With spring training in full swing, fantasy drafts kicking off with regularity, and first pitch of the regular season just around the corner, successfully identifying impact future rookies can be the difference between finishing atop your leagues standings and being an also ran. In order to qualify for the Future Rookies column a player has to meet Baseball America’s definition of a prospect (under 130 at bats, 50 innings or 30 relief appearances). As the season progresses, players who successfully reach the majors and stick will no longer be featured in the weekly column. In the event a prospect is sent back to the minors, he will once again be eligible for coverage until subsequently being summoned back to the parent club. The Spring Training edition of Future Rookies is going to take on a slightly different look than the regular season weekly column, as the players will be broken down and covered by position, so don’t get too comfortable with the layout just yet. With the prefacing out of the way, let’s take a look at this year’s crop of future rookies!
The catcher position features a few names that have already seen time at the major league level in J.P. Arencibia and Hank Conger, as well as a few not too far from notching their first at bats at the ultimate level. The biggest name of the bunch, and much of the talk of the spring, Bryce Harper, is likely a ways away still.
J.P. Arencibia, C, Toronto Blue Jays, 25 years old
Opening up with a bang in his major league debut on August 7, J.P. Arencibia went four-for-five belting two home runs. Unfortunately, it was largely downhill for him from there, sitting often, being demoted to Triple-A and only ultimately tallying one more hit in the majors in 30 more at bats. Last year’s Pacific Coast League MVP looks to be the primary backstop for the Blue Jays this season and has a chance to be a nice source of power from a pretty putrid position beyond the upper echelon. Contact has been a problem at times throughout his young career, as he whiffed 31.4 percent of the time in his limited majors sample and 24.5 percent of the time in Triple-A in 2009. He did, however, make strides last year in Triple-A, whiffing a manageable 20.6 percent of the time, something that lends hope to a passable batting average down the line. For now, he is likely to hit at the bottom of the order and strike out a fair amount while he adjusts, meaning he’s a one trick pony as a source of pop. That said, with so many catchers being no-trick ponies, and Arencibia owning legit 20-plus home run power, he has a good chance at being useful this year, even in single catcher medium size league formats. Those with an unexciting catcher atop their fantasy team’s depth chart would be well served to roster Arencibia on their benches and see how he fares early in the year.
Hank Conger, C, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 23 years old
Hank Conger graduated to the major league level last season and should start this season there for the Angels as the primary backup catcher behind Jeff Mathis. Unfortunately, history shows us that Mike Scioscia has a loyalty to Mathis as his primary backstop thanks to his defensive skills behind the plate (and in spite of his lack of any offensive skills), and Conger isn’t likely to have much of a fantasy impact to redraft owners this year unless injury befalls Mathis once again. Because of strong contact skills and a discerning eye, Conger is a solid bet to post a useful batting average, and because he has enough pop and physical maturing to do, 5-20 home run seasons should be in his future. In two catcher deep formats, Conger is worth keeping tabs on; in one catcher formats, he can largely be ignored.
Bryce Harper, C/OF, Washington Nationals, 18 years old
The first thing you’ll notice with Bryce Harper is that he doesn’t have a table! Well, that’s because this is going to be Harper’s first professional season of baseball. The former Sports Illustrated cover boy has done a fantastic job in acclimating himself to the pro game of baseball, both ripping the ball in the Arizona Fall League to the tune of .343/.410/.629 and producing thus far in spring training. Unlikely to see the majors this year, and most likely next, this will sadly be the only time Harper will be classified amongst the catchers, as he’ll be making the transition to the outfield this year. Baseball America recently graded Harper as an 80 prospect on the 20-to-80 scale, making the young phenom a must own in all deep keeper and dynasty formats. Those in redraft leagues can enjoy watching his ascent through the minors, but have no need to concern yourselves with owning him in fantasy.
Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds, 22 years old
Last year saw Devin Mesoraco make four minor league stops that culminated in Triple-A for the Louisville Bats. Take a look at that OPS column and it’s easy to see reason for excitement when it comes to Mesoraco’s fantasy prospects. Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan remain on the Reds roster, so Mesoraco should see further seasoning in Triple-A to start the year. If he’s able to continue to pound the ball, last year’s National League Central Champion Reds may give consideration to calling him up this year to help further bolster a rather potent offense. He could be a mid-season promotion away from being a useful fantasy catcher in deep formats, so keep a close eye on how he performs to start the year. He’s off to a blistering start in spring training, posting a slash of .500/.692/.462 with one home run in his first 13 at bats, so he’s almost certainly gotten the attention of the parent club and Dusty Baker.
Jesus Montero, C, New York Yankees, 21 years old
Jesus Montero has a legitimate chance at being the type of impact bat in 2011 that Buster Posey and Carlos Santana, before succumbing to injury, were in 2010. The bat has never come into question for the 21 year old, just his competency in fielding the catcher position. Thankfully for Montero, the Yankees have had no previous reservations in having an oven-mitt-wearing catcher behind the plate (see Posada, Jorge) if his bat is able to make up for his deficiencies. The most likely landing spots in the Yankees lineup this season for Montero are catcher, currently occupied by Russell Martin, and designated hitter, occupied by the aforementioned Jorge Posada. Being that the back end of the Yankees rotation is a mess, and they are going to need all the offense they can muster in order to make a playoff run, it will be hard to turn their backs on Montero if he continues to rip the International League apart limb from limb. Injuries to either Martin or Posada would expedite the process of him seeing his first major league at bats, but I suspect even without injury Montero will see his first big league action come June or July. Those in all size leagues are being put on notice, if you have any type of bench flexibility at all, Montero is a must draft and stash.
Wilin Rosario, C, Colorado Rockies, 22 years old
Moving up in level last season from High Single-A to Double-A and the Rockies long term answer at catcher (sorry Chris Iannetta), Wilin Rosario put on quite the display of power, posting a .267 ISO and making strides in his walk rate (4.5 percent walk rate in 2009 to 7.1 percent in 2010) and strikeout rate (27.1 percent strikeout rate in 2009 to 21.1 percent in 2010). Seeing that his season ended early last season when he tore his ACL in August, Rosario should start the season in Triple-A when he’s healthy, and if he’s able to refine his game behind the plate while continuing to rake, could even see a promotion late in the season. Rosario isn’t likely to make an impact in redraft leagues this year, short of a hot September promotion of course, but is a worthwhile investment in deep keeper and dynasty leagues. This time next year I suspect we’ll be talking about Wilin Rosario in a similar fashion to how we’re talking about Jesus Montero.
First base is home to some serious sluggers in fantasy baseball, so cracking the upper echelon is an elusive feat. That said, the players to be featured in Future Rookies this week certainly have a chance to be fantasy contributors, as two of the first baseman have already tasted their first cup of coffee at the big league level.
Yonder Alonso, 1B, Cincinnati Reds, 23 years old
Putting together a solid year in the upper minors, the Reds promoted Yonder Alonso by season’s end and allowed him the opportunity to rack up 29 at bats. Drafted for his bat, Alonso offers next to nothing with his glove, and while the Reds used him some in left field and experimented with him at third base last spring, it is quite evident he is a first baseman and a first baseman only. What that means is barring injury, he’ll be the starting first baseman for the Louisville Bats once again this year, and a possible bench bat or trade chip over the summer. A move out of Cincinnati would do wonders for Alonso’s opportunity to see playing time at the big league level, but could hurt his potential power output, as Great American Ballpark is one of the friendlier home ballparks for hitting home runs. Regardless, he has proven himself at the minor league level and has the potential to hit for a high average and develop power as he matures. Not a likely contributor even in the deepest of leagues even at the CI position unless that power comes along faster than expected, Alonso still worth monitoring given his age (23, and will be turning 24 in April, so the power could come along) and his advanced knowledge of the strike zone.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants, 22
The Giants deserve a great deal of praise for plucking Brandon Belt out of the draft in the fifth round and reworking his stance to get the most out of him. In his pro debut, Belt was able to shoot from High Single-A all the way to Triple-A without skipping a beat. He carried his strong season over to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .372/.427/.616, and is on the verge of reaching the majors in short order. Likely to open the season in Triple-A — much like Buster Posey did last year, for further seasoning — he should be on the Giants active roster early in the season. His power grades out to above average, but not a plus tool, so 20-25 home runs (or that pace upon promotion) should be about right once he gets his legs under him. His real strength will lie in his batting average and on-base skills. His high walk rate and ability to make consistent line drive contact lend themselves well to him posting an average north of .300 and an OBP north of .400 during his peak years. Since he is a smart base runner, though not a burner as one would expect by the position he mans, he does have a good chance at hovering around double digit stolen base totals during his youthful years. His total package profiles well as a starting CI in deep leagues, and while expecting him to do a Buster Posey impersonation upon promotion might be a little much, it isn’t entirely out of the question either.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves, 21 years old
Sweet swinging 21-year-old lefty Freddie Freeman is in position to open the season as the starting first baseman for the Atlanta Braves. At such a young age, that’s quite the accomplishment, but it means he’ll likely have some bumps along the way as well. More of a doubles hitter now, he does have solid raw power that should lead to 20-plus home run seasons as he matures and adds loft to his swing. His ability to make solid contact was evident in Triple-A, helping lead to a tremendous .319 batting average and strongly suggesting the ability to hit over .300 at the major league level once he gets through the learning curve that comes with being new to the big leagues. With a fairly talented lineup in place, there is no pressure on the Braves, or Freeman, to hit in the heart of the order, so he’ll slot nicely in the bottom third and getting his feet wet initially. The counting stats won’t be there immediately hitting at the bottom of the order, but with a solid line drive swing that makes ample contact, the average should be and a home run total of 15-20 is attainable. A CI option with upside in the short term, Freeman is probably not the best option to count on as your starting first baseman in any mixed leagues until he’s able to move up the pecking order in the lineup.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City, 21 years old
Arguably the highest ceiling talent of the bunch mentioned at first base, Eric Hosmer also is the furthest away. After Hosmer had a lackluster 2009 campaign, LASIK surgery was apparently just what the doctor ordered (bad pun intended); he strung together a monstrous 2010 season split between High Single-A and Double-A. His batting and power tools both rate as plus-tools, and the seeds of something special are definitely there with this young man. A power hitting prospect with the abilities to hit for average, draw a walk and not rack up jaw-dropping strikeout totals, he is a long term heart-of-the-order bat that leads a talented and deep Royals farm system. While it’s easy to make fun of Dayton Moore’s “process,” he’s certainly put together an impressive cast of minor leaguers. Hosmer will either begin the season in Double-A, or if the Royals choose to be really aggressive with him, open at Triple-A. Since the Royals won’t be in the thick of a playoff hunt this season, it isn’t likely Hosmer will see any at bats outside of a possible September call-up (at best). He bares mentioning here because he is a true blue chip prospect who is of great interest in deep keeper and dynasty formats, and a potential September spark plug if he’s able to rake in the minors all year.
Josh is a recent college graduate from SUNY Cortland where he majored in Sport Management. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad.
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