Trout, Darvish lead class of top fantasy rookies fo 2012 season
Mike Trout has put in Top-10 production on a per at-bat basis this season
Yu Darvish is 7-3 with a 3.34 ERA and 73 strikeouts through 67 1/3 innings
Rockies rookie catcher Wilin Rosario leads all rookies with nine homers so far
This is a great season for rookies: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper look like future fantasy first-rounders and Yu Darvish just might be the best Japanese pitcher we have ever seen in the majors. But, as far as June call-up seasons go, it is one big disappointment.
And this week's First Year Player Draft doesn't promise any 2012 contributions -- don't bother looking if you're not in a keeper league. Heck, we are still waiting on a debut from the 2011 class, although the Diamondbacks' Trevor Bauer and Mariners' Danny Hulzten are good enough to help right now.
So instead of getting our mouth watered for food we cannot get our fork into, we might as well celebrate the rookie class we do have; it is one that can rival arguably the greatest class in the fantasy area, 2001, with Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki.
Here are fantasy baseball's top 10 rookies, ranked by their anticipated production for fantasy owners the rest of this season:
Trout might not have been drafted with the once-in-a-lifetime-prospect hype Harper was, but Trout has no equal among rookies this year. It didn't take long for him to earn must-start status in all fantasy leagues, not with the multi-category production of .331 with five homers, 22 RBI, 24 runs, nine steals through 35 games.
While Pujols was worse than pedestrian for two months, Trout has been the Angels' MVP out of the leadoff spot. Trout likely will slump and cool off to the .300 level, if not below, but his homers, steals and loads of at-bats out of the leadoff spot will keep him among the must-start outfielders in all of fantasy.
Only seven outfielders with as many at-bats have scored more fantasy points per at-bat in standard head-to-head points leagues, and we are talking about names like Josh Hamilton, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun and Carlos Beltran.
All those guys have been fantasy first-rounders before. Trout, still just 20-years old, will be, too, someday.
Darvish might not be as dominant as the phenomenon that was Hideo Nomo -- who was 6-1 with a 1.99 ERA through 13 starts at the All-Star break in 1995 -- but few will bother to argue with Darvish's production to date. At 7-3 with a 3.34 ERA and 73 strikeouts through 67 1/3 innings, Darvish has come through.
We might expect him to slow in the second half, like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Nomo and almost every other Japanese pitching import has in his first season, but the potent, two-time defending AL champion Rangers will still make Darvish a winner for fantasy owners here on out. Sell high if you want -- you can do that with any pitcher -- but Darvish figures to hold value.
It would be a disappointment if Harper was merely a future fantasy first-rounder. With the amount of hype he has received, he almost has to be destined to be the best player in all of fantasy.
The early returns have been good and getting better by the day. Tuesday night was the first walk-off hit of Harper's career. At just 19 years of age, it surely will wind up being the first of many.
Harper has raised his average to .288 with five homers, 14 RBI, 22 runs and two steals in his first 125 at-bats. He isn't as polished of a basestealer as Trout, so that keeps him from being as intriguing in fantasy. Regardless, he is a must-start in all leagues right now. Rarely, say, in the past 30 years of the fantasy era, have we ever said that about a teenager.
Montero has obtained catcher eligibility in all fantasy leagues, and despite a mere .259 average and .298 on-base percentage, he warrants being active in all leagues because of the thin nature of the catcher position.
Montero might not quite be the big-time producer many expected but catchers just don't hit 20 homers with 75-plus RBI -- the early pace Montero has set -- especially as rookies.
Here is the real value of this column today. You might not know Rosario leads all rookies with nine homers. Judging by his mere 43 percent ownership on CBSSports.com, more than half of those fantasy players don't.
This is a catcher, one playing every day with Ramon Hernandez out, and one with legit pop and long-term potential. Rosario walks even less than Montero and strikes out more frequently, but he plays half his games in Coors Field and has arrived as a mixed-league fantasy backstop. The power potential trumps the lump you take with his sub-.250 batting average.
This is the first minor-leaguer on this list; yet, if we could guarantee Bauer's next start would come in the majors, he would be higher on this list. Alas, we are still left waiting with bated breath.
Bauer has given up some runs of late in Triple A, albeit nothing significant, and he is a combined 9-1, 1.96 with .202 batting-average against and 91 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings between Double- and Triple-A. He is this writer's current titleholder of best pitching prospect in baseball, trumping the preseason's Julio Teheran (currently hot in Triple A) and many other's favorite, Dylan Bundy (just proving slightly human after his promotion to high Class A).
Last year everyone loved Moore after his late-season debut and great one-game performance in the postseason.
Moore has been mostly a dud this season at 2-5 with a 4.45 ERA through 11 starts, particularly when you consider the production against his amped up draft position and auction price this March. Yes, he is still an impressive young arm, but he appears in for some more struggles before we get the kind of production owners paid for on him (read: You, not this writer ... didn't touch him this March due to the excessive hype from the masses).
The Cuban came out of the gate swinging, but he has been hamstrung by injury and some of those slumps we should expect from a player that strikes out over three times as many as he walks. Still, Cespedes has the speed and power potential we thirst for in rotisserie leagues.
Cespedes returned from the DL last Friday and homered Tuesday night, so he might be ready to go on a tear that will make his .252-6-25-14-4 look like ancient history in a few weeks. Almost half of CBSSports.com's leagues don't have him in their active lineups. That will be changing in the coming days.
Remember the adage "talent finds a way." It applies to Middlebrooks.
The Red Sox have found a way to get Middlebrooks, a returning Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez and longtime, DH-only David Ortiz in the same lineup. The answer has been having Gonzalez fill in for the Red Sox's injury-hit outfield. There also is talk that Youkilis, will be shopped to clear the position for Middlebrooks long term.
Regardless, Middlebrooks' .314-6-22-14-2 is just too good to take out of the Red Sox's lineup. It makes him tough to ignore in fantasy either, especially as long as he is able to avoid the extended slump his strikeout-to-walk rate (29-4) suggests will eventually come.
Reed has only recently emerged as the White Sox's closer, and he even more recently blew a game with the first loss of his career (Saturday), but we should be willing to absorb some bumps in the road with our closers this year.
The important thing to note is Reed is the White Sox's future at the position and the best option for that role now. Once he truly settles in, we should expect him to take off and emerge as one of the top 10 closers in fantasy.
There are about 100 major league rookies who could have been considered for this list and perhaps as many minor league prospects. The 10 above are special to fantasy owners right now, but perhaps a quiet call-up season will heat up and excite us more.
If you want to take some fliers right now, here are some suggestions:
1. SP Danny Hultzen, Mariners -- He is now 6-3, 1.44 with .153 BAA and 67 strikeouts in 62 1/3 Double A innings. He has allowed just two runs in his past five starts and his ERA since April is just 1.00. He should be moving to Triple-A, if not the major leagues, soon.
2. SS Zack Cozart, Reds -- He has had some lean stretches, but he is making up for that in June (.389, 7-for-17); at just 64 percent ownership, he warrants a look in all mixed leagues immediately. You don't want to jump in on him, or fellow Reds rookie infielder Todd Frazier, too late.
3. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Cubs -- A prospect report would be incomplete without this name. While the Cubs say he is not coming up for interleague play, he still will be up before the end of June.
4. DH Vladimir Guerrero, Blue Jays -- Manny Ramirez might get more buzz for his pending return to the majors, but Vladdy will be more productive.
5. SP Roy Oswalt, Rangers -- He temporarily has unseated Bauer as the most-owned minor leaguer. It will be interesting to see who arrives to the majors first this month. Oswalt is still a few weeks, three starts, away.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. If you miss his Monday baseball trends, Wednesday prospect report or Friday pitching review, you can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).
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