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.
Wheeler finally turning
It was known since late last week that New York Mets prospect Zack Wheeler would be making his major league debut in the second game of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves Tuesday evening. In case you missed it, it was a success. His line: six innings, four hits, no earned runs, five walks and seven K's.
He regularly pumped 97 mph cheese against the whiff-happy Bravos, but his command was spotty, and he relied heavily on his four-seamer because his breaking pitches weren't consistent. Although it was just one start, Wheeler will need to keep hitters more honest with his secondary pitches to be successful.
Wheeler, 23, has many similarities to teammate Matt Harvey, and while he could come close to Harvey's output last season, don't expect it. If folks were hesitant to add Wheeler because of his subpar numbers at Triple-A Las Vegas, they probably have changed their tune. He should be owned in all formats.
Another Boston Red Sox prospect is making his way closer to major league action. Xander Bogaerts was promoted from Double-A Portland, where he had a slash line of .311/.407/.502 with six home runs and 35 RBIs in 291 at-bats, to Triple-A Pawtucket late last week.
At just 20 years old, Bogaerts' domination of Class AA pitching has been quite impressive, leading some to believe he may be the best prospect currently in the minors. As always, that's up for debate.
The Aruba native has all the tools, except for top-notch speed, to succeed in the bigs. He can hit for average, has monster power, has improved his plate discipline tremendously and has an excellent makeup for a player of his age. Bogaerts will be the youngest player in Boston's organization to don a Class AAA jersey.
That's impressive, but it reminds us to temper expectations when it comes to him making a splash at the big league level this year. Boston will develop Bogaerts at Pawtucket similarly to what they've done recently with Jose Iglesias - groom him at third and second base, in addition to his natural position, shortstop.
This'll give Bogaerts more avenues to crack the major league roster with position versatility, especially if Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks continue to struggle. He'll likely be an option in Beantown at some point this year, but it's safe to say that won't be until at least after the All-Star break, and a September call-up remains his best bet.
It's foolish to rely on Bogaerts for anything meaningful in deep mixed leagues anytime soon, but you should keep watch on him. AL-only managers should think about stashing him if he's available.
Still must learn to use one of these
It's time for a checkup on Cincinnati Reds speedster Billy Hamilton. Hamilton, the "Man of Steal," broke the all-time professional record by swiping 155 bags last year, and he's currently leading the International League with 43 steals for Triple-A Louisville. As Bob Heist notes, though, Hamilton is third on the minor league stolen base list behind Chicago White Sox prospect Micah Johnson (54) and San Diego Padres outfielder Travis Jankowski (45).
Speed never slumps. We know that. But will Hamilton's bat and plate approach improve enough to make him a big-time threat for Cincy? There's no indication that'll happen anytime soon. Hamilton, 22, is hitting just .243, and his walk rate has dropped from 16.9 percent with Double-A Pensacola last year to 7.9 percent in 2013.
The lower his on-base percentage sinks, the less he's able to make an impact with his one glaring asset: his speed. Opposing hurlers know they need to keep him off the bases whenever possible, so they'll make him beat them with the stick.
Hamilton has world-class speed and quickness, though, which is probably enough to get him to the majors sometime this season. Meaningful playing time in Cincinnati's outfield is doubtful, on the other hand, especially since Chris Heisey (hamstring) and Ryan Ludwick (shoulder) are likely to be healthy by the time Hamilton may be called up.
Stashing him in NL-only leagues is worth it if you need some speed, but you can hold off in deep mixed leagues until he gains some steam at Louisville or an injury to the Reds' outfield forces him up.
The Cleveland Indians have a quick riser on their hands in pitcher Danny Salazar. He's been moved up to Triple-A Columbus after going 2-3 with a 2.67 ERA and 51 strikeouts to only 10 walks in 33 2/3 innings (seven starts) for Double-A Akron. In six starts for Columbus, he's 1-1 and has 29 K's and nine walks, although he sports a 4.86 ERA.
The right-handed Dominican is well past his Tommy John operation that caused him to miss most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He broke out last year while fully healthy, going 5-2 with a 2.36 ERA and 76 punchouts and 27 walks in 22 starts (87 2/3 frames) for High Single-A Carolina and Akron.
Being only 6-foot, 190 pounds, Salazar's mid- to low-90s heater is very impressive. He's clearly recovered all of his velocity after elbow reconstruction. Keeping his fastball low in the zone has led to plenty of groundballs, but his secondary pitches -- slider and changeup -- must improve.
Salazar may have been a serious candidate to join the Tribe's rotation this summer and throughout the rest of the year had it not been for his durability issues. He threw a career-high 107 1/3 innings for Single-A Lake County back in 2009, but obviously has been limited since his operation. The Indians will likely be careful with this arm and limit him again this year.
That probably will keep him off the fantasy radar this year, but he should be a sleeper heading into 2014 and could even win a rotation spot out of spring training.
- Baltimore Orioles top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy (forearm) successfully started his throwing program Monday by tossing 25 throws from 90 feet. The O's will be cautious with their top arm, making it increasingly unlikely he'll pitch in the majors this year.
- The Milwaukee Brewers are slowing down the workload for pitching prospects Johnny Hellweg, Jimmy Nelson and Tyler Thornburg, who are all currently toiling at Triple-A Nashville. Hellweg (6-4, 3.06 ERA, .197 opponents' average) has been impressive despite his high walk total (44). One, or more, of this trio could help out NL-only squads later this year, especially if the Brew Crew continues to plummet in the NL Central standings.
- Cody Martin, a reliever turned starter with an impressive four-pitch repertoire and great command of his pitches, deserves attention after firing seven shutout innings in his Class AAA debut Tuesday night. Atlanta's rotation is quite stacked, especially with Brandon Beachy's impending return from Tommy John surgery, but Martin is an intriguing commodity for future seasons. The Braves never seem to stop developing reliable hurlers.
- Francisco Lindor has been playing well for Single-A Carolina, hitting .300 with a homer, 23 RBIs and 18 stolen bases this year. He capped it off with a two-run double in the California-Carolina League All-Star game last night. Lindor is the Cleveland Indians' shortstop of the future. He's still only 19, though, and needs plenty of time to develop. Keeper leaguers should know his name by 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.