I remember when I was eight. Life was simple, girls were simple. Would you believe I actually ran for fun back then? This may creep out some of my readers. Please bear with me as I reminisce.
Growing up, I lived in a house that backed up to a pet cemetery. That pet graveyard was actually located in the back of a human cemetery. Basically, I can thank Steven King for my lack of sleepovers and overflow of nightmares until I was ten.
Moving on, my buddies and I would play baseball in the large field adjacent to the statue of Jesus. The pet cemetery was actually a quiet, flat place with built-in headstones for bases. Don’t judge me, and we didn’t use the headstones as bases. That’s sick.
My goal as we ran through the knee-high grasses was to be the catcher version of Terry Pendleton. My love for baseball was born out of that cemetery, but those days and dreams have long since faded. My love for baseball remains. Prospects make me feel nostalgic about those times and, thus, have a special place in my heart.
One of my favorite parts of the rookie transition that differs baseball from the other two major sports is in the way this revealing takes place.
In basketball, rookies are signed out of college, courted by every shoe company, and ushered to the starting five. In football, rookies are drafted with every intention of winning playing time from the very beginning.
In contrast, the prospects of baseball are mostly refined over several years. Their breakouts tend to come mid-season. Pomp and circumstance surround their rumored call-up, which then parlays into arrival celebrations no matter what the standing of the team. It’s all about hope, I guess. This is my tribute to hope.
There are always a ton of “hot prospects” every year in the fantasy game. Undoubtedly, the names of Mike Moustakas, Jeremy Hellickson, Domonic Brown, Desmond Jennings, Mike Montgomery, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Jesus Montero, etc. are on the lips of every expert and the pages of every website. If you’re looking for those names you won’t find them here.
I want to dive into prospects that can impact 2011 that not every expert in the world is hammering into your head. Impact Prospects and Outsiders (or IPO) is what we’ll call them. Like an IPO is for a company, the chance to play is everything in the making or breaking of these outlier prospects.
Some IPOs for 2010 that found success were Neil Walker, Colby Lewis, Jaime Garcia, Chris Johnson, and Danny Valencia. Their formula for success was a combination of playing time and relative anonymity. I choose five for different reasons. Here they are in no particular order:
Hank Conger C ANA: I am proud that I get to be one of the first to proclaim 2011 the beginning of the Conger dynasty in Anaheim. After the Mike Napoli/Juan Rivera-for-Vernon Wellsdeal came together earlier this week, I realized it’s time to join the “Conger Line.”
Conger is no stranger to top prospect lists, but his value is extremely low to date. Napoli had a strong hold of the everyday catching duties, and this led to Conger’s disappearing prospect status. Upon Napoli’s departure, the opportunity for Conger to realize his potential is now. He profiles as an offense-first catcher with a plus batting eye. Picture Mike Piazza with less power.
Double-digit home runs and a .290+ BA are very possible given an increase in at-bats. It’s not quite time to throw him in the same breath as Buster Posey, Carlos Santana, and even Jesus Montero, but the ceiling for this Futures game MVP is high enough that he should be considered in mixed leagues.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka SS MIN: To see a great YouTube video of Nishioka, click here. Tsuyoshi is a three-time Japanese Gold Glove winner, including 2010. He is a two-time stolen base king, and he is the reigning batting champion with a .346 BA last season.
Is he the second coming of Ichiro? No, but does he have a chance to be a top-10 shortstop? Yes, he does. Then again you would be doing a disservice to yourself if you didn’t place Japanese stats in their place. Exhibit A is Matt Murton setting the all-time hits record this past season.
With all that said, our Oliver forcasting engine sees a line like seven HR and 30+ SB with a .300+ BA. That would certainly place him in the top 10 of fantasy shortstops in 2011. Nishioka is worth a look.
Jason Kipnis 2B CLE: Kipnis is the prototype “scrappy” middle infielder. Normally, I despise these kind of stereotypes on hard working infielders who lack elite speed and power. In Kipnis’ case, it is actually very appropriate.
Never considered an upper-class prospect by many outside of Ohio, he has fought his way into the starting second base job discussion in Cleveland. His competition is less than impressive in Luis Valbuena and Jason Donald.
Kipnis looks to be a future 20 HR/.300 BA second baseman. For 2011, I’d reduce the homers down to 14 and the batting average to .280. If those numbers hold true, he could still be the perfect MI play for all leagues.
That being said, his lack of Triple-A experience could cause him to be on hold in Columbus through the first couple of months even though he was integral piece of the Clippers championship run. He hit .389 in 18 postseason AB with the club.
Kipnis was Cleveland’s Minor League Player of the Year last season, and my advice would be not to let anybody know more about him than you. Hopefully, this helped.
Jake McGee SP/CL TB: McGee may be my favorite name on this list. His mid-90s fastball has good late movement. He once was as touted a prospect in the Rays system as Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson, but injuries and failure of his secondary pitches have clouded his future with the club. Is he a starter or future closer?
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey still sees McGee as a “starter” for Tampa very soon.. McGee, age 24, handled his duties as a reliever quite amazingly in 2010. It’ll be interesting to see how Maddon handles McGee going forward.
My opinion is that he’s got a chance to be an impact closer. His secondary stuff, including a decent slider, lead to the inevitability of a relief role. Plus, his minor league track record as a starter isn’t stunning (he had an elbow injury). As a reliever, he’s been money, and J.P. Howell isn’t that great.
Yunesky Maya SP WAS: Mays was the 2010 Domincan Winter League Picher of the Year. He used that impeccable control that was whispered about before he ever defected from his native Cuba (42:9 K/BB in 41 innings) to recapture the hearts of the D.C. brass. Look for him to gain the fourth or fifth rotation spot for the Nationals and show a very different pitcher than what we saw in his brief call-up in 2010.
Maya has potential to be a Colby Lewis-like find for the Nats in 2011. At only 29, all reports are the improvements he made in the Dominican are real. I think Lewis is a fair comparison, although I would discount the strikeouts a bit, and his control still needs to be seen. He’s an NL-only must draft and a sleeper in mixed leagues. In the deepest leagues, I really like his IPO value.
My final thought is more like a disclaimer. There was a handful of players I eliminated from this list. In fact, I started with an entire starting line-up even down to a full four-man rotation. The more I looked at the list, the red X’s began to fly all over my scratch piece of paper until there were only five. These five represent an even greater group of players that are to be had. Finding them first will still be up to you. I, along with other THT Fantasy guys, are here to guide your path.
Ben Pritchett loves his prospects, and he loves being asked questions about them. Shoot some comments, or you can reach him at