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. Randall Delgado, SP, Atlanta Braves
Delgado probably wasn't ready for the majors when the Braves were forced to call him up late last year because of injuries, but he held his own with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP and held opponents to a .220 batting average. Despite those numbers, he was very lucky because his underlying peripherals didn't support his performance. In 35 big-league innings, Delgado surrendered five home runs and posted an ugly 18/14 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Armed with three quality pitches, the 22-year-old has a very bright future. Delgado still needs to work on his command, particularly his fastball, but he has the makings of a No. 2 starter in time. With Tim Hudson (back) expected to miss the month of April, at least, Delgado is competing with Mike Minor and Julio Teheran for the last two spots in the Braves' rotation and appears to be the early front-runner for the fifth spot.
7. Zack Cozart, SS, Cincinnati Reds
Miller is almost ready, waiting
Cozart brings power and speed to a position where it's hard to find players that can do both. Last season the Reds had a huge hole at shortstop, so they turned to Cozart in the second half. He hit .324 with two homers and an .816 OPS in a 37 at-bat stint before he went down for the season because of Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. The 26-year-old also had a surgical procedure done on his right ankle this past winter.
Cozart posted a career-high .310 batting average at Triple-A Louisville last year, but he has never been a high-contact hitter. He has averaged a strikeout every 5.4 at-bats and he holds a career .270 average in the minors. Even though Cozart is not much of a walk machine (.332 career on-base percentage), the Reds are thinking about putting him in the No. 2 hole of their batting order, which would make him more of a fantasy asset, hitting in front of Joey Votto.
Cozart's woeful batting average history makes him risky, but he has the ability to hit 15 home runs and steal 15 bases this year, and it looks like the Reds are going to give him the opportunity to play every day.
8. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
After tormenting Pacific Coast League pitchers in 2011, Rizzo was promoted to San Diego with a ton of fanfare, but flopped in two stints in the majors, hitting just .141 with a .524 OPS in 128 at-bats. Scouts love Rizzo's light-tower power, but the book on him last year was that his swing was too slow and long and big-league pitchers exploited it. It didn't help that Rizzo's power was nullified by the cavernous dimensions of PETCO Park, but now he doesn't have to worry about that after being dealt to the Cubs in the winter.
The Cubs are expected to send Rizzo to Triple-A Iowa to start the 2012 campaign while they give minor league journeyman and the 2012 PCL MVP, Brian LaHair, the first crack at first base duty. Given the fact that LaHair is not a prospect, he will likely get a short leash to perform. Chicago is also open to playing LaHair in left field if they think Rizzo is ready later this year. Rizzo, 22, hit .331 with 26 home runs, 101 RBIs and a 1.054 OPS in the PCL last season, so he could force the Cubs' hand for a call-up in short time.
9. Trevor Bauer, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Selected with the third overall pick of the 2011 draft out of UCLA, Bauer is close to big-league ready and not going to need much minor league development. He impressed in his professional debut last year by striking out a jaw-dropping 43 batters in 26 innings!
Based on his performance and stuff alone, many felt Bauer should have been the first overall pick of the draft, but he was passed over due to his smaller 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame. In fact, he draws a lot of comparisons to Tim Lincecum because he is an athletic pitcher who uses a lot of torque in his windup.
Bauer boasts a deep nine-pitch repertoire, comprised of a four-seam fastball, two varieties of curveballs, two types of changeups, three different sliders and a split-finger fastball. His fastball sits in the low-to mid-90s, and a curveball is his bread-and-butter pitch. Bauer draws rave reviews for his intelligence and intense workout regimens, and he is a mature pitcher who is bound to succeed barring an injury.
The Diamondbacks are currently set with their five-man rotation, so Bauer is likely headed to Double-A Mobile to start the 2012 campaign. Odds are Bauer is going to force his way onto the big-league roster at some point this year. He has the stuff to be a dominant 10-strikeout-per-nine-inning starting pitcher right off the bat.
10. Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Miller is gradually developing into a potential ace. The 21-year-old has fanned 312 batters over 247 career innings in the minors, good for an average of 11.37 whiffs per nine innings. Last year, Miller allowed only four home runs in 139 2/3 innings and registered sub-3.00 ERAs at both of his minor league stops.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Texan has two outstanding pitches, comprised of a mid-90s fastball and a wicked 12-to-6 curveball. Although he is nearly ready for the majors, the Cardinals want him in the minors this season to improve his changeup, which shows the potential for being a plus offering.
Miller is expected to start the season at Triple-A Memphis this year, which means he's an injury away from a call-up. He has the stuff, command and performance track record to be an immediate impact pitcher in all fantasy formats.