The cast of candidates for the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year is not as clear cut as the AL group so the contest is a lot harder to predict. The top-ranked prospects in the NL are every bit as good as the AL prospects but they are not guaranteed a starting role in the major leagues to begin the season. The few rookies that are likely to be starters on Opening Day will have a head start on the future stars that will begin the season in the minors.
Alonso is likely to be the starter at 1B on Opening Day. He has already played well in the majors for the Reds before being traded to the Padres this winter in the Mat Latos deal. Alonso was blocked by Joey Votto in Cincinnati or else he would likely have been in the major leagues for two or three years by now. He is ready to produce at a high level right away. Petco Park is a tough place to hit and will hurt his power numbers, but Alonso should still hit for a good batting average and produce lots of doubles.
Harper is the best prospect in all of baseball, but he might have to wait a while longer before bursting on to the scene as a star player. If he starts the season with the Nationals I would move him up to #1 on this list. It is extremely unusual for 19 year old players to put up strong numbers at that age — even if they go on to Hall of Fame careers. Harper is going to hit a ton of home runs in his career, but can he do it at age 19? He is considered a once-in-a-generation talent but it is asking a lot if you expect him to outperform experienced older players like Yonder Alonso and the others on this list. All that being said, I still would not bet against Bryce Harper using the 2012 ROY trophy to start his collection of MLB awards.
Bauer was expected to battle Tyler Skaggs in Spring Training for the last spot in the Diamondbacks rotation but the team signed Joe Saunders this winter, pushing Bauer and Skaggs to the minors to start the season. I believe Bauer will be up to the majors around June 1st and have an excellent debut season in Phoenix. Bauer is an extremely interesting pitcher and I can’t wait to see him pitch in the big leagues. He is known for his unusual workout methods, extreme long-tossing regimen, unorthodox warm-up throws, his use of pitch tunneling and “effective velocity” and the fact he throws nine different pitches in games. Scouts worry about his size and his max-effort delivery.
Mesoraco is going to split time at catcher with Ryan Hanigan early in the season, but I expect Devin to quickly sieze the starting job and become a near-everyday catcher. Mesoraco is a offensive-minded catcher but he will be at least an average defensive catcher this year and will improve with time. Hanigan is an excellent defensive catcher but Mesoraco’s hitting skills will force the Reds to keep him in the lineup. Manager Dusty Baker prefers veterans and makes it hard for young players to earn playing time, but Devin Mesoraco is not your average young player. Mesoraco may even see some time at DH during interleague games, that is how good of a hitter he is expected to become.
Teheran is expected to start the season in the minors because the Braves have a very deep rotation with plenty of extra options that would be entrenched in the rotations of most other teams. But that won’t hold Teheran back for too long. He is too good to be left in the minors when he is ready to pitch in the bigs — and he is ready. Once he makes his debut in early June he will be a serious contender for Rookie of the Year. Teheran has been at the top of prospect charts for a a few years now and he projects to be an ace pitcher by all accounts.
6. Zack Cozart — Shortstop — Cincinnati Reds
Similar to Pastornicky, Cozart is going to be the Opening Day starter at shortstop for the Reds. Cozart does not stand out in any particular skill, but he is a good all-around player who fields well, hits for contact with some power and good speed. His OBP could be an issue as he does not take many walks. Don’t be surprised to see him near the top of the Reds batting order in a high-octane offensive environment. In a year without a standout rookie star a solid grinder like Cozart on a playoff-caliber team could snag the ROY.
7. Tyler Pastornicky — Shortstop — Atlanta Braves
Yet another Braves candidate for ROY. The Braves have made habit of producing great rookies including Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel the last couple of years. Pastornicky is likely going to be the starting shortstop on Opening Day. He might not have star potential, but he is definitely talented enough to turn some heads this summer.
Miller is a super prospect without question, however he may not be seen in St. Louis until late in the season. If injuries strike the Cardinals’ rotation then Miller could grab the opportunity and never look back. Miller is regarded by most scouts as the top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. He has been the Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year the last two seasons. His velocity and stuff lead to stellar strikeout rates and pretty stats, but he reportedly needs more work on the little things like holding runners, backing up bases and pitching IQ. If he does not reach the majors this season he could be number one on this list next year.
9. Drew Pomeranz — Starting Pitcher — Colorado Rockies
Pomeranz may not have the upside of Teheran and Miller, but he is likely to get an earlier opportunity to impress the voters. Pomeranz is a top prospect acquired from the Indians in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade last summer. Coors Field is a tough place for a rookie pitcher to thrive, but Pomeranz has great stuff and a strong enough arm to take on the challenge.
10. Anthony Rizzo — First Baseman — Chicago Cubs
When Rizzo was acquired from the Padres most observers assumed he would move right into the starting lineup for the Cubs. Right now it looks like Bryan Lahair will get the first opportunity and Rizzo will have to wait. Rizzo had fantastic stats in the minors but did not fare well in his short stint in the majors last year. The move to Wrigley Field will surely make his future brighter as a hitter. Rizzo is still considered a very good prospect and is likely to put some digits on the scoreboard in Chicago after a little more seasoning in the minors.
Plenty of other players like Brett Jackson, Randall Delgado, Tyler Skaggs or Matt Harvey could also make some noise. The NL ROY race is as wide open this year as it has ever been. We know that several future All Stars will make their debuts this season, but which of them will get enough playing time to build up the stats to impress the voters?
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