By Eric Mack
April 26, 2013
Dylan Bundy's injury concerns could prevent him from being a fantasy factor this season.
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As top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy visits with Dr. James Andrews, let's remind everyone of a favorite mantra in fantasy baseball: Young pitching in great ... three years from now.

Instead of crossing your fingers on a minor-league call up, consider the recycled veterans off the waiver wire in fantasy. You shouldn't entirely ignore the youngsters -- heck, we'll rank the best of them in this column -- but you shouldn't blindly waste your roster spots on them, either.

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We don't yet know the extent of Bundy's injury or whether surgery will be required, but where there's smoke, there's fire. Bundy obviously knew something was wrong when he scheduled an MRI. He might be able to avoid reconstructive elbow surgery, but he is still too sore to pitch -- in the majors, minors or even extended spring training.

Chad Billingsley tried to put off Tommy John surgery this winter. He proved capable of throwing in January, pitched in spring training and made two starts for the Dodgers. Unfortunately, the pain became unbearable, and the organization decided to repair the partially torn ligament this week, knocking out Billingsley for the year. Bundy, who was supposed to be helping the Orioles this season, can't even throw 90 feet to test his elbow and forearm.

And that's the problem. A 20-year-old pitcher needs to be building up his shoulder in order to handle the big-league load. This sets Bundy back regardless of whether he'll wind up needing a 12-month rehabilitation program.

It's chilling news for the 38 percent of fantasy leagues in which Bundy is currently owned, even if manager Buck Showalter told's Roch Kubatko that he is not yet worried.

If you're not one to wait around for bad news, here's a look at three top pitching prospects who may be eligible to help fantasy owners soon:

1. Dan Straily (24 years old), Oakland Athletics

Straily, a 24th-round pick out of Marshall, isn't a high profile prospect, but he's fit to help out right now. While Oakland's young starters are struggling mightily, Straily is cruising down in Triple-A. Brett Anderson is 1-4 with 7.23 ERA and is currently dealing with a sore ankle. Jarrod Parker is 0-4 with 8.10 ERA. A.J. Griffin (2-1, 4.50) gave up nine runs last time out, while Tommy Milone (3-1, 4.26) gave up six. Only 39-year-old Bartolo Colon (3-0, 2.42) can be happy with his current performance, but I'll bet he winds up on the DL before June.

Straily had an 11-strikeout game to his credit before getting sent back to the minors, and he hasn't slowed there. He's 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA, sporting a .159 batting-average against and managing more than a strikeout per inning in his three starts. He deserves to be the most-owned minor-league pitcher right now (40 percent, just one percent behind Mets' prospect Zack Wheeler).

2. Trevor Bauer (22), Cleveland Indians

Bauer was last year's top minor-league pitching prodigy -- arguably the best fantasy prospect of all -- but now, he can't get out of Triple-A. His numbers suggest he will get a longer look in May or June, though, because Bauer has struck out 24 batters in his three starts for Columbus (18 innings). His one spot start this April featured seven walks, but he has his command in order again, walking just six in 18 innings.

Owned in 31 percent of leagues, he's obviously rubbed some fantasy owners the wrong way (like he did with the management in Arizona), but he deserves another chance.

3. Danny Hultzen (23), Seattle Mariners

Hultzen could warrant a higher spot on this list, but he was pulled from his last start because he couldn't warm up and get loose. But how can you blame him, when Tacoma is in the 40s right now? Brrr...

However, the bats against the left hander right now are just as cold. Hultzen is 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA, 25 strikeouts and .198 BAA through four Triple-A starts. The top pick out of Virginia deserves to move up the highway to Seattle, especially since he might be the Mariners' best pitcher other than Felix Hernandez right now.

Either Joe Saunders (1-3, 6.33), Brandon Maurer (2-3, 5.61) or Aaron Harang (0-2, 10.24) needs to get out of his way. Owned in just 20 percent of leagues, Hultzen might be the most available of these elite options to fill the Bundy vacancy.

Other top pitching prospects

These arms arguably have higher ceilings than the three aforementioned pitchers, but they either aren't performing well enough right now or are not currently in contention for a promotion.

1. Gerrit Cole (22), Pittsburgh Pirates: He has walked 11 batters in 16 1/3 Triple-A innings, including five and four in his past two starts, respectively. Great arms need to prove they can throw strikes to the minor-leaguers before they get the chance to face major-leaguers.

2. Zack Wheeler (22), New York Mets: The Mets love what Matt Harvey is doing, but they cannot be overly thrilled with Wheeler's start at Triple-A Las Vegas: He's 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA, albeit with 28 Ks in 23 1/3 innings

3. Tyler Skaggs (21), Arizona Diamondbacks: If not for one blowup start where he allowed nine runs in 2 1/3 innings, Skaggs (2-2, 5.40) would have very good Triple-A numbers. His other three starts have all been quality.

4. Taijuan Walker (20), Seattle Mariners: Walker is only in Double-A (2-2, 1.55 with 32 strikeouts in 29 innings), but the Mariners might have the best young rotation in baseball by season's end. Imagine Hisashi Iwakuma (2-1, 1.99) Hultzen and Walker following King Felix? Wow. Walker deserves a move up to Triple-A by June at the latest.

5. Kevin Gausman (22), Baltimore Orioles: Everyone is currently gushing about Gausman, an LSU product. Though Gausman has a 4.71 ERA and a .292 BAA through four starts in Double-A and had made just five pro starts coming into the year, scouts are already declaring Gausman major-league ready. The fourth overall pick last June has 34 strikeouts and just one walk in his nine career starts.

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