If you're looking for a surprise in 2012, I'd say you should take a look at the Reds. Or maybe it's not a surprise? I just haven't heard very many people talk about the Reds as a World Series contender (CAIRO predicts 87 wins and a 2nd place finish) but all you really need to do is make the playoffs and then everyone has an equal chance basically.
I think the Reds can (Nay, WILL!) win the NL Central. No more Pujols, no more Prince, 50 less games of Braun while the Reds got better. That's one way to start to close a 17 game gap from 2011.
So, what's up with the Reds most important fantasy players? Let's take a look.
Best Hitter: Joey Votto
Maybe I was selling him short, but before Votto left the team for a depression-related illness in 2009, I didn't think he was a future star. When he came back though, he was clearly on a path to be one of the best players in the game and he won the MVP in 2010.
Last year he hit .309/.416/.531 with 40 2B, 29 HR, 101 R and 103 RBI. He led the league in OBP, walks, and doubles.
He reminds me a lot of teammate and future Hall of Famer Scott Rolen in terms of production, except that Votto is even better. (Rolen had an extremely low 3.7 BB% last year. That doesn't really have to do with anything I'm talking about, but damn!) I really don't know what Votto's ceiling is, whether he's reached it already, or what the future holds, but he has a chance to join Rolen in the Hall of Fame at his current rate.
It would be surprising if he hit less than .300/.400/.550 with 35 2B, 100 RBI, 30 HR. And if the Reds do make the playoffs, he could be a two-time MVP.
Best Pitcher: Mat Latos
I thought I might put Johnny Cueto here, but what happened to the strikeouts Johnny? 6 k's per 9? No good in my leagues.
Latos strikes out 8.57 per 9 and ran an ERA of 3.47 last year over 194.1 innings, which was more than half-a-run more than 2010 but his FIP was at 3.14. I don't think we have to worry about him moving out of Petco, Latos is one of the better pitchers in the NL. Prediction: 16-8, 3.10 ERA, 200 innings, 200 Ks.
Possible Breakout: Aroldis Chapman, SP
So far, Chapman has been very limited in how valuable he can be to the Reds. Despite having one of the most electric fastballs in baseball, he doesn't know where it's going and he doesn't have much else to offer. He threw his 98 MPH fastball 84% of the time in 2011!
That's the big difference between a fireballer like Chapman, and a guy like Michael Pineda. True, Pineda needs a third pitch... but he has exceptional command and control and at least he has a second pitch! Pretty much every pitcher in baseball with a near 100-MPH fastball is a relief pitcher. The only ones that can start, are usually Cy Young contenders like Justin Verlander, but that is EXTREMELY rare.
Still, if a guy can make the transition, he's definitely going to be a breakout candidate and Chapman is going to get a chance to start. Chapman's greatest strength in terms of results, is that despite a BB/9 above 7(!), he's still very hard to hit. He only gave up 24 hits in 50 innings.
But he's quite the project because Verlander mixes four pitches and only used his fastball 57% of the time in 2011. Right now, Chapman's ceiling looks more like Matt Thornton, Joel Hanrahan, or Neftali Feliz, but perhaps Chapman could become something more. If he stuck as a starter, he could strike out 250 batters but that would probably come with 150 walks unless he learns to hit the catchers mitt.
Possible Disappointment: Johnny Cueto
I guess Chapman could be a breakout or a disappointment, depending on how much you value that fastball.
The scary trend of Johnny Cueto: His K/9 has dropped every year he's been in the majors, from 8.17 in 2008 to 6.00 last year. He had a .249 BABIP against in 2011 and that's definitely going to rise. Cueto might be able to get by and post an ERA of 3.20 (much more likely than the 2.31 he posted last year) but that will only come with a few strikeouts.
I probably would just avoid Cueto altogether.
Rookie Watch: Devin Mesoraco, C
One of the most important rookie watches this year will be Mesoraco, simply because he might have an elite bat at a very scarce position. Only 18 times in history has a catcher hit 35 or more home runs in a season. There have been 169 such seasons by a 1B.
Mesoraco was the 15th overall pick in 2007, but struggled to find a rhythm in the minors until 2010, when he broke out for .302/.377/.587 over 3 levels and 113 games. Last year he hit .289/.371/.484 with 36 doubles and 15 HR as a 23 year old in AAA.
He may struggle in his first full season in the majors, but I expect him to do well, overall. He's not extremely young at 24, and I'll predict: .260/.350/.450 with 15 HR and 70 RBI, possibly winning the Rookie of the Year.
Ones I'll Avoid in the Draft: Brandon Phillips (declining power, never walks, more valuable in real life than in fantasy where other second baseman have stepped up their offensive game), Scott Rolen (obviously), Ryan Ludwick, Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo