On Tuesday I took a look back at my predictions for the top 12 pitchers for '12, and today I'm going to do the same with hitters. Tuesday was rough on the old ego, and today won't be much better. I stand by much of my reasoning at the time, but have learned a few lessons along the way. I'll share those at the end of the piece. Let's start at the top:
Jesus Montero - C/DH - SEA - My number one choice for this year was Jesus Montero and boy does that hurt. I liked Montero because I viewed him as both a plus talent player and as a prospect with an every day job right from the start, either as a catcher or a DH. The good news is that Montero has accrued enough starts at catcher to retain eligibility for next year. The bad news is pretty much everything else, as he amassed a measly 15 home runs to go with 56 RBI. Part of that is the Mariners ineptitude on offense, and a large part of his lack of power can be blamed on Safeco Parks spacious dimensions. However, his 99 OPS+ (adjusted for park) shows that much of the blame resides with Montero. His second half is a bit encouraging as his OPS+ has jumped to 113, which is by no means excellent but is very worthwhile at a weak catcher position. I'm still a believer in Montero, but I do plan on adjusting for the park he plays in as it kills power.
Bryce Harper - OF - WAS - I'll get in to why I placed Harper above Trout in Trout's recap, but I'm pretty happy with my reasoning at the time. Essentially, Harper had fewer obstacles in his way to playing time, and though he was a year younger seemed likelier to play additional games. As it turned out they were called up on essentially the same day, and while Trout has decimated the league, Harper has more than held his own. He's going to put up one of the all time seasons for a 19 year old, and his prodigious power has showed itself from the get-go. I believed that his all out intense style would result in stolen bases, and that has come to fruition as he's racked up 13 stolen bases in 17 attempts. All of this pales in comparison to the next guy on this list, but it's a year for the ages given how old he is and was certainly enough to help a fantasy team who snagged him. He probably rewarded fantasy owners who picked him up and dealt him more than those who held on to him though.
Mike Trout - OF - LAA - I have to give Jerry DiPoto a lot of credit. Considering Bobby Abreu as a sunk cost was the only move, but it's a move GM's rarely make. That paved the way for Trout's late April call up and subsequent ROYMVP season. If you have Trout, you probably won your leagues regular season and are on your way to a championship. If you don't have Trout, you're jealous. Trout is the biggest, but not the only reason that I'm going to start putting more stock in pure talent than in situation for next year's list. While he might not have been positioned to do the most damage to begin the year, he was the best talent in the minors and that should have trumped everything else.
Devin Mesoraco - C - CIN - Call me stubborn, but I'm not ready to give this one up. Yes, it was a blown call for sure. He was splitting time from the get-go and when he did play he stunk. Hell, Dioner Navarro got playing time over him! But guys with Mesoraco's skills don't just fail for no reason. He had a rough BABIP of .234 on the year, but that doesn't explain everything. He was making a lot of weak contact, so you can't just blame bad luck for a BABIP like that. I compare this to a lights out minor league pitcher who can't find the strike zone as a major leaguer. There's an adjustment period, and as ugly as 2012 was for Mesoraco, he has the tools and perhaps more importantly, has shown the ability to make adjustments. I think he finds himself in 2013, and while he's not worth drafting, has some post-hype sleeper to him.
Yonder Alonso - 1B - SD - Alonso has received a lot of flack this year, but aside from the tepid home run total, he's been mostly what was expected of him. We have to recognize that we're entering a depressed run environment, so it's not surprising that his .276/.351/.394 slash line can equate to an OPS+ of 110. With only 8 home runs, Alonso isn't going to give you the power you want out of a corner position. However, he did stroke 35 doubles, displaying how his line drive stroke is suited perfectly to Petco Park's spacious dimensions. It's also worth noting that Alonso is finishing the season on a high note, recording a .294/.360/.441 line in the second half. Again, with modest expectations and in deeper leagues, Alonso could provide plenty of value going forward.
Leonys Martin - OF - TEX - This was a case of mistaken playing time. A great year from Craig Gentry and the normal host of back up outfielders in Texas has sapped any value that Martin could have. When he did play (just over 50 plate appearances) Martin was less than impressive at the big league level. He flourished in Triple-A however, smashing his way to a .359/.422/.610 slash line. Part of this is the high octane run environments in the Pacific Coast League, part of it is the fact that Martin is repeating the PCL and part of it is that Martin is still a talented individual. At this point I'm starting to think of Martin as more of a 2nd division regular or a 4th outfielder on a team like Texas, but given regular playing time I believe he could be an asset to a fantasy team. Whatever happens with Josh Hamilton in free agency will have a marked affect on Martin's future standing with both fantasy owners and the Rangers alike.
Anthony Rizzo - 1B - CHC - Rizzo has been as good as fantasy owners and Cubs fans could have hoped for, despite making them wait longer than they'd have liked to see him. In 308 plate appearances since his call up, Rizzo has hit to the tune of a .293/.347/.481 slash line. The power is legit, as he's ripped 14 home runs in just 283 at-bats, and I think he has even more room to grow on that front. His BABIP is at .312 so while it doesn't scream regression, his swing isn't one that portends a .290s batting average and I would expect something closer to the .260-.280 range with a bit more pop from Rizzo in the future.
Brett Jackson - OF - CHC - Ironically this might be the one prediction I hit on the head, as Jackson couldn't make contact with a beach ball at this point. Jackson has lived up to his billing as someone who can take a walk, posting a 15% walk rate in his short time in the majors, but also posting a 42.4% whiff rate. As I stated before the season, his proclivity for the K has been a red flag for many a scout and it's reared it's ugly head early and often in his professional career. He could still fulfill his ceiling, as his development arc is nowhere near it's end, but his current struggles are certainly enough reason to take a step back and re-evaluate the likelihood that he reaches his ceiling or even 80% of that ceiling. As of today, Jackson appears to be more of a 2nd division regular/4th outfielder than ever before, but he still has time to change that projection if he can only limit his fondness for the strikeout.
I'll be honest, it's 1:30 am my time, I attended two baseball games today and I think my point is starting to make itself known, so I'm going to blow through these next few players as quickly as possible. If you want a deeper look at any of these guys in particular, just let me know.
Zack Cozart - SS - CIN - Cozart is pretty much what he is. He's not going to help you out in average, but given the dearth of talent at the position he's a viable option in 14-team leagues or deeper.
Tyler Pastornicky - SS - ATL - Ugh. Miserable. I continued to like him more than Andrelton Simmons for a long while and though I was dead wrong on preferring Pastornicky, I'm still not high on Simmons as a fantasy prospect. He's got crazy great defense, but won't do a ton with the stick. Pastornicky could probably still be a useful player in NL only or 20-team/deeper leagues, but I doubt he gets another opportunity to prove himself.
Tim Wheeler - OF - COL - Another guess at playing time that went horribly awry. He posted a mediocre line in his first go at Triple-A, but experienced a power outage and was only able to connect for two home runs in 379 at-bats after stroking 33 homers in 561 at-bats in Double-A in 2011. Wheeler clearly isn't a 30 home run guy, but two is shockingly low. I'd expect a small rebound, but Wheeler has likely lost any momentum he had going as a prospect.
Ryan Lavarnway - C - BOS - Another guy I thought would see more playing time, especially after getting a look in September of '11 and hitting fairly well. Jarrod Saltalamacchia's early success likely led to Lavarnway's extended time in Triple-A, and he didn't even get one of the first looks when injuries struck Boston's lineup. He's back up at the end of '12 and we'll see history repeats itself or if Lavarnway can earn himself a spot on the 25-man roster for next year.
Wilin Rosario/Grant Green - One right and one wrong here as Green didn't get to partake in the A's incredible story this year, but Rosario did get to participate in the awfulness that was the Rockies 2012 season. Rosario has been exactly what was predicted, as he's provided big power but a terrible on base percentage.
The lesson I'm going to take from this experience is that I should focus more on talent and ignore the apparent opportunity of some lesser prospects. The rocket-like ascent of players such as Jurickson Profar, Manny Machado, and Mike Olt among others have shown that it's talent that will dictate one's value in an organization (and thus fantasy) and not the opportunity that appears to be there when a season begins. The great ones will force their way in, and will likely produce more valuable numbers in less playing time.
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