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.
1. Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers
Profar, just 20 years of age, is the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of Major League Baseball without a question. The Rangers signed him as an undrafted free agent in July of 2009. Last year, at Double-A Frisco, he hit .281 with 14 long balls, 62 RBIs and 16 stolen bases in 480 at-bats. He was a September call-up in Texas, and he homered in his first major league at-bat.
With Profar, there isn't one thing that stands out above the rest, but all of his skills are major league-caliber. He's highly advanced for his age, and his lack of size (6-foot, 165 pounds) hasn't slowed him down at all. Profar is an excellent defender with a plus arm that can play both shortstop and second base adequately. His plate skills are pristine; he has very good bat speed, control and plate discipline. Profar doesn't possess a powerful bat, but he could easily develop into a 20-homer guy as he matures and grows into his body. The switch-hitter has all the makings to become a .300 hitter in the majors.
Texas has a good problem this spring. They own the league's top prospect, but they are struggling to find a spot for him to play every day in the bigs. He's currently blocked by Elvis Andrus at short and Ian Kinsler at the keystone. GM Jon Daniels said Profar could crack the 25-man opening day roster, but only if he's in a position to play frequently. Even though he's never played at Class AAA, Profar probably doesn't need the experience, although it wouldn't hurt. It doesn't really matter where he starts this year; Profar is a must-own in keeper and AL-only leagues, and he's definitely worth a pick in deep enough mixed leagues, as well.
2. Dylan Bundy, SP, Baltimore Orioles
It's a testament to Bundy's abilities that he's only 20 years old and is this high on the list. Baltimore took him with the fourth overall pick of 2011's draft out of Owasso High School in Oklahoma. He made brief stops at three rungs of the minor league ladder last year, going 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA and 119 K's in 103 2/3 innings and making his major league debut at just 19 years old.
Bundy is far and away the most impressive up-and-coming pitching prospect in the game. His all-around upside, ability to dominate and strikeout numbers are through the roof. The sky is the limit with this 6-foot-1, 195-pound righty. Bundy has three plus pitches - fastball, curveball and changeup - that all generate plenty of empty hacks and are ready to get major league hitters out now. His effortless and easy delivery is a thing of beauty. The only possible knock on Bundy may be the team's desire to limit the wear and tear on his arm at such a young age.
Bundy was optioned to Double-A Bowie after allowing one earned run in eight spring innings. This is merely a formality; Bundy will likely be up later this year for good. He walked six batters in spring training and showed some frustration with his lack of command, so he has some minor fine-tuning to do. However, he's advanced beyond his years and will be a major contributor once he's a lock in the Orioles' rotation. Bundy projects to be a major league ace who will also contribute ace-like strikeout numbers for fantasy baseball rotations.
3. Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Myers could be quite the steal after he was taken in the third round of the 2009 draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Wesleyan Christian Academy in North Carolina in 2009. He was traded this past winter to the Rays in the deal that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to KC. Myers dominated at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha in 2012, hitting .314 with 37 dingers and 109 RBIs in 522 at-bats. Twenty four of those homers came at Omaha. He was named Minor League Player of the Year as a result.
Myers: future stud
This 22-year-old will be special. It's not a matter of if, but when. He's a natural hitter who has excellent bat speed and quick hands through the zone. Myers should hit for both a respectable batting average and plenty of power in the majors. His lack of elite speed is the only real knock on him. Although he hasn't made his debut in the bigs yet, Myers could easily make an impact similar to those Mike Trout and Bryce Harper did last season.
It's easy to become eager to own a commodity such as Myers in fantasy baseball circles, but not so fast. He'll start the year with Triple-A Durham, and the Rays don't seem to be in a rush to bring him up. After all, they do have a pretty good reputation for developing young talent, so they know what they're doing. For a cost-conscious team like Tampa Bay, Myers' service time and arbitration clock will play factors, too. If you want him in a keeper league, you'll need to pay a pretty penny. The same goes in redraft leagues, although there's no guarantee we see him before September or even at all this year. Once Myers does come up for good, he has the tools to be a middle-of-the-order, run-producing stick for years to come.
4. Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians
Bauer Power turned on soon?
Bauer was drafted third overall in the 2011 draft out of UCLA and was shipped from Arizona to Cleveland last winter as part of a three-team swap. Last year with Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno, he dominated (12-2, 2.42 ERA and 157 K's in 130 1/3 frames) before being called up to the D-backs, where he struggled in just four starts (6.06 ERA, 7.2 BB/9, 11 ER).
From Bauer's unique pre-game long toss routine, to his unorthodox over-the-top delivery, to his reportedly stubborn attitude, there are plenty of things not to like about him. But when it comes to his stuff, it's hard to argue with his tremendous long-term potential. He has an advanced repertoire - mid-90s fastball, slider, splitter, changeup and plus curve - but an inconsistent release point led to control problems last season. If those problems continue, somewhere down the line he may be asked to scrap a pitch or two to become more effective at throwing strikes.
Bauer, 22, is extremely dedicated to maintaining his health and staying in peak physical and mental condition, which should bode well for his longevity as a dominant workhorse. He's competing with Carlos Carrasco and Scott Kazmir for the last rotation spot this spring, and it's unclear who has the inside track on the job. Terry Francona and the Indians might prefer to have Bauer start off in the minors, but the fact that he's walked only one in 11 spring innings is encouraging. Bauer will contribute at some point this year, but he won't be mainstay in the rotation until 2014.
5. Mike Olt, 3B/OF, Texas Rangers
Olt has several possible avenues to PT
Olt was taken by the Rangers with the 49th overall selection of the draft in 2010. The University of Connecticut alum spent 2011 with the club's Rookie-league affiliate and High Single-A Myrtle Beach, where he hit a combined .264 with 15 homers and 46 RBIs in 254 at-bats. Last year at Double-A Frisco, he had a slash line of .288/.398/.579 with 28 bombs and 82 RBIs in 354 at-bats.
The 24-year-old is big and strong (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and delivers an impressive power stroke that will play well in the majors, especially at the hitter-friendly Ballpark in Arlington. He has a selective approach at the dish. He strikes out plenty thanks to a long swing (101 K's last year); however, he also draws a fairly decent number of walks. His glove and defense at third base are above-average, and he even moved across the diamond to first base last season. Olt is adding some versatility this spring by learning to play right field in hopes of cracking the opening day roster.
Texas sports a heavy left-handed-swinging bottom half of their projected lineup, so Olt would be a useful bench piece to counteract that. The problem is he has only five hits in 29 at-bats in camp (.172), and he hasn't played above Class AA, other than his short 2012 stint in the majors.
Still, he could make the cut when April 1 comes around if Texas feels he gives them a better option than Jeff Baker. Although unlikely, Nelson Cruz could face a suspension from his alleged involvement in a Miami clinic reported to have distributed PEDs to players. Olt would figure heavily into replacing Cruz in right if that came about. Adrian Beltre is aging and has had trouble staying healthy, so Olt will have plenty of opportunities to find playing time this year.
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.