It's funny how much difference a year can make.
Just a year ago the fantasy baseball community was seriously questioning whether all-world fantasy superstar Mike Trout would be able to wrestle away playing time from the likes of the underwhelming Vernon Wells, the disappointing Peter Bourjos and the ancient Bobby Abreu. There was talk Paul Goldschmidt would make up one-half of a first base platoon with the immortal Lyle Overbay. Yoenis Cespedes seemed destined to open the 2012 campaign in Triple-A while Oakland opted to give considerable playing time in the outfield to a cast of ne'er do wells that included Collin Cowgill, Michael Taylor and Jonny Gomes.
While it's clear many in the fantasy community underestimated the short-term fantasy potential of Trout, Goldschmidt, Cespedes and others, there were some who wilted and underperformed under the weight of great expectations this past year. Superstar-in-waiting Eric Hosmer slugged .359, or five points lower than perennial fantasy bust Justin Smoak. Desmond Jennings, whom the Tampa Bay Rays tabbed as their replacement for free agent Carl Crawford, posted an OPS of .702, which was five points lower than the one posted by Delmon Young. Brett Lawrie, a semi-legitimate 30-homer/30-steal candidate, hit one less homer (11) and drove in six less runs (48) than Brandon Inge (12 and 54, respectively) – despite seeing 205 more plate appearances than Oakland's aging third baseman.
So what are we supposed to make of the fantasy failures of Hosmer, Jennings and Lawrie? Here are three players who were widely considered to be among the best prospects in the game just a few short years ago. Hosmer ranked eighth on Baseball America's 2011 list of the top 100 prospects in baseball, while Jennings ranked 22nd and Lawrie ranked 40th. Each had tremendous success after breaking into the Majors at various points during the 2011 campaign and all were sought-after options in 2012 drafts. However, Hosmer, Jennings and Lawrie were extremely disappointing for fantasy purposes in their first full campaigns in the majors. Now one year later, let's take a look at what we can expect from this trio in 2013.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals
Following an extremely strong 2012 spring training in which he elicited comparisons to fantasy stud Joey Votto for his mature approach at the plate, Hosmer proved less than useful to the fantasy owners who invested an early-to-middle-round draft pick on the young first baseman. Hopes for a .300/20-homer/20-steal campaign were all but dashed when Hosmer hit .188/.274/.388 in 21 games in April. His fortunes certainly didn't improve in the season's second half. The beleaguered first baseman slugged .342 with five homers and just 14 extra-base hits in 228 at-bats after the All-Star break. What makes Hosmer's struggles so surprising is his approach at the plate didn't change all that much from that of his debut season of 2011 – with one notable exception: Hosmer increased his walk rate from 6% to 9.4%.
So what led to his drop in performance? Simply stated, he got unlucky and hit the ball at defenders. While a late-season shoulder injury didn't help matters, Hosmer's 2012 BABIP of .255 suggests a little more luck and an ability to overcome opposing squads' defensive shifts would be enough to help him move past his sophomore season struggles.
Verdict: Hosmer is low-end starting option at first base in 10 or 12-team mixed leagues, an ideal utility option in those formats and a fine starter at first base in deep mixed or AL-only formats.
Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Now here's an interesting player. The Tampa Bay outfielder missed a whopping 30 games in 2012, yet he still managed to hit 13 homers and swipe 31 bases with 47 RBIs and 81 runs scored. Sounds great, right? Well, Jennings only hit .246/.314/.388 on the season. Michael Bourn, Denard Span and David DeJesus are among the many, many outfielders who posted a higher slugging percentage than the Tampa Bay outfielder did last season. This can be partially attributed to the fact that Jennings popped out to the infielder in a ridiculous 18.1% of his plate appearances in 2012, or almost twice as often as he did in 2011. Jennings would be well served to try to hit the ball on the ground more and try to get on base with his speed, even though that would limit his power potential a bit.
Also, one has to wonder if Jennings will ever be able to hit for a decent average in the Majors. Now entering his age-26 season, Jennings is a career .248 hitter in 212 games and 874 plate appearances at the big-league level. Nevertheless, he's an intriguing fantasy option given his prodigious athleticism, speed and power potential. Imagine if Jennings did put it all together at the plate in 2013, though. This is someone who could hit .270 with 15-20 homers and 40-50 steals over a full season, which would make him a borderline top-five option at the position.
Verdict: Jennings is an excellent second outfielder in shallow mixed leagues with the potential to perform like a high-end No. 1 fantasy option.
Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Will Lawrie hit for power? How much will be run on the base paths? Why did he hit so many grounders in 2012? Is he prone to injury? There are SO many questions surrounding Lawrie's 2012 campaign and his fantasy outlook for this coming season. Toronto's uber-athletic, young third baseman hit like the second coming of Ryan Braun after making his major-league debut in the summer of 2011 (.293/.373/.580 with nine homers and seven steals in 43 games), then promptly put up a pedestrian .273/.324/.405 line in 125 games during his first full campaign in the big leagues in 2012.
So is Lawrie more Braun or Martin Prado? That depends. He'll certainly hit for more power if he can improve on last year's 50.2% ground ball rate, and he'll be able to rack up more steals if he can improve on his meager success rate from a year ago (13-of-21, roughly 62%). Realistic expectations for Lawrie's 2013 campaign are 15-20 homers and 15-20 steals with a .275 batting average. That means he's a slightly less productive version of Hanley Ramirez – without shortstop eligibility. That's if he stays healthy, and Lawrie has missed an average of 41.5 games over the course of the past two years due to injury.
Verdict: Lawrie is a low-end starting option at third base in 10 or 12-team mixed leagues, and a quality starter in deeper or AL-only formats. However, don't reach for him.
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