Planning for the future

ON FANTASY SPORTS

Reserve the best

Targeting minor leaguers benefits fantasy owners

April 10, 2008|By CHILDS WALKER

Many fantasy baseball title runs received major shots in the arm last season from the call-ups of Ryan Braun and Hunter Pence.

Whether you already had these guys stowed on reserve rosters or you scavenged them as soon as they hit the free-agent pool, they were huge contributors from the day they hit the big leagues.

The important thing to know going forward is that neither player's excellence surprised savvy owners. In this age of information glut, it's not enough to know every player in the big leagues. You also need to know the minor leaguers who will arrive shortly.

Fortunately for you all, I waste innumerable hours scanning prospect lists and talking to talent evaluators. So I'll check in throughout the season with updates on the game's next stars. If you're an intense owner in an intense league, many of these names will seem old hat. Heck, Evan Longoria is so familiar that I'm not even going to write about him. But consider this a periodic cheat sheet if you're panning the river for the next Pence or Braun.

Jay Bruce: He probably has more potential to pull a Braun than any other hitter in the minors. Tremendous power and 15-steal speed make this Reds outfielder worth rostering in any format.

Clayton Kershaw: He's the pitching version of Bruce, with talent so rare that no one should be shocked if he's embarrassing big league hitters by August. He pitched well enough this spring that Dodgers manager Joe Torre had to explain why he was sent down. Kershaw is a lefty with a 96-mph fastball, a wicked curve and a record of sharp command in the minors. Again, I'd use a reserve spot on him even in mixed leagues.

Colby Rasmus: I thought he'd make a harder run at winning a starting job with the Cardinals this spring. He'll be up at some point and should help right away in NL leagues, where his 20-20 power-speed package will make up for concerns about his ability to make contact. He might be a year or two away from starring in all formats.

Andrew McCutchen: Scouts see great power-speed potential in this Pirates outfielder. But I'd like to see one really outstanding season in the minors before I jump on board. He'd probably hit .250 with 10 homers and 15-20 steals in a full season, useful in an NL league but hardly exciting.

Steven Pearce: In fact, I prefer this Pirates outfielder for the short term. At 24, Pearce is a lot closer to his peak. He has little superstar potential but could hit .270 with 20 homers and 10-15 steals in the big leagues right now.

Cameron Maybin: Many expected the Marlins to shove Maybin right in after they got him for Miguel Cabrera. But sanity won the day as they realized he's not ready. Maybin shows great power-speed promise and has even flashed a good batting eye in the lower minors. But he struggled badly to make contact during a late-season call-up in 2007. If you need a shot of steals late in the year, he might be your ticket, but he's probably a year or two away from helping your fantasy team more than he hurts it.

Wladimir Balentien: He might hit 25-30 homers in a full season for Seattle, but he might also hit .230. Balentien will probably be up this season, but be wary unless your lineup is fortified with high-average hitters.

Nick Adenhart: The Southern Maryland product impressed the Angels this spring and almost won a rotation spot. He lacks the mind-bending stuff of Kershaw or Joba Chamberlain, and I'm worried that he'll be hit hard early in his big league career. I'd only pick him up in deep AL leagues.

Ross Detwiler: This lefty could be the first starter from the 2007 draft to make an impact. He was great in his first Single-A start and given that he pitched in Washington last year, it wouldn't be a shock to see him rise quickly.

Carlos Gonzalez: He was the gem of the Dan Haren trade for Oakland. Like McCutchen and Maybin, he's more potential than performance for now. Expect a low average with 15-homer power and 10-steal speed if he's called up.

Jed Lowrie: You have to think Julio Lugo is on shaky ground in Boston, and Lowrie stands to benefit if he's discarded. The young shortstop could hit .265 with 15-homer power and solid production numbers given the hitters around him.

Brandon Jones: Given that Atlanta's top outfield prospect, Jordan Schaefer, just got suspended for using human growth hormone, Jones is a likely first call-up if brittle veteran Mark Kotsay can't hold the center field job. He's not considered an elite prospect, but Jones is ready to play and could probably hit .275 with 15 homers and 15 steals in a full season. That makes him a worthy pickup in NL leagues.

Brent Lillibridge: He's another mature Atlanta prospect who could benefit from uncertainty in the outfield or at shortstop, where Yunel Escobar lacks a long track record. Scouts don't see much star potential in Lillibridge, but he could hit .260 and, more importantly, could steal 30 bases in a full season.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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