Originally posted on UmpBump.com  |  Last updated 3/20/12

Disclaimer – Feel free to use this to prep for your upcoming fantast draft / auction but the writer bears no responsibility for player’s being hurt, released or bad at baseball.

At a certain level, predictions are very easy to make. Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay are going to be pretty good this year. Kyle Kendrick, Yuniesky Betancourt and the Houston Astros are not. The players below represent some of the more interesting names for this season, players who I think might just produce a nice little season even if the chances of any of them making an award ballot is minimal. All of them have shown something in the past which might indicate a good 2012 or at least an improvement on last year.

Alex Rios

Rios was horrible last year, struggling to a .227/.265/.348 line leading both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus to adjudge him to have that rare distinction – a negative WAR. Rios was so poor last year that there is likely to be a reasonable amount of dead cat bounce  about his 2012 season, but I’m fairly confident he can get himself back to some respectability this year. Only Vernon Wells had a lower BABIP in 2011 than Rios’ .237 mark and it would be fair to assume that that number will fall somewhere closer to Rios’ career BABIP of .306. Rios also posted a career low in strike outs last year so it’s possible there was a conscious change of approach from the White Sox outfielder. Both of those factors make me think the notoriously streaky Rios will have a much better time of it this year. The rebuilding White Sox will certainly give him every opportunity to hit his way back into form, if only allow him to build some sort of trade value.

Chase Headley

Stripped of any context, a third baseman with a .289/.374/.392 slash line isn’t particularly special. Put that hitter in PETCO for a season, however, and that line translates as a 120 OPS+, or 20% better than an average major league hitter. Headley’s season was cut short by a broken finger sustained while baserunning but he had already managed about the same number of walks as he had in 2010 even while coming to the plate on 235 less occasions. His defense at third has always appeared to be reasonable if unspectacular so if he continues his progress at the plate he’ll be a highly valuable commodity in 2012. Getting out of that enormous home park will help his raw numbers but it doesn’t take much digging to see that Headley is already a very solid player. Plus this is his age 27 year and we’re always hearing how magical things happen to players of that age.

Rick Porcello

Still only 23 but with three full seasons under his belt, it is easy to forget just how young the Tigers’ starter is. To take just one example, Porcello is the same age as Jarrod Parker who was just sent down to Triple-A by the A’s and about who no-one is particularly concerned he might not being ready for the big leagues quite yet. Fangraphs have Porcello shaving a little bit off of his FIP every year he’s been in Detroit (4.77, 4.31, 4.06) and he’s always been a strong groundball pitcher (career 52% GB rate). Despite these strong signs, the mark against Porcello has always been his lack of strikeouts as he managed to whiff just 5.14 batters per nine innings last year and that was career high. He might not be the power pitcher he appeared when he was drafted out of high school, but the raw tools should be present for a few more Ks. Unfortunately, his club’s dalliance with Miguel Cabrera at third may mean those extra strikeouts will be sorely needed in the coming months.

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