Minor League Prospects: Top 12 Hitters in '12

Hello all. My name is Craig Goldstein and I will be contributing to the minor league coverage here at FakeTeams. I am a baseball fanatic and have been following the minor league intensely for about nine years now. I look forward to hearing from you all and will be happy to respond as much as I can from my twitter account: @cdgoldstein or you can catch me via email for longer questions at goldstein.faketeams@gmail.com. I hope you enjoy what I have to say, but look forward to some debate, discussion and constructive (or not) criticism!

My first offering is a top 12 of prospects who will provide fantasy value in 2012. It is NOT an indictment of anyone long term, and is purely focused on the upcoming year. I placed a lot of value on how I perceived someone's playing time working out. I also value what position someone plays and the scarcity of production at that position. Enough about me though...on to the list:

12. Ryan Lavarnway - C - Red Sox - Lavarnway showed us a little of what he could do in a brief callup to the majors last season, belting 2 home runs in only 40 at bats. He didn't hit for much of an average in his cameo but has always managed to do so in the minors. He does have a bit of a long swing and doesn't boast above average bat speed, but has a large frame at 6'4 and 225 lbs and uses to generate plus power as evidenced by his mammoth .317 ISO in Triple-A. He has also produced walk rates in the double digits at every stop in the minors, which should help him produce even when he struggles to hit for average. The resigning of Ortiz certainly was a roadblock for Lavarnway, but Ortiz isn't the sturdiest of players, and he can also spell Saltalamacchia for stretches..

11. Tim Wheeler - OF - Rockies - Wheeler was viewed as a bit of a disappointment after his first two pro seasons, but the Rockies continued to promote him despite mediocre results. It paid off handsomely as Wheeler smashed 33 home runs for Double-A Tulsa in 2011, nearly doubling his career total in the process. While he posted a solid .287 average in 2011, his 22.3% K rate and .329 BABIP (both career highs) imply that he won't be able to do so consistently in the future. While he doesn't quite live up to his name in the speed department, he has swiped more than 20 bags each of the last two years, and could be a decent speed/power source if given the opportunity. Wheeler can play center in a pinch, but is likely to fit in as a corner outfielder long term. I like him for 2012 because the Rockies have quantity more than quality in the outfield outside of Carlos Gonzalez and appear motivated to move Seth Smith.

More of the Top 12 after the jump:

10. Tyler Pastornicky - SS - Braves - Pastornicky is a personal favorite of mine for this season. He came over to the Braves as the third shortstop involved in the Yunel Escobar/Alex Gonzalez deal and posted improved numbers while splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A last season (.314/.359/.414). Pastornicky is by no means the most talented player on this list, but he does have plus speed, and a line drive stroke. He also has an unabated path to playing time which is more than I can say for most everyone else on this list. I also include him on this list because of position scarcity. For those of us in deeper leagues, where the likes of Yuniesky Betancourt can quickly find a home, Pastornicky will be a godsend (or if not a godsend, at least not Yuniesky Betancourt). He is all set to be the Braves starting shortstop, and he could be a cheap source of stolen bases at the end of drafts, without hurting you too much elsewhere.

9. Zack Cozart - SS - Reds - A 2nd round pick in 2007, Cozart was ready to be the Reds starting shortstop for the second half of 2011, before requiring Tommy John surgery to his non-throwing arm to end his season. I think of Cozart as a poor man's Brett Jackson in terms of tools. They're solid across the board, but definitely not as loud as Jackson's. He has only average power with a swing geared toward line drives, and he doesn't show much patience at the plate. Cozart is likely to produce a decent if mostly empty average at the plate this season, with a modest power output. After stealing 30/34 bases in 2010, he only attempted 11 stolen bases in 2011, though he did successfully swipe 9 of them. He should be taken slightly ahead of Pastornicky, but probably within the same range as he'll provide more power but fewer stolen bases.

8. Brett Jackson - CF - Cubs - Jackson causes some friction among scouts as some believe he has an all-star ceiling and others think he falls more in a fourth outfielder mold. Jackson is likely to make his way to the friendly confines this season if for no other reason than his only obstacles being Tyler Colvin and Marlon Byrd. Jackson has consistently displayed good plate awareness, but has coupled that with a strikeout rate that has never dipped below 18.9%, and spiked as high as 29.8% in Triple-A last season. It's those high strikeout rates that are a concern in regards to his ability to hit for average at the major league level, though he has consistently produced strong walk rates in the minors. Jackson doesn't have plus speed but should be able to steal double digit bases over the course of a full season. I like Jackson's chances of reaching the majors this season, and believe that he can have value even if he does struggle with his batting average at time.

7. Anthony Rizzo - 1B - Cubs - A sixth round pick by Boston in 2007, Rizzo has received a lot of ink, first for overcoming cancer and then for becoming the most valuable piece of the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. More recently he was traded to the Chicago Cubs as part of a four player deal, reuniting him with the men who drafted him, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod. Rizzo had an up and down year, with more ups than downs. He absolutely crushed Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .331/.404/.652 slash line, highlighted by his otherworldly .320 isolated power (ISO) and stellar .433 weighted on-base average (wOBA). His downs came in the Major Leagues where pitchers were able to exploit his long swing, resulting in a woeful 30.1% strikeout rate. That rate was reduced to a still worrisome 21.5% in Triple-A, which is consistent with his career numbers. His K rates do concern me a bit, but I am buoyed by the fact that he has consistently produced despite a high K rate and has always shown a strong feel for the strike zone as evidenced by his strong walk rates both in the minors (10.4% in 2011) and as a pro (13.7%). I don't think the trade to Chicago will open up a ton more playing time for him as I think Epstein & co. will let him develop and work on the aforementioned flaws in Triple-A at least early on in the season. When he does get the call though, I think he will be a productive player and his power will play well in the cozy confines of Wrigley Field.

6. Leonys Martin - CF - Rangers - Martin is a rangy centerfielder who boast above average speed both in the field and on the basepaths. He raked in Double-A to the tune of a .348/.435/.571 slash line that got many people overexcited. However, once promoted to Triple-A he fell back to earth posting a below average .263/.316/.314 line that highlights many of the concerns I have about him. He is a high contact hitter who does not strike out, or walk very much. Given that he has below average power, he will be greatly affected year to year by things such as BABIP, and will struggle to provide anything beyond average/runs/stolen bases in fantasy. That's not to say I don't like Martin however, and I think he has a good shot at playing time given Julio Borbon's struggles in his time in the majors. As long as you know what to expect from Martin, I don't think he'll disappoint you.

5. Yonder Alonso - 1B - Padres - Alonso seems likely to be the Padres starting 1st baseman in short order. He showed great power in his cameo with the Reds at the end of last season, slugging .588 good for a .216 ISO. While no one thinks he will duplicate that kind of power production in cavernous PETCO park, he does have a level swing that produces line drives to all fields. This will play well in PETCO, and his good plate discipline will play well anywhere. I would advise against reading too much into his small sample at the big league level, however encouraging it was. While he is a good hitter, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .387, well above the league average. I like Alonso, but wouldn't reach for him. Given his home park (and those in the NL West), and the depth at 1st base I would only consider him in the mid-to-later rounds.

4. Devin Mesoraco - C - Reds - Mesoraco is a guy I'd target pretty highly in your draft. The former 1st rounder plays a position of scarcity and has the potential to post Brian McCann-like numbers. Don't go drafting him ahead of McCann or anything like that, but I think his ceiling resides in the same area code. Mesoraco can hit for average and for power while also displaying solid or better secondary skills. He produced a .289/.371/.483 slash line last year in Triple-A, good for an 854 OPS and .374 wOBA. He also produced a walk in 10.4% of his plate appearances, a rate that has held steady for the last 3 years. I like his ability to transfer his skills from the minors to the big leagues without too much trouble due in part to his ability to control the strike zone. Another reason to like Mesoraco is that he's lined up for a good amount of playing time, with Ramon Hernandez moving on to the thinner air of Colorado and only Ryan Hannigan in his way. One should always account for an adjustment period for a rookie, but if he plays like he's capable of, you're going to be happy to have Mesoraco on your team.

3. Mike Trout - CF - Angels - I'll try to keep this brief as well since we all know, or should know about Trout. I love Trout and believe he's prepared to provide more value than Harper for the 2012 season if he was given the opportunity. If you have patience, he's worth grabbing on draft day. He's a five-tool talent who would be the starting CF on 25+ clubs in baseball next year. If his AFL number gave you any hesitation- ignore them. He was exhausted from playing such a long year and shouldn't have even been sent there. . Unfortunately for all of us, Trout is blocked by the fearsome foursome of Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, Peter Bourjos and Bobby Abreu. I do believe he'll see time with the Angels this year, but will be ticketed for Triple-A to start the year. Jerry DiPoto will come to his senses soon enough though and then we can all enjoy watching him do his work.

2. Bryce Harper - RF - Nationals - What is there to say that hasn't already been said? I'll keep this brief: He's got 80 power on the 20-80 power scale and it is present in games. He has a knack for making adjustments, not just game to game but at-bat to at-bat, with a flair for the dramatic in both a good and bad way. The Nationals appear ready to cede RF to him as soon as Opening Day 2012 so he needs to be considered in all leagues. I don't expect him to have a Ryan Braun type rookie year, but he's got the type of power that Mike Stanton does, and deserves to be owned because of that and that alone. However, he's also a gamer who I would expect to steal bases and excel in all phases once he's adjusted. It could take a full season for that to happen, but when it does it will be truly special.

1. Jesus Montero - C/DH - Yankees - I know this may be a surprise at #1, and I promise I do not have a Yankee bias, but this is all about the combination of ability and opportunity. Montero has a knack for barreling the baseball and has power to all fields. He is the rare catcher that projects to hit .300 with better than average power. In a season where he appeared bored at Triple-A, and perhaps frustrated with not being at the major league level, Montero produced a .288/.348/.467 slash line. Certainly nothing to sneeze at, but much more was expected from a prospect of his ilk. When promoted, Montero hit like we knew he could (.328/.406/.590) albeit in an extremely small sample size. I'm quite high on Montero and can actually see him outproducing everyone else on this list, due to both his opportunity, and his skillset. If he can be half "the Jesus" that John Turturro was, I think we'll all be satisfied.

And that is that...have at me in the comments. I'll try to respond to any questions here or at my aforementioned email or twitter. And just as a bonus here are two from the cutting room floor:

Wilin Rosario - C - Rockies - Rosario consistently does three things well: throw out basestealers, hit for power and not finish a season. He strikes out too much to hit for average and does little to control the strikezone. But he plays a position where the offensive bar is set quite low, and when he does connect with the ball it often goes a long way. He also has Ramon Hernandez and Wil Nieves (who? Wil Nieves!) in front of him for playing time, so while he carries as much baggage as a housemate on Jersey Shore, unlike any of them he has at least one redeeming quality. The Rockies appear to love his defense and power profile and he made a major league cameo last year so I think he deserves a long look should something happen to Hernandez.

Grant Green - CF - Athletics - Green spent a full season at Double-A in 2011, posting a .291/.343/.408 slash line. He owes his high averages to consistently high BABIPs, but it appears to be a skill he has as opposed to luck at this point. At this point a high average appears to be the only thing of value that Green will produce. He does not steal bases and does not hit for much power as shown in his dramatic outage once he left the hitter friendly Cal League (.262 to .117 ISO). This makes him a below average option for a fantasy league, but he is someone to keep an eye on. If you're in a keeper league and can trade him, I'd suggest trying to do so while he still has name value.

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