On Thursday, I wrote about ten young pitchers to keep an eye on in 2012. The same caveats apply for this list as for the pitchers list: all hitters must be under 25, and none of them can have been traded this offseason. Let’s take a look.
1. Jason Heyward, Braves. In his rookie season of 2010, Heyward posted an .849 OPS and 5.1 fWAR, finishing as the runner up in the NL Rookie of the Year race behind Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants. Last season, Heyward’s OPS fell to .708 and his fWAR fell to 2.2, due in part to a drop in BABIP from .335 to .260, a lingering shoulder injury that was never healed all season, and the entrance of new hitting coach Larry Parrish, who messed with Heyward’s approach (and for that matter, most of the rest of the team’s approach) at the plate. This season, Heyward’s shoulder is apparently healthy coming into the year, and Parrish has been replaced with Greg Walker, who was the mind behind some of the high octane White Sox offenses from a couple of years ago. After an off 2011 from the Braves offense (that inevitably kept them out of the playoffs), the team needs to get on the right track in 2012, and a rebound from Heyward would be a big part of that.
2. Buster Posey, Giants. I just mentioned him as the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, and like Heyward, his sophomore season was a disappointment, albeit for other reasons. On May 25th, Posey was slumping with a .756 OPS. Marlins utilityman Scott Cousins was rounding third and coming into home. Posey blocked the plate, and Cousins steamrolled him, breaking the star catcher’s ankle in the process and knocking him out for the rest of the season. San Francisco’s offense was completely awful throughout the season, with or without Posey, and they didn’t even make the playoffs in their attempt to repeat as World Champions. Posey’s replacements behind the plate, Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside, were pretty awful in their attempts to replace the star catcher. The Giants are always a contender due to their strong starting rotation, but they need some offense to be taken seriously as contenders. A healthy Posey is a good start towards getting their offense going properly.
3. Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays. Toronto is a team on the rise, due mostly in part to MVP candidate Jose Bautista in the outfield. Well, after being promoted to Toronto in August, young star Brett Lawrie, acquired last offseason from the Milwaukee Brewers for Shaun Marcum, provided the team with a great spark. In his 43 games with the Blue Jays, Lawrie had a .953 OPS and managed to accrue 2.7 fWAR over just 171 plate appearances. Lawrie has 30/30 potential, homering nine times and stealing seven bases in his quarter season in the majors, while also providing fantastic defense (+14 DRS in 380 innings). With Bautista and Lawrie in the middle of their lineup, along with DH Adam Lind, the Blue Jays can make a lot of noise this season.
4. Domonic Brown, Phillies. I wrote about the seemingly massive amount of hatred that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has for Brown earlier this week, and a big season from him will either supplant him as a cornerstone player for the Phillies for years to come, or boost his value so Amaro can trade him, like he does with most of the team’s other top prospects. With John Mayberry Jr and Laynce Nix starting off in a platoon for the Phillies this year, Brown needs to have a big spring for the Phillies to regain some faith in him. I’m sure he’ll be able to, because I’m more confident in Brown’s abilities than most, but this guy is a former top five prospect that has fallen from grace after a broken hand sapped him of all of his power last year. I think he’s going to have a huge 2012 season.
5. Eric Hosmer, Royals. Out of the handful of top Royals hitting prospects, I went with Hosmer here, who had a great 2011 with a .799 OPS as a 21 year old for all of his rookie season. He’ll be 22 for the 2012 season, and the only major part of his game that needs improving at the major league level is his walk rate, which was a very low 6.0% in 2011. A majority of Hosmer’s offensive value was destroyed by his defense, which was a ghastly -16 DRS last season. With Billy Butler and Alex Gordon as the veterans in Kansas City’s order, Hosmer doesn’t need to carry the club next season, but I think he’ll take a big step towards stardom next year.
6. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates. McCutchen barely fits the criteria for my list, as he’ll be 26 as soon as the season ends. But this is a guy who’s just getting better as his career goes on, and he became a superstar last year, with an .820 OPS and 5.7 fWAR. His career OPS has been remarkably consistent (falling between .814 and .836 in each of his three seasons), and he’s totaled 12.9 fWAR before turning 25. That’s pretty damn good. He’s playing in relative obscurity in Pittsburgh, but fans are quickly realizing that he’s the real deal. McCutchen has stolen at least 20 bases in all three of his seasons, and hit a career high 23 homers last year. Last season, he also had the first positive DRS season of his career, logging a mark of +7. He is legitimately a five tool player, and could become one of the best players in the game in the near future. This is the type of guy that the Pirates needs to throw truckloads of money at in order to get him to stay in Pittsburgh long-term.
7. Desmond Jennings, Rays. Jennings is another guy who barely fits my criteria, as he also turns 26 after the season ends, but he’s going to be a key player for the Rays this season. Jennings was expected to fill Carl Crawford’s shoes in Tampa Bay last year, but didn’t get called up until mid-July. He was a revelation from then on out, with a .805 OPS, ten homers, 20 steals, and +4 DRS in left field in 63 games. If he was in Tampa Bay for the entire season, he could have propelled the Rays to the wild card before the final day of the season. In any sense, Jennings did hit a wall after getting called up, with just a .504 OPS in September, but he rebounded by going 5/15 with three extra base hits in the playoffs. The Rays can’t deal with a .500 OPS from Jennings, but a .700 OPS for a month or two wouldn’t be bad.
8. Devin Mesoraco, Reds. After the trade of Yasmani Grandal to the Padres in the Mat Latos deal, and incumbent Ramon Hernandez signing with the Rockies, the Reds’ catcher job in 2012 appears to be Mesoraco’s to lose. Mark ranked him sixth overall on his top prospects list, and for good reason. In AAA Louisville last year, Mesoraco had an .855 OPS, showing power and patience at the dish. He’ll be 24 in June (coincidentally, on my birthday, which makes him even more of a favorite of mine), and his time is now. During a brief, 18 game stint in the majors last year, Mesoraco struggled with just a .586 OPS, but a .184 BABIP could have a lot to do with his struggles. It doesn’t take much to be a superstar catcher in today’s game, and I think Mesoraco could be top ten in baseball by the time 2012 is done.
9. Ike Davis, Mets. Oh, the Mets. Jose Reyes is gone, Carlos Beltran is gone, and this is now Davis’s offense. He only played in 36 games in 2011, as an ankle injury killed most of his season, but he claims he’s 100% going into 2012. And that’s good, because in his rookie year of 2010, Davis showed great potential with a .791 OPS and fantastic defense at first base, accruing 3.5 fWAR. In his little over a month of play in 2011, Davis starred with 1.4 fWAR and a .925 OPS as his power increased and his plate discipline improved. It’s worth noting that in 2010 and 2011, Davis has had BABIPs in the stratosphere, averaging .325. He could come back down to earth this year, but if the Mets want to come anywhere near respectability, Davis needs to have a good year.
10. Mike Stanton, Marlins. I absolutely cannot argue this point: the 22 year old Stanton is a superstar. He’s been worth 7.3 fWAR over his two seasons in the majors, and has hit 56 homers in 250 games. He’s really, really good, and just getting better. With the Marlins completely retooling by bringing in Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, and Heath Bell, they’re looking to make a splash in 2012. Stanton will be a big reason if the team has a lot of success, with his bat anchoring the middle of Miami’s order. With Reyes and Hanley Ramirez on base in front of him, he’s going to have plenty of chances to drive in runs and make teams pay. In addition to his fantastic bat, Stanton is an amazing defender, with +27 DRS in a little over 2000 career innings in right field. Stanton is an unreal young bat that’s not getting nearly enough attention with everything going on in Miami this offseason.
Photos courtesy of Daylife.com