KFFL.com's Fantasy Baseball Player Prospecting series highlights the exploits of minor league baseball players, including top MLB prospects. Find out who'll make an impact in your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball game next week or in your fantasy baseball keeper league a year from now.
Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino, one of the top all-around catching prospects in baseball, is already off to a scorching start with Triple-A Tacoma in 2013. He had a grand slam last night and is hitting .429 with four home runs and leads all minor leaguers with 16 RBIs in just five games. He's sporting a 1.696 OPS. His polished approach to the game and veteran-like mentality at the plate makes it hard to believe that he's only 22 years of age.
Cingrani sits 'em down
Zunino put himself on the map last season after batting a combined .360 with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs between Low Single-A Everett and Double-Jackson after being drafted third overall in the 2012 draft out of the University of Florida. He's an extremely quick study and has already proven that he's far superior to the talent in the low levels of the minor leagues.
Zunino is a big and strong catcher who has the ability to become a reliable middle-of-the-order bat and hit for both a high average and plenty of long balls at the major league level, which is extremely rare for a backstop. He is very close to being major league-ready, and he probably has a ceiling similar to that of Buster Posey in San Francisco.
On the big league club, Kelly Shoppach and Jesus Montero are holding down the fort. Shoppach is merely keeping the seat warm until the club is completely comfortable bringing Zunino up, which, rest assured, will come sometime this year, possibly as soon as this summer. Montero is young, too (23), but his defense and game-calling skills are suspect, and his long-term outlook may look brighter at first base or DH. Zunino can, and probably will, make an impact for owners in keeper and AL-only two-catcher setups this season.
Cincinnati Reds lefty arm Tony Cingrani hasn't received much attention since being drafted in the third round in 2011, but his first two starts for Triple-A Louisville have him off to a good start this year. In his first start, April 4, he took a perfect game into the fifth inning and struck out 14 of the 19 hitters he faced in six no-hit innings. In a total of 12 1/3 innings in two starts, Cingrani has allowed no runs on just three hits while striking out 21 hitters.
The 23-year-old southpaw has started all but one of the 41 games he's appeared in in the minors, but he was used out of the bullpen alongside Aroldis Chapman when he made the jump from Class AA to the bigs last season. He had a 1.80 ERA with nine K's in just five innings with Cincy in 2012. He hits the mid-90s with his fastball and possesses a plus changeup and slider that is devastatingly effective against left-handed hitters, which makes him very appealing out of the bullpen in late-inning matchup plays. He also attacks hitters with a three-quarters arm slot that makes his fastball run away from righties.
Sean Marshall (shoulder), one of the team's three lefty arms in the pen, is on the disabled list, but there isn't a pressing need for Cingrani just yet in Cincinnati. If he keeps being lights-out with Louisville, though, it'll be hard for them to ignore if they find themselves thin in the pen.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann (shoulder) has opted to undergo surgery to fix his right labrum and rotator cuff that is likely to end his season. Roberto Hernandez, the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona, won the No. 5 rotation spot over Niemann this spring, but he isn't a lock to hold that post down, and he may be better utilized in long relief.
Enter Jake Odorizzi, the Kansas City Royals' once promising young right-hander who was traded to the Rays alongside Wil Myers in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis last winter. Odorizzi, 23, made his major league debut with KC last year (0-1, 4.91 ERA with four K's in 7 1/3 IP). Before that, he went a combined 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 135 punchouts in 145 1/3 frames for Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha.
He dominated in his one start for the Durham Bulls this year, giving up four hits and fanning eight in 6 2/3 shutout innings against Triple-A Gwinnett. Odorizzi has an ace-like repertoire, and the Rays intend for him to deliver on that potential after they lost two pitchers in that offseason trade. The Illinois native is tall and extremely athletic (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and can effectively locate his late-moving hard stuff within the strike zone. He has a repeatable delivery, which makes it easy for him to achieve consistency with his offspeed pitches.
The Rays are known for developing mediocre hurlers into successful big league starters, so it's intriguing to imagine the possibilities for Odorizzi in this organization. It's entirely premature to expect him to jump into the rotation soon, though, given the way Tampa Bay prefers to avoid rushing their minor league talent to the majors. They are taking an extremely cautious route with Wil Myers, too. However, Odorizzi has an excellent chance of contributing to the rotation if Hernandez doesn't get the job done. Keep him on your radar in all fantasy leagues.
Chris Archer has a tad bit more experience pitching in the majors than Odorizzi does, though, so he may be the choice for a call-up before Odorizzi if the Rays feel he needs more development. Archer doesn't have the high ceiling to match Odorizzi, but he has decent strikeout upside and is also worth watching in deeper leagues if he gets a shot at some point.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Kole Calhoun, who was vying for a backup job in spring training, had successful surgery to fix his fractured hamate bone in his right wrist yesterday. He was injured while swinging in a game with Triple-A Salt Lake last Thursday, and he'll be out four to six weeks.
The left-handed swinging outfielder hit .298 with 14 long balls, 73 RBIs and 12 stolen bases for Triple-A Salt Lake last year and received 23 at-bats for the Angels. He was frequently shuttled between Salt Lake and Anaheim as a reserve outfielder. Calhoun has a mature plate approach and can hit for decent power to all fields, but his 5-foot-10, 190-pound stature at 25 years of age limits his upside a bit. He projects to be a fourth outfielder or platoon player in the big leagues, and his recent injury will likely set him back at achieving that goal for another season.
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.