April 20, 2010

I like to keep this column as fresh as the prospects I dissect. As a result, you will periodically see new features throughout the season.

This week I introduce to you the "Digging Deep" section of "New Kids on the Diamond." This is geared to those of you in keeper and dynasty leagues who like to keep tabs on fantasy prospects at the lower levels of the minors. You won't see any Triple-A or Double-A prospects discussed in "Digging Deep" -- it's all about the young dudes in High-A and lower.

And let me say something, you owners who only play redraft leagues should pay attention as well, the time you invest in studying prospects will pay off in future years. Now's the time to get the jump on the lazy competition.

Kam Mickolio (RP, BAL)

The closer situation in Baltimore is murkier than Tiger Woods' marriage. I can tell you one person who won't be putting the ribbon on games come the end of May -- Jim Johnson. Johnson recently inherited the job after Mike Gonzalez was placed on the disabled list with a strained shoulder. Johnson has already blown two saves in Gonzalez's absence; he simply doesn't have the stuff (6.30 strikeouts per nine innings last year) to anchor the back of a bullpen. Will Gonzo be out longer than the three-week minimum that has been discussed? Most likely. This is why you need to keep a close eye on the recently recalled Mickolio in all formats. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound righty is all about the power with an upper-90s fastball and hard slider. The big boy will rack up the strikeouts (10.72 K/9 last year at Triple-A) if he's given extended innings, but poses a walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) danger because of his bouts of wildness. Mickolio will be very much in the closer mix if Gonzalez remains out for over a month.

Justin Maxwell (OF, WAS)

I've been enamored with Maxwell since I got my first glimpse of him at the Arizona Fall League a few years ago. At 6-5, 235-pounds, all cute clichés aside, Maxwell is soaking wet with tools. Of course, that doesn't always spell stardom. Between Triple-A and the majors last year, Maxwell had 17 home runs and 41 stolen bases. I've just always wondered what damage Maxwell could do if he was given just 250 major league ABs in a season. Well, he might finally have his chance. The 26-year-old outfielder was promoted last week to help fill the black hole in right field for the Nats. His only obstacle to full-time ABs is Willie Harris. I know what you're thinking: Harris is as much of an obstacle as a speed bump in front of an Acela. So true. Stash this power/speed sleeper in NL-only leagues if you have roster room.

Kris Benson (SP, ARZ)

I say Kris Benson's name and all you think about is Anna Benson. Does that say more about Benson's career or the fact that your mind is firmly entrenched in the gutter? Benson's career; we don't self-deprecate here at "New Kids" central. Some NL-only owners are jumping on the 35-year-old Benson after his promotion last week and season debut: 6 innings pitched, 6 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 strikeout, and 4 walks. Please, they're all about 10 years late to the Benson party. Let's be honest, that start was against the Padres and at Petco Park. Could it get any easier? There's a reason Benson posted a 8.46 earned run average, 4.43 K/9, and 4.84 walks per nine innings last season for the Rangers. He's done. Stay away.

Jeremy Hellickson (SP, TB)

In any other organization, Hellickson would already be throwing darts in the bigs. Check out Hellickson's numbers from last year at Double-A and Triple-A combined: 114 IP, 2.45 ERA, 132 Ks, 29 BBs, and a 0.87 WHIP. Sick. The 6-1, 185-pound righty possesses a low-90s heater, solid curve, and moving change. He's once again dismantling hitters in the International League in 2010. In three Triple-A starts, including one on Sunday, Hellickson has a 1.42 ERA, 21 Ks, three BBs, and a .176 batting average against. The 23-year-old Hellickson will get the call once the first injury strikes the Rays' rotation. In keeper and dynasty leagues, this guy is long gone. In redraft leagues, he has the stuff and advanced command to make an immediate impact if he receives the promotion. Thus, keep that cursor hovered over the "submit" button if you don't have current roster room.

Kila Ka'aihue (1B, KC)

I'm begging the Royals to give the "Twine Kila" a shot. Man, I should copyright that nickname and design T-shirts for all 700 Royals fans. Ka'aihue's power and patience have been rotting at Triple-A since 2008. His batting average and home runs took a dip between '08 and '09, but that isn't stopping me from driving Kila's bandwagon. I see sweet tools and I see them making a big-league display in 2010. The 26-year-old has 54 dingers and a .400-plus on-base percentage in the minors over the past two years. In 32 at-bats this year, Ka'aihue is putting up the numbers: .281 BA, 3 HRs, .465 OBP, and .656 slugging percentage. You would think a team that has had Alberto Callaspo hitting in the three-hole for much of the season could find room for a bomber like this? My instinct tells me my boy gets a shot when Jose Guillen goes down with his next injury.

Brett Wallace (1B, TOR)

Wallace lost some of his fantasy prospect shine after being shifted from the hot corner over to first base. That said, let's not overrate the loss in value. Wallace sprays line drives to all fields. He hit .293, with 20 HRs, a .367 OBP, and .455 SLG in the minors last year. Those are solid numbers even if he's not lined up at a position of scarcity. Wallace is off to another strong start in '10 with a .303 BA and .395 OBP in 33 Triple-A ABs. In addition, he has four HRs and a .697 SLG; we aren't talking about a guy who's completely powerless at first base. Wallace will be promoted to the majors by early July when the Jays finally realize that the Lyle Overbay era needs to end (.085 BA/0 HRs in 2010).

Mike Montgomery (SP, KC)

Montgomery is a fiery southpaw with an enormous ceiling. In 21 starts between Low-A and High-A last year, the 6-5, 180-pound lefty had a 2.21 ERA, 1.26 groundout to air out rate, and .201 BAA. His arsenal includes a low-90s fastball, two different types of curves, and a developing change. Seriously, if the change reaches its potential, Montgomery will be a scary fantasy ace. Get ready to salivate over Montgomery's 2010 statistics at High-A: 12 IP, 0.75 ERA, 19 Ks, 1 BB, 1.83 GO/AO, and .098 BAA. The 20-year-old will soon be promoted to Double-A. Obviously, you should snatch him up immediately if he's still floating around on the wire in your long-term leagues.

Travis d'Arnaud (C, TOR)

As I always preach, you should aim to stash as many strong-hitting catchers as possible in dynasty and keeper leagues. They are top-notch fantasy assets on the trade market even if you can't keep them all. Lucky for you, here's one who's not getting much publicity as of yet. In the Phillies organization last year (Low-A), d'Arnaud hit .255, with 13 HRs, and 38 doubles. That batting average was held down by a .273 batting average on Balls in Play in 2009; it will certainly be higher in 2010 because of his high contact rate (84-percent last year). The 6-2, 195-pound catcher was traded to the Blue Jays in the Roy Halladay deal in the offseason. The change of scenery has set his bat on fire. Specifically, d'Arnaud is hitting .425 with three HRs, a .442 OBP, and .725 SLG through nine games at High-A. He's quickly making owners forget about that other catcher in the Jays' organization -- J.P. Arencibia -- who took many steps backwards last year at Triple-A.

Tony Sanchez (C, PIT)

Here's a catcher you want to trade or avoid despite his solid minor league numbers. Sanchez was drafted fourth overall by the Pirates last year because of his exceptional receiving skills and canon arm. Sanchez surprised with the bat in the low minors last year hitting .309 with seven HRs, a .409 OBP, and .539 SLG in 178 ABs. He's also off to a hot start at High-A this year, hitting .379 with two HRs, a .500 OBP, and .724 SLG in 29 ABs. Sell high, my fantasy friends. Sanchez's free-swinging ways (21.9-percent K rate at Low-A, 19.3 BBs per year in college) will turn him into a below average major league hitter. There will be sporadic power, but overall disappointing offensive numbers. Pump him up and then dump him on some less-informed owner. Sanchez's defensive prowess won't win you any championships.

* All statistics as of April 17, 2010 unless otherwise noted.

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