Young players have become more prominent in Major League Baseball, but fantasy baseball players can't expect every emerging prospect to carry their team. Properly valuing rising farm players' talent, timetable and opportunity will help win your fantasy baseball league.
21. Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets
Harvey has such heavy action on his low- to mid-90s fastball that Chipper Jones likened it to a bowling bowl this spring. Harvey, the seventh overall selection of the 2010 draft, attacks hitters with a four-seam fastball, a sinker and a wicked slider. His curveball and changeup are still developing, and the Mets would like to see him improve his command of both offerings at Triple-A this season. His changeup, which he just started throwing last season, already shows good movement, so there's hope it can be a dependable pitch within time.
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Making his professional debut last year, Harvey combined to go 13-5, with a 3.32 ERA and a 156:47 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 135 2/3 innings between high Single-A and Double-A. The 23-year-old is often labeled as a potential No. 2 starter, but some talent evaluators think he can be an ace if he develops consistency with a third offering. The Mets plan to assign Harvey to Triple-A to complete the last leg of his development, so it's only a matter of time before he becomes a fixture in their starting rotation.
22. Tyler Skaggs, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Acquired in the summer of 2010 as the key prospect in the Dan Haren trade, Skaggs blossomed into a top-notch prospect last year as he made leaps and bounds in both his statistical performance and physical maturation. The southpaw earned the organization's pitcher of the year honors after combining to post a 9-6 record, a 2.96 ERA and a 198:49 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 158 1/3 innings between high Single-A Visalia and Double-A Mobile.
Blessed with a clean delivery and a projectable 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame, Skaggs saw his fastball velocity surge consistently into the 90s last year, and there is still hope that he can add more velocity with time. Skaggs shows good command of his fastball and complements it nicely with a 12-to-6 curveball which he utilizes as an out pitch.
Skaggs is praised for both his poise on the mound and his pitching know-how for a 20-year-old. Skaggs is on pace to be a rotation mainstay by 2013 and could pitch his way into the majors this year in either a relief or starting role. The D-Backs are content with backend starters Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter for now, but both of them are only keeping the seat warm until Skaggs and fellow prospect Trevor Bauer are ready. Skaggs projects as a No. 2 starter.
23. Robert Erlin, SP, San Diego Padres
Standing at 6-foot, 175 pounds, Erlin doesn't look like a top pitching prospect with a fastball that tops off in the low 90s. Ignore the measurables here; Erlin is a polished pitcher who can command three pitches, and he uses a clean and deceptive delivery that makes his stuff play up. In 2011, Erlin combined to post a 9-4 record, a 2.99 ERA and a 154:16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 147 1/3 innings between three minor league stops. His command was so superb that he averaged exactly 1.0 walks per nine frames!
On the flip side, Erlin got rocked for 18 home runs last year, a real concern going forward. Once Erlin reaches the majors, his fly-ball tendencies will be less of a factor in the friendly pitching confines of PETCO Park. However, it will be interesting to see how Erlin survives in Triple-A Tucson this year, one of the minors' notorious launching pads. If Erlin can survive the unsavory conditions in Tucson without getting his confidence rocked, he has a chance to break into the Padres' rotation by this summer. He has the makings of developing into a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
24. Tim Wheeler, OF, Colorado Rockies
A toolsy 6-foot-4, 205-pound outfielder, Wheeler enjoyed a breakout season in 2011 by clubbing 33 home runs, stealing 21 bases and posting a .900 OPS in 561 at-bats with Double-A Tulsa. Wheeler's combination of power and speed makes him an intriguing prospect in an organization that plays half its games at the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field.
Despite the career year in the minors, Wheeler is far from a sure thing as he has had trouble making consistent contact his entire professional career. He holds just a .266 career average over 335 games in the minors. Wheeler tallied 142 strikeouts in 2011, and he has averaged a whiff once every 4.25 at-bats during his pro career.
The 24-year-old is critiqued for being too pull-conscious, and his woes against left-handed pitching lead some to believe that he can only be utilized as a platoon option. Bound for Triple-A Colorado Springs, Wheeler is a safe bet to post impressive power numbers in the Pacific Coast League.
However, the Rockies have a set outfield already with Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Michael Cuddyer, and they don't even have enough starts to go around to accommodate promising youngsters Tyler Colvin and Charles Blackmon. So Wheeler is going to have to slug at a high level in order to draw the Rockies' attention this year.
25. Jedd Gyorko, 3B, San Diego Padres
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Gyorko doesn't look imposing at the plate, but he has excellent bat control that helped him produce a .333 average, 25 home runs, 47 doubles, 114 RBIs, 119 runs scored and a .952 OPS between high Single-A and Double-A in 2011. He followed up his fine regular season campaign by hammering Arizona Fall League pitchers to the tune of a 1.204 OPS.
The 23-year-old is a polished hitter who is blessed with quick bat speed and sound plate discipline, and his line-drive tendencies should suit him well in the expansive real estate of PETCO Park. In time, Gyorko projects as a hitter who can bat .300 with 15-homer power at the major league level.
Blocked by Chase Headley at third, Gyorko is slated to finish his development at the hitter's heaven of Triple-A Tucson this year, where he is likely to put up gaudy numbers in all Triple Crown categories. Given the Padres' offensive struggles through the years, don't rule out a potential move to second if Gyorko hammers Pacific Coast League pitching and the Friars need to find a place for his bat.
26. Eric Surkamp, SP, San Francisco Giants
Surkamp, 24, is a seasoned southpaw who pitched his way to the majors last year by exhibiting strong command of a four-pitch mix. Even though Surkamp's fastball barely gets above 90 miles per hour on the radar gun, his minor league numbers are indicative of a power pitcher because of his aptitude on the mound.
In 148 1/3 innings last year in the minors, Surkamp went 11-4, with a 1.94 ERA and a 170:45 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Thanks to an effective two-seamer, he was also very stingy when it came to surrendering homers, allowing just five long flies. During a major league stint in September, Surkamp's command wasn't as sharp as he issued more walks (17) than strikeouts (13) over a span of 26 2/3 innings.
The North Carolina State alumnus is getting an opportunity to compete for the fifth starter's spot in the Giants rotation this spring, but he is most likely headed to Triple-A Fresno to start the 2012 campaign. Surkamp profiles as a fourth starter, and he will be the Giants' first option should a need arise in their rotation this season.