Yay Team
June 17, 2011

Every year about this time the top prospects in baseball start making their debuts.  Last year was an incredible year for young talent with the debuts of future perenial All-Stars like Mike Stanton, Buster Posey, Jason Heyward, Starlin Castro, Austin Jackson, and umm... some other guy... and that other guy I forgot about... and oh yeah, and that guy whose name I can't remember right now.  But trust me, last year was huge when it came to impact rookies.  And next year might be pretty big as well because the most recent amateur draft was absolutely loaded with upper echelon pitching talent.  This year's talent as far as impact players... maybe not so much.

To be sure there are some decent players, some of whom will be very good.  Dustin Ackley, for example.  Nice player.  Well, nice hitter, it remains to be seen if he'll be able to stay at second base.  Probably not, but there's always a chance.  Anyway, he's probably going to be a much better real baseball player than a fantasy baseball player.  To whit:

Name        Age   Lvl     G    AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR    RBI    BB    SO    SB   CS    AVE    OBP   SLG   OPS
Player A     23   AAA    59   215   49   64   16    3    5     23    34    30     8    4   .298   .412  .470  .882
Player B     23   AAA    66   271   57   82   17    3    9     35    55    38     7    3   .303   .421  .487  .908

Not a great deal of difference there really.  Player B had a few more at bats in Triple A which accounts for some of the discrepency in the counting stats but neither hitter is particularly young for the level, and despite both players toiling in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League neither showed off what could be projected as impact power.  What both guys do have, though, is decent speed and a very good batting eye at the plate. The biggest difference is that Player A spent the first half of that season in Double-A and this batting line was his first experience against Triple-A pitching, whereas this was Player B's second season in Triple-A.   I'm sure by now those of you who comb the stats daily recognize Dustin Ackley's batting line as Player B.  Player A?  That's David Dejesus.  Not really a whole lot of difference there and if Ackley can't stick at second base, he will essentially become a slightly better version of David Dejesus. 

Another hitter who is garnering a lot of attention is Paul Goldschmidt.  I was impressed by what I saw in spring training and he's making believers out of a lot of people.  He's always had light-tower power but the big change this season has been the incredible improvement in his batting eye.  Last year he walked 57 times in 525 at bats while striking out 161 times against Single-A pitching.  That's not a particularly impressive performance given that he was slightly older than his competition.  Fast forward one year - he's still slightly older than his Double-A competition so there's still something to prove before he gets the gold seal of approval, but he's taken a big step forward by walking 54 times already this year in 243 at bats while striking out 50 times.  So the strikeout rate has dropped slightly (but noticeably) but the walk rate has taken a huge step forward.  The story is that he can still be pitched inside so dreams of a 40-homer bat in the same line-up with Justin Upton and Chris Young are probably a little far-fetched, but he does seem capable of crushing 20-25 mistakes a season with enough contact to give him close to average on base skills. 

Anthony Rizzo, on the other hand, is a hitter to definitely keep an eye on: big time power and plus defense to keep him in the line-up even when he's not hitting.  Currently struggling under the Mendoza line in his first exposure to major league hitting, he's displayed a much improved eye at the plate over the last year.  And even though his average doesn't reflect it right now, he's still not overwhelmed by major league pitching, walking almost as often as striking out.  Still only 21 years old, he'll develop 30+ homer power once he gets really comfortable in his major league surroundings. 

Desmond Jennings has been on the prospect radar for some time, largely because he's been in Triple-A for the better part of two years going on three.  He's a tantalizing power-speed combination with a good eye at the plate but keeps getting derailed by injuries and other players finding playing time in Tampa.  Last year it was injuries.  This year with Carl Crawford out of the picture he was supposed to take over one of the outfield positions, but then the Legend of Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce got off to such hot starts the Rays really had no choice but to table his promotion for a little longer.  No worries, it will come.  The Sam Fuld train is coming into the station for lack of steam and Jennings will get his chance if the Rays continue to contend for the division title.  However, I don't expect he'll put on the kind of power display in the majors that we're seeing in Triple-A currently.  The speed is unquestionable - although it's not Carl Crawford speed... think 30-35 steals instead of 50-60 - but the power looks more like line-drive power... mid-teens homer totals over a full season.  Still, a pretty nice player to have, real or fantasy.

Cleveland has two players that have garnered some attention: Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis. I can't say that I've seen Chisenhall much but the impression I came away with each time I have is that he's a tough out and possess enough talent to be a regular.  Some have suggested he'll be an above average hitter but I don't see it.  He'll be decent regular but I don't see an All-Star and maybe not even a regular for more than a few years.  Kipnis, on the other hand, I like a lot.  Every time I've seen him he's battled every at bat regardless of the score.  Scouts call it make-up or they call guys like him "grinders"... whatever.  He doesn't possess any spectacular tools but he works every at bat like it's his last.  I doubt he'll match Ackley when it comes to getting on base or hitting for average but I will bet he produces just as many extra base hits and steals as many bases on a yearly basis, yet in fantasy leagues will come at half the price.

The last guy I want to highlight got off to an atrocious start in Triple-A (.225 in April with a .615 OPS) but has been hitting everything in sight since then (.377 in May and June with a slugging percentage of .598 ).  He's a bit older than his competition right now so the average most likely won't transfer but he should hit enough to hold the regular job once he gets it and his glove is good enough that one slump won't send him to the bench.  The Reds' current shortstop situation is abysmal - Paul Janish is hitting .224 (.533 OPS) and Edgar Renteria isn't much better (.231/.574 OPS). That won't cut it if the Reds intend on staying in the race for the NL Central, so I expect Zack Cozart will be getting the call fairly soon.  In addition to a little pop in his bat - he popped 17 homers last year along with 30 doubles - he also has some speed.  He probably won't match his total from last season (30) in the show, but he undoubtedly could sneak in 15-20 swipes.  Think of him as a cross between Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.