January 27, 2012

MLB.com released its top 100 prospect list for 2012 on Wednesday night, and we can safely say that a handful of the guys on the list will make a major impact in the fantasy game this year. Last year, MLB's top 15 prospects included Jeremy Hellickson (No. 2), Dustin Ackley (5), Desmond Jennings (11) and Michael Pineda (13). In 2010, headliners Jason Heyward (1), Stephen Strasburg (2), Mike Stanton (3), Buster Posey (4) and Neftali Feliz (7), all became fantasy mainstays.

Well, it's no different, with several familiar names at the top of the list, including a few who should start the year in the majors. This season's No. 1 leads a class that could challenge the output of 2010's top prospects.

Matt Moore, Rays (1): Not only is Moore the top-rated prospect, but our friends at Mock Draft Central tell us the Rays left-hander has an ADP of 102.59, coming off the board before Adam Wainwright, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Garza in an average draft. With a fastball that consistently sits in the mid-90s and a curveball he can also use as an out pitch, Moore has stardom in his near future. He'll jump right into the Rays' rotation at the start of the year, giving them as deep a group of starting pitchers as you'll find anywhere in the majors. The scariest thing about the Rays' rotation is that Moore might be better than David Price, James Shields and Hellickson. He dominated the International League in nine starts at Triple-A Durham, going 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA and a 79/18 K/BB ratio, before an impressive cup of coffee in the majors. This is a guy who will justify his top 100 ADP, and could provide one of the largest returns on investment this season.

Mike Trout, Angels (3): Trout tumbled down the prospect ranks this year, falling all the way to three from the top spot in 2011. All kidding aside, Trout should find himself on the Angels' Opening Day roster, making him an immediate 20-30 threat in the majors, so long as he gets the playing time. Trout currently has an ADP of 209.15, but expect that to rise as we get closer to draft season. He already should be higher on boards in keeper or dynasty leagues, assuming he's even available. He struggled at the major league level last season, and Mike Scioscia has been known to have a short leash on rookies, but Trout's defense and relative lack of competition in the Los Angeles outfield (Vernon Wells? Really?) should keep him in the lineup more often than not.

Julio Teheran, Braves (4): Take Teheran's elite talent, add in injury questions surrounding Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, and you've got yourself a formula for the 20-year-old righty to start the season as part of Atlanta's rotation. Teheran starred at Triple-A Gwinnett last year, posting a 2.55 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. He did have a 3.06 FIP suggesting his mid-2 ERA was a bit lucky. We know he'll miss bats (122 strikeouts in 144.2 innings) and keep the ball in the park (five homers allowed last year). His current 219.71 ADP has him ahead of Jonathan Sanchez, Roy Oswalt and Ricky Nolasco, and I'd take him over all three of those more established pitchers. Once a draft gets this deep, I always give an edge to upside. Teheran's, for both this season and the future, is tremendous.

Jesus Montero, Mariners (12): Like Moore, we know with absolute certainty that Montero will be a starter from day one this season. Seattle was desperately searching for a middle-of-the-order bat, and thought enough of Montero to part with Michael Pineda to get him. We know Montero is going to hit for power in the majors. As a 20-year-old at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010, Montero hit .289/.353/.517 with 21 homers and a .227 ISO. He piled up 18 homers and 19 doubles in 420 Triple-A at-bats last season. There's no doubt the guy is going to rack up extra bases with the Mariners. The only question is where he'll play. For our purposes, he'll qualify as a catcher, and he immediately vaults into the middle ranks. I'd take him over anyone other than Buster Posey, Carlos Santana, Mike Napoli, Brian McCann and probably Joe Mauer.

The four guys above are all locks or likely to be in the majors on Opening Day. The next five will probably start the year in the minors, but should be in the majors at some point, and a few could surprise and make the Opening Day roster.

Bryce Harper, Nationals (2): While he came in as the No. 2 prospect, Harper still has some sharpening left in the minors. He sputtered after his promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, hitting .256/.329/.395 with just three homers in 129 at-bats. Still, he's just 19 years old, and projects as a middle-of-the-order guy for years to come. He's the one guy in this group who is still likely a year away from the majors.

Trevor Bauer, Diamondbacks (9): Bauer made seven starts across two levels of the minors after getting drafted by Arizona out of UCLA. The numbers don't look great, but they're skewed by two starts in which he gave up 17 runs in 4.2 innings. In his other five starts, he surrendered just eight runs in 29 innings while striking out 43 batters. The Diamondbacks have a strong rotation headed by Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, but Bauer should crack the roster at some point during the summer.

Jacob Turner, Tigers (15): The Tigers should win the AL Central by a wide margin this year, but that doesn't mean they'll take it easy with Turner. His struggles in three major league starts last year suggest he could use more time at Toledo, but if he succeeds in the first half, the Tigers won't be shy about calling him up.

Drew Pomeranz, Rockies (24): It will be interesting to watch Pomeranz in spring training. With Kevin Slowey shipped out of town, he could earn himself a spot in the Opening Day rotation with a strong spring. The centerpiece of the trade that sent Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland, Pomeranz made five starts at Double-A last year, striking out 24 batters in 24 innings. He's another lefty with a hammer curveball, continuing a proud major league tradition. He's worth a late-round flier if he makes the rotation out of Spring Training.

Brett Jackson, Cubs (33): Jackson will certainly make his major league debut at some point this season. The only question is if it's on Opening Day or sometime later. If the Cubs can move one of Alfonso Soriano or Marlon Byrd before the season starts, Jackson should have a place in the everyday lineup. His high strikeout rate is a worry -- Jackson struck out 138 times in 431 at-bats combined at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last year -- but despite that he has shown an ability to get on base (.388 OBP at Iowa last year), something the Cubs have lacked at the top of their order since Kenny Lofton's stint with the team in 2003.

Chat with me on Twitter, @MBeller

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