First base is one of, if not the deepest position in all of fantasy sports and an influx in talent in 2011 appears to have made it that much deeper. Who are the best of the newest wave of potential superstars? Who should those in long-term keeper leagues be craving to have on their rosters? Let’s kick off our look at baseball’s 25 or under talent with the catching position (at the end I will also offer my overall Top 25 list):
1) Eric Hosmer – Kansas City Royals – 22 years old
Hosmer was a machine in his rookie year, hitting .293 with 19 HR and 78 RBI over 523 AB. He wasn’t supposed to be ready yet as early as he was, as it was Mike Moustakas who was expected to get the first call, but Hosmer showed that he was not only prepared but ready for stardom.
All of the peripheral numbers help us to believe that there is more upside to come. He made great contact (14.6% strikeout rate), as well as having a believable BABIP (.314) and HR/FB (13.5%). In fact, there is hope that the power will take a significant step forward as he gets older and stronger, which should lead to more balls being put in the air (last season he posted a 49.7% groundball rate).
It is not a given that he improves in that regard, and you have to look no further than his team Billy Butler as proof. Still, he has the potential to develop into a .300 hitter to go along with 30+ HR and 100+ RBI hitting in the middle of a young, emerging Royals offense. Those are potentially elite numbers, so what exactly is there not to like? Even if he stagnates in 2012 he should provide more than enough to pacify his fantasy owners (though you still don’t want to reach too high for him, though that’s a story for another day).
2) Freddie Freeman – Atlanta Braves – 22 years old
He took a major step forward during his first full season in the Major Leagues by hitting .282 with 21 HR and 76 RBI over 571 AB. While those numbers are nice, there is plenty of room for upside.
In 2011 his average came courtesy of a 22.4% strikeout rate and a .339 BABIP. While the latter will likely regress a little bit (though that’s not a given), the former should ultimately improve. Over his minor league career he posted a 14.8% strikeout rate and, if he can get closer to that mark, a .300 average is realistic.
The power we may have to wait a little while to develop, though he did have 32 doubles to go along with his 21 HR last season. As a worst case scenario he could develop into a .300/25 HR/100 RBI hitter from the third spot of the order (since Jason Heyward, who was supposed to fill that role, has floundered).
3) Ike Davis – New York Mets – 25 years old
The freak injury that prematurely ended his 2011 campaign may suppress him in some people’s eyes, though it shouldn’t. Prior to the injury Davis was showing that he could develop into one of the elite options in the league, hitting .302 with 7 HR and 25 RBI in just 129 AB. Plus, the Mets have adjusted the dimensions of Citi Field in order to make it a little more hitter friendly. Since making his Major League debut Davis has made the stadium look small at times, so this news makes him that much more intriguing.
The lineup around him is far from elite, but Davis will hit in the middle of the Mets lineup this season (and likely for as long as he’s a Met). As long as he can prove healthy the sky is the limit. It would not be a surprise to see him leap over Freeman as far as who has more upside by year’s end.
4) Paul Goldschmidt – Arizona Diamondbacks – 24 years old
He has the highest power potential of anyone on this list, but the fear is if he can bring the entire package to the table. He hit just .250 in 156 AB for the Diamondbacks in 2011 due to a 29.9% strikeout rate. Considering that he was at 20.1% at Double-A prior to his recall (and 26.9% in 525 AB at Single-A in 2010), the number is not unrealistic.
If he can’t learn to make consistent contact the chances of him hitting for a usable average is going to be hard to imagine. Does 40 HR have value regardless of if you hit .240 or .290? Absolutely, but the players above him on this list bring more all-around potential, leading to their rankings.
5) Brandon Belt – San Francisco Giants – 23 years old
He’s seen time at both 1B and in the OF, but regardless of where he played he failed to impress in 2011 (.225 with 9 HR and 18 RBI over 187 AB for the Giants). After playing so well in the minor leagues it is a little bit of a surprise, though he’s also had just 670 AB. Maybe he just needs a little bit more seasoning?
Considering that he hit .343 with 31 HR and 148 RBI in the Minor Leagues, it certainly could be the case. The Giants have added depth in the outfield this offseason (Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan), which will allow them to open the year with Aubrey Huff at 1B and Belt likely at Triple-A to gain regular AB. However, when Huff struggles (and we all know that’s realistic), Belt should get his opportunity to shine. He may not project to a 30+ HR or .300+ average threat, which is why he’s ranked fifth on this list.
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Make sure to check out our 2012 projections: