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.
21. Liam Hendriks, SP, Minnesota Twins
Hendriks, 23, is a polished pitcher who pounds the strike zone and exhibits strong command of his four-pitch mix. The Australian is especially adept at changing speeds to keep hitters off-balance. Hendriks, however, doesn't have a clear-cut out pitch, so he profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation innings eater that relies heavily on his defense and location to succeed.
Betances has flaws
In 2011, Hendriks combined to go 12-6, with a 3.36 ERA and posted a 111:21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 139 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. During a late-season stint in the majors, the 6-foot-1 righty posted a 6.17 ERA in four starts, allowing 29 hits and three home runs over 23 1/3 innings as hitters teed off on his pedestrian stuff. The good news is that Hendriks managed to post an adequate strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.67), and he was stingy for a rookie when it came to free passes (2.3 walks per nine innings).
With Scott Baker's (elbow) opening day status in jeopardy, Hendriks is making a strong case to win a rotation spot this spring. In Grapefruit League play, Hendriks has struck out 11 batters over 11 frames, while allowing two runs on nine hits and two walks.
Although Hendriks is headed to a ballpark that favors a pitcher who yields contact, the Twins defense ranked 30th in baseball in defensive efficiency ratio in 2011, so there's a lot of risk here in utilizing the Australian in his rookie season.
22. Joe Benson, OF, Minnesota Twins
Benson excites scouts with his combination of power and speed. Benson has proven he can be a capable thumper as he posted a .538 slugging percentage in 2010 and a .491 slugging percentage in 2011. He has also averaged 16.5 steals the last two seasons, but he still needs to improve on his efficiency (caught stealing an average of 9.5 times the last two years).
Benson, who was once recruited to play running back at Purdue, is a top-caliber athlete that passes the eyeball test. However, stat heads aren't as fond of Benson as scouts are. The 6-foot-1 outfielder is an aggressive hitter who doesn't have ideal strike-zone judgment, but he did make strides last season by cutting down on his strikeouts, increasing his walk total and bringing his average up to .284 after batting .259 in 2010.
Long term, Benson could be a 20-20 guy, but there's concern about how low his batting average and on-base percentage will be over 500 at-bats. The 24-year-old is expected to start at Triple-A Rochester, but he could find his way into regular duty at the majors by the summer if the Twins are out of the pennant race again.
23. Martin Perez, P, Texas Rangers
When he's on, Perez, 21, looks like a potential ace. The Venezuelan lefty has an impressive arsenal of three pitches which includes a low- to mid-90s fastball, a good curveball and a changeup that is difficult to pick up out of his clean delivery.
Throughout Perez's career, he has been a young pitcher exposed to older competition at higher levels, and his performance has been sporadic. After a successful stint at Double-A in 2011, Perez was promoted to Triple-A, where he struggled, compiling a 6.43 ERA and a 37:20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 49 innings.
Despite having an effortless delivery that scouts love, Perez struggles with repeating it at times. He also doesn't have consistent command of his secondary stuff. Considering the Rangers already have six capable starters at the major league level, Perez's chances of breaking into the rotation this year are slim, but the team did consider moving him to the bullpen as a left-handed relief specialist during the spring.
Although Perez is headed back to Triple-A Round Rock as a starter, he could factor into the Rangers' bullpen mix at some point this year, which might be a better role for him considering his struggles as a starter.
24. Anthony Gose, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Only 21, Gose is a toolsy outfielder who can be an impact rabbit on the base paths and has some pop. In 2011 at Double-A New Hampshire, Gose clubbed 16 home runs, scored 87 runs and stole an eye-popping 70 bases in 85 tries (82 percent success rate); his on-base prowess is improving, too.
The former second-round pick has one glaring weakness in his game, though: making consistent contact. Last season, Gose hit a discouraging .253 in 509 at-bats, while amassing an obscene 154 strikeouts.
His batting average woes are enough to undermine Gose's chances to be a regular altogether, but age his still on his side, and he's headed to Triple-A Las Vegas this season, a hitter's paradise where he could post some gaudy numbers.
Ideally, the Jays would like to keep Gose at Vegas for the duration of the 2012 Pacific Coast League campaign, but he does have the defensive value to warrant a call-up should a need arise due to injury. Even though Gose is far from ready for a regular job in the big leagues, he will immediately be a force on the base paths and could tally double-digit thefts in just a month's time.
25. Nestor Molina, SP, Chicago White Sox
In a move motivated by having a thin farm system scarce of quality prospects, the Pale Hose acquired Molina in the winter from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for closer Sergio Santos. A former reliever, Molina was dominant in his first full season as a starter in the minors in 2011, compiling a 12-3 record and a 2.21 ERA while displaying superb command with a 148:16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. After a promotion to Double-A, Molina got better, registering a 0.41 ERA and a 33:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22 innings.
Molina attacks hitters with a low-90s fastball and a plus split-finger. The Venezuelan works low in the zone and generates his share of grounders. There has been debate on what Molina's upside is as a starter because his pitch arsenal is still developing. Based on his gaudy statistics, Molina is worth gambling on, and he's the gem of the White Sox system now that Addison Reed has graduated to the major league level.
Since there is a lack of bodies in the Sox's system, it's not inconceivable to think that Molina can reach the South Side of Chicago this year if he continues to pitch like he did last year.
26. Dellin Betances, P, New York Yankees
Blessed with a wicked fastball-curveball combination and an imposing 6-foot-8, 260-pound frame, Betances is a strikeout machine that has averaged 10.4 whiffs per nine innings during his minor league career. However, Betances often struggles with repeating his delivery, commanding his fastball and throwing quality changeups, reasons why many feel he is better suited for bullpen duty.
A wild pitcher, Betances has averaged 4.3 walks per nine innings during his minor league career and issued 6.4 walks per nine stanzas during his a four-start stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season.
He also walked six batters in 2 2/3 innings in the majors last September. Despite his control problems, there are scouts who feel Betances' stuff is so good that he can still succeed in the majors, a la Carlos Marmol. The Yankees appear committed to developing Betances as a starter for now, which means a return to Triple-A to start the season, but don't be surprised if they convert him into a reliever down the road.