Top fantasy baseball prospects: AL - 11-15
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.
Hultzen was selected with Seattle's first-round pick (second overall) in the 2011 MLB Draft. The 23-year-old had two very different halves to his first pro season last year: In 13 starts for Double-A Jackson, he went 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings; at Triple-A Tacoma he was 1-4 with a 5.92 ERA, 43 walks and 57 K's in 48 2/3 frames.
The University of Virginia alum has the perfect size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) to be an effective starting pitcher, and he uses his low three-quarters arm slot from the left side to disguise his pitches very well. For a southpaw at his age, his mechanics are quite advanced, although his lack of command at the highest minor league level could be a cause for concern. He also owns two plus secondary pitches in his slider and changeup, both of which he keeps down in the zone. Hultzen won't light up the radar gun, but he's consistently in the low-90s with his fastball, which will play in the majors.
Despite dealing with a mild strain to his right hip flexor this spring, Hultzen is still very much in the competition for a rotation spot on the opening day roster. He may have a leg up over the likes of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer. The M's might choose to play it safe, though, and have Hultzen start the year in the minors, especially since he struggled so much at Tacoma a year ago. There is a good chance he'll be part of the five-man rotation at some point this season, and he has the stuff to become a middle-of-the-rotation mainstay behind Felix Hernandez for years to come.
This soon-to-be 23-year-old played for the University of South Carolina and was selected 40th overall in the first round in 2011 by the BoSox. Last year he hit .315 with nine home runs, 63 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 463 at-bats between High Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. He played at two Single-A stops in '11 and hit just .250 with one long ball in 10 games.
Bradley is an all-around talent who uses the entire field and is more of a line-drive hitter. At only 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, he probably won't develop into much more than a gap-to-gap swinger, but over a full season he could easily approach double-digit home runs. Setting him apart are his excellent plate discipline and leadoff skills (91 walks and 97 strikeouts in two minor league seasons). He doesn't have many weaknesses in his overall game, and the kid has 30-plus stolen base ability, too.
Boston knows they have something special in Bradley, and it's already showing in spring training. While he'll start down on the farm this year, chances are high that he'll show his face at Fenway at some point this year. He's the heir apparent to Jacoby Ellsbury, who'll be a free agent at season's end, in center field. Even if Ellsbury signs a contract extension, Bradley will be heavily involved in a discussion for a spot somewhere in the outfield because of his bat and on-base skills. His above-average defensive attributes will probably make him versatile enough to play at all three outfield posts.
Sano, who will turn 20 this May, was signed out of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic as a non-drafted free agent in October of 2009. He led the Midwest League (Single-A Beloit) last year with 28 home runs and was second in walks with 80. He also put up a .258 batting average with 100 RBIs in 457 at-bats. The season before he clubbed 20 round-trippers with Rookie-level Elizabethton, and Sano has a total of 55 long balls in three minor league seasons.
At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Sano has a big, powerful build at the hot corner that gives him plus power with the bat. He has plenty of time to add strength and size, too, making his power upside at the next level very high. He has a plate discipline and approach that is far beyond his years, meaning there is also room for BA growth down the road. Like any 19-year-old youngster, he has some holes in his swing that can be ironed out.
Trevor Plouffe has been a nice surprise in Minnesota, and they expect him to handle third base duties this year and possibly for as long as it takes until Sano proves he's ready to play with the big boys. While Sano's bat and power abilities are the most major-league ready of his skills, the rest of his game needs polish. His defense and base-running are shaky, although he has above-average arm strength. Since he's their No. 1 prospect, expect the Twinkies to take their time with Sano. It may be a couple of seasons more before he's legitimately contending for playing time in Minnesota.
Gausman, 22, is the Orioles' second-rated starting pitching prospect behind Dylan Bundy. The Louisiana State University alum was chosen by Baltimore with the fourth overall selection of the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft. At two different stops in his first pro season (Low-A Aberdeen, High-a Frederick), Gausman went 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA and 13 strikeouts in just 15 innings pitched (five starts).
Although he is entering just his second professional year, Gausman is more polished than other hurlers due to his four-year experience as a starter in one of the best college conferences in the nation. A tall, lanky frame (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) allows him to produce plus velocity. All of his pitches possess deceiving movement, and his four-pitch arsenal is topped off by a nasty changeup. He's very athletic, but he could stand to clean up some of his mechanics, and he eventually may need to scrap one of his pitches to become more effective against top-notch hitters.
The Orioles know what they have in Gausman, and together with Bundy, they're hoping that the two can anchor the front of their rotation for the long-term future. Gausman could rise quickly through the organization, much like Bundy has. As a result, the O's and skipper Buck Showalter will keep a close eye on Gausman's development this spring, and they aren't ruling out calling him up this September to give him valuable experience. That means he'd be a valid rotation candidate heading into the 2014 season.
Zimmer went a combined 3-3 with 2.04 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings in the Arizona Rookie League and at Single-A Kane County of the Midwest League after being drafted fifth overall by Kansas City last June. He underwent minor surgery to remove loose bodies from his right elbow last August, but the team was aware of the problem when they drafted him, and he's expected to be fine this season.
At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Zimmer projects to have the perfect body type for a front-line starting pitcher in the major leagues. His size and arm speed consistently keep his fastball in the mid-90s. He's physically mature at 21 years old and has a quiet delivery with good balance on the bump, giving him good command of the strike zone (just eight walks last year). His fastball jumps out of his hand and has late movement down in the zone, and his curveball has sharp 12-6 movement with nice command. If he develops his changeup, he could have three plus pitches in his repertoire.
The Royals, believe it or not, are pretty set in their rotation thanks to an offseason blockbuster that netted them James Shields and Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays. They also added Ervin Santana. Still, Zimmer has a bright future in KC's rotation, and he could be in the discussion for a rotation post next spring, depending on how he fares on the farm in 2013. He has upside as a high-K pitcher with even more intrigue if he maintains his command.
About Keith Hernandez
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. Follow @keithdez27
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