When it comes to prospects, never too early to go digging

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

June 08, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

The light in his eyes goes out when you mention Manny Ramirez. But Hanley Ramirez? That name makes him so excited he seems ready to spout a sonnet on the spot.

He is your fantasy league's "prospect guy."

Come on, you know the type. In auctions, these guys reserve about 70 percent of their budgets for up-and-comers. They all picked Seattle Mariners starter Felix Hernandez in the third round this year.

I'm pretty sure the "prospect-guy" traits are hardwired. These dudes are as helpless to battle their urges as the rest of us are to escape the baldness or beer gut passed down by dad. How do I know? Well, from the first league I started in the seventh grade to the ones I joined just this year, I've always encountered "prospect guy."

And while the rest of us make fun of these youth-loving souls on draft day, we could learn a thing or two from them. If you get a rising star when he's on the cusp of the big leagues, you could have a bargain-priced building block for years to come. So it pays to know the names and numbers, even if "prospect guy" will usually outbid you for the next big thing. And that's all an elaborate way of saying that this column is the second in a series of checkups on the game's best prospects.

Since the last time I checked in, the game's best prospect, Delmon Young, was suspended 50 games, the Angels called up the sensational Jered Weaver and another Angels phenom, Howie Kendrick, came up and went back down. So it already has been quite a year in prospect land.

B.J. Upton, Devil Rays: Tampa Bay's would-be shortstop is having quite the mixed bag of a season. He has a .396 on-base percentage and 24 steals for Triple-A Durham, but he's not showing much power and he's still making an error every three games. With his speed and on-base skills, Upton could immediately help your fantasy team, but it's still not clear if he'll stay at shortstop or where he might play if he doesn't.

Elijah Dukes, Devil Rays: Upton's talented teammate is translating great tools into great performance this year with a .399 on-base percentage and a .560 slugging percentage at Durham. He's also a volatile personality, but wouldn't it be interesting if Dukes ends up outshining both Upton and Young.

Justin Upton, Diamondbacks: Speaking of Uptons, last year's first overall draft pick is holding his own with a .288 average at Single-A South Bend. But with only two homers, the shortstop-outfielder may not be on the Ken Griffey fast track that many predicted.

Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks: This shortstop and brother of J.D. Drew continues to look ready for the big leagues with a .311 average and .493 slugging percentage for Triple-A Tucson. Be ready to grab him when he ascends later this year.

Andy Marte, Indians: Many thought this third baseman would be in the big leagues by now, but he's struggling at Triple-A Buffalo with a .258 average and only three homers in 55 games. He hasn't adjusted quickly so don't expect him to help your fantasy squad until at least 2008.

Brandon Wood, Angels: He strikes out at a fearsome rate (75 in 56 games for Double-A Arkansas) but also has fearsome power for a shortstop (36 extra-base hits.) Don't expect him until 2008, but if he stays in the middle infield, he could be a big fantasy contributor right off.

Alex Gordon, Royals: The third baseman continues to hit Double-A pitching with a .408 on-base percentage, .543 slugging average and 13 steals in 14 attempts. He should make it to Kansas City later this summer, and you want all of this. Think David Wright.

Phillip Hughes, Yankees: New York's top pitching prospect was too good for Single-A, but hasn't been good enough at Double-A Trenton with a 4.98 ERA in 34 1/3 innings. Hughes seems at least two years from big league success, and the Yankees might trade him before then.

Michael Pelfrey, Mets: Last year's ninth overall pick struggled after a quick promotion to Double-A Binghamton. But he has righted his ship with a 3.41 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings. He's another minor league pitcher who could be effective in the majors late this season or early next.

Ian Stewart, Rockies: This third baseman was the talk of spring training but hasn't mastered Double-A Tulsa (.253 average, three homers). Garrett Atkins' job seems safe until at least 2008.

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: The shortstop has outshined his teammate, Stewart, with a .502 slugging average. The Rockies are tiring of Clint Barmes so this alliterative wonder could be their guy as soon as next year.

Felix Pie, Cubs: He is young for Triple-A and said to be a tremendous athlete, but his .333 on-base percentage is impressing no one. Pie could reach the majors this year, but probably would struggle too much to be of any fantasy use.

I'll end by mentioning two pitchers who are far from the majors but worth tracking. The Angels' Nick Adenhart is 7-2 with a 2.17 ERA at Single-A Cedar Rapids and the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo has emerged from obscurity by striking out 89 in 64 2/3 innings for Single-A Brevard County.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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