We all know that some of the best waiver pickups during the season come from the minor league ranks. Who has the best chance to come up and make a major impact in 2012? Let’s take a look at my Top 20 for the upcoming season (if you purchased the draft guide, you have a Top 50 list):
- Yu Darvish – Texas Rangers – Starting Pitcher – Will his stuff translate to the Major Leagues or will he be the latest Japanese import to bust? That is the question hanging over Darvish, though we all have heard about the stuff and the potential. The Rangers are clearly betting on him being able to thrive, after paying a bounty and letting C.J. Wilson go. It will definitely take Major League hitters time to adjust to Darvish, so look for him to thrive.
- Matt Moore – Tampa Bay Rays – Starting Pitcher – What is there to say about Moore that we don’t already know? He burst onto the scene, posting a 1.92 ERA and 210 K over 155.0 IP between Double & Triple-A. He may face an innings limit (164.1 total IP in ’11), but that should hardly deter owners. With the potential to be one of the elite strikeout pitchers in the game, even in the AL East, he’s a must own option in all formats.
- Jesus Montero – Seattle Mariners – Catcher – Forget about the questions on whether he will stick behind the plate or not. While his value will be higher as a catcher, Montero’s bat will make him intriguing regardless (though getting out of New York may improve his chances of catching long-term). In a brief stint in the Majors (61 AB) he hit .328 with 4 HR and 12 RBI. In 873 AB at Triple-A he’s hit .289 with 39 HR and 142 RBI. Obviously the numbers will be limited thanks to playing in Seattle (between the ballpark and the weak lineup), but that’s hardly enough. He’ll have catching eligibility in 2012, making him worth owning in all formats.
- Bryce Harper – Washington Nationals – Outfielder – Initially I would’ve said that he wouldn’t get his opportunity until late in the season, but I also would’ve expected the team to add Prince Fielder. There had been rumblings that Harper could break camp with the team, though that didn’t happen. Whenever he does arrive (and it should be sooner rather than later), he will be given every opportunity to excel. He has proven that he can rake at every level (including hitting .333 with 6 HR and 26 RBI in the AFL) and should do so whenever he reaches the Majors. We all know he is arguably the premier prospect in the game and is a must own in all formats.
- Yonder Alonso – San Diego Padres – First Baseman – Alonso, acquired from Cincinnati as part of the Mat Latos trade, gets free of Joey Votto’s shadow and replaces Anthony Rizzo as the long-term replacement for Adrian Gonzalez. Those are some lofty names to be compared to, though hitting .330 with 5 HR in 88 AB for the Reds will get people’s expectations even higher. Those numbers were slightly skewed by a .387 BABIP, so keep that in mind. However, he should bring some power (24 HR in 762 AB at Triple-A) and a solid average to the table. He should be good, but at a deep position he needs to continue to improve.
- Zack Cozart – Cincinnati Reds – Shortstop – Cozart made his Major League debut in ’11 (37 AB), though it was his Triple-A production that should have owners a little bit concerned. While he hit .310, he produced only 7 HR and 9 SB in 323 AB, a far cry from his ’10 breakout at the level (17 HR, 30 SB in 553 AB). The SB total was an aberration, so don’t read into it. He’s more of a 15/15 type threat, at best, and probably more like 15/10. That said, he’s going to be the starting SS assuming he is over Tommy John surgery to his non-throwing shoulder, which makes him worth monitoring in leagues that require a middle infielder.
- Addison Reed – Chicago White Sox – Relief Pitcher – There is no question that the White Sox have a gaping hole at the back of their bullpen. While Matt Thornton could be among the Major League options, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Reed closing games by mid-year if not sooner. All he did across four minor league levels (78.1 IP) in 2011 was post a 1.26 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 111 K and 14 BB. Outrageous numbers, which he also showed in 7.1 IP for the White Sox (12 K vs. 1 BB). If you want to pick one rookie RP who is going to make a major impact, here’s your guy.
- Yoenis Cespedes – Oakland Athletics – Outfielder – One of the main questions is whether Cespedes will open the year on the Majors or minors, as we all have heard the talk about his athletic ability and potential. The other question is if he can make consistent contact, as he could be thrown right into the deep end (based on what the A’s are paying him you would think that they will). We saw it a little bit in the Dominican Winter League, having hit just .143, so you need to hope that he can adapt quickly. The talent is there, the question is if he can put it all together from the start or if it will take him time to adjust. His risk of needing significant time in the minor leagues keeps him further down this list.
- Trevor Bauer – Arizona Diamondbacks – Starting Pitcher – Could he be Tim Lincecum v2.0? With an unorthodox delivery and being “small”, the comparisons are bound to happen, though time will tell if he can reach that type of ceiling. There is no arguing that the potential is there, as it is universally discussed. Sure, you can look at his 5.96 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in his first 7 career starts, but he also had 43 K over 25.2 IP. Having already reached Double-A, he clearly is on the fast track and could be the next star starting pitcher.
- Drew Pomeranz – Colorado Rockies – Starting Pitcher – One of the centerpieces of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, Pomeranz ultimately made 4 starts for the Rockies late in the year going 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Don’t read too much into the numbers, as he struggled with a 56.0% strand rate and .328 BABIP. The numbers that are important was 13 K vs. 5 BB and a 47.4% groundball rate. That mix, even in a small sample size, smells of potential success in Colorado. A first round pick in 2010, he has only 101.0 IP in the minor leagues, but he has a realistic shot to earn a rotation spot from the outset. Consider him a great late round sleeper in all formats.
- Brad Peacock – Oakland Athletics – Starting Pitcher – A key component in the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to Washington, Peacock made his Major League debut in ’11 and could really thrive in a pitcher’s park (especially as a fly ball pitcher). Between Double & Triple-A he posted a 2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 177 K over 146.2 IP. The strikeout rate has really jumped over the past two seasons, to go along with solid control (3.07 BB/9 over his minor league career). He may open the year at Triple-A (he’s in competition for the fifth spot in the rotation), but it won’t be long before he makes an impact.
- Devin Mesoraco – Cincinnati Reds – Catcher – Do not assume that because Ramon Hernandez is playing in Colorado that the Reds will hand Mesoraco the starting catching job. By year’s end most likely, but early on expect him to share time with Ryan Hanigan. That said, Mesoraco has proven that he has the potential to be a fantasy gem behind the plate, hitting .289 (thanks to a 16.6% strikeout rate) with 15 HR in 436 AB at Triple-A in ’11, a year after hitting 26 HR across three levels. It’s just a matter of time before he becomes a fixture among the Top 15 catchers in the game.
- Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels – Outfielder – By now we are all well aware that he is one of, if not the premier prospects in the game. While the Angels are stocked with CI and OF, Trout’s performance in 353 AB at Double-A (42 XBH, including 13 triples, and 33 SB) tells us all we need to know. He got his first taste of the Majors in ’11 and should entrench himself early in ’12.
- Julio Teheran – Atlanta Braves – Starting Pitcher – Teheran is not just the best prospect for the Braves, but he’s among the elite young arms in the game. While he struggled in his brief stint in Atlanta (5.03 ERA, 1.47 WHIP over 19.2 IP), he will be just 21-years old on Opening Day. The sky is the limit and it is just a matter of time before he lives up to the hype. The Braves are fully stocked with pitching prospects so it is no guarantee that he gets the first opportunity, but he does have the highest upside. Given his spring struggles he is likely ticketed for Triple-A, though you know it’s only a matter of time.
- Jarrod Parker – Oakland Athletics – Starting Pitcher – Another new, young acquisition for Oaklnd, Parker proved that his Tommy John surgery was behind him in 2011, including throwing 5.2 shutout innings in his Major League debut. He had been nearly a strikeout per inning pitcher prior to the injury, so it will be interesting to see if he gets back there (112 K in 130.2 IP). He showed flashes, so time will tell. That concern is why he is a step behind Peacock for me, plus he will also likely be handled carefully in ’12 (136.1 IP throw in ’11).
- Jacob Turner – Detroit Tigers – Starting Pitcher – The Tigers have never been shy about promoting their prospects, and Turner is no exception. At just 20-years old he already has made 3 Major League starts. While he struggled in those appearances (8.53 ERA over 12.2 IP), he thrived at Double & Triple-A (3.44 ERA, 1.16 WHIP over 131.0 IP). A spring injury has helped force the Tigers to give Turner a little more seasoning at Triple-A (only 3 starts there), but he has the highest upside in the system and will pitch in the Majors in ’12.
- Randall Delgado – Atlanta Braves – Starting Pitcher – He made 7 starts for the Braves in 2011 (35.0 IP) posting a 2.83 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Sure he had luck on his side (.220 BABIP, 86.5% strand rate), but we all know the upside he has (9.47 K/9, 1.29 WHIP over 92 minor league starts). It remains to be seen if it will be Delgado or Teheran who get the first opportunity.
- Starling Marte – Pittsburgh Pirates – Outfielder – Could he be Andrew McCutchen v2.0? He spent all of 2011 (536 AB) at Double-A, where he hit .332 with 12 HR (a notable power surge) and 24 SB. Yes, the batting average came courtesy of a .390 BABIP, but he also showed progress in making consistent contact (17.5% strikeout rate). If he continues to develop, can you imagine having McCutchen and Marte as a dynamic 1-2 punch in Pittsburgh? Things are finally looking up and, with Marte likely opening at Triple-A, it won’t be long before we get to see it.
- Brett Jackson – Chicago Cubs – Outfielder – Between Double and Triple-A in ’11 Jackson hit 20 HR with 21 SB. In 2010 he had 12 HR and 30 SB. The Cubs are weak in the outfield, so what exactly is there not to like? How about 138 K in 431 AB, including a 29.8% strikeout rate at Triple-A. That potential for excessive strikeouts could limit his offensive upside in the Major Leagues, so it is definitely worth monitoring. At worst he could be a similar player to Drew Stubbs, which definitely holds value. If he can get the strikeouts in order he could be one of the better options at the position.
- Shelby Miller – St. Louis Cardinals – Starting Pitcher – On most teams Miller would be considered for an Opening Day rotation spot, as he is one of the elite pitching prospects in the game. Splitting time between Single & Double-A in ’11 (139.2 IP) he posted a stellar 2.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 170 K. That, of course, doesn’t mention the fact that he allowed just 4 HR and had BABIP of .330 and .308, meaning the numbers are not unreasonable in the least. He should open the year at Triple-A and is almost a lock to not only debut in ’12, but make an impact.
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Make sure to check out all of our 2012 rankings: