The National League looks to have even more teams than usual in the hunt for the playoffs in 2012, with each division having a cluster of possible frontrunners. These races may be impacted by the strong crop of rookies that have appeared on the horizon of the senior circuit. Some of these young players will start the season in the minors, but by the end of the year could end up being major contributors for their respective franchises. With the American League rookies having been profiled last week, here are my choices for the NL.
Arizona Diamondbacks- Starting Pitcher- Trevor Bauer: Many talent evaluators felt that Bauer could have made his major league debut last year because of how advanced the right-handed starter was coming out of college. The D-Backs wisely limited his innings after he signed and instead will likely have him get a little minor league experience before unleashing the man who allegedly possesses 19 different pitches on the rest of the NL.
Atlanta Braves- Relief Pitcher- Arodys Vizcaino: Most of the attention is on Vizcaino’s fellow Atlanta pitching prospects Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and Mike Minor, but Vizcaino may prove to be the best of the bunch. He was acquired from the Yankees in the 2009 trade for Javier Vazquez, and has battled injuries while pitching brilliantly in the minors. He debuted in Atlanta last season and will start 2012 in their bullpen. With his mid 90’s fastball and devastating breaking pitches, he will earn his chops in relief before moving into the rotation.
Chicago Cubs- Outfielder- Brett Jackson: Althoguh Jackson is the most advanced Chicago prospect, he still has some issues to iron out before he can truly make an impact. The lefty hitter has yet to play 100 games in a season and is an impatient hitter with a lot of holes in his swing. He has the ability to hit 20+ home runs if he learns some plate discipline and gets healthy. He is not a Theo Epstein type of player, but the lack of talent in the Chicago system will expedite his journey to the majors.
Cincinnati Reds- Catcher- Devin Mesoraco: Mesoraco is one of the best catching prospects to come along in years. He can play defense and has an excellent bat capable of .285 and 20+ home runs. Ryan Hanigan is currently ahead of him on the Reds depth chart, but it will only be a matter of time before he is supplanted by the rookie. Mesoraco is ready, and with Cincinnati having traded fellow top catching prospect Yasmani Grandal during the off-season, he has been identified as the catcher of the future.
Colorado Rockies- Utility Player- Jordan Pacheco: Pacheco made his way through the minors as a catcher, but has branched off to become a versatile role player, capable of playing all over the infield. He will be the Rockies backup catcher in 2012 and general jack of all trades; possibly assuming a Ty Wiggington-type role. He won’t hit for a ton of power, but his .303 career average in the minors and .286 in his major league cameo last year suggest an ability to handle a bat.
Houston Astros- Infielder-Marwin Gonzalez: The switch hitter was selected during this past Rule-5 Draft, and will be given every chance to stick with the team. He is known for his defense and ability to play multiple positions, key components to a rebuilding team like the Astros. With injury prone Jed Lowrie at shortstop and inexperienced Jose Altuve and Jimmy Paredes manning second and third, there could be a lot of opportunities for Gonzalez in 2012.
Los Angeles Dodgers- Catcher- Tim Federowicz: Originally drafted by the Red Sox, Federowicz is the Dodgers top catching prospect but may be on the outside looking in to start the 2012 season. That should change shortly after the Dodgers come to their senses and realize that light hitting career backups A.J. Ellis and Matt Treanor aren’t going to cut it for a full season. Federowicz is a solid defensive catcher who can handle the bat. If given a full season, he could put up something in the neighborhood of .260 and 10-12 home runs.
Miami Marlins- Third Baseman- Matt Dominguez: Dominguez will not start the year with Miami, but could find himself with significant major league playing time before the year is over. He is a strong defender with some pop, though there is worry about his ability to consistently handle big league pitching. With new shortstop Jose Reyes a perpetual injury risk and the unhappy Hanley Ramirez a trade candidate, there are a number of scenarios that could lead to Dominguez being called up.
Milwaukee Brewers- Outfielder- Norichika Aoki: The 30 year old signed out of Japan after having won three Japanese Central League batting titles. Despite his pedigree, his hopes for regular playing time were dashed by the dismissal of Ryan Braun’s 50 game suspension. The Brewers are built to win now and Aoki will fill the 4/5th outfielder role, pinch hit, and be a late inning defensive replacement off the bench.
New York Mets- Pitcher- Matt Harvey: Harvey is the best of the Mets more advanced starting pitching prospects. With Johan Santana on the comeback trail, Harvey probably won’t make the team out of spring training. Regardless, the hard throwing righty will see some time in New York, and given their mediocre rotation, could be a pleasant surprise.
Philadelphia Phillies- Relief Pitcher- Phillippe Aumont: The enormous right-hander reliever, who can pitch in the upper 90’s, first came to the Philadelphia organization from Seattle in the Cliff Lee trade. He struck out 78 batters in just 53.2 innings last year and has the stuff to put up similar numbers in the majors. With ancient Jose Contreras doubtful to start the season on time because of injury, Aumont will be a prime candidate to fill in. His big fastball would fit in nicely with the Phillies All-Star rotation and newly acquired closer, Jonathan Papelbon.
Pittsburgh Pirates- Infielder- Yamaico Navarro: Navarro played briefly in the past for the Red Sox and Royals, but was never able to lock down consistent playing time. He may get that chance with the Pirates, as his ability to play the corner infield and outfield positions make him an ideal candidate for the team’s super utility role. The right-handed hitter has the potential to be an average hitter, but has never hit more than 11 home runs in any professional season.
San Diego Padres- First Baseman- Yonder Alonso: The Padres liked Alonso enough to make him the focal point of a trade that sent their best starting pitcher, Mat Latos, packing to the Reds. They then traded top prospect Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs to make sure there was no doubt that Alonso was the team’s first baseman of the present and future. Despite playing briefly with the Reds during the past two seasons, Alonso has barely maintained his rookie status. The big lefty hitter will be looked to as an anchor in the Padres lineup and while he has never hit more than 17 home runs in any professional season, many in baseball feel he will ultimately be capable of perhaps doubling that number. Such a prognosis will be difficult to attain in Petco Park’s spacious confines, but mark him down for 12-15 in 2012 and go from there.
San Francisco Giants- Starting Pitcher- Erik Surkamp: The lefty was inconsistent in 6 late season games with the Giants. He lacks a dominant pitch, but still has the ability to be an effective back of the rotation starter. His 470 career minor league strikeouts in 398 innings are an encouraging sign that he knows how to pitch beyond just “stuff.” If any injuries occur or Barry Zito continues to falter, Surkamp will be given the first shot.
St. Louis Cardinals- Third Baseman- Zach Cox: The Cardinals 2010 1st round draft pick will start this season in the minors, but is another young player who could experience a significant jump because of injuries. The Cardinals current starters at the corners, David Freese and Lance Berkman, each have lengthy histories of injuries. With the Cardinals lacking impact bats in the minors, Cox would be the best option for a replacement if a fill-in was needed. He needs a lot of work on his defense, but has hit .309 over his first two seasons and shown blossoming power.
Washington Nationals- Outfielder- Bryce Harper: The Nationals have already begun wavering on their stance that Harper will remain in the minors until at least the end of this season. The team is in serious need of a productive centerfielder and Harper could be just the answer for them, especially now that they are legitimate playoff contenders. They might Harper in the minors until June and muddle through until then with Roger Bernadina in center, but once the playoff push starts in earnest, expect Harper to be playing regularly and make a rookie impact similar to what Chipper and Andruw Jones did for the Braves in the 1990’s. He can hit home runs in bunches and might be a major catalyst for getting the Nats into the postseason.
There you have it; the top National League rookies to keep an eye on for 2012!
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