Rookies


The Next Big Thing: Waiting On Top Prospects

The 2012 season was the year of immediate impact. All across the league we saw rookie players come up and contribute more than expected, and it started right in April with reigning Rookies of the Year Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. It extended far beyond those two, of course. Wade Miley was an All-Star for the Diamondbacks, Rob Brantly hit .290 with a .372 OBP in a month's worth of games for the Marlins, Manny Machado hit two homers in his second game with the Orioles, the division-winning Athletics had an all-rookie rotation at one point, the list goes on and on. Todd Frazier, Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks, Anthony Rizzo ... there were impact rookies everywhere.

Fantasy owners are looking for that next big thing every season, and that search figures to be a little more intense in 2012 after the banner rookie class of a year ago. Top prospects are always a great place to start, but some are blocked or simply two far away from the majors to have real fantasy value. Some are the victims of their own success as clubs will keep them in the minors in April and May to ensure an extra year of team control down the line. Here's a look at some of the game's best up-and-coming big leaguers who could be this season's Trout or Harper.

Arizona Diamondbacks: LHP Tyler Skaggs
The D'Backs have a strong rotation fronted by Miley, Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, and Brandon McCarthy, but that fifth spot is up for grabs. Patrick Corbin handled himself well enough last year (4.54 ERA in 107 IP) and Josh Collmenter is lurking, but the 21-year-old Skaggs will get a chance to make the team out of Spring Training as well. He got hit pretty hard in six late-season starts (5.83 ERA and 1.50 WHIP) but that's not the end of the world. His minor league performance is dynamite (2.87 ERA and 8.5 K/9 in 2012) and his curveball is a true out-pitch. The trade that sent Trevor Bauer to the Indians removed one fifth starter candidate from Arizona's equation, but my guess is Corbin will get the first shot with Skaggs waiting in Triple-A for someone to get hurt or underperform.

Baltimore Orioles: RHP Dylan Bundy
The Orioles made a bold move late last season by calling up baseball's best pitching prospect for the stretch run in September even though he was still a teenager at the time. Bundy, who has since turned 20, made two short relief appearances and is slated for more time in the minors in 2013. He has just 103 2/3 total minor league innings under his belt, only 16 2/3 have come above the Single-A level. Baltimore has already shown a willingness to use Bundy in the big leagues, but I highly doubt using him as a starter right out of Spring Training is in the cards. If anything, the young right-hander is a second half call-up.

Houston Astros: 1B Jonathan Singleton
No team is rebuilding quite like the Astros, though they recently signed Carlos Pena to caddy with Brett Wallace at the first base and DH spots. The first base seat is just being kept warm for the 21-year-old Singleton, who hit .284/.396/.497 with 21 homers in Double-A last season. He followed up the season with an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League. Houston has every reason to play the service time game with Singleton, who they acquired from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade two years ago. After a few hundred Triple-A at-bats to start the season, expect to see he young left-handed hitter in the middle of the big league lineup.

New York Mets: RHP Zack Wheeler & C Travis d'Arnaud
Matt Harvey deserved a mention in my quick list of impact rookies in the intro, and he figures to have some running mates in 2013. Like the Astros and Singleton, the Mets have every reason to manipulate Wheeler's and d'Arnaud's service time next season. Wheeler, 22, is arguably the second best pitching prospect in the game but I do not think the team will want to keep him in Triple-A Las Vegas very long. It might the best hitter's environment in professional baseball and could wreck a pitcher's confidence over the full season. Since he needs a challenge after overwhelming the Double-A level this past season (3.27 ERA with 8.5 K/9), expect to see the right-hander in New York's rotation come June.

D'Arnaud, 23, was the centerpiece of the R.A. Dickey trade. He hit a stout .333/.380/.595 with 16 homers in Last Vegas last season (the Mets and Blue Jays swapped Triple-A affiliates this offseason) but did not play after late-June due to a knee injury. After another few hundred at-bats in Triple-A, expect to see d'Arnaud replace John Buck behind the plate at the big league level. He, Wheeler, and Harvey are the team's high-end battery of the future.

Seattle Mariners: RHP Taijuan Walker, LHP James Paxton & LHP Danny Hultzen
Perhaps no club has as many high-end pitching prospects as Seattle, especially if you want to factor in closeness to the majors. Walker, 20, is the best of the bench despite some hiccups at Double-A in 2012 (4.69 ERA). He did skip right over High-A High Desert to avoid the hitter friendly California League, so we'll cut him some slack. There is true ace potential in the young righty, but he's unlikely to see a meaningful amount of big league innings this coming season.

Paxton, 24, is probably first in line of the big three after pitching to a 3.04 ERA (9.3 K/9) at Triple-A last season. He'll get a long look in Spring Training and at the moment, his main competition for a rotation spot is the right-handed trio of Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, and Hector Noesi. I would expect to see Paxton sooner rather than later in 2013, perhaps even as a member of the Opening Day rotation. Hultzen, 23, has quite a bit of work ahead of him after walking 43 batters in 48 2/3 Triple-A innings last season, including 14 walks in his final 7 1/3 innings of the year. I wouldn't count on him for fantasy purposes next season.

St. Louis Cardinals: OF Oscar Taveras, RHP Shelby Miller & RHP Trevor Rosenthal
The Cardinals have arguably the best farm system in baseball, and they seem to produce productive players at an extraordinary rate. Jaime Garcia got hurt? Here's Joe Kelly (3.53 ERA in 107 IP). Need a versatile bench player? There's Matt Carpenter (.828 OPS while playing five positions). Rafael Furcal blew out his elbow? Don't worry, Pete Kozma will save the day (.952 OPS late in the season). I wouldn't count on Kozma ever doing that again, but the point stands. The Cardinals are an exceptional player development club.

Taveras, 20, is arguably the best pure hitting prospect in the minors. He managed a .321/.380/.572 line in Double-A a year ago and following up with a dominant winter ball showing. He's slated to open the season back in Triple-A and although St. Louis has a superb big league outfield, Taveras figures to make his debut in the second half either as an injury replacement or by simply forcing his way into the lineup a la Allen Craig. Miller and Rosenthal, both 22, made their MLB debuts late last year and pitched well enough to earn at least a real shot at making the team out of camp. Rosenthal in particular dazzled in relief, especially during the postseason (15 strikeouts and four baserunners in 8 2/3 innings). The Cardinals have rotation depth with Garcia, Kelly, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Lance Lynn, but Garcia and Carpenter are injury concerns at this point. I believe Rosenthal will open the year in the bullpen (and be a force) while Miller bides his time as a starter in Triple-A.

Tampa Bay Rays: OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi & RHP Chris Archer
The Rays play the service time game as much as anyone, though they didn't play it well enough with David Price. He qualified for Super Two status by approximately two weeks. Desmond Jennings, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson all had to wait their turn in recent years. The most notable exception is Evan Longoria, who was recalled a handful of days into the 2008 season only to be given a long-term contract extension (giving the team cost certainty) a few days later.

Myers, 22, was the centerpiece of the James Shields trade and could easily be in line for a Longoria-esque quick promotion and extension, but a return trip to the minors to start the season after striking out 140 times in 2012 seems like a safe bet. Tampa has enough outfield depth with Jennings, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Guyer, and Sam Fuld to cover. The 24-year-old Archer and 22-year-old Odorizzi are at the mercy of the team's rotation depth. Even after moving Shields and Wade Davis, they still boast a starting staff that includes Price, Hellickson, Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, and possibly even the recently-signed Roberto Hernandez. Archer made six big league appearances last season (4.60 ERA) and is a) first in line for a promotion, and b) more fantasy useful given his elite strikeout rate (11.0 K/9 in MLB and 9.8 K/9 in the minors).

Texas Rangers: 3B Mike Olt & SS Jurickson Profar
Baseball isn't fair some times. Quality players at shortstop and third base are in short supply these days, yet Texas boasts an elite left side of the infield both at the big league level (Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre) and in the upper minors (Profar and Olt). I'm convinced the 24-year-old Olt will be traded before the season (Justin Upton?), especially since Lance Berkman will take most, if not all of the DH at-bats. Depends on where he ends up, Olt could either open the season in the show or back in Triple-A. That's a situation worth monitoring given all of the current injury-prone and unreliable fantasy third base options.

Profar, 19, is baseball's top prospect, and GM Jon Daniels recently told Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas that he doesn't envision using him as a bench player. "It doesn't necessarily make sense ... I don't see (Olt and Profar) as bench players. It doesn't make sense," said the GM. There had been some rumblings Profar could open the season with the MLB club as a second baseman with Ian Kinsler sliding over to first (or the outfield). Either way, he's the only prospect in the minors with a chance to have a Troutian level of impact, meaning power and speed and run-production. That's impossible and unfair to expect from any prospect however, especially someone so young. Profar will definitely play in the big leagues next season after receiving a September call-up last year, but the "when" part is a total wildcard right now.



The Best Fantasy Starting Pitcher Of 2012

Two weeks ago we voted on the best non-Mike Trout fantasy position player of the season, with Yoenis Cespedes beating Todd Frazier and Bryce Harper by no small margin. The Athletics' outfielder has contributed in all five traditional scoring categories, so it wasn't the most difficult choice.

The crop of rookie starting pitchers is surprisingly strong, strong enough that preseason top megaprospect Matt Moore won't even garner much Rookie of the Year consideration. The left-hander hasn't been bad by any means, but expectations were (unrealistically?) high. Matt Harvey had as good a big league debut as anyone, but he was unable to accumulate a meaningful amount of innings. Wei-Yin Chen had a fine first season in MLB, but he basically a league average producer. With all due respect to Mike Fiers (only 121 1/3 innings) and Lance Lynn (technically not a rookie due to service time), here are the three best fantasy starting pitchers of the year...

Yu Darvish | Rangers | 16 W | 3.90 ERA | 214 K | 1.27 WHIP | 184 2/3 IP

I don't love the idea that veterans of the Japanese league are considered rookies, but the rules say they are and that's all that matters. The 26-year-old Darvish has lived up to the hype this year, particularly of late. He owns the third highest strikeout rate (10.4 K/9) among qualified starters and has pitched to a 2.13 ERA with a 60/14 K/BB in his last seven starts (50 2/3 innings). His early-season walk problems -- 5.05 BB/9 as late as mid-August -- have been assuaged, bringing his WHIP down to respectable levels. The ERA is still dangerously close to the 4.08 league average, however.

Wade Miley | Diamondbacks | 16 W | 3.32 ERA | 134 K | 1.20 WHIP | 187 IP

Few teams can match the upper level pitching depth that Arizona has, but it was 25-year-old Miley who broke out of the Trevor Bauer/Tyler Skaggs/Patrick Corbin crop to became an impact pitcher as a freshman. The southpaw ranks 21st out of 91 qualified starters in ERA, though his strikeout rate (6.5 K/9) hardly stands out. Miley came into the season with relatively little hype and has exceeded all expectations, even earning a trip to the All-Star Game. In a world where pitcher wins and ERA are so important, he reigns supreme among rookies.

Jarrod Parker | Athletics | 12 W | 3.44 ERA | 134 K | 1.26 WHIP | 175 1/3 IP

Parker, 23, was another one of those high-end pitching prospects in the D'Backs system before they traded him to Oakland in the Trevor Cahill deal before the season. He stepped into the rotation in late-April and carried a flat 3.00 ERA into late-July. August wasn't very kind (4.71 ERA), but Parker has since rebounded in September (2.31 ERA). He doesn't have the one or two real standout categories to his credit like Darvish (strikeouts) or Miley (wins and ERA), but he has been a rock solid contributor in all non-save scoring categories. It's worth noting that his teammates share some of the blame on the low win total, as Parker has left a game either tied or trailing despite allowing two runs or fewer on seven occasions.



Orioles Give Bundy A Late Season Promotion

The Orioles are right in the thick of the AL East race, and last month they decided to bolster their roster by calling up infielder Manny Machado. He hasn't been great in his 153 plate appearance sample (.264/.276/.426 with four homers), but he has solidified what was an ugly third base situation. Baltimore took things one step further yesterday, calling up right-hander Dylan Bundy to pitch out of the bullpen during the final two weeks of the season. Monday's marathon 18-inning game against the Mariners stretched the Orioles bullpen thin, prompting the call-up.

At just 19 years old and one year removed from being drafted out of high school, Bundy is the youngest pitcher on a big league roster at the moment. He is the game's top pitching prospect and arguably the best prospect in baseball overall, regardless of position. Baseball America had him in the top spot of their midseason top 50 while ESPN's Keith Law had him second behind only Jurickson Profar in his midseason top 25 (Insider req'd). Bundy's minor league numbers are off-the-charts good, including a 2.08 ERA in 103 2/3 innings while climbing three levels from Low Class-A to Double-A. He struck out 119 (10.3 K/9) and walked just 28 (2.4 BB/9) while surrendering only 67 total hits and six homers. The scouting report backs up the performance as well. From Baseball America's preseason subscriber-only scouting report...

Tick off everything scouts want in an ace, and Bundy has it. Fastball? He pitches at 94-98 mph and touches 100 with his fourseamer, which features explosive life. He also uses a low-90s two-seamer to get groundballs and also has a cutter in the same range that essentially gives him a third plus fastball. Complementary pitches? In addition to his cutter, his upper-70s curveball already grades as a plus pitch, and he shows good feel for a solid changeup. Mechanics? Bundy is a great athlete with good body control, so his mechanics are clean and balanced and he repeats his delivery well. That should give him good command, and he also shows a great feel for his craft.

Bundy has yet to appear in a game with Baltimore (hey, it's only been one day) and it's very unclear how the Orioles will use him going forward. Manager Buck Showalter hinted that the right-hander was going to be the first out of the bullpen last night, but instead he turned to his core relievers like Darren O'Day and Pedro Strop in the tight game. Given where we are in the season, how Showalter uses Bundy is going to be the driving force behind the youngster's fantasy usefulness. If he's not going to pitch, he's not worth a roster spot. It's that simple. Despite his age, he has the potential to be absolutely dominant in short bursts (one or two or three innings at a time) out of the bullpen, enough so that he will have fantasy value despite a presumed lack of saves. We just don't know how often we're going to see him.

Long-term, Bundy is one of the top keeper pitching prospects in baseball. In the short-term though, it's tough to consider him worth a roster spot in fantasy crunch time. The Orioles have a great bullpen and a lot of established relievers that will get the call ahead of him, so his usage figures to be too sporadic to count on. You're definitely better off keeping a reliever, even just a strong setup man, who you know is going to pitch down the stretch. Bundy is a great young pitcher and will be a fantasy factor for years to come, but his time is not now. Enjoy his appearances as fan, but don't put yourself in a position to obsess over them fantasy-wise.



The Best Fantasy Rookie Hitter Of 2012*

* Not counting Mike Trout, because c'mon man.

Other than the imminent insanity of the Wild Card chase, the storyline of 2012 is immediate impact. A number of prospects - both high-end and middling - came up to the show this year and gave their club an instant shot in the arm. Trout has pretty much carried the Angels since the day he was recalled, Manny Machado swatted two homers in his second game as a big leaguer, Matt Harvey whiffed 11 guys in his first career start, Jurickson Profar homered in his first career at-bat ... so on and so forth. With young players becoming more and more important as baseball evolves, kids who come up and have immediate impact are essential in both the real and fantasy baseball worlds.

Trout is, by far, the best rookie of 2012 and possibly the best ever, but he's gotten enough attention this year already. Here are three other top rookies - two just as hyped as Trout, one not so much - who turned into fantasy stalwarts this summer...

Yoenis Cespedes | OF | Athletics | .287/.343/.483 | 18 HR | 45 R | 16 SB | 452 PA

A hand strain and nagging hamstring problems cost the 26-year-old Cuban defector roughly 30 games earlier this season, but he's provided exactly the kind of offensive firepower that was expected when Oakland signed him to that four-year, $36MM contract just prior to Spring Training. It might be a little late to join the 20-20 club but Cespedes almost certainly would have gotten there if it wasn't for the hand strain-induced DL stint in May. I think that more than anything, his batting average is better than expected. Reports indicated that he had wasn't a patient hitter and a little too pull happy with a long swing, but he's been able to stay on breaking balls and pitches on the outer half. The number of .280+, 18+ HR, and 15+ SB outfielders this year is only six deep: Cespedes, Trout, Ryan Braun, Alex Rios, Carlos Gonzalez, and Andrew McCutchen.

Todd Frazier | 1B, 3B, OF | Reds | .283/.344/.516 | 18 HR | 52 R | 3 SB | 422 PA

When Scott Rolen got hurt earlier this season, the Reds called on Frazier to fill the gap at third base and he's done more than that. A prospect for what feels like an eternity -- he was drafted in 2007 and has spent parts of four seasons in Triple-A - the 26-year-old Frazier is one of only seven third base eligible players to hit at least .280 with 18+ dingers this year, joining guys like Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, and Ryan Zimmerman. He filled in at first base while Joey Votto was out and he's also picked up outfield eligibility. The raw production is great, but also having the flexibility to squeeze him into a fantasy lineup on any given day is a huge boon as well.

Bryce Harper | OF | Nationals | .262/.335/.454 | 18 HR | 82 R | 13 SB | 523 PA

It's hard to believe Harper is just 19 years old when you see him hit balls like this. Only two teenagers in baseball history have hit 15+ homers and stolen 10+ bases in a single season, and that's Harper and Ken Griffey Jr. An extended slump after the All-Star break dragged his numbers down a bit, but he's shaken it off and continues to produce like a two tier outfielder at an age when most kids are freshmen are college. The batting average might be a little light, but Harper has scored far more runs than Cesepdes and Frazier thanks to his playing time and spot in the batting order (second rather than fourth or fifth).


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Three September Call-Ups To Watch For

The calendar turns over to September this Saturday, meaning clubs will expand their rosters and call-up extra players for the stretch run. Most September call-ups are spare parts - third catchers, extra left-handed relievers, etc. - but every so often a team will bring a top prospect to the big leagues and give him a month's worth of playing time. David Price and Francisco Rodriguez are the two most notable September call-ups in recent memory, as both went on to become key components of a deep playoff run. Impact like that is the exception though, not the rule. Here are three high-end prospects who could make their way to the big leagues next month and actually have some fantasy value...

Jurickson Profar | SS | Texas Rangers

The 19-year-old wunderkind from Curacao has emerged as baseball's top prospect this summer. Profar has hit .280/.367/.452 with 14 homers and 16 steals in Double-A this season, which is insane production given his age relative to the competition. It's worth noting that he's played some games at second base lately and in each of the last two games, he was used off the bench as a pinch-hitter. It's very possible the Rangers are preparing him for a call-up, though Jeff Wilson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says it may not happen until the end of the Double-A postseason.

Fantasy owners should keep the plight of Mike Olt in mind when considering Profar's fantasy impact. Texas called up their other elite prospect in early-August and he's gotten just 32 plate appearances so far, including only six starts in 26 team games. Perhaps things will be different later in September after the Rangers clinch a playoff berth, but I would be skeptical right now. Profar is a definite keeper long-term, but his 2012 impact may be severely limited.

Wil Myers | OF | Kansas City Royals

After starring at the Futures Game in Kansas City and for most of the season in Triple-A, the 21-year-old Myers may finally get a chance to crack the outfield in Kauffman Stadium next month. He's hit a whopping .307/.384/.589 with 35 homers in 568 total plate appearances, pretty much confirming that he's ready for the next level. Calling up Myers could require the team to either finally bench Jeff Francoeur or sit Lorenzo Cain, the latter of whom might actually have a future with the team. If he does get the call and does play everyday in some outfield position, Myers could be a nice little late-season boost for fantasy owners, potentially chipping in something like 5-6 homers the rest of the way. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Shelby Miller | SP | St. Louis Cardinals

Earlier this week Joe Strauss of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (on Twitter) that there is a "strong sentiment" within the organization to promote Miller, the 21-year-old flamethrower who's pitched to a 4.89 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 130 2/3 Triple-A innings this year. Those numbers aren't all that impressive overall, but the right-hander has a 57/4 K/BB in his last eight starts and seems to have figured some things out.

If the Cardinals do recall Miller next month, they'll have the option to use him out of the bullpen or instead of Joe Kelly in the rotation. I wouldn't count on him replacing Jason Motte as closer, so he would have the most fantasy value as a starter. The September schedule is loaded with intra-division games as always, meaning a whole lotta games against the lowly Astros and Cubs. St. Louis also has a West Coast swing through San Diego and Los Angeles on their slate, adding two top pitcher's parks into the mix. Miller definitely offers some impact potential going forward, assuming the club actually decides to call him up and insert him into the rotation down the stretch.



D'Backs Turn To Skaggs As Latest Rotation Aid

The Diamondbacks came into the season with perhaps more high-end young pitching than any other team in baseball, and they've had a chance to cycle through pretty much all of it this year. Right-hander Archie Bradley is still several years away, but Patrick Corbin has settled in as a solid rotation fixture while the mega-hyped Trevor Bauer got a brief four-start audition earlier this summer. Yesterday Arizona turned to 21-year-old left-hander Tyler Skaggs to start game one of a doubleheader. He, like Corbin, was part of the Dan Haren trade, and yesterday's MLB debut featured two runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Marlins despite more walks (five) than strikeouts (four). Apparently it wasn't a one-start deal either...

Skaggs, 21, was considered the 13th best prospect in baseball before the season and the seventh best prospect at midseason by Baseball America. In their subscriber-only scouting report, they mention that he sits anywhere from 88-93 mph with the fastball and backs it up with two offspeed offerings: a sharp curveball "that's a true swing-and-miss pitch" and a changeup that is "at least an average pitch." PitchFX data from yesterday's game (available at Brooks Baseball) confirms Baseball America's report while noting that he also threw a handful of cutters as well.

Prior to being recalled, Skaggs pitched to a 2.87 ERA with 8.5 K/9 (23.1% of batters faced) and 2.7 BB/9 (7.4%) in 122 1/3 minor league innings. He made 13 starts with Double-A Mobile before moving up and making another nine with Triple-A Reno. This was the first year of his career in which he struck out fewer than a batter per inning, though few top prospects maintain their minor league 9+ K/9 in the show. Yesterday's five-walk, four-strikeout showing can be chalked up to jitters at this point, I see no reason to believe it's indicative of a long-term problem.

The D'Backs bounced Corbin back and forth between the rotation and bullpen and few times earlier this season, and right now Skaggs' role with the club is undefined. Veteran southpaw Joe Saunders is on trade waivers and prime candidate to be moved, so that could free up a rotation spot. The only left-hander in Arizona's bullpen at the moment is the shaky Mike Zagurski, who was designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A earlier this month only to be recalled when Takashi Saito was placed on the DL. If Saunders is not dealt, Skaggs could wind up working as a reliever for the next few weeks.

I like Skaggs quite a bit and think he could really help both the D'Backs and fantasy owners down the stretch. Certainly more than Saunders will, anyway. If they keep their young southpaw in the rotation, his next two starts figure to come on the road against the Dodgers and Padres, and those are two pretty decent matchups. If they stick him in the bullpen, then he's not worth a roster spot. It's not like he's going to usurp J.J. Putz or anything. Bauer's performance was disappointing given the hype, but I believe Skaggs is a better bet to have immediate impact given his lack of control and walk issues in the minors.



Cubs Turn The Reigns Over To Jackson & Vitters

The Chicago Cubs started a new era in franchise history when the Theo Epstein-led regime took over this past offseason, and they've systematically started a rebuilding process by trading veterans and acquiring young talent. Players like Sean Marshall, Carlos Zambrano, and Ryan Dempster were traded for prospects and/or salary relief in recent months, and youngsters like Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney were eased into the starting lineup. Following the trade deadline, the Cubs recalled two of their highest profile prospects and have handed them regular playing time. Let's look at their fantasy value.

Brett Jackson | OF

Jackson, 24, was the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft and steadily climbed the minor league ladder before making his debut. He's only hit .188/.257/.281 in 35 big league plate appearances so far, but he's a .282/.379/.488 career hitter in the minors with 10+ homers and 20+ steals in each of the last three seasons. Jackson also provides a lot of value with his center field defense, but that's irrelevant in fantasy.

The biggest problem with the outfielder is, by far, his knack for the swing and miss. Jackson has whiffed on 24 of the 159 pitches he's seen in the big leagues, a tidy 15.1%. The league average is slightly more than half that at 9.0%. He's struck out 18 times with the Cubs already, and in the minor leagues more than one-quarter (26.4%, to be exact) of his plate appearances ended with strike three. That's astromical for a top prospect and a massive hole in his game that could be his ultimate downfall. Jackson will get a chance to play for the rest of the season, but outside of a handful of steals and maybe a few homers, his fantasy value is nil until he can put the ball in play consistently.

Josh Vitters | 3B

The third overall pick in the 2007 draft, the 22-year-old Vitters took a little longer to get to the show than first overall pick David Price and second overall pick Mike Moustakas. The third baseman has produced just a .103/.100/.138 batting line in 30 plate appearances since being recalled, though he put together a .304/.356/.513 performance in Triple-A earlier this year. He's a .283/.327/.455 career hitter in over 2,100 minor league plate appearances.

While Jackson is prone to swings and misses, Vitters is the polar opposite. His problem is that he makes contact a little too easily, and often puts pitches in play that he shouldn't be swinging at in the first place. The ability to get the bat on the ball is why he was drafted so high, but the lack of plate discipline has kept Vitters from realizing his full potential during his climb up the minor league ladder. That doesn't mean things won't click in the future, but for 2012 we have another guy with little to no fantasy value. The Cubs are headed in the right direction and have done a smart thing by giving Jackson and Vitters an extended look at the end of the season, but unfortunately neither player is worth a fantasy roster spot at this point of their careers.



Orioles Make Manny Machado A Surprise Call-Up

Despite having the fourth worst run differential in the American League (-47), the surprising Orioles remain right in the thick of the AL East race thanks to their insane 22-6 record in one-run games and 12-2 record in extra-inning games. They're 4.5 games back of the Yankees in the division and tied for one of the two Wild Card spots because their dynamite bullpen (3.04 ERA) keeps them in every tight game.

The Orioles are not without their faults though, and through yesterday's game they had received some of the worst third base production in the league at .246/.319/.406. Wilson Betemit has seen the majority of the action at the hot corner, but Mark Reynolds, Robert Andino, Ryan Flaherty, and Steven Tolleson have also gotten some reps at third. With their first winning record since 1997 staring them in the face, Baltimore decided to recall top shortstop prospect Manny Machado from Double-A after last night's game with the idea of installing him at third. He's expected to be in today's lineup.

Machado, 20, was ranked as the 11th best prospect in the game by Baseball America this spring before placing ninth in their recent midseason update. The third overall pick in the 2010 draft has played exactly two games at third base in his minor league career, both this year at Double-A. The rest have been at shortstop with a few DH starts sprinkled in. The kid's going to be learning the position on the fly in the big leagues, which isn't an easy thing to do.

Furthermore, this isn't exactly a case of a player forcing the team's hand. Machado was having a very strong season in Double-A for a kid his age - .266/.352/.438 with 11 homers - but it's hardly a performance that screams "call me up, I'm big league ready!" That's why the move is very aggressive on the part of the Orioles, but they do deserve some credit for being gutsy enough to do it. New GM Dan Duquette seems intent on winning this year.

Machado is already shortstop-eligible in most fantasy leagues and will pick up third base eligibility soon enough. He's a legitimate power bat with some stolen base ability, but he's more of a middle of the order guy than a tablesetter, or at least he's expected to be in time. Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS projection system considered Machado a true talent .248/.303/.389 hitter (with 13 homers) at the big league level coming into the season, which is just a snapshot in time. That's the expectation for the 20-year-old kid jumping right into the show, not the 27-year-old future version in the peak of his career.

As excellent as Machado is as a prospect, he's not Mike Trout (or even Bryce Harper) and expecting that kind of immediate impact would be a setup for disappointment. He could always smash his way to a .300 average with eight or ten homers the rest of the way, but that would be the best case scenario in a relatively small sample. Expecting even a repeat of his Double-A effort might be asking too much. Shortstop is a pretty thin fantasy position however, and if you're willing to gamble on upside there are few better players to do it with. Unless you're in a long-term keeper league, I can't advise dropping an established producer for Machado this season, especially if you're in contention. It's easy to overlook the risk part of the high-risk/high-reward moves.



Rangers Turn To Mike Olt To Help Offense

The Rangers have been one of the two or three best teams in baseball basically since Opening Day, but they only went 9-14 and scored an MLB-low 81 runs in July. As a team they hit .192/.310/.271 with runners in scoring position last month, which is pretty hard to fathom. Michael Young is having his worst season since his rookie year, Josh Hamilton's slump is now two months long, and others like Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, and Ian Kinsler simply didn't carry their weight in July. Scoring the fewest runs in baseball over an extended period of time takes a total team effort.

In an effort to spice up the offense, the Rangers announced after last night's come-from-behind win over the Angels that they were purchasing the contract of third baseman Mike Olt from Double-A Frisco. Both Baseball America and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (subs. req'd) ranked the 23-year-old Olt as the 11th best prospect in the game in their midseason top 50 prospect lists while ESPN's Keith Law (Insider req'd) was a little more bearish, ranking him 46th overall. We can quibble with the individual rankings all day, but the bottom line is that Texas just skipped one of baseball's top offensive prospects over Triple-A to help the big league team.

Olt, the 49th overall selection in 2010, hit .288/.398/.579 with 28 homers in 421 plate appearances for Frisco this season after hitting to the tune of .264/.381/.500 with 15 homers in his first full professional season last year. He's a right-handed hitter and took the place of fellow righty Brandon Snyder, who pinch-hit and made spot starts at first base and in both corner outfield spots before being sent down last night. Part of the reason why Olt is such a great prospect is his defense -- he's worked hard to become an above-average gloveman at the hot corner since being drafted. The problem is that Beltre is entrenched at third base for the next few years.

The Rangers have worked to increase Olt's versatility this season, having him start 13 games at first base and three in right field. They have not yet indicated how they will use him in the big leagues, so right now we can only speculate about his playing time. He could spot start at either corner infielder position, perhaps start a few games in right, maybe even taking some DH at-bats away from a franchise icon in Young. I don't think Texas recalled Olt just to have him fill Snyder's role - Snyder only has 68 plate appearances this season - they're going to play him somewhere. That could work to the advantage of fantasy owners since multi-position eligibility is always a benefit.

Projecting Olt's production for the rest of the season is a tough task because of the playing time question. He annihilated left-handed hitters in Double-A, I'm talking a .272/.422/.598 batting line with eight homes in 92 at-bats, and that's how he figures to into the lineup. I wouldn't expect anything more a decent .250-.260-ish batting average, though strange things can happen in small samples, especially when platooned. The power is real and with two months left to go in the season, Olt could run into eight or nine dingers the rest of the way. If he gets enough playing time, he could offer you similar production to someone like Mike Moustakas or Will Middlebrooks. It's easy to fall in love with the hype surrounding top prospects, but I tend to always bet the under.

In traditional 12-team, 5x5 scoring mixed leagues, Olt is probably best used as an extra guy on the roster you can use at various positions (assuming he picks up 1B and OF eligibility in short order) whenever Texas is scheduled to face a left-handed pitcher. They get former teammate C.J. Wilson tonight and Olt is expected to be in the lineup. We can't get an accurate read on his fantasy value until we get an idea of how he'll be used and how much playing time he'll receive, but expect to get some power and RBI production if you can't help yourself and grab him off the waiver.



Mets (Finally) Turn To Matt Harvey

There was only so much Miguel Batista the Mets could take. After allowing eight baserunners and four runs in three innings to the Dodgers last weekend, the Amazin's cut ties with the 41-year-old right-hander and decided to finally turn the reigns over to 23-year-old top prospect Matt Harvey. He'll make his big league debut against the Diamondbacks in Arizona tonight, the Mets went so far as to recall catcher Rob Johnson from Triple-A with him just to make sure he's comfortable.

Harvey, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft, was ranked the second best prospect in the Mets farm system and the 54th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before the season. "Harvey holds his velocity deep into starts but has below-average command and presently lacks a reliable changeup, so evaluators project him as anywhere from a No. 2 starter to a high-leverage reliever," wrote the publication in their subscriber-only scouting report. He regularly runs his fastball into the mid-90s and will use both a slider and curveball when ahead in the count.

After splitting last season between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, Harvey opened this year with Triple-A Buffalo. He's pitched to a 3.68 ERA in 110 innings across 20 starts, striking out 112 (9.2 K/9 and 23.7% of batters faced) while walking 48 (3.9 BB/9 and 10.1%). Data at First Inning shows that he gets a decent amount of ground balls (46%), but any pitching prospect worth a damn with have a solid ground ball rate in the minors. Harvey did allow nine homers in Triple-A this season (0.7 HR/9), a bit higher than you'd expect from a top prospect.

Harvey has a little Max Scherzer in him in the sense that it's overpowering raw stuff with less than stellar command. It remains to be seen if he'll have the same homer issues as the Tigers' right-hander, but the high-strikeout potential is there as well as the potential for frustratingly high ERAs. The Mets do not have a great defense - though it's better with Lucas Duda in Triple-A and not right field - and of course you can't really expect their bullpen to hold many of the leads given to them. It's a great young arm thrust into an undesirable situation, unfortunately.

At this point of his career, as a rookie set to make his big league debut, Harvey shouldn't be considered more than a strikeouts guy for fantasy owners in traditional 5x5 scoring formats. The walks and spotty defense will likely lead to higher than usual WHIPs and that tends to results in runs. Wins figure to be hard to come by as well. Following tonight's start in Arizona, Harvey is lined up to start in San Francisco against the Giants then in San Diego against the Padres. Those are some pretty fine matchups in terms of the lineups he'll be facing, but keep his limitations in mind. Different doesn't always mean better, but it almost certainly will be in the case of Harvey vs. Batista. In terms of fantasy output, be careful not to fall in love with the hype.




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