Young players have become more prominent in Major League Baseball, but fantasy baseball players can't expect every emerging prospect to carry their team. Properly valuing rising farm players' talent, timetable and opportunity will help win your fantasy baseball league.
1. Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Despite logging only 9 1/3 innings in the majors during the regular season, Moore made a strong case late last year that he might already be the Rays' best pitcher. After breezing through the minors with a 12-3 record and a 1.92 ERA, Moore earned the win in his first big league start at Yankee Stadium, fanning 11 over five shutout frames. Undeterred by his inexperience, the Rays gave Moore the ball in Game 1 of the American League Division Series; he responded with an ace-type performance by holding the Texas Rangers to two hits in seven scoreless innings.
It didn't take long for the Rays to show Moore how much they believed in his talent, they signed him to a five-year, $14 million contract in December in anticipation that he will be an expensive player someday. The southpaw has outstanding stuff, gaudy numbers and a clean delivery, and is lauded for his maturity and makeup so he doesn't have much to nitpick at.2
Where's the PT?
With 700 strikeouts in 497 1/3 career innings in the minors, Moore, as a rookie, is already a strong candidate to lead all American League starting pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings. The 22-year-old southpaw is capable of posting a low-3.00 ERA and a sub-1.20 WHIP as a freshman, too. Because of his ripe age, don't expect Moore to pitch past the fifth or sixth inning often, limiting his wins upside. Even though the Rays have made it known that Moore is not a lock to break camp with the team, he's still the slam dunk favorite for American League Rookie of the Year.
2. Jesus Montero, C, Seattle Mariners
Jack Zduriencik finally has his bat. In a controversial winter move, the Mariners dealt 2011 All-Star starter Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees in exchange for Montero, a highly regarded hitting prospect with only 61 major league at-bats under his belt. Montero, 22, is widely regarded around baseball as a natural with the bat, but skeptics wonder if he has the defensive prowess to stay behind the plate over the long term.
Veteran Miguel Olivo is expected to be the M's opening day catcher, so it might take a few weeks before Montero, who will primarily DH, logs enough catcher games to qualify in most fantasy formats. Despite Montero's reputation as a hitter, the fantasy community has been lukewarm about his move to Seattle.
Safeco Field is murderous on right-handed power hitters, which could sap much of Montero's power (combined 22 home runs in 481 at-bats between Class AAA and the bigs last year). Considering that Montero is still a developing hitter that barely got on base at a .347 clip last year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, it might be a few years where the .290-plus batting averages become the norm for the Venezuelan.
There's no doubt Montero is a premium hitting talent, but fantasy players might want to be cautious about overpaying for his services in the short term.
3. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Trout is widely considered the best position player prospect in the American League. The only question is whether the Angels can find a spot for him in 2012. In 2011, Trout hit .326 with 11 home runs, 38 RBIs, 82 runs scored, 33 steals and a .958 OPS in 353 at-bats with Double-A Arkansas. Trout showed very few weaknesses in his offensive game as a teenager, which earned him a promotion to the majors at only 19.
While most scouts think Trout is big-league-ready, he may be headed back to the minors because of the Angels' crowded outfield which includes Peter Bourjos, Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu. To make matters worse, the Halos already don't have enough at-bats to accommodate Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales at designated hitter and are trying the defensively shaky Trumbo at third base.
There's a good chance Abreu could get moved before Opening Day, but the Angels' toughest decision might be whether to bench Wells and his hefty contract if his 2011 struggles continue.
A high-effort, high-energy player, Trout's primary assets are his wheels, and he has the speed to hustle his way into a respectable .270 or better average as a 20-year-old. He also is capable of swiping 30 bases or more if given 450-plus at-bats this year. In time, Trout projects as a multi-faceted offensive contributor who can hit .300, get on base at a .400 clip, score 100-plus runs, steal 40 bags and hit 20-plus homers.
4. Jarrod Parker, SP, Oakland Athletics
Parker was the key prospect acquired by the A's in the winter trade that sent All-Star sinkerballer Trevor Cahill to the Arizona Diamondbacks. After missing all of the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery, Parker had a fairly good season in 2011 as he tried to regain his old form. Prior to elbow surgery, Parker was considered a Grade A pitching prospect with three-plus pitches.
In 131 innings with Double-A Mobile, Parker went 11-8 with a 3.79 ERA, 112 strikeouts, 55 walks and seven home runs allowed. Despite regaining his mid-90s velocity, Parker saw a decline in his strikeout rate, which can be attributed to rust and adapting to the aftermath of surgery. Last season, Parker relied more on a two-seamer to generate ground balls and less on his highly regarded slider, a swing-and-miss pitch that was stressful on his elbow.
Based on his 6-2 record and 2.84 ERA in the second half last year, Parker appears to be on his way back to old form. The A's are giving him a crack this spring at a starting rotation spot. Given the pitcher-friendly nature of the O.co Coliseum, Oakland is a place where Parker could thrive and develop into a No. 1 or 2 starter.
5. Addison Reed, RP, Chicago White Sox
In a year's span, Reed has vaulted himself from a little known low Class A reliever to a major league arm who is vying for the White Sox closer's job this spring. In 2011, Reed made the long journey from low Single-A Kannapolis to the majors. At four stops, the San Diego State alumnus went 2-1, with a 1.26 ERA and a 111:16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 78 1/3 innings.
During a September call-up, Reed's brilliant stuff translated to the majors in his short stint as he fanned 12 batters in 7 1/3 innings, including Miguel Cabrera twice.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound righty features a mid-90s fastball, an excellent slider and a solid changeup. There are scouts who feel Reed could be a capable starter with his three-pitch mix, but he is expected to pitch out of the Pale Hose bullpen this year. Entering the season, veteran Matt Thornton is expected to get the first crack at closing duty, but Reed is a good speculative pick in any format, including MLB universes. As a rookie, he has a chance to average 14 to 15 strikeouts per nine innings. If given the chance, he has the stuff and the skills to be the Craig Kimbrel of the American League this year.