These minor leaguers soon could make a major impact

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

May 03, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER

I targeted two minor leaguers in the reserve portions of American League drafts this year.

I figured Adam Lind's hitting excellence would force the Toronto Blue Jays to give him a job at some point and that he'd immediately be better than the fifth outfielders on my teams. And I thought the New York Yankees' pitching would be shabby enough that they'd have to recall phenom Phil Hughes by Memorial Day.

Well, those bets turned out better than I could have imagined. Reed Johnson got hurt right away in Toronto, and Lind received his starting job on a platter. He's showing enough pop that he shouldn't have to give it back.

Injuries wrecked the Yankees' rotation worse than expected, hastening Hughes' arrival. The rookie has taken owners on a wild ride, which culminated with 6 1/3 no-hit innings and an injury Tuesday.

Anyway, my point is that investments in minor leaguers - whether by trade or opportunistic free-agent bidding - can yield rapid dividends. So it behooves us to know which stars of the future are shining on the farm. As I did last year, I'll try to offer periodic updates on the progress of elite prospects. Here goes the first.

Tim Lincecum -- If for some reason no one snapped him up in the preseason, be prepared to pounce when Lincecum hits the majors. Because the little right-hander with the funky delivery is just awesome. I don't know what else to say after he struck out 14 in six innings Sunday. He's struck out 46 and allowed only 12 hits in 31 innings this year. If hitters on the cusp of the majors are that helpless against him, he'll be plenty good against the best in the world. He may begin in the San Francisco Giants' bullpen, but he'll still be worth a pickup for the inevitable strikeouts. I can't wait to see him.

Yovani Gallardo -- I'm almost as eager to watch this Milwaukee Brewers prospect, who will probably come up as a starter. You know 42 strikeouts against eight walks in 30 innings amounts to sweet music for me. He might not throw with the raw velocity of other elite prospects, but if he fools the hitters at such rates, who cares? I'd want him as soon as he's called up in National League fantasy leagues.

Homer Bailey -- He and Hughes entered the season as baseball's top pitching prospects. You have to love Bailey's 1.98 ERA, but his 18 strikeouts and 13 walks in 27 1/3 innings tell me his command isn't good enough to guarantee success if the Cincinnati Reds call him up soon. By all means stash him, but don't just toss him straight into your fantasy rotation.

Billy Butler -- The outfielder is not actually in the minors anymore; the Kansas City Royals called him up Tuesday to replace the injured Ryan Shealy on the roster. Butler hit .337 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 25 games at Triple-A and has dominated pitching at every level of the minors. He could hit .300 with 15 to 20 homers in the majors, so snap him up if he's available in your AL league and consider him as a reserve in deeper mixed leagues. The same goes for the Houston Astros' Hunter Pence, who reached the majors last week.

Adam Miller -- I watched this Cleveland Indians prospect pitch against Adam Loewen at Double-A Bowie last year. He threw a much livelier fastball than the Orioles' left-hander but seemed to lack complementary pitches. He's progressed quite a bit if you believe the numbers and stands at 3-0 with a 2.32 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 31 innings at Triple-A Buffalo. Miller isn't first in line to be called up by the Indians and probably won't dominate when he reaches the majors. But he's worth stowing on reserve rosters in AL leagues.

Evan Longoria -- Entering last night with a .427 on-base percentage and .529 slugging percentage at Double-A Montgomery, the third baseman is showing why he was considered the best hitter in last year's draft. Tampa Bay is already crowded with exciting young bats, but he'll jam his way into that picture soon. You want him right away in AL leagues.

Clay Buchholz -- It's hard to believe a high Boston Red Sox draft pick who's destroying minor league hitters might be underhyped. But so it goes for this right-hander, who has struck out 27 and walked only three in 22 1/3 innings for Double-A Portland. He might force his way to Triple-A Pawtucket this summer and to Boston next year. He has the classic power-command package, so keep an eye out.

Jacoby Ellsbury -- Buchholz's teammate is also scalding with a .455 average through 15 games. He was considered quite polished when drafted in 2005, so he could push Coco Crisp late in the season. But Ellsbury's lack of power might limit his fantasy value.

Nick Adenhart -- Also watch for this Maryland native next season. The Los Angeles Angels right-hander isn't blowing hitters away at Double-A Arkansas, but he's 3-1 with a 0.80 ERA and offers a nice mix of stuff and control.

Cameron Maybin -- He's only 20 and playing in high Single-A ball, but the Detroit Tigers outfielder has a .454 on-base percentage, a .571 slugging percentage and nine steals in 23 games. He might already be the game's best prospect and could pull a Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez and smash through three levels this season. I know I'll want him on my teams next year.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

Read a blog on fantasy sports at www.baltimoresun.com/fantasy.

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