Darvish, Harper headline this year's top rookies

Moore, Turner, Mesoraco among others who could make impacts

By Paul Hagen / MLB.com | 02/22/12 10:00 AM EST

Having a farm system with a bunch of top prospects at the lower levels is great, but we're talking about young players who have a chance to make an impact this year. In other words, Rookie of the Year candidates. Here's how scouts handicap the races:
1. RHP Yu Darvish, Rangers
Why he could win: Texas invested $107.7 million in Darvish, between his posting fee and a six-year, $56 million contract to lure him from Japan, a process that dominated the headlines for weeks. So he's already on the radar. And there's a precedent for established Japanese players to win the ROY when they come to the Major Leagues: Hideo Nomo in 1995, Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2000 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.

Why he might not: Not every Japanese star makes a smooth transition. Two words: Hideki Irabu. And even though the rules clearly state that foreign players are considered rookies no matter how much success they've had in their native land, some voters might quietly disagree with that definition.
Scout: "I saw him pitch at the World Baseball Classic in 2009. It was impressive. His stuff was electric. He's bigger and stronger than the average Japanese player. Comes from a very athletic family. This kid is a little closer to being a real rookie than some of the other guys who have come over. He's only 25. But he also has the stuff to be a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate."

2. LHP Matt Moore, Rays
Why he could win: Moore still has to earn a spot in the rotation, but few doubt that he'll break camp with the big league club. He showed what he's capable of in a handful of opportunities late last season and management showed what it thought of him by signing him to an eight-year contract.
Why he might not: The best young pitchers don't always dominate immediately. Even if Moore becomes a perennial Cy Young Award candidate -- which many baseball people believe is not out of the question -- that doesn't necessarily mean he'll make a splash right away. Stat: Only six of the 40 Rookies of the Year over the past two decades have been starting pitchers.
Scout: "This kid has the ability to be special. He was good to start with and he's just kept improving. There's no such thing as a can't-miss prospect, but there's no reason why he shouldn't become a top-of-the-rotation guy."
3. RHP Jacob Turner, Tigers
Why he could win: He'll be given every opportunity to earn the fifth spot in the rotation, is playing with a team that should provide ample run support and has Justin Verlander to deflect attention and allow him to fly a little under the radar.
Why he might not: He's only 20 years old and had an 8.53 ERA in three spot starts in 2011. He needs to improve his changeup and he's a sinkerball pitcher with an infield defense behind him that figures to be average at best.
Scout: "He was way up on our list when we talked to the Tigers. When I talked to the Detroit people I know, no sooner did I get to the 'b' in Jacob before they said no. He could be a top-end guy and I think he's also a fast-track guy."
4. C/DH Jesus Montero, Mariners
Why he could win: Offensively-challenged Seattle was willing to trade electric young starter Michael Pineda to get the hyped Yankees prospect. So Montero will get every opportunity to produce.
Why he might not: Spacious Safeco Field won't help his numbers and it remains to be seen what kind of lineup protection the Mariners can offer him.
Scout: "There are some red flags that go along with him. Where is he going to end up playing? Is he going to end up playing his way over to DH or first base? The other thing is here's a kid who's had some success, but the excuse you always hear [when he doesn't perform] is, 'Well, he's bored.' Son of a gun. You gave him a lot of money to sign, he's playing in Triple-A and he's getting accolades. And he's bored? How quickly is he going to get bored in the big leagues? But I do think he can hit and he's kind of like Miguel Cabrera in that he knows how to use the big part of the field."
5. OF Mike Trout, Angels
Why he could win: Trout got valuable experience when called up last season, but not quite enough to lose his rookie status. He showed his promise in a 10-game stretch during which he batted .323 with five homers and 11 RBIs.
Why he might not: At the moment the Angels outfield is crowded with veterans, including Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells plus returning starter Peter Bourjos, so it's not clear how much big league playing time he'll get this season. He also struggled at times, batting just .193 in his other 30 games in the bigs.
Scout: "He could definitely be in the mix. [A scout] and a baseball man even threw out a Mickey Mantle [comparison] on him."
1. RF Bryce Harper, Nationals
Why he could win: The abrupt retirement of Mike Cameron makes it easier to envision a scenario in which Jayson Werth moves to center field and Harper takes over in right, although Nats management insists that won't be a factor in deciding whether to keep Harper out of Spring Training.
Why he might not: Let's face it: He's only 19 years old with just 37 games above Class A. And even if he plays his way into the big leagues this season, there will be some pressure on the Nationals to keep him in the Minors long enough to prevent him from earning an extra year of salary arbitration eligibility as a Super Two.
Scout: "To me, he's earned every accolade and dollar they've given him. I watched him last year in Spring Training take his cuts against veteran big league pitchers without any fear or intimidation. He plays the game hard. I think he's going to reach all his potential and be an impact guy. I think he could play his way on, although I think they'll try to be patient. Or he may have a tough spring for whatever reason and then he'd have to earn his way back. But I believe he'll go in and compete and rise to the occasion like he has in everything he's done."
2. C Devin Mesoraco, Reds
Why he could win: All indications are that the plan is to have him on the Opening Day roster. His potential is one of the reasons Cincinnati let veteran Ramon Hernandez walk.
Why he might not: It remains to be seen how much playing time he'll get while sharing the catching duties with veteran Ryan Hanigan, even though manager Dusty Baker has made it clear how much he likes what he's seen of Mesoraco so far.
Scout: "We love him as an organization. When we were talking to them [about trades] he was at the top of our list. In our [evaluation] he's maybe not a perennial All-Star but an above-average, All-Star-type player. Our people think he's going to hit and he's smart and tough. He catches well. He's got good hands and feet. He's not afraid to stick his nose in the dirt. He can throw. He's got good baseball intelligence. Everything about this kid checked out."
3. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Why he could win: The official stance is that Rizzo, acquired from the Padres last month, isn't expected to be on the Opening Day roster, although obviously that could change. Even if he's not, he could play well enough to force a callup early enough to make an impact this year.
Why he might not: All those day games at Wrigley Field can take a toll, especially for a player who isn't used to it. And it doesn't look as though he'll have much protection in the lineup.
Scout: "I really like him. Here's another kid with real high character. He beat cancer, so when you see a kid with that kind of positive attitude and a smile on his face, you have to like that. I turned in a recommendation on him. I definitely thought we should have gotten him if we could have."
4. 1B Yonder Alonso, Padres
Why he could win: The Padres need hitting. Alonso is a hitter. Not only that, he's the key player San Diego got in the package it received from Cincinnati for Mat Latos.
Why he might not: Petco Park is an unforgiving place for even the most established hitters.
Scout: "We had the question of where you would play him, which I think everybody has. But, yes, he's going to hit. How much power, you don't know. Playing in that lineup and that ballpark, I think it might be tough for him to put up the kind of numbers to win a Rookie of the Year."
5. 3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Why he could win: He led all Minor Leaguers in RBIs in 2011, participated in the All-Star Futures Game and was MVP of the Arizona Fall League.
Why he might not: The Rockies signed 38-year-old Casey Blake to play third base. Arenado, a non-roster invitee to big league camp, is only 20 and hasn't played a game above Class A.
Scout: "He could be a real sleeper. He just might be able to walk right into the big leagues and be productive."
Others to keep an eye on
RHP Julio Teheran (Braves), SS Zack Cozart (Reds), LHP Drew Pomeranz (Rockies), C Wilin Rosario (Rockies), CF Leonys Martin (Rangers), RHP Heath Hembee (Giants), RHP Wily Peralta (Brewers).