StrategyApril 7, 2009

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Future Rookies: Cream of the Crop

By R.J. White

Welcome to Future Rookies, a Cafe column that takes a look at several minor league players that you want to target for your dynasty and deep keeper-league teams. We’ll only be covering players during their time on the farm, so once a guy is promoted, he gets a big ol’ “Goodbye and good luck” from the column. Mixed-league draftees Matt Wieters and David Price won’t be on this list, as both are on teams in most fantasy leagues already. Also don’t expect to see Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Jordan Zimmerman, Dexter Fowler, Colby Rasmus, Travis Snider, and your other favorites that have made the big league club out of spring training (or in Zimmerman’s case, will be called up immediately to be the fifth starter).

Oh, and successive columns are going to be shorter than this one. I wanted to establish the players that we’ll be keeping a close watch on in this first article. From here on out, we’re likely to feature a couple players per week, while keeping you informed of how the guys below are doing.

We’ll be breaking this column up into several sections, with the first two being the Featured Adds – Hitters and the Featured Adds – Pitchers. These players are readily available in Yahoo leagues and can be picked up by dynasty-league teams with a bench spot to fill. The last section is the Featured Players Not Available. These players are not available in the Yahoo database yet, but leagues with deep rosters and deep keeper lists should watch the waiver wire for when they are added. They represent the next wave of future stars and when they are added, they’ll likely join the players listed in the Featured Adds sections.

Featured Adds – Hitters

Matt LaPorta, OF/1B, CLE, Age 24, Triple-A

AA MIL30256206624563.288.402.576.978
AA CLE606280412.233.299.350.649

Initially pegged as a disappointment after Cleveland acquired him in the C.C. Sabathia trade, LaPorta has performed great in spring training. He’s expected to start the season in Triple-A and will likely struggle early on while adjusting to the new level of competition. He should eventually develop into a power hitting outfielder or first baseman that maintains a solid average. I could see him turning in numbers similar to Brad Hawpe’s elevated Colorado stats. If he takes it to the next level, he could be the next Carlos Lee.

Brett Wallace, 3B, STL, Age 22, Double-A


This guy is an absolute stud in the batter’s box. Wallace hit at every stop in 2008, though he did benefit from some very favorable BABIP numbers. After creaming Double-A pitching in a short audition at the end of the year, Wallace went to the Arizona Fall League and continued to mash. He is definitely going to struggle against left-handed pitching in his early major league years and would benefit from a platoon in his rookie year. He also could eventually need to move from third base. Add him now, as he looks to be quickly advancing through the ranks.

Andrew McCutchen, OF, PIT, Age 22, Triple-A


If you aren’t quite impressed with McCutchen’s numbers to this date, remember he’s extremely young and the Pirates have been promoting him aggressively through the system. He had great plate discipline for a 21-year-old in Triple-A last year. Although he was caught 18 times while trying to steal, which lightly taints the 34 bases that he did steal, realize that he was caught one time in 18 attempts in Double-A during nearly 500 plate appearances. McCutchen’s glove could get him to the majors sooner rather than later, and he could produce Matt Kemp-type numbers in his early seasons.

Alcides Escobar, SS, MIL, Age 22, Triple-A


Escobar’s batting development took a huge step forward in 2008, as he showed that he might actually have a decent enough bat to stick as a starter in the majors. No one has questioned his glovework, and he is likely to be one of the best defensive shortstops in the league the minute he’s called up. An ugly spring training has shown that while 2008’s Double-A campaign was a great stepping stone, Escobar isn’t quite there yet. If he takes another step forward in 2009, you’ll be looking at the Brewers’ starting shortstop for the next six-to-seven years.

Kyle Blanks, 1B, SD, Age 22, Triple-A


Blanks is a personal favorite of mine, as I was privileged enough to watch the massive first baseman regularly here in San Antonio last year. Watching his swing and taking into account his huge frame, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit 40 home runs in the majors eventually. He’s about as blocked as a prospect can be, with a young, super-talented Adrian Gonzalez locked into first base in the majors. After his impressive spring, a shrewd team should swoop in and offer the Padres major-league ready pitching for Blanks, who then could be tearing up the majors as soon as the end of this year.

Other Yahoo-available hitters to watch

Max Ramirez, C, TEX – A great offensive asset from the catcher spot, Ramirez will fight for playing time at an unbelievably-deep catcher position in Texas. He’ll hit for high average and power.

Lars Anderson, 1B, BOS – .300/.400/.500 at both High-A and Double-A as a 20-year-old, Anderson will eventually force Boston to make room for him in the everyday lineup.

Mat Gamel, 3B, MIL – Gamel has a great bat, and could even be ready to hit in the majors already. Unfortunately, poor defense at the hot corner will limit him until he improves or is shifted.

Nolan Reimold, OF, BAL – If Felix Pie flops in Baltimore, the Orioles could turn to Reimold, who’s absolutely smashed the ball in Double-A. Could he be the next Ryan Ludwick?

Kila Ka’aihue, 1B, KC – Fantastic power hitter that is now blocked by Mike Jacobs. Another year comparable to his 1.080 OPS from 2008 and the Royals will have to find room for him.

Featured Adds – Pitchers

Tommy Hanson, SP, ATL, Age 22, Triple-A


Only one word can describe Hanson’s 2008 season: phenomenal. He’s made a meteoric rise up the prospect rankings and is now considered one of the best pitching prospects in the minors. Hanson tallied 163 strikeouts over the course of 138 innings, while only allowing 52 walks and 9 home runs. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and completely dominated the league, allowing just ten hits in seven starts. Hanson will be able to continue his development in the minors to start 2009, but if injuries strike the Atlanta rotation, he’ll be called upon to prove himself on the big stage.

Chris Tillman, SP, BAL, Age 21, Triple-A


If there’s a team that needs rotation help, it’s Baltimore. After Jeremy Guthrie, the team will rely on a hodgepodge of Koji Uehara, Rich Hill, Mark Hendrickson and Adam Eaton. As such, look for Tillman to get his first taste of major-league ball in 2009. Walks will be a problem, but if Tillman can gain better control he will be one of the league’s top young pitchers and a more-than-serviceable replacement for Erik Bedard, who was traded to Seattle in the deal that brought Tillman to Baltimore. He should start the year in Triple-A and headlines a very bright trio of young, potential rotation options.

Michael Bowden, SP, BOS, Age 22, Triple-A


At 21 years old, Bowden overmatched Double-A ball, and thanks to improvements in his walk ratio, continued to post great numbers in Triple-A. Perhaps matched by only Hanson in 2008, Bowden will get an extended look in Triple-A this year to see if he’s the real deal, but all signs point to that being the case. His path to the majors is blocked by the combination of Tim Wakefield, Brad Penny, and John Smoltz. With that group aging and susceptible to injuries, Bowden will likely call Fenway home by 2010 at the latest.

Derek Holland, SP, TEX, Age 22, Double-A


Holland has displayed the necessary skills to be a major-league ace thus far, even in the offensively-favored Texas heat. He threw 150 innings over three levels last year, and only gave up three home runs! He also has exhibited plus control, walking only 40 batters last year while still striking out 157. Some owners will always be wary of Texas pitchers, but Holland is good enough to keep balls in the stadium and runners off the basepaths. He should begin the year at Double-A, but if the Rangers plan to be aggressive with him, he might start in Triple-A and join the majors this summer.

Jeremy Hellickson, SP, TB, Age 22, Double-A


Throughout his minor-league career, Hellickson has been a high-strikeout pitcher with impeccable control. He was way too good for High-A ball in 2008, so Tampa promoted him to Double-A mid-season. After a horrible first start in which he gave up five home runs, Hellickson turned back into his old, reliable self. Tampa has the luxury of not being forced to rush this budding star, so be prepared to be patient with him. He’ll be worth it, as his minor-league ratios point to him being one of the next great fantasy aces.

Other Yahoo-available pitchers to watch

Wade Davis, SP, TB – Another great Tampa prospect with much more notoriety and the ability to keep the ball in the park. Davis will probably reach the majors before his counterpart.

Brian Matusz, SP, BAL – 2008 first-rounder Matusz doesn’t have any professional experience, but he does have the talent and the makeup to breeze through the minors and reach Baltimore quickly.

Neftali Feliz, SP, TEX – Feliz has an amazing arm that has scouts drooling, but he’ll need to cut down on the walks to be a successful major leaguer.

Carlos Carrasco, SP, PHI – He made a big improvement on his control problems, but will still need to get better to be a reliable starter in the majors. Opportunity is almost knocking.

Jarrod Parker, SP, ARI – The 20-year-old Parker is the Diamondbacks best prospect and did a great job as a teenager in Single-A ball last year.

Featured Players Not Available

Catchers Buster Posey and Carlos Santana. Posey delivered this spring on his first big stage and will advance through the system quickly as the Giants prime him to take over for Bengie Molina. Santana struggled in 2007 after making a position switch to catcher, but his bat caught fire in 2008, both before and after being traded to the Indians.

First basemen Justin Smoak, Yonder Alonso, and Logan Morrison. 2008 first-rounders Smoak and Alonso both have huge ceilings and should race through the minors to see who can get to the show first, although both are currently blocked by solid, young players. Morrison’s talent is catching up to his minor-league levels, and he is a prime candidate to take a huge step forward in 2009.

Third basemen Pedro Alvarez and Mike Moustakas. Alvarez has the potential to be one of the game’s best hitters right away. He’s a definite target for any dynasty league manager. Moustakas had a great first full season in professional ball as a 19-year-old, smacking 22 home runs and stealing 8 bases.

Shortstop Gordon Beckham. The eighth pick of the 2008 draft, Beckham is already close to major-league ready. He was very good in the AFL this off-season and looks to be the heir apparent at second, with Alexei Ramirez manning the shortstop position.

Outfielders Jason Heyward and Mike Stanton. Immensely talented but still far from the majors, Heyward has the ability to contribute in all five fantasy categories. Stanton is also quite a ways away from the big leagues, but his 39 home runs as an 18-year-old last year simply cannot be ignored.

Starting pitchers Brett Cecil, Jake Arrieta, Jordan Walden, Tim Alderson, Madison Bumgarner, and Stephen Strasburg. Cecil appears to be major-league ready and could pitch for the Blue Jays in 2009, so keep an eye on the “Added Players” lists for his name. Arrieta does not give up the long ball, but too many free passes are holding him back from breaking out. Walden is great at inducing groundballs, as his low HR/9 rates indicate, but also can be a high-strikeout pitcher. Alderson had an amazing first full season, although he was completely overshadowed by the 164/21 K/BB ratio Bumgarner put up in his first season. Both pitchers will join veteran Tim Lincecum to give the Giants pitching staff a bright future. And the hype surrounding Strasburg is real.

That will wrap up this inaugural edition of Future Rookies. In future articles, we’ll also look to uncover under-the-radar prospects that are performing well and could be in line for a call up to the majors. Be sure to e-mail with any questions or comments.

R.J. White (or daullaz) has been actively involved in fantasy sports for over 14 years, making him an addict at this point. He loves writing, the Atlanta Braves, music, the Buffalo Bills, theatre, the Philadelphia Eagles, his family, and the number 42, though not in that order.
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