by Rob Leibowitz
Happy New Year from the "The Prospector"!
To usher in the New Year, I will once again examine, on a position by position basis, the "impact prospects" for the coming year.
For those new to this series, my definition of "impact" may be different than others. By impact I mean, "will they play and if so, how much?" and finally, "are they any good?" So in order to qualify for this series, there has to be a chance that player will see time in the majors this season.
Why this focus? This is elementary of course for re-draft leaguers whose prospect context is only of that of a single season. For keeper leaguers (particularly auction-style), I believe focusing on players who are likely to get the call in 2012 is an important mindset for your taxi squad or minor league draft. If you are in it for 2012, a similar mindset to a re-draft leaguer is necessary. This is beneficial for two reasons. Either A) you draft a player with the intention that he will contribute this season and vault into your lineup at a low-price (particularly if your league utilizes a cap) and provide needed stats, or B) you use that player for leveraging veterans from other players.
Rosario in good environment
The "impact prospects" are the most attractive targets for dumping teams as they look contending the following season. "Impact prospects" provide a statistical need at a low price, allowing for auction leaguers to redistribute their budget with great flexibility, opening up a number of strategic options whether they throw all their eggs into offense, or pitching, a stars and scrubs strategy, or whatever else they choose.
There is an exception, of course, to selecting just players who will impact the upcoming season. And that is of course to the uber-prospects that not only have the tools, but have displayed high-level skills that suggest they will be potential All-Stars (Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, etc). In other words this should be a very short list of players that are well known to the fantasy universe. These types of players should be drafted regardless of whether they will actually play in the upcoming season.
And now, without further ado, the impact catching prospects for 2012!
Devin Mesoraco is perhaps at the top of the heap with respect to prospects and impact for 2012. Unless he falls flat on his face in spring training, he will open the season as an everyday player. At the minor league level and to lesser extent over a short sample size in the majors, Mesoraco has displayed a good blend of patience, contact hitting, and power. He could have a similar peak to his predecessor, Ramon Hernandez, in terms of batting average and power production. Right now I see him as mid to high teens per season home run hitter who could hit in the .270s or higher.
Jesus Montero's playing time took a sizable leap when the Mariners acquired him as he will without question be on their opening day roster. Montero has greater raw power than Mesocraco, but has not shown the same level of plate discipline and as a right-handed hitter will need to show some better contact-making chops too. Defensively, however, given his size and progress at the position, catching may not be his long-term future and his bat may not profile quite as well at first base or DH. For now he will split time with Miguel Olivo behind the plate and see time at DH too. Keep in mind that Montero will be moving to a very pitching-friendly park and will be catching on the MLB level at age 22, keep your expectations reasonable. It is quite possible he reaches double digits in home runs, but could be underwhelming in other areas.
The A's may have acquired their catcher of the future in Derek Norris in the Gio Gonzalez trade. Kurt Suzuki, however, is signed through 2013, so Norris' chances may limited, though he should at least receive a cup of coffee with perhaps a better shot at playing time in 2013 especially if the A's move Suzuki's contract in the off- or pre-season. Still, he is very likely to start 2012 in Triple-A putting him in position for a disabled list related call-up or at the very least a cup of coffee. Offensively, his power and patience are his best two assets. His right-handedness and his strikeout rates (around a quarter of the time), however, will limit his potential in the batting average department. Chris Iannetta may be a good comparison.
Geovany Soto has been doing his Bret Saberhagen imitation since 2008. He has at least hit for power each of those years, but his inconsistency has been alarming with jumps from hitting .285 to .218 to .280 and back down to .228. He is still on the right side of 30, but if he struggles this year, the Cubs could well turn to Welington Castillo. Four years Soto's junior (he'll turn 25 just after the start of the season), Castillo has shown some power in his bat. His defense should get him to The Show, but he is a less disciplined hitter than Soto, is also right-handed, and strikes out as often as Soto too. In other words, Castillo has a good chance to get a shot, but I am skeptical regarding his ability to take advantage of his chances and even more to sustain any initial success, that is if he even has any.
The Padres in trading Mat Latos made sure they got three key pieces for their future and one of them was Yasmani Grandal. Grandal was deemed expendable due to Devin Mesoraco being closer to the majors. It will be interesting to see which player ends up the better one in the long run and we may see it start to pan out as early as this season. The 23-year-old is a switch-hitter who hit 14 homers between two levels in 2011 and is projected, given his 6'2" frame, to generate more as he matures. In A+ ball, he made some interesting strides in the plate discipline department, walking 16% of the time while striking out 23%. The Reds were impressed enough by him to promote him twice, getting 18 plate appearances at Triple-A. He will likely start in Triple-A with the Padres too.
J.P. Arencibia has to keep an eye over his shoulder after failing to hit .220 or clear the .300 OBP mark. Granted he hit 23 long balls, but he will have to do better than to keep Travis d'Arnaud off his tail. D'Arnaud is coming off a .311/.371/.542 season at Double-A. Those are the types of numbers you'd expect if he were at Las Vegas which he will this season. Before you get too excited, however, one should note the .365 batting average on balls in play D'Arnaud managed last season too. All in all the soon to be 23-year-old did not make any changes to his plate discipline from A+ ball and in fact has seen his strikeout rates increase as he has started to focus on his power game. In time, given his bat speed, he may be able to improve and make more contact while still hitting for power, but I remain somewhat skeptical and would be surprised to see him be much more than a .280s hitter. His defense behind the plate ensures he will stay there. Do not be surprised by a mid-season call-up if Arencibia continues to struggle.
The trade of Chris Iannetta opened up a clear path to the big leagues for Wilin Rosario. Ramon Hernandez will open the year as the starter while Rosario likely heads back to Triple-A for a bit more seasoning. He has shown good power in two consecutive seasons, but has shown little growh in the palte discipline department (actually he declined in his second stint in Double-A). He is something of a continuing theme of catchers with high-teens to low-twenties per season home run potential, mediocre discipline skills and right-handed bats. I expect him to have a career and playing in Colorado could help, but like all players with a similar skill set, I cannot help but be skeptical until proven otherwise. He definitely needs to show more selectivity at the very least.
The Dodgers may well go with a rookie to open 2012. Tim Federowicz has just 16 career MLB plate appearances, but he may end up the starter by default. He does not have the power potential of many players on this list, but he may have some better skills. An above average defender, Federowicz has at least gap power and did combine between two minor league levesl to hit 14 home runs in 2011. The 24-year-old has a history of making contact more than 80% of the time as well as of being selective. The combination may not be a sexy one, but it could well be a productive one with a less-costly investment than on some of the other higher-profile players on this list.
Federowicz is not the Dodgers' only option. Gorman Erickson will soon be 24 and could be advanced to Triple-A to start the season. The 6'3" switch-hitter is almost as a good defender as Federowicz, has a slight edge in the power-hitting department, and has a very good eye, hitting .305/.408/.491 in A+ last year and then .275/.329/.479 in Double-A. It will be interesting to see how he handles Triple-A.
The Red Sox appear to be headed into the season with a duo of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach. In other words, not a likely long-term tandem. Enter Ryan Lavarnway who stormed through two minor league levels and a cup of coffee in the majors. Over that period he hit 34 home runs while showing very little alteration to his approach at the plate, continuing to draw walks while striking out less than a quarter of the time. He may not be the most athletic player in the world and his defense has its shortcomings, but one cannot deny his raw power and his ability to translate his production from level to level. He may not make the squad out of spring training, but he should be on it before long. His long-term upside, depending on how well he handles righties however, could be as a right-handed platoon player.
The Yankees realized they were deep in catching prospects with Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez, thus letting them part with the less defensively inclined Jesus Montero. Romine has the most to immediately gain. The 23-year-old will likely start 2012 in Triple-A, but could be up and down with the MLB club all season long, depending on Russell Martin's health. He is not a high upside player and has single-digits to low-teens per season home run potential, but he makes some contact and could be a .260s to .280s hitter at the MLB level.
The Indians have Carlos Santana entrenched as their everyday catcher which means Chun-Hsiu Chen will likely end up a back-up or trade bait. The 23-year-old had another fairly strong offensive game, hitting 16 HRs in Double-A Akron. However, his contact rate notably declined 10% and his batting average dropped 60 points along with it. He will start the year in Triple-A, but it is possible that he may even be overexposed at that level. Keep an eye on how Chen translates his 2011 season to his new level.
When you have Buster Posey ahead of you in an organization, you are probably in the wrong organization. This is even more of an issue when you have players like Tommy Joseph and Andrew Susac also at your position and more highly rated in your organization too. Fortunately for Hector Sanchez, he is close to MLB ready and in fact got a brief call-up late last season. He is a better defender than Joseph (who could move off the position), makes great contact, and has demonstrated gap power and some modest home run power (low-teens tops). He probably profiles as a back-up long-term, but if the Giants have to move Posey to another position or if Posey gets hurt, he could get a shot to replace him, and Sanchez does have enough skills to avoid embarrassing himself.
Possible MLB Phase Draft/Auction Sections:
Devin Mesoraco, Jesus Montero, Tim Federowicz
Possible Minor League Draft Phase Selections:
Derek Norris, Yasmani Grandal, Travis d'Arnaud, Wilin Rosario, Ryan Lavarnway
Possible In-Season FAAB Pick-Ups:
Welington Castillo, Austin Romine, Chun-Hsiu Chen, Gorman Erickson, Hector Sanchez
If there are any catchers who were not included in this piece who you like me to discuss, feel free to comment below or post to the Mastersball.com forums.