We continue looking ahead to the 2012 fantasy baseball season by highlighting the potential impact rookies at each position. Why? Because it’s never too early to begin thinking about next year, even if you’re still trying to win your league right now. And for those of you in keeper leagues, particularly deeper ones, these primers will be especially helpful, because you’ll find out which young players may be worth snatching up now — before other owners get a clue — so you can hang onto them next season, when their value kicks in. Think of it like an investment requiring only a little up-front cost that could pay off big in the near future.
Much like my Mining the Minors columns on this site, which focus on current-season impact more than long-term upside, these 2012 rookie primers are meant for players who will fulfill or are expected to fulfill their rookiedom next year. Also much like my MTM work, the point here is to find the right mix of opportunity and talent, so that you’re picking up a player who can contribute, either in a starting role or as a reserve, from Day 1 or soon thereafter. Chances are, I’ll hit on many of these same players in depth at some point in future Mining the Minors columns, but for now, it’s good to get ahead of the curve with a snapshot of the talent at each position.
To give you a brief idea of just how this sort of thing can be worthwhile, I’m in two deep keeper leagues, one AL-only and one NL-only, and around this time last year, I picked up Mark Trumbo, Jordan Walden and Brandon Beachy. Worked out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
Click on the position to see previous primers: Catcher
Next up? First basemen.
To be considered, the players must currently be eligible to maintain their rookie status for 2012, meaning they have yet to exceed 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched. Certainly, a few listed below may surpass these numbers in the final weeks of this season, but nonetheless, it’s worth pointing them out now.
PLAYERS RANKED IN ORDER OF 2012 FANTASY IMPACT
OPENING DAY STARTERS AND BACKUPS
Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs
If I had to bank on one rookie 1B to be the 2012 version of Mark Trumbo, Goldschmidt would be the guy, as I said back in June. He’s the top name here because the 23-year-old has the right mix of talent and opportunity. Despite coming off back-to-back 30-homer campaigns, Goldschmidt has some offensive flaws — like a scarily high whiff rate (34% in MLB) that will undoubtedly lead to prolonged slumps, but there’s no one else currently in the organization standing between him and the starting first base job next year. And with 5 HRs and 14 RBIs in his first 78 ABs in the majors, he’s certainly done enough to show he can help fantasy owners in mixed leagues. But even with Trumbo’s 24 HRs and 73 RBIs posing as numbers that should be within Goldy’s range, I’d prefer the D-backs masher to fill my corner infield or utility position, rather than rely on him to handle a lineup spot that should be reserved for a true beast.
Brandon Belt, Giants
It’s not really his fault that I want to like Belt more than I actually do. I blame the Giants for how they’ve handled the 23-year-old lefty-swinging sometimes-first baseman/sometimes-outfielder. He’s proven all he needs to at Triple-A (.309/.448/ .527 with a tidy 47:42 K:BB this year), so he’d be best off just plugged in at first everyday to show what he can do — and just how much better he is than Aubrey Huff. Alas, Huff has at least one more year (then a team option) left on his deal, and he’s incapable of playing anywhere but first base, so Belt may yet again be caught in a weird vortex in 2012, surrounded by ineptitude on the field and poor decision-making off it — with little he can do about it himself. His best bet may lie in left field, since no Giants outfielder is much more than a fourth OF masquerading as a starter. Still, he’s worth adding now because he’s talented enough to gamble on in the event that Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy undergo offseason lobotomies and install Belt as an everyday starter. Somewhere.
Anthony Rizzo, Padres
After posting a .547 OPS, Rizzo’s introduction to the majors went about as poorly as you’d want to see from a top prospect, even one who’s still just 22. But realize that the sample size was small (98 ABs) and the BABIP was beyond unlucky (.213), so there’s always the possibility he’s undervalued next year by owners who expected more in 2011 and got, well, pretty much nothing. Even taking into account the PCL factor, he still absolutely owned Triple-A pitchers, with a slash line of .338/.413/.671 and 26 HRs sandwiched around his midseason call-up. Sure, Kyle Blanks is still in the picture (but more likely as an outfielder), the home park is going to sap some of Rizzo’s pop, and the Padres aren’t exactly a juggernaut, but I see the 2007 sixth-rounder as a more productive version of Brett Wallace next season. Bottom line: Startable at corner or utility in deep NL-onlies and ownable in shallower ones, where a cheap keep could pay off.
Jerry Sands, Dodgers
Sands, 23, got some Mining the Minors love back in April then made his big-league debut soon thereafter. While a cursory glance indicates things didn’t go so well (.200 BA, .622 OPS), a look under the hood shows Sands, in just 125 ABs, actually hit for some pop (10 doubles) and displayed solid discipline (14% BB). Plus, his Triple-A stats, aided though they may be by the hitter haven in Albuquerque, were noteworthy (.282/.345/.598) — and anyone who can crack 28 HRs in just over 350 ABs has power that should translate to the majors. With the Dodgers’ left field situation still unsettled and incumbent 1B James Loney a potential non-tender candidate, there could be two openings next year, and Sands has split his defensive duties between those two spots at Triple-A. A sneaky opportunity add in NL leagues that may also lead to the always-useful multiple eligibility.
Yonder Alonso, Reds
Alonso, 24, was the Reds’ top pick in 2008 and has been ready for a regular role for quite some time, but as the story goes, Joey Votto went and got himself an MVP. This has left Alonso to fight for a few cups of coffee in the majors, while mostly being stuck in Triple-A for nearly 200 games as the org tries to figure the best way to make use of him. A first baseman by trade, Alonso was tried in left field — a problem spot for Cincy — but that experiment appears to be a failure due to his shortcomings with the leather and general ploddingness. As his career .296/.364/.478 line at Triple-A attests, finding a defensive home would allow Alonso to hit balls over hither, thither and Yonder (Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling would be so proud!), but at this point, he may be most valuable to the Reds as trade bait for pitching help this offseason. Alonso has the stick to do enough damage, even in a backup 1B/OF role, to make him rosterable in deep NL leagues next year; but if he can get out from under the positional predicament by moving on, he’d gain considerably more fantasy value.
OTHER TRIPLE-A NAMES TO KNOW
Chris Marrero, Nationals: It’s been a long, slow climb for this 23-year-old since being drafted No. 15 overall in 2006, and his first taste at Triple-A went well enough (.300/.375/.449 with 14 HRs and 69 RBIs) that he was just called up to see regular PT down the stretch while Adam LaRoche (still under contract next year) remains out for the season and Mike Morse shifts to left field. He’s probably not contributing much in 2012, but he could carve out a reserve role.
David Cooper, Blue Jays: Cooper, 24, was the 17th pick in 2008, but only this season has he started to live up to his lofty draft status, hitting a minor league-leading .371. The home run power (9) isn’t ideal for first base, but the eye is elite (40:61 K:BB in nearly 450 ABs) and he could be a doubles machine (49). Depending on what the Jays do with Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion (club option) at 1B/DH, Cooper could be in the mix.
Chris Carter, A’s: Once arguably the top power prospect in the minors — he averaged 31 HRs in each of his first four years of full-season ball — the 24-year-old’s average has dropped into the .250s and his K rate has risen to nearly 30% at the minors’ highest level. His power will almost definitely get him another shot at the bigs in 2012, but how much contact he makes — not to mention, the performance of recently-acquired fellow three-true-outcomer Brandon Allen — will determine how long Carter stays.
Clint Robinson, Royals: Robinson can hit with the best of ’em, and his Triple-A stats this year (.327/.401/.537 with 23 HRs and 99 RBIs) are eerily similar to those he posted while winning the Texas League Triple Crown in 2010. But at 26, time’s running out, and it’s not like the Royals are looking to replace 1B wunderkind Eric Hosmer or DH Billy Butler. Best C-Rob can hope for is an injury or, better yet, a trade.
Matt Hague, Pirates: Think about it — the last time the Pirates took a shot on a longtime minor-leaguer to play first base, Garrett Jones proved he could hit in the bigs. Funny then, that Jones will once again be Pittsburgh’s primary option next year, unless the org decides to give a shot to this 26-year-old who’s gone .307-12-74 at Triple-A.
Mark Hamilton, Cardinals: He’s already 27, making him older than most in this batch, but he’s got two things in his corner: 1) a cumulative Triple-A line over three years of .316/.400/.529; and 2) Albert Pujols‘ impending free agency. Not saying Hamilton should be anywhere near the starting job, but he could get a bigger shot at a backup/fill-in role in St. Louis than he did each of the past two seasons.
Brett Pill, Giants: If the Aubrey Huff-Brandon Belt thing doesn’t work out, there’s always Pill, a soon-to-be 27-year-old who’s averaged 20 HRs and 100 RBIs the past three seasons at Double- and Triple-A.
Lars Anderson, Red Sox: Once one of the top prospects in all the land, Anderson has struggled since reaching the high minors. It’s too soon to completely write him off — he’ll be 24 later this month — but he’ll need to find his way to a new org to return to relevancy.
Leslie Anderson, Rays: The Cuban defector hit .280-13-64 at Durham this year, but he’ll turn 30 before next season. Then again, the Rays’ only other in-house option is Casey Kotchman, who’s living proof that stranger things have happened.
Ryan Strieby, Tigers: Power and strikeouts are this 26-year-old’s fortes, with 18 HRs, 72 RBIs and 164 Ks at Toledo this year. If you squint, you can see how he might get a few chances in Detroit next year.
Matt Adams, Cardinals: The PC way to describe Adams, 23, would be, er, big-boned (check this video to see him crush a homer). That said, big boy can really hit, having slugged no worse than .541 in any of his three seasons. And his .304-33-99 showing at Springfield this year puts him in position to start next season at Triple-A Memphis, where he’ll be just one level away from St. Louis.
Neftali Soto, Reds: If Yonder Alonso thinks he’s blocked, perhaps he should talk to Soto, who’s moved off the hot corner and settled in at first base. The 22-year-old, who was a supplemental third-round pick in 2007, has 30 bombs and a .904 OPS at Double-A this year — and is approximately the 39th first basemen on the organizational depth chart.
Joe Mahoney, Orioles: Look, this guy probably won’t make anything of himself. Heck, he may not ever even get to the bigs. But he’s a 24-year-old lefty bat who’s hitting a respectable .283/.344/.495 at Bowie right now, so maybe you can tell me who else is currently in the O’s org and might get a crack at the open first base job next year.
Matt Rizzotti, Phillies: Rizzotti, 25, has hit .290/.389/.502 with a career-best 24 HRs at Double-A Reading this year. In a related story, next year marks the start of Ryan Howard‘s 5-year, $125 mill extension. These two facts lead me to two conclusions: 1) Rizzotti will be part of trade discussions the next time Philly needs to get a deal done; and 2) the Phillies are going to regret that contract very, very soon.