Keep an eye on these rookies
You never know when it's going to happen, but every once in a while a rookie busts out and becomes a star. Michael Hurcomb takes a look at some of the youngsters you should either draft and stash or consider picking up on the waiver wire as the season gets under way.
Chipper Jones did it in 1995. Albert Pujols did it in 2001. Freddie Freeman joined the fraternity in 2011.
To become a full-time starter in the majors is an accomplishment every budding prospect dreams about. And when they arrive to The Show, Fantasy owners go to great lengths to find out about the next potential superstar.
Not every player develops into a Jones or Pujols, but they still have an impact in Fantasy Baseball and the 2012 season brings us a new crop of emerging players who might pop up on your radar.
, 1B, Arizona
CBSSports.com projections: .260 average, .344 on-base percentage, .476 slugging percentage, 23 home runs, 27 doubles, 72 RBI and 122 strikeouts in 470 at-bats
Analysis: Gone are Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady , so the path is clear for Goldschmidt, who made 41 starts in 2011, to take over as the Diamondbacks' full-time first baseman. Goldschmidt made a name for himself in the minors by emerging as a premier power hitter (.620 slugging percentage and 1.026 OPS in 315 games). However, he was never touted as an elite prospect because of his questionable defense and high strikeout rate. Still, the Diamondbacks thought enough of him to promote the 24-year-old slugger without taking a Triple-A at-bat. That is obviously a major concern. Can Goldschmidt stick in the majors despite skipping Triple-A? The good news for Goldschmidt is that the addition of Jason Kubel likely means he can hit lower in the lineup, taking the pressure off him to be an immediate key cog in Arizona's lineup. Goldschmidt hit .308 batting sixth and .355 batting seventh last season, as opposed to hitting .236 or worse in every other spot he hit. Another positive is that Chase Field is an above average park for right-handed home run hitters. He will have a little less value in Head-to-Head formats for what we expect will be a high strikeout rate, but Goldschmidt could end up as a cheap source of power in the late rounds for Fantasy owners.
, 2B, Cleveland
CBSSports.com projections: .257 average, .313 on-base percentage, .430 slugging percentage, seven triples, 16 homers, 32 doubles, 63 RBI, 71 runs, 13 stolen bases and 130 strikeouts in 540 at-bats
Analysis: The Indians finally brought Kipnis up late last season for a taste of the majors, and his performance in 36 games is leaving Fantasy owners wanting more. Kipnis had a .507 slugging percentage and .841 OPS. Those numbers weren't far off from his career numbers in the minors (.486, .863), signaling that Kipnis late-season surge might not be an aberration. Although, his home-run rate might be a little misleading since Kipnis is more of a ground-ball and line-drive hitter. He still has decent pop for a middle infielder, but expecting 20 homers in 2012 could be a bit of a stretch. Still, Jacobs Field is an above average park for left-handed home run and doubles hitters, which should benefit Kipnis. Second base has become a little deeper of a position where you can find players like Rickie Weeks , Dustin Ackley , Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick as low-end starting options in mixed leagues. However, Kipnis is right up there with Jemile Weeks as top sleepers at the position.
, SS, Atlanta
CBSSports.com projections: .256 average, .314 on-base percentage, .321 slugging percentage, three home runs, 16 doubles, 40 RBI, 52 runs and 18 stolen bases in 480 at-bats
Analysis: The Braves aren't short on shortstop prospects. The talent pool is so deep that the organization is already moving prospects Matt Lipka and Edward Salcedo to new positions and is eagerly awaiting the development of Andrelton Simmons . However, Pastronicky received the nod late in spring to be the starter, and he is no slouch of a prospect. He is ranked as the Braves' seventh-best prospect by Baseball America. The former Blue Jays farmhand improved in all facets of the game in 2011, including posting a career-best .314 batting average. He is more of a line-drive hitter and isn't projected to provide Atlanta with a ton of home-run power. Pastronicky is likely to hit in the eighth spot in front of the pitcher, which would hurt his greatest asset -- his stolen-base potential. Pastornicky should be left for mostly NL-only Fantasy formats.
, SP, Baltimore
CBSSports.com projections: 11-11, 3.98 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 187 hits allowed, 134 strikeouts and 62 walks in 185 innings (32 starts)
Analysis: Knowing their rotation is a mess, the Orioles opened the checkbook this offseason to sign international product Chen for three years, $11.3 million. He technically has to pitch his way into a job, but it's believed that Chen has a rotation spot to lose. The left-handed hurler comes to the U.S. after pitching four years in Japan. Chen compiled a 36-30 record with 2.48 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 631 1/3 innings (88 starts). He also had 13 complete games (eight shutouts) and struck out 7.1 batters per nine innings in his career. Chen's fastball sits in the low 90s, while he is lauded for outstanding command and uses a slurve-like breaking ball for his out pitch. Unfortunately, like every other Orioles starter, the wins could be tough to come by for a team that isn't expected to contend.
, OF, Chicago Cubs
CBSSports.com projections: .263 average, .342 on-base percentage, .470 slugging percentage, 14 home runs, 20 doubles, 45 RBI and 90 strikeouts in 300 at-bats
Analysis: Everyone's initial thought when the Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo is that the burgeoning prospect would replace Carlos Pena as the team's everyday first baseman. However, the Cubs said Rizzo might be the future, but LaHair is the immediate. Not only will LaHair being manning first base, but the Cubs are consider using him as their cleanup hitter, immediately thrusting the 29-year-old career minor leaguer into the Fantasy mix. LaHair has traveled a long, arduous road since being selected in the 39th round of the 2002 MLB draft. He hit .244 as a first-time, 20-year-old pro, but progressed to being a career .295 hitter in 970 minor-league games. He also posted a .362 on-base percentage, .503 slugging percentage and .865 OPS down on the farm. He had at least 25 homers and 80 RBI the last three seasons in the minors, with 2011 being a banner year when he hit .331 with 38 homers, 38 doubles and 109 RBI in 129 games at Triple-A. It's not hard to understand why the Cubs want LaHair batting cleanup. Left-handed home run hitters thrive at Wrigley Field, and it's also an above average park for left-handed doubles hitters. However, some scouts consider LaHair a Quadruple-A player -- too good for the minors, not good enough for the majors. He might end up as a platoon option if he doesn't improve his presence against left-handed hurlers. LaHair is at best a late-round flier in deeper Fantasy formats.
, OF, Chicago White Sox
CBSSports.com projections: .270 average, .317 on-base percentage, .439 slugging percentage, 21 home runs, 28 doubles, 65 runs, 76 RBI and 124 strikeouts in 540 at-bats
Analysis: With Ozzie Guillen no longer calling the shots on the bench, Viciedo will finally get his chance to play every day on the major-league level. The White Sox cleared a spot for him in the outfield by trading slugger Carlos Quentin to San Diego. Viciedo was a hit as a 21-year-old when he arrived in the majors in 2010, batting .308 with five homers, seven doubles and 13 RBI in 38 games. Unfortunately, his 2011 season started slow because of injury and when he finally made it back to the majors, big-league pitchers exploited his lack of plate discipline. Viciedo hit just .255 with one homer and six RBI in 29 games. Viciedo's patience is going to have to improve if he wants to reach his full potential in the majors, but the scouts rave about his game-changing power because of his bat speed and strength. His power should play nicely in one of the majors' top parks for right-handed home-run hitters. Viciedo projects as a late-round Fantasy sleeper in mixed leagues.
, SS, Cincinnati Reds
CBSSports.com projections: .268 average, .317 on-base percentage, .409 slugging percentage, 12 home runs, 31 doubles, 58 RBI, 68 runs, 95 strikeouts and 14 stolen bases in 530 at-bats
Analysis: Cozart's promising 2011 season was cut short by elbow surgery, but now that he is healthy, the Reds are turning over the everyday shortstop job to the 2007 second-round pick. Reds fans are counting down the days until shortstop prospect Billy Hamilton arrives in the majors, but in the meantime Cozart has the chance to delay Hamilton's ETA. Cozart heads into 2012 as a top 100 prospect, according to Baseball America, so there still should be excitement brewing in Cincinnati. Cozart made his bones because of his flashy defensive skills. The scouts wondered if he could hit as a pro, and the 26-year-old middle infielder has surprisingly silenced the critics. Being able to get his legs more involved in his swing, Cozart has added surprising pop for a middle infielder, belting 10 or more homers in three of his last four minor-league seasons and having 26-plus doubles in four straight seasons. Also, while he doesn't have blazing speed, Cozart's ability to read pitchers could make him a 20-30 stolen-base threat at the MLB level. The scouts have doubted if Cozart could hit for average or post a respectable OBP in the majors, but he hit .310 with a .357 OBP at Triple-A and hit .324 in 11 MLB games before getting hurt last season, so it seems Cozart isn't done developing. Cozart's upside puts him into the tier of Fantasy shortstops that include Stephen Drew , Marco Scutaro , Yunel Escobar , J.J. Hardy , Dee Gordon , Alcides Escobar , Rafael Furcal , Ian Desmond and Jed Lowrie .
, C, Cincinnati
CBSSports.com projections: .268 average, .331 on-base percentage, .465 slugging percentage, 15 home runs, 24 doubles, 51 runs and 55 RBI in 370 at-bats
Analysis: The Reds are doing their best to avoid putting pressure on the 23-year-old rookie catcher by not anointing him the team's starter, but even the Cincinnati brass realizes it might just be a matter of time before the 2007 first-round pick ascends to the top spot behind the plate. He will initially platoon with Ryan Hanigan , who has a big fan in manager Dusty Baker. However, Hanigan doesn't have the offensive potential Mesoraco possesses. Mesoraco slugged .587 and hit 26 homers in 113 games in 2010, and returned in 2011 to bat .289 with 15 homers, 36 doubles and 71 RBI in 120 games at Triple-A. It's just that Fantasy owners need to be aware that rookie catchers tend to take a little longer to develop offensively because their priority upon arrival to the majors is to focus on defense. Managers are more much concerned about their development behind the plate rather than at it. Most rookie backstops are tasked with learning how to handle a pitching staff, but once they master that, then the offensive part gets easier. Put Mesoraco in the late-round Fantasy sleeper group. You can't draft him as your starter, but you hope by season's end he could emerge as a reliable option.
, OF, Kansas City
CBSSports.com projections: .298 average, .343 on-base percentage, .441 slugging percentage, 12 home runs, 27 doubles, 56 RBI, 65 runs and 19 stolen bases in 510 at-bats
Analysis: The Royals were able to cash in on Melky Cabrera career season in 2011 by flipping him to the Giants for much-needed rotation help in left-hander Jonathan Sanchez . However, the Royals made the trade with confidence knowing Cain was ready for his first chance to play every day in the majors. Cain, who arrived in the Zack Greinke trade with Milwaukee in December 2010, impressed in his first season in the Royals organization, batting .312 with a .380 on-base percentage, .497 slugging percentage and .877 OPS at Triple-A. Cain is more of a line-drive and ground-ball hitter, so he is going to have moderate home run power. He could also be a guy that falls in the 20-30 stolen-base range. But his greatest asset might be his ability as a contact hitter. Cain isn't a guy worth reaching for on Draft Day, but if you are considering drafting outfielders like J.D. Martinez , Peter Bourjos or Colby Rasmus in the late rounds, then Cain falls into that group.
, C, Kansas City
CBSSports.com projections: .288 average, .316 on-base percentage, .417 slugging percentage, six home runs, 13 doubles, 31 runs, 35 RBI and 29 strikeouts in 240 at-bats
Analysis: You want to know why the Royals moved prospect Wil Myers from catcher to the outfield? We give you Perez. Already considered an elite defender, Perez's offense started to mature in the minors and the Royals soon realized he was the future behind the plate. They then let the baseball world know it by signing him to an unprecedented multi-year contract this spring after just 39 games in 2011. It was an impressive stretch as Perez hit .331 with a .361 OBP, .473 slugging percentage and .834 OPS. Although, we do have to warn Fantasy owners that Perez had a .362 BABIP last season, which is well above the norm, so it would be hard to expect him to keep his 2011 pace this season. Perez's line-drive rate was also an astounding 29.2 percent last season, which should also drop with a full season. Although, he is definitely in a home ballpark that has an above average rate for line-drive hitters, so Perez has that working in his favor. Perez's strength is still his defense, but you can expect a decent batting average and moderate power numbers from the 21-year-old backstop. It's just unfortunate we won't see Perez until later this summer after he needed March knee surgery. Here is now just a draft-and-stash option.
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