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Rizzo, Singleton highlight 2012 first base prospects

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At this time one year ago, a look at the top first base prospects was like a preview of the Rookie of the Year ballot. Freddie Freeman, Eric Hosmer and Brandon Belt headed up the list, with Mark Trumbo and Paul Goldschmidt also making their presence known in the big leagues.

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Unfortunately, they left behind a barren wasteland at the position.

That's overstating it a bit, but the bottom line is this year's class of first base prospects leaves a bit to be desired, with only Anthony Rizzo, Jonathan Singleton and C.J. Cron projected as surefire starters at this point.

Part of the problem is that some of the bigger-bodied third base, shortstop and second base prospects haven't outgrown their positions yet. But part of the problem is that some of the lesser names simply haven't had a chance to prove themselves yet. Hey, at this time last year, Trumbo and Goldschmidt weren't exactly known commodities.

So while this list isn't the most exciting in the world, some of these players might end up making a bigger impact in Fantasy than you'd think. Since you don't know which ones yet, your best bet in a dynasty league is to focus on other positions when building your farm system. It's not like you'll ever have a hard time finding a first baseman in Fantasy.

Note: This list has been adjusted for Fantasy purposes. Long-term potential is one of several factors that influence the order and is arguably less important than the player's expected role in 2012. These prospects don't all profile as superstars, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy right now.

1. Anthony Rizzo, 22, Padres
Where played in 2011: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .331 BA (356 at-bats), 26 HRs, 101 RBI, 1.056 OPS
Major-league stats: .141 BA (128 at-bats), 1 HR, 21 BBs, 46 Ks

Rizzo barely qualifies for this list, having come within two at-bats and two games of losing rookie eligibility, but his presence is certainly welcome considering he has by far the most upside of all the first base prospects ready for major-league duty. Of course, you could argue whether or not he's actually ready for major-league duty. His first trial in the majors was dramatically different from his latest stint in the minors -- a contrast explained in part by his surroundings. His minor-league numbers were inflated by the heavy-hitting Pacific Coast League, and his major-league numbers were hindered by the spacious dimensions of PETCO Park. The poor track record of left-handed power hitters at PETCO is legitimate reason for concern going forward. Only Adrian Gonzalez has found consistent success there. Then again, Rizzo is the Padres' highest-upside hitter since Gonzalez. That upside makes him a must-have in long-term keeper leagues and a reasonable late-round selection even in seasonal formats. But keep in mind he'll still have to hold off Jesus Guzman and Kyle Blanks for the starting job this spring.

2. Jonathan Singleton, 20, Astros
Where played in 2011: Class A
Minor-league stats: .298 BA, 13 HRs, .833 OPS, 70 BBs, 123 Ks

The Astros demanded a king's ransom for Hunter Pence at the 2011 trade deadline, and the principle player they got in return was Singleton, which says something about the 20-year-old's upside. No, he won't be competing for a starting job in spring training at that age, especially since he has yet to play a game above Class A. But the out-of-contention Astros will have no trouble clearing a spot for him when the proper time comes. Hey, the Diamondbacks were willing to let Paul Goldschmidt make the same leap in 2011, and they were competing for a division title. Singleton already reaches base at a .400 clip and should offer big-time home run power in the not-too-distant future. He was only expendable for the Phillies because they had Ryan Howard signed long-term. Though Singleton's 2012 arrival is too speculative for you to roll the dice on him in seasonal formats, his upside is enough to make him a must-have in long-term keeper leagues.

3. Chris Parmelee, 24, Twins
Where played in 2011: Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .287 BA, 13 HRs, 83 RBI, .801 OPS, 68 BBs, 94 Ks
Major-league stats: .355 BA (76 at-bats), 4 HRs, 1.035 OPS, 12 BBs, 13 Ks

Of all the impressive performances by September callups in 2011 -- Jesus Montero's and Matt Moore's among them -- Parmelee's might have been the best of all. You just didn't know it because his team was already out of the race. OK, his relative lack of pedigree toned down the hype as well, but considering he was a first-round draft pick in 2006 and a top-100 prospect for Baseball America as recently as 2007, Fantasy owners might still want to take notice. Parmelee's power potential has never been in question, and his approach at the plate is beyond his years, as his near 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio down the stretch should indicate. If he continues to hit for average in the majors, what's stopping him from becoming a viable mixed-league contributor? Sure, playing time is an issue, but with the growing concerns over Justin Morneau's health, not a mention a semi-vacant DH spot, Minnesota has every incentive to start him. Parmelee is worth a shot in AL-only leagues even if long-term keeper owners can probably do better.

4. Chris Marrero, 23, Nationals
Where played in 2011: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .300 BA, 14 HRs, 69 RBI, .825 OPS
Major-league stats: .248 BA (109 at-bats), 0 HRs, 4 BBs, 27 Ks

Marrero has been a top prospect in the Nationals system since getting drafted in the first round in 2006, even appearing in the Baseball America top 100 prior to 2008. But his stock took a hit with a broken leg that year, and he hasn't been able to regain it in the years since. True, his minor-league numbers have always been solid, but solid doesn't cut it at a deep position like first base. Marrero has given scouts reason to wonder if he has the power potential to hold down an everyday job at the position, and his inability to homer during a 109 at-bat trial last September didn't exactly relieve their concerns. Marrero has a shot at Gaby Sanchez-like numbers if he gets a chance to play every day, but that chance likely won't come at the beginning of 2012 with Adam LaRoche expected back from shoulder surgery. Still, Marrero deserves a flier in deeper NL-only leagues on Draft Day in the off chance the Nationals give him a look in the outfield.

5. Matthew Adams, 23, Cardinals
Where played in 2011: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .300 BA, 32 HRs, 101 RBI, .923 OPS

Adams is the latest in a long line of Cardinals minor-league sluggers who put up big numbers without a whole lot of fanfare. Despite back-to-back years with 20-plus homers and a .300-plus batting average, he's just now earning the "prospect" distinction from Baseball America, who ranked him the 19th-best in the Texas League last year, ahead of J.D. Martinez. So will Adams get a chance to contribute in 2012 the way Martinez did for the Astros late in 2011? Well, it'd help if he played a different position. He'll obviously be stuck in the minors if free-agent-to-be Albert Pujols returns, but even if Pujols doesn't, Lance Berkman would be the one taking over at first to give Allen Craig -- another of those overlooked minor-league stat machines -- an everyday job. As a 23-year-old who has already mastered Double-A, Adams has a good chance of reaching the majors at some point in 2012, making him potentially a cheap source of power in deeper NL-only leagues. But his first opportunity to get a relevant number of at-bats might not be until 2013.

6. Lars Anderson, 24, Red Sox
Where played in 2011: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .265 BA, 14 HRs, .791 OPS, 80 BBs, 120 Ks
Major-league stats: .000 BA (5 at-bats), 0 BBs, 3 Ks

Anderson was a top-100 prospect according to Baseball America as recently as two years ago. In fact, he made the cut three straight years from 2008 to 2010. The fact he hasn't since would lead you to believe his opportunity has passed him by. But he's still only 24, giving him a window of two or three years to salvage something of a career. Say what you want about his lack of progress in the minors; he still knows how to take a walk. He still offers some measure of power, and given his size, he still has the potential for more. His path to the majors isn't so clear, but if David Ortiz departs via free agency, Anderson could be one of the players to help fill the void. Or a trade to a more favorable situation elsewhere remains a possibility. Anderson is no longer an exciting pick in long-term keeper leagues, but he's still enough of a talent that someone somewhere will want to give him a look in the not-too-distant future. And if that happens this year, he could surprise in deeper leagues.

7. David Cooper, 25, Blue Jays
Where played in 2011: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .364 BA, 9 HRs, 96 RBI, .974 OPS, 67 BBs, 43 Ks
Major-league stats: .211 BA (71 at-bats), 2 HRs, 7 BBs, 14 Ks

After a couple of disappointing seasons at Double-A New Hampshire that had some scouts wondering if he was a bust of a first-round pick in 2008, Cooper reestablished himself as one of the best pure hitters in the minors in 2011, leading the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with a .364 batting average. Of course, the "hitter-friendly" moniker does devalue that number slightly, but Cooper's strikeout-to-walk ratio suggests his impressive bat control was no fluke. He'll have to hit more homers to pull his weight at first base, but his 51 doubles at Triple-A Las Vegas hint of emerging power. A fair comparison for Cooper would be Casey Kotchman, who has held down a regular job for several teams over the years. Of course, Kotchman hasn't exactly stood out in Fantasy play. Cooper still has to win a job before he can live up to any comparisons, and that's no guarantee after he disappointed during a trial as the team's DH last year. He deserves a flier in deeper AL-only leagues given his pedigree and proximity to the majors, but that's about it.

8. C.J. Cron, 22, Angels
Where played in 2011: Rookie league
Minor-league stats: .308 BA (143 at-bats), 13 HRs, 1.000 OPS, 10 BBs, 34 Ks

Cron would rank as high as third on this list if he was a little further up the minor-league ladder, but having yet to advance past Rookie ball, he still has a number of hurdles to clear before he can qualify as a legitimate Fantasy asset. The good news is the 17th overall pick in the 2011 draft has lived up to the hype in every way possible so far, putting on an impressive power display in his professional debut that resulted in more RBI (41) than games played (34). At age 22, he should advance quickly through the minors, making a 2013 arrival not outside the realm of possibility. Cron's exact path to the majors depends partially on how the next couple of years unfold for Kendry Morales, Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout, but you can rest assured that, when the time comes, the Angels will make room for a player of his pedigree. Cron is an attractive pickup in long-term keeper leagues, with an emphasis on the long.

9. Brett Pill, 27, Giants
Where played in 2011: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .312 BA, 25 HRs, 107 RBI, .871 OPS, 25 BBs, 54 Ks
Major-league stats: .300 BA (50 at-bats), 2 HRs, .881 OPS, 2 BBs, 8 Ks

With the Giants out of contention and high-profile rookie Brandon Belt carving out a niche for himself in left field, Pill got the majority of the starts at first base down the stretch last year, and he did anything but disappoint, collecting seven extra base hits -- three doubles, two triples and two homers -- in 50 at-bats to show that his breakthrough at Triple-A Fresno wasn't necessarily just a product of his advanced age. The offensively challenged Giants will have a hard time overlooking those numbers even if they're not coming from someone who they projected for a full-time role. Given his less-than-stellar pedigree and the fact he plays a position deep in offensive talent, Pill is still a long shot for such a role, but you can bet he'll throw his hat in the ring this spring. Even if he's able to earn semi-regular at-bats, his high contact rate and decent power could make him a factor in NL-only leagues. He's not much of a long-term keeper option, but he's relevant in Fantasy.

10. Tyler Moore, 25, Nationals
Where played in 2011: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .270 BA, 31 HRs, 90 RBI, .846 OPS, 30 BBs, 139 Ks

If nothing else, Moore has proven he can hit for power, connecting for 31 homers in back-to-back seasons in the minors. But the question is how will his low contact rate fare against upper-level pitching? Another all-or-nothing minor-league slugger, Mark Trumbo, put similar concerns to rest with an impressive rookie 2011 season, so Fantasy owners shouldn't be so quick to dismiss Moore because of his shortcomings. The Nationals like him enough to experiment with him in the outfield in the instructional league this offseason, perhaps to give him a fighting chance of winning a roster spot this spring. It's a long shot, of course -- a less-than-elite prospect with a questionable approach doesn't need to be skipping Triple-A -- but the fact Moore is even in the conversation shows he's likely to contribute at some point in 2012. With the Nationals in big-spending mode, the 25-year-old's window to secure an everyday job might ultimately pass him by, but his pop is reason enough to take a flier on him in deeper NL-only leagues.

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