Mike Trout and Bryce Harper will forever be linked together. - H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY
These guys aren't rookies any longer and they will have to prove that they will be a mainstay in baseball. Can they escape the looming fear of a "sophomore slump" and find continued success? Or will they fail to make adjustments and struggle throughout 2013?
A player's second year in the show can reveal a great deal of things about their game. As a rookie, a player is a mystery to the entire league. Pitchers have no true scouting report on rookies at the plate and hitters have no scouting report on rookie hurlers who take the bump. Yes, there is minor league footage available, but generally speaking, a player's approach will drastically change once he hits the big time. As a player enters his sophomore year, adjustments have to be made because each team in the majors will carefully dissect footage of their rookie season. A rookie hitter may see a ton of fastballs, but come that second year, they better get ready to see that down and away slider that they frequently whiffed on. A rookie pitcher may get away with laying in a first pitch curveball, but in his second year, if the opposition knows what is coming, they will be watching their ERA shoot to the moon. Failure to make adjustments leads to the infamous sophomore slump, but if these rookies of last year improve on their weaknesses, their stars will shine even brighter in their second season.
Rookies of the Year: Bryce Harper and Mike Trout
Bryce Harper 2012 Statistics: .2702 BA/ 22 HR/ 59 RBI/ 98 Runs/ 18 SB/ .4765 SLG/ .3401 OBP
Bryce Harper has been dubbed, "The Chosen One," since he was 16 years old and he seems poised to live up to the hype. Last season, Harper burst onto the big league scene at the end of April and showed the world that he is a freak. He has a cannon for an arm, he maniacally sprints at every point of a game, and the ball jumps off of his bat. Harper posted very solid numbers in 2012, as he supplied both power and speed. However, he was not very patient at the plate, swinging at the first pitch 38.1% of the time (10th highest in the league). Harper has spent his offseason training like he is getting ready to charge the mound at all times. The 20 year old is a physical specimen, plain and simple. In 2013, I expect Bryce Harper to increase his numbers in every category. I believe that a 20-20 season is a sure thing for Harper in 2013, and to hope for a 30-30 year wouldn't be too far fetched either.
Mike Trout 2012 Statistics: .3256 BA/ 30 HR/ 83 RBI/ 129 Runs/ 49 SB/ .5635 SLG/ .3991 OBP
Mike Trout is the man. Mike Trout is out of this world. Mike Trout is a beast. Mike Trout should have won the MVP Award. Mike Trout is only 21? Mike Trout, will you marry me? What wait? I think that there might be upwards of 100 ways to describe Trout's awe-inspiring rookie season. I mean just look at the numbers. 30 homers, 49 steals, and 129 runs in just 139 games! What else could you ask for as a fantasy owner? I do not even think that the number one fantasy player is a debate. I would take Trout over Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera due to the fact that he put up God-like numbers and barely even played in the month of April. Mike Trout has no ceiling. He can do whatever is needed on the diamond and his league leading 10.0 WAR is an indicator of this. The only category that I could see a drop off in is average, but besides that, I think that Mike Trout will once again be the best player in baseball in 2013.
Second in Line: Yoenis Cespedes and Wade Miley
Yoenis Cespedes 2012 Statistics: .2916 BA/ 23 HR/ 82 RBI/ 70 Runs/ 16 SB/ .5051 SLG/ .3401 OBP
Aside from Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes was my favorite rookie to watch in 2012. Cespedes swings out of his shoes every time he offers at a pitch and his homers leave the yard before you even have time to blink. In literally any other season, I think Cespedes would have closely contended for or won the American League ROY award. Cespedes is built like a tank, but he does have a pretty good amount of speed, stealing 16 bases last year. This total may not seem too impressive, but he only played 129 games and was sidelined by a hamstring injury twice. I think Cespedes is deserving of praise similar to the type Harper gets. This 27 year old Cuban defector may not be as sexy as the young phenom, Harper, but I think that he has the potential to put up similar numbers if he stays healthy in 2013. I would try to jump on Cespedes quickly on draft day. He is a viable option in the 3rd or 4th round.
Wade Miley 2012 Statistics: 16-11/ 3.329 ERA/ 1.1815 WHIP/ 144 SO/ 194.7 INN
I actually believe that Wade Miley deserved to win the Rookie of the Year award in the National League last season. While Bryce Harper was obviously the more glamorous choice, Miley put up really good numbers. Miley managed a beyond respectable 3.329 ERA and 1.1815 WHIP in 2012. This lefty pitches his home games at Chase Field, a hitter's ballpark, where his ERA was 2.99. Yeah, I'd say that this is a little better than okay. Miley struck out 144 batters last season, exceeding Jered Weaver's total of 142. Weaver is being drafted, on average, somewhere in the 4th to 5th round. The other day, I drafted Wade Miley in the 23rd round! Maybe I am missing something here, but even if Miley's numbers worsen a little in 2013, he is still of great value that late in the draft.
NEEEEXXXXXTTTTT: Yu Darvish and Todd Frazier
Yu Darvish 2012 Statistics: 16-9/ 3.904 ERA/ 1.2805 WHIP/ 221 SO/ 191.3 INN
I'm going to be honest; I have never really been sold on Japanese pitchers in Major League Baseball. Hideo Nomo's success was short-lived in the States, as was Dice-K Matsuzaka's. They both had two phenomenal seasons to begin their careers, but after that, the league's hitting caught up to them. Darvish is supposedly better suited for the American game, but remember when Dick-K's gyro ball was going to be unhittable? Darvish's ERA at the end of April was 2.18 and his record stood at 4-0, but from May through August, his ERA was north of four each month. Darvish definitely has a presence and swag on the mound, but I'm not buying it. The only thing he is really good for is strikeouts (10.4 K/9), but on the other hand he walks a ton of guys (2.48 K/BB) and is a fly ball pitcher in Texas (0.91 Groundball/Flyball). I would not touch this guy any earlier than round 10.
Todd Frazier 2012 Statistics: .2725 BA/ 19 HR/ 67 RBI/ 55 Runs/ 3 SB/ .4976 SLG/ .3312 OBP
Todd Frazier is a sort of quirky player. Last year, he hit a home run by essentially throwing the bat forward, out of his hands and onto the ball. Pretty strange. Frazier is going to be the starting 3rd baseman for the Reds in 2013 after only recording 422 at bats in 2012. Consequently, I expect his home run total to exceed 20 in this upcoming season. I have a feeling that his average might drop a decent amount, as this seems to be a general trend for players in their second season. Frazier also went in the 23rd round of my draft last week, which means that there is not much risk involved with taking him. Frazier would not be a bad bench corner infielder to have, but I don't think that he should be filling up one of your starting fantasy spots.
Ready to Cut t the Front: Manny Machado, Will Middlebrooks, Jesus Montero, Anthony Rizzo, and Wilin Rosario
Manny Machado 2012 Statistics: .2618 BA/ 7 HR/ 26 RBI/ 24 Runs/ 2 SB/ .4450 SLG/ .2935 OBP
Manny Machado has the potential to be a real steal late in your fantasy draft. He played in only 51 games last season and during this short stint, he demonstrated that he has some power. Machado did, however, go homerless in 98 road at bats as all of his dingers came at Camden Yards. Machado will play third base in 2013, but if J.J. Hardy goes down, he could eventually be eligible at shortstop (his natural position) as well. Machado, now with some experience under his belt, has the potential to excel at the big league level in 2013. He doesn't possess all of the tools to necessarily have a Trout-like breakout season, but Machado could bring a great deal of reward at little risk in the later rounds of your draft.
Will Middlebrooks 2012 Statistics: .2884 BA/ 15 HR/ 54 RBI/ 34 Runs/ 4 SB/ .5094 SLG/ .3252 OBP
Will Middlebrooks saw his stellar rookie season end as an Esmil Rogers fastball shattered his wrist. In the 75 games Middlebrooks played, he had a very large impact. He crushed all types of pitching, showing big league power that certainly was no façade. In the future, I believe that Will Middlebrooks will be a consistent 30 homer player. The key word here is future. To extrapolate his 2012 numbers and claim that he would have hit 30 plus bombs last year is ridiculous. I would have to watch him play a full season in order to be confident in drafting him within the first ten rounds. Unless you're feeling risky, I would advise you to take a more proven hitter over Middlebrooks early in your draft.
Jesus Montero 2012 Statistics: .2602 BA/ 15 HR/ 62 RBI/ 46 Runs/ 0 SB/ .3864 SLG/ .2984 OBP
It is definitely time for Jesus Montero to prove himself. He is only 23, but I feel like I have heard Montero's name linked to the phrase, "highly touted prospect" for the last decade. Now he must show everybody that he can live up to the expectations. Playing in Seattle really puts a damper on his power numbers. If he had remained a Bronx Bomber, I think that we would all be expecting an easy 25 homers, not hoping that he can put out 20. They are moving the fences in at Safeco Field, shortening the left field porch by four feet (now 337) and the left center alley by 12 feet (now 378). This should help Montero a little, but don't be that guy who thinks that a 12 foot difference will add 10 homers to his total. Montero also possesses a very nice opposite field swing, tailor-made for the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium-oh wait. I expect Montero's power and average to increase in 2013, but do I think that he deserves to be drafted in the first ten rounds? No.
Anthony Rizzo 2012 Statistics: .2849 BA/ 15 HR/ 48 RBI/ 44 Runs/ 3 SB/ .4629 SLG/ .3424 OBP
I expressed my liking of Anthony Rizzo in my article that broke down first basemen. Rizzo was not a mainstay for the Cubs until after the All-Star break and when he arrived he was very impressive. In his 87 games, Rizzo convinced me that he can pop out 20 home runs with ease in the future. Rizzo experienced a shift that was a polar opposite to Montero's, going from a pitcher's ballpark in San Diego to the friendly confines of Wrigley. The only thing that worries me here is that he hit only .208 against the limited amount of left-handed arms he faced last year. This average needs to increase a considerable amount. Rizzo is getting drafted right around the same time as Montero and Middlebrooks and out of the three, I think Rizzo is the surest thing.
Wilin Rosario 2012 Statistics: .2702 BA/ 28 HR/ 71 RBI/ 67 Runs/ 4 SB/ .5303 SLG/ .3122 OBP
Wow, this guy really got the shaft in the National League ROY voting. He finished in fourth place, which does not really seem fair at all. Rosario hit 28 home runs in only 117 games for crying out loud. I don't care if he plays in Coors Field or on the moon, Rosario can put up legitimate power numbers. 18 of his 28 homers did come at home for all of you curious humidor haters, but ballpark factor doesn't play a role in fantasy baseball so who cares. Power hitting catchers are a rare jewel these days, so don't worry about Rosario being a fluke. He will most likely play in at least 30 more games if he stays healthy in 2013 and even if he puts up the same home run total as he did last season, consider yourself a lucky owner if you have him on your team.
Other Notable Sophomores: Yonder Alonso, Zack Cozart, Wei-Yin Chen, Scott Diamond, Mike Fiers, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, and Addison Reeed
Yonder Alonso 2012 Statistics: .2732 BA/ 9 HR/ 62 RBI/ 47 Runs/ 3 SB/ .3934 SLG/ .3479 OBP
Zack Cozart 2012 Statistics: .2460 BA/ 15 HR/ 35 RBI/ 72 Runs/ 4 SB/ .3993 SLG/ .2876 OBP
Wei-Yin Chen 2012 Statistics: 12-11/ 4.017 ERA/ 1.2612 WHIP/ 154 SO/ 192.7 INN
Scott Diamond 2012 Statistics: 12-9/ 3.538 ERA/ 1.2428 WHIP/ 90 SO/ 173 INN
Mike Fiers 2012 Statistics: 9-10/ 3.736 ERA/ 1.2611 WHIP/ 135 SO/ 127.7 INN
Tommy Milone 2012 Statistics: 13-10/ 3.742 ERA/ 1.2789 WHIP/ 137 SO/ 190 INN
Jarrod Parker 2012 Statistics: 13-8/ 3.474 ERA/ 1.2629 WHIP/ 140 SO/ 181.3 INN
Addison Reed 2012 Statistics: 3-2/ 29 Saves/ 4.745 ERA/ 1.3636 WHIP/ 54 SO/ 55 INN
Only a handful of these players will probably be drafted in a mixed league format. Chen, Fiers, and Parker will most likely be drafted in the late rounds of your draft, as will Cozart. Addison Reed is going to be taken in the middle rounds of your draft, making him overvalued, in my opinion. He will be the White Sox closer to begin the year, but I am not a fan of high ERA, high WHIP closers. They are a huge headache for fantasy owners (see Carlos Marmol). The Athletics duo of Parker and Milone provide a solid mid to high ERA in the threes, but they don't strike out a ton of batters or collect a decent amount of wins. Mike Fiers, on the other hand, will definitely post a high strikeout total. He is not the biggest name out there, but he is projected to be the Brew Crew's number two starter in 2013, making him a solid late draft choice. Wei-Yin Chen was Baltimore's most consistent starter last season, but that really isn't saying much, and he doesn't hold much fantasy value. Plus it is only a matter of time until he lands on the DL due to a karate chop by his evil twin, Bruce Chen. Zack Cozart will no longer find himself atop the Cincinnati lineup, so his run total will decrease. Cozart does have some pop for a shortstop, though, and he wouldn't be a bad addition to boost your middle infield depth. Yonder Alonso simply does not produce enough to be a viable fantasy first baseman, so he will most likely not be drafted unless Yonder himself is a fantasy owner in your league. Scott Diamond will also go undrafted and probably remain unnoticed for a while, since he plays in Minnesota.
In conclusion, don't fret over the potential of a sophomore slump. Players need time to adjust. That's just the way the game works. If a player has the skill set, his time will come and he will be a successful major leaguer. The fact that a player is entering his second season shouldn't really play a role in your decisions on draft day. The sophomore slump is an idea generated by the media. Some sophomores who are drafted early may struggle for a bit and it will be frustrating, but the real joy comes in finding that player who you can draft late and watch explode. So when it comes to draft day, evaluate a player on their given ability, not some whack superstition.