Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

We’ve tracked Jhoulys Chacin in our Prospect Reports (click here for the latest), but as he continues to impress in the minor leagues the time has come to give him his proper respect.  After opening the season at 1-3 with a 4.87 ERA at Double-A, he’s responded by going 4-2 with a 2.41 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 55 K over his past 9 starts (56 innings).

Signed out of Venezuela back in 2004 (though he did not make his professional debut until 2007), “Chacin is best known for his devastating changeup, which he pairs with a low-90s sinking fastball to induce groundballs by the bushel” according to Baseball America recently.

That is the key to his success, as he’s posted a groundball rate of 61.2% over his brief minor league career.  To put that number in perspective, last season there were only two pitchers who induced groundballs at a level better than 60%, Brandon Webb & Derek Lowe.

Before we point to the fact that the majority of his success came in the lower levels of the minor leagues, he has posted a GB% of 59.0% in Double-A this season.  While that still is against inexperienced hitters, as he continues to show success moving up through the minors, the more confident we can become in his abilities.

He also has some strikeout potential, though he hasn’t been overly impressive in that department quite yet.  To date, he’s thrown 346 minor league innings and has posted a 7.9 K/9.  While that would be usable, is there anything to make us believe he can maintain it as he continues to progress?

His repertoire would appear to be conducive to the strikeout.  His ability to develop a third pitch, will be vital in not only his ability to continue to strikeout batters (your not going to blow as many people away in the upper levels with a mid-90s heater), but his long-term success as a starting pitcher in general.

Prior to the season, the Rocky Mountain News’ Tracy Ringolsby rated the Rockies top 10 prospects for Baseball America.  He rated him #2 behind Dexter Fowler and described his third pitch by saying, “His curveball doesn’t have the sharpness that Chacin will need to be a big league starter. He can throw the pitch for strikes, and it has some power at 78-80 mph, but right now it’s below-average.”

The final thing to point to for his success is his control, which has been impeccable thus far during his minor league career.  He’s posted a career BB/9 of 2.4, though he has regressed just slightly at 2.9 thus far this season.  Even during his recent 9 game hot stretch, his BB/9 is at 3.2.

It should not be unexpected for his walk rate to increase slightly as he progresses.  He’s facing more experienced hitters who won’t chase bad balls as much or will foul off a pitcher’s pitch to stay alive in the AB.

He’s not going to regress up to 4 or 5 walks a game, however.  Control is control, something he has proven he has.  As long as he can maintain the current level, coupled with all those ground balls, he has the potential to be an asset in the WHIP department.  His minor league mark is 1.12, displaying that.

The 2008 MLB.com Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year, he went 18-3 with a 2.03 ERA splitting time between two levels of Single-A at just 20-years old.  The righty is clearly on the fast track to the major leagues, and while it is not out of the question that he makes his major league debut this season, 2010 may be more likely.

The Rockies have had experience rushing pitchers to the major leagues, and not with positive results.  Look at what happened with Franklin Morales, for instance.

His time is going to come.  If you are in a long-term keeper league, stashing him away would not be a bad idea.  He has the potential to be a future ace pitcher and could be making a fantasy impact in the near future.  What more do you want?

What does everyone else think of Chacin?  Is he a pitcher you think will become a fantasy ace?  Why or why not?

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

June 1 tends to be the time when a lot of the top prospects start getting called up.  We are now two weeks away, so let’s take a look at seven prospects (I left out names like Clay Buchholz and Lastings Milledge, who have already seen extended time inthe major leagues) that should be on owners radars, as they could offer potential help once recalled:

  1. Matt Wieters – Baltimore Orioles - He hit 3 home runs over two games earlier this week, breaking a long homerless streak and moving him ever closer to the major leagues.  He’s lowered his strikeouts, with just 5 over his past 10 games (through Saturday) and has his average at .280.  Fantasy owners have been anxiously awaiting his arrival, and I think the patience is getting ready to finally being rewarded.
  2. David Price – Tampa Bay Rays – Struggles or not, I still think he’s going to be the first starter to get the call for the Rays.  We all know he’s an elite talent who can perform on the grandest of stages.
  3. Tommy Hanson – Atlanta Braves - Kris Medlen is getting the first opportunity, but long-term we all know that Hanson has the higher upside.  His time is going to come, considering his 64 Ks in just 47.2 innings at Triple-A.  In his last four starts he hasn’t struck out fewer than seven in a game, totaling 35 over 27 innings.
  4. Kyle Blanks – San Diego Padres - He’s not on too many radars, but in my opinion he really should be.  He’s not only working out in the outfield, but actually appearing in games in LF.  If he proves adequate there, he is going to get his chance.  I know he’s struggling with the bat now, but slumps happen.  He has a power bat that will translate to the majors, as we’ve already discussed (click here to read my review on him).
  5. Chris Tillman – Baltimore Orioles - While a lot of talk focuses on Jake Arrieta, Tillman has been excelling at Triple-A thus far.  In six starts he’s gone 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 37 Ks in 31 innings of work.  Considering they are currently using Mark Hendrickson and Adam Eaton in the rotation, it really shouldn’t be surprising to see him in the Orioles rotation soon.
  6. Austin Jackson – New York Yankees – There’s a lot of clamor in New York to give the young centerfielder a chance, given the Yankees early season struggles, and he’s doing everything he can to force their hands.  The 22-year old is hitting .348 with 8 SB in 115 AB and could provide a spark at the top of the Yankees line-up.  Of course, he has been struggling lately, hitting .265 in his past 10 games, but when has something like that slowed the Yankees down in the past?
  7. Aaron Poreda – Chicago White Sox - The 22-year old has been solid in Double-A, posting a 2.52 ERA over 39.1 innings.  The team has proven that they are willing to shake things up, already demoting Jose Contreras and replacing him with Clayton Richard.  It’s very possible that Poreda could replace Richard if he struggles, or maybe even Bartolo Colon.  Either way, it’s likely he makes his major league debut soon.

Which of these players do you think are worth owning?  Obviously, these aren’t the only prospects that may get recalled soon.  Who do you think I missed?

To read the previous article, click here.

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

It’s time to once again take a look at how some of the top hitting prospects in the game are performing thus far this season.  If there are any players you want added, just let me know.

Lars Anderson – Boston Red Sox – First Baseman
2009 Statistics (Double-A): .303 (20-66), 2 HR, 14 RBI, 11 R, 0 SB (through 4/28)

He had a huge game earlier this week, driving in five, which certainly helped to skew his totals slightly.  Still, the last time we checked in on him he was yet to collect an extra base hit (5 games).  In the past 11, he’s had five doubles and two home runs, so things are definitely moving in the right direction.

Alcides Escobar – Milwaukee Brewers – Shortstop
2009 Statistics (Triple-A): .265 (22-83), 1 HR, 6 RBI, 13 R, 11 SB (through 4/28)

Speed is the name of the game, with seven stolen bases in his last ten games, but it is his inability to get on base via the walk that is extremely disturbing.  He’s walked just six times this season, a walk rate of 6.7%.  That’s far from prototypical for a leadoff hitter.  He’s also struggled mightily against righties, hitting just .222.  With Rickie Weeks playing well, it’s hard to imagine him pushing for playing time, at least for now.  Definitely monitor his progress, but he seems to be a ways away at this point.

Mat Gamel – Milwaukee Brewers – Third Baseman
2009 Statistics (Triple-A): .394 (28-71), 7 HR, 26 RBI, 18 R, 0 SB (through 4/28)

This start brings back memories of last season’s first half romp through Double-A, before injuries significantly slowed him down.  Over his past 10 games, he’s hit five of his home runs with 15 RBI.  I know his detractors point to his .447 BABIP, which is a fair point.  There’s no way he maintains that in the major leagues, but he’s shown at every level the ability to hit for a shockingly high number.  I’m not about to suggest he can keep it up, but the guy has proven that he can flat out hit and is worth eyeing in all formats.  All that stands in his way is Bill Hall, for what that’s worth.

Jason Heyward – Atlanta Braves – Outfielder
2009 Statistics (Single-A): .279 (27-61), 3 HR, 10 RBI, 11 R, 0 SB (through 4/26)

He needs more time to develop, there’s no questioning that.  He’s been playing better in recent weeks, hitting .306 over his past ten games.  He may be the future for the Braves, but he certainly is not the present.  Only long-term keeper league owners should be considering him.

Austin Jackson – New York Yankees – Outfielder
2009 Statistics (Triple-A): .357 (20-56), 0 HR, 10 RBI, 11 R, 5 SB (through 4/28)

As the Yankees continue to struggle in the major leagues, Jackson’s success in Triple-A has some clamoring for is recall.  There are some red flags, however, which bring cause concern.  His BABIP is a staggering .500, obviously a number that cannot go anywhere but down.  He’s also struck out 28.6% of the time, a number that easily can get pushed even further against major league pitching.  Four extra base hits?  Not really what we’re looking for.  He could get his chance, but I wouldn’t expect a Dexter Fowler type impact.

Matt LaPorta – Cleveland Indians – Outfielder
2009 Statistics (Triple-A): .368 (25-68), 5 HR, 14 RBI, 20 R, 0 SB (through 4/28)

The scary thing about LaPorta’s performance thus far is that he’s been even better over the past ten games.  He’s hitting .405 with 3 HR, 9 RBI and 12 R over that span.  Overall he’s struck out just seven times, versus seven walks.  It’s just staggering how impressive he’s been and it’s only a matter of time before he is slotted into the Indians outfield (could Travis Hafner’s injury accelerate his time table?).  He was the focal point of the C.C. Sabathia trade last season, so the Indians are going to want to show off what the acquired.

Fernando Martinez – New York Mets – Outfielder
2009 Statistics (Triple-A): .233 (17-73), 1 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R, 0 SB (through 4/29)

At 20-years old, Martinez continues to look over matched against upper level competition.  Last time we checked in he had six extra base hits, and he’s now up to ten (8 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run), so he continues to shine there.  Unfortunately he has just seventeen hits and is struggling overall.  He’s got a ton of potential, but he’s far from reaching it.  Considering that the Mets are loaded with outfielders already, don’t expect him to reach the majors this season.  A full season at Triple-A certainly would be good for him.

Andrew McCutchen – Pittsburgh Pirates – Outfielder
2009 Statistics (Triple-A): .282 (22-78), 1 HR, 6 RBI, 17 R, 4 SB (through 4/28)

Outside of the runs scored, he has brought very little to the table to date.  Granted, he’s only struck out nine times, but he’s also only walked five times.  His stolen bases, which were promising early on, have waned recently, with just one in his past ten games.  With Nyjer Morgan excelling in the early going, it’s likely going to take a lot for McCutchen to break through this season.  I think he’s going to see time for the Pirates, but he needs to improve significantly on these numbers first.  He had 34 SB last season at Triple-A, so we know the speed is there.

Mike Moustakas – Kansas City Royals – Shortstop
2009 Statistics (Single-A): .288 (19-66), 4 HR, 15 RBI, 17 R, 1 SB (through 4/28)

His slow start is a thing of the past, hitting .306 over his past ten games.  He scored runs in eight consecutive games (11 runs), a streak that was broken on April 28.  The 2007 First Round Draft Pick is still a ways away, but this is a good sign for things to come.

Carlos Santana – Cleveland Indians – Catcher
2009 Statistics (Double-A): .218 (12-55), 5 HR, 15 RBI, 11 R, 0 SB (through 4/28)

He has tremendous upside and is one of the top catching prospects in the game, but it’s obvious from the numbers that he has gotten off to a tremendously slow start.  It’s not just a bad patch either, as the struggles have been early and often.  Over his past ten games (33 AB) he’s hitting just .212.  He hit .326 last season, mostly at Single-A, so just give him time to adjust to level before reading too much into it.

Justin Smoak – Texas Rangers – First Baseman
2009 Statistics (Double-A): .313 (21-67), 3 HR, 12 RBI, 9 R, 0 SB (through 4/28)

The power has not yet come around, but his bat has certainly come alive.  When we first checked in on him he was struggling to a .250 average, having gone 1-9 against left-handers.  He’s certainly improved there, going four for his last thirteen, while he continues to demolish righties, at a .356 clip.  He’s done a great job of putting the ball in play, striking out just 10 times, which puts him in a great position to hit for a high average.  His BABIP is currently at .333, an extremely believable number.  He’s going to be a stud hitter in the not too distant future, so keep a close eye on him.  It is not impossible to see him make an impact as soon as 2009.

Dayan Viciedo – Chicago White Sox – Third Baseman
2009 Statistics (Double-A): .235 (16-68), 1 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R, 2 SB (through 4/29)

Last time we checked, Viciedo had gotten off to a good start, hitting .350 with 4 RBI and 3 R over his first 20 AB.  Since then, things obviously hadn’t gone quite as well, until the past four games that is.  He’s on a 4-game hitting streak, going 7-16 with 1 HR, 3 RBI and 3 R.  That should tell you how bad he was in those middle AB’s (2-32).  He’s extremely young, so the inconsistency should not be so surprising.  Hopefully, in time, he can get things straightened out and contribute on a regular basis.

Brett Wallace – St. Louis Cardinals – Third Baseman
2009 Statistics (Double-A): .286 (20-70), 4 HR, 11 RBI, 16 R, 0 SB (through 4/28)

The left-handed hitter is owning southpaws in the early going, at the tune of a 5-14 clip, though all of his power has come against right-handed hitters.  He is striking out nearly 25% of the team (17 times in 70 at bats).  We mentioned that early on, and it continues to be a slight problem for him.  Continue monitoring it.

What does everyone think of these prospects?  Who has the highest upside?  Who will be the first to hold value in 2009?

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

While 2007 first overall pick David Price garners all of the attention, and rightfully so, the left hander picked 9 selections later by the San Francisco Giants is going to get his fair share of on-lookers.  Madison Bumgarner opened eyes at Single A last season, posting an impressive line at just 19-years old (he turned 19 in August):

15 Wins
141.2 Innings
1.46 ERA
0.93 WHIP
164 Strikeouts (10.42 K/9)
21 Walks (1.33 BB/9)
.314 BABIP

What can I say, but wow?  That is complete domination and while it was against inexperienced hitters, you can’t deny how impressive it was.  The K/BB was at 7.81, an elite number to say the least.

Not that you can compare, let’s take a look at the leaders at other levels:

  • MLB – Roy Halladay at 5.28 (only four pitchers had a ratio at or above 5.00)
  • Triple A (International League) – Daniel McCutchen at 5.50 (only pitcher above 5.00)
  • Triple A (Pacific Coast League) – Mike Burns at 4.21

Obviously, these are only pitchers who had enough innings to qualify for their title, so splitting time between the minors and the majors may have kept some people off.  Still, there’s no debating that he produced at an incredible level, no matter where he was playing.

He’s got an electric fastball, as described by Baseball America, “He hits 97 mph with minimal effort, consistently pitches at 93-94 and hitters have trouble picking up his heater from his high three-quarters delivery. His fastball has boring action and is a devastating two-strike pitch when he elevates it.”  How many left-handed pitchers can you give that type of description for?

He also has a change-up and is reportedly working on a slider, according to Baseball America.  While these pitches aren’t quite up to snuff, it doesn’t seem like he’s shying away at working on is problems to improve.

Andy Skeels, his manager at Augusta this past season, was quoted on mlb.com as saying, “I’m running out of superlatives. I’ve never seen a player do the things he’s done. I’ve never seen a player grow that fast and quickly. What he did was staggering. … That’s an unstoppable force, when you have that kind of talent and that kind of desire to get better. I think he’s going to be a very special player for a very long time at the Major League level.”

So, what else am I supposed to add?  It’s unlikely that he reaches the major before September, if at all in 2009.  With 141.2 innings pitched last season, the team may not allow him to throw more then 170-175 innings next season.  Then again, this is the same team that allowed Tim Lincecum to go from 177.1 innings in ‘07 to 227.0 in ‘08 in order to give him a shot at the Cy Young.

To think that if they are in contention, that they would shut him down if they think he can contribute for a playoff run would be ill conceived.  We’ve seen them push their young pitchers already, so there’s no reason to think any different now.  I don’t think he’ll make a huge impact in ‘09, unless he dominates at Double A and in injury presents an opportunity, but the chance is there.

I also believe that the Randy Johnson signing is going to have a huge impact on Bumgarner.  I would fully expect Bumgarner, given the quotes above, trying to get any and all information he can out of the 21-year veteran.  Don’t you think that will help in his development?  I sure do.

The fact of the matter is that the Giants are in position to have one of the elite staffs in baseball within the next few seasons.  No, Bumgarner is not David Price, and he is not Tim Lincecum, but he has the ability to be among the best pitchers in baseball within months, if not weeks, of first stepping foot on a big league mound.

I don’t want to get too excited, considering the numbers were at Single A last season.  Still, he’s a pitcher I would certainly recommend monitoring (which we will be doing closely here), because there is a chance he becomes a useful player as early as 2009, but almost certainly will be there in 2010.  That makes him a great selection in long-term keeper leagues immediately.

So, what do you think?  How scary could the Giants rotation be in 2 years?

For more great fantasy info, check out Rotoprofessor.com.

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

Thanks in large part to Matt Wieters, young catching prospects are all the rage these days.  Outside of Wieters, you also have Pablo Sandoval (though he likely doesn’t have eligibility there entering the season), Buster Posey, J.P. Arencibia and the slew of youngster in Texas.  Though I didn’t mention him in the recent rankings, there’s another young catcher that is certainly worth monitoring, and that’s Angel Salome in Milwaukee.

Ignoring Salome’s skills for a moment, the fact that the only thing standing between him and regular playing time is Jason Kendall is a huge bonus right off the bat.  Kendall was so bad last season (.246, 2 HR, 49 RBI in 516 AB) that the team actually experimented with hitting him ninth in the order (159 AB!).  I know, people are going to talk about his defense and the such, but sooner or later you need to be getting something out of his bat, especially if/when the team is struggling.

In Salome, the Brewers have a catcher with the potential to contribute at the plate, though his defense may cost him from making a more immediate impact.  Just to give you a little taste, last season at Double A he hit .360 with 13 HR, 83 RBI and 63 R over 367 AB.

Granted, the average is not likely to continue, thanks to a BABIP of an incredible .401.  No one can continue to get that lucky, especially at the major league level.  A decrease is coming, the only question is how far.  His propensity to make contact will certainly help (only a 15.5% K rate last season), though with that type of ability, you’d think that he would walk a bit more then he does (only 8.3% last season).

That certainly tells me that he does a fine job recognizing pitches and can make contact if things are close to the plate.  It’s a ratio that is very similar to Vladimir Guerrero (14.2% K% and 8.6% BB% last season), though he is obviously not even close to the same type of hitter that Vlad is.  I’m not trying to compare him to one of the best hitters of this generation, because it’s a no contest.  I’m just trying to draw a comparison to the skills, though it obviously was against a different level of competition.  He won’t have close to the same power, but Vlad used those skills to get a .314 BABIP and a .303 average.  That would seem to be realistic, though I’d peg his average slightly lower then that in his rookie season.  Think Geovanny Soto, who hit .285 last season after hitting .353 the prior season at Triple A.

There are significant questions surrounding him that could cause a delay in his arrival.  One was his 50-game suspension in 2007 for use of performance enhancing drugs.  While it is possible that his usage of these drugs was to help recover from a broken ankle, that really would be no excuse.

Additionally, there are serious concerns about his defense.  Baseball America said, “Salome often gets his footwork messed up behind the plate, resulting in inaccurate throws and stolen bases. He threw out 26 percent of basestealers while allowing 90 swipes in 78 games last year. He still needs to work on his game-calling.”  Until that gets straightened out, there isn’t much of a chance of him becoming the starting backstop for the Brewers.

He has the potential to be a very good bat behind the plate, he’s shown that ability.  I could see a .285 or better hitter with 15-18 HR with regular AB’s.  The Brewers are in need of a catcher who can hit, but I don’t see them rushing him while risking their defense.  They do have a lot of offense already, with Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Corey Hart filling the line-up, so out the outset it would seem like they wouldn’t need to force him into action.  Of course, a prolonged slump and a hot start from him could change all that rather quickly.

Look for him to start the season at Triple A, though if he shows improvement he could be up at the major league level in a hurry.  That makes him a player well worth eyeing, especially in formats that require 2 starting catchers.

He’s not Wieters, meaning I wouldn’t draft him unless you play in the deepest of formats.  There’s no real guarantee if or when he will get his shot in 2009, but if it comes I wouldn’t hesitate from snagging him.

What do you think of Salome?  Can he contribute to fantasy owners this season?

For more great fantasy info, check out Rotoprofessor.com.

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

For those who listen to the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable, you heard my declaration for the “Are You Crazy” segment, when I predicted that the Rangers Matt Harrison would finish in the Top 7 of the 2009 AL Cy Young Award voting.  I know that seems unrealistic, and to be honest, that is the whole point of the segment on the show.  The truth of the matter is that I really do feel like he is a tremendous sleeper for 2009 and has the chance to be a value pick for owners.

First, let’s look at the numbers he posted last season, which certainly will support the fact that maybe I am a little crazy:

9 Wins
83.2 Innings
5.49 ERA
1.57 WHIP
42 Strikeouts (4.52 K/9)
31 Walks (3.33 BB/9)
.312 BABIP

I know, those numbers do not look very promising.  In fact, they look downright scary for the former third round pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2003.  So why do I think there’s a chance that he suddenly puts up significantly better numbers then he did last season?

First, let’s take a look at how he fared in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) prior to getting his chance to pitch at the major league level in 2008:

38.0 IP (6 starts), 3-1, 3.55 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 20 K’s (4.74 K/9), 14 BB (3.32 BB/9).

I know it is a small sample size, but the ERA is promising considering that the PCL is a notoriously high-powered league.  It is not uncommon to see some of the most promising pitching prospects putting up ERA’s in the 4’s or 5’s.  In fact, there were only 4 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last season who posted an ERA under 4, and one of those pitcher’s ERA was 3.98.

I know the other numbers are not very intriguing.  The WHIP is uninspiring and he just doesn’t get many strikeouts.  There is hope, as the numbers were better in the lower levels of the minors and others have certainly seen his promise.  Prior to the 2007 season, Baseball America had him ranked as the Braves #3 prospect, behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus.  They compared him to Tom Glavine, saying that:

  • “He’s adept at using both sides of the plate and altering the batter’s eye level”
  • His fastball is “heavy” and sits between 89-92
  • He also features a curveball and changeup that are considered quality pitches

That type of make-up would certainly give optimism that he should pick up some more strikeouts as he continues to mature and learn.  In Texas, he has two great minds to pick and learn from, which certainly should help.  First of all, the best strikeout pitcher ever in Nolan Ryan is the team’s president and certainly is a resource, even though he was a drastically different type of pitcher then Harrison is.

The other is Mike Maddux, who is considered one of the better pitching coaches in baseball and joins the team this season.  He certainly should be able to help Harrison harness his ability and get him more consistent.  And, to be honest, consistency is what Harrison’s needs most.

When you look at his major league numbers last season, it is certainly an interesting split.

In his 9 Wins:
59.0 IP, 2.78 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 33 K (5.03 K/9), 17 BB (2.59 BB/9)

In his other 6 starts:
24.2 IP, 13.03 ERA, 2.68 WHIP, 9 K (3.35 K/9), 14 BB (5.21 BB/9)

That type of split screams of a lack of consistency, not lack of talent.  When he was bad, he was extremely, extremely bad.  When he was good, he was extremely good, including wins against the Angels, Yankees and Red Sox.

Can guys like Ryan & Maddux help get him to avoid those blow-ups?  Could his experience help him continue to mature?  Personally, I really believe that he will put things together, the real question is to what extent.

With the Rangers not yet bringing in any starting pitchers, he seems as close to a lock to open the season in the rotation as there is right now, joining names like Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla and Brandon McCarthy.  If he struggles, it could mean a quick hook, especially with talent like Neftali Feliz & Derek Holland waiting in the wings, but that’s not something that I’m worrying about yet.

There isn’t a reason to fear an innings cap, as he threw 167.2 innings last season between Double A, Triple A and the majors.  I think the strikeouts are going to increase a bit, though obviously not to an elite level.  Will he reach the 6 K/9 ratio?  Maybe, maybe not, but it should certainly be close, not the ridiculously low number he posted last season.  His stuff is just too good to be that inept at getting swings and misses.

He hasn’t shown the ability to go deep into games, even when he was winning last season.  He went a little over 6 innings per start in those wins, leaving the opportunity for the bullpen to let the lead slip away.  We certainly aren’t talking about one of the great bullpens in the league, so it’s possible that he loses a few wins.  That certainly is a knock against him.

The WHIP is going to come down a bit from where he was last season, though it is not going to be among the league leaders.  He just doesn’t have the control for that, and that’s fine.  As long as he doesn’t hurt you, which I wouldn’t expect him to, it shouldn’t be a problem.

He plays in a ballpark that’s conducive to some bad numbers, there’s no doubt about that.  Still, his minor league track record of keeping the ball in the ballpark is promising, as is the description of his fastball as “heavy” by Baseball America.  He had a HR/9 of 1.29 last season, but that’s a number that I fully expect to drop in 2009.  When he could put his HR/9 to 0.71 in the PCL, even in just 6 starts, there is plenty of reason for hope.

Let’s take a look at the numbers I’m projecting for him:

185.0 IP, 14 W, 3.99 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 124 K (6.03 K/9), 62 BB (3.02 BB/9)

OK, so those numbers are certainly not going to put him in the AL Cy Young race, we all know that.  Still, they are significantly solid numbers and ones that I would like to have on my team at the back end of my staff.  To me, he’s an excellent sleeper, and one that very few others are going to be looking at.  I think the ERA is the number that will probably catch people’s eye and I agree it is very optimistic.  He could fall on the other side of 4, though I think he’ll be right around it.

Where would I draft him?  Definitely for my bench, if even at all.  With this type of risk, the best course of action could be leaving him on the waiver wire and seeing how he performs over the first few starts of the season.  If it looks promising, then grab him as quickly as possible.  Still, if you have a deep enough bench, he’s the type of risk that I would like to stash away.  Its high risk, high reward, and I’m thinking he’s going to provide a payoff.  We’ve all learned that quality pitching can come from surprising sources, haven’t we?

Am I being overly optimistic?  Do you think I am a little bit crazy, even for expecting him to produce the numbers that I have?

For more great fantasy info, check out Rotoprofessor.com.

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

The former second round draft pick in 2007 by the Washington Nationals (#67 overall) is coming off a stellar 2008 campaign that he split between High Single A and Double A.  He threw a total of134 innings, going 10-3 with a 2.89 ERA and 134 K’s vs. 39 walks.  The numbers were better at Single A (3-1, 1.65 ERA over 27.1 innings), but at 22-years old that isn’t a surprise.

His success should not be unexpected, as he likely would have been a first round choice had a series of events not caused him to drop significantly.  As Baseball America described it, “Zimmermann took a line drive off his jaw while throwing batting practice in an offseason workout. That injury, combined with bad weather in Wisconsin and missed time when he had his wisdom teeth pulled, affected his spring”.

Given the fact that he’s gone 15-5 with a 2.74 ERA and 205 K’s in just 187 innings since he was drafted tells you that the Nationals drafted intelligently.  Prior to 2008, Baseball America had him pegged as the #7 prospect in the Nationals organization, but I would suspect the ranking will increase significantly once they roll out their 2009 rankings.

There really isn’t much not to like about him thus far.  At Double A he posted a WHIP of 1.20, and the supporting numbers are not all that unrealistic.  Granted, the BABIP of .288 is a little bit on the lower side, but even if it increases a little bit the WHIP isn’t going to leap up significantly.  His BB/9 was 3.29, a number that he could actually improve upon.

Obviously, I’m not going to suggest that if given the opportunity at the major league level that he could immediately throw to that type of WHIP.  It’s pretty unreasonable to assume.  Still, it would appear that he has the type of stuff that could translate to success, though like any young pitcher it is likely to take some time for him to get there.

Of course, he needs an opportunity, something that he could get in Washington.  Like I recently discussed when it came to Daniel Cabrera, the Nationals rotation is pretty baron.  They’ll have Scott Olsen, John Lannan and Cabrera, then two open spots that pitchers can compete for.  Among the candidates are Colin Balester, Shairon Martis, Jason Bergmann and Ross Detwiler, but none have the same type of upside potential as Zimmerman.

That’s not to say that Zimmerman will start the season with the major league club.  In fact, I think the Nationals will have him kick things off at their Triple A affiliate, the Syracuse Chiefs, in the International League.  That will allow him to test his skills against some more advanced hitters before he joins the Nationals, which should happen by June in my opinion.

Let’s be honest here, what exactly do the Nationals have to lose?  It is highly unlikely that they are even in the discussion among the NL East elite, with the Mets, Phillies and Braves all to likely be well ahead of them, as well as the Marlins seemingly on the verge of being competitive.

Pitching for the Nationals is going to make it difficult for Zimmerman to be a useful pitcher for fantasy owners.  He’s not likely to get ample opportunity to win games, which certainly affects his value.  He’s also likely to face an innings cap, meaning he may only give you 2-3 months of starts, another knock against him.

The strikeouts will be useful, but he has seen a decrease as he moved up the levels, at just 8.69 K/9 at Double A.  If that trend continues, he’d likely be a useful strikeout artist, but far from the elite.  The WHIP is also going to increase, and while I wouldn’t expect him to be in the 1.50 range, he’s also not going to be a 1.25 pitcher either.

Basically, what I’m telling you is that while Zimmerman has the potential and talent to be a tremendous pitcher, 2009 is unlikely to be the year that we as owners see it.  Yes, I think he’ll get an opportunity and yes, I think he’s worth watching and monitoring.  Outside of keeper leagues, however, he’s just not going to be worth grabbing, mostly because of the team he pitches for.

My real question here is how much faith do you have in a Nationals pitching prospect heading into 2009?  Personally, I don’t have much, as you can tell here.

For more great fantasy info, check out Rotoprofessor.com.

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

Having already made his major league debut, there’s little doubt that the Los Angeles Dodgers James McDonald will make his presence felt in 2009.  This time it will likely be in a lot greater scale then his 4 appearance, 6 inning cup of coffee with the team that he enjoyed in 2008.  The 24-year old righty (he turned 24 in October) was impressive in those appearances, giving up just 5 hits and 1 walk without allowing an earned run, but so much more could be on the horizon.

We all know the Dodgers history of producing some of the best prospects in baseball.  It feels like just yesterday when the system produced five consecutive winners of the Rookie of the Year Award from 1992-1996, highlighted, of course, by Mike Piazza.  That was a long time ago, yes, but that doesn’t mean that the system has run dry and the Dodgers are no longer churning out top prospects on a regular basis.

Look no further then Clayton Kershaw, who has become entrenched as one of the Dodgers top starting pitchers in 2009 as evidence.  Joining Kershaw in the Dodgers rotation will be Chad Billingsley (assuming there are no ill affects of his broken leg, which is not expected), Hiroki Kuroda and then nothing but questions.  Will the Dodgers spend millions upon millions of dollars on free agents to fill out their rotation or will they look within to fill the holes?

It is still too early to tell, but his 2008 campaign showed that McDonald has the potential to succeed in the rotation.  He started off in Double A, going 5-3 over 118.2 innings (22 starts).  He posted an ERA of 3.19 while striking out 113 batters.  He did a pretty good job keeping the ball in the ballpark, giving up 0.91 HR/9.  Walks were a bit of an issue, walking 3.49 batters per 9 innings, but an improvement was made after being promoted to Triple A.

It was the Pacific Coast League that he called home for 22.1 innings.  Yes, it was a small sample size, but he was still impressive in his 5 appearances (4 starts), going 2-1 with a 3.63 ERA over 22.1 innings.  He struck out 28 while reducing his walk rate to 2.82 per 9 innings.  The home runs did go up, allowing 1.21 per 9 innings, but again, it was a very small sample to go on.

An interesting quote regarding the former eleventh round draft choice was on mlb.com from De Jon Watson, the Dodgers Farm Director, “He’d started for us his entire career, then switched to the bullpen. The thing that stood out for me was the four more feet of fastball. He was up to 96 mph. It provides some versatility for us. We can leave him in the bullpen or we can give him a chance for a rotation spot.”

That certainly makes you wonder which spot the Dodgers will ultimately decide to use him in for 2009.  We’ve already touched on the rotation questions, but it’s not like the bullpen is unsettled either.  It’s likely that Joe Beimel will leave via free agency, necessitating a new left-hander in the bullpen.  You also have to wonder if Takashi Saito will be able to handle the closers duty or if Jonathan Broxton will be taking over that role.  If Broxton’s closing and Saito struggles with injuries, will the Dodgers use the hard-throwing McDonald as their key set-up man?

If you think McDonald’s success was a fluke, you’d be mistaken.  For his minor league career he has an ERA of 3.41 over 473.1 innings (99 appearances, 82 starts).  He’s struck out 512 while walking 171.  To me, that type of control would make him more suited to be filling out the rotation, but he did show some improvements at Triple A, albeit in the small sample size we already discussed.

The real question is what type of value we should put on him heading into 2009.  It’s a tough call, which tells me that he should be left undrafted at this point.  He did throw just 147 innings last season, so if he was to be thrust into the rotation it is possible that an innings cap could shorten his season.  At the same time, he could just as easily find himself succeeding at the back-end of the bullpen, limiting his fantasy value tremendously.

If he is in the rotation, I’d keep a close eye on him early in the season, as he has the potential to be a useful option for those in deeper formats, similar to the impact Manny Parra had with the Brewers last season.  I don’t see the strikeouts being a huge strength, but pitching for the Dodgers he has the potential to win plenty of games.  Watch the Dodgers and the moves they make as it certainly will help clear up the cloudy picture of McDonald’s role for the team.

For more great fantasy info, check out Rotoprofessor.com.

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

Colby Rasmus is a name that many people may have heard of, and that certainly inflates his value in fantasy formats, justified or not.  Just because you know the name doesn’t mean that he is more or less valuable then other prospects.  All it means is that he has name appeal, and in 2008 that’s all he brought to the table.

It was a lost season for someone who people thought may actually earn a full-time job with the Cardinals straight out of Spring Training.  Instead, when he was actually on the field, he posted a modest line, at best, at Triple A:

.251 (83-331), 11 HR, 36 RBI, 56 R, 15 SB

Injuries played a huge role in derailing his season, including costing him a trip to the Olympics.  A sprained knee was the culprit, causing a player who tore up Double A in 2007 a chance of making an impact at the major league level down the stretch.  Remember, the Cardinals suffered from quite a few injuries in their outfield, including losing Rick Ankiel.  They were also playing Skip Schumaker, and while he was decent enough (.302, 8 HR, 8 SB), he’s hardly the player Rasmus was on the verge of becoming.

Remember, at Double A in 2007 Rasmus was unbelievable, hitting .275 with 29 HR and 18 SB in just 472 AB.  That had owners yearning for the next potential 20/20 superstar to burst onto the major league scene.

His detractors didn’t even have much to hang their hats on.  His BABIP was a very reasonable .301.  He struck out a not unreasonable 22.9% of the time while walking 12.9% of the time.  He also had 37 doubles, so the idea that the power was a fluke was obviously not there.

Obviously, his name recognition is very much deserved, even with his failures in 2008.  Consider it nothing more then a bump in the road for the player picked #28 back in the 2005 draft.

To give you an idea of how highly regarded he was prior to 2008:

  • Baseball America pegged him as the fifth best prospect in all of baseball, ahead of Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Jacoby Ellsbury and a whole host of others
  • Minor League Baseball had him as the seventh best prospect

To say that is impressive company is an understatement.  He was slotted behind Jay Bruce, Evan Longoria, Joba Chamberlain and Clay Buchholz on both lists.  MILB also put Kershaw and Cameron Maybin ahead of him.  That’s some extremely elite company.

Could Rasmus break camp with the Cardinals this season, earning an everyday job?  It is possible, but given his struggles and decision not to participate in winter ball, I find it unlikely.  Instead, he’ll probably begin the year in Triple A, a chance to overcome his demons and prove that 2008 was an aberration.

That certainly could change if the Rick Ankiel trade rumors come to fruition.  Obviously, a trade like that would necessitate a quicker promotion for Rasmus, but that is far from a guarantee and not something I am going to count on at this point.

Even if he starts in the minors he can quickly prove that ‘08 was not the norm and be up in the majors and making an impact for fantasy owners.  He certainly will have value in all formats, but especially in those leagues that require 5 OF’ers.  I’m not going to say that he’s going to emerge as the 20/20 player right off the bat, because I don’t know how many AB’s he’ll actually get.  I do expect him to show that type of potential, being a 10/10 player in the second half, at worst.

I think the power will be there before the speed, though.  I could see him putting up a line similar to Jay Bruce in 2008 (.254, 21 HR, 4 SB in 413 AB), though with a bit more speed (think 12-14 SB potential).  That should tell you all you really need to know.  Owners were quick to snatch up Bruce when he got recalled, and you should do the same with Rasmus.

If you are in a keeper league, it’s a no-brainer.  Stash him away as soon as you can, you will not regret it.

For more great fantasy info, check out Rotoprofessor.com.

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

It’s obvious that the Padres are a team that is looking to slash payroll and rebuild.  One of their brightest prospects is Kyle Blanks, who under such a scenario should seem like a shoe-in to make an impact in 2009.  You have a player who at Double A hit an impressive .325 with 20 HR and 107 RBI in 492 AB.  In 2007, at Single A, he hit .301 with 24 HR and 100 RBI, so you can’t really call it a fluke.

Still, it is tough to currently imagine the former 42nd round draft choice from 2004 making an impact in 2009, but that’s because of his position and no other reason.  He currently is a first baseman, and with Adrian Gonzalez fully entrenched there and the team having no reason to move him, there is a tremendous roadblock in his way that he has little chance of overcoming.

Listed at 6′6″ and 270 pounds, you have to begin to wonder if the right-handed hitter would be able to shift to another spot.  He has showed a little bit of speed in the past, stealing 11 bases in 2007, though that number dipped to just 5 last season.  He also saw a fairly drastic decrease in runs, from 94 to 75.

Given the huge expanses of Petco Park, you have to wonder if he would be capable, but if he continues to hit the way he has over the past two seasons, the Padres are going to have little choice but to either trade him or shift him.  For a team that is looking to accumulate young talent that it could use, Blank could prove to me an interesting commodity to swap for another top prospect, maybe a middle infielder or a pitcher, things they clearly could use.

Still, I think the more likely scenario sees the team testing him out in the OF next season, as he is just too good to get rid of.  I’m sure people are questioning his power, given his lower total last season and the fact that he’d be playing in a pitchers park.  Unfortunately, the fact that he had just 23 doubles last season doesn’t really help the case that the power is there.

When you consider that the league leader in the Texas League had just 25 HR, however, the number starts to look better.  I’m not going to say that it’ll translate into a 30 HR rookie campaign in 2009, especially in that park, but I do believe that the power could continue to mature and will be there at the major league level.

His average was buoyed by a .366 BABIP, a number that we wouldn’t expect to see him repeat.  In 2007, though, that number was a reasonable .338, so I don’t see it as unlikely that he could be a .300 hitter at the major league level.

His Double A numbers are actually very comparable to the Reds Joey Votto (despite him playing in the Southern League, as opposed to the Texas League that Blanks played in).  Votto, in 2006, hit .319 with 22 HR and 77 RBI over 508 AB.  In fact, besides the ballpark giving Votto a huge advantage, I fully believe that Blanks could be every bit the hitter that Votto is at the major league level.

Prior to the 2008 season, Baseball America had him ranked as the team’s tenth best prospect, as well as their best power-hitting prospect.  That should help to ease your concerns about his power stroke, at least a little bit.

The biggest question is whether Blanks will get his opportunity in 2009 and if so, when.  Chances are that he obviously won’t start the season with the Padres, given that his only chance to is to shift to the OF, a position he’s not familiar with.  If it were up to me, the team would start his transition in Spring Training, before having him start the season in Triple A and settle in to playing a new position.  By midseason, you could see Blanks filling a spot in the Padres line-up and putting up significant numbers.

Is that likely to happen?  I’d put it at 50/50 that the Padres actually try this out.  They very easily could just leave him at 1B for the season at Triple A and then figure it out later on.  Who knows, honestly, but Blanks certainly has the bat to make an impact in the majors.  At this point, all we can do is sit and wait and see how the Padres play it.

For more great fantasy info, check out Rotoprofessor.com.

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