'll see at Triple-A Memphis).
5. Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays – If you followed our baseball coverage last season, then there's no way you missed the Myers hype. (Here's a reminder. Here's another). Myers, 22, had an absurd season across two levels, finishing the year with 37 bombs and a .314/.387/.600 slash. He'll pile up strikeouts, unlike Taveras, but he should contribute immediately in the power categories. The Rays are expected to stash Myers in Triple-A to begin the 2013 season, for all the usual development/business reasons, but he'll get the call eventually. Patience, please.
For what it's worth, Myers seems to have made a favorable early impression on his future teammates:
"He’s a big boy, man, geez,” [Sean] Rodriguez said. “I didn’t know he was that big. He’s hitting the ball firm. How old his he again?"
“He’s hitting the ball like a grown man.”
6. Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves – Brandon Beachy is recovering from Tommy John surgery, not expected to surface in Atlanta until June or July, so the 22-year-old Teheran should get a long look as a starter. He was fantastic at Triple-A two seasons ago (15-3, 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP), though he took a big backward step in 2012. Worrisome, but not a complete value-killer. Teheran pitched well in winter league ball (3.23 ERA, 24 Ks, 9 BB), reportedly recovering lost velocity, regaining confidence. He'll pitch in the friendlier league, presumably with plenty of run support.
7. Dan Straily, SP, Oakland A's – Straily began the 2012 season in the Texas League, finished in Oakland, and he struck out 222 batters along the way. He now has a legit chance to leave spring training as a member of the A's rotation. If he gives us 180-or-so innings this year, with half of them in the Coliseum, you'll like the results.
8. Jurickson Profar, MI, Texas Rangers – If we were assessing the fantasy potential of the prospect pool beyond the current season, then Profar would appear at the top of our ranks. He's a switch-hitting shortstop coming off a terrific season in the high minors at age 19, and he made a cameo appearance with the Rangers in September. Profar hit .281/.368/.452 in the Texas League last year, with 47 extra-base hits (including 14 homers) and 16 steals in 20 attempts. He drew 66 walks in 2012 and 65 the year before, so you can't say he isn't selective. Long term, Profar has top-of-draft fantasy potential. He profiles as a 20/30 talent at a premium position. The immediate problem, however, is that Texas isn't exactly desperate for middle infield help. There's no obvious need to rush Profar, until an injury (or two) hits the Rangers roster. A case can easily be made to give the kid a full year at Triple-A.
9. Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians – Bauer is another guy we've hyped and re-hyped, with unimpressive MLB results to date. He issued 13 walks over 16.1 major league innings last season, posting tragic fantasy ratios (6.06 ERA, 1.65 WHIP). Arizona shipped the 22-year-old off to Cleveland in December, and this is a case where the change of scenery can't possibly hurt. Let's all try to remember what Bauer did to earn last year's buzz: He went 12-2 in the high minors with a 2.42 ERA and 157 Ks in 130.1 innings. He still has the deep arsenal, if not quite the best flow.
10. Billy Hamilton, SS, Cincinnati Reds – Hamilton is probably the fastest man in baseball, at any level. If you wanted to argue that he's the fastest dude to ever play the game, you'd have plenty of statistical and anecdotal evidence to support the claim. Hamilton stole 155 bags in the minors last season, an all-time record, and he reached base at a .410 clip. He takes extra bases with impunity. He scores on sac flies that are caught by infielders. His speed is an almost unfair weapon.
Hamilton is transitioning to a new defensive position this season, shifting from shortstop to center, and is thus expected to spend much of his season in Triple-A. When he eventually gets the call — even if he only comes up as a pinch-running part-timer — he'll be a lock to contribute in his core category.
11. Bruce Rondon, RP, Detroit Tigers – The range of potential outcomes is wide for Rondon, a hard-thrower who's only pitched 29.2 innings above Single-A. His name is in the closing conversation for Detroit, so he clearly has a chance to make a significant fantasy impact at age 22. Rondon's fastball hits triple-digits, and he saved 29 games across three minor league levels last season, posting a 1.09 WHIP. His secondary stuff is often described as "still developing," which of course is less than ideal. It's tough to survive the ninth as a one-pitch pitcher.
So will he get first crack at the ninth, Jim Leyland?
“No, it’s not like that,” Leyland said. “I’m going to look at all my options, and hopefully I’ll make a decision.
"But I doubt anyone will be anointed the closer out of spring training. It might happen, but I doubt it."
12. Tyler Skaggs, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks – Skaggs will compete against Patrick Corbin and newly arrived Randall Delgado this spring, battling for the fifth spot in the rotation. Not the easiest fight to win, I'll grant you. The left-hander went 9-6 across two minor league levels last season, posting a 2.87 ERA with 116 Ks and 37 walks in 122.1 innings.
Because I'm feeling conflicted generous, let's toss out one more player, making it a baker's dozen...
13. Leonys Martin, OF, Texas Rangers – Martin looks like the favorite to start in center for the Rangers, and we can expect good-not-great power and speed numbers. He cleared the fence 12 times at Triple-A last season in 260 plate appearances, plus he stole 10 bags (in 19 attempts) while hitting .359/.422/.610. I'm interested in Martin, but this is probably where I exit the prospect chase in mixed leagues.
If you made me cough up another dozen names, you'd get a list like this...
Travis d'Arnaud, C, New York Mets
Mike Olt, 1B, Texas Rangers
Kyuji Fujikawa, RP, Chicago Cubs
Wily Peralta, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
Darin Ruf, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Dylan Bundy, SP, Baltimore Orioles
Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins
Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Rob Brantly, C, Miami Marlins
Zack Wheeler, SP, New York Mets
...in roughly that order. But realistically, there are only 12-13 prospects I'm considering in standard mixers, all blurbed above. If you'd like to state the case for another name or two (or more), please make your mark in comments...
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