Everyone wants to get their hand on this years Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. Folks, there isn't going to be a Trout or Harper this season. That doesn't mean that one, two or a handful of rookies won't have a significant fantasy impact – they certainly will – but elite production like that duo offered last season rarely comes for from guys in their first full season. In this piece we'll discuss some of the youngsters that everyone is asking questions about on a daily basis. A couple are already in the big leagues trying to make the case that they deserve to be every day player this season, while a handful of others are chomping at the bit in the minors trying to prove they deserve a shot in the bigs.
YOUNGSTERS TO AVOID OR COUNT ON?
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
Arenado is hitting .438 with two homers in four games at Triple-A so he must be called tomorrow, right? Well, let's remove the hysteria and look at this objectively for a moment. Let's go point-by-point. (1) Arenado led all of the minors with 122 RBIs in 2011 before he was named the AFL MVP at the end of the year. Many overlooked the fact that he was playing at High-A ball. (2) Arenado had a solid season at Double-A, but solid is a far cry from impressive like he was in '11. Arenado hit .285 with 12 homers, 56 RBIs and 55 runs scored in 134 games. Don't know about you, but those are Alberto Callaspo type numbers. Anyone excited if Callaspo is on their team this year? (3) Arenado has FOUR games of experience above Double-A ball as of this writing. He has only 138 games above Single-A ball. Folks, he has virtually no experience against upper level competition. There's nothing wrong with a guy learning the game in the minors before he is thrown to the wolves in the big leagues. (4) Does anyone out there notice that Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco both hit over .300 last season for the Rockies? Nelson is the current third baseman with Pacheco the backup at both corner infield positions. It's not like the Rockies have a gaping hole they need to fill at the hot corner right now. They can afford to be patient with Arenado.
Jackie Bradley, OF, Red Sox
David Ortiz is set to start his rehab game action at Triple-A on Thursday as his quest to return from his heel/Achilles issues continue. It's been smooth sailing the last little while for Ortiz, so he could be back with the Sox in about a week provided he can get his swing grooved in that time. Once healthy we know he will be the daily DH for the Sox, so how does that mess with what else the team has going for it right now? Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury will be playing every day in the outfield. The team is committed to Mike Napoli at first base (health providing). That means there is one spot left in the daily lineup with two guys seemingly vying for the spot – Bradley and Jonny Gomes. Bradley is a talented youngster who had a big spring, but as I predicted, he hasn't exactly taken off in the early going. Bradley has five walks in six games which is nice, but he's also hitting .143 with seven punchouts on the young season – that's one K every three at-bats. Gomes hasn't been much better hitting .231 with no homers, but he's also got a .375 OBP and with his experience one would have to think that he'd have a longer leash than Bradley would could be send back to the minors for more seasoning (you don't want a young player stalling out while sitting on the bench). That's my bet as to what will happen when Ortiz is healthy.
Tony Cingrani, P, Reds
Sean Marshall has been placed on the DL because of a shoulder issue. The Reds haven't decided how they will fill that spot long term if Marshall is out for an extended period of time, but there are whispers that Cingrani might be called up to take the spot. He wasn't as the club went with Logan Ondrusek. There is little doubt that Cingrani has the bigger arm and way brighter future, but the Reds ultimately decided that they want Cingrani starting every five games versus throwing three innings a week out of the bullpen in the big leagues. Through 12.1 scoreless innings at Triple-A this season Cingrani has only struck out 21 batters.
Evan Gattis, C, Braves
Gattis has hit cleanup three times this season, and he's off to a rocking start hitting .368 with two bombs through five games with the Braves which has caused a mini stampede to the waiver-wire. In NL-only leagues he is, as I suggested all spring, a great own. However, is that the same scenario we are dealing with in mixed leagues? Brian McCann continues to inch toward a return, and when he is healthy he will be catching the vast majority of games for the Braves. Not only is McCann an established/high level big league hitter, he's also vastly superior to Gattis defensively. When McCann returns does Gattis get sent to the minors so that Gerald Laird can remain with the big league club? That seems foolish, but that doesn't mean that Gattis won't see his playing time curtailed. If on May 1st McCann is rocking, and Freddie Freeman is back from his DL stint, the only place that Gattis would be able to see full-time work would be in the outfield. Problem is that the Braves may just have the most athletic outfield in the history of baseball in B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward. So that leaves us with Gattis seeing backup time in the outfield – all three guys are 150 a game options – and at first base (Freeman is going to play every day when healthy). How much faith do you have that Gattis will be anything other than a guy who starts like twice a week in that situation?
Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers
Puig killed it in Spring Training hitting .517 with a 1.328 OPS in 58 at-bats. You cannot, can not, do any better than that (he hit three homers, drove in 11 runs and stole four bases). However, as I said all spring and continue to say when the questions continue to come in – where in the hell would Puig play with the Dodgers? Matt Kemp is an elite talent, and when he's right there may only he a handful of more dynamic offensive players in the game. Ethier isn't a superstar, but how many guys consistently hit .285 with 20 homers and 80 RBIs in the outfield? Crawford is an injury risk coming back off Tommy John surgery and utter failure in Boston, but he's never failed to steal 40 bases in a season of 525 at-bats, is a career .293 hitter and, by the way, is hitting .458 with two steals through seven games this year. There's also this. Kemp/Ethier/Crawford are being paid $53.5 million this season. Pretty sure they aren't going to be benched. There might be a spot for Puig against left-handed pitching if the Dodgers decided to bench Ethier in those situations, but the Dodgers don't want Puig sitting on the bench three of every four games, they want him playing every day to continue to grow as a ball player. The fact is, barring an injury or a trade, there just isn't a spot for Puig to play.
Mike Zunino, C, Mariners
Zunino is an elite talent and at worst he's the top AL catching prospect in the game (many would have him ahead of Travis d'Arnaud of the Mets as the best backstop prospect in baseball). Zunino hit .373 last season in 29 games at Low-A ball. He then hit .333 in 15 games at Double-A ball. This season no one on the planet has been hotter than Zunino, even Chris Davis, as Zunino has hit .429 with four homers and 16 RBIs in five games at Triple-A. Amazing is right. A couple of issues are obvious though. First, Zunino, though an elite talent, has a total of 68 games of professional experience. Even guys like Bryce Harper (164 games) and Mike Trout (311) had way more than that before taking off last year. Second, while no one really seems to believe that Jesus Montero will ever be good enough with the club to be a big time catcher. Still, he is currently catching and his middle of the order bat, and his career outlook, demands that he plays every day. Let's say the Mariners decide to call up Zunino. If they do that he's playing every day. That means Montero will have to play another spot. He could try first, but Justin Smoak hit well in the spring and it's not clear if the Mariners are ready to give up on him yet. Even if they did give up on Smoak, they could always move Kendrys Morales out of the DH spot and back to first base. In the outfield the Mariners have Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, Michael Saunders and Jason Bay to cover the corner spots. It's not that guys like Ibanez or Bay are worth much so the Mariners could just decide to move, but the point is that the have plenty of options right now while everyone is healthy that it would take some squeezing to put Montero on the field, if he wasn't catching, on a daily basis. Montero in the outfield is really a pipe dream at this point as he's more suited for first base or DH which means the Mariners would have to give up on Smoak cause Morales is playing every day. So I ask again, where does Zunino play? It will take an organizational decision for the club to move on from one of the veterans, or Smoak, to make a Zunino call up occur, but it's only a matter of time before it does.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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