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.
6. Jacob Turner, SP, Detroit Tigers
Coming out of high school in 2009, Turner received $5.5 million when the Tigers took him with the ninth overall pick in the draft, and he validated the investment along the way, emerging as one of baseball's top pitching prospects over the last two seasons. Turner, 20, is vying for the fifth starter's spot this spring, competing against hurlers Drew Smyly, Andrew Oliver, Casey Crosby, Duane Below and Adam Wilk.
Patience for this bat
Standing at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, Turner is a big-frame pitcher who pounds the strike zone with a two-seam fastball and shows good command and poise on the mound for his age. His curveball and changeup are also highly regarded, but he still is improving his command of both pitches.
While his future is bright, Turner is still fine-tuning his craft, and his struggles (8.53 ERA in 12 2/3 innings) in the majors last year, even in that small sample size, are indicative of that. The Missouri native has been labeled as a "future ace", but his strikeout rates during his prolonged stops at Double-A Erie (7.56 K/9) and high Single-A Lakeland (7.48 K/9) show that he probably isn't a No. 1 starter.
Regardless, Turner has the stuff and pitching know-how to hold his own this season in the majors by notching double-digit victories, registering a sub-4.25 ERA and putting up a sub-1.35 WHIP.
7. Brad Peacock, SP, Oakland Athletics
Mechanical adjustments helped Peacock compile the best numbers of his professional career in 2011 as the righty went a combined 15-3, with a 2.39 ERA and an eye-popping 177 strikeouts in 146 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Buried behind the pitching depth in Washington, Peacock got dealt to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez trade, which should give him a better opportunity to log more big league innings in 2012.
This spring the 24-year-old is competing with fellow rookies Jarrod Parker and Tom Milone for a backend rotation spot. However, Peacock might be better suited for additional minor league seasoning after he averaged 4.50 walks per nine innings late in the year at Triple-A. He also issued more walks (6) than strikeouts (4) during a brief major league stint.
With a deceptive mid-90s fastball, solid curveball and changeup, Peacock has the tools to develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter, and pitching half his games at pitcher haven O.co Coliseum should help him overcome some of his command issues.
8. Danny Hultzen, SP, Seattle Mariners
Despite having yet to pitch in an official professional game, Hultzen is not that far away from The Show, and there's even an outside shot he breaks camp with the Mariners. Hultzen, 22, was taken with the second overall pick of the 2011 Draft out of the University of Virginia.
Hutlzen is an efficient strike thrower who attacks hitters with a low- to mid-90s fastball, an exceptional changeup and a slider. The southpaw is lauded for his ability to add and subtract velocity from his fastball and pinpoint it. Pairing it with his changeup makes the two a lethal combination. Even though the 6-foot-3, 200-pound lefty admits that he wants to pitch to contact and get outs quickly, Hultzen showed in the Arizona Fall League that his stuff is sufficient enough to miss bats (18 strikeouts in 19 innings).
Long term, Hultzen is being expected to fill the void in the No. 2 slot behind Seattle ace Felix Hernandez following the offseason departure of All-Star Michael Pineda. If Hultzen begins the 2012 campaign in the minors, the polished left-hander is expected to move quickly and could reach the Emerald City by the early summer.
9. Ryan Lavarnway, C, Boston Red Sox
Blessed with a potent bat, Lavarnway has the tools to be an above-average fantasy baseball catcher. The big question is whether he can find his way into the Red Sox lineup enough to make his bat worthwhile. Considered a shaky defender behind the plate, Lavarnway is currently third on Boston's catcher depth chart behind veterans Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach. With David Ortiz entrenched at designated hitter, his chances to log at-bats there aren't real promising either.
The former Yale standout combined to hit .290 with 32 home runs, 93 RBIs, 75 runs scored and a .939 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A. During a 17-game stint with Boston, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound catcher hit .231 with a pair of home runs and eight RBIs in 39 at-bats.
Lavarnway projects as a slugging catcher who can crack 20-plus home runs if given the chance. While he doesn't project as a high percentage hitter, he does have sufficient plate discipline to post reasonable on-base rates. Barring an injury, it's looking like Lavarnway is headed back to Triple-A to start the 2012 season where he can log regular at-bats.
10. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Toronto Blue Jays
D'Arnaud emerged as one of the minors' top position prospects last year by enjoying a breakout year at Double-A New Hampshire. The former first-round supplemental pick hit .311 with 21 home runs, 78 RBIs, 33 doubles, 72 runs scored and a .913 OPS. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound catcher is a hitting talent with quick hands, an explosive swing and good power. He uses an all-fields approach, which evaluators think will help him post acceptable batting averages in the future even though his plate discipline (100 K's, 33 BB's) could use some improvement.
Because d'Arnaud plays a difficult position like catcher, the Jays are in no hurry to rush him to the majors. He is set to spend the 2012 season at Triple-A Las Vegas to polish up his catching skills. While 2013 is looking like the season in which d'Arnaud will get his first real crack at regular major league duty, don't underestimate his bat this year. He has the elite bat to put up gaudy numbers at the hitter-friendly confines of Las Vegas' Cashman Field and force a promotion prior to September.