FANTASY BASEBALL: PROSPECT PENDULUM

Ben Carsley April 25, 2012

We’re just three weeks into the baseball season, yet 22 teams have already seen at least one player make his major league debut. As bullpen roles change, floundering players are demoted, and the injury bug strikes across the league, Fantasy owners have seen a busy week in the world of prospect promotions.

Especially notable this week were the call-ups of two Top-70 pitching prospects, the downfall of another, and the suddenly murky future of one of the 2010 draft’s biggest names. If you need immediate help in the pitching categories, this week’s Prospect Pendulum is for you.

On The Upswing

Drew Hutchison (SP, TOR)

The Blue Jays shocked the prospect world last week by selecting Hutchison to fill out their talented young rotation. In my estimation the best of the Jays promising young arms, Hutchison is somewhat of an odd choice for promotion, as he’s thrown just 31.2 innings of Double-A ball. The Jays organization is flush with promising young pitching, but they chose Hutchison and his upside over the likes of Brett Cecil, Aaron Laffey, Deck McGuireand others. It’s not unreasonable to question Hutchison’s readiness given his lack of track record, but Hutchison’s command, changeup and maturity should allow him to be at least mildly successful in the short-term and a Fantasy horse in the long run.

Will Matt Davidson provide Fantasy owners with some power this year? Photo credit mwlguide.

As my regular readers will know, I’m a bit higher on Hutchison than the rest of the industry. Where others see a mid-rotation starter who may struggle in the AL East, I see the type of pitcher who is perfectly suited to pitching in baseball’s most daunting offensive division. Above average command, solid minor league ground ball rates and the ability to limit home runs should allow Hutchison to navigate through tough competition, and while I wouldn’t expect him to produce 200 strikeouts a year, he shouldn’t be a slouch in that category either. Hutchison was roughed up in his first start and the Blue Jays have a ton of starting pitching depth, so his job security is basically non-existent at this point. However, if he manages to retain Toronto’s fifth starter spot all season, it’s not unreasonable to expect double-digit wins and tolerable WHIP, ERA and strikeout numbers. Owners in redraft leagues shouldn’t add him yet, but don’t forget about him either.

Jarrod Parker (SP, OAK)

In the comments section last week, I responded to a Parker inquiry by esteemed colleague Bob Lung and stated I didn’t believe we’d see the right-hander until June or July. Whoops. With Graham Godfrey’s demotion to Triple-A, the A’s announced that Parker will take his place in the rotation, and will make his Athletics debut on Wednesday. Acquired this offseason from the Diamondbacks in the Trevor Cahill deal, Parker has the highest ceiling of any of Oakland’s upper-minor arms. He doesn’t quite project to be the ace many thought he’d be before his Tommy John surgery two years ago, but Parker should be a Fantasy rotation mainstay for quite some time.

It’s surprising that Parker is getting the call given that he’s thrown just 23.2 innings above the Double-A level in his career. Brad Peacock lacks Parker’s No. 3 Fantasy starter ceiling, but is probably more ready for major league action right now, and given that the A’s are unlikely to compete this year, it’s odd they wouldn’t want to delay Parker’s arbitration clock. That doesn’t mean Parker can’t experience immediate success, though, and he’ll be a solid Fantasy option when pitching at home against average-or-worse offenses. If he throws 130 innings and makes 20 starts, he’s capable of notching 100 strikeouts, with a sub-4.00 ERA and a sub-1.20 WHIP. Parker’s worth a speculative add in most redraft leagues and should certainly be on every owner’s watch list.

Matt Davidson (3B, ARI)

You might have expected to see fellow Diamondbacks prospect A.J. Pollock listed here this week, but while the young outfielder is capable of retaining a roster spot on a competitive MLB team, he doesn’t offer the speed or power needed to justify owning for Fantasy purposes. Davidson is another story. A 22-year-old power hitter in Double-A, Davidson is cementing himself as the D-Back’s third baseman of the not-so-distant future with his early season performance. Standard sample size caveats apply, but through 71 PA Davidson is hitting .397 with a .507 OBP and nine extra-base hits. What’s especially encouraging is that he’s sporting a 16.9% walk rate, and has cut his strikeout rate to an acceptable 15.5%.

His defense is far from elite, but his arm is good enough that he should be able to play the hot corner often enough to retain eligibility there in most leagues. Ryan Roberts had a career year in 2011, but is batting just .173 and is only an average defender at third himself. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt has more power and is a D-Backs fan favorite, but he isn’t the pure hitter that Davidson is, and will likely always see his OBP hindered by his strikeout rates. Davidson should get the call at some point this year, and his power in Chase Field should interest every Fantasy owner. If nothing else, he’s moved well past Bobby Borchering in the competition to be Arizona’s third baseman in 2013.

 

Swaying Backwards

Casey Kelly (SP, SD)

It’s not hard to argue that Kelly began the season as an underrated prospect. Highly touted, and the MiLB centerpiece of the massive Adrian Gonzalez trade, Kelly has appeared to some to be a disappointment, as he’s yet to dominate in the minors. Kelly’s 3.59 FIP, 6.64 K/9 and 1.40 WHIP in Double-A last season don’t jump off the stat page, and at 22, Kelly is no longer extraordinarily young for his leagues. There are times when you need to trust scouting reports over the numbers, though, and Kelly’s stuff is still good enough for him to profile as a No. 2 MLB and No. 3 Fantasy starter. Kelly had a strong spring, striking out 18 batters in 20.2 innings, and appeared destined for a mid-June call-up to San Diego.

Last Monday, the Padres scratched Kelly from his start and sent him to get his elbow checked out — a dubious sign for any pitching prospect. The good news is that an MRI revealed no structural damage. The bad news is that Kelly is still out for at least three weeks, and the Padres are likely to be far more cautious with his development now. One of Kelly’s best attributes as a prospect has always been his athleticism — he has a clean, easy delivery and is projected as a workhorse starter. If he starts to become plagued with arm issues now, his stock takes a serious hit. Kelly still has the requisite stuff to be a good major league pitcher, and in Petco Park, he’ll be a significant Fantasy contributor as well. We might not see him until August now, though, and he may not be truly worthy of watching until next season.

Ryan Kalish (OF, BOS)

Although no longer technically a prospect, Kalish has picked a truly terrible time in his career to suffer the injury bug. Last season, he likely would’ve played a huge role in Boston over the likes of Josh Reddick and Darnell McDonald. This year, he’s losing playing time to Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney. For good measure, Boston went out and acquired Marlon Byrd this week, adding another journeyman veteran to obstruct Kalish’s path. It’s hard to blame the Red Sox for seeking more depth, as Kalish likely won’t be ready until June, but that he’s still not ready to contribute in the majors nearly one year after his initial shoulder injury has to be a huge disappointment for Fantasy leaguers everywhere.

Byrd certainly isn’t a long-term obstacle for Kalish’s Boston success, but most predicted Kalish would’ve started contributing to Fantasy squads a year ago. Plus, both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford figure to be back by the time Kalish is healthy as well, meaning as soon as the Red Sox can use him, they probably won’t need him. It’s not difficult to see Boston retaining Ross and using Kalish over Sweeney next season. However, unless Ellbury’s injury is more severe than we think, it’s hard to see how Kalish will have any Fantasy value whatsoever in 2012. Unless you’re playing in a ridiculously deep dynasty league, cut your losses.

Zack Cox (3B, STL)

Cox was a highly touted prospect coming out of Arkansas in the 2010 draft, but he did have his detractors who cautioned that he lacked any elite tool. Two years later, those concerns appear valid, as Cox is scuffling in Triple-A and no longer has a clear path to the majors. Cox was fairly successful in Double-A last season, hitting .293 with 10 homers and a .355 OBP, but those numbers are to be expected from a polished collegiate first-rounder. He has only 58 PA this season, but is hitting just .148 with little power, and he is striking out at an alarming rate.

Perhaps the worst news for Cox is the emergence of David Freese, who has gone from unheralded prospect to World Series hero to a legitimate bat in the heart of the Cardinals order. Freese has proven to be injury prone, but it appears as though Matt Carpenter has leapfrogged Cox in the organizational depth chart, and as an older, underappreciated prospect, he’s in some ways similar to Freese. Cox lacks the bat to play first base, but even if he didn’t, Matt Adams is the superior hitter and is likely first in line to man first base in 2013. Cox was a sexy name at this time in 2010, but the reality is he has no clear path to the majors and a skill set that doesn’t lend itself towards Fantasy usefulness. If a higher-upside prospect is sitting on your league’s waiver wire, Cox is expendable.

 

 

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