by Chris Hadorn
on March 3, 2010 @ 18:00:00
Prospecting for fantasy baseball players has become vital. Many minor leaguers have promising futures, but only a fraction of them have the skills to make an immediate impact in the majors and on your fantasy baseball team. Which minor league players should you target in your 2010 fantasy baseball draft? Who'll make an impact during the season?
Montero is as fine a hitting prospect as anyone in baseball. He has the talent of a perennial .300 hitter with 25- to 30-home run pop. As a 19-year-old last season, Montero combined to hit .337 with 17 homers and 70 RBIs in 347 at-bats between high Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound catcher struck out only 47 times last season, which is excellent for a thumper.
Many scouts feel Montero won't stick at catcher. His defense is subpar. This spring the Yankees have him playing catcher exclusively, but that might change if there is a need at the big-league level. Montero's bat is nearly MLB-ready, and he will begin the season at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. The slugger could arrive in The Bronx sometime this season, but he'll have trouble getting regular at-bats if everyone's healthy; Nick Johnson is the expected full-time DH. Over the long haul, Montero profiles similarly to Kansas City Royals first baseman Billy Butler, a capable hitter with limited defensive options.
Feliz enjoyed a sensational debut in 2009, posting a 1.74 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 31 relief innings. Feliz overmatched big-league hitters with an exceptional fastball that touches triple digits. The Dominican right-hander has outstanding command of his fastball, making him tough to beat in a relief role. Long term, Feliz has the tools of an ace. His curveball and changeup have the makings of reliable plus pitches, and his easy delivery tempers injury concerns that come with a young hurler.
He lost some velocity at the end of last year, possibly from fatigue. The Rangers haven't decided how they are going to utilize Feliz. Although Feliz brings more upside as a starter, he demonstrated at Triple-A Oklahoma that he is not yet as effective when stretched out. He's a worthwhile fantasy acquisition regardless of role, which could be a closer with 25-plus saves or a starter with double-digit victories. Most importantly, consider the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder for the bundle of strikeouts.
Santana is a well-rounded hitter whose bat would profile well at any position. The switch-hitter has great pop, hits for average and has a good grasp of the strike zone, drawing more walks than strikeouts last season at Double-A Akron. In 2009, Santana was named the Eastern League MVP after hitting .290 with 23 home runs and 97 RBIs in 130 games. Santana, a converted third baseman, is still learning the nuances of the catching position, but he has the athleticism and the arm to stick there if he continues to make strides in his defense.
The 24-year-old Dominican fractured the hamate bone in his right hand during winter ball. Though it's reportedly healed, it could affect his play in the early part of the season. The Indians plan to break camp with Lou Marson as their everyday catcher, so Santana will likely begin 2010 at Triple-A Columbus. If his hand holds up, expect a one- or two-month Triple-A stint, making him a potential midseason roto gem.
Smoak held his own in his first full professional season, hitting .290 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs in 386 minor league at-bats, primarily between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma City. The switch-hitter controlled the strike zone, compiling 75 walks and 81 strikeouts. Smoak underperformed in power, putting up a modest .443 slugging percentage, including a .360 slugging percentage at Oklahoma City. However, many scouts believe Smoak has the ceiling to club 30-plus round-trippers.
Following the farm season, the former South Carolina star swatted nine dingers in 14 games for Team USA in the World Cup, so he showed glimpses of power with a wood bat. Smoak's big-league status hinges on the success of Chris Davis and Vladimir Guerrero, the Rangers' first baseman and designated hitter, respectively. Considering Davis' performance issues and Guerrero's bouts with injuries, Smoak should eventually find his way to Arlington. Available playing time would make him a midseason target given the offense-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Extremely polished for a rookie, the southpaw lacks frontline stuff scouts drool over, but he makes up for it with good command of four dependable pitches. Matusz uses his changeup, his bread and butter, as his out pitch along with a low to mid-90s fastball, a slider and a curveball. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder made a seamless transition to the minors, registering an 11-2 record and a 1.91 ERA in 113 frames between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. After joining the Orioles in August, Matusz posted a 5-2 record, a 4.63 ERA and racked up 38 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings pitched.
The O's have Matusz penciled in as their third starter; he's a top contender for the American League Rookie of the Year award. Matusz lacks the ceiling of Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals) or Neftali Feliz (Texas Rangers), but he's probably a safer option in the short term with less risk. Matusz is a dependable No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the making who should pay fantasy dividends quickly.
About Chris Hadorn
Chris Hadorn has covered minor league and amateur prospects for more than a decade. He writes for San Diego's North County Times and has been a KFFL fantasy baseball contributor since 2006.
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