By: Russell Shaffer
Fantasy owners will be disappointed to hear (even though they should already know) the answer to that headline question is “nobody”. What Mike Trout did in 2012 was historic and not likely to be repeated for another generation and was the kind of season baseball may never see again. Even the numbers produced by fellow media magnate Bryce Harper are a lot to ask of a young player getting his first taste of The Show. (Remember, Trout was extremely ordinary during his brief 2011 audition.)
When assessing the value of a prospect for single-season fantasy leagues there are two things you need to keep in mind: opportunity and talent. I list opportunity first because you can have all the talent in the world and be worthless to a fantasy owner if you don’t get a shot to crack a big league lineup. That’s why speedy Cincinnati Reds prospect Billy Hamilton – who stole everything not nailed down during a record-setting 2012 – is a wasted pick in single season drafts. The Reds have all but said Hamilton will spend 2013 in AAA making the transition from SS to CF to become the 2014 heir apparent to Shin-Soo Choo.
With that in mind let’s discuss the top fantasy baseball prospects with both the talent and opportunity to make a mark on MLB and fantasy rosters this year. The question is, where should you take them? I don’t see any rookie-to-be being worth more than a speculative pick in the 18th round or later. There are simply too many solid, proven big leaguers to take a gamble on an unproven commodity likely to struggle a bit out of the gate.
Jurickson Profar (Texas Rangers, SS): I had to include Profar because of all of the buzz around him even though I am not excited about his 2013 fantasy value. As was evident in his MLB debut when he launched a 391-foot homer in his first AB, the problem for Profar certainly isn’t talent. The question is, where will he play? He’s a middle infielder in a Texas organization with two pretty good big league options at 2B and SS. His best bet is to hit his way into forcing the Rangers to move Ian Kinsler to 1B or LF to open up 2B. That’s not likely to happen, and while some think he will break camp in a utility role I doubt the Rangers will put such a young player in a position that doesn’t get regular playing time. I think he starts the year at AAA and at his tender age he may stay there until September barring a trade or injury. Kick the tires on Profar in your draft, but leave him on the lot. Chances are he’ll be in the free agent pool when and if he gets a real shot.
Wil Myers (Tampa Bay Rays, OF): The biggest of the big name prospects to change organizations this winter, Myers is a lot like Profar when it comes to hype. The difference is that Myers appears to have a legitimate shot at a big league starting job out of camp. The Rays need to fill a B.J. Upton-sized hole in their outfield and lineup, and Myers has proven all he needs to at AAA. The problem for Myers is he is now on a team in one of baseball’s smallest markets that plays in an awful stadium with no fan support. That means small revenues and smaller payrolls, and even though Myers will probably be ready to break camp as a big league starter, don’t be surprised if he hangs out down on the farm until late May in order to stall his free agent clock. This is the same Rays organization, after all, that famously held back a more-than-ready Evan Longoria out of Spring Training to lengthen its control over him. It should come as no shock then if that happens to Myers, so don’t reach for him. I’ve gotten him in the last round of two 23-round drafts – a steal if he pans out and nothing to fret about if he doesn’t.
Trevor Bauer (Cleveland Indians, SP): Another one of those heralded youngsters to change homes in the offseason, you have to wonder why the Diamondbacks gave up on a 21-year-old with such upside. We’ll find out soon enough if they were foolish or knew something nobody else did – it just won’t be on Opening Day. Some published reports have Bauer breaking Tribe camp as its 3rd starter. That won’t happen, and he probably isn’t even in the running for the 4th slot. To hear it from Cleveland’s beat reporters Bauer is in a competition for the 5th spot in the rotation – a job Cleveland would probably much rather give to a veteran like Daisuke Matsuzaka or Scott Kazmir. Bauer tossed two scoreless innings in his Cactus League debut on Feb. 24, but his obvious lack of social maturity and his penchant for rapping his foot right into his mouth probably have him ticketed for AAA. Cleveland’s pitching is shaky, so if Bauer doesn’t break camp with the big club he should be up within a couple months. His potential makes him worth a stash in the last few rounds, but don’t pass up a proven player that will fill a need just to speculate on Bauer.
Travis D’Arnaud (New York Mets, C): The spotlight gets a lot brighter when you’re traded to New York – especially when you’re the centerpiece of a deal for the reigning NL Cy Young winner. Such is life for D’Arnaud, who comes to the Mets from Toronto via the R.A. Dickey deal with the future of the organization on his shoulders. The Mets have nothing apart from David Wright and Ike Davis, meaning D’Arnaud stands a good chance to leave Port St. Lucie with the big club as New York’s starting C in a lineup that desperately needs his AAA-proven bat. His problem will be staying healthy – something he has struggled to do throughout his minor league career. Another thing worth watching is if his gaudy AAA numbers from the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League translate to spacious Citi Field. While they might not carry over completely, a healthy D’Arnaud should hit enough to be a legitimate Top 10 at C when he gets his shot. If you don’t draft a stud catcher, look to snag D’Arnaud in the last round as an insurance policy with serious upside.
Leonys Martin (Texas Rangers, OF): The expectations for Martin in Texas are modest – all he has to do is replace Josh Hamilton in CF. No big deal, right? Obviously, nobody expects Martin to produce like Hamilton and neither the Rangers nor your fantasy team need him to do so to be valuable. In 46 AB last year, Martin scratched together a .174 AVG, 6 R, 6 RBI and 3 SB. If he wins the starting CF job out of Spring Training (and the Rangers seem to like his chances) don’t be surprised if he puts up Ben Revere-type numbers of a .280 AVG, 80+ R and 35+ SB. That would make him a 13th round value for the late round or waiver claim selection he should cost – the kind of return on investment it takes to win fantasy championships.
Jedd Gyorko (San Diego Padres, 2B): Gyorko might have one of the best chances to win an Opening Day starting job of all the top prospects. A 3B by trade who is currently blocked in San Diego by Chase Headley, Gyorko is looking to make the transition this spring to 2B where a much less established Logan Forsythe is all that stands in his way. A big HR in one of his first spring AB (and already 3 HRs and 9 RBI in 4 spring games) shows he has the pop, and reports of extra work taking grounders with Everth Cabrera shows he is willing to work on the defense. All of that could add up to a sneaky late round pick for an extremely shallow 2B position that has the offensive profile of a 3B. Watch out, Gyorko could be the closest thing to Trout or Harper on this year’s prospect radar in terms of fantasy ROY.
Daniel Straily (Oakland Athletics, SP): Straily is one of those off-the-radar prospects because of where he plays and the fact he was not a well-hyped amateur. That said, if you ignore him you might be missing a real value pick that can hold down the middle-to-back of your fantasy rotation. Straily was leading the minors in K when he got a midseason call up to Oakland. In a brief 39.1 IP trial, Straily posted a respectable 2 wins with a 3.89ERA and 1.32 WHIP with 32 K. The WHIP needs to come down a bit, and hopefully with a full big league camp under his belt it will. Straily seems poised to leave Phoenix anchoring the back of the A’s rotation, and if that happens he could be a nice sleeper in the 21st or 22nd round.
Shelby Miller (St. Louis Cardinals, SP): Like Straily, Miller is a young hurler who can be counted on to pile up the K. The only difference is that when it comes to Miller, he’s like the old TV show Cheers because everybody knows his name. That could work against you if you want to take the Cardinals rookie late in your draft. There is no guarantee Miller breaks camp in the rotation, though a season-ending injury to Chris Carpenter and doubts about Jaime Garcia’s health certainly help his cause. So does the sparkling 1.32 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with 16 K he posted in 13.2 IP late last year with St. Louis. Early spring shoulder soreness might hurt Miller in a tight race for that last rotation spot, but if he looks to be in line for a starting role make sure you get him in the last few rounds of your draft.
Adam Eaton (Arizona Diamondbacks, OF): The winter jettisoning of Justin Upton and Chris Young seems to imply Eaton will be sunning himself in front of the Chase Field pool this summer. Eaton is not your typical prospect, and his 2 HR and 2 SB in 85 MLB AB last year appear to show he likely won’t produce enough power or speed to be relevant in those categories. He’s been described as a “ball player”, a label often given to a scrappy guy who succeeds despite his obvious lacking of traditional athletic gifts (think David Eckstein). Of all of this year’s prospects, Eaton is going the highest in early drafts – a revelation that baffles me. Maybe it’s that opportunity thing I mentioned at the top, and the notion Eaton seems a lock to bat leadoff in a deceptively good D-Backs offense. But given his relatively low talent ceiling and lack of track record, I can’t justify the 16th or 17th round pick I’ve seen used to draft him.
Bruce Rondon (Detroit Tigers, RP): Nobody seems to know much about Rondon (including how to pronounce his last name) except he throws really hard, struggles with control and the Tigers like him as closer. As an Indians fan, I say go right ahead. We’ll take the blown saves he’s sure to accumulate. As a fantasy owner, I won’t touch him before the last round of drafts. Any fantasy adviser worth his or her salt will tell you not to pay for saves in a standard league, and I’ve seen Rondon going in the 17th or 18th round. That’s higher than some established closers like Grant Balfour and Glen Perkins and way too high for a guy who has never pitched in a MLB game. Do you remember Hector Santiago? I’ll take that you’re toggling over to Google as a “no”. He was the unproven rookie who was supposed to close for the White Sox last year out of Spring Training. I don’t think that bright idea lasted until May 1, and on a contending team I expect the Tigers will have an even shorter leash on Rondon.
Follow Russell Shaffer on Twitter @RussellShaffer