Fantasy baseball tends to be a reactionary game: What happens one season significantly influences the values and draft process the next year. So how will owners and fans alike react to the legendary rookie class of 2012, the best since Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001? Hopefully, they won't expect a repeat.
This year's rookie class is one of the toughest to gauge in recent memory. While it is deep and intriguing, the potential rewards are just too tough to discern right now. The best prospects don't necessarily have clear paths to starting jobs, and the rookies who will have jobs won't carry much fantasy weight. Therefore, owners will likely be disappointed if they depend on rookies to lead their fantasy teams. This year's rookies have to wait their turn on draft day, which makes them more like sleepers than cornerstones for fantasy squads.
Rookie years like the ones Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish produced just don't happen very often. And, if you look at the early March 2012 average draft positions for that quartet, they weren't overwhelming. Trout was 213th in MockDraftCentral.com's ADP; Darvish, because he was expected to make the team out of spring training, was 124th; Harper was 225th; and Cespedes was an eye-popping 419th.
As part of our series on finding breakthroughs and players who will outperform their draft position, we examine the rookies and prospects. There are many ways to delve into this topic, particularly since there are so many prospects worth tracking and rookies who can impact baseball in any given year. You can rank them based on how they might fly off the board on draft day; you can rank them by position; you can project which are going to be the best long-term plays for keeper leagues.
Only seven rookies initially appeared in
Our top 10 rookies for 2013 are not the rookies likely to be drafted first, nor the 10 best long-term prospects in baseball. Rather, they're the players who will make the biggest overall impact in fantasy as rookies.
Top 10 rookies in 2013
There's a reason Tampa Bay felt comfortable sending Kansas City two pitchers the Royals can immediately put in their starting rotation: The Rays are convinced Myers will be a stud big-league slugger. Despite that confidence, they're planning to start Myers at Triple-A this season, even though he already proved more than capable at that level last season (.304, 24 HR, 79 RBI, 66 R, 2 SB, .378 OBP and .554 SLUG in 99 games). It won't take Myers long -- perhaps only a couple of weeks -- to become a regular in the Rays' lineup, though.
Including his Double-A numbers, Myers combined for 37 homers and 109 RBI last season, so he is easily the most intriguing power bat among the rookies this year. He could reach 25 homers and 80 RBI, making him a great value in the later rounds.
There are many things to like about Gyorko in fantasy, particularly the power potential he can provide at the thin second base position. Gyorko is transitioning from third base -- Chase Headley is entrenched as the Padres' third baseman -- and is reportedly doing well defensively, and there have never been many questions about his bat. He combined for 30 homers and 100 RBI in the minors last season, doing the bulk of his damage at Triple-A (.328/24/83/62/4/.380/.588 in 92 games). If you miss out on the few elite second basemen, Gyorko is an outstanding fallback option.
Olt is coming off a breakthrough year in Double-A last season, where he went .288/28/82/65/4/.398/.579. However, he won't be able to play his natural position in Texas because Adrian Beltre blocks him at third base. The Rangers will give their best slugging prospect a chance to get at-bats in the outfield, at first base and perhaps at DH when Lance Berkman needs to rest his chronically bad knees. Olt still needs to make the team, and he will only likely do so if he can prove capable of being a relative regular, rotating among all his positions. If he does, the position versatility and power potential will come in handy for fantasy owners.
With a career minor-league average of .355 through 319 games, Eaton projects to be a rare, cheap source of steals who won't bury you in batting average like some other one-dimensional speedsters. Like the Rays with Myers, Eaton's front-office showed a lot of confidence in him, trading away Justin Upton this winter to open up a potential starting job. Eaton is currently the No. 1 rookie going off the board in fantasy (per average draft position), so it might not be so easy to get him in the late rounds.
If you miss out on Eaton, Hicks might be your man. He got off to a surprising start in spring training and looks capable of making the jump from Double-A to the Twins' Opening Day lineup in center field. That comes after a year where he broke through with career-best numbers across the board: .286/13/61/100/32/.384/.460. Hicks' draft position is more suppressed than any of the others in our top 10, so you can wait a while on him if you draft before the Twins officially give him the job.
The Cardinals are loaded with veteran outfielders, otherwise they might have considered this phenom for a starting spot out of spring -- instead, they sent him back to Triple-A to expand on his 2012 breakthrough year. A career .321 hitter in 327 minor-league games, the Dominican displayed his best power yet in Double-A (.321/23/94/83/10/.380/.572). It sets him up to be one of the most intriguing long-term prospects in baseball. Consider him a must-track in the early part of the season and one of the most impactful in-season call-ups in fantasy.
What do the Diamondbacks know that the minor-league stat sheets aren't telling us? They seemed awfully eager to deal this minor-league strikeout artist this winter. After blowing through the minors with 200 strikeouts in 156 innings, Bauer is major-league ready right now. He bombed in his four-stint trial a year ago (6.06 ERA), but he can post a strikeout per inning once the Indians give him a rotation spot. If it doesn't happen out of spring training, expect him to be too dominant to ignore once the season is underway.
This modest ranking for the best pitching prospect in baseball is no knock on his potential, because he's clearly a future ace. The problem is that he's posted only 104 innings as a pro, so there's little chance the Orioles will allow him to surpass 150 combined innings this season. He'll likely serve as a reliever down the stretch, if he's not shut down completely in August. Once he moves beyond an innings limit and arrives in the Orioles rotation, he will instantly be their staff ace.
Profar has a chance to ultimately be the best player in this rookie class, and most prospect rankings reflect that by listing him No. 1. But, since he's young, raw and blocked from a job with the big club by shortstop Elvis Andrus and second baseman Ian Kinsler, Profar can't be higher than ninth on this list. Switch-hitting middle infielders with 30/30 potential like Profar don't come around often, though, so he will be well worth the stash in all leagues with reserves.
The top-ranked rookie in SI.com's initial Top 300 checks in here at No. 10 after a disappointing spring put his prospects of closing for the Tigers out of camp in jeopardy. Rondon has a Craig Kimbrel-like arm, but reports indicate his 100-mph fastball has been a bit too straight and wild to make him a reliable closer right away. Even if Rondon gets an apprenticeship as a setup man, the closer's job will be his once he proves effective and in command at the big-league level.
Top rookies by draft position
The below chart shows the average draft position of the rookies through one week in March. The data used is from MockDraftCentral.com and is sure to change as more drafts are completed leading up to Opening Day. The far right column lists the SI.com Top 300 ranking as of this writing.
Top-ranked rookies by position
In case you don't like our picks above, below are the top rookies by position, according to our position-by-position primers. They are ranked for their draft position and potential to help early in the season. If you are not afraid of the unknown and want to try to catch lightning in the bottle late in drafts, you can highlight these rookie names on your cheat sheets.
As a bonus, we list some of the favorite long-term prospects from the best two prospects sources in the business, Baseball America and MiLB.com.
Other catcher prospects to watch: Mike Zunino, SEA; Gary Sanchez, NYY; Austin Hedges, SD.
Other first base prospects to watch: C.J. Cron, LAA; Alex Dickerson, PIT.
Other second base prospects to watch: Delino DeShields, HOU; Jonathan Schoop, BAL.
Other third base prospects to watch: Miguel Sano, MIN; Matt Davidson, ARI; Kaleb Cowart, LAA; Anthony Rendon, WAS; Wilmer Flores, NYM.
Other shortstop prospects to watch: Xander Bogaerts, BOS; Nick Franklin, SEA; Javier Baez, CHC; Francisco Lindor, CLE; Carlos Correa, HOU.
Other outfield prospects to watch: Nick Castellanos, DET; Bubba Starling, KC; Jackie Bradley, BOS; Byron Buxton, MIN.
Other starting pitching prospects to watch: Jameson Taillon, PIT; Jose Fernandez, MIA; Tijuan Walker, SEA; Archie Bradley, ARI; Max Fried, SD; Kyle Zimmer, KC.