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Thursday, March 29, 2012
In real baseball, hacking is a bad skill to have. Hackers are generally worse baseball players (save for the lucky few, like Josh Hamilton) who carry low on-base percentages and diminished offensive value.
But fantasy baseball is called "fantasy" for a reason. We don’t care about real-life production. Sure, it's nice to say that your team is full of .400 OBP guys, but Daric Barton’s .393 OBP in 2010 was worthless to virtually all of you—even if you were in an OBP league.
This time of year, especially, its important to keep this in mind. Every spring, it seems like there are a dozen or so players who are set for a "big year" because they've revamped their plate approach and are now more disciplined hitters. While this will make them better real-life players, it isn't guaranteed to make them better fantasy players.
In fact, improved plate discipline can actually hurt your player’s value—significantly. I repeat: in fantasy, patience is NOT a virtue.
Take talented hacker Josh Hamilton for example.
Going in the third to fourth round in mixed leagues, Hamilton never gets enough credit for how much he hacks—and how much it helps his counting stats, batting average, and your team.
A prolific free-swinger, in 2011, he had the fourth highest swing percentage (57.1 percent), 11th highest O-Swing percentage (41.0 percent), and the highest Z-Swing percentage in the league (81.7 percent).
Regressing Hamilton's plate discipline characteristics and batted ball profile, the outfielder carried an expected line of .288/.357/.526 with 28 home runs over 650 plate appearances in 2011.
While conventional wisdom states that he would be more valuable if he could tone down that approach and get more selective, the opposite is true. If Hamilton were to instead adopt merely league average discipline at the plate (30.6 O-Swing percentage and 65.0 Z-Swing percentage), he would carry an expected .269/.376/.508 line with just 24.5 home runs. That's a drop of 3.5 home runs and almost 20 points in batting average.
Sure, his OBP improves and his walk rate goes up by almost five percent (7.0 percent to 11.8 percent), but that doesn’t matter in fantasy. Though he will earn a few extra runs from the OBP, that will be completely washed out—and then some—with the drop in home runs and batting average… and RBI as well.
Plugging the two Josh Hamiltons into the cleanup slot in Texas’ 2011 lineup, we regress the following overall lines:
Hacking Josh Hamilton: 98.5 R, 28.0 HR, 106.5 RBI, 9.5 SB, .2877 AVG
Disciplined Josh Hamilton: 101.5R, 24.5 HR, 93.7 RBI, 9.5 SB, .2694 AVG
Valuewise, these are two vastly different players. Hamilton the Hacker grades out at 4.77 points above average (12-team leagues) at FantasyPlayerRater.com, while Hamilton the Patient is worth 2.90 points. Both players are excellent, but that two-point difference is about the same as moving from Justin Upton (5.23 points as per Rotochamp projections) to Hunter Pence (3.35 points as per Rotochamp).
So, to all fantasy players, I say this:
LET ‘EM HACK!
Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, CarGo, Eric Hosmer, Ichiro, Mark Trumbo, Brandon Phillips, and anyone else with those care-free, free-swinging ways...
LET THEM HACK!
Before I ignite the fury of commenters everywhere, I would like to lay down one caveat: yes, it is a reasonable assumption that improved pitch selectivity will lead to a more efficient player—i.e. higher BABIP and higher HR/FB, which will even out the fewer balls in play.
However, for Hamilton to reach 28 home runs with his new approach, he would have to raise his HR/FB ratio from 16.4 percent to 19.3 percent—a huge gain. To get the batting average back, he would have to gain 40 points on his BABIP. Those are colossal improvements. And that doesn’t take into account that he may merely lose out on power or BABIP because he’s moving away from his natural tendencies and becoming a less aggressive hitter.
So, if your favorite manager starts talking about improve plate discipline leading to a breakout season for one of your players, think again—and get ready to use it against your competition.
Posted by Mike Silver at 6:44am (16) Comments
Friday, March 30, 2012
First off, I just want to say "Hi" to all the readers. I know I've been quiet this offseason but I'm hoping this article will get me jump started again on a regular writing schedule. This past weekend I traveled into the City for my first year in the Tout Wars League. For those unfamiliar, Tout Wars and LABR are considered the two premier expert leagues in the country.
I'm not one to overstate the importance and level of competition of such leagues, though they are as competitive as any high-money league you'll come across. As a first year player, I was placed into the 15-team mixed league (participants generally "graduate" into the AL or NL-only leagues as spots open up). The format for the draft is a live auction, which put me at a bit of a disadvantage since I've never drafted in this manner before. The amount of info you are required to keep track of during a live auction is much greater compared to online, or even a live snake draft, so keeping up without letting it distract me and affect my bids was a new challenge.
This is not all an excuse for drafting a poor team. Overall I feel my team is not the best nor the worst, somewhere in the middle. Here is a link to a spreadsheet with all the teams and below is my team with the price I paid for each player.
+-----+------------------+-------+ | POS | PLAYER | PRICE | +-----+------------------+-------+ | C | J Saltalamacchia | $ 7 | | C | Nick Hundley | $ 3 | | 1B | Ryan Howard | $ 7 | | 2B | Jason Kipnis | $ 7 | | 3B | Brett Lawrie | $28 | | SS | Starlin Castro | $25 | | CI | Jhonny Peralta | $ 8 | | MI | Mike Aviles | $ 2 | | OF | Curtis Grandy | $33 | | OF | Nick Swisher | $11 | | OF | Lucas Duda | $ 7 | | OF | Ben Revere | $ 4 | | OF | Carlos Quentin | $ 1 | | UT | Mike Moustakas | $10 | +-----+------------------+-------+ | P | Cole Hamels | $20 | | P | M Bumgarner | $17 | | P | Brandon Beachy | $13 | | P | Chris Sale | $ 7 | | P | Lance Lynn | $ 1 | | P | J.J. Putz | $13 | | P | Carlos Marmol | $10 | | P | Frank Francisco | $ 6 | | P | Brett Myers | $ 5 | +-----+------------------+-------+ | BN | Eric Thames | RSV-1 | | BN | Andrew Cashner | RSV-2 | | BN | Cliff Pennington | RSV-3 | | BN | John Jay | RSV-4 | +-----+------------------+-------+
Overall I stayed away from the big name hitters but came away with Curtis Granderson, Brett Lawrie, and Starlin Castro as my middle-lineup guys. Not a great core but with the extra cash I was able to get my targets later in the draft, like Lucas Duda and Jason Kipnis.
To compensate, I got two top pitchers: Cole Hamels and a very reasonably priced Madison Bumgarner for $17, probably my best purchase. Brandon Beachy and Chris Sale round out my rotation as two high-strikeout guys who solidify my staff as one of the best. I didn't spend for a top-tier closer but did come away with four so I should be competitive in saves.
Paying $7 for Salty was merely a function of me having extra cash at the end of the draft and not enough talent to spend it on. Ditto for the $10 Moustakas bid as well. Despite these overpays I still finished the draft with $16 left over, so clearly I did not spend as much as I could have earlier in the draft. With optimized budgeting my team could clearly have been better, but I still feel I managed to assemble a competitive roster.
What are your thoughts on my team? If you can, try to look at the other teams so you can a sense of how it compares.
Posted by Paul Singman at 1:43am (8) Comments
76: Will Middlebrooks/3B/Boston Red Sox/9-9-88/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Breakout 2011. Peak .250/.300/.429 with some power.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Middlebrooks played in the Arizona Fall League (AFL), where he continued his tendency to be impatient. His strikeout rate was quite high, 31.7 percent, in 60 plate appearances. He was also invited to spring training, and received 20 at-bats, in which he walked zero times, and struck out eight times.
Small samples or not, his play in the AFL and spring training illustrate he needs to cut back on striking out, and learn to work walks at a better rate. This isn't anything new for Middlebrooks, but at some point, projection of him reducing his strikeouts and becoming more patient need to become reality, or his fantasy value will be limited.
He will begin the season in Triple-A, and being that Kevin Youkilis hasn't been a stranger to the disabled list in recent years, could see time in the majors. The Red Sox own a $13 million club option with a $1 million buyout for Youkilis in 2013, which leaves open the possibility that Middlebrooks could be the club's starting third baseman as soon as next year.
October 2011: Projected to be more of a doubles hitter than a big bopper, but does have useful home run power potential. Middlebrooks has the defensive tools necessary to stay at the hot corner, which is big because his value won't translate well to other positions. His poor walk rate and high strikeout rate leave me questioning his batting average ceiling. He should be awarded the opportunity to further hone his strike zone command and hitting in Triple-A next year, and probably see a cup of coffee in September when rosters expand if he continues to play well. He doesn't have an elite ceiling, but as a third baseman succeeding in the upper minors, his floor is relatively high at a shallow offensive position.
77: A.J. Cole/SP/Oakland A's/1-5-92/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Awesome strikeout rate and walk rate in the low minors this year project to translate to the majors by about 2016.
Scouting notes: March 2012: The Nationals sent Cole packing, with others, to acquire Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A's. He moves to the more offensive friendly American League, but also moves to a more favorable home ballpark for pitching. He pitched all 2011 in Low-A, and will likely begin the 2012 season pitching in High-A for Stockton.
October 2011: Cole throws a plus fastball with good velocity and projection for even more as he matures. His curveball and change-up lag behind the heater, but the curveball has plus potential and his change-up is in the development stages. His control is very impressive for a tall (6-foot-4) 19-year-old who pitched in full season ball. That solid control hasn't come at the expense of strikeouts— his 10.92 K/9 is superb. He was a 2010 draft selection out of high school, but may move fast for a prep pitcher; he took well to Single-A this year. Even if he spends a full season in both Double-A and Triple-A, he'd reach the majors as a 22-year-old.
78: Jonathan Schoop/2B-SS-3B/Baltimore Orioles/10-6-91/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Projects for playable power, low-to-mid teens home run totals, for a middle infielder. That won't play if he is a third baseman, though, as he doesn't make up for it with a standout average or speed.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Schoop has shared the infield with seventh-ranked prospect Manny Machado. He has played both second base and third base next to Machado, and filled in for him at shortstop when he was hurt. It isn't clear what his defensive home will be in the long run, but Will Lingo of Baseball America believes it to be third base. John Sickels of Minor League Ball believes he'll end up at second base.
Schoop enjoyed a breakout last year, and at just 20 years of age, already shows solid command of the strike zone having struck out in only 13.4 percent of his plate appearances last year and walking in 7.4 percent of them. He's not a threat to steal bases, but he projects to hit for a solid batting average and offer at least average home run power in his peak years. Most reports suggest Schoop and Machado will open the season as teammates, which means a trip back to High-A Frederick is likely. It is possible they could both open in Double-A though.
79: Francisco Lindor/SS/Cleveland Indians/11-14-93/ETA: 2016
Forecast notes: No projection as a 2011 high school draftee
Scouting notes: March 2012: He doesn't have any offensive tools that will blow fantasy gamers away, but he does project to hit for a good batting average. Lindor is a solid base runner with above average speed, and could also contribute stealing bases. He isn't a slugger, but could develop enough power to hit teen home run totals annually. If he does all of the above, he'll be a fantasy asset at a position, shortstop, noted for defense. He should open 2012 in Low-A.
October 2011: Lindor is a pure shortstop who is a wizard with the glove and won't require a position change. His defense gets better grades than his offense, but he's expected to hit for average. His power potential gets mixed reviews that range from gap at best to better than that. His speed isn't a plus, but it is above average and should allow him to steal some bases. The offensive ceiling isn't overwhelming, but a shortstop capable of hitting for a bit of pop, stealing a pinch of bases and hitting for average plays well in fantasy formats.
80: Jake Odorizzi/SP/Kansas City/3-27-90/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: His MLE walk and strikeout rates took a step forward while his ERA and WHIP took a step back.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Odorizzi was invited to Royals camp this spring, and pitched in two games totaling four innings. The results weren't particularly notable, and do nothing to harm nor help his prospect stock. He'll open the year repeating Double-A, and could reach Triple-A in short order. It is possible he'll have a shot at reaching the majors this year.
October 2011: Odorizzi's numbers were tremendous in High-A, but took a huge step back against advanced competition in Double-A, where his strikeout rate plummeted from 11.83 K/9 to 7.08 K/9. His walk rate remained very good, below 3.0 BB/9, but his extreme flyball profile has the potential to be crippling to his fantasy value. Kevin Goldstein noted improvement this year at the midway mark, but Keith Law suggested otherwise at the same point. Baseball America described his fastball as his lone plus pitch coming into the season. It has good, but not elite, velocity.
I haven't read any scouting reports discussing how he's using his fastball, but given his batted ball tendency and high strikeout rate in High-A that dipped in Double-A, I'm guessing he's throwing it up in the zone. That approach would leave less advanced hitters swinging through it and more talented competition catching up to it and punishing it. Perhaps the vibe I'm getting is unwarranted, but Odorizzi has a Chris Tillman feel to me. Most prospect rankings have him higher, but his present stuff and projection don't offer a high enough ceiling to ignore his struggles in Double-A.
81: Zach Lee/SP/Los Angeles Dodgers/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Underwhelming MLE on his pro debut.
Scouting notes: March 2012. Lee was in Dodgers spring training camp, and threw a perfect inning, striking out one. He'll look to follow up on his solid debut in Low-A, and should open the year in High-A with a chance to reach Double-A before season's end.
October 2011: Lee was a two-sport prep superstar with a scholarship offer to play football for LSU. The Dodgers surprised most by selecting him last year and meeting his bonus requirement, spreading it over five years. His strikeout rate of 7.51 K/9 and walk rate of 2.64 BB/9 are impressive for a 19-year-old (he turned 20 on Sept. 13) debuting in Single-A, and even more impressive when realizing he didn't concentrate on baseball exclusively in high school. As you'd expect of a player recruited to play football at an elite college program, he's a great athlete and has a ton of projection. Scouting reports are better than his solid results.
82: Chad Bettis/SP/Colorado Rockies/4-26-89/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Projects as a bit of an innings-eater type with solid control but underwhelming strikeout totals.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Bettis didn't pitch in any offseason leagues, but was a non-roster invite to Rockies camp, and threw in two spring training games. He'll open the year in Double-A continuing to refine his secondary pitches. The Rockies' decision to develop him as a starter looks good thus far, but the high minors will prove a greater test. His plus fastball/slider combination give him a high floor of a potential closer should he falter along the way as a starter.
October 2011: Bettis' fastball is his best pitch, and is above average, but it's the gains that he has reportedly made with his secondary offerings that are most promising. He was outstanding in High-A and looks to tackle Double-A next year. He induced more flyball outs than groundball outs, and works well down in the zone. He'll need to continue that trend if he hopes to succeed at Coors, and before that in the launching pad that is Colorado Springs.
Stellar performance paired with positive scouting reports allows Bettis, who wasn't highly touted coming into the season by most outlets (Sickels seemed most bullish giving him a "B" grade), to land on this list.
83: Daniel Norris/SP/Toronto Blue Jays/4-25-93/ETA: 2016
Forecast notes: No projection as a 2011 high school draftee
Scouting notes: It's unclear where Norris will begin his minor league career, but the Blue Jays' tendency to start prep pitchers in short-season leagues means the Northwest League is a reasonable bet.
October 2011: Like fellow second-round pick Josh Bell, Norris fell due to signability concerns. The Blue Jays took a chance, and ended up netting him for $2 million. He's a skinny southpaw who throws between 89-92 mph regularly and can touch 96. He also throws a change-up that has plus potential and is his curveball also has plus potential. As he fills out, he should be able to show premium velocity on his fastball more regularly. Tantalizing blend of stuff, and most scouting reports say he has a feel for pitching and isn't simply a thrower.
84: Brandon Jacobs/OF/Boston Red Sox/12-8-90/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Breakout in 2012 leads to projections of mid-to-high teens home run power with a dash of speed as well.
Scouting notes: Jacobs was an above slot, $750,000 bonus, 10th-round selection in the 2009 amateur draft out of high school. He is a well built athlete who had a scholarship offer to play running back at Auburn. Upon signing, he played in eight rookie level Gulf Coast League games in 2009, and followed that up with a short-season New York-Penn League assignment in 2010.
His play in 2010 showed flashes of power and patience, but he took his game to another level in 2011 in Low-A. He increased his isolated slugging (ISO) from .169 in 2010 to .201 last year. Part of the reason for the increase in ISO was a jump in his home run rate. He hit just six home runs in 263 plate appearances in 2010, which equaled one home run per 43.8 plate appearances. In 2011 he hit 17 home runs in 502 plate appearances, or one home run per 29.5 plate appearances. He projects to hit for above average power by all of the major scouting outlets.
His strikeout level has been acceptable at each minor league stop for a player with developing pop. Jacobs' ability to his the ball hard to all fields and avoid striking out at a high rate bode well for his batting average. He may not continue to be a .300 hitter, but he should be an asset in the category nonetheless. He stole 30 bases at an efficient 81.1 percent rate last season, but he isn't a burner. He has average speed with good instincts meaning he'll likely see his stolen base totals drop against better competition, but he'll still have a chance to be a contributor.
The whole projects to be greater than the sum of its parts with Jacobs. He doesn't project to be a monster in any single category, but his ability to help across the board will make him appealing in fantasy. After spending the entire season in Low-A in 2011, he'll open 2012 in High-A.
85: Mason Williams/OF/New York Yankees/8-21-91/ETA: 2015
Forecast notes: Big year in the New York Penn-League resulted in an MLE slash line of .311/.338/.432.
Scouting notes: March 2012: The early returns are good on the Yankees' above slot fourth-round selection in the 2010 draft. Williams played in just five games after signing, and got his first extended taste of pro baseball last year playing in the short-season New York-Penn League. There, he hit a robust .349/.395/.468 in 298 plate appearances. He showed off his wheels legging out six triples and stealing 28 bases.
His efficiency needs work, as he was caught stealing 12 times leading to a success rate of just 70 percent. As he continues to work on the finer points of base stealing, he should be able to use his burner speed to be a big contributor in the stolen base category in fantasy games.
Williams makes a lot of contact, and projects to continue to hit for high averages as he moves up the ladder. He doesn't offer much pop, and his ceiling is average power, which would equate to low teens home run totals. He has the speed and hit tools to profile as a leadoff hitter, but he'll need to work on walking more often if he hopes to maximize his value there. He'll take his hacks in full season ball for the first time in 2012, starting the year in Low-A.
86: Bryce Brentz/OF/Boston Red Sox/12-30-88/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Breakout in 2011 leads to projections of mid-20s home run power.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Brentz saw time in three spring training games, receiving four at-bats in total. He's ready for Double-A, and there aren't many obstacles in his way to making a 2013 major league debut if he continues to slug the ball.
October 2011: His power is his best fantasy asset. Not everyone is sold that it will play as he moves up the ladder, but he took a huge step forward after a poor debut, so he gets the nod over other outfield prospects with plus power potential in the future, but lesser results now. He's going to have to cut back on the strikeouts, or advanced pitchers will pick him apart.
87: Mikie Mahtook/OF/Tampa Bay Rays/11-30-89/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Jack of all trades, master of none. Projects to hit for some power, steal some bags, and hit for a low, but passable, batting average.
Scouting notes: March 2012: The Rays held nine picks in the first round and supplemental first round combined. Mahtook was the second player selected in those nine picks, and went 31st overall. He played his college ball at Louisiana State, where he hit .383/.496/.709 in his last year, his junior year, in spite of college baseball's change to less potent bats.
Mahtook is a good athlete with above average power and speed. He partook in the AFL and showed off his entire offensive profile. He played in 18 games, receiving 78 plate appearances and hit .338/.410/.544 with a nine percent walk rate and a 20.5 percent strikeout rate. He hit three home runs, and added five stolen bases in six chances. He's very polished, and shouldn't need more than two seasons in the minors. He'll begin his affiliated ball career in High-A.
88: Tyrell Jenkins/SP/St. Louis Cardinals/7-20-92/ETA: 2015
Forecast notes: Too small a sample for useful MLE forecast.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Most outlets seem to think Jenkins will bypass short-season Batavia, and begin the year in Low-A pitching for Quad Cities. Jenkins remains a prospect worth dreaming on with a live arm and solid results, but he's still quite a ways away from reaching the bigs.
October 2011: He didn't make either Baseball America's or Kevin Goldstein's Midseason Top-50 Prospect lists, but he did crack Keith Law's. He was drafted in last year's supplemental first round out of high school. He played multiple sports in high school, and is described as a tremendous athlete. Because he didn't play baseball full-time in high school, he's a bit of a project, but one with the upside of three plus pitches (fastball, change-up and curve). He already throws hard, and throws strikes. His strikeout-to-walk rate is better than four-to-one. He gives up a lot of hits, which suggests he'll need to work on throwing more quality strikes. He's a high risk/high reward type prospect.
89: Dellin Betances/SP/New York Yankees/3-23-88/ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: Huge slip in walk rate from 2010 to 2011. His poor walk rate in 2011 falls in line with his career, with 2010 looking like the outlier.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Betances didn't pitch in any offseason leagues, but did see action in five spring training games totaling eight innings pitched. He didn't walk a batter in three of the five games, but walked two in one game, and three in the other. In all, he walked five batters in eight innings. He'll open the year in Triple-A, where he'll continue to work on ironing out his wonky control.
The Yankees added depth to their rotation in the offseason, so Betances' best shot at making an impact in the majors this year would be in a relief role. As it stands, he may be best suited in that role anyway; his fastball/curveball combo could make him a lethal option at the back of the bullpen.
October 2011: Betances offers the combination of electric stuff and a big physical build that allows scouts to dream of a workhorse fronting a major league rotation. Unfortunately, Betances has enough warts on his game that a shift to the bullpen may be necessary. One obstacle is his lack of a consistent change-up to use with his plus fastball and plus-plus curveball. (He also throws a slider which he'll use to strike hitters out.)
The other, larger, obstacle for Betances is his lack of control. In short, he walks too many hitters. One possible reason is his large frame. Often times, bigger pitchers struggle to repeat their delivery. Betances isn't overly athletic, further aiding the difficulties of repeating a delivery. Last year showed what Betances is capable of when he can keep the walks in line, and his relatively high floor as a high leverage reliever, and potential heir to Mariano Rivera's closing job, makes this a fair rating.
90: Jarred Cosart/SP/Houston Astros/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Strikeout rate and walk rate both took steps in the wrong direction, but had average MLEs in 2010 and better than average in 2009.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Cosart pitched in one spring training game for the Astros on March 25. He gave up seven hits, but struck out five in 3.1 innings. Putting much stock in spring training stats is a bit foolish, but it is good to see him miss bats regardless of the level of competition and circumstances.
Cosart has electric stuff, but his inconsistent secondary pitches have prevented him from using it to rack up strikeouts. After pitching in just seven games for Double-A Corpus Christi last year, he is expected to return there to open the 2012 season.
October 2011: Cosart impressed on the big stage in his Futures Game performance where his stuff played up in a small dose. He throws a plus fastball and curveball and induces a ton of ground balls. To take the next step, he'll need to start missing bats. He's not striking out nearly enough batters to be fantasy relevant. Further hurting his ranking are concerns Keith Law voiced about his delivery across his body in his Midseason Top-50 Prospect list.
91: Wily Peralta/SP/Milwaukee Brewers/5-8-89/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Got his MLE strikeout rate back to pre-2010 levels while reducing his walk rate. Projection still lackluster.
Scouting notes: March 2012: After throwing a career best 150.2 innings last year, Peralta didn't partake in any offseason leagues. He reported to Brewers camp this spring, pitching in three games before being reassigned to minor league camp. He'll open the year in Triple-A, and should be the first name called if the Brewers need a starter this season. If the rotation remains healthy and effective, Peralta could get his majjor league introduction via the bullpen this year.
October 2011: Peralta is a bit of an enigma. His strikeout and walk rates have been up and down throughout his minor league career, and his groundball rate has fluctuated as well. He throws three pitches with average to above-average grades, and he put it all together this season. His walk rate in Double-A could have been a smidge better (3.61 BB/9) but his strikeout rate was solid, and both have improved greatly in his promotion to Triple-A. Small sample warning applies, but his performance has been electric in the friendly hitting environment of the Pacific Coast League.
Scouting reports back up the statistical improvements, and Peralta's frame suggests he can develop into a workhorse. Most scouting reports mention his easy delivery, which is further reason to believe in him piling up innings at his peak maturity. He appears to be close to maxing out his potential, but the package looks useful in fantasy and he is knocking on the door of the bigs.
92: Enny Romero/SP/Tampa Bay Rays/1-24-91/ETA: 2015
Forecast notes: Huge spike in strikeouts... but a huge spike in walks as well.
Scouting notes: March 2012: The Rays have a southpaw who throws with plus velocity, strikes batters out, and has control issues. Does that sound familiar? Projecting Romero to make the same leap fellow southpaw Matt Moore made would be more than a little ambitious. That said, the Rays have handled young pitching very well, and Romero has a nice foundation of goods and performance for them to work with.
In his first year pitching in a full-season league, he blew hitters away with 11.05 K/9. As I alluded to above, his control was poor, and it resulted in a 5.37 BB/9. When hitters did put the ball in play, it resulted in a groundout-to-flyout rate of 1.40.
He effortlessly pumps out fastballs that sit in the 92-97 mph range. He'll show an above average curveball at times, but its lack of consistency makes it a below average offering currently. He gained feel for his change-up in 2011, but like his curveball, it lacks consistency. If he's unable to rely on his secondary pitches regularly, a move to the bullpen could be in order. For now, he'll move up from Low-A to High-A this year and continue his development as a starter.
93: Jesse Biddle/SP/Philadelphia Phillies/10-22-91/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Ugly walk rates lead to a high WHIP projection and bloated ERAs.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Biddle finished his 2011 campaign in Low-A strong. He'll look to carry that over to High-A to start 2012.
October 2011: Biddle got off to a rough start, but has been much better after April. He's a big southpaw with plus, but inconsistent, velocity on his fastball. He also throws a developing change-up and curveball that flash swing and miss potential. The biggest hurdle for him to reach his ceiling is commanding his fastball. That's certainly not a small hurdle. He'll also have to continue to develop his secondary offerings, but the ceiling is high if everything comes together, and at just 19, he has plenty of time to hone his craft.
94: Justin Nicolinio/SP/Toronto Blue Jays/11-22-91/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Oliver projects Nicolino get his K/9 in the upper sevens with a sub-three BB/9 by 2015.
Scouting notes: The Blue Jays took a gamble drafting Nicolino in the second round given his commitment to Virginia, but were able to coax him to join the organization with an above slot $615,000 bonus. He's the second Blue Jays southpaw to crack this list, but unlike Norris, he has an excellent professional season under his belt.
He opened the year in the short-season Northwest League and put up video game numbers there. His 1.03 ERA and 0.75 WHIP were otherworldly, and were supported, as much as silly stats like those could be, by his 11.01 K/9 and 1.89 BB/9. He earned an in-season promotion to Low-A Lansing, where he started three games.
Nicolino attacks batters with a three-pitch mix of fastballs, curveballs and change-ups. He added velocity since getting drafted, and could be in store for more as he fills out his 160-pound, 6-foot-3 frame. His fastball now sits mostly in the low-90s. His curveball is coming along and could be an average offering, but it is his change-up that really stands out. The change-up is a plus pitch that he used crush the spirits of opposing hitters.
He's lauded for his pitching IQ, and because of that, is probably a safer bet than most young pitchers in the low minors. He'll likely head back to Low-A, but should be in line for another in-season promotion if he continues to baffle hitters in the Midwest League.
95: Henry Rodriguez/2B/SS/3B/Cincinnati Reds/2-9-90/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Projects for teens home run and stolen base totals with an average in the .280s.
Scouting notes: March 2012: He won't show up on most top prospect lists, but this isn't most prospect lists. This is a fantasy baseball prospect list, where offense is king. This diminutive infielder has hit, and hit, and hit some more at every professional stop. His career line in over 1,800 plate appearances is .307/.358/.445, and he was at his best last season splitting time between High-A and Double-A hitting .320/.372/.469 with 13 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Rodriguez rarely strikes out. His career minor league strikeout rate is just 12.2 percent, and was 13.8 percent last year.
Most of the questions about Rodriguez revolve around his defense. He has spent time at second base, shortstop and third base. His bat profiles best up the middle. He is a switch-hitter who can sting the ball from either side. His power is mainly to the gaps, but he possesses enough pop, and a favorable enough home ballpark, to project mid-to-high teens home run totals. He isn't a burner, but he is an above average base runner with good base running instincts. He's stolen 30 or more bases in consecutive seasons, and was as efficient as ever stealing 18 bases in 21 chances at the Double-A level.
Should he shore up his defensive shortcomings, he could be an in house candidate to replace Brandon Phillips, whose contract is up at season's end. He is ready for Triple-A, and could see the majors this September.
96: Taylor Guerrieri/SP/Tampa Bay Rays/12-1-92/ETA: 2015
Forecast notes: No projection as a 2011 high school draftee
Scouting notes: March 2012: As a prep pitcher, Guerrieri will probably open the year in extended spring training before heading to the Rookie level Appalachian League, or, if the Rays are aggressive, the short-season New York-Penn League.
October 2011: Few scouting reports questioned his stuff coming into this year's draft, but he slid a bit as there are concerns about his makeup. Guerrieri throws a four-pitch mix that includes a fastball that sits in the 93-96 range and maxes out at 98, a plus curveball, a change-up and a cutter. He hasn't used the change-up or cutter often in games, and both lag behind his fastball and curveball but offer him further options to retire hitters as he develops them. As long as his makeup issues don't get in the way, there is a lot to get excited about.
97: Tommy Joseph/C/San Francisco Giants/7-16-91/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Projects to be a 20-plus home run hitter with a palatable average in the near future.
Scouting notes: March 2012: He didn't play in any offseason leagues, but he did turn some heads in the spring. Joseph played in four spring training contests and received 11 plate appearances. He showed up his trademark power muscling up for two home runs in those plate appearances. It should be noted that he didn't face the stiffest competition, and it is spring training so the stats should be taken with more than a single grain of salt. That said, it was a good start to the new calendar year for Joseph, who will take to the upper minors. He'll start the year in Double-A.
October 2011: Joseph is a work in progress behind the plate, but one who by most accounts has made strides this year. His standout tool is his power, which showed well in games already as he played as a 19-year-old most of the season. His walk rate is low, but being that it's often referred to as an "old man skill," there is reason for optimism that he'll improve it in time. His strikeout rate was a bit high last year, but he made huge strides this season even while stepping up a level. He finished the season on a high note, hitting 16 of his 22 home runs post All-Star break, and seeing an increase in his average from .240 to .301. If he fully develops, his power will play in fantasy from any position, but would be much more tantalizing from his current position.
98: Noah Syndergaard/SP/Toronto Blue Jays/8-29-92/ETA: 2015
Forecast notes: Small number of innings pitched, but promising debut.
Scouting notes: March 2012: No Canadian bias including another pitcher north of the U.S. border on this list—Syndergaard earned inclusion. He was a supplemental first round pick in the 2010 draft, and saw time in five games for the Rookie level Gulf Coast League Blue Jays. He followed that up by pitching at three stops in 2011, reaching Low-A before season's end. That's pretty impressive for a young man that won't turn 20 until August. He has struck out better than a batter an inning, 74 strikeouts in 72.1 innings in his pro career, while pounding the zone, with 2.74 BB/9.
He is big, 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, and throws a fastball to match his big frame. He pitches in the mid-90s and can hit 100 mph with the heater. That pitch is his bread and butter, and he relied on it heavily. He also throws a promising curveball that has plus potential, and a change-up that resides in the mid-80s. He has plenty of time to develop his secondary pitches, and working off a premium fastball is quite the solid starting point. He'll begin this season where he finished last season, back at Low-A.
99: Jed Bradley/SP/Milwaukee Brewers/6-12-90/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Below replacement level projection based on college stats and AFL play.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Bradley was the Brewers' second first-round selection in the 2011 amateur draft, following fellow college pitcher Taylor Jungmann. He signed at the deadline, and thus didn't pitch in any minor league games. He did, however, pitch in five AFL games. He has followed that up with two spring training appearances. In all, the appearances resulted in just over 10 innings of work. The stats are a bit rough, but he was able to strike out 10 batters in 10.1 innings.
The Georgia Tech product is a 6-foot-3, 225-pound southpaw with good stuff. His fastball velocity has a wide range. He usually sits in the low-90s, but can drop to the upper-80s on occasion. On his good days, he can hit the mid-90s reaching as high as 96 mph. He also throws a plus slider, and an above average change-up. His college performance didn't match his stuff, but his upside is that of a number two starter. He should open the year in High-A.
100: Jeurys Familia/SP/New York Mets/10-10-89/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: MLE walk rate dropped from 8.1 BB/9 in 2010 to 4.0 BB/9 in 2011.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Familia's offseason included an addition to the Mets' 40-man roster. He made one forgettable spring appearance, and should open the year in Triple-A. If he picks up where he left off last year, and doesn't revert to his 2010 form, he'll likely be called up over the summer.
October 2011: Familia's money pitch is his premium fastball, which has plus-plus velocity in the mid-to-upper-90s. His command took a huge step forward this year without sacrificing a great deal in strikeouts. He also throws a power slider and is working on his change-up. It sounds as if he's made strides with both secondary offerings this year. He'll need to continue to develop both, or he'll be relegated to the bullpen. Even that wouldn't necessarily cripple his value if the Mets choose to groom him as a closer. For now, though, expect to see the Mets continue to develop him as a starter after a bounce-back 2011 campaign.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 4:14am (0) Comments
To qualify for our top 100, a player had to meet Baseball America's definition of a prospect, which varies slightly from Major League Baseball's criteria for retaining rookie eligibility. A batter must not have exceeded 130 at bats in the majors and a pitcher must not have thrown more than 50 innings or made more than 30 relief appearances.
Remember that this is a fantasy baseball prospect list, not a list of the best prospects in baseball. In fantasy, the only relevance of a player's defense is whether it is going to remain good enough for him stick at his current defensive home, especially when that position is short on talent in fantasy baseball.
A lot of factors went into deciding who should rank where, including a player's ceiling and floor, age, organization, position, and a many others. I tended to lean in favor of players with high ceilings than those with high floors. I also weighed scouting reports more heavily than performance in most cases, though not all. Players at scarce fantasy position got bonus points and ranked higher.
Prospects with 80 grades (using the 20-to-80 scouting scale) either on their present or future power were looked on more favorably than those with 80 grades on any other tool. Prospects with high marks in speed who also show an aptitude for hitting or getting on base—or are projected to do so—also ranked highly.
When it was a close call between a hitter or a pitcher, the hitter usually got the nod. In close calls between pitching prospects, left-handed pitchers rated higher than right-hand pitchers, and younger pitchers were rated higher than older pitchers. The current level that prospects play at played a role, but less so than I would have expected going in.
I'd like to extend a special thanks to Brian Cartwright, who was kind enough to allow me to use his Minor League Equivalent information and provided me with insight that is passed along in the form of "Forecast Notes" below. MLEs can be found as part of the THT Forecasts.
Here are your top 100 fantasy baseball prospects.
1: Bryce Harper/OF/Washington Nationals/10-16-92/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Projects for 20+ home runs as soon as next season, and 25+ starting in 2014. Not just a power hitter, he'll help across the board.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Harper remains the top fantasy baseball prospect in the game. He did everything that could reasonably be expected of him in his pro debut, and then some probably. He followed up his minor league season by demolishing pitching in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). He received 105 plate appearances and hit .333/.400/.634 with six home runs, four stolen bases, and a solid 11:22 walk-to-strikeout (BB:K). Harper's outstanding play has led many to speculate he'll break camp with the Nationals.
Manager Davey Johnson is lobbying for his inclusion on the Opening Day roster, but the club may choose to send him to Triple-A Syracuse to avoid losing a year of control. Regardless of where he starts the year, he'll finish it in the majors, barring injury.
October 2011: Last year's top overall selection in the draft has lived up to his lofty billing as arguably the top prospect in baseball. He opened the year in High-A, no small feat for an 18-year-old, and promptly showed off all of his tools. His power was on display with 14 home runs in 258 at-bats in High-A and he tacked on three more in 129 Double-A at-bats.
In addition to his power tool, which is his greatest asset, he displayed tremendous strike zone awareness with a 59:87 walk-to-strikeout rate between both minor league stops. Perhaps most surprising is Harper's above-average speed, which allowed him to steal 26 bases with a passable seven times caught stealing. At just 18, Harper is built like a Mack truck at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, but in the event he further fills out as he ages, his speed tool will almost certainly be adversely affected. On the flip side, such maturation may further enhance his power tool, which projects to rate as an 80 on the 20-80 scale.
With power numbers down in the majors the past few seasons, Harper gets the nod over fellow blue chip prospect Mike Trout for top honors on this list.
2: Mike Trout/OF/Los Angeles Angels/ 8-7-91/ ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: Projects to be a .300+ hitter with mid-to-high teens home run power and plus stolen base contributions before his 25th birthday.
Scouting notes: March 2012: An offseason of activity has created some hurdles for Trout to clear for playing time.
The trickle-down effect of Albert Pujols signing with the Angels is that Kendrys Morales will primarily play designated hitter, taking away a position to unclog the outfield log jam. The likely starting arrangement features Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Torii Hunter (that's not to mention Bobby Abreu, who is buried on the bench).
Trout bypassed Triple-A entirely, so it wouldn't be the end of the world if he were to start the year there and get further seasoning. It's hard to see him not forcing the Angels' hand at some point. He's simply too talented.
October 2011: For those who like to straddle fences, Trout could easily be considered 1A. He played most of this season as a 19-year-old in Double-A before the Angels promoted him for the first time in July. He raked in the minors, but was unable to carry that over when making the leap from Double-A to the majors. He wasn't entirely overmatched, though, and his second go-round has been much kinder to him.
His greatest fantasy asset is his 80 speed tool. Unlike some speedsters, Trout isn't a one-trick pony. He possesses the skills necessary to hit for average, reach base via the walk, and even hit for above-average power down the line. Five-tool players with an advanced approach at the plate who reach the major leagues before their 20th birthday are a rare breed, and Trout is just that. Gamers who play in leagues with specific outfield designations (i.e. left field, center field, right field) have a strong case to flip-flop Trout with Harper on this list.
3: Matt Moore/SP/Tampa Bay Rays/6-18-89/ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: Oliver indicates that ERA and WHIP expectations should be tempered, but the strikeouts, they'll be there in bunches. Just under 10 K/9 in 2012-2013, over the 10 K/9 mark by 2014.
Scouting notes: March 2012: All Matt Moore did after this list came out last year was spin a seven-inning, two-hit gem against the Rangers in the American League Division Series. He wouldn't make another start in the series, but he did make a three-inning relief appearance in which he gave up just one earned run on a solo home run. In total, he threw 10 innings, allowing one earned run, three hits and three walks and fanning eight.
The Rays have seven starters vying for five spots. Alex Cobb seems like an easy cut from the mix, but since the Rays failed to trade Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis, it is unclear how the team plans to open up a rotation spot for Moore. He's proven all he needs to in the minors, and one way or another, should net over 150 innings in the major league rotation. This time next year, the talk of what starting pitcher should go first in fantasy drafts could include Moore.
October 2011: Coming into the season just one facet of Moore's game needed further refining, something he already began to iron out in the second half of 2010: his command and control. Moore has done that this year. shaving a full walk off his 2010 BB/9 rate while maintaining a strikeout rate that would be elite by relief pitcher standards. He toyed with Double-A and Triple-A hitters this year and catapulted himself to top status among prospect pitchers.
Moore is a southpaw who comes at hitters with a plus velocity fastball that touched triple digits in the Futures Game, and routinely sits in the mid-90s, a curveball and a change-up. He is the total package, and has the goods necessary to outperform Jeremy Hellickson's impressive (though luck-aided) rookie season.
4: Jurickson Profar/SS/Texas Rangers/2-20-93/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Plenty of glove to stick at shortstop, but the bat will lag behind for a bit. Strong minor league walk rates project well with Oliver, and Profar should get a bump in value in OBP leagues.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Profar has passed Manny Machado for top prospect shortstop honors. My speculation about a possible position change because of the presence of Elvis Andrus was premature. Andrus has yet to sign an extension with the Rangers, and as a Scott Boras client, is likely to test the free agent waters. He is under Rangers team control until 2014, so it's likely the situation will work itself out. Looking at the keystone position, Ian Kinsler's Rangers contract will be up after 2013 (assuming they pick up his 2013 option).
Wherever Profar plays up the middle, his bat will be special. He can be a five-category contributor. Those are great to own at any position, and special when it is at a middle infield position.
October 2011: Profar is an exceptional talent at shortstop both in the field and at the plate. Jason Parks and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus are two of his biggest advocates, but John Sickels and the stable of writers/scouts at Baseball America also yield glowing reviews. He could easily be ranked next to, or even above Machado: His results have been better, he's younger and projects to be above average as an up-the-middle infield defender. I rank him a few spots later because I think he'll be forced to move to second base. In most organizations, there would be no question he'd stick at his current position, but the Rangers have this guy Elvis Andrus already in place, and he's pretty good.
Profar's command of the strike zone is mind-boggling for an 18-year-old. He walked more than he struck out this year, and done so as a player who hits for pop and not just a slap singles type. The Rangers have set a precedent of aggressiveness with Andrus, indicating that if Profar is up for the challenge, they'll continue to move him up.
5: Jesus Montero/C/New York Yankees/11-28-89/ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: Offensive minded catcher who should hit for power as soon as this year, and not at the expense of batting average. Oliver likes him to post his first OPS north of .800 in 2013, but he won't be far off that mark this season.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Bye, bye New York, hello Seattle. The Mariners shipped Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to the Yankees in return for Montero and Hector Noesi. Montero will no longer benefit from calling Yankee Stadium his home ballpark, but could benefit from no longer being pressed by better defensive catching options in the prospect ranks (the Yankees had both Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez climbing the ladder).
Designated hitter is still probably his best defensive home, but it appears the Mariners are going to be willing to allow him to fake it behind the plate a little longer. The added value he'd get from retaining catcher eligibility for a few more seasons far outweighs park effects and lineup effects. The Mariners lineup won't need to be as a potent one-through-nine as the Yankees for Montero to be a counting stats beast hitting third or fourth in the lineup. Montero made good on his hype in a 61 at-bat cup of coffee at the end of 2011, hitting .328/.406/.590 with four home runs. He won't post peak years numbers in his rookie season in 2012, but expectations of a .280 average and 20 home runs aren't wildly optimistic at all.
October 2011: He's listed as a catcher now, but it is nearly impossible to find a scouting report that considers Montero as anything more than a designated hitter masquerading as a catcher. Only the most arduous Yankees homers seem to think he can stick behind the plate; thus, he's ranked behind players he would otherwise be ranked in front of should he remain at his current defensive home. Montero's bat was among the best in the minors, and at just 21 this year he was young for the Triple-A level.
He offers plus power with projection for more down the road, but not at the expense of average. If he remains a Yankee and isn't used as a trade chip, he should be the full-time designated hitter in 2012. Ideally, at least from a fantasy perspective, he'll also serve as the backup catcher logging enough time to retain eligibility there. The Yankees have a number of aging players on long term deals who may be best suited playing designated hitter in the near future, leaving open the possibility Montero's future lies elsewhere. Regardless of where he calls home, both city and defensively, Montero is a young hitter who should be treasured in fantasy leagues.
6: Nolan Arenado/3B/Colorado Rockies/4-16-91/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Doesn't project to walk much, but makes up for it by rarely striking out. Should hit for a plus average and plus power right out of the chute.
Scouting notes: March 2012: A superb showing in the AFL prompted crazy talk from the Rockies brass. They suggested that Arenado will be given a shot to win the third base job in spring training. I liken the odds of that happening to that of me winning Powerball. It's not a non-zero chance, but it is pretty darn close.
That said, a summertime promotion isn't out of the question if he tears the cover off the ball in Double-A. Making the jump from Double-A to the majors is beginning to feel like the norm these days, and Arenado may add his name to the list of blue chip prospects to do so. He made strides to his walk rate in 2011, all the while reducing his strikeout rate to under 10 percent. Scouting reports of his defense are more favorable going into this season than they were going into last season, but he remains a hit-first, field-second, hot corner man. That's fine; Arenado has the hitting part under control. As he further physically matures, he should continue to see his home run output increase. Add that to his plus contribution to batting average, and that makes Arenado the best third base prospect in fantasy games.
October 2011: A 20-year-old who is moving one level at a time, Arenado has plenty of time to remain on that development arc. Not a lock to stick at third base, but this projection operates under the assumption that his average defense shown this year will allow him to stay there for a bit. Most scouting reports consider his bat the best in the Rockies system. Playing home games at Coors has its perks, and Arenado could be a beneficiary.
7: Manny Machado/SS/Baltimore Orioles/7-6-92/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: His power and average trend in the right direction, but he doesn't project to hit the 20 home run plateau in the six year forecast.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Not noted in last year's write-up is that Machado missed time due to a knee injury in May. Prior to the injury, he was tormenting Low-A pitching. Shortly after his return, he was promoted to High-A. He flashed some power and patience in his time there, and I expect the average to go up significantly if he begins the year back at Frederick. The stay could be short there, and a promotion to Double-A during the season seems about right.
October 2011: His stats won't jump off the page, but Machado's full season debut has been solid. Machado is an offensive-minded shortstop who is expected by most to stick there. As a toolsy high school shortstop who played his ball in Miami, he elicited comparisons to Alex Rodriguez. While it's not fair to saddle the youngster with that comparison, he does have a high ceiling in his own right. Most scouting reports project him for mid-teens to low 20s home run power with an average in the .300 range once he fully matures.
His numbers this season may not suggest at an elite level for the offensively devoid shortstop position, but it's important to remember he played most of the year as an 18-year-old and there is a lot of projection and physical maturation to come. Believe the hype, and invest in a premium talent who could find himself atop this list next year if Harper graduates to the majors.
8: Devin Mesoraco/C/Cincinnati Reds/6-19-88/ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: Low-to-mid 20s home run output with a palatable average in the foreseeable future.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Mesoraco's 2011 season confirmed his 2010 breakout was the real deal. He blends patience with power, and his low strikeout rate, 16.6 percent in Triple-A, should allow him to hit for a decent average. Ramon Hernandez is no longer with the Reds, but Ryan Hanigan still is. Eventually he'll wrestle the job away from Hanigan and relegate him to a backup gig. In the short term, Hanigan's excellent receiving and defensive skills, and manager Dusty Baker's preference for playing veterans, has the makings of split duties behind the dish.
October 2011: If not for the strong play of Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan, the Reds likely would have summoned Mesoraco prior to September on the heels of his second strong year. It took him a few seasons, but last year Mesoraco began to show his offensive prowess, and that play carried over to this year.
He offers plus power for the catcher position along with an astute eye that has helped him draw walks in over 10 percent of his plate appearances this season. A reasonable comp for Mesoraco would be Carlos Santana, with a bit less pop and current on-base skills. That difference in home run power may not fully show itself as Mesoraco will be playing his home games in a more favorable ballpark for hitting home runs. Reviews of his defense are encouraging enough to expect him to catch for an extended period of time, even if it will be as no more than an adequate defender with a plus bat. In the fantasy game, all that matters is that he retains the "C" next to his name in the lineup.
9:Travis d'Arnaud/C/Toronto Blue Jays/2-10-89/ETA 2012
Forecast notes: Decent pop, but a low OBP and .250-ish average with it. A follow-up of last year's breakout would go a long way in future projection.
Scouting notes: March 2012: D'Arnaud had a career year in 2011 and began turning some of his promise into performance on the diamond. He hit for power and average, earning Double-A Eastern League MVP hardware. The next step in his offensive development will be working more walks. His 7.1 percent walk rate is on the low side, but his 21.5 percent strikeout rate is acceptable for a player that displays the type of power d'Arnaud does. I'm more bullish on d'Arnaud's batting average potential than the Forecast, but I agree with the low-to-mid-20s home run projection.
D'Arnaud will be among the first catchers to have their name called in fantasy drafts in the coming years. He should put up jaw-dropping numbers in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League before a summer promotion.
October 2011: Behind just Mesoraco and Sanchez, d'Arnaud is an exciting offensively talented catcher. J.P. Arencibia is currently catching for the parent club, and while he's made strides defensively he's still not an asset back there. d'Arnaud is the future at catcher for the Blue Jays and should dispatch of Arencibia. perhaps as soon as next year thanks to stronger defensive skills and better hitting skills than Arencibia, who relies on an all-or-nothing approach.
10: Wil Myers/OF/Kansas City Royals/12-10-90/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Oliver isn't particularly bullish on his fantasy stock. Modest power and modest average, but strong OBPs
Scouting notes: March 2012: As fast as Myers dropped on prospect lists after a disappointing year at Double-A, he's working on making an equally quick ascent back up after a big AFL showing. In 106 plate appearances, he walked more than he struck out, and hit .360/.481/.674.
The AFL is a hitters' haven, so the numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. More important than the specific line is that he got back to playing well and displayed he was over the ailments that dogged him during the minor league season.
Scouting reports don't uniformly expect him to hit for plus power, but the overriding feeling I get from reading them is that most believe he will. A few question his ability to hit for a high average. He already shows the plate discipline of a player much older, and should eventually slot in the heart of the Royals order. He may need to repeat Double-A and put his poor play there behind him before the Royals deem him ready for Triple-A. He could hit his way to the Show as soon as this season.
October 2011: Becoming a full-time outfielder in place of being developed as a catcher to get his bat to the big leagues faster, and then struggling at the plate in Double-A is a formula for sliding down prospect lists. It's hard to ignore his previous production, and he's young for the Double-A level, so repeating it to start next year isn't the end of the world. Most scouting gurus suggest his solid approach should lead to a high batting average and above-average power. There is some question whether his power will translate to games, but even in a down year there is a lot to like. Don't start selling his stock now.
11: Gary Sanchez/C/New York Yankees/12-2-92/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Sanchez's youth and current power appeal to Oliver. He projects to be a monster in the power categories.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Sanchez's fall in the rankings is exclusively a product of me making a conscious effort to rank players closer to big league-ready higher. That said, his ceiling is too high to drop any lower. His defense still needs work, but the seeds of becoming a decent defender are there. His power was silly for an 18-year-old. Hitting more than 30 home runs in the big leagues is not only not out of the question, but is reasonably probable.
He currently strikes out too much to hit for a high average, but he's expected to be an above-average hitter as he matures. Look for him to cut back on his whiffs as he ages. Sanchez has a chance to be a middle of the order bat in a lineup that is always loaded, in a ballpark that is a band box, at a scarce position. That's what fantasy dreams are made of.
October 2011: His projection seems optimistic, but he's succeeding as a 19-year-old and has superb scouting reports. No questions about his ability to stay behind the plate, and the only thing that prevents him from slotting in just behind the big two is that he's still in the low minors and requires some dreaming on. He possesses plus raw power that is showing itself in games already and a plus hit tool that's still developing. Time is very much on his side, and thanks to his position his ceiling is higher than any other player on this list including Harper and Trout. The Yankees struck gold signing this young Dominican-born catcher to a $3 million bonus.
12: Miguel Sano/3B/Minnesota Twins/5-11-93/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Elite level power, but it comes at a cost. High strikeout rates will hamper batting average.
Scouting notes: March 2012: There are big questions about his future defensive home. Some suggest he can stick at third base, others expect him to fill out to the point he'll need to move to first base or right field. No one is questioning his power, though. He hits the ball with authority to all fields, and his power potential may trail only that of Harper.
It is expected he'll tone down the strikeouts some as he becomes better at recognizing pitch types. That would help his average in the upper minors and majors tremendously. With power down the last few years, Sano is a welcome sight off in the horizon.
October 2011: Sano requires quite a bit of dreaming on to justify this ranking. He crushed the ball in the Appalachian League, but it's his projection for plus-plus power at third base, that should excite people. The biggest question is where his defensive home will be when he reaches the majors. He has seen time at shortstop and third base, but is a near certainty to be pushed off shortstop as his base fills out and he loses range. He has a strong arm, so third base is possible, but he'll have to further refine his skills there to stick.
Even in the worst case scenario, where he is moved to the corner outfield, which is what Kevin Goldstein expects, his power potential puts him a cut above the rest.
13: Trevor Bauer/SP/Arizona Diamondbacks/1/17/91/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Oliver suggests he may be capable of a 3.5 BB/9 and 9.0 K/9, and I'm inclined to agree based on scouting reports.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Bauer is an unconventional work horse who won't be long for the minors. He already saw time in Double-A in 2011, and should open the year as part of a stacked rotation at Triple-A Reno. The Diamondbacks rotation is full, but the back end has the potential for some turnover during the season. Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter may have short leashes if Bauer and Tyler Skaggs toy with Triple-A hitters as I expect them to.
Bauer has a chance to be an impact player in strikeouts right out of the gate. The rest of his fantasy contributions may be inconsistent as a rookie, but he has the deep repertoire and pitching acumen to keep his rookie clunkers to a minimum.
October 2011: His unorthodox workout regimen and delivery may have caused some concern for teams in the draft, but the Diamondbacks didn't hesitate to select the UCLA Bruins' best pitcher last year, better than No. 1 overall selection Gerrit Cole. Jim Callis of Baseball America had him rated as the top college pitcher, and had him behind only high school flame-thrower Dylan Bundy when rating this draft class' arms.
A right-handed pitcher, he throws his fastball with low-to-mid 90s velocity and can reach back and dial it up to 95-96 on occasion. According to Project Prospect, he throws both a two-seamer and a four-seamer, and both are plus pitches. All scouting outlets seem to agree he throws a plus breaking ball, with some referring to it as a curveball and others a slider. Baseball America suggests he throws both and even has a split finger in his tool belt.
It is also universally agreed that he throws a change-up. Such a mix of pitches gives him the goods necessary to toy with hitters and go through lineups multiple times. Don't be scared off by his quirky, high-torque delivery. A little guy from the University of Washington has done okay for himself in San Francisco in spite of the same concerns.
14: Julio Teheran/SP/Atlanta Braves/2-9-90/ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: Strong walk rates should help him contribute in WHIP. ERA looks solid, but strikeout rate is nothing to write home about.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Those who were “disappointed,” in Teheran's 2011 season need to look no further than his date of birth and level on the minor league ladder to realize he's just fine. A repeat of Triple-A could help him develop consistency in his breaking ball, and with it, help him increase his strikeout rate.
He may not be awarded that opportunity as there is talk of him being in the mix with a host of others for a big league rotation spot. Don't be dissuaded by a rough start if that's the case. His plus to plus-plus fastball and change-up are already big league ready, and when he refines one of his breaking balls, either slider or curveball, he'll really take off. This is a very good prospect, and a very young one at that. Patience, young grasshopper, patience.
October 2011: Just 20 years old this season and already made his major league debut. Strong Minor League Equivalents are supported by scouting reports that love his stuff, which includes a premium fastball and two secondary pitches, curveball and change-up, that project to be above average. Not a finished product, but ready for full time major league duty. The best of a crop of strong pitchers in the Braves system.
15: Tyler Skaggs/SP/Arizona Diamondbacks/7-13-91/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Breakout with his “stuff” in 2011 fully supported by his MLEs. Excellent control with better than average strikeout potential.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Skaggs is an example of projectable velocity coming to fruition. Now that he throws his fastball in the low-90s regularly, some scouts suggest he has No. 1 starter potential.
He hides the baseball well and that makes the velocity play up further. His curveball is a devastating knockout offering, and his change-up is average or better. Skaggs' control and command are top flight. Could someone explain to me why the Diamondbacks felt compelled to re-sign Joe Saunders? Skaggs will open in Triple-A, and he should get his first taste of the majors this season.
October 2011: Skaggs was the prime get in the Dan Haren deal with the Angels. He's a southpaw with a fastball in the upper 80s to low 90s with a frame that may allow him to add a tick or two (though no in-season scouting reports around the 'net suggest that has been the case yet). He also throws a curveball that Baseball America graded as the best in the Diamondbacks system coming into the season, and a change-up. His strong play has moved him up prospect rankings and allowed him to surpass teammate Jarrod Parker in most onlookers' eyes.
16: Shelby Miller/SP/St. Louis Cardinals/10-10-90/ETA:2012
Forecast notes:: Breakout season, but walk rate needs further refinement. MLE of 4.3 BB/9 in 2010 regressed to 4.5 BB/9 this year. His strikeout rate remained elite while climbing levels at 8.4 K/9 this year.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Part of the Thrice-P (Post Pujols Plan) in St. Louis, Miller will eventually help ease the pain of the loss of arguably the best hitter in baseball. Miller is a flame-throwing Texan who has breezed through the Cardinals system since making his pro debut in 2010. He struck out better than a batter an inning in 86.2 innings in Double-A, and is knocking on the door of the majors. Triple-A is next on tap, and a major league call-up in the summer or September is looming.
October 2011: Miller is a young pitcher with front line starter stuff that supports his projected high strikeout rate at the major league level and current production in the minors. His best pitch is his heater, but it is supported by a 12-6 curveball and a developing change-up. Positive scouting reports from multiple outlets plus solid forecast. Toss in his current organization, which calls the National League and a home run-suppressing Busch Stadium home, and it is easy to envision him leap-frogging some of the pitchers in front of him.
17: Anthony Rendon/3B/Washington Nationals/6-6-90/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes:Projects to hit for a useful average and power while posting a strikeout rate not typically associated with a player with pop.
Scouting notes: March 2012: If you're looking for a dark horse to top this list next year, Rendon fits the bill. Shoulder problems sapped him of much of his power his junior season, but when he's healthy, he stings the ball. He displays big league-ready plate discipline and strike zone recognition. Instead of playing in the AFL, the Nationals opted to have him continue rehab and strengthening exercises on his shoulder while receiving instruction. All signs appear good for a healthy 2012.
The Nationals signed Ryan Zimmerman to an extension late in February, so Rendon will need to be developed away from the hot corner if he's going to be anything more than a blue chip trade prospect for the organization. It will be interesting to see how the Nationals brass handles the situation, but these things have a tendency to sort themselves out.
Rendon is a talented player whom Jim Callis of Baseball America called the top amateur draft prospect in 2011. Thus far, he has taken ground balls at second base, shortstop and third base. Reports from the Nationals are that he looks good at each position, but it is hard for me to believe he'll be able to cut it at shortstop. If he can hack it, then his star will shine even brighter in fantasy baseball circles.
October 2011: A strained shoulder caused Rendon to log a great deal of time at the designated hitter position for the Rice Owls this season and likely contributed to his drop in power production. Teams appeared to be scared off by his medicals as he slid to the Nationals at pick six. I'm not privy to his medical records, but find it encouraging that the Nationals were confident enough in him to snap him up as a top-10 selection. If there were no medical red flags he'd be higher on this list, though.
With Ryan Zimmerman already at third base, Rendon may be forced to switch positions, with second base being a likely home. The Nationals may also opt to develop him as a third baseman, where his skills grade out as plus, and cross the bridge of determining what to do with him when they get there. Rendon sat atop Baseball America's pre-draft rankings, no small feat as many pundits viewed this draft as one of the more talented and deep in recent years.
18: Dylan Bundy/SP/Baltimore Orioles/11-15-92/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: 2011 draftee out of high school without a current projection
Scouting notes:March 2012: Bundy is widely considered the best prep pitcher drafted since Josh Beckett. He has a high ceiling, present- day plus stuff, and polish beyond his years. Keith Law has gone as far as to suggest he wouldn't be surprised to see Bundy reach Double-A this season. That would be one heck of an accomplishment for a 19-year-old in his first year of professional baseball.
As you'd expect reading that ringing endorsement, Bundy is expected to zoom through the system. With some professional experience, and the graduation of Matt Moore forthcoming, the perfect storm could be brewing for Bundy to move into the top prospect pitcher spot the next time this list is updated.
October 2011: Bundy rates 28th on this list based entirely on scouting reports, as he has no professional experience or forecast projection. He's has a power arm that throws at 94-96 mph and has touched 100 mph repeatedly. The most encouraging part of any Bundy scouting report regards his secondary offerings. His worst is a change-up that is described by most industry folks as average. His other secondary offerings are a plus power curveball and a plus cutter (Sickels describes the pitch as a slider, but Baseball America, Goldstein and Law describe it as a cutter). He can throw all his pitches for strikes, and is advanced for a prep pitcher. It's a leap of faith tossing a guy with no pro experience this high, but his arsenal sounds like it has all the makings of fantasy ace.
19: Ryan Lavarnway/C/Boston Red Sox/8-7-87/ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: While he won't derail fantasy team batting averages, he'll leave a bit to be desired. His power is excellent, and his MLEs have gotten better every year while moving up the minor league ladder.
Scouting notes: March 2012: This it the point in the list where I'm obligated to remind readers this is a top 100 prospect list for fantasy baseball purposes. That means, his defense only has to be passable enough for him to stick at catcher, not win a Fielding Bible Award.
Lavarnway would be able to get away with being a below average defender at a position often noted for defense because he can rake. He hits for power, and understands the value of taking a walk. His strikeout rates have been fairly good for a slugger, but he still isn't going to find himself in the running for any batting titles.
The bat is big league ready, but the Red Sox are expected to open him in Triple-A, and carry Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the starting catcher with Kelly Shoppach serving as the backup. Shoppach has hit below .200 the last two seasons, and should serve as nothing more than a place holder until Lavarnway forces his way onto the Red Sox active roster.
David Ortiz is under contract only through this season. That could leave the door open to Lavarnway splitting his time between designated hitter and catcher next year, after serving in a part time role the second half of this year.
October 2011: Lavarnway's bat is tremendous, and if it can stick at catcher it is elite. When he was drafted, most felt he had nearly a zero percent shot to stick there, but he has worked hard and improved by most accounts. He still has a large number of detractors, but at least he now has a shot. The Red Sox dealt Tim Federowicz, a prospect catcher with a strong defensive reputation but no bat. That may be an indicator that the Red Sox have faith in Lavarnway sticking behind the plate in the short term.
If Theo Epstein re-signs David Ortiz to serve as the team's designated hitter, Lavarnway's only immediate path to playing time, barring injury, will be as a catcher.
20: Xander Bogaerts/SS/Boston Red Sox/10-1-92/ETA: 2015
Forecast notes: He's a few years from being a big leaguer, but Oliver believes he should provide fantasy relevant power by 2015.
Scouting notes: March 2012: First things first: Bogaerts is almost certain to outgrow the shortstop position. He has the arm for third base; the only question is whether he'll also outgrow the hot corner.
His bat will play anywhere, though, and his full season debut was impressive. Bogaerts assaulted baseballs in Low-A, ripping 16 home runs, two triples, and 14 doubles in 296 plate appearances. That power production resulted in a robust .249 ISO. After sporting an outstanding walk and strikeout rates in Rookie Level ball in 2010, both were merely acceptable in 2011. He has plenty of time to improve both rates. He'll open next year as a 19 year old in High-A. If he continues denting bleacher seats, the Red Sox will be forced to decide how aggressively to challenge the youngster. I'm sure that's a decision they'd love to be in the position to have to make.
21: Jean Segura/SS/Los Angeles Angels/3-17-90/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: MLEs regressed for a second consecutive year. Oliver doesn't like Segura as much as the scouting reports do.
Scouting notes: March 2012: A torn hamstring derailed much of Segura's 2011 campaign. The most promising part of his abbreviated season is that he took to transitioning from second base to shortstop quite well—well enough that he'll continue to be developed there. He was healthy enough to play in the AFL, and is on target to open the year in Double-A.
A healthy Segura hits ropes from pole to pole, and efficiently swipes bases in bunches (102 stolen bases with 25 caught stealing in his professional career). He'll occasionally flash a bit of home run power, but is more of a doubles hitter. The Angels' incumbent shortstop, Erick Aybar, is due to hit free agency at season's end. After a big offseason of spending, the club may not be able to afford to re-sign him to a long term deal. The decision could be a made a whole lot easier if Segura plays well, and perhaps most importantly, stays healthy in Double-A this year.
October 2011: A player scouts like better than the Forecaster. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus noted in April that he looked good making the transition from second base to shortstop, something that would help his value greatly. He may fill out and lose range, leading to a move back to second base, but at either middle infield position he'll hold fantasy value if his tools develop. He should hit for average power, with an above-average hitting and and above-average speed if everything falls into place.
22: Jameson Taillon/SP/Pittsburgh Pirates/11-18-91/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Too small a sample size to draw firm conclusions, but he's a young flame-thrower who's striking hitters out while pounding the zone.
Scouting notes: March 2012: The Pirates handled Taillon with kid gloves all year, keeping him on a strict innings and pitch count limit, and restricting his use of secondary pitches. His focus on fastball control and command could pay huge dividends going forward. Taillon already struck out a healthy number of batters without the benefit of leaning on his full repertoire often. We could be in store for an increase to his 9.42 K/9 this year when the Pirates loosen the reins on this thoroughbred.
Armed with a mid-90s fastball that lights up radar guns even higher than that when he needs it, and two plus breaking balls, Taillon has an ace ceiling. His change-up lags behind his other pitches, but he's working on that. The rate at which his change-up develops could coincide directly with the rate at which he ascends the minor league ladder. If he proves as quick a study of his change-up as he did of commanding his fastball, he could move quickly.
October 2011: Apparently the Pirates said they'd have taken Taillon over Harper if they'd had the top pick. Seems like that might be a creative way for the Pirates to give their 2010 draft pick a pat on the back, but it also speaks to Taillon's talent. He has a power arsenal with a blazing heater, a hammer curveball and a wipe-out slider. He has acclimated himself to pro baseball just fine with a tremendous 94:20 strikeout-to-walk rate in 88.2 innings in Single-A. As a pitcher drafted out of high school, and as part of a thrifty ballclub, it's likely the Pirates will bring him along slowly.
23: Gerrit Cole/SP/Pittsburgh Pirates/9-8-90/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Two good college seasons but walk rate leaves a bit to be desired.
Scouting notes: March 2012: How can anyone not love Cole's stuff? He throws a heater that routinely lights up three digits on the radar gun, a plus-plus slider, and an average change-up that shows promise of developing into yet another dominating plus offering.
The stuff has never been the problem. The problem is that Cole has been merely good, and not utterly dominant. In many ways, his play in the AFL is a microcosm of a college career that often left scouts scratching their heads. He pitched 15 innings, allowing five earned runs, walking four, and striking out 16. He was lights out in four of his five games pitched, but was taken deep by Nick Franklin in the Rising Stars game. He allowed three of his five earned runs, and four of his 14 base runners in that forgettable 2.1 inning start.
Cole has the ceiling of an ace, and should he stay healthy, a reasonably high floor with his present pitch repertoire. A good professional debut in the minors should result in a September call-up.
October 2011: Cole's stuff is much better than his performance in college (which was pretty darn good). He throws a four-seam fastball in the mid-90s and can touch a hair under 100 mph, and a two-seam fastball that's a few ticks slower. He also throws a plus slider and a change-up that some describe as plus-plus. Law goes as far as to lump it at the same level as Johan Santana's and Clay Buchholz's change-ups. Quite high praise.
Even more interesting is pre-draft talk from Law as well as Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus that suggested Cole might be as good as, or perhaps even better in the majors than Stephen Strasburg. If that's the case, this ranking will look foolishly low.
24: Michael Choice/OF/Oakland A's/11-10-89/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Breakout 2010, but in 2011 walks and power have fallen back. He did reduce his strikeout rate, and is expected to hit for power.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Many folks are nonplussed by the A's offseason. The rebuilding A's added to a position, outfield, that they seemed to have depth at in the upper minors. The true blue chip outfield prospect will begin the year at Double-A, though, and things will sort themselves out by the time he's ready for his major league debut.
Choice is a slugging outfielder who is currently playing center field, but is expected to shift to a corner. He'll draw walks, and visit the seats often, but he'll also strike out regularly. He cut his strikeouts down from his sky high 35.5 percent rate in 2010 to 24.7 percent in 2011. Choice has a long swing, not unlike most power hitters, and with long swings come strikeouts.
Promising for the future, though, in a small sample, was his stellar play in the AFL. He pared down his strikeout rate to 15.2 percent in 79 plate appearances. That reduced strikeout rate did not come at the expense of power or his walk rate, either. Even if the gains there don't carry over fully, Choice's power will make him a big time fantasy baseball prospect. He'll be challenged by Double-A pitching to begin his 2012 campaign. How he responds to facing advanced pitching and better breaking balls (something he has at times struggled with) will go a long way in determining his time table for advancement.
October 2011: The epitome of Three True Outcomes, Choice has the feel of a younger version of Chris Carter. It would be nice to see him continue to cut back on one of the true outcomes (strikeouts), while increasing another (walks), but his power isn't in question at all.
Parks lauds his power potential and bat speed, but notes that he'll always strike out a lot. Goldstein also gushes about the power. In fact, whatever outlet for prospect info you choose to turn to, the story is the same: His power is elite but he'll need to continue to fine-tune his hit tool to succeed at the higher levels of the minors and the majors. His reduction in strikeouts from last year to this year, and from pre-All-Star break to post-All-Star break, is enough reason to buy into Choice.
25: Rymer Liriano/OF/San Diego Padres/6-20-91/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: MLEs aren't pretty, but they took a quantum leap in 2011 from his sub-Mendoza line 2010 MLE. He's a few seasons away, and would be aided greatly by cutting down on his strikeouts.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Liriano is the top prospect in a very deep and revamped Padres farm sysem. Unlike some of the upper echelon Padres prospects, he is home grown and developed. He was a 2007 signee out of the Dominican Republic.
The toolsy outfielder has been a slow study, but that shouldn't be concerning given his youth. In consecutive years he opened at a minor league level too advanced for his present skill set, and he struggled. That resulted in a demotions both years, and consequently, better play from Liriano at the lower level.
Last season marked a big leap in the transition of tools to skills for him. He did a bit of everything in Low-A, hitting a juicy .319/.383/.499 with 12 home runs, eight triples, 30 doubles and a respectable 47:95 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Most impressive from a fantasy perspective, he stole 65 bases in 85 chances (76.5 percent success rate).
Liriano epitomizes what it means to be a five tool player. He's a well built six-foot and 230 pound athlete who has a chance to be an impact player in all five standard fantasy hitting categories. The ETA above takes into consideration his struggles when moved too quickly, but if the light bulb that went on last year remains lit, he could press for a late 2013 big league debut.
26: Hak-Ju Lee/SS/Tampa Bay Rays/11-4-90/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Not much power projection, but breakout 2011 resulted in an MLE slash of .272/.325/.385.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Sure, everyone loves power. Lee won't provide much of it, but that doesn't mean he can't be an impact player at a position where offense is a luxury. What Lee lacks in power he can easily make up for in pure hitting ability and speed. The fact that he recognizes home run hitting isn't a part of his game is a big plus.
Lee slaps the ball around the field, and isn't afraid to work walks to get on base where his speed is a headache for opponents. His efficiency was down last year, but that should improve with work and further coaching. His speed, on-base skills, and modest power make him an ideal player to hit at or near the top of the order. As a table setter, he could be a big contributor in runs scored and stolen bases. He should also provide ample production in batting average. He struggled in his first crack at Double-A, and he'll open the year back with Montgomery hoping for more success in attempt two. With fellow shortstop prospect Tim Beckham a level ahead of him, the Rays can afford to take their time with Lee.
October 2011: Prior to the season the Rays dealt Matt Garza to the Cubs for a gaggle of prospects. The highest rated prospect was Chris Archer who was coming off a solid 2010 campaign. The true crown jewel appears to be Hak-Ju Lee, who had a breakout 2011 season.
The primary responsibility of any up-the-middle player is defense, and Lee's is banner. What matters more to fantasy gamers, though, is that he comes equipped with the ability to hit. His power may never show itself as more than average, and his MLEs suggest it won't, but some scouting reports suggest his plus bat speed could result in gap power with some round trippers tossed in as he matures. His speed should allow him to take advantage of his strong on-base skills and steal bases. He's one level below Tim Beckham who is in Triple-A right now, but is the better bet to play shortstop for the Rays when he gets there.
27: Kolten Wong/2B/St. Louis Cardinals/10-10-90/ETA:2013
Forecast notes:: Oliver's forecast loves Wong, and believes he's ready now. Double digit power and speed combination with a plus batting average: That would play great at second base.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Wong won't wow fantasy gamers in any one statistical category, but his ability to help across the board will make him a very valuable player at the keystone position. The one category he should shine the brightest in is batting average. He has an advanced understanding of the strike zone and a compact swing that leads to ropes to the gaps. He has enough pop in his bat to hit teen taters in the Show, and enough baserunning savvy and speed to match or best that stealing bases.
Lineup position will be key for Wong, as he'll need to score a healthy number of runs or drive them in to maximize his fantasy value. His strong on-base skills profile well for the top of an order, and little stands in his way to eventually laying claim to the Cardinals' leadoff duties in the future. Wong's pro debut exemplified his polish, and he should fly through the system. Second base is messy on the parent club, but Wong should clean things up, laying claim to keystone duties sometime in 2013.
October 2011: Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks is a Wong believer but alludes to a potential move to left field that would cripple his value in fantasy. Baseball America also cites his ability to play a super utility type role. Small in stature, but not lacking for pop, he could produce teens home run totals. He's a plus hitter with average speed but good base running instincts that could net him useful stolen base totals.
28: Cheslor Cuthbert/3B/Kansas City Royals/11-16-92/ETA: 2015
Forecast notes: Oliver projects that Cuthbert is a few years from being fantasy relevant. By 2015 he is projected to hit high teens home run totals with a low batting average.
Scouting notes: March 2012: The dog days of summer took their toll on Cuthbert, and his final season line paid for it. In May, June and July he hit .308, .307, and .356 respectively with seven home runs in 204 at-bats. He showed patience, walking 19 times, and made contact frequently, striking out only 33 times. The wheels fell off the bus in July, and he was unable to recover in August. His .135 average was putrid, and he struck out 32 times in his final 96 at-bats.
The culprit for his struggles was mostly fatigue. Cuthbert played more than twice as many games in 2011 as he had played in 2010. He also played all season as an 18-year-old. He made strides in the field, but not everyone is sold he'll stick at third. Cuthbert has the arm to stick there; the concern is that he'll outgrow the position.
For now, he'll rank this highly with the thought being he'll stick at third base. If he moves off the position, he'll see a significant hit to his fantasy stock. He'll start the year in High-A playing in a park, Wilmington, that according to ballpark factors found at Baseball Think Factory (thanks to the work of Jeff Sackman and Dan Szymborsk)i, suppressed home runs substantially (0.78 multiplier, with 1.00 being neutral). Keep that in mind if his power numbers aren't off the charts. Cuthbert projects to hit for power in the future, and as long as the scouting reports continue to read as such, don't adjust your expectations for him too drastically if he fails to put up a gaudy home run total in 2012.
October 2011: Cuthbert doesn't get the due he deserves as part of a loaded Royals farm system. At just 18, he's playing in a full season league and playing well. He has struggled of late, but some scouts believe it's a product of him wearing down. Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks called him a breakout candidate coming into the season. He describes Cuthbert as having "some of the best barrel awareness" he has ever seen in a teen. He uses the whole field as a hitter and has developing power.
He's got enough defensive skills to stick at third base as well. He was an honorable mention on Keith Law's midseason top-50 prospect list as well, and is a C+ high upside prospect in the eyes of Sickels.
29: Jacob Turner/SP/Detroit Tigers/5-21-91/ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: Two solid years with good control but only average strikeout rates.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Having not spent a full season at any one minor league level, Turner is on the Tigers' accelerated pitcher development plan (see: The Rick Porcello Plan). Turner has acquitted himself well at each stop save for struggling in a couple major league starts after a decent debut in the Show.
Turner's control and command are excellent. His high water walk mark in the minors was a plenty good 2.53 BB/9 in 113.2 innings pitched at the Double-A level. He's walked under two batters per nine innings at every other level of the minors. Turner throws three average or better pitches, a couple of fastballs that sit in the low-90s with movement, a plus curveball, and an average change-up that flashes more on occasion.
His strikeout rates have been a little low for a prospect who occasionally gets future ace grades, and at worst, gets top-flight number two starter grades. A big part of that is likely the speed at which he has been moved through the system after being selected in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft. In three Triple-A starts made after his major league debut, he was at his best, striking out 20 batters in 17.1 innings pitched (10.38 K/9), all while still pounding the strike zone (1.56 BB/9). Turner is in the mix for the Tigers' fifth starter gig this spring. If he doesn't break camp in that role, expect him to lay claim to it sometime early in the summer.
October 2011: Turner was considered the top high school pitcher in the 2009 draft, and the Tigers promptly snapped him up and paid him an above-slot $5.5 million. He's a three-pitch starter with a fastball around 92-94 mph that can be bumped up a bit when he needs a little extra oomph. Most scouting reports describe his heater as having sink or boring action, which help him induce ground balls. His best secondary offering is a developing 12-to-6 curveball with plus potential and a change-up that could end up being an average big league pitch.
He has moved quickly, and in a perfect world has the package to develop into a top of the rotation starter. His control is quite good, but his strikeout rate leaves something to be desired from a fantasy perspective. The natural fear for those who have followed the Tigers' recent development of pitching arms is that Turner turns into Rick Porcello version 2.0. He hasn't been rushed as quickly, and has struck out more hitters in his brief Triple-A and major league time, so don't rush to that assumption just yet
30: Taijuan Walker/SP/Seattle Mariners/8-13-92/ ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Control is a work in progress, but strikeouts in bunches.
Scouting notes: March 2012: The Mariners have a trio of starting pitching prospects that compares favorably to just about any in all of baseball, and Walker's ceiling is the highest of the bunch. He is also the furthest away. That said, his play in 2011 was excellent for a 2010 draftee who was a multi-sport prep star, and he should move faster than most would have anticipated.
Walker joined professional ball with a live arm that fired blazing fastballs. He still has that fastball, but now backs it with a developing change-up he's able to use in games, and a hammer curveball that is a doozy and can make opposing hitters look foolish. It's unclear where he'll begin the year in the minors. He may open in High-A playing in a hitter-friendly environment, or he may open skipping a level and pitching at Double-A. Either assignment will prove challenging for Walker, and will better help set an accurate timetable for his arrival to the bigs.
October 2011: Impressive season in Single-A as an 18-year-old who was considered a raw high school pitcher when the Mariners selected him in the supplemental first round of the 2010 draft. In part, he was considered raw because he was a high school basketball player and played shortstop as well. He throws a fastball with heavy sink and premier velocity (can reach 98 mph). As one would expect, that sinking fastball has helped him rack up the groundball outs (1.54 ground out-to-fly out). He also throws a plus curveball and is developing a change-up. His control has been described as spotty by both Kevin Goldstein and Sickels, so a 2014 ETA may be a bit ambitious. When he does arrive in the majors, calling Safeco Field home will be a nice perk.