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Fantasy Baseball Player Prospecting: Javier Baez, Maikel Franco, more

By Keith Hernandez
Edited by Nicholas Minnix

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 well-documented struggles of Starlin Castro (.232/.265/.326) for the Chicago Cubs this year have some now doubting that he's the future face of the franchise. That honor is likely bestowed upon Anthony Rizzo now. Perhaps Castro isn't even the future shortstop in Chicago. Javier Baez is getting plenty of attention these days.

Seattle Mariners SP Danny Hultzen
Lost season for Hultzen?

Baez, just 20 years old, is getting even more buzz since fellow prospect Jorge Soler, who is also playing at High Single-A Daytona, is out four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his left tibia. Baez is listed at No. 15 among MLB.com's top-100 prospects this year, and he's hitting .272 with 17 home runs and 57 RBIs in 290 at-bats with Daytona. He's also swiped nine bases.

Like Castro, Baez has the natural tools to be a star in the majors; he possesses uncanny bat speed because of his strong, physical build. There's plenty of pop in his stick, and he's already surpassed his 2012 home run output. On the other hand, poor plate discipline and shaky defense remind us that he's still a work-in-progress, despite possibly being on the fast track to Wrigley.

He's drawn only 18 walks and has fanned 76 times on the season. In June, he committed seven errors at shortstop, and he has 31 in his 73 games. Baez admits he's nowhere near a finished product, and he vows to continue to improve the fundamentals of his game. Despite the heavy error totals, scouts believe he can remain at shortstop as he advances through the minor league levels.

The Cubbies, and fantasy owners, should wait. A lot will depend on the direction Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer take with Castro, but Baez could rise quickly and be a fixture by 2015. If he isn't already, Baez will be popular among keeper-league owners soon.

***

For Danny Hultzen, 2013 has been more frustrating than satisfying. The No. 2 overall pick out of Virginia in 2011 was scratched from his scheduled start for Triple-A Tacoma yesterday for precautionary reasons once he couldn't get loose. This is perplexing, since he was scratched from a start in late April for similar reasons and was diagnosed with a left rotator cuff strain. The southpaw missed nearly two months recovering from that injury.

When he has pitched, though, Hultzen has been as advertised, going 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings pitched over five starts for the Rainiers. After struggling to throw strikes in his late-season promotion to Tacoma last year, Hultzen has improved his control of the zone, displaying a 2.20 BB/9.

The 23-year-old is an advanced starter who probably would have been pitching for the Seattle Mariners already had it not been for his shoulder ailment. Now, as Player Prospecting noted last week, Taijuan Walker has likely leapfrogged Hultzen in the line for a call-up. Hultzen should be an effective starter for the M's eventually, but he doesn't have the upside of Walker, either.

The results of Hultzen's visit with team doctors will determine how cautious Seattle is with him through the summer and in the second half. If it turns out to be rotator cuff-related again, there's a good chance we won't see Hultzen make his major league debut this season. There's less of a reason to hang onto him in AL-only leagues now, but don't let his name slip into obscurity for next season if Walker continues to generate all the buzz.

***

It's been quite a week for Henry Urrutia down on the farm. He was named to the All-Star Futures Game and a day later received word that he'd been promoted from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk. He homered in his first professional at-bat with Bowie and went on to hit .365 with seven fence-clearers and 37 RBIs in 52 games. He has four hits in his first five games with the Tide.

Baltimore Orioles brass is extremely fond of the 6-foot-5, 200-pound outfielder; they think he can help at the major league level later this year, and that was before he was brought up to Class AAA. Urrutia isn't your typical early-20s prospect, though; he's 26 and spent three years playing in Cuba's top league. It's no surprise the O's are optimistic that he can contribute immediately at the big league level given the quick impact other Cuban commodities (notably Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes) have had recently.

Urrutia gave up switch-hitting this year and now solely swings from the left side. He has a very fluid, easy stroke from that side and generates easy gap-to-gap power, and he hasn't had a problem with lefty arms yet. He makes consistent, hard contact and has displayed a fine understanding of the strike zone, making it a good bet that he can hit for average at the next level.

He hadn't played organized baseball since 2010, but the way he's been playing, you would hardly be able to notice. Baltimore's current outfield is full, so it's hard to see where Urrutia might fit in. A September call-up seems most likely, and if you're looking for a quick fix from an unknown name, Urrutia may be your guy when he comes up. Those Cubans just seem born to hit.

Maikel Franco, 21 next month, has been a hot topic among prospect gurus in the last week. The Philadelphia Phillies' young third baseman was recently promoted to Double-A Reading after hitting .299 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs in 289 plate appearances for Advanced Single-A Clearwater. In 13 contests with Reading, he has a slash line of .418/.429/.727 with four ding dongs.

Boston Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley
Bradley could return with bang

Nothing but raw power and skills ooze out of Franco. Phils fans should be excited about his future, for sure. He's improved from last year's 14-homer campaign, although he could stand to tone down some of his aggressiveness at the dish. Strong hand-eye coordinator and quick bat speed help him generate the power needed to make him a 20-homer threat at the big league level, eventually.

The hot corner has been a position of need for Philadelphia for several seasons, too. Michael Young has filled in nicely at third this year, but he's 36 and is a temporary solution. Franco, if he continues to impress, could become an option there sooner than expected. A September call-up could happen, but don't expect it. Get this guy on your keeper radar for next season.

***

Quick Hits:

  • It's not official yet, but Tyler Skaggs is expected to be called up again, this time to fill the rotation spot of Trevor Cahill (right hip contusion). Skaggs' numbers don't look pretty in limited duty this year and last for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he doesn't have much left to prove in the minors. That's a good thing. He won't cost you much in deep mixed leagues and could easily take, and run away with, Cahill's spot. If Skaggs doesn't take advantage, it could easily be Archie Bradley, too.
  • Oakland Athletics hurler Michael Ynoa was promoted to High Single-A Stockton Monday and was also chosen for the Futures Game. This Dominican slinger is a tall drink of water (6-foot-7, 210 pounds), is now two years removed from Tommy John surgery and was downright dominating at Single-A Beloit. He's low on the team's prospect list as of now, but that could change in a hurry.
  • The Atlanta Braves have gotten creative in order to keep power hitters in their lineup, notably Evan Gattis. Might they do the same with Joey Terdoslavich later this year? He's hitting .322/.363/.574 with 18 homers at Triple-A Gwinnett and has played third base, first and the outfield. He could become a nice source of power in NL leagues if he makes it to Atlanta.
  • It's possible that many folks forgot about Jackie Bradley after he fell flat earlier this year. We'll remind you: He's pretty good. He slugged two homers last night and is hitting .283 with a .943 OPS in his last 10 games with Triple-A Pawtucket. The Boston Red Sox don't have the need for him right now, but he's an injury or a player trade away from being back up. When he returns, he's likely to fare much better, assuming he can get consistent at-bats. See Anthony Rendon.


 


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