10. Yonder Alonso, SD, OF – One of the best first names in the Bigs lived up to his lofty name in his stint with Cincy last summer, to the tune of a .409 wOBA in 98 PAs. Since traded to San Diego as part of the Latos package, Alonso might not see as many balls go over the wall in spacious Petco, but he should have a full-time gig in 2011. He also hits for a good enough average and gets on base often enough (career .299/.354/.479 line) that he could have a sneaky .280/20/80 season in him, in which case he has waiver/late round gold written all over him.
9. Bryce Harper, WAS, OF – Mr. Future HOFer is ranked this low only because of the probability that he doesn’t crack a couple hundred PAs in the majors this year. Remember, he is only 19, Washington has to handle him with kid gloves, and I don’t think he is ahead of the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., who ‘only’ put up a .333 wOBA at that age – and he had a full season of action. I can’t see the Nats having him start out in D.C. in April, as by keeping him down in AAA for a couple months, they keep another year of team control. If Harper makes his debut this summer, it could be very exciting stuff. I personally would not reach for him as a 2012 stud, but would it really surprise anyone if he has a 25/20 rookie campaign in half a season?
8. Devin Mesoraco, CIN, C – Mesoraco could end up being an all-star this year, he could ride the pine 3-4 games a week or be sent down to AAA, or something in between. So it goes with young talented MLB-ready players under Dusty Baker. No question in my mind Mesoraco is the better offensive player compared to Ryan Hannigan but Baker loves his vets, which could hurt the future star this year as far as playing time. However, I have him this high because I believe his play (backed up by his .289/.371/.484 2011 Triple A season) will force Baker’s hand sooner rather than later. He has a real shot at a .270/60/17/65 season, which should place him near the upper echelon of fantasy catchers in 2012.
7. Yoenis Cespedes, OAK, OF – I am not as high on the Cuban import as some, but I do think the ’26 year old rookie’ (I’d take the 26 with a grain of salt) should be quite productive as a starter in the A’s outfield. The track record for Cuban defector position players is a mixed bag – for every Alexei Ramirez and Kendry Morales, there’s a Yuniesky Betancourt and Rey Ordonez – and international players always seem to struggle early on when joining MLB. I have him in the top 10 because he is toolsy, he should start, and because he did show amazing average/power/on base skills last season in Cuba (33 HR, .333 AVG, .424 OBP).
6. Dayan Viciedo, CWS, OF – Speaking of defectors (2008), here is another one at #6. Viciedo should have the RF job to himself this year with the trade of Carlos Quentin, and with his prodigious power potential, should also be a near lock for 20 HRs. He also shouldn’t kill you in AVG, but don’t expect too disciplined an eye at the plate, as he only last year started to be a bit more selective with his swings. He gets my vote over Alonso because of the home park, and over Cespedes because of experience.
5. Yu Darvish, TEX, SP – For $110 million dollars, if I am a Ranger’s fan, this guy needs to be a top 20 pitcher, let alone a top 5 fantasy prospect. But for our purposes, he should be the 2nd best ‘rookie’ pitcher behind Matt Moore, which should translate into a solid, if unspectacular 2012 campaign. The last Japanese pitcher hyped this much was, as we all know, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and we know how that turned out – although his owners did love that 2008 season. I’d let others buy into the hype that he is a top 20 fantasy starter, but he is a great value if he falls around #40.
4. Mike Trout, LAA, OF – Looks like the immensely talented Trout will be the odd man out to start the season in Anaheim, as there currently is no starting OF position available to him. But this is only because the front office is too heavily invested in Vernon “21 million a year for zero WAR” Wells and Torii “negative UZR” Hunter. After a few months tops, the Angels should see the light and get Trout into the starting lineup, where he should be a very good power/speed/runs threat. The skills are there, all he needs is the opportunity. I think there is a solid gap between him and the top 3 because of this, but that could change fast if one of the old men gets hurt/is terrible early.
3. Jesus Montero, SEA, DH/C – the lone holdover from last year’s list, he was only a disappointment from an opportunity standpoint, crushing in his limited ABs in Sept. This year, no excuses for ol’ Jesus; it is put up or shut up time in a starring role in the Great Northwest. The home park is not nearly the bandbox Yankee Stadium is, but his power/average combo and ability to go opposite field should translate anywhere; just temper expectations for a 30 HR rookie season. He will start out in Yahoo leagues as only a UTIL, but should gain catcher eligibility soon after the season starts, as the Mariners seem bent on letting him catch a couple of games a week. I say he puts up pretty handsomely on his way to around a .280/.340/.480 line and potential AL rookie of the year consideration.
2. Matt Moore, TB, SP – He’s the top rookie SP, and I don’t even think it is close. High K rate, solid BB rate, low WHIP, mid-90s heat, good and getting better change-up, a clear track record of dominance at all levels – including 9+ sparkling innings in the bigs last fall – the kid has it all. I don’t see much of an innings cap coming, as he pitched over 160 last year, and he could end up being TB’s ace by mid-season. But even tempering expectations gives you a back end fantasy starter to be proud of. Moore is the real deal.
1. Jason Kipnis, CLE, 2b – Kipnis just barely exceeded the rookie eligibility threshold in 2011 by a whole 6 ABs, but we will make an exception for him here. He had a hell of a debut last summer, hitting 7 HR in 150 PAs, to the tune of a .371 wOBA. While Trout, Darvish, Moore, and Montero may be sexier names for the top spot of best 2012 fantasy prospect, I think Kipnis is the safer bet to provide across the board above average to very good stats in all 5 major fantasy categories, and – bold prediction – ends up being a top 5 2B by season’s end. A .280/80/20/80/20 season is not out of the question.