MLB Rookies

Stealing Steals With Xavier Avery

The Orioles are one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season, sitting atop the AL East with a 24-14 record and a +16 run differential. Most of that success stems from a pitching staff that owns the second best ERA in the American League (3.42), but they've also received larger than expectated offensive contributions from players like Adam Jones (12 HR), Matt Wieters (.851 OPS), and Nolan Reimold (.960 OPS). Reimold has been on the disabled list for the last two weeks though, and he recently told Peter Schmuck and Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun that he's made very little progress coming back from a neck problem.

“It's frustrating,” said Reimold, who is on anti-inflammatories and recently received an epidural that may be the first in a series of three injections. “I don't know if I'll have a little improvement every day or wake up one day and have it be gone.”

Reimold was eligible to come off the 15-day DL yesterday but that obviously didn't happen. Sometime in June is a more likely target according to Schmuck and Connolly, creating an opening in the outfield. Players like Endy Chavez, Wilson Betemit, and Bill Hall have gotten reps in left field during Reimold's absence, but the recently recalled Xavier Avery has settled into the job of late. The 2008 second round pick was called up over the weekend and has five hits and a walk in 20 plate appearances so far (four games), but his fantasy value lies not in his bat, but his legs.

Baseball America ranked the 22-year-old Avery as Baltimore's ninth prospect before the season, saying he's "an above-average runner" who "has improved his bunting to make better use of his speed" in their subscriber-only scouting report. He has yet to swipe a bag as a big leaguer, but he did steal eight (in eight attempts) in 33 games at Triple-A before being recalled. Avery has stolen at least 30 bases in each of the last three seasons in the minors, including 36 and 38 steals in the last two seasons. It is worth noting that he's not the most efficient base-stealer, with a 75.3% success rate that is above the break-even point (68-70% these days) but on the low side for most true speed threats.

Buck Showalter seems committed to playing Avery early on, even starting the left-handed hitter against CC Sabathia earlier this week. With Reimold out for another few weeks, Avery's spot in the lineup seems secure for the time being and should allow him to provide fantasy value as a temporary but cheap source of stolen bases. A 30-steal pace works out to something like three steals for every two weeks for most everyday players, so another month on the shelf for Reimold could mean another 6-8 steals for your fantasy club. Don't expect many homers or a great batting average, Avery figures to be a one-category contributor for the next few weeks. Keep his relatively low stolen base success rate in mind if you place in a net steals league.

Poll: The Next Top Prospect To Be Recalled

We're barely more than 30 games into the season and yet we've already seen a number of high-profile prospects called up from the minors. Bryce Harper has injected some life into the Nationals' lineup, Mike Trout has been part of the Angels' outfield shakeup, and Jarrod Parker assumed a spot in the Athletics' rotation. Will Middlebrooks, Drew Pomeranz, and Wily Peralta have also lended a helping hand following their promotions.

The new collective bargaining agreement moved the Super Two cutoff up just a little bit, so players do not need as much service time to qualify for four years of arbitration as before. Clubs are expected to promote their top prospects a little later than usual because of that, as in early-June rather than mid-to-late May. That hurts baseball and fantasy owners alot, unfortunately. Let's take a look at baseball's top prospects in the upper levels of the minors to see when they could break into the show.

Nolan Arenado | 3B | Rockies

Colorado has used three different third baseman this year and none of them have hit, producing a collective .238/.328/.352 batting line on the season. Arenado, 21, was the talk of the Arizona Fall League and Spring Training but he's only hit one homer this year, resulting in a .299/.368/.410 batting line in 133 Double-A plate appearances. That's not bad by any means, but you have to figure the Rockies hoped to see a little more after he hit 20 homers last season. Arenado has only played 33 games above Single-A, so he shouldn't be expecting a call to the big leagues anytime soon.

Trevor Bauer & Tyler Skaggs | SP | Diamondbacks

The D'Backs have already replaced Josh Collmenter with prospect Patrick Corbin, who has allowed seven runs in nine innings across two starts. He's jut keeping the seat warm for either Bauer or Skaggs. Bauer, 21, has made seven Double-A starts this season, posting an 11.1 K/9 and 1.96 ERA in 41 1/3 innings. The problem is that he's walked 5.4 batters per nine, so Arizona could leave him in the minors for a few more weeks to iron out his control. Skaggs, 20, is also in Double-A. He's pitched to a 3.06 ERA with 12.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 32 1/3 innings across six starts. It's worth noting that Bauer is on the team's 40-man roster but Skaggs is not.

Travis d'Arnaud | C | Blue Jays

There aren't many times that a .276/.346/.405 batting line could be considered a disappointment, but when a team's top prospect does that in an extreme hitter's environment like Triple-A Las Vegas, it's easy to feel underwhelmed. d'Arnaud, 23, had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his thumb this past offseason, which could be hampering his offense. With J.P. Arencibia producing a .346/.375/.558 batting with five doubles and two homers in his last 16 games following an awful start, the Jays can afford to be patient with their top young prospect.

Matt Harvey | SP | Mets

There may not be a player in this post with an easier path to the big leagues than Harvey. The 23-year-old has a 4.00 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 36 innings across seven Triple-A starts, but his primary competition for a MLB job at the moment is Miguel Batista and the rehabbing/injury prone Chris Young. There's almost no doubt that Harvey is one of the five best starting pitchers in the Mets' organization right now, so his biggest obstacle may be his own service time and the Super Two cutoff.

Brett Jackson & Anthony Rizzo | OF & 1B | Cubs

Not much is going right on Chicago's north side this season, but their two best prospects are giving fans reason to be excited in Triple-A. Jackson, a 23-year-old outfielder, is hitting .246/.350/.443 with three homers in five steals this season while Rizzo, a 22-year-old first baseman, owns a .356/.420/.661 batting line with ten homers. With Bryan LaHair is hitting the snot about of the ball (.384/.476/.767), Jackson's path to the show is much more clear, especially following the trade of Marlon Byrd. All he has to do is outproduce Tony Campana or wait for Alfonso Soriano to be traded. Rizzo could be stuck waiting a while.

Shelby Miller | SP | Cardinals

Arguably the top right-handed pitching prospect in the minors, the 21-year-old Miller is off to a bit of shaky start in Triple-A: 4.45 ERA with an 11.8 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 in 28 1/3 innings across six starts. He's also facing an uphill battle because the Cardinals have a pretty strong pitching rotation at the moment, with three starters with a sub-2.10 ERA and four with a sub-3.80 ERA. Their worst starter this year has been Adam Wainwright (5.76 ERA), but he's not going to lose his job anytime soon. It'll probably take an injury (or trade) for Miller to crack the rotation in St. Louis in the coming weeks.

Wil Myers | OF | Royals

Myers, 21, has already hit more homers this year (11) than he did all of last year (8), when he battled a knee injury. He's currently mashing in Double-A, posting a .339/.394/.722 line in 127 plate appearances. It is worth noting that he's repeating the level, however. Kansas City has gotten very little out of Jeff Francoeur (.252/.308/.333) and a hodge podge of center fielders (.245/.306/.327), so the need at the big league level is there. However, as J.J. Cooper of Baseball America writes, the Royals are likely to take a similar path to the one they took with Mike Moustakas before bringing up Myers. That means some time in Triple-A.

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Middlebrooks Gets A Chance With Youkilis Hurt

Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis has visited the disabled list five times since the start of the 2009 season, including his current stint due to a back strain. He's 33 years old, has hit just .205/.307/.345 since last year's All-Star break, and has a $13MM club option in his contract for 2013, so you can't fault the team for starting to think about their long-term future at the hot corner. That future is top prospect Will Middlebrooks, who was called up to the show yesterday and made his big league debut against the Athletics last night.

Middlebrooks, 23, went 2-for-3 with an infield single, a double, and a walk in his first Major League game on Wednesday. He had a monster month of April in Triple-A, whacking nine homers to go with a .333/.380/.677 batting line in exactly 100 plate appearances. That comes on the heels of a .285/.328/.506 showing (23 HR) at mostly Double-A in 2011, the breakout season that propelling him from interesting guy to the 51st best prospect in the game according to Baseball America.

The biggest concern about Middlebrooks' game is his plate discipline, or lack thereof. He really didn't improve on it a great deal during his short time in Triple-A either. His career walk rate coming into the season was just 7.5% of all plate appearances, right in line with his seven walks in those 100 minor league plate appearances this year. His 18 strikeouts are a touch below expected given his 26.8% career strikeout rate coming into the season. It typically takes between 150-200 plate appearances for walk and strikeout rates to stabilize according to FanGraphs, so the tiny bit of info we do have about WMB's plate discipline isn't overly reliable at the moment. Given his homer surge, it's fair to wonder if opposing pitchers have been pitching him more carefully, though you'd think that would result in more walks.

Anyway, you'd expect most young players to struggle with walks and strikeouts when they're first called up, so Middlebrooks' discipline issues won't be out of the ordinary for a rookie. The one thing the right-handed hitter will give fantasy owners is big power numbers, though it should be noted that Baseball America says his home run power is "to the opposite field and are line drives that carry out of the park" in their subscriber-only scouting report. Opposite field power is good, but that wouldn't allow him to take advantage of Fenway Park's most prominant feature, the 37-foot wall in left field that turns routine fly balls into doubles with regularity. Baseball America also cautions that Middlebrooks might not top a .275 batting average given his strikeout issues, but I was thinking something like .250 for his age-23 season anyway. Modest expectations, really.

The biggest problem for fantasy owners and WMB alike is Youkilis, who presumably will not stay on the disabled list forever and eventually reassume his starting third base job when healthy. Middlebrooks might only be manning the hot corner in Boston for another two weeks or so before returning to Triple-A. Youkilis hasn't done much with the bat in quite some time, but I would be surprised if manager Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox pull the plug on him before a few hundred plate appearances this season. Middlebrooks' fantasy value is dependent on how the club plays him more than anything. There's 20+ homer power here if given regular playing time, which makes him a fantasy option along the lines of Mike Moustakas or maybe even declining Aramis Ramirez.  Middlebrooks is definitely a name to remember for the future, but he might not offer enough to be worth a roster spot in 20120

Athletics Turn To Jarrod Parker For Rotation Help

Trading for prospects is nothing new for the Oakland Athletics, who turned the duo of Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez into seven prospects in separate trades this past offseason. Left-hander Tommy Milone, who came from the Nationals in the Gonzalez trade, has been in the A's rotation since Opening Day. Last night he was joined by the recently recalled Jarrod Parker, who came from the Diamondbacks in the Cahill trade. Replacing the generally ineffective Graham Godfrey, Parker held the White Sox to one run in 6 1/3 innings yesterday afternoon. He struck out five and walked just one, getting 17 of his 19 outs on the infield. It was a strong if unspectacular debut.

The 23-year-old Parker came to the Athletics with some big league experience. He threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dodgers is his first (and only other) big league start last September before making Arizona's playoff roster. In his lone appearance in the NLDS against the Brewers, Parker allowed three of the four batters he faced in relief to reach base. He pitched to a 3.79 ERA in 130 2/3 innings Double-A innings before the callup, showing the typical control problems associated with recent elbow surgery; Parker walked 3.8 BB/9 in the minors last year after missing all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery. In four Triple-A starts before his callup, he struck out 21 batters and walked just six in 20 2/3 innings. The performance is there, and the scouting report backs it all up.

Baseball America has long touted Parker as a future high-end starter, ranking him no worse than 46th on their annual Top 100 Prospects List every year from 2008-12. They ranked him as the top prospect in Oakland's farm system following the trade, saying he "has true frontline-starter potential and isn't far away from reaching it" in their subscriber-only scouting report. Reports of a mid-90s four-seam fastball, low-90s team-fastball, mid-80s slider, and mid-80s changeup are corroborated by the PitchFX data from his start last September as well as yesterday afternoon. Parker generated 11 swings and misses with 99 pitches yesterday, an excellent rate even if it came against the team with the third highest strikeout rate -- 21.8% of plate appearances -- in baseball.

So what does this all mean from a fantasy perspective? For one, Parker has the stuff to miss bats and rack up strikeouts. Keeping the ball out of play is a great way to escape jams, as is playing in a huge ballpark. The Coliseum in Oakland is one of the pitcher-friendliest parks in the Majors, as is Safeco Field and Angels Stadium. Outside of the Rangers lineup and the ballpark in Arlington, it's a pretty good division for a pitcher. The only problem is that while Parker will get some help keeping his ERA and WHIP down, he won't win you many games. He's a three-category asset in a standard 5x5 scoring league.

Parker's upcoming schedule isn't all that great, so you're going to have to keep him glued to the bench if you pick him up right away. If you don't pick him up right away ... someone else will. Parker's next start will come at Fenway Park against the Red Sox, then he lines up for home dates against the Blue Jays and Tigers before going on the road to face the Rangers. If another owner in your league doesn't play the matchup  game and gets frustrated by Parker's performance against those clubs, I'd look to buy low on him in about three weeks. Other than Matt Moore, I don't think there's a more fantasy-ready pitching prospect this season than the former Diamondbacks right-hander.

Recent Call-Ups: Frazier, Pomeranz, Smyly, Wilk

Three teams have made a quartet of interesting call-ups in recent weeks, but are any of the players worthy of a spot on a fantasy roster? Let's dig in...

Todd Frazier | 3B | Reds

Frazier, 26, was Cincinnati's last roster cut before the start of the season and now he's back with the club following Miguel Cairo's hamstring injury. He's hit .261/.335/.453 in parts of four seasons at Triple-A but didn't get his first taste of the show until last year. Baseball America has considered Frazier as one of the team's ten best prospects for a half-decade now, ranking him ninth this year because of his "plus power to all fields."

The problem for Frazier and fantasy owners is playing time. He's a corner infielder and outfielder by trade, and the Reds have those spots covered with Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, and Jay Bruce. Even the unconventional left field platoon of Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick has no room for Frazier because like those two guys, he's a right-handed hitter. Rolen looks pretty much done - .171/.209/.244 so far - plus he isn't exactly Mr. Durable, but it will probably take an injury to get Frazier into the lineup with an regularity. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system thinks he can hit 20 homers with 13 steals given regular at-bats in the show, but that's just not going to happen right now. Unless injury earns him a steady lineup spot, Frazier is a non-option in 12-team mixed leagues.

Drew Pomeranz | SP | Rockies

Part of last summer's Ubaldo Jimenez trade, the 23-year-old Pomeranz got his feet wet with the Rockies last September and allowed eleven runs in 18 1/3 innings across four starts. The southpaw made the team's rotation out of Spring Training, though he was sent to the minors for one start because off days allowed Colorado to avoid using their fifth starter. Pomeranz was recalled to make his first start of the season against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, allowing five runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Considered the 30th best prospect in the game before the season by Baseball America, Pomeranz has frontline stuff but must master his control to realize his potential. He walked 38 batters in 101 minor league innings last season (3.4 BB/9), but he also struck out 119 for a 10.6 K/9. Walks can be problematic when Coors Field is your home park, but the strikeouts do mitigate the risk somewhat. The NL West is also full of big-time pitcher's parks, which will help further. Pomeranz can be useful to your fantasy team if you pick and choose your spots. His next two starts are likely to come against the Brewers and Mets, but after that the Rockies run into a slate of games against the Dodgers, Braves, Padres, Dodgers (again), Giants, Diamondbacks (sans Chris Young and maybe Justin Upton), and then an interleague series with the Mariners. I'm buying Pomeranz right now, both for that short-term stretch and for the long-term upside in a keeper league.

Drew Smyly & Adam Wilk | SP | Tigers

The runners-up to Duane Below in the fifth starter's competition, both Smyly and Wilk are back in the big leagues and in Detroit's rotation. Doug Fister is on the shelf with an oblique strain and the team decided to keep Below in the bullpen after two early-season relief appearances. Smyly, 22, allowed one run in four innings to the Rays in his first start before shutting out the White Sox over six innings the second time out. The 24-year-old Wilk allowed two runs in five innings to those same ChiSox in his only start so far.

Neither Smyly or Wilk offers the same upside of Pomeranz, though Baseball America did rank Smyly as the Tigers' third best prospect before the season. Not only was Wilk much further down the list at 22, but he was also listed as a reliever. Below was 21st. Smyly is a bit of a personal fave as a true five-pitch - four-seamer, cutter, curveball, slider, changeup - left-hander with a strong but short minor league track record. He walked just 36 of the 501 batters he faced last season (7.2% and 2.6 BB/9) while striking out 130 in 126 innings (25.9% and 9.3 K/9). He also advanced three levels after being a 2010 draft pick. Smyly's next two starts are must-sits against the Rangers and Yankees, but after that the Tigers will go on to play the White Sox, Mariners, Athletics, White Sox (again), Twins, Pirates, Indians, and Twins (again). There is some definite fantasy value to be gained but matching up with Smyly over the next month.

Wilk will enjoy that same cushy schedule, but he has much less margin for error as a finesse southpaw - low-to-mid-80s fastball, curveball, change. His minor league walk rates are fantastic (1.2 BB/9 in 2011), but he doesn't miss many bats (just 6.7 K/9) and AL hitters will punish his mistakes. You might luck into a decent start or two next month, but Smyly is the better play both in terms of probability and upside. Fister suffered a bit of a setback in his rehab recently, so both Wilk and Smyly appear to have some short-term job security.

Braves Tab Randall Delgado As Fifth Starter

The Braves traded innings-eater Derek Lowe in the very first deal of the offseason because they felt they had the pitching depth to replace him. Even when Tim Hudson went down with a back injury, Atlanta still had the depth in place to fill his spot internally. Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor are locked into the top four rotation spots, meaning that fifth spot is going to one of the kids. Dave O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the news...

Delgado, 22, made seven effective starts for the Braves last summer. He pitched to a 2.83 ERA in 35 innings, but high pitch counts had him out of the game very early. Only once did he record more than 15 outs in a game despite averaging 89 pitches per start. Baseball America ranked him as the team's third best prospect behind the man he beat out for the fifth starter's job (Julio Teheran) and the presently injured Arodys Vizcaino. They also consider him to be the 46th best prospect in baseball while Keith Law is a bit more bearish; he ranked Delgado 98th. "His best offering is a plus curveball with sharp downward bite, and he also has a solid changeup," wrote Baseball America in their subscriber-only scouting report, while also acknowledging that he needs to work on commanding his 92-94 mph fastball.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system isn't Delgado's biggest fan, projecting him to pitch to a 4.74 ERA with seven wins and 121 strikeouts in 29 starts (151 2/3 innings) this summer. Nothing about that makes you want to run out and add him to your fantasy roster, and truth be told it's always tough to rely on a kid pitcher in your fantasy rotation (unless his name is Matt Moore). With Hudson due back in early-May, Delgado's time in Atlanta's rotation is limited barring another injury. Remember, Jurrjens isn't exactly My. Durable. That said, Delgado can be useful for reasons beyond his control.

The Braves' early-season schedule is favorable as far as matchups are concerned. Their off-days are spaced out, so they will need their fifth starter at least three times in the first three weeks of the season. Delgado's first starts are likely to come at Houston against the lowly Astros, against the Mets at home, then at the low-offense Dodgers in Chavez Ravine. The Mets have a sneaky good lineup, so that's probably one to aoid. You can beef up your counting stats (and possibly your ERA and WHIP) by spot-starting Delgado against the Astros and Dodgers however, and matching up against subpar offenses is the best way to deploy shaky back-end starters in fantasy leagues.

Elite Prospect Updates: Moore, Trout, Harper

Elite prospects are always popular targets come draft day, and this year we have a trio of ultra-promising young players on the cusp of the big leagues and eager to help your fantasy team. To help you prepare for the early part of the season, here's the lastest news on each of those three players. Average Draft Positions come courtesy of Mock Draft Central.

Matt Moore, LHP, TB
ADP - 104

A mild oblique strain held the game's best pitching prospect back early in Spring Training, but Moore got into his first game action this week and struck out three of the six men he faced. Thanks to his new contract extension, the Rays have no salary or free agency-related reason to send the 22-year-old southpaw to Triple-A to start the season. Either Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis will be shifted to the bullpen to free up a rotation spot, with Niemann the favorite to remain a starter. A trade is always possible as well. There's enough time left in Spring Training for Moore to make four starts, which should give him plenty of time to properly stretch out and start the team's fourth or fifth game of the regular season. Oblique issues can be tricky though, and a setback would surely have him start the season on the DL.

I ranked Moore as the 43rd best starting pitcher in fantasy baseball a few weeks ago, but I like him quite a bit more than that. I can definitely see a Madison Bumgarner-type of performance coming in 2012, which means something like 13 wins, a 3.30 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 8.5 K/9. Given the tough AL East competition, I would probably take the over on the ERA though.

Mike Trout, OF, LAA
ADP - 220

Injuries are a theme in this post, but in Trout's case it's an illness. The 20-year-old told Bill Plunkett of The Orange County register that he's "feeling weak and feverish with no appetite" due to a flu-like virus which has also caused him to lose ten pounds. Trout hasn't played in close to a week now, so his already long chances of making the club out of camp have been diminished further. The Angels have a logjam of outfielders and DH-types with Mark Trumbo, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Kendrys Morales penciled into just three lineup spots (four if you're feeling generous and think Trumbo can cut it at third). Abreu and Wells are release candidates, but the latter will likely get a significant opportunity to show he's worth the $63MM left on his contract.

Trout was #59 on my list of fantasy outfielders mostly because his playing time is so uncertain. The talent is there for him to club double-digit homers with 30+ steals if given 400 plate appearances, although the high batting averages might not come right away. Fantasy owners won't benefit from Trout's above-average defense, but there's enough here to become a top ten fantasy outfielder in the near future. I just wouldn't expect it to happen this summer given the team's currect roster situation.

Bryce Harper, OF, WAS
ADP - 227

Harper has been limited by a calf issue this week, prompting him to tell Jon Heyman of that he probably won't be able to make the team out of Spring Training despite his (and manager Davey Johnson's) wishes. Still just 19, Harper has five singles and two walks in 13 at-bats this spring, and he was going to really have blow the doors off the competition to have a realistic chance to make the club. There's a open spot in the outfield calling his name and GM Mike Rizzo says he's still a candidate for the roster, but I get the sense the club is content with letting the game's best power prospect get some more time in the minors rather than throw him to the big league wolves as a teenager.

I didn't rank Harper among the game's 60 best fantasy outfielders only because I find it very hard to believe a kid that young will be that productive right away. Harper has insane power, legitimate 40 homers-a-year type of power, but no teenager has ever hit even 30 homers in a season, and only twice in the last 50 years has a 20-year-old managed 30 homers (Alex Rodriguez in 1996 and Tony Conigliaro in 1965). There figures to be a point in the not too distant future when Bryce is among the game's very players (fantasy or reality), but that probably won't happen in 2012.

Fantasy Baseball Advice: Duke Nukes 'Em

Three weeks later, it's time to revisit Pittsburgh prospect Zach Duke.  On the heels of yet another dominant victory, we'll look at just how sustainable the 22 year-old's success will be.

When we last spoke of Zach Duke, we implored you to pick him up immediately.   The Roto Authority was singing his praises after two excellent starts to begin his major league career.  We did caution that his ERA would certainly not remain near  1.93.  In a way, we were right:  Duke's ERA now stands at a miniscule 0.92 after 39.1 innings pitched.  Duke struck out just two in today's annihilation of the red-hot Braves, but his performance was still excellent. 

We expected the strikeouts to come back down to Earth, but we also expected the ERA to ascend to the 3.50 range.   Duke has been stingy with the hits and walks, and it's paid off so far.  Throwing out his rain delay game, Duke is averaging 107 pitches per game.  Despite Duke's age, Lloyd McClendon is not giving him the quick hook.  Expect Felix Hernandez's debut this Thursday in Seattle to be much the opposite - he will be limited to 80 pitches and is no lock to stay in the rotation. 

So what to do with Duke from a fantasy baseball perspective?  What can we expect from him in the future? 

Let's turn to Baseball Prospectus's forecasting system, PECOTA, for some estimates.  PECOTA foresaw a 3.28 ERA in 133 innings from Duke as a best case scenario, that is, his 90th percentile projection.   He can do that while maintaining pretty much the same strikeout and walk rates.   An ERA in the 3 range is a reasonable projection for 2005.

What about a long-term projection?  PECOTA sees Duke's top comparables as Mark Buehrle, Rick Wise, and Tommy John.   Duke should be happy to be mentioned in the same breath as these guys at the tender age of 22.  So you're looking at a durable pitcher with an ERA below 3.50 for at least the next five years.  Wins may be hard to come by on a team like the Pirates. 

Should you "sell high" on Zach Duke?  It depends.  Duke's 0.92 ERA and perfect record are obviously over his head.  Still, he's yet to have a bad start and many teams will still be facing him for the first time.  He could easily finish the year 10-2 with a 2.40 ERA.  Even if the success is fleeting, what pitcher could give you better numbers?  Not very many.

Don't deal Duke for a pitcher unless you receive a bona fide young ace, such as Rich Harden, Mark Prior, or Johan Santana.  Since these deals are unlikely, consider an up-and-coming can't miss position player.  David Wright and Miguel Cabrera come to mind.  Position players are more reliable and less susceptible to injury, so if you consider yourself a shrewd pitching evaluator, deal Duke for one of these types.  Names like Jeff Francoeur might seem tempting, but you need top-line proven talent to pull the trigger.

Rock N' Roto: Today we are recommending an obscure, rocking album from the band Ozma.  Ozma's 2001 album Rock and Roll Part Three features eleven power-pop tracks reminiscent of Weezer, back when Weezer rocked.  The album features the best baseball song ever recorded, the aptly titled, "Baseball."  Expect plenty of keyboards and vocal harmonies.  This blogger is right - "Baseball" may well be one of the best ten songs you've never heard. 

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