Fantasy Baseball: Top Prospects Overview

by Tim Heaney and Bryce McRae on March 18, 2008 @ 06:20:56 PDT

 


Baseball farm systems usually produce several fantasy gems each season, and while their arrivals and impacts may vary, knowing the situations surrounding the prospect and team is a vital part of fantasy success. This list details those prospects who are expected to hit the majors in some capacity for the 2008 season.

Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays

MLB Experience: None

Roadblock: Infielders Willy Aybar and Eric Hinske

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Analysis: The Rays have moved former third baseman Akinori Iwamura to second base in order to make way for this young stud. The Rays are cautious in revealing their plans for Longoria for the coming season; he has the ability to hit 30 home runs with an average close to .300, and the Rays might not be able to keep him in Triple-A much longer. Longoria had 26 home runs and 95 RBIs in 485 combined at-bats between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham last year. However, the team is gathering insurance: They brought Hinske on board to see some time at the position, and they also seem to be high on Aybar to play third if Longoria doesn't prove to be ready. However, even if he were left off the opening day roster, Longoria will most likely receive a light refresher course at Durham before returning in the early part of the season. Longoria shouldn't be your starting third baseman, but he's an above-average upside pick in the later rounds.

Projected arrival: Opening Day Third Baseman

Cameron Maybin, OF, Florida Marlins

MLB Experience: 49 at-bats

Roadblock: Lack of Experience

Analysis: The Marlins are giving Maybin every opportunity to earn the starting center field job. It would be hard not to play the prize of the deal that sent third baseman Miguel Cabrera and starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers. The speedy 20-year-old skipped Triple-A last year and was able to grab a taste of the majors last season in the midst of a playoff chase. He displayed his main fantasy draw by successfully stealing in all five attempts in just 49 at-bats, but he also struck out 21 times compared to just three walks. This pattern was an extension of the 206 career minor league strikeouts in 703 at-bats. He is playing well during spring training, but outfielders Cody Ross and Alejandro De Aza aren't surrendering the job easily. Maybin is the future at the position, though, and it seems unlikely they would go another direction to open the year based on his work in spring ball. He is still not someone to consider before the later rounds, but he could be a productively cheap source of steals for the coming season while he develops plate discipline.

Projected arrival: Opening Day Center Fielder

Daric Barton, 1B, Oakland Athletics

MLB Experience: 72 at-bats

Roadblock: None

Analysis: The sweet-swinging 22-year-old looks ready to inherit a starting job. One of the gems in Oakland's deal that sent southpaw Mark Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, Barton is expected to take over for the underachieving Dan Johnson at first. More of a line-drive hitter, Barton could eventually come into 20-home run power. He showed a flash of this by clubbing four homers in just 72 major league at-bats last year, and he also displayed a smart batting eye with 10 walks compared to just 11 strikeouts. The fact that he's being given the shot alone makes him worthy of a roster depth pick in the late rounds that could pay dividends as an upside fantasy utility player. 

Projected arrival: Opening Day First Baseman

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

MLB Experience: 84 at-bats

Roadblock: None

Analysis: The left-handed-hitting youngster hit .294 with 22 home runs and 92 RBIs in 496 at-bats at Triple-A Louisville before slugging four home runs as a September callup last season. As noted above, Baker has a reputation for playing veterans over youth, and the Reds' re-signing of first baseman Scott Hatteberg would scream that philosophy. Baker has also been trying to change Votto's approach at the plate during spring training in an attempt to make him more aggressive. The results haven't been good (Votto's hitting just .139 this spring), but it's still unlikely that Baker would pass up such a talent in favor of Hatteberg. Hitting near the top of the order could present a good opportunity for scoring runs, and Votto could provide nice value in the later rounds.

Projected arrival: Opening Day First Baseman

Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore Orioles

MLB Experience: 139 at-bats

Roadblock: None

Analysis: By coming to Baltimore, Jones has the first shot at the starting job in center field. He spent the past two seasons at Triple-A Tacoma with Seattle, hitting .314 with 25 home runs, 84 RBIs and 75 runs in 2007. In a late-season callup last year, he hit only .246 with two home runs and four RBIs in 65 at-bats, but barring injury, will likely be the starting center fielder for the Orioles after camp. After all, they did not give up top pitcher Erik Bedard in order to stick Jones in the minors for another season. If Jones struggles, he could split time with outfielder Jay Payton, but at this point, Jones figures to see most of the playing time in center. Start considering him around the 17th or 18th rounds of most drafts, which fall near the time to grab him considering his upside.

Projected arrival: Opening Day Center Fielder

Carlos Gomez, OF, Minnesota Twins

MLB Experience: 125 at-bats

Roadblock: None

Analysis: One of the main cogs acquired from the New York Mets in the Johan Santana deal, Gomez quickly (in the literal sense) made a name for himself with 12 steals in 125 at-bats last year. The speedster, who was considered one of the fastest players in the majors last year, jumped from High-A to Triple-A last season with his Mets stint in between. He stole 31 bases in 99 total games between the three levels last season. Gomez is the front-runner for the starting center field job, and if he wins it he will most likely grab the leadoff spot in the batting order. Outfielder Denard Span is considered his main competition, but manager Ron Gardenhire has indicated fellow outfielder Jason Pridie could be given the job if neither Gomez nor Span prove to be ready. Span has impressed thus far in camp with his ability to reach base, and Gomez had some growing pains in center field. However, Gomez is the bigger impact player, so expect him to patrol the turf when the season starts. He could be one of the better late-round steal threats in fantasy drafts.

Projected arrival: Opening Day Center Fielder

J.R. Towles, C, Houston Astros

MLB Experience: 40 at-bats

Roadblock: None

Analysis: Towles surprised everyone, including himself, as he reached the majors last year in September after starting the year with Class A Salem (where he hit just .200). But he was the beneficiary of a fortuitous break (Double-A Corpus Christi's catcher Lou Santangelo received a 50-game suspension) and took full advantage. In his 40 at-bats with the big-league club last year, Towles hit an impressive .375 with one home run, 12 RBIs and nine runs. He also set a franchise record with eight RBIs in one game. Towles has already been handed the starting job over longtime starter Brad Ausmus. Consider Towles a late-round draft pick that has considerable upside.

Projected arrival: Opening Day Catcher

Clay Buchholz, SP, Boston Red Sox

MLB Experience: 22 2/3 innings

Roadblock: Pitcher Bartolo Colon

Analysis: One blockade was removed in early February when starting pitcher Curt Schilling (rotator cuff) learned that he would be out at least until the All-Star break. However, the team added the veteran Colon and now Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter last season in just his second major league start, is once again in competition to break camp as the team's No. 5 hurler. This has to have some fantasy owners worried, as many have been salivating over the potential he flashed last season before being shut down with mild arm fatigue after a total of 148 innings at three different levels. Buchholz has been going in the middle rounds, which seems about right if he can hold onto the starting job. If not, he is better suited as a later-round pick, but he still doesn't figure to spend much time in the minors.

Projected arrival: Opening Day roster, No. 5 Starter

Franklin Morales, SP, Colorado Rockies

MLB Experience: 39 1/3 innings pitched

Roadblock: Starting pitchers Josh Towers, Kip Wells and Mark Redman

Analysis: Morales made his major league debut on Aug. 18 last year, allowing just one run over 5 1/3 innings pitched. He finished the season with eight appearances for the Rockies, going 3-2 with a 3.43 ERA and 26 strikeouts. He appeared to finally develop a changeup to go along with his knee-buckling curveball and 93 mph fastball. In fact, he showed so much improvement last year that the Rockies only gave him three starts with Triple-A Colorado Springs before bringing to the big leagues. They entered spring training with a huge hole at the back end of their rotation, and Morales still appears to have a solid shot at grabbing a spot despite some inconsistent performances this spring. He still has to fight off veterans Josh Towers, Kip Wells and Mark Redman. He should only be drafted in the later rounds of NL-only leagues but is someone to keep an eye on with his potential.

Projected arrival: Opening Day roster, No. 5 Starter

Chase Headley, OF, San Diego Padres

MLB Experience: 18 at-bats

Roadblock: Outfielder Scott Hairston

Analysis: Headley had a big season for Double-A San Antonio last year, hitting .330 with 20 home runs, 78 RBIs and 82 runs. Turning 24 this season, the club would like to keep him at the major league level; however, they already have Kevin Kouzmanoff locked in at third base, and a position change was in order. Manager Bud Black has said Headley will remain in left field going forward, which certainly puts him closer to a starting job. He is still penciled in behind Hairston, but with fragile outfielder Jim Edmonds in center (and already ailing) Hairston could slide over with Headley playing left. He's by no means a lock for extended playing time this season, but he is absolutely worthy of a pick in NL-only leagues with some upside.

Projected arrival: Opening Day roster, Backup

Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinnati Reds

MLB Experience: 45 1/3 innings pitched

Roadblock: None

Analysis: Bailey had mediocre results in nine starts last season, going 4-2 while posting a 5.76 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 28 walks. A mechanics flaw and a groin injury exacerbated his early struggles, but he recovered and rebounded in September to post a 3.71 ERA with a 1.24 WHIP in 17 innings pitched. Bailey has struggled badly in spring ball, though, and now appears to be in a four-man race for the final two spots in the Cincinnati rotation with starters Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Josh Fogg and Matt Belisle. With Cueto and Volquez proving to be more reliable in camp, Bailey could be ticketed for more work at the Triple-A level. At this point, Bailey makes for a last-round flier for owners that can tuck him away to see if he shows the talent that has made him a top-level prospect. Keep in mind, though, that Reds manager Dusty Baker has a poor reputation with developing young pitchers.

Projected arrival: Early-to-Mid 2008

Manny Parra, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

MLB Experience: 26 1/3 innings

Roadblock: Starting Pitchers Dave Bush, Claudio Vargas, Chris Capuano, and Carlos Villanueva

Analysis: Milwaukee's top pitching prospect this side of Yovani Gallardo, Parra is part of a five-man logjam for two spots at the end of the Brewers rotation. Parra was lights out in the minors, going 10-4 with a 2.45 ERA between Double- and Triple-A, including a perfect game. He pitched fairly well in a brief stint with the Brewers last year and has allowed just one earned run in 14 spring training innings through March 16. He is in competition with four other players, all of whom have more major league experience. He might be caught in a numbers crunch and open the season at Triple-A Nashville, but he has too much talent not to break through at some point. Draft him in NL-only leagues due to his upside and possibly as a last-round flier in deeper mixed leagues.

Projected arrival: Early-to-Mid 2008

Adam Miller, P, Cleveland Indians

MLB Experience: None

Roadblock: A pair of injuries and a trio of mediocre starters

Analysis: Miller (finger) will start the season in Triple-A Buffalo as the back end of the Indians rotation scrambles to fix itself. The falling Jeremy Sowers, the fluctuating Cliff Lee and the young Aaron Laffey are fighting for the No. 5 role, with no current front-runner emerging. Miller has already been optioned to the minors, but he could be back if the Indians run into trouble at the back end of their rotation. He would make a decent late-round flier in AL-only leagues.

Projected arrival: Early-to-Mid 2008

Brandon Wood, 3B/SS, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

MLB Experience: 33 at-bats

Roadblocks: Shortstop Erick Aybar, Third Baseman Chone Figgins, Infielder Maicer Izturis

Analysis: The big bopper has been trying to find his way onto the big league club for the last two seasons, and he finally earned his brief stint last season in which he went 5-for-33 (.152). The Angels have had trouble finding out if the 6-foot-3 infielder fits best at third or short. Wood projects as a masher with 30-homer potential, and the starting shortstop spot is still up for grabs after the team dealt shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the Chicago White Sox. He needs to work on his plate discipline; he struck out 12 times in 33 at-bats after whiffing at least 120 times in each of his previous three seasons of professional baseball. The all-or-nothing hacker hit 49 homers combined in his last two minor league stops, so when he does make contact he punishes the ball. Aybar appears to be the solid frontrunner as they near the start of the season, but Wood still seems to represent the Angels' ultimate goal. At this point, he's worth nothing more than a late-round upside selection, but he should be one of the top players on your watch list once the season begins.

Projected arrival: Mid-2008

Luke Hochevar, SP, Kansas City Royals

MLB Experience: 12 2/3 innings pitched

Roadblock: Several starting pitchers

Analysis: Hochevar, the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, managed to reach the majors at the tail end of 2007. In that short stint he threw 12 2/3 innings, posting a 2.13 ERA while striking out five hitters. He has worked primarily out of the bullpen in spring training, but his future is as a starter. Hochevar is still being considered among a crowded field for the final two rotation spots that includes Kyle Davies, John Bale, Brett Tomko and Jorge De La Rosa. He possesses four pitches that could be above-average at the major league level and after some more innings, at any level, Hochevar should be ready to contribute. That doesn't mean he is a fantasy option this season, but keep an eye on him to see how he does over the first couple months.

Projected arrival: Mid-2008

Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds

MLB Experience: None

Roadblock: Outfielder Corey Patterson

Analysis: Bruce sealed his distinction as Baseball America's 2007 Minor League Player of the Year by hitting 11 home runs in just 187 at-bats at Triple-A Louisville last season. He looked to have a clear path to the center field job with only outfielders Ryan Freel and Norris Hopper standing in his path, but the team added Patterson to the mix, and Bruce now appears to be on the outside looking in. At this point, the Reds are also considering a platoon between Patterson and either Freel or Hopper. Manager Dusty Baker's preference to play veteran players is also working against Bruce, and barring a Patterson collapse or injury, a lengthy Triple-A stint could be in Bruce's immediate future. Unless he surprises and wins the job in spring training, Bruce should only be drafted in deep leagues where he can kept on a reserve roster.

Projected arrival: Mid-to-Late 2008

Colby Rasmus, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

MLB Experience: None

Roadblock: Outfielders Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick and Brian Barton 

Analysis: Rasmus entered the prospect vernacular long before the Redbirds traded veteran outfielder Jim Edmonds this offseason. The Double-A star should eventually take over in center field, but either Schumaker or Ludwick will man the position to start the season, with Barton also in the mix. Despite his ticket to minors to begin the 2008 season, Rasmus is a power and steals threat that could eventually give the Cardinals a younger version of Edmonds in his prime. He hit 29 home runs in 472 at-bats for Double-A Springfield in the Texas League. He would make for an intriguing late-round fantasy pick at this stage if you have room on your bench since he is set to open the season in the minors. If and when he is called up, run to your waiver wire if he wasn't already grabbed.

Projected arrival: Mid-to-Late 2008

Wladimir Balentien, OF, Seattle Mariners

MLB Experience: 3 at-bats

Roadblock: Outfielder Brad Wilkerson

Analysis: Balentien made it to the majors near the tail end of last year, picking up two hits in his three at-bats. However, most of his 2007 was spent mashing balls for Triple-A Tacoma. In 124 games with them, he hit .291 with 24 home runs, 84 RBIs, 77 runs and 15 stolen bases. The Mariners signed Wilkerson to a one-year deal in January, and he remains the favorite to land the starting right field job out of the game. However,he missed one month with injuries last year, and the team may opt to have him platoon with another outfielder. If that is the case, Balentien could be getting meaningful at-bats early in 2008, although that appears unlikely. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the team slowly brought along former outfield prospect Adam Jones, and things might not be any different with Balentien. Despite a strong spring, it appears utility man Mike Morse is going to earn the final bench spot while Balentien opens the year in Tacoma.

Projected arrival: Mid-to-Late 2008

Ian Stewart, 2B/3B, Colorado Rockies

MLB Experience: 43 at-bats

Roadblock: Third Baseman Garrett Atkins, Second Baseman Jayson Nix

Analysis: Stewart righted the ship in 2007 after a disappointing season for Double-A Tulsa in 2006. Playing with Triple-A Colorado Springs last year, Stewart hit .304 with 15 home runs, 69 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. Those numbers got him a callup in August, although he failed to generate much excitement with only a .209 average and one home run in 43 at-bats. If Stewart can get it going again, he should be able to hit for power and steal some bases. The question then becomes where to start him. The team already has Atkins locked in at third base so they are giving Stewart a crash course in second base. That spot was wide open entering spring training, though Jayson Nix appears to be the favorite with infielders Jeff Baker and Clint Barmes getting some playing time as well. Stewart is expected to be back at Triple-A to open the season, and there are questions as to whether or not his body type (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) will allow him to become a serviceable second baseman. If not, the question remains as to where to find him at-bats. He is only worth drafting late in NL-only leagues.

Projected arrival: Mid-to-Late 2008

Neil Walker, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

MLB Experience: None

Roadblock: Third Baseman Jose Bautista

Analysis: Walker still needs some refinement at the minor league level as he hit just .203 with no home runs or RBIs in 64 at-bats with Triple-A Indianapolis last year. He did have success with Double-A Altoona last year, hitting .288 with 13 home runs and 77 runs. However, the Pirates appear to be intent on bring their high-end prospects along slowly and have optioned Walker to the minors to get him more playing time at Triple-A. Walker is someone to keep an eye on in the middle of the season though as he has had success at each level once getting acclimatized to it and could be a midseason callup, especially if the Pirates as a team struggle.

Projected arrival: Mid-to-Late 2008

Jeff Clement, C, Seattle Mariners

MLB Experience: 16 at-bats

Roadblock: Catcher Kenji Johjima

Analysis: After a disappointing 2006, Clement turned it around in 2007 and showed off some of the offensive potential that made him a first-round pick of the Mariners in 2005. He hit .275 with 20 home runs, 80 RBIs and 76 runs for Triple-A Tacoma before a September callup. In those 16 at-bats, Clement hit .375 with two home runs and three RBIs, showing he was ready to make the leap to the bigs. However, the Mariners are already set at catcher with Johjima, and despite his reported defensive improvement this spring, the team has stated they won't carry Clement as a backup. If designated hitter Jose Vidro or first baseman Richie Sexson struggle, Clement could receive the call since Seattle is itching to eventually showcase him in the lineup. However, it certainly looks as though Clement will open the season in Tacoma, especially with his .158 spring average as of Monday, March 17. He might find his way to the majors at some point, but it appears his arrival as an impact player is a year away. He's not worth drafting in mixed leagues but could be stashed as a last-round flier in AL-only formats just in case.

Projected arrival: Late 2008

Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Oakland Athletics

MLB Experience: None

Roadblock: Outfielder Travis Buck

Analysis: Gonzalez (hamstring) was one of the top prospects the Athletics received in the trade that sent starter Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason. Gonzalez is considered a great natural hitter that can hit for both power and average. In 130 games in the minors last year, he hit .288 with 17 home runs and 86 RBIs. He could make an impact with the club at some point this season, though a hamstring injury has hampered him during spring training. He has just 10 games at Triple-A under his belt and has never played at the major league level. He is worth taking late in AL-only drafts if you have a deep roster but should really be on your mind for 2009.

Projected arrival: Late 2008

Chris Volstad, SP, Florida Marlins

MLB Experience: None

Roadblock: Starting pitchers Mark Hendrickson and Ricky Nolasco

Analysis: The 6-foot-7 Volstad spent time between Single-A Jupiter and Double-A Carolina last year. In his combined starts, he went 12-11 with a 4.16 ERA and had 118 strikeouts over 168 2/3 innings. As you would expect from someone his size, Volstad has a great curveball, and his fastball, already in the low 90s, should only get more heat on it as his body fills out. He could begin the year playing Double-A ball again, but don't expect that to last too long with the way his ascent has gone so far. He has looked good in spring training and still has a shot to make the Marlins with the team having some injury issues in their rotation. Fellow prospects Burke Badenhop and Gaby Hernandez are also in the mix. However, at the tender age of 21, it still seems like a bit of a long shot. Only draft him in deep NL-only formats.

Projected arrival: Late 2008

Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

MLB Experience: None

Roadblock: Age, Experience

Analysis: Kershaw will turn 20 years old before the season starts, but he's already being labeled as the top pitching prospect in the league. In two seasons encompassing Rookie Ball, Single-A and Double-A, Kershaw has averaged 12.28 strikeouts per nine innings. The Dodgers already have turmoil at the back end of their rotation between starters Jason Schmidt (shoulder) and Esteban Loaiza. He has turned heads during spring training but is still slated for some more seasoning in the minors. However, Schmidt and Loaiza both fought off injuries last season, and if No. 4 starter Hiroki Kuroda can't make the adjustment to the American game, don't be surprised if the Dodgers at least give Kershaw a gander before the end of the season. He's not worthy of selection in drafts this season since he still has some work to do, but he's certainly an option to watch for on the in-season waiver wire as the season turns to fall. 

Projected arrival: September callup

Reid Brignac, SS, Tampa Bay Rays

MLB Experience: None

Roadblock: Shortstop Jason Bartlett

Analysis: The path to the big leagues might have become more crowded with the offseason acquisition of Bartlett; however, Brignac should still be considered the team's shortstop of the future. He had another solid year for Double-A Montgomery, hitting .260 with 17 home runs, 81 RBIs, 91 runs and 15 stolen bases. His batting average could use some improvement, but another year in the minors should help that. An injury to infielder Ben Zobrist could open up a utility spot for Brignac coming out of spring training, but the long-term expectation is a long stint at Triple-A in 2008. He isn't someone to consider for this year but should be on your radar for 2009.

Projected arrival: September callup

Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

MLB Experience: None

Roadblock: Outfielders Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan

Analysis: The pair of outfielders fighting for the starting center field spot have to be wary of the young bat waiting in Triple-A. McCutchen, the team's first-round draft pick in 2005, played the final 17 games of 2007 with Triple-A Indianapolis and could be threatening for a starting spot later on this year. He is a five-tool player that could hit at either the leadoff spot (17 stolen bases for Double-A Altoona last year) or in the middle of the lineup. In his 17 games with Indianapolis, McCutchen hit .313 with one home run, five RBIs and four stolen bases. With McLouth looking to have emerged as the clear favorite, McCutchen will begin the year with Indianapolis again in order to refine certain areas of his game. He will likely go undrafted but is someone to keep an eye on as the season develops.

Projected arrival: Late 2008/2009

Matt Antonelli, 2B, San Diego Padres

MLB Experience: 60 at-bats

Roadblock: Second Baseman Tadahito Iguchi

Analysis: At just 22 years of age (23 in April), Antonelli is already knocking on the door of the major league level. His combined numbers in the minors last year were outstanding as he carried a .307 average with 21 home runs, 78 RBIs, 123 runs and 28 stolen bases in 131 games at Class A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio. He is currently blocked at the position by Iguchi, a career .276 hitter signed only for the 2008 season. Antonelli's speed should also help him survive at PETCO Park, although his home run total will likely take a hit. He is still young and could easily take a step back, but so far there has been nothing to indicate that will happen. He is set to open the year at Triple-A, but he is someone to keep an eye on in the first half of the season. He's not worth a draft pick at this time, though, and could be a full year away from making an impact.

Projected arrival: Late 2008/2009

 

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.


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