Profile: Cespedes has some great tools that scouts look for in an incoming prospect. He’s got power, speed, and decent defensive ability (if he moves to the corner outfield). Problem is, Cespedes is already 26 years old, so he’ll need to contribute almost immediately to make his probably massive contract worthwhile. The prevailing thought is that the Cuban import may need just a couple of months in the minors to get back in the swing of things before making his way to the big time. It’s hard to put a faithful projection together for a player with no MLB or MiLB experience, but owners could expect double-digit homers and steals, but his batting average may not be higher than .260. Hopefully, for whatever team signs him, Cespedes will be better known for his play on the field then the videos his marketing team comprised of 15-year-olds produced. (Zach Sanders)
Quick Opinion: Cespedes is going to get some hype when he debuts, but he’s not going to be a fantasy superstar. He’s a better pick in keeper leagues where you can afford to wait a year and give him an adjustment period.
Profile: Spare a thought for Hisashi Iwakuma. Ready to make the leap to MLB after a solid 10-year career in Japan, his team posted him following the 2010 season. After attracting a generous bid from the normally frugal Oakland Athletics, Iwakuma and agent Don Nomura had a contentious and somewhat bizarre negotiation that ultimately failed to result in a contract. Back in Japan for 2011, his manager left him out for a couple of lengthy appearances early in the season, including a 147-pitch whopper in April, and he wound up missing two months with a sore shoulder. When he returned he was effective, but his velocity was noticeably down. Finally a free agent after the 2011 season, he wound up with a one-year deal for a fraction of the dollars he turned down from Oakland, although it wasn’t a purely financial decision. At his best, “Kuma” is a ground-ball machine, relying on a plus splitter, but also mixing in an average fastball and slider. In his healthy years he’s shown stamina, reaching the 200-inning mark a couple of times. Iwakuma has taken care to choose an environment he will be comfortable in, and if he’s healthy the value he provides the Mariners should easily exceed his base compensation. (Patrick Newman)
Quick Opinion: Accomplished Japanese righty Iwakuma finally makes it to the majors, with added question marks.
Profile: Wei-Yin Chen is a bit of a rarity: a non-Japanese prospect that has emerged out of the Japanese league and is now moving to America at a relatively young age (26) with some upside left to explore. Chen signed with the Chunichi Dragons out of Taiwan as an 18 year-old, and after struggling with injuries early on, broke out as a star in 2009 with a 1.54 over 164 innings. Batting average on balls in play was Chen’s friend that year, as it helped out at a rate of .231, but his stuff truly was electric. At his best, Chen throws a 93-95 MPH fastball and hard, biting slider, both rarities for left-handed starters active in Japan. While he hasn’t put up numbers as dazzling in the subsequent two seasons, he has continued to pitch effectively. The BABIP gods have continued to smile on Chen, with rates of .268 and .248. While his results have remained very good since that standout 2009 season, Chen’s stuff is a little flatter and a little softer. He’s experimented with additional breaking pitches, most frequently a curveball, a forkball, and a changeup, but hasn’t established a third pitch. Optimistically, perhaps he’ll benefit from a little additional polish and an MLB conditioning program, and perhaps the challenge of playing in the American League East will inspire Chen to raise his game. In any event, it’s hard not to like the potential for Baltimore. They’ve added a 26 year-old lefty with a live arm to their roster, and the opportunity to break him in as an big leaguer on a rebuilding club. (Patrick Newman)
Quick Opinion: Chen brings an uncommon blend of youth, stuff, and left-handed-ness to Baltimore. But he’ll need to raise his game in order to be a fantasy option in most leagues.
Profile: You gotta hand it to Kawasaki. He made his singular offseason goal very public on the first day of free agency, when he held a press conference to state that he would only play for the Mariners. And it worked, at least well enough to get him a Minor League deal and camp invite with the M’s. The allure of the Emerald City is, of course, the presence of his friend and idol Ichiro. His role with the team will remain to be seen, but he profiles best as a utility infielder/pinch runner. Look for him to contribute with his glove, slap a few singles and swipe a base or two. (Patrick Newman)
Quick Opinion: It was Mariners or bust for Ichiro’s buddy Mune-rin. So far, bust has been avoided.
Profile: It’s easy to paint a bleak picture of Tsuyoshi Wada as an MLB prospect. 86 MLB fastball? Bleak. Not really a workhorse in Japan? That doesn’t help. Pitching in the AL East? Also bleak. Never even gets to face the Orioles? Yep. That’s like four bleaks already. But there’s some stuff to balance all that out. Wada is lefthanded. He compensates for his lack of fastball firepower with polish and command of a slider and a changeup. He’s fared well against NPB competition, and improved over the years. And to use a cliche, he “knows how to pitch.” So there is a little hope. Wada signed with the Orioles because he’s hell-bent on remaining a starter in MLB, and the O’s have a rotation spot to give him. He’ll get his spot, but establishing himself will be an uphill battle. Innings are usually the first thing to go when starting pitchers move from NPB to MLB, so look for him to drop to the 130-150 innings pitched range. Assuming his pitchability balances out his lack of fastball velocity, his upside is probably something at or just below league-average rate stats. So if things go according to plan, he’ll be a number five man. (Patrick Newman)
Quick Opinion: Wada brings polish and a sub-par fastball to Baltimore.
Profile: What a difference a year makes. Had Aoki managed to make the MLB jump following the 2010 season, you’d probably be reading a list of superlatives. That list would include his contact abilities and speed, which helped him hit .344 or better four times between 2005 and 2010; his line drive pop and routine ability to slug around .500; and his excellent range in the outfield. He probably would have even drawn some cautious Ichiro comparisons. Fast forward a year. Aoki is MLB-bound with the Brewers, but a down year in 2011 has largely replaced those superlatives with questions. The new, offense-choking Japanese ball introduced last year hurt most hitters, particularly smaller, more contact-oriented guys like Aoki. To his credit, Aoki acquitted himself better than most, but his slash line still fell from .358/.435/.509 to a career worst .292/.360/.358. That power decline is particularly concerning, as it took him until July to hit his first home run, and his doubles count fell from 44 to 18. The glass-half-full view on Aoki is that he still managed to get on base at a respectable clip, and his power was destined to drop in MLB; we’ve merely confirmed it. He’s still a speedy contact hitter who will play play a rangey outfield and swipe a base or two. Maybe he’ll even surprise with a return to form. Even if he doesn’t, Aoki was a nice buy-low opportunity for the Brew Crew and should find a way to contribute in 2012, especially if/when Ryan Braun misses time. (Patrick Newman)
Quick Opinion: Aoki finally realizes long-held MLB aspirations after the worst year of his career. Milwaukee buys low; will they reap returns?
Profile: The hurling Darvish Yu have here will be the subject of headline puns all year, but will he be the whirling dervish you need? It’s easy to look back with pessimism at most of the previous Japanese imports, but even in totum, they represent a small sample. Is there even a great comp among them? Hideo Nomo was great for a little while, but Darvish has more gas. Daisuke Matsuzaka was mostly a flop, but Yu’s career ERA- in Japan was .569 compared to Matsuzaka’s .769 — Darvish was better. Kei Igawa was a bust, but Darvish is six-foot-five and coming off a five-year run of domination that Igawa couldn’t sniff in elevator shoes. His fastball hit 97 and sat 94 last year, which would be elite velocity even in America. He threw a lot of innings, like most Japanese pitchers, but never hit the mammoth pitch counts that “Dice-K” did and could be seen as having more bullets remaining. Lastly, while he does use as many as five or six different pitches in games, he relies on his fastball and two separate sliders for about three-quarters of his work. And they’re legitimate pitches that stood up to the global competition in the World Baseball Classic. If you’re worried about the new home park, that’s a legitimate worry, but Darvish also had a ground-ball rate over 50% in Japan. Generally considered to be one of the smarter front offices in baseball, the Rangers group decided he was worth a nine-figure investment. In fantasy, recognize the risk, but pay for him like he was a number two starter, and you might just get a cheaper ace. (Eno Sarris)
Quick Opinion: Who is Yu? Yu is the newest Japanese import, a rock star of a pitcher with two sliders and a sub-two ERA in the NPB. Will it translate to the Major Leagues? That’s a tougher question.
Profile: The 24-year-old lefty would require injuries to or trades involving several of the Rays’ numbers six/seven starters before he becomes a candidate for a rotation spot, but when he does, he could easily be a solid contributor. Buried in a deep Rays pitching system, Torres could likely be on the 25-man roster for half the MLB, but in Tampa Bay, his strong 2011 season (3.51 FIP in Triple-A) puts him in the middle of the pack. (Bradley Woodrum)
Quick Opinion: He is blocked from serious playing time, but he should easily muster a mid-to-high threes ERA in spot starts and call-up time.
Profile: Once considered the prize of the Matt Garza trade, Archer has continued to struggle with his control, walking 13% of Double-A batters while striking out only 19% in 2011. He made it to Triple-A in 2011 for the first time in his career, looking strong in two starts, but he will need at least another season in Durham before entering consideration for a rotation spot. If and when the Rays trade or part ways with David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, and Jeff Niemann (which might all come relatively close together), Archer could be a top candidate for finding a rotation spot. (Bradley Woodrum)
Quick Opinion: In the Rays system, Archer is only a decent prospect. If he can get control of his walks in Triple-A, he might could fight for more than just call-up duty in 2012, but not much more.
Profile: About half of what is written in the Brad Peacock profile applies to Milone, as well. A brief recap: Milone probably wouldn’t have been a starter in D.C; then he was traded (along with others) to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez; now he has a pretty good chance of starting to begin the season. Milone stands apart, though, for the considerable gap between his gaudy minor-league stats and his equally mediocre stuff. Over his last two seasons — one in Double-A, the other in Triple-A — Milone has struck out 25.0% of opposing batters while walking just 3.2%. Meanwhile, Milone’s fastball sits at about 87-89 mph. It’s certainly possible to function as a left-handed major-leaguer starter in that range (see Chrises Capuano and Narveson), but it’s unlikely that Milone’s strikeout-to-walk ratio will make the leap from the minor to major leagues. A K/9 of something like 5.5 or 6.0 is much more likely than the ca. 9.0 K/9 Milone posted in his most recent minor-league season. (Carson Cistulli)
Quick Opinion: With the move to Oakland from D.C., Milone will have a much better opportunity to make his way into a starting rotation. He displayed excellent command in the minors, but a lack of velocity likely means considerably more modest strikeout-to-walk numbers.
Profile: In 2011, Dodgers pitcher Allen Webster continued his meteoric rise as one of the organization’s top prospects after converting from shorstop. With a fastball up to 96 MPH and a more advanced feel for off-speed pitches than one would expect based on his being new to the mound, Webster has the projection of a number two or three starter if things break right. Should he add 20-30 pounds to his slight frame, Webster’s fastball could stabilize in the mid-90’s, while allowing him to better utilize his lower half to alleviate stress from a slightly short arm action. With the addition of multiple starters to the Dodgers rotation, Webster is too far down the depth chart for single season fantasy leagues. However, he’s a solid add in both keeper and dynasty leagues and playing in the National League West will only help his long term value. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Still developing, but not far behind Nathan Eovaldi, Webster is a dark horse candidate to log significant innings for the Dodgers in 2012.
Profile: Entering the 2011 draft, the Mariners’ Danny Hultzen was regarded as a “safe” pick with limited upside potential by the masses. After showcasing his talents in the Arizona Fall League, prospect analysts are coming around and conceding Hultzen may prove more valuable than originally given credit for. From the left side, Hultzen’s fastball can sit at 94-95 MPH for multiple innings with heavy movement and excellent deception which gives the perception of even more velocity out of his hand. Pair this with a plus changeup and a slider which flashes above average and what’s left is a top flight starting pitching prospect who should complete for a rotation spot at some point in 2012, if not out of spring training. By spring 2013, Hultzen should be in Seattle to stay. Based on command and home ballpark alone, feel comfortable owning Hultzen from day one in all fantasy formats and he’s a particularly strong play in keeper and dynasty leagues. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Seattle’s Danny Hultzen is likely ready for a rotation spot out of spring training and should quickly become one of the better starting pitchers in the American League West.
Profile: Adams’ status got a whole lot more interesting right around the time the guy who was expected to be ahead of him on the depth chart for, oh, the next 10 years or so decided to bolt from the only org he’d ever known. But Albert Pujols’ departure begat a path for the 23-year-old Adams to wedge his way into the Cardinals’ future. (And given his 6’3”, 230-pound frame, “wedge” is, well, fitting.) While the depth chart had heretofore been an enemy to Adams, opposing pitchers have never been able to put up much resistance. The lefty slugger owns a .316/.365/.552 career slash line in making his way through Double-A. Doubters still worry about the body and whether Adams’ hit tool will hold up at the higher levels, but another year like 2011 — when he hit .300/.357/.566 with 32 home runs and 101 RBIs to win Texas League MVP — and Adams could be ready to take over for Pujo—er, Lance Berkman by 2013. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: After conquering Double-A, Adams will bring his thunderstick to Memphis. He needs a good 300-400 at-bats there, but if Berkman backslides in 2012, Adams could get a post-All-Star break call. He’s one prospect whose stock got a major boost in keeper leagues without him having to do anything over the winter.
Profile: Arcia, 20, got off to a hot start at Low-A and then missed two months with an elbow injury and struggled when the Twins bumped him to High-A, where the biggest cause for concern was a dip in his discipline (11% walk rate and 20% strikeout rate to 4% and 23%, respectively). He’s still a legit keeper with plenty of pop who fits the profile of a corner outfielder, but his approach needs some tinkering. Good thing he has about three years in the minors to figure that out. (Jason Catania)
Profile: After leading Minor League baseball in RBI for the 2011 season, Rockies third base prospect Nolan Arenado took the Arizona Fall League by storm, cementing himself as one of the better hitting prospects around. With strong contact skills, developing power and improved command of the strike zone, Arenado is putting any questions about holes in his offensive game to rest, while physical maturity and repetition at third base has greatly improved his chances of remaining at the hot corner. In Colorado, the Rockies have seemingly added a number of third base options in the hope one can simply bridge the gap to their future at the position. With no plate appearances above A-level baseball, Arenado needs time at the upper levels, but is in line for a September call up should he develop as anticipated. In keeper and dynasty leagues, Arenado is a great addition in all formats immediately. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Now regarded as one of the better pure hitting prospects in baseball, Nolan Arenado has a clear path to Colorado and is the unchallenged third baseman of the future for the Rockies.
Profile: Aumont, 23, had a shot to become Philly’s closer of the future before Jonathan Papelbon came aboard. So the 6’7” Canadian righty will have to settle for being a setup man for the foreseeable future. Still, in single-league formats, there’s always value to high-strikeout (9.6 career strikeout rate) relievers who can notch some holds. The control needs to shape up (4.7 walks per nine), but Aumont should debut early in 2012. (Jason Catania)
Profile: Entering 2011, expectations for the Yankees’ Manny Banuelos seemed a bit unreasonable as it’s easy to forget the young lefty is only 20 years old. In the spring, Banuelos flashed a mid-90’s fastball, curveball and potential plus changeup reaching Triple-A and setting a career high for innings pitched in the process. However, Banuelos’ command continued to slip as he averaged nearly five walks per nine innings. Additionally, his 129.2 innings pitched was encouraging, but falls short of being ready for the workload of a starter at the big league level. With a number of older starting pitching prospects straddling Triple-A and New York, the organization has no need to rush Banuelos. He’ll have the opportunity to continue harnessing his impressive arsenal in Triple-A. He is likely to debut in 2012, but it might be out of the bullpen as he approaches his innings cap. This leaves Banuelos with little single season fantasy value, but he’s a strong keeper and dynasty league play going forward. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: After a strong but inconsistent 2011, Banuelos remains the top pitching prospect in the New York Yankees organization.
Profile: The number three overall pick by Arizona in the 2011 MLB Draft, Bauer not only projects to be a beast, he might be one very soon. The 6’1” righty out of UCLA tore up the college ranks, going 13-2 with a 1.25 ERA, an NCAA-leading 203 whiffs and nine consecutive complete games to close out his junior year. Then after signing a few weeks before the August deadline, he proceeded to show how dominant his mid-90s heat and nasty breaking stuff can be, with a 15.1 strikeout rate over seven starts across High- and Double-A. Although his ERA (5.96) and WHIP (1.52) were ugly, they can be chalked up almost entirely to one awful outing (10 earned runs in just 1.2 innings) that ended what was a very long year of pitching for the 21-year-old. As an undersized, hard-throwing college right-hander with a funky delivery, Bauer has been compared to Tim Lincecum. Apt or not, Bauer could make an impact in the majors nearly as quickly as Lincecum did after the Giants drafted him in June of 2006, gave him 13 Minor League starts, then unleashed him upon the world the following May. While that exact blueprint is likely pushing things a bit for Bauer, he’s capable of making such a rapid ascension. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Putting Bauer back in Double-A to start 2012 would be the reasonable course of action for the D-backs, who may give him a long look in the spring. That way, he can get himself into a rhythm and gear up for a potential debut at some point, especially since the fifth spot in the rotation isn’t locked up. A must-have in all keepers.
Profile: Being drafted number one overall has been more curse than blessing for Tampa Bay Rays shortstop prospect Tim Beckham. With a solid but unspectacular skill set including above-average speed and average power and contact skills, Beckham will enter the 2012 season as a 22-year old with Triple-A experience at a time when weak-hitting Reid Brignac is the only player standing between him and the starting shortstop job. With that said, Hak-Ju Lee holds the title of best middle infield prospect in the Rays organization which may lead to Beckham’s reign being short-lived. In the end, look for Beckham to slide over the second base to accommodate Lee which will damage his prospect value. In redraft leagues, an injury to Brignac would potentially open the door for immediate playing time. However, with close to league average production at every Minor League level, little is to be expected from Beckham as he transitions to the American League East. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: After disappointing as the first overall pick, Tim Beckham has made marginal improvements at every level as he creeps towards Tampa.
Profile: Aside from having one of the best last names around, Boxberger is also a pretty good relief pitcher. A supplemental-rounder in 2009 by the Reds, the 23-year-old was included as part of the package Cincinnati sent to San Diego to complete the Mat Latos deal in December. Boxberger was the least known of that four-player haul, but all that means is he could be a potential fantasy sleeper. The hard-throwing righty is nearly ready to pitch in the bigs in 2012 after he dominated Double- and Triple-A hitters last year, posting a 2.03 ERA, .97 WHIP and a silly 13.5 strikeouts per nine. Formerly a starter, Boxberger’s two-pitch mix (mid-90s fastball and power curve) plays much better in the pen, where he should settle into a late-inning role. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Boxberger has closer potential if he can improve his control (4.1 walk rate, career) and moving to Petco will do him some good. With Padres new closer Huston Street contracted for 2012 with a 2013 option, Boxberger could debut during the first half of the season with an eye toward taking over the role the following year.
Profile: A tremendous start to the 2011 season against inferior competition allowed Bryce Brentz to pad his overall stat line prior to a mid-season promotion. Old for the High-A level, the right-fielder still posted excellent power numbers, but his strikeouts spiked illuminating a major chink in the armor. In all, Brentz posted a .306/.365/.574 line and will begin the 2012 season in Double-A in the hope of challenging for the relatively vacant right field job in Boston. After scouting Brentz in person, one contact labeled him an “extra guy” with the ceiling of a second division starter should he cut down on the strikeouts. It’s not as if the overall skill set is poor per say, it’s more a case of nothing beyond his power potential — and even that is inflated — stand out as particularly strong tools. Pass on Brentz in all but the deepest of keeper and dynasty league formats. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Bryce Brentz beat up on lesser competition in 2011 padding a stat line which covers up the fact he profiles as more of a fourth outfielder or second-division starter for the Boston Red Sox.
Profile: One of the Padres’ top prospects entering 2011, the 23-year-old Castro’s status has taken a hit in the past 12 months. The big (6’5”) righty struggled so badly at Triple-A (37 hits, 18 walks and 29 earned runs over 25.2 innings) that he was demoted, only to stumble at Double-A — a level he’d had no trouble with previously. Now with the Cubs, he has an open path to the Major Leagues if he can get it together. (Jason Catania)
Profile: Cole, a 20-year-old righty, was surprisingly hittable (8.8 hits per nine) in A-ball, which inflated his ERA (4.04). But the 2010 fourth-rounder also flashed his number two starter potential, whiffing 10.9 per nine, walking just 2.4/9 and allowing only 6 home runs –- good for a 2.53 FIP. Still two years away at least, Cole is one to target in dynasty formats. (Jason Catania)
Profile: Makeup and character matter for baseball prospects, especially when they are working their way through the minors and learning at new levels of competition. However, when that is the first thing that is mentioned about a high draft pick, it makes one wonder. Christian Colon has drawn raves for his leadership and work ethic, and seemingly has no trouble complimenting himself on those attributes. If only the Royals first-round pick had actually, say, hit so far in the Minor Leagues. He may have been pushed a bit as a 22 year-old in Double-A in 2011, but .257/.325/.342 in a hitter’s park in a hitter’s league is less- than-encouraging for a first-round pick no matter how you look at it. He is playing shortstop now, but that position is filled by “plus-plus-plus” gloveman Alcides Escobar, and most watchers think he is better suited to second base, anyway. There have been whispers of “utility man” about Colon, but he does have very good contact skills, at least. There is still hope, but he’s going to have to actually start doing something with all that contact in 2012 if he is really going to be the Royals middle infielder of the future. Until then, don’t waste a pick on him. (Matt Klaassen)
Quick Opinion: Colon was supposed to be a “high floor” pick in 2010 to fill the Royals spot at second base soon. That could still happen, but two years into his Minor League career, he hasn’t really hit at all.
Profile: One of the key returns in the Hunter Pence trade, Cosart split his 2011 between High-A (in the Phillies org) and Double-A (as an Astro). The 21-year-old righty continued to show a live arm with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a pitchability for his age that makes scouts drool. His stats, though, left a bit to be desired, as the 2008 draftee posted a 4.12 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and just 6.3 strikeouts per nine. The whiff rate was the biggest issue, since it had been over nine in his first two seasons, but he has the stuff to generate more strikeouts. Most important was a full year of health (26 starts) and development after Cosart had managed only 19 starts previously. The possibility remains that he becomes a shutdown reliever rather than a rotation stalwart, but the Astros will give him every opportunity to reach his potential as a number two starter. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: A return to Double-A at the outset of 2012 is likely, given that Cosart only made seven starts there last year. If he can stay healthy and bump up the strikeout rate, he could debut soon after turning 23 in May of 2013. For keeper leaguers, the Astros’ move to the American League won’t do Cosart any favors, but he’s still a nice piece.
Profile: The 2010 first-rounder is a long way out, having just spent all of 2011 in rookie ball where he hit a promising .283/.345/.420. The 19-year-old is a switch-hitter who remains a bit under the radar to this point, but he could rocket up top prospect lists if he has a productive 2012 in his first taste of full-season play. (Jason Catania)
Profile: Cox was considered the most polished college bat coming heading into the 2010 draft, and he’s proven that consensus right so far. By the age of 22 he already made his way to Double-A, where he slashed .293/.355/.432 in 2011, after making quick work of High-A (.335/.380/.439). The lefty-swinging Cox doesn’t have ideal power for the hot corner, but he does barrel balls consistently, which should allow him to hit for a high average, gap power and plenty of doubles. A few 20-homer seasons in his peak years wouldn’t be surprising, though, once he finally forces his way onto the Cardinals (who sometimes wait a while to call up their third baseman, you might have heard). (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Cox should start 2012 back in Double-A Springfield, with a mid-year promotion to Triple-A likely and a September call-up a possibility, too. It will be interesting to see how the organization handles what could be a good problem to have with both Cox and World Series MVP David Freese manning the same position.
Profile: They just keep coming for the Royals. Cuthbert’s numbers are not all that impressive until you realize he was only 18 last season. He’s currently a third baseman, but even if he can stick there, with Mike Moustakas just breaking into the big leagues, the Royals have no reason to rush him. A lot can happen in terms of player development and body changes between now and then, so who knows where he can end up. Unless you are in a long-term keeper league, he probably is not a concern of yours, but his name is definitely one to remember in the next couple of years as he moves through the Royals system. (Matt Klaassen)
Quick Opinion: Cuthbert is another impressive young player in the Kansas City system. However, he is very far away from the majors and should only be on the draft radar in very long-term keeper leagues.
Profile: Fully recovered from a 2010 injury which ruined a great start to the season, Blue Jays catching prospect Travis D’Arnaud exploded in Double-A last year, cementing himself as one of the top two catching prospects in the game. An excellent athlete, he projects for both power and average with enough defense to project as a potential all-star through is peak years. The one remaining rough area for D’Arnaud is in the area of plate discipline as he strikes out out a tad too much while not walking enough. Current Jays catcher and former first round pick J.P. Arencibia had sexy home run totals, but D’Arnaud’s balanced set of skills should prove more valuable to the Toronto organization in time. In single season leagues, D’Arnaud may back his way into some late season value, but he’s a real asset in keeper and dynasty league formats where strong offensive catchers are few and far between. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: One of the top two catching prospects in the game, D’Arnaud has the potential to post all-star seasons behind the dish.
Profile: The left-handed De Los Santos was easily the most impressive pitcher — by the numbers, at least — in the Arizona Fall League, striking out circa 32% of opposing batters. He’s a candidate to make an appearance later in the 2012 season — in relief, if nothing else.
Profile: The pitching prospect equivalent to a surgeon, Padres prospect Robbie Erlin had a fantastic 2011 as he continued to buzzsaw his path to the big leagues. A key piece of the Mike Adams trade to Texas, Erlin profiled as a solid mid-rotation starter prior to the deal, but now finds his value even greater now that he’s likely to begin his career in the best pitchers’ environment in baseball. A fly ball pitcher, PETCO should help conceal his shortcomings and allow him to attack opposing hitters with pinpoint command of a fastball with a tick-above-average velocity, biting curveball and changeup with excellent fade. From day one, Erlin should provide immediate fantasy value in his home starts and maybe more. He’s also a solid own in keeper and dynasty league formats where he is unlikely to ever be a star, but should provide a great many quality starts and consistent all-around contributions. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: PETCO plus elite command should allow the Padres’ Robbie Erlin to be a solid big league contributor as soon as he receives the call to San Diego.
Profile: Franklin became a popular prospect after going 20-20 with a .283 average in Low-A during 2010. Any time a player capable of handling shortstop puts up those kind of digits, it’s worth taking notice. Whether Franklin, 21, can stick at short, though, is a point of debate going forward. But with fellow former first-round pick Dustin Ackley locked in at second base, Franklin will get every opportunity to show he can. His 2011 season wasn’t quite as impressive — .281/.352/.418 with 7 home runs and 18 stolen bases — but the switch-hitter played in just 85 games at High-A due to various injuries, including receiving a bat to the head during batting practice. He recovered well enough to hit .325 over 21 games at Double-A, and then participated in the Arizona Fall League to round out the year. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Franklin has an intriguing combo of pop and speed for the middle infield, but he’ll need to focus on his so-so defense in the high minors to really pay off for keeper league owners. As a shortstop, Franklin will be quite a valuable piece, but if he has to shift elsewhere on the diamond, his bat will struggle to play up.
Profile: Gindl continues to hit well at every level he reaches, but the 23-year-old has yet to have that one breakout season which sets him apart. Gindl’s 115 wRC+ in Triple-A was just a five-point increase over his performance at Double-A the year prior, and he continues to do everything well but nothing exceptionally so. From contact rate to walk rate to power, everything is average to just a touch better. He is the classic tweener outfielder, with a bat that would play excellently in center but a glove that simply won’t cut it. He could be a useful bench player in Milwaukee in 2012, however, particularly if Ryan Braun indeed misses 50 games due to suspension. (Jack Moore)
Quick Opinion: Gindl could be an option with the Brewers should Ryan Braun lose the beginning of the season to suspension, but he is a classic tweener, lacking the glove for center nor the bat for a corner.
Profile: A switch-hitting catcher who can handle the bat is a highly-coveted commodity in both fantasy and real life. No surprise, then, that the Padres jumped at the chance to land Grandal, 23, over the winter in the Matt Latos trade. The Reds’ 2010 first-rounder had a very impressive first full season, hitting .305/.401/.500 with 31 doubles and 14 home runs while posting a 13% walk rate across three levels. Yes, Grandal actually made it all the way up to Triple-A at the very end of 2011, and he could start out there as he embarks on his first year in the Padres organization, but considering he still has some work to do on the defensive side, it wouldn’t hurt for him to return to Double-A first. If he proves he can stick at catcher, his bat will make him one of the better ones in the majors. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: There are a few catching prospects who might be more valuable in keeper and dynasty leagues — Jesus Montero, Devin Mesoraco and Travis d’Arnaud come to mind — but Grandal could enter that class if he repeats his 2011 performance. The only negative? Leaving hitter-haven Great American for spacious Petco.
Profile: One of the top college arms heading into his junior season at Vanderbilt, Gray didn’t disappoint (12-4, 2.43 ERA, 9.4 strikeouts per nine), and the A’s took the right-hander at No. 18 last June. Gray’s occasional bouts with shaky control (3.9 walk rate across his sophomore and junior campaigns) and lack of prototypical size (5’11”, 200) have raised questions about whether he may be best suited to being a shutdown setup man or closer rather than a mid-rotation arm. But Oakland is going to give the 22-year-old every chance to prove he can do the job every five days, and his initiation into pro ball went well, as he allowed just 19 hits and two earned runs, while posting a 20:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 22 innings, primarily at Double-A. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Compared to some of the other first-round pitchers who went ahead of him, Gray doesn’t quite stack up in terms of stuff and projection, but he is close to the big leagues. He’ll start next year at Double-A, and while a franchise that isn’t expecting to contend any time soon shouldn’t rush him, Gray will be ready by early 2013.
Profile: No field player improved his prospect status more than Grossman during this year’s Arizona Fall League, as the outfielder finished among the league’s leaders in strikeout rate, walk rate, and home-run rate. Unfortunately, a broken hamate ended his AFL run. He may not be a factor at the MLB level in 2012, but is only 22 and has a nice base of skills. (Carson Cistulli)
Profile: A second-round pick in 2010, it didn’t take long for Gyorko to hit his way into the elite among Minor League prospects. All the 23-year-old did? Lead the minors with 192 hits and win batting titles in both the High-A California League (.365) and Arizona Fall League (.437). For the season, he slashed .333/.400/.552 with 25 home runs and 114 RBIs while making it all the way up to Double-A in his first full year. He also impressed the Padres enough that they freed up third base for him long-term by moving erstwhile hot corner prospect James Darnell to the outfield. Even if Petco saps some of his power, there’s plenty of extra-base ability in his bat — he smacked 47 doubles last year, too — and he’s got the approach to hit for a solid average year-in, year-out. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: The Padres could continue to push Gyorko with a Triple-A assignment to start the season, but returning him to San Antonio for a few months wouldn’t hurt. Incumbent third baseman Chase Headley is nearing trade bait status as he starts into his arbitration years, and Gyorko is the natural replacement. NL-only keeper league owners should be on call.
Profile: Hague is neither an elite prospect nor a prototypical starting first baseman, but the 26-year-old is coming off his best season (.309/.372/.457) and — how to put this nicely? — doesn’t exactly play for a first-division org. Even if the Pirates manage to bring in a veteran, Hague will get a look come spring. His power won’t excite (.442 career slugging), but his eye (9% walk rate vs. 12% strikeout rate) should be enough to make him at least a useful part-timer. NL-only owners, take stock and act accordingly. (Jason Catania)
Profile: To put it simply, Bryce Harper is as good, if not better, than the hype he has received. After an aggressive push to Double-A as an 18-year old, Harper struggled, but rebounded in the Arizona Fall League posting strong enough numbers that the Nationals plan to leave the door open for him to win a Major League job in the spring. And while that may seem a tad rushed, Harper scouts like a buzzsaw whose combination of brute strength, athleticism, high baseball IQ and drive forces one to view him as an older, more mature player. Now 19, his ceiling is literally unlimited in spite of the sensationalized character assassination pieces of the past year which might lead one to believe Harper is immature enough to raise red flags. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are 1A and 1B in terms of prospects one would want to own in all fantasy formats. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Despite Double-A struggles, Bryce Harper is developing on schedule. He projects as one of the game’s true superstars for many years to come.
Profile: The number seven overall pick in 2010, Harvey proved he was worthy of such a lofty selection in his first pro season. The 23-year-old North Carolina product started at High-A (2.37 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.9 strikeouts per nine in 76 innings) before a mid-year promotion to Double-A Binghamton, where he found the going a little tougher (4.53, 1.36) but still maintained an elite whiff rate (9.7/9) over nearly 60 innings. The 6’4” right-hander throws in the mid-90s and profiles as a legitimate number two starter if he can tighten up his offspeed offerings. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: A return to Double-A would be best for Harvey, who has an advanced feel for pitching but needs time to put everything together. The Mets don’t need to rush him, and it should be fun to see what Harvey and newly-acquired fellow righty Zack Wheeler do together atop the Binghamton rotation this year.
Profile: The 2008 first-rounder has yet to play more than 97 games in a season, but he hits well when healthy, as his .269/.366/.463 career slash stats indicate. Second base has long been a problem spot for the Mets, and Havens has the ability to stop the musical chairs. The org might push him to Triple-A to start 2012, with the hopes that he can perform — and stay healthy – enough to make his debut by midseason. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Already 25, Havens needs to make up for all the time he’s lost to injury. NL-only owners should keep tabs on Haven’s status anyway.
Profile: At an age when most American teens are denting Mom or Dad’s car, Heredia skipped the Dominican Summer League and impressed in the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League. The long and lean righty, signed for a club-record $2.6 million out of Mexico in 2010, whiffed 23 and walked 19 in 30.1 carefully monitored innings (he went more than three frames in just one start). Clocked 92-93 MPH early on, Heredia reached the mid-90s at times and showed hints of harnessing a plus curveball and changeup. He’ll likely open 2012 in extended spring training and then head to Short-Season State College, glacially building up his innings total and refining his secondary pitches. With so much talent yet so little experience, Heredia could be anything from an ace to a tier-one closer to the next Michael Ynoa. (David Golebiewski)
Quick Opinion: Heredia’s control needs work, he is eons away from the majors and the Pirates will rightfully treat him with kid gloves, but the 17-year-old is a must-watch prospect with front-line starter stuff.
Profile: Minnesota’s first-round pick (No. 14 overall) in 2008, Hicks has been one of the most enigmatic prospects in recent years. He’s proven to be a divisive player in the ongoing scouts-versus-stats debate because the 22-year-old switch-hitter is as tooled-up as it gets but has yet to have any kind of breakout — let alone advance above High-A through his first four years. Consider: He has pop, but hasn’t hit more than eight home runs at any one level; he has speed, but hasn’t swiped more than 21 bases; and he can handle the bat well enough, but hasn’t hit above .279 since batting .318 in Rookie ball. Worse, he regressed in 2011, slashing just .242/.354/.368. At this point, his best offensive tool is his eye, thanks to a 15% walk rate. His best overall tool, though, might be his arm. In fact, some think the Twins should consider converting Hicks to pitcher — he sat in the low-90s when he was drafted out of high school — if he doesn’t show significant progress in 2012. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: This year could be make-or-break for Hicks. He’s still plenty young for the light switch to click on, but if he repeats a low level in the minors again — he played at low-A in both 2009 and 2010 — and can’t cut it, his future will go from hope to nope. That makes him a risky gamble for dynasty owners.
Profile: Drew Hutchison spent time in Class A, High-A, and Double-A ball in 2011, eventually finishing the season with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, where he’s slated to open the 2012 season. But the Drew Hutchison hype machine has begun to work its magic. Witness: Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos was quoted in on January 10, 2012 as saying, “I expect he’s going to be a factor for us in 2012. He’s going to come quick because he’s got great command and he’s got very good stuff and composure.” Anthopoulos speaks the truth about Hutchison’s stuff, and command: In 149.1 innings across three leagues in 2011, Hutchinson struck out 171 batters, while walking only 35. More from Anthopoulos: “I’m probably as excited [about Hutchison] as I am about any of the young arms that we have.” Because of the pitching depth Toronto has accumulated, and because Hutchison’s likely going to be starting the 2012 season in Double-A, you likely won’t end up drafting him. But here’s another young pitcher in the Toronto system that you’re going to want to keep your eye on. (Navin Vaswani)
Quick Opinion: Hutchison is another live arm working his way through the Toronto Blue Jays system. He was downright dominant in 2011, with stops in Class A and High-A ball, and an impressive 21 strikeouts in 15 innings with Double-A New Hampshire. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos says Hutchison could “come quick” to Toronto in 2012. Likely not worthy of a draft pick just yet, but certainly worthy of your attention.
Profile: The former No. 1 draft pick dominated the minors once again in 2011, somehow maintaining a .400 batting average on balls in play in his half-season at Triple-A. In his Minor League career, he has yet to hit lower than 120 wRC+ as a starter. The Cubs need to trade either Alfonso Soriano or Marlon Byrd to open a spot for Jackson’s bat, but when he does reach the majors, he should offer a healthy complement of speed (20+ steals) and power (15+ homers). He just needs to cut down on the strikeouts or the batting average won’t be pretty. (Bradley Woodrum)
Quick Opinion: If Byrd or Soriano depart, Jackson should have the first crack at offering the Cubs 20+ steals and 15+ homers with the potential to hit 25+ some day.
Profile: A 2010 supplemental pick, Jenkins is tall and sinewy at 6’4”, 180. Still just 19, he has room to grow, which could add a few ticks to the low- to mid-90s heater he used to hold his own in the Rookie-level Appalachian League (3.86 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.8 strikeouts per nine). He’s at least three or four years away, making him strictly a dynasty league target. (Jason Catania)
Profile: After a second consecutive season in which Padres prospect Casey Kelly failed to break out, expectations have been lowered a bit for the young right-hander who enters 2012 with more than 235 Double-A innings under his belt. Likely slated for Triple-A, Kelly will see his workload bumped up a bit in anticipation of a late-season call up with an opportunity to solidify a spot in the Padres starting rotation as soon as 2013. When he’s on, Kelly pairs a low-90’s sinking fastball with a curveball and changeup which profile as above average and flash plus at times. It’s a package which leaves scouts wondering why Kelly is not producing at a higher level on the field. In single-season fantasy leagues, Kelly is likely a year away from relevance, but makes for a safe play in keeper and dynasty league formats as PETCO will help hide his flaws. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Despite disappointing stat lines, Casey Kelly’s command and home ballpark provide value even if his stuff doesn’t progress as quickly as once envisioned.
Profile: The prize of the Matt Garza trade, Lee profiles as a potential All-Star shortstop in the making with above average defense, noticeable speed, and growing power. His age (21) may cause the Rays to leave him in the minors for the full 2012 season, but if he can impress enough in Spring Training, the Rays may elect to have him skip Triple-A in favor of helping an otherwise uninspiring shortstop situation at the majors. He should get some Major League plate appearances by the end of the year though. (Bradley Woodrum)
Quick Opinion: If he can outshine Tim Beckham, Reid Brignac, and Sean Rodriguez in Spring Training, he could potentially bring 25+ steals and a .350 OBP skill to Tampa Bay’s shortstop spot.
Profile: A two-sport star who had a commitment to play quarterback at LSU, Lee instead chose to sign with the Dodgers for a franchise-record $5.25 million draft bonus after being the No. 28 selection in 2010. The righty went on to pitch well in the low-A Midwest League, putting up a 3.47 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 7.5 strikeouts per nine. Lee is the type of pitching prospect who could go from so-so to oh-so good once everything clicks. Still only 20 years old, he has a very projectable 6’4”, 190-pound frame and is very fluid and athletic — being a top football recruit and all — which should help him hone his full arsenal of pitches as he climbs the organizational ladder on his way to becoming a potential number two starter. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Lee is a good two years out, but he’s one to own in dynasty leagues because his pedigree and competitiveness will make for an innings-eating horse. Pitching half his games at Dodger Stadium is also never a bad thing.
Profile: It’s easy to dream on Machado. The third overall pick in 2010 is just 19 years old, sports all five tools and has a good shot to stick at short. Save for a knee injury that cost him about a month, his full-season debut went as well as can be expected, considering the Orioles pushed him all the way up to High-A. Overall, the righty-swinging Machado slashed .257/.335/.421 and notched 11 home runs and 11 stolen bases. He also showed good discipline with a 10% walk rate and 17% whiff rate. Baltimore doesn’t seem to be afraid to fast-track Machado, but a more deliberate approach would really let him come into his own as quite possibly the Next Big Thing at shortstop. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Just getting to High-A at 18 was a lot to ask of Machado, so he’ll repeat the level and should probably spend all of 2012 there. Even though he’s not likely to reach Baltimore for another two to three years, Machado is a Top 10 prospect — and number one at shortstop — whose fantasy value in keeper/dynasty play is worth drooling over.
Profile: Like fellow St. Louis pitching prospect, Martinez is a power-armed right-hander who throws in the upper-90s. However, the 20-year-old Dominican is much more slight at 6’0”, 165 pounds, leading some to believe he profiles better as a closer who can regularly hit triple digits while working in shorter stints than as a potential front-end starter. But that’s a decision that can be delayed until Martinez gets closer to the show, especially since he showed enough promise while pitching out of the rotation in 2011. Kept to a strict innings limit, Martinez finished with a 3.93 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 10.4 strikeouts per nine over 84.2 innings, with all of his struggles coming at the High-A after he cut up the Midwest League. Coming off an ugly 5.9 walk rate at Palm Beach, he’ll have to improve his command and control as he continues to climb. The arm is scary-good, but whether he can make the necessary adjustments and develop a quality breaking ball/changeup will be determine his ultimate role. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Another go-round at High-A is in the offing, because that’s where Martinez encountered his first taste of reality (5.28 ERA, 1.72 WHIP). A good two-to-three years out, Martinez is one of the sexier — and riskier — options in dynasty leagues, given that he could be anything from a future ace, to a nasty closer or a complete bust.
Profile: Although the 26-year-old Mattison has only played seven games above Double-A, the speedster could be in the mix for Miami’s wide-open centerfield gig during the first half of 2012. A lefty-hitter, Mattison has averaged 43 stolen bases since 2009 and his walk rate jumped to a respectable 10% in 2011. If he proves himself at Triple-A early on, he should be at least a fourth outfielder — and a sleeper steals guy in NL-only play. (Jason Catania)
Profile: On paper, Phillies’ pitching prospect Trevor May looks the part of power pitcher. With gobs of strikeouts and a few too many free passes, he is still refining all aspects of his game. However, one is forced to wonder how his stuff will play at the higher levels as he works up in the zone with a good, but not great fastball paired with an inconsistent curveball which flashes as a big-league pitch. At the lower levels, this mix works quite well against less experienced bats, but makes it difficult to predict long term success at the Major League level. In single-season leagues, May provides little to no value as he’s unlikely to reach Philadelphia in 2012. In keeper and dynasty formats, May is worth owning in keeper leagues, but a shrewd owner would jump at an opportunity to sell high on the big strikeout totals. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: The Phillies’ Trevor May posts gaudy strikeout totals, but the sum of the stuff does not match the stat line.
Profile: Blister problems all but torpedoed Trey McNutt’s 2011 season for the Chicago Cubs organization. And while he continued to flash a mid-90’s fastball and big slider, McNutt’s mechanics were downright ugly at times. For a rebuilding Chicago Cubs organization, McNutt will be given every opportunity to start. However, his power stuff, combined with a nasty demeanor on the mound, may leave him an ideal candidate for a late-inning relief role in the end. Look for him to surface sometime in 2012, but provide little in terms of immediate fantasy value. In keeper and dynasty leagues, he’s an acceptable own, but may be more valuable as a potential closer option than starting pitcher in the end. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: A max effort delivery, blisters and big fastballs leave Trey McNutt an excellent fit for a late inning bullpen role.
Profile: An excellent athlete at the third base position, Boston Red Sox prospect Will Middlebrooks broke out in Double-A as a 22-year old before earning a late season promotion to Triple-A. At the big league level, Middlebrooks projects for above average defense and power. However, poor walk rates and high, but gradually improving, strikeout totals force questions as to whether his approach will work in Boston. And even if it does eventually work, will Middlebrooks’ period of adjustment be too steep for an organization in perennial playoff contention? A healthy Kevin Youkilis would allow Middlebrooks a full season in Triple-A which is probably best for his continued development. Maybe a September call up is in the cards, but expecting him to seize the third base job in Boston in 2012 is premature. In keeper and dynasty league formats, Middebrooks should be rostered, but look to flip him at a high point in his prospect value. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Middlebrooks is a good prospect, but his helium entering 2012 provides an opportunity to sell at peak value.
Profile: A 2009 first-rounder, Miller has flown through the minors so far. He spent most of 2011 at Double-A, where he had only slightly more trouble than he did at High-A. The right-hander’s overall line — 2.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 11.0 strikeouts per nine — showed just how dominant his electric, high-90s heat is. If we’re nitpicking, his control (3.4 walks per nine) could be a tad tighter, but he knows how to keep the ball down (only four home runs allowed in 139.2 innings), so he has the potential to improve in that area. (Miller also needs to avoid any more alcohol-related incidents after being suspended last August for what was allegedly his second such violation of team policy.) With the Rays’ Matt Moore and Braves’ Julio Teheran expected to exhaust their eligibility next year, Miller could enter 2013 as the number one starting prospect in all of baseball. That is, if he doesn’t prove too good for St. Louis to hold back in 2012. Bottom line: A future ace. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: If there’s one hurler who’s yet to pitch above Double-A capable of making a major impact in the middle of the 2012 fantasy landscape, Miller is the guy. The Cards rotation doesn’t have any gaping holes, but if Miller embarrasses Triple-A hitters over the first half, he’ll force the organization – and mixed league owners — to give him a look.
Profile: It wasn’t that long ago that Montgomery was the crown jewel of an up-and-coming Royals system. After Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas went off in 2011 and the system became “historically great,” Montgomery was merely the best pitching prospect in the Best System Ever. Prior to 2011, people thought he was “ready.” Then he started 2011 in Triple-A and promptly flopped with all sorts of problems with his walk rate. Sure, the run environment for the 2011 Pacific Coast League was out-of-control even for that league, but even so, it was a very disappointing year for Montgomery — a touted potential future ace should not be a merely league average pitcher. He is still said to have “ace” potential, and he will only be 23 in 2012. Pitching prospects are particularly volatile, so Montgomery could potentially put it all together and big up in the big leagues by the second half. A more reasonable target is a September call-up. (Matt Klaassen)
Quick Opinion: Montgomery still has ace potential, but after a rough 2011 in Triple-A Omaha he seems unlikely to make much of a Major League impact in 2012.
Profile: What Myers lacks in “Ls” in his first name, he more than makes up for with his bat as one of baseball’s best prospects. His 2011 at Double-A was a bit cool (.254/.353/.393) compared to his red-hot 2010 (.315/.429/.506), but part of that can be attributed to a knee infection that kept him out for a month early on. There’s also the fact that the 21-year-old was busy transitioning from catcher to the outfield last year. Still, Myers, who was a third-round pick in 2009, finished out 2011 on a high note, slashing .360/.481/.674 in the Arizona Fall League. It’s rare that you find a player as young as Myers who has such a good eye — 14% walk rate and 19% strikeout rate in his career so far — and the ability to hit the ball extremely hard with regularity. As long as he makes strides on defense, he could develop into an elite outfield bat. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Myers could hold his own at Triple-A right now, given his approach, but the bet here is the org will want to see him mash at Double-A after he struggled a bit last year. If Myers complies, he could quickly move to the higher level and perhaps make a September debut. Don’t let his so-so 2011 fool you: He’s for real.
Profile: Shoulder surgery ended Nieuwenhuis’ season in June, which was a shame because he was continuing to outperform expectations (.298/.403/.505 at Triple-A) on his rise through the Mets’ system. The 24-year-old looks the part of a solid fourth outfielder, with the ability to play all three spots while doing a little of everything on offense (including sriking out too much). More of an in-season add for NL-only owners than a keeper, Captain Kirk should make it to Flushing at some point in 2012, as long as his recovery goes smoothly. (Jason Catania)
Profile: Norris is a bit of an enigma. Once considered an bat-first catcher, he’s now become a solid defender whose hit tool might prevent him from being a big-league regular. The 23-year-old is still showing very good power (20-plus home runs two of the past three years) and an elite eye (19% walk rate), but his batting average has dropped from .286 to .235 to a bottom-falling-out .210 last year (albeit with a ridiculously low .251 batting average on balls in play). There’s still time for Norris to figure it out and stop whiffing so much (28% strikeout rate in 2011), especially now that the Athletics don’t have to rush him with Kurt Suzuki behind the dish. At least Norris isn’t blocked long term any more in his new organization. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: After moving him up one level at a time, Norris might repeat Double-A to begin 2011 so he can work on fixing holes in his swing. Because of his defense, power and on-base ability -– his career MiLB OBP is .403 despite a measly .249 batting average –- the hope is he’ll be a Chris Iannetta type, which would make him valuable in keeper leagues.
Profile: A key piece in the trade which sent center fielder Michael Bourn to Atlanta, Brett Oberholtzer enters 2012 with a punchers’ chance at a Major League call up at some point during the season. Working in Oberholtzer’s favor is the fact he has already crossed the 150 innings pitched plateau in the Minor Leagues, has a big league body and is a relatively polished product. However, his ceiling is quite limited — he profiles as a back of the rotation starter who should log plenty of innings behind solid command of an 89-91 MPH fastball, curveball and changeup which ranks as his strongest offering. in 2012, Oberholtzer will have little, if any, fantasy league value in single-year formats even though there’s arguably no rotation weaker than the Houston Astros. Pass in shallow to moderately deep keeper and dynasty leagues, but deem Oberholtzer an acceptable own in the deepest of formats. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Brett Oberholtzer finds himself with ample opportunity to contribute in Houston, but his low ceiling limits his present and future value.
Profile: Stop me if you’re heard this before: a Royals pitching prospect dominates at the pitcher’s haven in High-A Wilmington, then sees his numbers become much less impressive upon promotion. Odorizzi is supposed to represent the “upside” in the trade that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee, and while he has some of that, it is not Greinke-esque. That is not to say that Odorizzi was bad in Double-A, he simply was not that dominating. Unlike other Royals pitching prospects, his control at least remained intact at the new level. He is fly ball pitcher, which might work decently at Kauffman, if and when he arrives there. People mostly see him as a number three pitcher with number two potential, which is nice, but he is a pitching prospect who, barring an unforeseen “breakout,” is unlikely to make the big leagues on a permanent basis until 2013 at the earliest. Bid accordingly. (Matt Klaasen)
Quick Opinion: Despite some struggles after being promoted to Double-A, Odorizzi is still a good pitching prospect. However, he is unlikely to have any fantasy impact before 2013.
Profile: Acquired from the Blue Jays in the 2010 Yunel Escobar trade, Pastornicky is just about ready to provide some return on that deal for Atlanta. He doesn’t possess any plus tools, but he’s a grinder who gets the most out of his ability and has managed to perform capably despite being young for each level on his way up. Last year was his best yet, as he slashed .314/.359/.414 across Double- and Triple-A while also swiping 27 bases. He has some sting in his bat, and he knows how to make contact (13% strikeout career), so he might be able to hold down a starting shortstop job in the bigs if he can continue to improve and make adjustments on offense and defense. His stolen base prowess will be his biggest asset in fantasy. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: After the team said adios to Alex Gonzalez, Pastornicky became the best in-house answer for the Braves’ 2012 shortstop gig entering the offseason. At 22 and with just 27 games above Double-A, Pastornicky is being rushed a bit, so his transition could be rough, but NL owners can’t overlook a potential starting shortstop.
Profile: Paxton’s path has been a bit unconventional — he pitched in independent ball after not signing with the Blue Jays as a 2009 supplemental-rounder, then was drafted by the Mariners in 2010’s fourth round — but he made up for the circuitous route and lost time by dominating last year. The southpaw breezed through his first 56 pro innings in the Low-A Midwest League (2.73 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 12.9 strikeouts per nine), Seattle jumped the 23-year-old to Double-A, where he pitched even better (1.85, 1.05, 11.8 over 39 innings). Paxton is a big guy (6’4”, 220) who throws very hard but sometimes has control issues (4.1 walk rate last year), so the range of possibilities for him is rather wide: He could become the best of Seattle’s three top pitching prospects — Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen are the other two — or he could become a shutdown reliever with closer potential. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: While Paxton will probably start out 2012 in the high minors, he could debut during the first half of the season. Seattle should give him every chance to start, but he could break into the majors in a relief role before transitioning to the rotation. An under-the-radar impact arm for next year, with long-term keeper potential, to boot.
Profile: In 2011, Brewers’ pitching prospect Wily Peralta broke out at the upper levels en route to 157 strikeouts in 150.2 innings pitched. Behind a mid-90’s fastball, developing slider and changeup, Peralta’s success has led to his being first in line for a starting rotation spot if the need arises. However, his conditioning is an issue and needs to be closely monitored. Peralta features fluid arm action and strong downward plane on his pitches, but the additional weight affected his balance and caused him to leave the ball up a bit too often. At present, he projects as a starting pitcher, but his ceiling will be determined by his physical conditioning. In single season leagues he may have some second half value as a pitcher capable of tallying decent strikeout numbers in a weak division. However, Peralta is a much better play in keeper and dynasty formats where he can be owned for multiple years. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: First in line for a rotation spot should the Brewers’ starting five falter, Wily Peralta has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter if he can keep his weight in check.
Profile: At 20, Perez has already been among the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball for a while. His overall Minor League career stats aren’t the prettiest (4.22 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 8.6 strikeouts per nine), but he’s made a habit of first floundering then finding his way at each new level. To wit, in 2011, he proved he could get the job done at Double-A (3.16, 1.31, 8.5) after he’d bit it hard there in 2010; then he moved up to Triple-A mid-season and — you guessed it — didn’t look so hot (6.43, 1.88, 6.8). Part of the reason for his initial issues is that he’s so young, yet the org continues to push him up the ladder. That he’s able to make adjustments instead of being overwhelmed speaks to his competitiveness and, ultimately, his stuff. Not a big guy (6’0”, 178), the native Venezuelan sits in the low-90s and makes good use of his best weapon: the changeup. Perez should settle in as a middle-of-the-rotation arm, at least, and if he can overcome his bouts with loss of control (3.7 career walk rate), there’s a chance he can be a number two. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Perez will begin 2012 back in the minors’ top league, and if he continues his trend of figuring things out, a second-half promotion to Texas is possible. His fantasy value in keeper leagues is still mighty high, but the prospect of pitching half his games at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark won’t do his owners any favors.
Profile: The best true shortstop prospect in baseball, the Texas Rangers’ Jurickson Profar is the complete package, projecting for significant offensive and defensive value. In game action, Profar displays strong contact skills, developing power, plus arm strength and fluid movement. Additionally, his baseball IQ and professional approach draw rave reviews. Profar’s only drawback is foot speed which currently profiles as slightly above average and may regress further as he matures. However, positioning and attention to detail on the bases should be more than enough for Profar to excel on defense and steal double-digit bases or more per season at the big league level. Profar is still a couple of years away so talk of Andrus as a roadblock is premature as these things tend to work themselves out in time. In single-season fantasy formats, Profar will be relevant by 2014 and is a surefire add in all keeper and dynasty league formats right now. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: The Rangers’ Jurickson Profar is the best shortstop prospect in baseball, although he’s a unlikely to contribute at the big league level before 2014.
Profile: Rangers’ pitching prospect Neil Ramirez backed into a rotation spot on the Triple-A roster and seized the opportunity in bringing his prospect value back from the dead. Minor arm troubles slowed his progress, but Ramirez’ 2011 was a smashing success with a repeat performance in 2012 likely leading to a spot on the big-league pitching staff. Armed with a fastball Ramirez can work into the mid-90’s, a biting curveball and improved changeup, his stuff fits the starter profile although Ramirez failed to come anywhere close to his career high of 140.1 innings pitched accumulated in 2010. His walk rate also increased significantly over the previous season and he will need to sharpen his command prior to reaching Arlington. If the Rangers pen falters badly, his power arsenal would be an asset in the near term. Ramirez is a tough sell in single season leagues, but is now a solid add in keeper and dynasty league formats. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: No pitching prospect recovered more value than Neil Ramirez in 2011 as he now profiles well in a variety of big-league roles.
Profile: Imagine Kila Ka’aihue with Billy Butler’s glove, minus the walks, and you pretty much have Clint Robinson. That is not to say that Kila Ka’aihue would not have done better (and may still) with more time in the majors, and maybe Clint Robinson can, too. But there is no place for him to play in Kansas City, as he can barely play first base at an acceptable level and that position is taken. He has only killed the ball in hitters’ leagues, so take the numbers with a grain of salt. He has never been especially young for his levels, either. Worth checking in on if Eric Hosmer or Billy Butler get hurt, or if he gets traded, but Robinson looks like even more of a Quad-A player than Kila Ka’aihue did. (Matt Klaassen)
Quick Opinion: Remember how everyone clamored for Kila Ka’iahue to get a chance in the big leagues? Robinson is a poor man’s Kila.
Profile: In some respects, Sano had one of the most impressive seasons of all prospects in 2011. Yet, in others, the 18-year-old Dominican showed just how much he still has to work on. He destroyed the Rookie-level Appalachian League by hitting .292, slugging .637 and bashing 20 homers (second-most to fellow Twins farmhand Eddie Rosario) in just 66 games. But Sano also struck out at a 27% rate — scary-high considering the level of competition — and showed that not only does he have no chance to stick at shortstop (11 errors in 16 games there), he may even have to move off third base (15 errors in 48 games) soon, too. Because he’s already so massive — he’s listed at 6’3”, 195 but is bigger — his ultimate destination may wind up being first base or even DH. His first-rate power will play there, but his overall value obviously takes a hit with such a move. Sano is likely to continue putting up monster numbers in home runs — and strikeouts — but the key will be whether he can adapt and adjust as he jumps up each level. There is plenty to dream on — and just as much to that could go wrong. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: There’s no reason to rush Sano, so an assignment to the Low-A Midwest League makes sense and should also be a good measuring stick. He’s probably at least three, if not four, years away, so he’s only a factor in dynasty play, but Sano will be very high on prospect lists and could be one worth waiting for, even if he’s not a shorstop.
Profile: Scheppers was actually on the verge of getting to the majors during the Rangers’ stretch run heading into the playoffs in 2010, but the right-hander has fallen on some hard times since. He’s had some nagging injuries, and the organization has shuttled him between the rotation and the bullpen, which also hasn’t helped. His 2011 at Double- and Triple-A was just so-so (3.71 ERA despite a 1.42 WHIP), and his 9.1 strikeout and 4.3 walk rate tell the tale: Scheppers has a live arm but too often battles his control. Plus, his delivery isn’t exactly effortless, all of which adds up to the conclusion that he clearly needs to be a power reliever. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Already 25 and having started just one game last year, Scheppers doesn’t have as much juice in his fantasy value as he once did. He might be able to salvage that if he can work his way into being a closer, but if not, then he’s not going to help keeper leaguers all that much. He should finally, though, get to Texas in 2012.
Profile: Schoop had a semi-breakout in 2011. The 20-year-old Curacao native hit .290/.349/.432 in his first taste of full-season ball across Single-A and High-A. He did a bit of everything, including hit for power (42 extra-base knocks), run (12 stolen bases) and play all over the field (second, short and third). The interesting twist here, though, is how the Orioles as an organization will handle both Schoop and Manny Machado, the gem of their system, who saw action in the same infield last year, despite each playing shortstop primarily prior to the season. Going forward, it seems likely that Schoop will move to second — he saw 63 games there at High-A, where Machado was his double play partner — which could be a good fit for his athletic frame and offensive profile. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: After playing half a season at the higher level in 2011, Schoop could start at Double-A if the O’s want to keep both him and Machado at short for now. But a less short-sighted approach (i.e., repeating High-A) would be prudent for Schoop’s overall development, especially if it means shifting him to the keystone permanently.
Profile: After finally staying healthy during his breakout 2010, the 22-year-old Segura once again succumbed to the injury fairy, playing just 44 games at High-A. A dynamic speedster with pop that will play at an up-the-middle position, he’s still a couple years away and his long-term value in dynasty leagues depends on staying healthy enough to develop — and whether he can stick at shortstop. (Jason Catania)
Profile: After a disappointing 2011, Houston Astros first base prospect Jonathan Singleton has lost some of his initial luster. Once regarded as untouchable by the Phillies, Singleton’s power has not developed as planned since exploding onto the national prospect scene with a monumental power binge as a member of the Lakewood of the South Atlantic League. Additionally, plans to move Singleton to left field flopped, leaving first base as his only realistic defensive home going forward. On the positive side, Singleton is still extremely young for his level of competition so his numbers are much more impressive when viewed through that lens. Additionally, his excellent plate discipline remains a strong base to build an offensive game around. With a big league debut of 2013 or later, Singleton is not an option in single season fantasy leagues, but his value is a bit deflated entering 2012 which provides ample opportunity to scoop Singleton in keeper and dynasty league formats. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Still one of the better first base prospects in baseball, Singleton may enter the 2012 season a tad underrated.
Profile: A player to be named later in the 2010 deal that sent Dan Haren from the D-backs to the Los Angeles Angels, Skaggs came into his own in 2011. The 20-year-old southpaw finished fourth in the minors with 198 whiffs (11.3 strikeouts per nine), while also sporting a mighty-fine 2.96 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 158.1 innings across High- and Double-A. Even better, the 2009 supplemental-round selection actually pitched better in almost every category imaginable at the higher level. Skaggs’ fastball sits in the low-90s, and he makes good use of his out-pitch hammer and in-progress change, showing good command of all three (2.6 career walk rate). He’s got the stuff to pitch at the top of a rotation, but that might be tough with Ian Kennedy, Dan Hudson and Trevor Cahill already in Arizona and 2011 first-rounders Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley lurking. Still, Skaggs is the only lefty of the bunch, so the D-backs may move him to the head of the class. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Although Skaggs was dominant at Mobile, it was only 10 starts, so a return to Double-A makes sense for an org that’s knee-deep in arms (yes, that’s actually possible) and doesn’t need to rush him. But if Skaggs pitches anything like he did in 2011, a mid-season call could easily happen.
Profile: Taillon’s ERA hovered near four in the pitcher-friendly Low-A South Atlantic League, but his underlying stats and stuff were more indicative of why the Pirates took the Texas right-hander second overall in the 2010 draft. He struck out over a batter per inning (9.4 strikeouts per nine) despite being encouraged to throw his fastball early and often, walked just 2.1 per nine and surrendered 0.9 home runs per nine, giving him a 3.37 FIP in 92.2 innings. Taillon’s heater sat in the mid-90s and came close to triple-digits at times, and he’s got a pair of promising breaking pitches in a 12-to-6 curve and a power slider. He’s advanced for a pitcher who just turned 20 in November, though his changeup needs work and homers could become a concern at higher levels if his ground ball rate remains in the low 40s. Taillon will likely advance to High-Class A Bradenton in 2012, and he could see PNC Park in September of 2013 or early 2014 if all goes well. (David Golebiewski)
Quick Opinion: Taillon isn’t just a top Pirates pitching prospect in that depressing, John VanBenschoten-Sean Burnett sense — he’s a possible number one with Beckett-esque upside.
Profile: The 24-year-old Tolleson should be nicknamed Nintendo because of his video game-like career stats. Through his first two years, the righty sports a 1.01 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 13.3 strikeout rate, 2.1 walk rate and 42 saves. After conquering three levels, including Double-A in 2011, Tolleson should make his way to L.A. midway through 2012, and given the Dodgers’ lack of a proven closer, he could sniff a few opps before the year is out. (Jason Catania)
Profile: As the third overall pick in the 2007 draft, Cubs fans were expecting Josh Vitters to establish himself as a fixture at the hot corner quickly. Nearly five seasons later, the right-handed hitter finds himself close to surfacing, but still flawed and needing to add polish to his offensive game. Additionally, Vitters has struggled enough at third base to where continuing to play there may be problematic enough to force a move across the diamond. Still blessed with strong contact skills and excellent bat speed, there’s still hope for things to click, allowing him to overtake newly acquired Ian Stewart by late 2012. Look for a September audition with an opportunity for him to win the job in 2013 as a 23-year old. In redraft leagues, he should be avoided, but may be a sneaky acquire in keeper leagues if a third baseman is needed. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Ready or not, Josh Vitters and his swing-happy approach should make his Major League debut sometime in 2012.
Profile: Owner of a career .305/.362/.453 slash line, the lefty-swinging Vogt has hit at every stop and is capable of handling left field, first base and even catcher. That last part could make him relevant because the Rays don’t have much behind the plate. If Joe Maddon can find a way to fit Vogt into the mix, there’s a smidge of hope he can also help AL-only owners who start two backstops. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Vogt is this-close to being little more than a career minor leaguer who gets a few cups of joe in the bigs. But the 27-year-old plays for the right organization and the perfect manager to put his offensive skills and defensive versatility to use.
Profile: Over the course of 2011, Walker went from relatively unknown prospect to full-blown stud. In his first full season after being a supplemental first-round pick in 2010, the right-hander toyed with Low-A Midwest League batters as an 18-year-old. With a 2.89 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 10.5 strikeouts per nine over 96.2 innings — not to mention, just 6.4 hits per nine — Walker emerged as one of the premier young pitching talents in baseball. The Mariners have no need to rush him because of the pitching depth throughout the organization, meaning Walker is probably three years from making his debut, but until then expect to start hearing his name a lot more. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Walker, 19, may be the most exciting long-term pitching prospect out there, making him an ideal pick in keeper and dynasty formats once the very top arms are off the board. He’s a possible future number one, and the Safeco factor only adds to his value.
Profile: The 32nd overall pick in 2009, Wheeler disappointed during his first two pro seasons, hitting just over .250 and slugging below .390. But 2011 was a different story for the well-built (6’4”, 205) lefty slugger, as Wheeler destroyed Double-A pitching with a .287/.365/.535 line, while smacking 33 home runs (second-most in the minors) and even swiping 21 bases. At 24, Wheeler is a bit older, which is why the Rockies pushed him up despite his early-career struggles, and that decision is now paying off with Wheeler on the verge of the big leagues. He has a few holes in his swing (21% career strikeout rate), but he also can take a walk when he needs to (10%). For a big guy, Wheeler’s speed and athleticism are also average to slightly above, which allows him to get away with manning centerfield, although he profiles better in the corners. He’ll need to prove he can handle lefties (.723 OPS vs. lefties compared to .986 vs. righties) to avoid being labeled a platooner, but Wheeler should have a long career ahead of him when that didn’t seem to be the case just a year ago. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: After his breakout, Wheeler will start off 2012 in Triple-A and if he succeeds, he could be ready to take over a starting role in Colorado by mid-season. His mix of power and speed will entice keeper leaguers and may even make him Watch List worthy in NL-only formats.
Profile: After being traded to the New York Mets, Zack Wheeler dominated over his last six starts displaying improved control and elite stuff. With a fastball Wheeler can work into the upper-90’s, hard, biting curveball and developing changeup, he has the opportunity to be a number two starter at the Major League level. At 21, Wheeler should open in Double-A with the goals of both carrying over his his late season surge and building up his innings totals. For that reason, he’s likely to spend all of 2012 in the Minor Leagues even though the Mets aren’t exactly chock full of starters in New York. This leaves Wheeler with little value in single season leagues. However, Wheeler is a strong player in keeper and dynasty league formats where he can be owned for multiple seasons. With organization mate Matt Harvey, the Mets very well may have a pair of rotation anchors for years to come. (Mike Newman)
Quick Opinion: Traded to the Mets for two months of Carlos Beltran, Zack Wheeler has raw stuff to make the Giants’ decision haunt them for years to come.
Profile: Wieland, 22, came over with fellow pitching prospect Robbie Erlin in the deadline deal that sent reliever Mike Adams to the Rangers. While Adams is a great addition to any bullpen, the Padres did well for themselves in snagging a pair of legitimate mid-rotation arms who aren’t too far away. The right-handed Wieland throws in the low-90s, has outstanding control (1.6 walks per nine career) and finally put everything together during a breakout 2011. Pitching across High- and Double-A, as well as two different organizations, the 2008 fourth-rounder posted a 1.97 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and a whiff-to-walk rate north of — wait for it — seven to one (to be exact, 150:21). He’s the type of hurler whose stuff and command will play up because of pitcher-friendly Petco. (Jason Catania)
Quick Opinion: Because Wieland had flown under the radar prior to last year, he’s likely to be available in most keeper leagues. While he doesn’t project to be a big strikeout artist, he should be a WHIP-helper as a spot-starter in mixed leagues and a solid option at the back-end of NL-only owners’ fantasy rotations. Expect a mid- to late-2012 debut.
Profile: An athletic player with five-tool potential drafted in 2010’s first round, the 20-year-old Yelich showed plenty of polish for a former prep pick, hitting .312/.388/.484 with 15 home runs and 32 stolen bases in his first year of full-season ball. The lefty-hitter could reach Double-A during 2012, making him a promising keeper. (Jason Catania)
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