2012 Baseball Preview — Top 10 Young Players

TOP 10 YOUNG PLAYERS

1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves – The Braves youngster won Rookie of the Year in 2011 and set a rookie saves record with 45 saves. If that’s what he can do in his first year on the job…

2. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers – The Rangers dished out more than $110 million to sign Darvish. First, the Rangers had to pay about $51 million to his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, just to negotiate with him. Then they settled on a $60 million, six-year deal. Considering pitching expert Nolan Ryan has final say on all Rangers signings, Darvish must be good. Last year, he finished with a 1.44 ERA and had a Japanese career ERA of 1.72.

3. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals – It will be interesting to see how quickly Harper continues to move up through the Nationals minor league system. The No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft, Harper tore apart Class A pitching by batting .318 and hitting 17 homeruns. His average was down once he moved to Class AA (.256), but he still knocked 14 over the fence. This spring training will likely determine where Harper starts out, but I’m sure many Nationals fans would love to have him on the big-league roster on Day One.

4. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals – After spending most of last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg should be good to go for his first full season as a major leaguer. Considering his starts before the injury were called “Strasmas,” the Nationals have a big ticket seller.

5. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves – Freeman lost out on Rookie of the Year honors to his fireball-throwing Braves teammate, Craig Kimbrel, but Freeman’s numbers were solid. He hit 21 homers, knocked in 76 runs and finished the season with a .282 batting average. The slender first baseman figures to be a key cog in the middle of the order in Atlanta for many years.

6. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays – Called up in September last year and pitched so well in three games that they gave him the Game 1 start of the ALDS. No experience? No problem! Moore pitched seven shutout innings and won the game. This year, Moore, who throws a mid-90’s fastball, figures to be the No. 3 man in the rotation behind David Price and James Shields. There are such big expectations for this guy that the Rays have already locked him up with a five-year, $14 million deal, despite having very little major league experience.

7. Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners – In his 61 at-bats last season for the Yankees, Montero hit .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. Now that Montero has been traded to Seattle, he figures to have most of the playing time behind the plate for last year’s most anemic offense (last in runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage, to name a few).

8. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds – Still a young guy learning how to pitch, but considering he was once clocked at 105 mph (an MLB record), he can make a few more mistakes on the job than most guys. But the Reds need to figure out what they are going to do with him. He’s getting tested as a starter in spring training and it’s given them mixed results. You have to wonder if it would be better to groom him as the long-term closer.

9. Josh Reddick, Oakland A’s – Was poised to become Boston’s starting right fielder before a trade for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney sent him west to play “moneyball” for Oakland GM Billy Beane. Reddick is major league ready and is a building block for Oakland’s future.

10. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs – Rizzo, who the Cubs acquired in a trade from San Diego this offseason, is looking to become the Cubs cornerstone first baseman they’ve been searching for since Mark Grace left town. Rizzo may start the season in the minors, as 29-year-old Bryan LeHair has been given the first base job to start in April, but the long-time minor leaguer may not be able to hold off the younger (22), talented, power-hitting Rizzo for very long.

Aaron May