Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring Training Wrap Up - Prospect Watch

It seems like there have been an inordinate amount of highly touted prospects competing for starting jobs this spring training. In this article, we take a look at where some of baseball's top prospects will start the season and what to expect from them in 2008.

Sent Back To The Farm

Cameron Maybin, OF Florida Marlins

Maybin, the highly touted prospect acquired in the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis trade to the Tigers, is going to start the season in AAA. While in the short-term this is bad for fantasy owners, later in the season and in future years, the benefit of having more seasoning in the minors will help Maybin become a better player. In his time in the majors, he has shown that he is not entirely ready for The Show. 

By this time, he has already been drafted in many leagues so it might be worth holding on to him. In a keeper league this is definitely a guy worth stashing, despite the fact he might not help your active roster for the first month or so of the season. Florida is currently going to run out a tandem of Cody Ross and Alejandro De Aza to patrol centerfield, and neither has shown themselves to have the potential of Maybin.

Evan Longoria, 3B Tampa Bay Rays

Probably the most major league ready player on this list. Longoria played well enough in the spring to warrant making the team. As players like B.J. Upton and Delmon Young can attest, the Rays have always been cautious as an organization when it comes to bringing along prospects into the majors due mostly to financial concerns. That being said, I'd be shocked if Longoria spent more than a month in the minors, fine tuning his swing and preparing for his call up. In an earlier post, we discussed the importance of young players beginning the season in the minor leagues. If you already drafted Longoria stash him on your pine and use a stop gap guy with upside like Pedro Feliz until he gets recalled. The Rays plan to use a tandem of Willy Aybar and Eric Hinske at 3B, and they will get sick of that old gag sooner rather than later.

Luke Hochevar, SP Kansas City Royals

It is clear that the Royals are looking to protect their young investment and gradually bring their future ace along appropriately. Hochevar did have 4 appearances in the majors last year and looked good going 0-1 with a 2.13 ERA. However, his minor league stats last season show that this might have been a fluke and that his numbers were more indicative of a pitcher throwing against September call ups and playing against hitters who had never seen him before. Hochevar is probably still another season away from being an effective major leaguer.

While all of this makes sense now, keep 2 things in mind: 1) The Royals 5th starter is currently Brett Tomko, no further comment is needed 2) Come August or September the Royals might decide to take another flier on Hochevar to see how he developed. Keep an eye on him for late in the season, but until then don't bother to draft or even stash him

Jay Bruce, OF Cincinnati Reds

Bruce is the Reds centerfielder of the future; however, he will begin the season in AAA with newly acquired Corey Patterson patrolling the outfield. Dusty Baker has said on several occasions he thinks the stud prospect is real close and did nothing to change that with a solid showing in spring training. Bruce is a potential offensive stud with the ability to hit for average and power and swipe a bag here and there. While we think Patterson will play well enough to keep his job this year, pounce on Bruce if he gets called up. The kid has the abilty to do some damage in Cincy's super hitter friendly ball park.

Wlad Balentien, OF Seattle Mariners

The future right fielder of the Mariners has hit 20+ HR his last 3 seasons in the minor leagues. He has great power potential but the Mariners want him to work on his plate discipline before they entrust him with an everyday job. The good thing for people who are eyeing him in their leagues is that last season in AAA he managed to raise his OBP to .361, which isn't great, but is very respectable and shows his growth as a hitter. The Mariners will probably want to see some more consistency from him this season to make sure the adjustments he made last year were for real. Another positive for Balentien is that the Mariners have multiple positions with question marks. DH, 1B and RF, all have potential problems being manned by Jose Vidro, Richie Sexson and Brad Wilkerson respectively. All 3 players are injury prone, and have a regressing skill set.

Homer Bailey, SP Cincinnati Reds

What a difference a season makes. Last year Homer Bailey was mentioned in the same breath as Phil Hughes and other top pitching prospects. Now, Bailey is quickly losing his elite prospect status and many are questioning his ability to pitch on the major league level. Bailey is quickly becoming a AAAA player in the eyes of some, as he he consistently put up solid AAA numbers but continues to struggle at the major league level.

By July of this season it might come time for the Reds to just throw him in with the big boys and force him to sink or swim and work out any kinks on the major league level. It generally takes young pitchers 3 years to establish themselves as consistent major league players, so even if he pitches well, there will always be an imaginary ceiling on how much he will be able to produce. Please do not bother to draft Bailey or keep an eye on him during the season. Let some other sucker in your league take him.

Francisco Liriano, SP Minnesota Twins

We all know who he is and what he can do. Draft him and stash him on the bench, the Twins are looking at a mid-April call up for him. Twins officials want Liriano to get a couple more starts under his belt to make sure the fastball is there consistently and he is spotting it where it needs to be. He will be back up in the majors sooner rather than later and has the potential to dominate lineups when he is on. He will have ups and downs this season, and might spend some time on the DL or or  just miss the occasional start as he continues to return from TJ surgery.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C/1B Texas Rangers 

We discussed Salty's demotion in an earlier post.

Clayton Kershaw, SP Los Angeles Dodgers

The lefty made a name for himself in spring training by wowing Dodgers personnel with his looping curve and high strikeout rates. In addition, did I mention he is a lefty? Kershaw is still only 20 and some more seasoning in the minor leagues should only help him more when he is called upon at the major league level. The Dodgers have some of the best pitching depth in the major leagues so they can wait and let Kershaw build up his arm strength and become more major league ready. He is a must have in keeper leagues, but in year to year rotisserie leagues, don't expect anything until September at the earliest.

Prospects Who Won Starting Roles

Carlos Gomez, OF Minnesota Twins

Plenty of steals, not much power or batting average. The Twins will play Gomez everyday due to his excellent defensive ability which can compensate for possible struggles at the plate. If he sticks around for the full season, Gomez is a solid candidate for 40 steals.

Adam Jones, OF Baltimore Orioles

He and Nick Markakis are the only reasons for Oriole fans to be excited for the future. Jones is a 20/20 threat in the waiting. Don't expect him to reach his full potential this season, but he has definite 15/15 potential, because he'll play everyday for a team that won't be that good, and will play in an excellent hitter's park.

Johnny Cueto & Edinson Volquez, SP Cincinnati Reds
Cueto tossed like gang busters to impress new Reds skipper Dusty Baker enough to give him a major league spot. Volquez was the centerpiece of the Josh Hamilton trade that left many wondering why the Reds didn't get more for the young talented center fielder. Volquez came into spring training and silenced his critics by demonstrating a change up that many called one of the best in the game. Both came in with someone to prove. Both proved something, now all they have to do is pitch for an entire season at the major league level in one of the worst pitcher's parks in the game. Draft both late, they both have great potential and while the ballpark will be rough, the offense will help them win the occasional game they shouldn't.

Manny Parra, SP Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewer's lefty was the benficiary of some good numbers of his own this spring and some key injuries to other members of the starting staff, that allowed him to make the starting staff. He is young and will struggle at times, but he is a power, left handed arm and there is always room for those at the major league level. He has toiled in the minors for a few seasons now, but looks ready and primed to be a major league player. He has great sleeper potential and should be drafted late in your league. He has a dynamic offense that will score plenty of runs for him.

Splitting Time

Joey Votto, 1B Cincinnati Reds

Votto will be splitting time at first with Scott Hatteberg, limiting his fantasy value until he wins the job outright. Votto has 20/20 potential, something that is truly unique from a 1B. Manager Dusty Baker wanted to hand him the 1B job, but a poor spring performance cost him the everyday starting gig. Scott Hatteberg is 38, past his prime, doesn't hit for great power and is no longer an everyday 1B. What he does do well is get on base and hit well enough to stay productive and not hurt his team.

Don't bother to draft Hatteberg, as his playing time is bound to decrease throughout the course of the season. Votto on the other hand is likely to see more at bats and consistent playing time as the season wears on. He is younger, has more potential and can do numerous things on the ball field. He is the closest thing to a 5 tool player as one can expect to find playing 1B.

On The Fence

Nick Adenhart, SP Los Angeles Angels

With Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey going down with injuries, more and more people were looking at the young prospect to claim one of the spots in the Angel's rotation. It looks like Adenhart will start the season in AAA for more seasoning, and so he can continue to develop as a pitcher. The Angel's are a team that takes it slowly with their prospects so don't expect to see him any time soon. That being said, another injury to the Angel's pitching staff and they maybe forced to give the young hurler a turn in the rotation.

Don't bother to draft him. His minor league numbers aren't all that overwhelming and part of the hype might come from being a decent pitcher on a team with a history of developing solid pitchers. It is because of this and the good spring he had, that he is being overrated in many circles. Ignore him and if you are desperate for pitching, take a look at a veteran like El Duque or Mike Mussina.

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