May 25, 2010

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Before we get to the pro kiddies this week, let's take a look at the freakish phenom in this year's MLB Draft -- Bryce Harper.

Harper is expected to be the first overall pick of the Washington Nationals in the June 7 amateur draft. He isn't getting quite as much hype as Stephen Strasburg did last year, but it's close. The 17-year-old, already nicknamed "The Natural," passed a GED exam last year and skipped his final two years of high school in order to expedite his baseball career. Personally, I would have sat back and thoroughly enjoyed the many perks that went along with being a stud athlete in the back-end of my high school years. But, hey, I respect Harper for having his priorities in order.

Check out Harper's numbers this year at the College of Southern Nevada through 58 games: .415 batting average, 23 home runs, 68 runs batted in, .891 slugging percentage, .504 on-base percentage, and 17 stolen bases. Umm, did I mention he also plays catcher. Sick.

Harper's top tools are his bird-threatening power and rifle arm. There are some questions about his future strikeout propensity because of his long swing. In addition, some scouts have knocked him for being quirky and cocky. That's alright, he can spout off about himself and go through his ritualistic batting stance routine all he wants, as long as he's posting the yearly .280 BA, 30 HRs, and 100-plus RBIs that I expect.

From a fantasy standpoint, the big question is if Harper stays at catcher or moves to another position such as right field. Honestly, if he remains a backstop, it will just be icing on the cake. This 6-2, 185-pound blue-chipper is going to hit and be a fantasy asset no matter where he lines up on the field.

Alright, enough of the down-the-road talk. Let's get to the youngsters who can provide immediate help. This week's NKOTD starts with a look at some rookies who have surprised. The question is -- can they keep it up?

David Freese (3B, STL)

I admit it. I had my doubts about Freese's ability to translate his strong minor league numbers into major league success. Freese, however, has shown he can hang with the big boys with a .315 BA, three bombs, .391 OBP, and .456 SLG. Notably, Freese has climbed to No. 16 in our weekly rankings. Will he continue to perform? Is there more upside? Yes and Yes. As long as he stays healthy, Freese will only get better. He has a consistent swing and is planted in a favorable spot in the order at the No. 6 slot behind Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus. In addition, there's additional pop yet to come. The 27-year-old third baseman routinely put up 200-plus Isolated Power numbers in the minors. Don't be afraid to buy if another owner thinks he's selling high.

Brennan Boesch (OF, DET)

Who? That's been the standard question over the past month when it comes to Boesch. Yeah, it's tough living in Austin Jackson's overrated rookie shadow. Boesch was promoted in late April when Carlos Guillen went down with his hammy injury. Since then, he's been raking with a .340 BA, four HRs, and .617 SLG. The Tigers have been so impressed with this dude that they're preparing Guillen to play second base when he returns to keep Boesch's bat in the lineup. Unfortunately, the bangin' Boesch party will soon end. His minor league numbers surely don't support his current big league performance. In Boesch's five-year minor league career, he's a .273 BA/.434 SLG hitter. Further, his inability to take walks (three-percent walk rate) and tendency to swing at balls out of the zone (50-percent O-Swing%) will catch up to him. Go find a sucker and tell them all about Boesch's new-found job security.

John Ely (SP, LAD)

Here's a rookie dealer who isn't getting enough love. In five starts, Ely has a 3.41 earned run average, 7.96 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.14 walks per nine innings, and a 1.22 ground out to air out ratio. Yet, Ely is only owned in approximately 18 percent of leagues. Huh? As indicated by his career minor league stats (3.79 ERA/7.80 K/9), the 6-2, 200-pound righty has the stuff to put up nice numbers. His 1.91 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) suggests even more upside is on the horizon. Grab this guy off the wire if he's still sitting there.

John Jaso (C, TAM)

I snatched Jaso yesterday in our RotoExperts In-House League and I plan to rotate him with Chris Snyder at the second catcher spot in our two-catcher-start format. In 63 at-bats, Jaso has a .349 BA, two HRs, .475 OBP, and .540 SLG. Jaso will never be a big slugger, but he has the plate patience (19-percent BB rate) to hit for a solid average. Some owners are reluctant to jump on Jaso because Kelly Shoppach is returning from right knee surgery in the next couple weeks. Trust me, at this point, it's the Dioner Navarro owners who should be worried -- not the current or prospective Jaso owners. By the way, are there any Navarro owners still out there?

Chris Iannetta (C, COL)

Keep a close eye on Iannetta. He's hitting .349 with five HRs and a .698 SLG since his demotion to Triple-A. Iannetta has publicly voiced his displeasure over the demotion and is pounding the twine to find his way back. A trade out of Colorado remains a possibility -- cross your fingers Red Sox fans -- if the Rockies are determined to ride mediocre Miguel Olivo. Remember, Iannetta is still only 27 years old. There's still a ton of ceiling here if you have room to stash.

Dillon Gee (SP, NYM)

In case you haven't noticed, the Mets could use some new life in their pitching rotation. Gee may be the answer. In 53.2 IP at Triple-A this year, Gee has a 3.86 ERA, 7.61 K/9, and .244 BAA. The 6-1, 200-pound has flown under the radar because he has an average fastball, lacks a dominant secondary pitch, and missed significant time with a shoulder injury last year. Gee will never be a fantasy gem because his average arsenal will limit his strikeout ceiling and expose him to blowup starts when he isn't hitting corners. That said, because opportunity is around the corner, he's worth watching in deepish NL-only leagues.

Jason Castro (C, HOU)

Castro surely isn't hitting himself to the majors. The 22-year-old is batting .264 with zero HRs and a .298 SLG at Triple-A. Ouch. At the risk of self-congratulations, I will tell you I've labeled this dude a bust-to-be since before he strapped on his first professional shin guard. My prediction is just coming to fruition. Why the hell am I raising Castro's name if his numbers are atrocious and I'm a hater. Well, because Houston is entering sell-off mode and ready to give all types of kids a chance. General manager Ed Wade has acknowledged that Castro needs more time, but that won't stop him from promoting Castro in the second half. Stay away from Castro in redraft leagues and use him as "Baseball America No. 1 Team Prospect" trade bait in keeper formats. Defensive-oriented catchers with zero pop -- who would rather take a walk than get a knock -- are fantasy garbage. Any questions?

Brad Lincoln (SP, PIT)

I will keep this short since I wrote about Lincoln in my "New Kids" column last month. Consider this a reminder for those of you looking for arms in your deep NL-only leagues. In four May starts (29 IP), Lincoln has a 2.79 ERA, 24 K, three BBs, and a .190 BAA. Lincoln will be in Pittsburgh by early June.

All statistics as of May 23, 2010.

Hit Bill Root with a tweet @Bill_Root or an e-mail at ifyou have a burning fantasy prospect question. Make sure to check out ourXclusive Edge Rankings for help with your tough lineup decisions.

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