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. Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
Higher Learning for Singleton?
Singleton is probably best known for being involved in the deal that sent Hunter Pence to the Philadelphia Phillies in the summer of 2011. Most recently, he's been in the news for something he isn't proud of: a 50-game suspension after testing positive for marijuana. He'll serve that suspension starting this year. Last year at Double-A Corpus Christi, the 21-year-old former eighth-round pick hit .284 with 21 home runs and 79 RBIs in 461 at-bats.
Singleton, at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, has the kind of smooth swing from the left side of the plate that organizations love to have. He has an advanced feel for the strike zone already and is a natural hitter. He has the talent to become an elite first-base power hitter at the next level. His quick and explosive bat consistently barrels up the baseball, and he stays extremely quiet at the plate. He's played some corner outfield, as well, and although his defense at first base isn't anything to write home about, he'll stick at the position moving forward.
The trade to Houston was the best thing that could have happened for his career. The drug suspension is a bump in the road, but Singleton has a promising future with the 'Stros. Houston is clearly rebuilding, and with their move to the American League, Singleton is definitely part of their short-term future. Carlos Pena and Brett Wallace are simply keeping first base warm until Singleton arrives, and it's entirely realistic that we'll see him at midseason.
17. Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
GM Ryan high on Buxton
The Twins obviously think very highly of Buxton after selecting him second overall in last year's draft out of Appling County High School in Georgia. This 19-year-old could easily be higher on our prospect list based on pure talent alone, but he'll likely need some more time to develop than others before he'll be contributing to your fantasy baseball squad. At two Rookie-level stops last year, he hit a combined .248 with five long balls, 20 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in only 48 games (165 at-bats).
The sky is the limit when discussing Buxton's ceiling as a professional baseball player. He has every tool scouts look for when evaluating a prospect; displays power, has speed, possesses a strong arm, can hit for average and is a sound defender. They're all on display here. On first glance, he bears striking resemblance to the Upton brothers. He's a natural hitter but doesn't have plus-power skills just yet. It's debatable as to whether he ever will, either, but he certainly has the makeup to become a perennial 20-20 commodity in the majors.
Minnesota will take their time developing and determining exactly what they have in this Georgia native. For a 19-year-old, he's not as raw as you might expect, so he could possibly rise quickly through the minor leagues, but that remains to be seen. He makes consistent contact with the bat, so the Twins will probably expect a higher BA and more home runs over the course of a full minor league season. This is a name you'll need to remember for when he surfaces on the major league scene. However, that may not be for a couple of more years, at least.
18. Matt Barnes, SP, Boston Red Sox
Farrell: plenty of young SP to groom
The Red Sox decided to take Barnes with the 19th overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft out of the University of Connecticut. He only has one season of professional experience, where he went a combined 7-5 with a 2.86 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 119 2/3 innings (25 starts) with Single-A Greenville and Salem. He was able to fan 10.0 per nine innings and walked only 2.2 per nine.
Barnes, who will turn 23 in June, has the size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) to project as a top-of-the-rotation starter at the next level. His delivery and arm action are loose and easy, giving him the ability to locate all three of his pitches - fastball, curve and changeup - effectively within the strike zone. His fastball, which sits in the mid-90s, and curve have the ability to be plus pitches, and his developing changeup gives him high-K upside. He attacks hitters more often than not but has a tendency to elevate his pitches when he overthrows.
Unlike many other pitchers at low minor league levels, Barnes displayed impressive mound presence and poise as a pitcher, evidenced by his solid 2.2 BB/9 rate. He probably doesn't have much left to prove in Class A ball, so he's expected to begin at Class AA this year. Barnes' consistency stands out, and if he can perfect his repertoire with more minor league seasoning, he could be in the discussion to win a rotation spot in spring training of next year. Any pitcher that has plus-strikeout potential and doesn't hand out free passes often is a welcome addition to any fantasy baseball roster. Keep an eye on this one.
19. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Antonetti to trade Asdrubal Cabrera?
How fitting ... Lindor checks in at No. 19 on the prospect list at 19 years of age. The Indians drafted the youngster with the eighth overall selection in the 2011 draft out of Montverde High School in Florida and he played in just five games with Low-A Mahoning Valley that year. In 2012 he hit .257 with six home runs and 27 stolen bases in 567 plate appearances at Single-A Lake County.
Lindor is extremely polished on defense and has the tools and athleticism in the field to become a Gold Glove-caliber middle infielder easily. His effortless speed and quick reactions give him excellent range at arguably the toughest position in the infield. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound switch hitter bears a resemblance to Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes when in the box from the left side. His short, quick stroke leads to frequent contact and for his size, he has surprising pop in his stick. Despite hitting just .257 last year, Lindor's batting average upside is much higher.
While incumbent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera isn't a slouch defensively and can hold his own offensively, the Tribe won't be keeping him around forever; he was the subject of constant offseason trade rumors. The Tribe clearly wants to get younger at the position, and Lindor is probably what they have in mind. Along with his other impressive tools, his speed will make him an intriguing fantasy baseball commodity when he hits the majors. That may not be for another couple of seasons, however.
20. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
Sanchez can stand out in crowd
Sanchez was signed as an non-drafted free agent by the Bronx Bombers in July of 2009, and he didn't make his pro debut until 2010. After hitting eight homers in '10, Sanchez has blasted 17 and 18 dingers in each of the past two seasons at Class A. Aside from his .256 average in 2011, he's also shown the ability to hit for a high average (.329 in '10 and .290 last year) for a catcher.
This 20-year-old Dominican leads the way in terms of prospects in the organization, and he's an offensive-minded backstop that has risen through the minor league ranks thanks to a powerful bat in part because of his strong, 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame. He has no problems crushing fastballs and excels against left-handed pitching. The defensive side of his game has been lacking, and despite improvements recently, the Yankees are content to let him develop that side of his game before calling on him in the bigs.
Sanchez's raw strength and natural swing give him plenty of offensive upside at the next level, and his above-average plate discipline make him a realistic candidate for a BA near .300 and around 25 homers. Francisco Cervelli, barring a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, should serve as the primary catcher this year. Austin Romine could pose playing time obstacles to Sanchez in the short term, but New York sees Sanchez as the long-term solution behind the dish. He'll get the call when they feel his defense is major league-ready, and considering the lack of offensive-minded backstops, Sanchez can become an elite fantasy baseball catcher. He should be starting for the Yanks by 2015.
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.