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Friday, February 24, 2012

2012 National League Breakout Players

The American League breakout players were covered in last week’s post- -  and now it is time to go over their National League counterparts. The senior circuit has their own crop of impressive up and coming players, many of whom will play important roles in their team’s fortunes in 2012.

Arizona Diamondbacks- First Baseman- Paul Goldschmidt: Arizona is one of the most exciting young teams in the game, and will ratchet it up a few more notches in giving Goldschmidt significant at bats in 2012. He will log most of his time at first base and remind fans a bit of Mark Reynolds because his all-or-nothing approach at the plate. The good news is that Goldschmidt is a better hitter than Reynolds, so while he may strike out once every 3-4 at bats, he should also hit around .250, and it isn’t out of the question for him to club 20-25 homers.

Atlanta Braves- Starting Pitcher- Julio Teheran: The Braves and talented pitchers go together like peas and carrots. Baseball fans would be hard-pressed to identify another team that has so consistently developed top notch pitching talent over the past two-plus decades. While the Braves have several promising arms rising through their system, Teheran is the best of the bunch, and has a good chance to stick in the back end of their rotation this season. Although barely 21, Teheran already got a taste of the majors last year and held his own. He is a hard thrower and should pile up the strikeouts if given the innings.

Chicago Cubs- First Baseman- Bryan LaHair: Theo Epstein’s first season with the Cubs is going to be a rough one. However, it will be by design, as the brilliant executive is biding his time waiting for bad contracts to expire and his farm system to be replenished. In the meantime he is working with what he inherited, and LaHair looks like he may get the lion’s share of playing time at first base. He won’t do anything to unseat first baseman of the future, Anthony Rizzo, but will put up good replacement numbers (think .270 with 15-20 home runs) while the youngster gets a little more seasoning.

Cincinnati Reds- Catcher- Devin Mesoraco: While youngsters like Bryce Harper get all the attention, Mesoraco may be your National League ROY in 2012. While he doesn’t blow kisses or hit 500 foot home runs, he is the most exciting catching prospect to come along since Matt Wieters. Mesoraco can hit, hit for power, and play defense. He probably won’t wrest the starting position away from Ryan Hanigan to start the year, but may end up with more playing time by the end of the season.

Colorado Rockies- Utility Player- Jordan Pacheco: Now that Ty Wiggington left the Rockies for Philadelphia, Colorado is seeking to replace his versatility on their roster. A prime candidate is Pacheco, who came up through the minors as a catcher, but can also play all over the infield. He got a cup of coffee on the big league roster last September and played well in his limited opportunities.

Pacheco figures to get a lot more playing time in 2012 just because of the law of averages. Playing behind aging, injury prone veterans like Ramon Hernandez, Marco Scutaro, and Casey Blake could push Pacheco into near full time playing status. He was a .299 career hitter in the minors, so expect the athletic rookie to hit the ground running.

Houston Astros- Outfielder-J.D. Martinez: The Astros’ 2012 season will likely be viewed as a success if they lose less than 100 games. Their roster is full of aging veterans and unproven youngsters, but Martinez locked up a starting outfield spot with his inspired play in the second half of last season. Prior to his debut he had a career .342 batting average in the minors, making him one of the most under the radar prospects in the game.

Los Angeles Dodgers- Shortstop- Dee Gordon: Generously listed at 150 pounds, Gordon can be knocked down by a stiff breeze, but the son of former major leaguer Tom Gordon can flat out play. Gordon’s game is all about speed. He can be a .275-.290 hitter and has the ability to steal as many bases as he wants. If he sticks as a starter all season, 60 steals or more are within the realm of possibility. He will provide next to nothing in power categories, but will more than make up for it with the way he can disrupt a game on the base paths.

Miami Marlins- Outfielder- Logan Morrison: Although he had a decent season in 2011, Morrison made more headlines for his off the field issues. With the Marlins having upgraded their lineup with Jose Reyes and a presumably healthier Hanley Ramirez, Morrison should take a big step forward this season hitting in the middle of the Marlins order.

Milwaukee Brewers- First Baseman- Mat Gamel: Gamel has simmered in the upper level of the Brewers’ system during the past few seasons. Between Casey McGehee and Prince Fielder, there was no place for him to play regularly in Milwaukee. With both players having departed this off-season, the Brewers can suddenly offer Gamel all the playing time he can handle. He has already been given the first base position, and while he won’t match Fielder’s production at the plate or during the post game meal, he will put up good numbers. He has a .304 career minor league batting average and hit 28 home runs in a season as recently as last year. Outside of Joey Votto, he might become the most productive first baseman in the NL Central.

New York Mets- Outfielder- Lucas Duda: In what seems to be a National League theme this year, Duda is another young player who was never regarded as a top prospect, but will be expected to provide solid production from the regular playing time they are projected to receive. Duda is a massive left-handed hitter, who will never be mistaken as a Gold Glove defender, but will hit enough to hold down right field and occasionally spell Ike Davis at first. If he plays to expectations, a .270 average with 15-20 home runs sound about right.

Philadelphia Phillies- Outfielder- Domonic Brown: A lot of chatter out of Philadelphia is that Brown needs a change of scenery if he ever hopes to recapture the potential that made him one of the hottest prospects in baseball. I am in the minority who still believe he will make his mark with the Phillies. Although he may not even make the big league roster out of spring training, the Phillies are in need of his dynamic offensive talent. With Ryan Howard shelved for a major chunk of the season and Chase Utley an annual visitor to the disabled list, the team will need to find offense elsewhere. If Brown isn’t given a chance to play over the likes of Laynce Nix, the Phillies’ front office need to be questioned.

Pittsburgh Pirates- Outfielder- Jose Tabata: For the first time in a long time, the Pirates can make a legitimate run at .500 this season. Their success will be largely determined by the continued development of their young players, including Tabata. He has played well during his first two major league seasons, but was hampered by injuries in 2011. He had a .373 OBP when hitting out of the lead-off spot last year, so if he can remain healthy in 2012 he will help drive the Pirates’ offense. A .285 batting average with 10 home runs and 25 steals are reasonable expectations and would really help elevate the team to the next level.

San Diego Padres- First Baseman- Yonder Alonso: The Padres’ offense won’t be pretty this season due to their enormous park and a lack of impact bats. One of the players that is generating some excitement is their new first baseman, Alonso. Acquired in the Mat Latos trade, he was handed the starting position after fellow prospect Anthony Rizzo was traded after just one season in the organization.

Alonso is not much of a power hitter and will be even more hampered by Petco Park’s not so cozy confines. He may hit .280 with 75-80 RBI, but it will be a shock to see him hit more than 12-15 home runs. Nonetheless, such production would immediately make him one of the top mashers in the Padres’ lineup.

San Francisco Giants- First Baseman/Outfielder- Brandon Belt: The Giants are another team that has curiously handled its top hitting prospect, despite a decided lack of team offense. Stubbornly sticking with Aubrey Huff at first base, the Giants should finally give Belt a chance to start this year- in the outfield. A .343 career hitter in the minors, Belt could give a much needed boost to the San Francisco lineup and take some pressure off Buster Posey’s return. As a 6’5, 220 pound left-handed hitter, Belt is also the most likely candidate since Barry Bonds to send some balls splashing down in the cove.
St. Louis Cardinals- Pitcher- Lance Lynn: The Cardinals enter 2012 composed primarily of aging veterans. Lynn emerged last year and is poised to do even more this season. Right now he doesn't have a defined role with the Cardinals, but through injuries and inevitable player decline, the big righty will force his way into significant playing time. He was brilliant in 34.2 innings (with another 11 in the playoffs) with St. Louis last year, mostly out of the bullpen, so the team already knows he can handle pressure situations.

Washington Nationals- Outfielder- Bryce Harper: Washington is trying to convince the baseball world that Harper will spend all or most of 2012 in the minors, but I’m not buying it. The Nats acquired enough pieces during this off-season to become a legitimate contender in the mediocre NL East. As this season plays out they will realize that an impact bat will help push them over the top. Instead of having to trade for one, they will have Harper lurking in the minors. The decision will be made even easier by the fact that Washington has glorified 5th outfielder Roger Bernadina manning center field, which just so happens to be the same position played by Harper.

There you have it. Now the season just needs to start so the accuracy of these predictions can be verified. Play ball!


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