Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals
1st Half: .268/.317/.431, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 2 SB in 239 at-bats
2nd Half: .313/.349/.493, 11 HR, 44 RBI, 9 SB in 284 at-bats
Ranked by Baseball America before the season as the No. 8 prospect in baseball, Hosmer was promoted in early May with much fanfare. He started off his career well enough, batting .283/.321/.515 that month, but he then cooled off to a .253/.312/.293 batting line in June. After that, though, it was pretty much smooth sailing the rest of the way other than a mini-slump in August.
The fact that a 21-year-old (he just turned 22) was able to make the necessary adjustments and thrive down the stretch is a great sign for his future. Perhaps the most surprising part of Hosmer’s game was the 11 steals. He swiped 14 bags in the minors in 2010, so it wasn’t totally unexpected, but he certainly bought into the Royals’ run-happy ways. He figures to be a good bet for double-digit steals again in 2012 and should be an annual 30-homer threat, perhaps as early as next year. We’re looking at a possible top-10 fantasy first baseman.
Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
1st Half: DNP
2nd Half: .259/.356/.449, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 20 SB in 247 at-bats
A long national nightmare ended when Jennings was finally promoted in late July for his first non-September stint in the majors following 509 career minor-league games. His impact was immediate, as he batted .333/.463/.576 in 33 July at-bats before keeping it going in August with a .333/.415/.611 line. Jennings struggled to a .160/.258/.245 finish in September, but he rebounded by batting .333/ .444/.800 in the ALDS against the Rangers, which included a two-homer performance in Game 3.
Jennings’ power/speed combo is for real, as he’s essentially a right-handed hitting clone of the man he ultimately replaced, Carl Crawford. He batted a good-but-not-great .283 in 851 at-bats at Triple-A, so we’re not expecting him to be a big boost to your batting average category right away, but he’ll be a shoo-in for 30+ steals next year, and 20 homers are within reach, as well.
Mike Napoli, C, Rangers
1st Half: .232/.344/.529, 12 HR, 33 RBI in 155 at-bats
2nd Half: .383/.466/.706, 18 HR, 42 RBI in 214 at-bats
It’s taken a huge showing in the playoffs for many across the country to take notice of Napoli’s exploits, but fantasy owners had already been enjoying his career year for months now. His season didn’t start off in ideal fashion, as he received just 108 at-bats through the first two months and went down with a strained oblique in June just as he was starting to see everyday playing time. From July on, though, there wasn’t a better hitter in baseball.
The power is most certainly for real, as Napoli has bashed 20 homers in four straight seasons despite averaging just 358 at-bats. He was a .251 hitter in over 1,500 at-bats prior to this season and also hit just .257 in his minor league career, so don’t be expecting another .300 batting mark in 2012. But, as long as he’s playing half his games in Texas, he could easily bat .280 with 25+ bombs, putting him in contention for top fantasy catcher honors next season.
Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays
1st Half: DNP
2nd Half: .293/.373/.580, 9 HR, 25 RBI, 7 SB in 150 at-bats
Lawrie’s big league debut was unfortunately delayed after he fractured his left hand in early June. He required over a month of down time and spent a few more weeks in the minors before finally getting the call in early August. Lawrie immediately looked like he belonged, picking up two hits in his debut on his way to a .326/.381/.674 showing in August, as he belted six longballs while driving in 18.
Lawrie was hitting .246/.361/.443 in September when injury struck again, as he suffered a fractured finger on his right hand. He didn’t need surgery, though, and will be 100 percent long before spring training kicks off. Even though 2011 was the first year he showed top-shelf production in the minors, Lawrie has always had top-shelf potential. With 20/20 upside, he could be a top-10 fantasy third baseman in 2012.
Alejandro De Aza, OF, White Sox
1st Half: DNP
2nd Half: .329/.400/.520, 4 HR, 23 RBI, 12 SB in 152 at-bats
De Aza has never been much of a prospect, but with a multitude of their bats floundering, the White Sox decided to give the 27-year-old a shot in late July after he batted .322/.378/.494 with nine homers and 22 stolen bases at Triple-A. As you can see from the numbers above, his hot hitting continued with the big club in the second half.
At the moment, De Aza looks like an extra outfielder next season, and the reality is that is what his role probably should be. But, if injuries or struggles at the plate should befell those ahead of him on the depth chart, he’s shown with his second half exploits and his .309/.372/.479 career line at Triple-A that he’s capable of producing when given the chance.
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B/1B/DH, Blue Jays
1st Half: .255/.283/.405, 6 HR, 19 RBI in 247 at-bats
2nd Half: .291/.382/.504, 11 HR, 36 RBI in 234 at-bats
Encarnacion’s struggles in the field and his inconsistency at the plate are well documented. But, when he’s hot, the guy can hit, and he was certainly red-hot for a good chunk of the second half this season, particularly in August, when he put together a .307/.407/.554 batting line with six homers and 23 runs scored.
The Blue Jays have a $3.5 million option on E5 for next season that contains a $500,000 buyout. They seem likely to exercise that option and use him mainly at designated hitter in 2012. Due to inconsistency and injuries, Encarnacion is barely worth drafting in mixed leagues, but he’s almost sure to be a nice waiver wire add during the season while he’s swinging a hot stick.
Salvador Perez, C, Royals
1st Half: DNP
2nd Half: .331/.361/.473, 3 HR, 21 RBI in 148 at-bats
Perez became the Royals’ catcher of the future once they decided to move Wil Myers to the outfield, and he was the catcher of the present for the bulk of the second half this season. Always lauded for his defensive skills, Perez has continued to progress at the plate the last couple years, and he not only held his own as a 21-year-old in his first taste of the majors; he thrived.
Perez belted only 20 homers over 340 games in his minor league career, but he ripped 13 between the majors and minors this season, and, given his size, there’s reason to believe he could threaten double digits in that regard in 2012. So while there are certainly limitations in his game (he rarely draws a walk and has speed that would only make the Molina brothers proud), there’s some fantasy upside here.
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