Young players have become more prominent in Major League Baseball. Properly valuing farm players' talents, timetables and opportunities will help rotisserie and head-to-head managers win their fantasy baseball leagues.
16. Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs
Soler eclipsing other youngsters
Soler, a Cuban defector with serious talent, just turned 21 years old and is another prospect that the Cubs will look to as they rebuild their roster under new management. Chicago signed him to a nine-year deal around $30 million last summer, and he hit a combined .299 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in the Arizona Rookie League and at Single-A Peoria last year.
There is a reason the Cubbies invested heavily in this Cuban prospect: The 6-foot-3, 205-pound physical specimen boasts incredible power for such a raw talent; he didn't play for two years after defecting from Cuba. Still, he isn't one-dimensional; he has speed, nice bat speed and impressive plate discipline for a player without much game-time experience. His body is major league-ready right now, but he could use some mentoring and seasoning defensively in right field. He has the skill set to become a serious power threat in the majors in time.
Despite pressure around the organization to put this kid on the fast track to The Show, the Cubs will be patient, as they should be. Front office executive Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer know a thing or two about successfully developing homegrown talent down on the farm, too, so Soler should be in good hands. He'll need it, since he is incredibly raw and probably needs the repetitions more than any other blossoming prospect in the minors. When he's ready, though, Soler could easily become an outfielder that can produce similar to what Yoenis Cespedes has done for fantasy baseball owners in short time.
17. Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Eaton likes to run
Unlike most of the other names on this list, Eaton wasn't a high draft pick (19th round) for the D-backs in 2010. He boasts an impressive .355/.456/.510 slash line in three minor league seasons with the Snakes, including hitting .381 with seven homers, 45 RBIs and 38 thefts in 488 at-bats with Triple-A Reno last year. In 85 at-bats for Arizona after his call-up, he hit only .259 with two homers and two stolen bases.
Eaton's size (5-foot-8, 185 pounds) and age (25) don't give him a tremendous amount of upside, and his short stature has limited his power potential severely; his career high for homers in a year was 10 back in 2011. But he's a scrappy left-handed stick who knows how to take a walk and can hit for a respectable average thanks to decent contact skills. His above-average speed makes him a threat to steal more than 30 bases, making him a nice late-round source for stolen bags.
Most importantly, thanks to Arizona's trade of Chris B. Young this offseason, Eaton enters 2013 as the favorite to start in center field in the desert. Their roster overhaul and rebuilding phase is more focused on scrappy gamers - as skipper Kirk Gibson refers to them - and Eaton fits that mold to a T. He's a bit of an underdog story and won't stand out on any fantasy baseball roster, but he has the playing time factor on his side and will aid you in the SB column this year while hitting leadoff for the D-backs.
18. Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
Starlin's successor? DP partner?
Baez, 20, was drafted ninth overall by the Cubbies and signed for $2.7 million back in 2011. He played in only five contests between the Arizona Rookie League and Low-A Boise in '11. At Single-A Peoria and high Class A Daytona last year, Baez put up a slash line of .294/.346/.543 with 16 home runs, 46 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 293 at-bats.
Baez is a strong, athletic shortstop that has the size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) to be a power-hitting star at the position. His swing can be long at times, but his bat speed makes up for that, and he attacks pitches with intent to do serious damage. When he squares the ball up, he makes loud contact and the ball jumps off his lumber. His aggressiveness at the dish can hurt him, though, and his plate discipline (69 K's and just 14 walks last season) needs to improve. The addition of his 25-plus-stolen-base potential gives him high upside as one of the top middle infield prospects.
Some evaluators think Baez is eventually destined to move to third base, but he moves well enough and has a strong enough arm to stick at short. However, with Chicago signing Starlin Castro to a seven-year deal last August, Baez will have to move around to make an impact at the big league level in this organization. Skipper Dale Sveum has Baez working some at second base this spring, but at his size, third base is probably the more realistic option. Baez is receiving plenty of looks this spring, but he'll likely start in the minors. If he continues to hit, the Cubs will put him on the fast track and will certainly find a position for him if Castro remains in the picture.
19. Archie Bradley, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Gibson, KT like their pitching depth
Bradley pitched only two innings in his pro debut with Rookie-level Missoula in 2011 after being taken seventh overall by the Diamondbacks. He posted a 3.84 ERA and went 12-6 last year with Single-A South Bend of the Midwest League in 136 innings (27 starts). The Oklahoma native fanned 152 batters while walking 84 for a WHIP of 1.26.
The first thing you notice about this 20-year-old is his physically mature body at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. Naturally, that makes it easier for him to generate mid- to high-90s heaters, and he has touched triple digits on occasion. His fastball is probably very close to major league-ready, and he sports a rather nasty curveball as well. His propensity to miss bats gives him the potential to be a No. 1 starter at the next level, but he'll have to work on his 5.59 BB/9 on the farm.
Although Bradley may be one of the top pitching prospects toiling in the minors, he's easily lost in the shuffle among other big names that have risen through the ranks at a torrid pace. Even on his own team, he's been overshadowed by the likes of Tyler Skaggs and, previously, Trevor Bauer. Bradley could easily be fighting for a rotation spot in the desert in spring training next season, and he may present those in keeper leagues with a tremendous value opportunity.
20. Carlos Martinez, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Mozeliak, Matheny wait patiently
Martinez was signed as a minor league free agent in April of 2010 out of the Dominican Republic after he was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox under a fake name. In his first full minor league season in 2011, he went 6-5 with a 3.93 ERA with 98 strikeouts and 44 walks in 84 2/3 innings at two Single-A stops. Last year at High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield, he combined to go 6-5 with a 2.93 ERA with 92 strikeouts and 32 walks in 104 1/3 frames.
Martinez's fastball is major league-ready right now. He consistently sits in the upper 90s thanks to his tremendous arm speed and max-effort style of pitching. However, he tends to overthrow at times, making his mechanics somewhat erratic. The 21-year-old's curveball is another plus pitch that has sharp, late-biting movement similar to a slider. An improved changeup rounds out his repertoire, but it's regarded as average to below-average at best. He doesn't project to fill out his 6-foot, 165-pound frame much more, so the stamina needed to become a front-line starting pitcher at the major league level may be a tough proposition, especially given his high-effort pitching style.
Improved command over the past two seasons bodes well for his chances at seeing time in the majors, possibly even this year. The Cards are pretty stocked with starters ahead of him, though, so if he does receive a call-up this year, it'll probably be in some sort of relief role. Expect him to get a shot at a rotation spot in 2014.
Keith, an editor with KFFL, joined the team as a Hot off the Wire analyst in 2008 and has been playing fantasy sports since 2005. He is involved in MLB, NFL and NASCAR content. He graduated from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 with a B.A. in Communications and was a four-year starter as a member of the baseball program.