I love fantasy prospects. I live fantasy prospects. That said, assure me you won't be that owner that wastes four to six draft picks on "promising" rookies -- just because you're addicted to chasing upside. You're better than that.
History has shown that rookies typically go through severe growing pains before they become dependable contributors. In most redraft leagues, you don't have the roster space to hoard a host of youngsters while they learn the big league ropes. You need to be careful with the amount of draft picks you expend on newbies.
I am here to steer you through the dangerous rookie waters. The players below all qualify as rookies and are listed in order of who will make the greatest fantasy impact in 2010.
I am sure that many of you were expecting another name to appear at the top of this list. The Stephen Strasburg hype cloud tends to cast an enormous shadow on other elite young pitchers. Prior to Matusz's promotion to the majors last year, in 113 innings pitched between High-A and Double-A combined, he had a 1.91 earned run average, 121:32 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .211 batting average against. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound southpaw held his own in a 44.2 IP major league stint as well: 4.63 ERA, 7.66 strikeouts per nine innings, and 2.82 walks per nine innings. Matusz has the advanced secondary stuff (i.e. deceptive change/sweeping curve) to make immediate fantasy waves in 2010 -- despite the fact he will taking the mound against the big bats of the AL East.
For all you contrarians out there, I am telling you, this dude is the real deal. Seriously, just check out these numbers from his final season at San Diego State University: 109 IP, 1.32 ERA, 195 K, 19 BB, and a .172 BAA. Are you kidding me? Strasburg has a mid-to-upper-90s fastball, power curve, and plus-changeup. The 21-year-old righty won't start the season in the Nationals' rotation. However, the Strasburg Express should roll into the Nation's Capital by the end of June. If you pay the price for Strasburg in redraft leagues, you will receive close to a Tommy Hanson-like performance from him in the second half. In keeper leagues, he will develop into a Top-5 starting pitcher once he masters the changeup he barely had to use in college.
Don't sleep on Mr. Davis. He has the arsenal and experience to pay immediate dividends. In his six-year minor league career, Davis had a 3.28 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, and 1.255 WHIP. Further, while many of you missed it because you were focused on your fantasy football squads, Davis pitched well last September in six starts: 36.1 IP, 3.72 ERA, 36 K, 13 BB, and a .243 BAA. The 6-5, 220-pound righty is the favorite to win the final spot in the Rays' rotation over Andy Sonnanstine and Jeremy Hellickson. He will win the gig and be a multi-category producer. Sure, there are better long-term pitching prospects than Davis, but we are focused on 2010 impact. Davis should be targeted in deeper mixed leagues and all AL-only formats.
Were you starting to worry that I was going to leave hitters off this list? Of course, there's a valid reason pitchers post-up on the top three spots. Hitters tend to struggle when they first reach the majors because they need to adjust to major league-caliber pitching, especially off-speed offerings. In contrast, rookie hurlers have an advantage, as big league batters usually need time to understand a particular pitcher's stuff, delivery and tendencies before they have success against him. Heyward has tools galore and a shot at earning a starting job out of Spring Training. The 20-year-old left-handed slugger will hit .280-plus upon arrival because of his superior strike zone judgment (1.47 BB/K rate at Double-A), picture-perfect swing (22.8-percent line drive rate at Double-A), and ability to hit southpaws (.357 v. lefties in career). The power, however, will take longer to develop. Monitor Heyward's spring performance, but don't overpay for him in redraft leagues.
As my loyal "New Kids on the Diamond" readers know, I am addicted to catchers with top-notch hitting skills. Santana has the complete hitting package -- patience, contact-ability, and power. At Double-A last year, the stocky backstop hit .290, with 23 HR, 97 RBIs, and 91 runs. Further, he displayed his excellent pitch recognition skills with a 1.08 BB/K rate and .413 OBP. Lou Marson will break camp with the starting catching gig for the Indians, but he won't hold the much more talented Santana off for long. Look for Santana to receive a promotion by the end of June and make a significant second half contribution at a position of scarcity. I will be spouting off about this kid for the next few months -- get used to it.
Escobar finally has the starting shortstop job now that J.J. Hardy has left town. We know Escobar will bring one gift to the fantasy party -- pure speed. The 22-year old stole 76 bases over the past two years in the minors. He's a lock for at least 25 swipes in 2010. Even though he's known as a defensive guru, Escobar has the skills to hit .280-.285 this year because of his impressive contact rate (85-percent last year at Triple-A) and ability to spray ground balls all over the field (51.8-percent ground ball rate at Triple-A) in order to take advantage of his wheels. Trust me, if Escobar was more patient (6.6-percent walk rate at Triple-A) and Brewers' manager Ken Macha believed in the running game more, this speed demon would be further up my list.
Jennings didn't receive much prospect love at the start of last season because his 2007 and 2008 seasons were cut short due to shoulder and knee injuries. The 6-2, 180-pound outfielder reignited the buzz last year with a strong season. At Double-A and Triple-A combined, Jennings put up the following numbers: .318 BA, 11 HR, 52 SB, .401 OBP, and a .487 SLG. Jennings has improved his plate discipline at every level (1.27 BB/K rate at Triple-A last year) and his power is slowly developing (.167 Isolated Power percentage at Triple-A). Do you enjoy having across-the-board category performers on your squads? You are looking at one. Jennings will earn a starting gig in the Rays' outfield by June and immediately become a fantasy asset. Put him on your mixed league watch list. Stash him in semi-deep AL-only leagues even though he will start the season in the minors.
Sizemore had a stellar 2009 minor league season, hitting .308, with 17 HR, 21 SB, and a .889 OPS. Of course, the hype machine is churning because Sizemore is projected to be Detroit's starting second baseman. Does the 25-year old deserve the hype? Well, to a certain extent, if only because he's a middle infielder with the ability to hit above .275, slug 12-plus HR, and steal 10-plus bases. That said, don't go overboard, because Comerica Park will sap some of that minor league power. Further, he won't have the green light on bases as much with the Tigers. Sizemore won't be spectacular, but he will be unusually consistent for a rookie -- his trademark in the minors.
I practice a fantasy prospect analysis system called "scoutistics." Yeah, I am placing some informal intellectual property protection on that word -- I better not see it turn up somewhere else. Morrison is my favorite buy low prospect in fantasy baseball. His subpar power numbers (13 HR in 2008, 8 HR in 2009) have scared off the prospect hounds. However, this is where the scouting aspect of my analysis comes into play. A pitcher-friendly league (Florida State League) and home park diminished Morrison's pop in 2008. Last year, a fracture at the base of his thumb sapped his bashing ability. Listen, I've watched this slugger in batting practice on numerous occasions -- he has no problem jacking the twine. Morrison will have at least moderate power in the bigs. At this point, Gaby Sanchez is the only thing standing between Morrison and the starting first base job. Please. At the very least, this will be Morrison's job by late May, if not right out of Spring Training. "Bam" Morrison will surprise in 2010. Shhh, just scoop him up.
Look at the stats Bumgarner posted between High-A and Double-A last year as a 20-yearold: 12-2 record, 1.85 ERA, and .211 BAA. You would think the lefty would be receiving nothing but fantasy prospect love. Yet, there's a growing wave of mad hate surrounding "Mad-Bum." Why? Because Bumgarner's fastball velocity dipped to the high-80s/low-90s at the end of last season and his K/9 rate dropped to 5.80 at Double-A. As far as the velocity drop, isn't it entirely possible Bumgarner was simply worn down after pitching 280 innings in two years? In regard to the K/9 rate at Double-A, let's not forget that he was pitching at an advanced level for his age. In addition, he did have a 9.00 K/9 rate in his big league trial run last year. For you keeper league owners, this kid's long-term future is still extremely bright -- frontline fantasy starter bright. That said, his secondary offerings do need additional development. If he earns the No. 5 starting role in the Giants' rotation, as expected, there will be major valleys associated with his peaks in 2010.
Alvarez spent six weeks at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona working on his conditioning and dietary habits. The Pirates' management made it clear that Alvarez's weight will determine whether he can remain a third baseman. C'mon Pedro, mix in some salads, I own you in multiple dynasty leagues. Clearly, due to position scarcity, he's much more valuable as a third baseman. In his first professional season, between High-A and Double-A combined, Alvarez hit .288, with a .378 OBP, .535 SLG, and 27 bombs. The big boy can hit the ball to all fields and has massive power potential (.230-plus ISO at both levels). Alvarez only has Andy LaRoche blocking him at third base. We all know LaRoche is a utility player, at best. Alvarez will be in the majors by mid-June and will produce solid power numbers upon arrival.
Taylor was sent to the Blue Jays in the Roy Halladay deal. Subsequently, he was immediately dealt to the Athletics for Brett Wallace. For some reason, Taylor isn't receiving much attention despite an impressive 2009 minor league season: .320 BA, 20 HR, 21 SB, and a .949 OPS. Taylor's power is real; he's had ISOs north of .200 at every level since High-A. In addition, once he learns to lift the ball, the home run totals will jump (36.2-percent fly ball rate in his career). The door is wide open for Taylor to grab an everyday role in Oakland's outfield. The Athletics are a squad that needs his powerful bat in the lineup sooner rather than later. Reach for Taylor in AL-only leagues if you're searching for a prospect play with major upside.
1. Neftali Feliz, SP/RP, Rangers: Yep, Feliz is outside my Top 12. I look forward to the nasty e-mails. I am not convinced he lands a spot in the starting rotation. In addition, although he wows with an upper-90s heater, he still needs time to develop his secondary arsenal. He makes my "Baker's Dozen" because of his strikeout potential.
2. Buster Posey, C, Giants: The Giants decision to re-sign Bengie Molina tarnished Posey's 2010 fantasy shine. It would be surprising to see Posey in the majors in the first half given Molina's veteran presence and the fact the kid backstop only has 115 ABs above High-A. The Giants need Posey to receive regular ABs to ensure he continues to develop.
3. Dan Hudson, SP, White Sox: Check out Hudson's 2009 minor league numbers across four minor league levels: 26 starts, 147.1 IP: 2.32 ERA, 166 K, 34 BB, and a .200 BAA. The statistics are the first reason he's radar-worthy in 2010 AL-only leagues. The second reason is Freddy Garcia is the only obstacle between him and a rotation slot on the South Side.
4. Chris Carter, 1B, Athletics: Carter hit .329, with 28 HR, 43 doubles, and a .992 OPS in the minors last year. How long can Daric Barton keep his job with a beast like Carter lurking? Not long.
5. Justin Smoak, 1B, Rangers: Will a Chris Davis tailspin or Vladimir Guerrero injury clear Smoak's path to the majors in 2010. I know, you want to know if there's an "all of the above" option.
6. Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Rays: In most organizations, Hellickson would be a favorite for the major league starting five after his 2009 minor league season: 9-2, 2.45 ERA, 132 K, 29 BB, and a .178 BAA. Due to the Rays' stacked under-30 rotation, Hellickson will start the year at Triple-A. Jump all over this dude in all leagues if red flags start to surround any member of Tampa's staff.
7. Michael Saunders, OF, Mariners:Saunders won't bring sexy back to fantasy. Nevertheless, he's the favorite for the left field job in Seattle. That means something, right? Watch your head around his low 2010 ceiling.
8. Aroldis Chapman, SP, Reds: There's no question the Cuban product has an electric fastball and nastilicious slider. That said, you only need to watch 10 minutes of video to know he needs more time to work on his overall control and command within the strike zone. The Reds are clearly ready to rush Chapman for no apparent reason. Keep an eye on him in NL-only leagues because he will be an instant source of strikeouts if he earns a starting role at any point.