April 06, 2010

I'm back from spring training with an important public service announcement: Believe the hype, Ian Desmond is for real.

I only needed to get a first-hand look at Desmond for a few innings to see he had the tools to make an immediate fantasy impact. Desmond isn't the only rookie to earn a job through his spring training performance. That said, don't go jumping on a bunch of youngsters just because they have starting gigs. Of course, if you stick with me throughout the season, you will learn that "New Kids on the Diamond" readers don't make those types of "rookie mistakes."

On a weekly basis, this column will examine the fantasy future of prospects who were recently promoted and others on the horizon. I will tell you whether the fresh faces are worthy of fantasy consideration or can be ignored. In this initial installment, let's take a peek at some kiddies who've made Opening Day rosters. Significantly, in this piece, there's no discussion of any players featured in my "2010 Impact Rookies" article included in RotoExperts' Draft Kit.

It's open prospect season ... let's go hunting.

Ian Desmond (SS, Nationals)

You don't even have to see Desmond swing a bat to notice his confident and quiet approach at the plate. The sneaky power and speed are apparent once he makes contact. Desmond's career minor league numbers are far from impressive: 2,662 at-bats, .259 batting average, .326 on-base percentage, and .388 slugging percentage. As a result, many are refusing to buy the hype. The 24-year-old shortstop busted out last year with a .330 BA, 21 stolen bases, .401 OBP, and .477 SLG. Further, in an 82 at-bat major league stint, Desmond flashed his tools by hitting .280, with four bombs, and a .561 SLG. Undoubtedly, this kid is a late bloomer. That surely doesn't mean you should avoid him, it means he has the experience to have immediate fantasy success. Desmond won the starting shortstop job this spring over Cristian Guzman by leading the Nats in batting average (.318), posting a .500 SLG, and swiping six bases. Are you worried about Guzman recapturing the starting role? Don't be. Guzman is now as agile as a baby mule and saddled with a spaghetti arm after offseason shoulder surgery. At the very least, Desmond is going to hit .280, with 10 home runs, and 20 SBs. Start Desmond in all NL-only leagues and stash him in any mixed league where he's still available.

Jaime Garcia (SP, Cardinals)

Garcia fell off the fantasy prospect radar after 2008 Tommy John surgery. Umm, why? Shoot, I've been considering having it done as an elective surgery after watching the bionic benefits it bestowed upon Josh Johnson and Tim Hudson. Garcia is armed with a low-90s sinking fastball and nasty 12-to-6 hook. The 6-2, 230-poundy righty has put up sweet stats in the minors: 7.83 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.94 walks per nine innings, and a .248 batting average against. Most impressive, he has a 58.7-percent career ground ball percentage -- an underrated advanced statistic. Garcia won the fifth starter role after posting a 3.00 earned run average, 20 Ks, and five BBs in 24 spring innings. Don't go mixed league on this kid just yet, but grab him in all NL-only leagues because of the damage he can do in the strikeouts and wins categories. There will be some growing pains along the way, but suck it up for some big weeks.

Mike Leake (SP, Reds)

I've been spouting off about this Arizona State University product since he was drafted last year. Despite being the eighth overall pick in last year's draft, many scouts rip Leake because he's petite (don't buy the "official" 6-1, 190-pound measurements) and doesn't possess a blazing fastball. I guess the 142 IP, 1.71 ERA, 162 Ks, 24 BBs, and .192 BAA in his senior season didn't mean a damn thing. Right, and Gordon Beckham and Buster Posey would never be able to put up solid numbers with wooden bats. Please, spare me the over-analysis. Admittedly, I am pleasantly shocked the Reds gave Leake the fifth starter gig without ever making him throw a minor league pitch. Based on his pinpoint command/control, wicked movement, and pitching intellect, Leake immediately becomes a solid option in NL-only leagues and will have his mixed league moments when the matchups are right.

Michael Brantley (OF, Indians)

I believe in Brantley. In fact, I am starting him this week in our RotoExperts' In-House League. Based on some ownership percentages I've seen for him in redraft leagues, I may be one of the few riding this rook. This speed demon is vastly underrated in roto leagues, especially ones that use OBP as a category. There's no question Brantley has limitations. Specifically, he has less pop (.369 career SLG) than some of the inebriated cleanup hitters on your local softball teams. OK, but he's also a .300 BA/.387 OBP career hitter in the minors, who has consistently had walk rates north of 10 percent in his career, and who stole 50 bases in 2009. Brantley hit .291 with a .400 OBP during the spring and earned the Opening Day left field job when Russell Branyan was shelved with a back injury. Sure, the sparkplug may be sent down when Branyan returns, but why not use him while he's at your disposal. Plus, do you really think Branyan's back is going to hold up for an entire season? Brantley will see plenty of ABs with the big boys this summer.

Austin Jackson (OF, Tigers)

The "Concrete Jungle" hype surrounding this dude has made me violently ill at times. C'mon man, we're talking about a dude who has 30 home runs in 2,478 plate appearances, a career .410 SLG, and has consistently had walk rates below 10 percent and strikeout rates above 20 percent throughout the minors. Jackson hit .300 last year at Triple-A, but it was supported by a very fortunate (a.k.a. "lucky") .389 batting average on balls in-play. In addition, he only had nine extra base hits in the entire second half last year and finished the season with a .405 SLG. Oh, am I supposed to go gaga over his 73 AB spring training performance: .356 BA, three HRs, five SBs, .434 OBP, and .616 SLG? I will pass. Jackson doesn't have the contact skills to hit for a decent average in the majors. Further, he doesn't have the patience to get on base to utilize his prominent fantasy-relevant weapon -- his speed. If you drafted him in any league, now is the time to sell high in the wake of his strong spring. Outside of a few weeks where he puts up a decent batting average and strings together swipes, Austin Powerless will do nothing but let you down. You've been warned.

Gaby Sanchez (1B, Marlins)

Sanchez lacks the pop to be a legit starting fantasy option. His isolated power (ISO) numbers have always been below .200 in the upper minors. In addition, I have doubts that he will hit for a decent average in the bigs because he only hit .289 last year at Triple-A as a grizzled 25-year old. From a fantasy standpoint, if he isn't going to bring the pop, he better bring the batting average to the table. Sanchez won the starting first base position over 22-year-old prospect Logan Morrison by hitting .364 with a .410 OBP and .588 SLG. That said, Morrison is the far superior player, even though he's struggling with timing and power outage issues after returning from a hand injury last year. Assuming Morrison is healthy, he will take over the first base duties in Florida at some point in 2010. Book it.

Daniel McCutchen (SP, Pirates)

Your fantasy tip of the day: It's never a good idea to roster Quad-A players. McCutchen fits the mold. He has compiled above-average career minor league numbers (3.12 ERA/3.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio). Nevertheless, I watched him pitch at Triple-A on several occasions last year; his stuff is clearly below average. There's a good reason this control artist gave up 26 homers during the 2008 season -- his mistakes tend to turn into 380-plus feet batting practice-like shots. Major league hitters won't allow McCutchen to nibble his way to success and they will jump all over his average-at-best heater when it hangs over the plate. Look elsewhere for a starting option in NL-only leagues despite the fact McCutchen has won the final spot in the Pirates rotation.

Tommy Manzella (SS, Astros)

Defense loses championships. Well, at least in fantasy when owners rely upon defensive specialists. Manzella is only starting in Houston because of his stellar glove. He shouldn't be sniffing any fantasy lineups. Check out Manzella's career minor league numbers: .268 BA, .321 OBP, .374 SLG, and .695 on-base plus slugging. Ugly stuff, right? Manzella recently stated that he feels behind at the plate because he missed spring training time due to a quadriceps strain. Dude, you've been behind at the plate for your entire five-year career, are you kidding me? Don't be "that guy" who starts Manzella in NL-only leagues merely because he has a starting job. You would be better off going with a utility player like Juan Uribe even if receives slightly less ABs once Freddy Sanchez returns.

* All statistics as of April 4, 2010.

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