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.
The big news out of prospect land earlier this week came when the Miami Marlins placed slugger Giancarlo Stanton on the disabled list with a Grade 2 strain of his right hamstring. Not Christian Yelich, not Jake Marisnick, but Marcell Ozuna was recalled from Double-A Jacksonville yesterday. Ozuna had the advantage because he was already on the club's 40-man roster.
Yelich and Marisnick are the more talked about young outfield prospects for the Fish, but Miami opted to replace their big-time slugger with perhaps one of the minors' best power bats in Ozuna. In 129 contests at High Single-A Jupiter in 2012, the 22-year-old right-handed swinger clubbed 24 home runs and added 95 RBIs in 489 at-bats. He put up 23 long balls the season before with Single-A Greensboro in 496 at-bats, while also driving in 71. He hit an identical .266 in both 2011 and 2012.
In addition to his power, Ozuna has above-average speed, even at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. He swiped 17 bags back in '11 and had eight more last season. He started the year on the minor league disabled list with a broken wrist, but that has obviously healed nicely; in just 57 at-bats on the farm this year between Jupiter and Jacksonville, Ozuna was hitting .316 with five home runs and 16 RBIs.
This Dominican prospect is still a bit raw, though, and his swing has a tendency to get rather long at times. He made some noticeable improvements in his plate discipline in the second half of last season, but his high strikeout rates are of concern. In 2012, he struck out 116 times and walked only 44 times. The Marlins' lack of outfield depth at the major league level indicates that this move was made more out of necessity than luxury. There's no denying that Ozuna's power can play at the major league level, but if he continues to strike out at a high rate, he could easily struggle against major-league-caliber pitching.
Stanton figures to miss at least a month with his hamstring ailment, so Ozuna will have a nice window to receive frequent at-bats. Because of this, he's definitely worth taking a chance on in NL-only leagues. In mixed universes, though, be a bit more hesitant. There's a high chance of failure here. Plus, he's playing for the offensively challenged Marlins, too.
Speaking of offensively challenged, the Seattle Mariners have that problem at shortstop. Brendan Ryan (.149-0-4), who has always been a leather-first entity, entered the year as the starter, but that quickly changed. Robert Andino is now the man for Eric Wedge, but he hasn't fared much better himself with the bat (.200-0-3). This kind of poor production won't be put up with all year, that's for sure.
Enter Nick Franklin, the middle infield prospect who is making it hard to ignore him at Triple-A Tacoma. Actually, he was noteworthy in spring training when he indicated he went on a 6,500-calorie-a-day winter diet to bulk up to 200 pounds for increased stamina and strength. So far, so good. Franklin is hitting .410 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 61 at-bats. He's also stolen four bases in four tries. Franklin can hit from both sides of the plate, too. All of this amounts to Franklin knocking on the door.
So why haven't the M's called him up? Seattle is most likely hesitant because there is skepticism as to whether he can handle shortstop adequately from a defensive standpoint. Franklin has flip-flopped between second and short during his five-year minor league career, but scouts have pegged him as fitting the keystone more snuggly because of his average speed and arm. Dustin Ackley is entrenched at second, though, and it's hard to envision Seattle moving him at this point.
We know Franklin can hit. He's done it at every minor league stop, and although he has only moderate power potential, an advanced understanding of the strike zone will give him batting average upside as he learns more plate patience. In order to contend in the American League West, at some point the Mariners will realize that they'll probably have to sacrifice a little defense at the 6.
When that time comes, and it may be coming soon, Franklin is the man for the job. If you have the roster space and are hurting for a middle infielder in an AL league, it might be wise to stash Franklin now in case he's called up soon. He'll be serviceable in deep mixed formats, too, if he's given the shortstop job outright.
Many scouts, fantasy baseball owners and even Zack Wheeler himself, thought he should have begun the year in the New York Mets' starting rotation. That didn't happen, and everyone is now realizing that that was for the best. Before his latest start with Triple-A Las Vegas yesterday, Wheeler had walked 15 in his first 23 1/3 innings.
Wheeler fell off a bit
Poor mechanics, as MiLB.com's Danny Wild notes, were the root of Wheeler's command issues. However, he's also discovered that pitching in the Pacific Coast League -- widely known as an extreme hitter's haven -- isn't kind to even the top pitching prospects. After allowing only one run in 6 2/3 frames with eight strikeouts and one walk Tuesday, Wheeler is sporting a 4.80 ERA and has struck out 36 in 30 innings (six starts).
The fact that Wheeler was able to define and fix his mechanical flaw fairly quickly is a good sign. He's also running into a bit of adversity at a high level for the first time, too. The combination of all of that is only going to make this future ace that much better. However, he still has time to grow and learn in the minors, much like Matt Harvey did last season, so a call-up for Wheeler isn't imminent at all.
The Mets mentioned this spring that they plan to keep Wheeler on a similar progression to what Matt Harvey followed last year, so a major league debut late this summer is about what you can expect. There should be no rush to add Wheeler to your mixed roster unless he's still unclaimed in a keeper league.
Kansas City Royals starting pitching prospect Yordano Ventura dazzled Tuesday night for Double-A Northwest Arkansas when he fanned 10 and walked three in five one-hit innings. Perhaps most impressive was when he reached triple digits with his heater on four separate occasions. It was his first time reaching double-digit K's since last June with High Single-A Wilmington. On the season, he's 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA and is second in the Texas League with 33 strikeouts.
Although the 21-year-old righty is short (5-foot-11), he has natural, electric stuff on the mound, as evidenced by his high-90s fastball. Ventura's fastball-curveball combo can be deadly, but he has often lacked an effective third pitch (changeup) that can make him nearly unhittable. He had all three working in unison Tuesday.
He'll continue working on how to best incorporate all three of his offerings at Northwest Arkansas, but if he continues to do what he did last night, a promotion to Triple-A Omaha and a call-up in September could be in the cards for this youngster. Ventura has such electric stuff, though, that even if he fails to improve his offspeed usage to keep hitters off balance, he could eventually wind up being an effective late-inning bullpen arm. Don't lose sight of this guy.
A quick update on one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, Dylan Bundy: after visiting with Dr. James Andrews Monday, the Baltimore Orioles pitcher received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right forearm. He was told not to throw for six weeks.
Although Tommy John surgery wasn't recommended (yet), this is a big setback for Bundy reaching the big leagues for good this year. After six weeks, if he hasn't improved, elbow reconstruction will almost surely be the route that they take. In any leagues other than keeper leagues, you can put him on the backburner for now.
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.