Analyzing prospects is always a challenge.¬† Trying to figure out which will make their rookie debut in the upcoming season and are the most likely to be impact players over that span can be a bit of a crapshoot.¬† Some of the most talented ones will be left behind when spring training ends.¬† Others, often seemingly less ready, will get a chance early due to an unexpected injury or simply because they got hot at the right time.
That said, here are the ten NL prospects I think will be most likely to make a significant impact in 2012.
Will the Nationals give Harper a real chance to make the opening day roster?
Bryce Harper (OF, Washington):¬† If you believe all the hype, Harper is the next coming offensively of Albert Pujols, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle all rolled into one.¬† And while he hasn't actually earned those accolades yet, the fact is the guy does have a sweet swing and looks to be a pure hitter.¬† But just when Harper will burst onto the scene is very much a question.¬† But betting that he'll get playing time this year seems like a lock.¬† That said, he does have less than 400 professional at bats and the Nationals need to give him enough time to adjust to the level of pitching he'll see at the Major League level.¬† Keep an eye on him this spring.
- Tyler Skaggs (SP, Arizona):¬† Skaggs and Trevor Bauer (see below) are both just about Major League ready but will have to earn a rotation spot with a great spring or wait until injury allows them to be called up.¬† Skaggs is a big pitcher who has dominated at every level he's played at.¬† He was the centerpiece in the Dan Haren trade and could start returning dividends soon.¬† Upside here is a 3.50 ERA with about a K/IP.
- Trevor Bauer (SP, Arizona):¬† Bauer is less likely to crack the rotation this spring than Tyler Skaggs but his upside is about the same.¬† Unlike Skaggs, he doesn't have a dominant power pitcher type frame but still can dial up mid-90s heat.¬† He has four good pitches and uses smarts as well as stuff to get hitters out.¬† He played college ball at UCLA and seems a bit more polished than Skaggs in many ways.¬† And his 14.0 K/9 at Class AA promise good things.¬† He'll likely make the jump to Class AAA out of spring training and should get a shot at the rotation sometime around midseason.
- Zack Cozart (SS, Cincinnati):¬† The 6-1, 26-year-old Cozart should break camp as the everyday shortstop for the Reds.¬† He's got decent power, good speed and defensively knows the job.¬† While he's not without flaws, his upside is 15-20 stolen bases at a scarce position and if he can translate last year's minor league success to the Majors he might be able to hit for average too. ¬† He'll almost certainly start the year at the bottom of the lineup, but if he succeeds don't be surprised if the Reds turn him into a tablesetter fairly quickly.
- Anthony Rizzo (1B, Chicago NL):¬† The Cubs say Rizzo needs more polish and will probably send him down to Class AAA to start the season, but there isn't a lot standing in his way in terms of first baseman with the big team in Chicago.¬† Last year's cup of coffee (.141-1-9 in 128 at bats) with San Diego will probably frighten away almost all bidders in auction leagues, but his minor league stats suggest that it was a big aberration.¬† At Class AAA Tucson last year he swatted 26 home runs and 34 doubles while posting a .331 average, .404 OBP and a 1.056 OPS.¬† Those are eye opening numbers if he can translate them.¬† He's only 22 and the power should get better -- especially now that he's out of Petco and will mature in a good hitter's park.
- Devin Mesoraco (C, Cincinnati):¬† I would have thought Mesoraco would be a mid-season addition to the team, but at the moment he's projecting as the Reds' opening day catcher.¬† He's got a nice mixture of power and average and at just 23 years old has room to develop more.¬† He's a bit of a free swinger, but throughout the minors his OBP has been good. ¬† He had 15 home runs and 36 doubles last year.¬† If he plays a full season he projects as a minimum 12-15 home run guy.
- Yonder Alonso (1B, San Diego):¬† While at best a mediocre defensive player, Alonso wields a big bat.¬† That's enough to win him the everyday starting first base job and to drop him into the center of the unimpressive San Diego lineup.¬† He won't be an elite first baseman at this point in his career but he can hit for average and his power is developing.¬† Hitting .270 with 15 home runs is more than possible but the upside is higher, making him a valuable as a backup player if you need a fill in.
- Brett Jackson (OF, Chicago NL):¬† Jackson is another guy the Cubs say needs more polish, but the real reason for keeping him down might just be to hold his arbitration clock back a little longer as the 2012 Cubs won't be contenders.¬† Jackson hits for average, has very good OBP and showed 20-20 skills between Class AA and Class AAA last season.¬† If the top of the Cubs lineup struggles with getting on base, Jackson would be the logical answer. ¬† Even if they don't it's hard to imagine they could keep this 6-2, 210-pounder down on the farm much longer.
- Julio Teheran (SP, Atlanta):¬† Ok, I'm cheating a bit here. ¬†Atlanta has such a deep farm system when it comes to pitching I couldn't pick just one pitcher who is Major League ready.¬† Teheran and Randall Delgado (below) would both already be penciled into the rotation of more than half the teams in baseball if they were part of another farm system.¬† Tehran is a wispy looking 6-2 and 175 pounds who throws pure filth and has the potential to strikeout a batter per inning or more as he matures.¬† Considering he's just 21 and went 15-3 at Class AAA last year the Braves will have to find him a spot sometime in 2012.
- Randall Delgado (SP, Atlanta):¬† Almost identical in build to Teheran, the young Panamanian Delgado only got a fraction of a season (21 innings) at Class AAA before he was called up to the big club last year.¬† He wasn't quite ready, but didn't embarrass himself with a 4.03 ERA.¬† He's got really good stuff, including three plus pitches and with a little more seasoning he'll be considerably better the next time around.¬† If the Braves can find room for him I'd expect to see him towards the middle to end of the season.