It was as if the cavalry came marching in to save the day. Three top prospects -- Atlanta SP Tommy Hanson, Pittsburgh OF Andrew McCutchen and White Sox 3B Gordon Beckham -- were all promoted to the majors this week, giving their major league teams hope for a resurgence and all fantasy owners hope for a recovery.
Hanson, McCutchen and Beckham were all given starting jobs and a chance to make an impact the rest of the year. There's no guarantee that any of them will succeed, but their talents are too immense to ignore. Fantasy owners are doing everything they can to get these three potential stars in their lineups right away and they are willing to take the good with the bad. With 16 weeks left in the regular season, each player is worth the gamble.
Here's a look at these prospects along with a few other rookies who made their major league debuts this week:
Tommy Hanson, SP, Braves: Hanson's promotion was long overdue, but the Braves made the right decision by promoting Hanson and releasing Tom Glavine. I know it wasn't an easy decision and it looks like it will become a messy divorce, but it's time for the Braves to move forward and go with their young stars. Hanson is as good as they come, even if his MLB debut was a little ugly. He looked good on Sunday against the Brewers, throwing 61 of his 91 pitches for strikes, but he gave up a pair of two-run home runs to Ryan Braun and left with a no-decision. He gave up six earned runs in six innings and twice couldn't hold two-run leads. But he looked extremely poised on the mound, hit 96-97 mph consistently with his fastball and walked only one while striking out five. He needs to throw that curveball for strikes more often and avoid keeping that fastball in the heart of the plate and he will do just fine. There was plenty of good to take away from this outing as Hanson is here to stay. He was drafted in every NFBC league this year with an Average Draft Position of 261, so you probably can't get him on your league's free agent wire. If you can, nab him ASAP and start him this week. This kid is going to be a good one and he will be the new Tommy to rally around in Atlanta.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates: The Pirates traded All-Star OF Nate McLouth to Atlanta for three prospects and then called up McCutchen from Triple-A Indianapolis to start in center field. He went two-for-four in his debut on Thursday while batting leadoff and then added two RBIs on Saturday. Through his first four games, he was hitting over .300 with three RBIs, three runs and a stolen base. He is among the fastest players in the game today who was hitting .303 at Indianapolis before his call-up with four homers, 20 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and 41 runs in 49 games. He's the type of player a franchise can build around because he's going to be a catalyst at the top of the lineup for years to come. The 11th pick of the 2005 draft hit .283 with 34 stolen bases last year at Indianapolis and he's here to stay. He's ready to lead a new era in Pittsburgh and he will be a good one right away. He went undrafted in most of our NFBC leagues and was likely undrafted in most 12-team formats, so do what you can to grab him and make him part of your starting lineup. He's going to add speed and runs to any lineup and he will do it right away.
Gordon Beckham, 3B, White Sox: Beckham took the fast track to the majors and now has to show that he is worthy of these promotions. He was still in college last year at this time, but was picked eighth overall out of Georgia by the White Sox. He started this season at Double-A Birmingham and was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte after hitting .299 with four homers and 22 RBIs in 38 games. The White Sox had him work at third base at Charlotte and after only seven games there and hitting .483 they fast tracked him to the majors. He went hitless during his first three games in the majors, but Chicago is committed to him. Now we'll see if fantasy owners are willing to take the gamble on him. He went undrafted in most fantasy leagues around the country, but he will be a hot pickup this week because of the upside he brings to the table. Beckham won't steal many bases, but he has some power and will provide even more value if he plays a few games at shortstop (his natural position) and second base. He just needs to get a few hits under his belt and he should be fine. But there is risk involved in this pickup because of the fast track the White Sox put him on, so proceed with caution.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies: The Rockies thought they were set in center field with Dexter Fowler, but when he slumped they reached into their minor league system for another option. Out came Carlos Gonzalez, the former Arizona farmhand who came from Oakland this off-season in the Matt Holiday trade. This 23-year-old was tearing up the PCL this year at Colorado Springs, hitting .339 with 10 homers, 59 RBIs, 43 runs and six stolen bases in 48 games. He arrived over the weekend and got his first MLB hit on Sunday. Gonzalez won't wow you with his skills, but he has good command of the strike zone and just enough power and speed to help the Rockies and your fantasy team. He's not a "must" pickup right now, but he's definitely a player to watch and a solid pickup in NL-only leagues because playing time is there for him in left field and center field.
Vince Mazzaro, SP, Oakland: This 2005 third-round pick made a dazzling debut this week, blanking the White Sox in a 5-0 win on Tuesday and then blanking the Orioles 3-0 on Sunday. He allowed only eight hits and four walks in 13.2 scoreless innings, while striking out five. He gave up only one hit after the first inning against Chicago and got 12 of his 19 outs on flyballs. He was even sharper on Sunday against the Orioles, allowing just five hits and no walks in 7.1 innings. Mazzaro has been solid over the last two years and deserved the promotion to the big leagues. Last year he was 12-3 with a 1.90 ERA at Double-A Midland and this year he was 2-2 in nine starts at Triple-A Sacramento with a 2.38 ERA. He¹s not going to overpower anyone and he needs to get more groundball outs, but Mazzaro seems to know what it takes to get his team a win and he¹s a young pitcher the A¹s are willing to take a chance on. He¹s a solid pickup in AL-only leagues and a pitcher to watch in mixed leagues.
Matt Maloney, SP, Reds: The 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-hander out of Mississippi made a solid MLB debut on Saturday, beating the Cubs to earn his first big league win. Maloney limited the Cubs to two earned runs over six innings on six hits and one walk, while striking out four. He showed great command during 10 starts at Triple-A Louisville before his promotion, going 4-3 with a 2.00 ERA and 58 strikeouts with only nine walks in 60 innings. The third-round pick of the Phillies was traded to the Reds in 2007 as part of the Kyle Lohse trade and went 11-5 with a 4.68 ERA last year at Louisville. He's definitely earned another start in Cincinnati and could be up for a few more if he keeps pitching well. Watch a few more of his starts before committing to him just yet, however.
Sean Rodriguez, 2B, Angels: If the Angels lose patience with Howie Kendrick, they could reach down to the minors and bring up someone who is on one heckuva hot streak. Rodriguez, the Angels' third-round pick in 2003, is hitting .276 with 19 homers, 57 RBIs and six stolen bases through 52 games at Triple-A Salt Lake. This is his second full season at Salt Lake and he does have 60 strikes compared to 19 walks, but with the slow start that Kendrick is having Rodriguez could be a welcome spark to the lineup.
John Smoltz, SP, Boston: At 42, he's no spring chicken. But Smoltz could be as valuable as any young call-up in the next few weeks. Smoltz made his fourth minor-league rehab start and his first at Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday night and breezed through six innings of work, giving up just one run on one hit and two walks, while striking out three. He should be up by June 16 and starting for Boston, with the hope of a solid finish to the 2009 season. Pick him up if he's still out there in your league because he has a good chance to post solid numbers on this playoff team.
Jeremy Bonderman, SP, Tigers: He's made three rehab starts at Triple-A Toledo but doesn't appear to be completely ready to jump to the majors. In 20 innings, he's given up 20 hits and five walks, while striking out only 13 with a 3.15 ERA. He could join the Tigers in the next two weeks, but watch his next couple of starts before inserting him right into your starting rotation because I think he needs more work in the minors.
Most of the top prospects are now in the majors, so the pipeline to minor-league help could be running dry. I'll stay on the minor league beat nonetheless, but don't hold onto that free agent money too tightly this week because the current call-ups are as good as they get. Good luck in your free agent bidding.