It’s the final week of our look-ahead to the 2012 fantasy baseball season by highlighting potential impact rookies at each position. Because it’s never too early to begin thinking about next year, even if you’re 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.
Here are the starting pitchers.
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
Matt Moore, Rays
Moore, 22, has been downright unfair ever since vastly improving his control in the second-half of 2010. He split this season between Double- and Triple-A and again posted a K rate of over 12 per 9, which he’s done in each of his five pro campaigns. Add in a 1.92 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and the fact that he actually pitched better after moving up to Durham, and well, there’s plenty to get excited about here. The biggest question facing Moore, who made his big-league debut earlier this month, is how he fits into the Rays’ plans next year. For one, we know the org is infamous for holding back their top prospects as long as possible to avoid starting service time clocks early. For another, Tampa already has five legitimate starting pitchers under contract for 2012 in David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis. The ideal scenario for Moore — and Moore owners — is that the team trades one or two of their arms (Shields? Niemann?) in the offseason to open up a spot for Moore. The risk, though, is that Moore begins the year at Triple-A and only gets a shot upon an injury to one of the regular starters — or perhaps by forcing the issue with his continued awesomeness compared to, say, the underwhelming performance of Davis. Regardless, Moore is a power-armed lefty with three plus pitches who will make more of an impact than anyone else on this list, even if he only gets 15-20 starts to do so. He’s a no-brainer keeper in all leagues.
Trevor Bauer, D-backs
I’ll admit it, I might be higher on Bauer than most other fantasy folk, but I see a power pitcher who can legitimately contribute next year, while pitching in one of baseball’s weaker divisions. The 20-year-old was selected No. 3 overall by the D-backs this past June after a flat-out ridiculous junior year at UCLA: 13-2 with a 1.25 ERA in 16 starts, and his 203 whiffs and 10 complete games both led the nation. While there was some speculation that he could breeze through the minors to help Arizona in their pennant chase this year, that possibility has been shelved. After all, the kid pitched 136 innings for the Bruins and has tacked on another 25 while reaching Double-A since signing. Still, what he’s shown in his seven minor-league starts — 25 2/3 IPs, 27 hits, 43:12 K:BB ratio — is that his collegiate success should translate to the pros. Sure, the 5.96 ERA and 1.52 WHIP are unsightly, but he had dominated until his final outing, which was so bad it absolutely killed his ratios: 1 2/3 IPs, 10 ERs and 8 hits. Not pushing Bauer any more than they did was a good idea for his — and the D-backs’ — long-term success. His assignment for 2012 will play a role in whether he should be knocked down a few pegs here, but assuming he returns to Double-A, he’s got the ability and big-league readiness to make it to Arizona right around Memorial Day. Like Moore, 15-20 starts from Bauer could be enough to make him more valuable to fantasy owners than the pitchers who follow. Once he’s up, he needs to be owned in all leagues.
Jacob Turner, Tigers
Turner is just 20 and has already pitched in the majors. Granted, his pair of outings have been spot starts to give other Tigers pitchers some rest, but it shows you just how highly Detroit’s brass thinks of him. Since going No. 9 overall in 2009, all the right-hander has done is compile a 3.36 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP and a near-4:1 K:BB across four levels, including three starts at Triple-A late this season. The Tigers are a franchise that has not been afraid to push their young pitchers in recent seasons (see: Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello), and Turner is in line to be in their rotation from Opening Day next year, once Brad Penny is disposed of. Turner could probably use another 10-12 Triple-A outings to develop, but he’s good enough to be able to do so at the highest level of competition, too. For me, he’s more of an AL-only or deep mixed-league play in 2012, at least until we see how he fares early on. He’s bound to struggle some, but he’s got the skills to adjust as he starts figuring out major league hitters.
Julio Teheran, Braves
Teheran is widely considered to be No. 1A among pitching prospects, to Moore’s No. 1. The 20-year-old righty has run roughshod over minor leaguers since signing out of Colombia in 2007. After posting a 2.59 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 10.0 K/9 across three levels in 2010, Teheran was just as good at Triple-A this year: 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 7.6 K/9. He’s been inconsistent in his four outings with Atlanta, but that can be attributed to adjusting to the majors, as well as not pitching on any sort of regular turn. The main reason he’s behind Turner is that the Braves’ rotation is full, what with Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe and Brandon Beachy holding down the five starting spots — to say nothing of big-league ready left-hander Mike Minor or fellow righty prospect Randall Delgado (more on him in a bit). Point being, this is an org that is overrun with pitching depth, so unless Lowe can be traded in the offseason (unlikely without Atlanta picking up some of the $15 M he’s due) or Hanson and Jurrjens continue to battle injuries, Teheran is in the odd position of being a top prospect nearly ready to contribute but without a definitive role to do so. Certainly, this situation may work itself out over the winter or as next season progresses, but until then, Teheran isn’t likely to be more than a spot-starter in NL leagues.
Drew Pomeranz, Rockies
Pomeranz, a 22-year-old lefty who was the fifth pick in 2010, was the coup of the Ubaldo Jimenez deal for Colorado. He wasted no time in cutting up Hi-A and Double-A, finishing this year with a 1.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.6 K/9 in just over 100 IPs (He would have thrown a few more innings if not for a late-season appendectomy and his forced inaction while awaiting the trade to be completed on August 16, a year after he signed, as per MLB rules.) With a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a killer curve, Pomeranz has two plus pitches, but he’ll need his developing changeup to improve if he’s going to have immediate success against right-handed hitters at a home park like Coors Field. Still, aside from Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado’s rotation next year is totally up in the air, so Pomeranz is already auditioning for a job this month and will enter spring training with a good shot to make the team. If not, he should be up soon thereafter, making him a nice back-of-the-rotation option for NL owners.
Brad Peacock, Nationals
I covered Peacock in a Mining the Minors column from last month. The right-hander has come a long way in 2011, to the point where he’s now seen as a potential mid-rotation starter. His first start in the majors was very solid — 5 IPs, 2 hits, no runs, 3 walks and 2 strikeouts against the Mets — and he’ll get another outing or two so the Nats can gauge just how soon he’ll fit into their 2012 plans. After posting a 2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 10.9 K/9 over Double- and Triple-A, the guess here is he begins the season back in Syracuse for a month or two before getting his shot. Then again, Washington’s rotation is in flux outside of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan, so a good spring could hasten Peacock’s timeframe. The upside here, though, isn’t quite as big as the names ahead of him, so Peacock is more of a streaming option in NL leagues, with the possibility of becoming a spot-starter once we see how he performs early on.
Jarrod Parker, D-backs
Parker, 22, was a first-rounder back in 2007 who was on the fast track until undergoing TJ surgery two years ago. After missing all of 2010, he struggled a good deal early this season at Double-A, posting a 4.91 ERA and 1.47 WHIP through June. But he showed he was back to his old self again with a 2.64 ERA and 1.08 WHIP from July through September. The biggest things for the righty are that his plus slider and solid control returned. With over 200 IPs at Double-A (both pre- and post-surgery), Parker should make his way to the majors at some point in 2012. The question is whether he or Bauer get their first, though, as there appears to be only one spot up for grabs at the moment. I still think Bauer is the better pitcher for next year, but certainly if Parker seizes the opportunity first, then he’d be the young D-backs ‘spect to own. It’s worth keeping an eye on this sitch over the winter an into spring training.
Nate Eovaldi, Dodgers
A strong-armed righty, Eovaldi, 21, has fared well since being called up from Double-A in August, with a 3.15 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 9 appearances (6 starts). Aside from his performance, the other good news for Eovaldi is that the Dodgers will have some openings next year, especially if free-agent-to-be Hiroki Kuroda doesn’t return. On the other hand, the guy only has 103 innings above A-ball to fall back on, so L.A. may decide to let him marinate some more by spending the first part of 2012 in Triple-A. If he breaks camp with the team, Eovaldi could be a useable starter in deep NL play.
Henderson Alvarez, Blue Jays
The 21-year-old righty out of Venezuela has looked pretty good in his audition for a job next year. His mid-90s fastball and solid change have helped him to a 3.62 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in just under 50 IPs (with his next outing, Alvarez will lose his 2012 rookie eligibility). While his velo hasn’t always translated to whiffs (6.5/9 MiLB career), he harnesses it very well (just 1.7 BB/9). That kind of control will help him survive in the tough AL East, should he get a starting gig out of spring for what is quickly becoming a scary Blue Jays team. Alvarez could indeed be a worthy SP5, or at worst a spot-starter, in deep AL-onlies, where starting pitching comes at a premium.
Wily Peralta, Brewers
Who says the Brewers don’t have any prospects? Peralta, a 22-year-old Dominican righty, had a fabulous 2011, with a 3.17 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 9.4 K/9, topped off by an awesome five-start sting at Triple-A, where he was even better (2.03, 1.03, 11.6). Everything plays off controlling the power fastball for Peralta, who showed a career-best 3.5 BB/9 over a full season. The top four slots in Milwaukee’s rotation are settled for next year, and Chris Narveson has done enough to have to pitch himself out of the final spot, but Peralta is in line to be the first pitcher called up should an opening arise. And he’s good enough to be a streaming option in NL leagues whenever he’s starting.
Wade Miley, D-backs
While Miley, 24, isn’t going to wow anyone, he has the stuff and the left-handedness to carve out a nice career for himself as a back-end starter in the majors. He actually has a bit more upside than, say, Joe Saunders, who may well be one of the pitchers who keeps Miley from being useful in anything other than very deep NL leagues in 2012. That’s because the D-backs rotation is looking quite solidified, thanks to Ian Kennedy, Dan Hudson, Josh Collmenter and Saunders. Now, the final spot could go to Miley in the short term, but really, he would just be keeping the seat warm for either of Bauer or Parker. And with some other young stud arms on the way, Miley’s window of opportunity for next season might close before it ever really opens.
Alex White, Rockies
White, 23, went No. 15 overall in 2009, so there’s good pedigree here. He was the other big get in the Jimenez deal for Colorado, where his power sinker should help generate groundballs and counteract some of the Coors effect. Still, a midseason finger injury suffered shortly after his late-April debut with the Indians kept him out about half the year, which set him back some. Not to mention, he hasn’t looked good since returning: 8.46 ERA, 1.81 WHIP in just under 30 IPs with the Rockies. In that time, he’s also surrendered — get this — 11 bombs, so clearly his sinker isn’t working right now. I’m not completely disregarding him for 2012 just yet, but I do want to see if that injury has impacted the wicked movement he used to get on his fastball. That, combined with pitching in Coors, and White is probably best left on your NL Watch Lists to start next season.
Tom Milone, Nationals
I hit on Milone, 24, a couple months back in Mining the Minors. He’s a finesse lefty with top-of-the-line control (1.5 BB/9 MiLB career) who happened to lead all Triple-A pitchers in WHIP (1.03), while finishing second with 155 K’s. Now, the whiffs might not translate as well to the majors because Milone barely scrapes 90 MPH with his fastball, so he isn’t your typical “stuff” pitcher. But he clearly knows what he’s doing on the mound and how to use hitters’ weaknesses against them. His first four starts with the Nats have been solid — 3.32 ERA, 21 hits, 11:3 K:BB over 21 2/3 IPs — and if he can continue to maintain such a low walk rate, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a useable spot starter in deep NL leagues. Just realize that he comes with more blowup potential than some of these other pitchers.
Liam Hendriks, Twins
A 22-year-old Australian, Hendriks is basically your right-handed version of Milone. He’s thrived in the minors, making it all the way up to Triple-A this year, primarily on the strength of his command and control (1.4 BB/9), which makes him the prototypical Twins pitching prospect. But it’s not as if Hendriks skates by just on his accuracy, as he does have a nice four-pitch mix and can hit the low-90s with his fastball, which he’s shown in his first three big-league starts. Minnesota has a few spots up for grabs next year, and there are likely to be plenty of offseason moves after a disappointing 2011, so Hendriks should get a look during the first half of 2012. It’s worth noting that he’s one of the main beneficiaries of Kyle Gibson‘s TJ surgery that will keep the righty — and the franchise’s top pitching ‘spect — out all of next season.
Michael Fiers, Brewers
I love guys like this. Fiers is a 26-year-old righty drafted in the 22nd round in 2009, so he’s not exactly a prospect. And yet, all the guy has done is pitch extremely well, in multiple roles, at every level. In his three pro campaigns, he owns a 2.50 ERA and 0.98 WHIP while allowing just 6.6 H/9 and whiffing 9.9 per. To top it off, he led the entire minor leagues with a 1.86 ERA this year, while pitching at Double- and Triple-A as both a reliever and a starter. Call me crazy, but his 2011 is a heck of a lot like Brandon Beachy’s 2010. I’m not saying I expect anything close to what Beachy did this year out of Fiers in 2012 — after all, he is 15 months older and only made his debut last week — but clearly, Milwaukee needs to see what he can do next season. Fiers could be a sneaky, under-the-radar NL-only pitcher who begins the year as a reliever then fills in as a starter when needed.
OTHER TRIPLE-A NAMES TO KNOW
Randall Delgado, Braves: The 21-year-old Panamanian is a tier below Teheran on the prospect spectrum, so just how he fits into Atlanta’s already-full rotation is an even bigger question mark. Still, he should get enough spot starts over the course of the year to matter in deep NL leagues.
Manny Banuelos, Yankees: Banuelos, a 20-year-old lefty, had an up (3.75 ERA, 8.7 K/9) and down (1.55 WHIP, 4.9 BB/9) season between Double- and Triple-A. With the Yanks in need of a starter or two, depending on what they do with Bartolo Colon and/or Freddy Garcia — let alone CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause — Banuelos could get a decent look. Ideally, though, he’d get another half-season in the minors to regain his control.
Dellin Betances, Yankees: If Banuelos doesn’t get the first crack at a starting gig among Yanks’ ‘spects, that’s because Betances, 23, will be that guy. But like his prospect mate, this righty needs to hone his power stuff (10.1 K/9 but 5.0 BB/9 in 2011) before he’s really ready to contribute in fantasy.
Martin Perez, Rangers: At 20, this lefty has always been among the youngest, if not the youngest, at his level, which helps to explain why he has undergone some rough adjustment periods as he’s climbed the ladder, like his 5.96 ERA, 1.68 WHIP at Double-A in 2010 or his 6.43 and 1.88 in 10 Triple-A starts at the end of this season. But he more than held his own (3.16, 1.31, 8.5 K/9) during his second go-round at Frisco before the promotion to Round Rock. Chances are, he figures out Triple-A in time to make a late-season appearance in 2012.
Alexander Torres, Rays: Torres, a 23-year-old Venezuelan is as exciting (3.08 ERA, 9.6 K/9 at Durham this year) as he is frustrating (1.48 WHIP, 5.1 BB/9). Being that he’s blocked by other — and better — pitching prospects on the Rays, he may fit best long-term as a reliever, if he can get his command in order. Otherwise, he would make for interesting trade bait.
Chris Archer, Rays: Acquired in the Matt Garza deal, Archer only made two starts at Triple-A this year, in part because he struggled for much of the first half at Montgomery. At 22, he’s a better prospect long-term than Torres, but they have similar control-related issues (5.2 BB/9 MiLB career). Archer and Torres are bound to stumble into a handful of spot starts next year, but their impact will probably be minimal.
Arodys Vizcaino, Braves: The 20-year-old righty has done a commendable job by transitioning from minor league starter to temporary big league reliever while helping out the Braves’ overworked bullpen. Long-term, he’s in the rotation, but again, Atlanta’s is overstocked, so he may return to Double-A to start 2012.
Shelby Miller, Cardinals: A powerful righty who throws in the high-90s, Miller has lived up to his first round (2009) status by dominating Hi- and Double-A hitters this year to the tune of a 2.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 11.0 K/9. He’s arguably the most MLB-ready pitcher yet to reach Triple-A, but the 20-year-old still has some maturing to do, as he was suspended in August for an alleged alcohol-related incident. If he proves he can mow down hitters at Memphis, a second-half call-up will be in line.
Tyler Skaggs, D-backs: Skaggs, 20, finished fourth in the minors with 198 K’s while jumping all the way up to Double-A Mobile, where he had a 2.50 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and an 11.4 K/9 rate in 57 2/3 IPs. With no reason to rush him, though, Arizona can afford to return the lefty to Mobile with an eye on a late-season promotion if all goes well. Otherwise, expect a big impact starting with 2013.
Robbie Erlin, Padres: Another 20-year-old southpaw, Erlin came over to San Diego for Mike Adams. With his elite command — he posted a 154:16 K:BB this year — the 2009 third-rounder is going to be a perfect fit for Petco, perhaps as soon as late 2012.
Joe Wieland, Padres: Wieland was the second arm sent to the Padres for Adams, and like Erlin, he owns impeccable control: 150:21 K:BB across Hi- and Double-A in 2011. The 21-year-old righty is on a similar path to Erlin’s, so we could see both of them auditioning next August or September to be rotation regulars in 2013.
Casey Kelly, Padres: Apparently, I love me some Padres pitchers. In this case, the former Red Sox top prospect who was a main get in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, is a 21-year-old righty taken in the first round of 2008. A former two-way player (he used to be a shortstop), Kelly has focused all of his efforts on the mound the past two seasons. He’s got a good amount of experience at Double-A by now (over 230 IPs), but the performance continues to lag behind the projections, as he improved in his second shot at the level, but still posted an unspectacular 3.98 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 6.6 K/9. He needs to prove he can miss more bats (11.2 and 9.7 H/9 in 2010 and 2011, respectively) before he’s ready to reach the majors.
James Paxton, Mariners: The 22-year-old lefty’s first full pro season went about as well as could be expected, and his 2.37 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 12.4 K/9 somehow went a bit unnoticed. Still with just 39 IPs above A-ball, he’ll have to show he can do it again while starting out 2012 back in Jackson.