When I began writing a Spring Training edition of Future Rookies little did I know what a massive undertaking it would be, thus, instead of one article the column has been broken into three parts. Part 1 featured noteworthy catcher and first base options, part two shall feature the remainder of the hitters, and part three will take a look at the arms. As a reminder, in order to qualify for the Future Rookies column a player has to meet Baseball America’s definition of a prospect (under 130 at bats, 50 innings or 30 relief appearances).
Before readers are up in arms, Dustin Ackley is not included amongst the second baseman due to his only being outfield eligible in Yahoo! leagues at the moment. You’ll see him featured there in this article, and discussed in relation to his eventual most valuable position. However, to keep things uniform, players will only be featured at their current Yahoo! eligible positions. Among those highlighted at second base, only one has major league experience, and not much at that. The position lacks star power, and those featured are only likely to be useful in long term keeper leagues, or deep leagues featuring a middle infield position.
Danny Espinosa, 2B, Washington Nationals, 23 years old
Long Beach State college draftee Danny Espinosa has flown through the Nationals farm system. Drafted in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft, Espinosa played in the New York Penn League upon signing and spent all of 2009 in high Single-A. 2010 saw him open the year in Double-A before ultimately reaching the majors. With strikeout rates that have fluctuated in between his low mark of 23.2 percent in 103 Triple-A at bats to his high mark of 29.1 percent in 103 major league at bats, one should set his batting average projection somewhere in the .250’s range, give or take a handful of points. Also, with struggles making contact, rough stretches are essentially a foregone conclusion as he has to adjust to big league pitching. Keeping all that in mind, Espinosa was able to compile 28 total home runs and 25 stolen bases in 2010 across three levels, impressive totals at a position light on talent. In 53 spring at bats, he has further illustrated both his shortcomings with 14 strikeouts, and his positives with two home runs and two stolen bases. Deep leaguers looking for power and speed at their middle infield slot would be wise to slot the Nationals starting second baseman there.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians, 23 years old
The 2010 season saw Jason Kipnis make the transition from outfielder in his first pro season to second baseman. Unlike Espinosa, Kipnis will begin the season in the minors, but with little in his way on the parent club, he has a chance to join the Indians over the summer. The uncertainty over his timetable to reach the majors makes Kipnis more of a deep league with deep bench or dynasty/keeper option than a redraft one. Long term, he has the solid contact skills and moderate power/speed blend to be a solid second base option. Keep tabs on his progression this year, but as is noted above he’s a converted outfielder, so don’t just gloss over his offensive output, put in the legwork to follow up on his defensive development as well.
Brett Lawrie, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays, 21 years old
Brett Lawrie, the prime piece coming to Toronto in return for Shaun Marcum, would be, in my opinion, the best dynasty/keeper option at second base if he were able to remain there. Unfortunately for fantasy gamers it looks like he’ll be moving to third base as the Jays already have Aaron Hill in place at second base. Regardless, the 21-year-old Lawrie’s future is bright. Last season saw him hit just eight home runs, but that doesn’t tell the whole story as he was able to rip 36 doubles and 16 triples for a total of 60 extra base hits. Having spent just two seasons in the minors after being drafted out of high school in 2008, it is quite impressive to see Lawrie’s ascension and realize he’s likely to see Major League at bats sometime this season. According to the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Lawrie has just average speed, so it would be wise to temper stolen base expectations, but expect to see his home run totals rise as he physically matures as he is described as having strong hands and good bat speed. A September call-up seems the most likely time for a promotion for Lawrie, but if he is able to rake in Triple-A and one of Juan Rivera or Edwin Encarnacion were to struggle, the Jays could opt to shuffle their lineup moving Jose Bautista to the outfield and promoting their third baseman of the future earlier than expected.
Check back next year, as none of the exciting prospects at the position (i.e. Grant Green or Manny Machado), are near ready for a Major League promotion. Perhaps someone will burst onto the prospect scene with a big year, but for now, the position is a barren wasteland from a fantasy perspective in the upper minors.
Third base has a chance at producing a handful of useful future rookie fantasy contributors this year, with two players having a chance to make sizable splashes upon their respective debuts. Three players were tough cuts from the highlighted section below — those players were Matt Dominguez, Juan Francisco and Dayan Viciedo. Dominguez’s bat simply isn’t fantasy relevant as of now, and may never be — his glove is what is going to get and keep him in the show. Francisco is competing for a bench spot on the Reds and has Major League experience. In the event Scott Rolen were to miss time, he immediately becomes an intriguing addition in deep leagues or NL-only leagues thanks to his jaw dropping raw power. His contact leaves a fair amount to be desired, and he’s allergic to drawing walks, but the power is his calling card and makes him worth monitoring. Viciedo is a near clone of Francisco, both in their approach at the plate (all or nothing while drawing next-to-no walks) and their defensive skill sets (or lack thereof). Having been beaten out at third base by Brent Morel (see below), and being blocked at first base and designated hitter by Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, Viciedo is likely to open the season in Triple-A. Should Morel falter, he may see an opportunity for promotion during the season.
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Cleveland Indians, 22 years old
The sweet swinging lefty, and top prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization according to Baseball America, Lonnie Chisenhall put on a scintillating performance in spring training with the parent club this year, slashing .500/.567/.885 with two doubles, one triple and two home runs in just 26 at bats. His final line last year wasn’t overly impressive, but he began the year playing through a shoulder strain that eventually landed him on the disabled list, so keep that in mind before being overly critical and drawing incorrect conclusions about Chisenhall’s immediate upside. His post All-Star Break line of .294/.364/.505 with nine home runs in 194 at bats is much more indicative of the immense talent that he possesses. One chink in the armor that stands out when looking at his stats is his struggles against same handed pitching (.234/.320/.383 versus left-handed pitchers), but one that can be worked out most likely over time as he already shows a solid walk-to-strikeout rate against them (15:27) meaning he’s not entirely over-matched and flailing. Jack Hannahan is the only obstacle in his way, meaning in reality, preventing him from reaching Super Two status is really the only obstacle in his way. There is a significant drop-off after the elite talent at the top of third base in fantasy, so if you are one of the many trotting out a mediocre starting third baseman, or one with glaring question marks, don’t be afraid to stash Chisenhall, or at the last have him on your watch list in anticipation of a June promotion.
Brent Morel, 3B, Chicago White Sox, age 23
As mentioned above, Brent Morel has been named the starting third baseman for the Chicago White Sox, and based on that fact alone he is being highlighted in Future Rookies. There isn’t much to get excited about here, outside of a potential hollow batting average. He’ll slot somewhere near the bottom of the White Sox order, meaning counting stats will be hard to come by, and his approach at the plate won’t lead to many home runs. He’s not a speedy base-runner, so more than a handful of stolen bases seems highly unlikely as well. A possible option in AL-only leagues, it is hard to envision much fantasy use for Morel, he serves as a good example of the difference between being a good useful reality player and a solid fantasy option.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals, age 22
If Vegas were setting a gambling line on who’s the most likely to be the fantasy hitting MVP amongst rookies this year, Mike Moustakas would most certainly be the favorite. Moustakas terrorized pitchers in both the Texas League and the Pacific Coast League last year, and is likely to see a promotion sometime this summer, perhaps as early as June if he’s able to continue his humiliation of Triple-A pitchers. As soon as the anticipated Super Two cut date passes (usually speculated to be early in June), expect the rumblings around promoting Moustakas to begin. With a clear path to a starting job on the parent club, he simply has to keep hitting and do a passable job defending the position to warrant a promotion. He doesn’t come without some faults, and red flags in the short term as his plate discipline leaves something to be desired and for all the impressiveness of his stats they need to be taken with a grain of salt as both the Texas League and the Pacific Coast League are noteworthy for being quite favorable to hitters. Remember, not every prospect makes an initial splash like Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun or Jason Heyward, so it is best to exercise caution, but Moustakas has the tools necessary to make just that type of fantasy impact out of the gate. He should be owned in all but the absolute shallowest of leagues, and is a true blue chip talent in dynasty and deep keeper leagues.
Outfield is often times home to your “toolsier” type players. The featured group of, Future Rookies’, outfielders are a group of regular Bob Vila clones, or if you prefer take the toolsier analogy in a different direction you could replace Bob Villa with The Situation; regardless, you’ll find some real speedsters with developing power.
Dustin Ackley, OF, Seattle Mariners, 23 years old
While it’s not a stat that plays in standard fantasy formats, the thing that impresses me the most about Dustin Ackley is his awesome walk-to-strikeout rate. As a first year pro, that’s discipline of the strike zone well beyond his years. His power tool doesn’t grade out as anything special, but his superb strike-zone command, top notch contact skills, and line drive gap-to-gap swing should lead to annual batting average returns north of .300. Ackley has enough speed, and strong enough on base skills that 20-plus stolen base seasons are a reasonable possibility as he learns the nuances of base stealing and how to best utilize that tool on the basepath. As most know, and as I alluded to earlier, Ackley’s long-term future lies at second base for the M’s. He was recently sent to minors camp as they trim their roster, but expect to see him sometime this summer, perhaps as early as June. Those in leagues using a middle infielder with some bench wiggle room would be wise to stash him, as the dearth of talent up the middle is readily apparent to anyone who has scanned beyond the top names at second base and shortstop.
Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies, 23 years old
Oozing stat-stuffing fantasy goodness out of his pores, Domonic Brown will be shelved to start the 2011 season with a broken hamate bone in his right hand. While early speculation suggests he’ll only be out until mid-late April, he’ll almost certainly have to open the season in the minors getting into game shape, and perhaps the bigger concern is how much will his power suffer this season from the injury? Still a great long term option in dynasty and keeper formats, his redraft stock takes a bit of a hit as it’s a bit cloudy determining when he’ll take the reigns as the full-time right fielder in Philadelphia. With such a varied and well rounded skill set, he is worth stashing on the DL or on the bench in medium-to-large leagues, but shallow leaguers should probably pass and watch from a distance for the time being.
Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay Rays, 24 years old
The biggest question looming over Desmond Jennings remains the same: can he stay healthy? Last year he struggled with his pop out of the gate due to a lingering wrist injury. Long term, he has Carl Crawford-esque power potential along with plus-plus speed. His solid walk rate and ability to make contact at a high rate bode well for him to take full advantage of his speed and steal a plethora of bases. Momentarily blocked by the offseason additions of Johnny Damon to play left field and Manny Ramirez to serve as the designated hitter, Jennings looks to open the season in Durham. Matt Joyce, of the huge platoon split, should be the primary right fielder when the Rays face right-handed pitching, leaving a possible opening down the line this season should Jennings rake and the Rays look for an in-house shot in the arm. With game-changing stolen base potential right out of the gates, Jennings should be on all owners radars, regardless of league size, and is a solid speculative stash option in deep leagues.
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 19 years old
Winners of the Vernon Wells sweepstakes — and by that, I mean owners of the albatross of a contract that he’s owed — the Angels have less reason to rush the development of arguably the best prospect in all of baseball (number two overall on Baseball America’s top-100 list for this year), Mike Trout. With no at bats above Hi-A, Trout should spend all of 2011 in the minors, perhaps earning a September call-up if he has a truly magnificent season. His best tool is his speed, which grades out as an 80 on the 20-to-80 scale, but he has developing power as well making him a potential future five-category stat-stuffer. It’s unlikely you’ll see Trout featured here again this season, as he’s realistically only worth owning in dynasty and keeper leagues this year, but make no mistake, he’s an elite talent worth following even if it’s only from a strictly “baseball fan” standpoint.
Josh is a recent college graduate from SUNY Cortland where he majored in Sport Management. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad.
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