The first month of the season is over, bringing us one month closer to prospects starting to earn summer promotions to the majors. Where the players these prospects would replace are already struggling, it's even more likely that fresh blood will soon be available for your fantasy team. Here are three first basemen who may end up reaching the majors during 2011—though some may be more successful than others.
Anthony Rizzo, San Diego Padres
Brad Hawpe, the current Padres first baseman, is hitting .149/.194/.194 over his first 72 plate appearances. Though injuries were part of Hawpe's problem in 2010, he has now hit .227/.313/.378 over his last 125 games. He has just a .222 BABIP, so things could turn around, but the Padres may not wait for that to happen.
Anthony Rizzo, acquired from the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, has hit .400/.471/.744 in his first 102 plate appearances in Triple-A. Yes, it’s the PCL, but you still can enjoy his 18 percent strikeout rate and 11 percent walk rate. Rizzo hit .297/.368/.461 with 12 homers in 2009, showing off his plate discipline with 50 walks in 503 PA (against 99 whiffs), and followed that up with 25 homers in 2010 between High-A and Double-A. He already has eight doubles and seven homers to go along with that .400 average, so the combination of power and contact that we discussed as a possibility in Baseball Prospectus 2011 may already be happening.
With the Padres struggling to put together an effective offense—and Rizzo likely a defensive upgrade at first base as well—he could find himself in San Diego this summer, ahead of schedule. PECOTA didn’t think much of Rizzo this year, forecasting a .242/.296/.397 line for him, but if Triple-A continues to be no problem, then it’s possible his 90th percentile projection of .276/.334/.453 (good for a league-average-ish for a first baseman .284 True Average) is the likely outcome. In NL-only leagues, or deep mixed, Rizzo may be capable of quality production, but remember, there is no guarantee the Padres will call him up—especially since they still want to see if they can get anything out of Kyle Blanks.
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
Hosmer, the #3 prospect in the Royals' stacked system and the #12 prospect in Kevin Goldstein’s Top 101, has also done well in his first taste of Triple-A. The left-handed slugger is hitting .410/.485/.542—and Goldstein said he has “plus-plus raw power," so that ISO should climb somewhat as he gets more exposure to Triple-A pitching.
Hosmer has excellent strike zone recognition—he struck out 66 times in 2010 while walking 59 times—and has shown that off at Omaha with 13 walks and 13 strikeouts in his 97 plate appearances. PECOTA doesn't expect Hosmer to retain that kind of ratio if he hit the majors, but at .274/.329/.443 (.271 TAv), the forecasting system at least thinks he would put up a capable rookie performance. Things are better at the 90th percentile, of course, with PECOTA projecting Hosmer to hit .312/.371/.506 (.306) with 90 strikeouts against 44 walks.
With Kila Ka’aihue hitting .203/.310/.338 to start 2011, and just .218/.313/.382 in his 318 career MLB plate appearances, Hosmer may end up getting the call to the majors over the summer to slot in at either first or DH. There is no rush to do so, though, as Ka’aihue is just 27 years old and has his own impressive minor league track record, so it’s no guarantee that Hosmer will get a shot that is worthwhile from a fantasy baseball perspective until 2012.
Chris Carter, Oakland Athletics
As Michael Street points out, both Hideki Matsui and Daric Barton are struggling to start the 2011 season. Matsui is hitting .242/.303/.374 over 99 plate appearances as the club’s DH, and Barton, who has always been a defense-first player in the majors, has a .209/.342/.297 line to start the year.
It’s not likely that either Barton or Matsui would be completely displaced, but if one or both of them continue to struggle, then Carter may get a call back to the majors. Of course, he will need to hit well in Sacramento before he can earn that distinction. Carter is hitting all of .173/.323/.346 in Triple-A, though that just looks like some BABIP issues in a 65 plate appearance sample.
I was a fan of Carter last year when he was called up:
Carter was part of the massive package the Athletics got back for Dan Haren alongside other attractive prospects like Brett Anderson and Carlos Gonzalez … Carter has hit .262/.368/.531 with 27 homers in 424 at-bats for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. That may not seem like much, especially for a guy in the PCL, but his home park has dragged his line down. Carter's home line is .225/.329/.451 with 10 homers in 204 at-bats—that sounds about right given the River Cats park is very difficult for right-handed power hitters to succeed in. On the road, Carter has a line of .295/.403/.605 with 17 homers in 224 at-bats. Scale that back a bit thanks to the offensive environment of the PCL, but the answer to the kind of hitter he is lies in between those two sets of data.
Carter then struggled by going zero for his first 33 at-bats in the majors, but hit .342/.422/.605 to finish the year. Keep that in mind when looking at his slow start to 2011, as he has massive raw power that even Oakland cannot contain—if given the opportunity this year, Carter will produce.