[Editor’s Note: This is a two part article, the remaining prospects will be discussed in an article released later this month]
Every season, by the time it’s all said and done, fantasy rosters are littered with impactful rookies. Many of them either didn’t enter the year in the majors, or began as a reserve player or middle reliever. Trying to forecast playing time and production for rookie players is tricky. In most cases the managers who end up with them are the ones who pay the closest attention, or get lucky. I’m not even going to attempt any kind of projections, but here are some players who might be worth a spot on your squad. If not at the start, then by the end.
Trevor Bauer- SP-CLE: The erstwhile Bruin ran afoul of teammates and coaches alike during his brief time in Arizona, in large part due to a perceived unwillingness to heed advice from either. Throw in a disastrous four starts and you have a recipe for a sell-low trade of a highly regarded prospect. From shaking off veteran catcher Miguel Montero on the first pitch of his career to his refusal to modify his strenuous warm-up routine, Bauer clearly was not about to adhere to the accepted rookie code of conduct. Some say the mechanical engineering major is too smart for his own good. Some say he has an IQ of 170. Some say he can solve a Rubik’s Cube using only his mind. Some say he’s a real piece of work. One thing Bauer is actually quite modest about is his assessment of his God-given physical talents; he firmly believes that he was not born a great pitcher but rather was made into one, in large part due to his unconventional training regiment. He’s employed it since he was very young, and it involves the use of rubber bands, medicine balls, 400-foot long toss, weighted baseballs, and year-round throwing. It is the diametric opposite of the current philosophy adhered to by most clubs when dealing with young pitchers, which is pitch counts, innings limits, and rest, rest, and more rest. The Indians will have a decision to make: allow Bauer to continue his workout routine or curtail it in keeping with the current paradigm of arm-babying. Whatever they decide to do, he’s got a decent shot at cracking the starting rotation.
Adam Eaton- OF- AZ: His minor league slash line of .355/.456/.510 in 1,451 PA made me do a double-take. It might not be as impressive as the no-hop throw he made to first base from the warning track at Petco Park to complete a classic seven-to-three double play, but impressive nevertheless. He’s averaged 33 steals a season and walks (166) almost as much as he strikes out (196). Arizona GM Kevin Towers traded longtime CF Chris B. Young to Oakland and recently shipped RF Justin Upton to Atlanta. Looks like there’s a seat at the grown up table with Eaton’s name on it! Wait, by the time Upton was dealt they had already signed Cody Ross, which tells me that they lack faith in Eaton and/or Gerardo Parra and aren’t about to go into the season without a contingency plan. The presence of Ross, Kubel and Parra cloud Eaton’s immediate playing future; right now he’s at best a fourth OF. I could see him having a year very similar to the one Norichika Aoki had for the Brewers in 2012 if Parra underperforms.
Shelby Miller- SP-StL: The former first-round draft pick made his debut last season and so impressed the Cardinals that they included him on the postseason roster, despite having only pitched in six games (one start). He’s currently listed at No. 6 in their rotation, right behind Jaime Garcia. Garcia battled a shoulder injury much of last season and an MRI showed a tear of the rotator cuff, but he elected for non-surgical rehab. Factor in the fragile Chris Carpenter, and Miller could be one unfortunate pitch away from becoming the fifth starter. Last season was his first in Triple-A, and the first in which he’d encountered any real resistance in his professional career; hitters smacked him around to the tune of a 4.74 ERA and 1.6 HR/9. Despite giving up the long ball at an alarming rate in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, his K/9 (10.5) and K/BB (3.20) check out.
Wil Myers- OF-TB: Don’t assume that the most-highly-touted OF prospect around is even going to start the year with the Rays. Their current starting outfield however, which consists of Desmond Jennings, Sam Fuld, and Matt Joyce isn’t really exciting anybody. I wouldn’t be surprised if a poor start by Fuld, a career .246 hitter, prompts a move of Joyce to center and a call-up of Myers to play right. He’s also taken reps at third in the minors, so the inevitable injury to Evan Longoria could see him getting some playing time there as well. The book on Myers is that he murders mistakes over the plate (who doesn’t?) but there are some questions surrounding his ability to turn on good fastballs on the inner-third. A strong March could land him on the Opening Day roster, at which point it will be seen if he’s ready to stick or is in need of a trip back to the minors, a la Anthony Rizzo.
Travis d’Arnaud-C-NYM: It’s pronounced “dar-no” (so now you know). The centerpiece of the R.A. Dickey trade, he really has nothing left to prove in the minors. Before a season-ending knee injury he was having his best year, on pace for career-highs in all major offensive categories. Assuming he’s fully recovered from his surgery for the start of spring training, his path to the starting job is blocked by both John Buck and the Mets’ desire to delay the commencement of d’Arnaud’s MLB service clock. The Mets know that they aren’t going anywhere in 2013 and, thanks to Bernie Madoff, now employ a new an uncomfortable frugality when handling players. Contrary to initial reports, majority owner Fred Wilpon actually turned a profit in the infamous Ponzi scheme, enough to more than offset damages he was required to pay in the ensuing lawsuit. Still, the future of the club’s ownership is murky at best, as MLB could assume control of the team should Wilpon default on any of his outstanding bank loans. Buck is a journeyman catcher, who throughout his career has been passed around like a one-hitter at a Horace Andy show. Mets GM and renowned prick Sandy Alderson is talking a big game now about leaving d’Arnaud in the minors for the majority 2013. But in June, when the Mets are 15 games under .500 and Buck is hitting .230, promoting the stud catcher you acquired for the reigning NL Cy Young winner might just be the ticket to reinvigorating the fan base.
Jedd Gyorko-2B-SD: Gyorko has absolutely raked at every level of the minors (.319/.385/.529). The Padres thought enough of his bat that they moved the young slugger from third base, where he was blocked by Chase Headley, to second base last season. Going back to college, the main knock on Gyorko was his perceived lack of a true position. Looking at his 5’10”, 200-lb frame, it’s easy to see why; there just aren’t many players of his stature (Dan Uggla is the only one that comes to mind) filling out Major League rosters. For the first time since anyone can recall, the Padres have an abundance of young, quality, middle infielders. Barring a poor spring, the second base job appears to be Gyorko’s to lose. With second-year player Logan Forsythe lurking in the shadows, how long he holds onto that job will depend on how well he hits. The move to second base bodes well for his fantasy value, as the consensus seems to place his ceiling at around .280/18 HR. That’s a far cry from his gaudy minor league numbers, but certainly adequate production for the position.