Wednesday, March 15, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL; ROOKIES YOU SHOULD KNOW!

When competing against knowledgeable opponents, winning your fantasy league is no small feat. It's challenging, rewarding, and time consuming. Savvy owners are aware that winning a fantasy Baseball season requires a deft hand when managing a roster; knowing when to start a given pitcher and when to sit him, and knowing which position players enjoy more favorable matchups. Naturally, before you even get to that point having a solid draft is an imperative. I had a crazy uncle who used to say, "Jamey, you can't make Champagne from a tub of tomatoes." (Told you he was off his rocker) Likewise, a squad of backups and fringe starters won't win you a Rotisserie Championship.
However, injuries, slumps and "off" seasons are a part of the game... and so is the Waiver Wire!

With the aforementioned injuries and slumps come spring surprises as well, and grabbing a young prospect... even one, can help propel a team upwards in the standings.

Let's take a look at some of the brightest prospects in the game; athletes who are expected to make a difference this season.

POSITION PLAYERS:

1. Florida Marlins; OF'er Jeremy Hermida: Last August, the '02 1st round draft pick became the first player in over a century to uncork a Grand Slam in his 1st big league AB. And, while he may never be accused of being a speed merchant, Hermida's an instinctual base runner who went 23 for 25 in SB attempts in Double-A ball last season.
A well-disciplined hitter, it seems that Hermida has already cemented a spot for himself in the Marlin Outfield. That being said, the Marlins are an iffy offensive team and while he's a more than capable batsman... Hermida's numbers may be marginal due to the lack of talent surrounding him.
Nevertheless, the 22 year old LF'er should be in the thick of the hunt for NL Rookie of the Year award, and should be a worthy fantasy OF'er; .280/18/70, with 18 SB.
**NOTE: Hermida has struggled at the plate all spring and is currently hitting just .219. Although the Marlins expect his bat to heat-up keep an eye on his numbers if you intend to draft him... and don't hesitate to drop him a round or 2 if his frustrations continue.

2. Atlanta Braves; OF'er Jeff Francouer: The young Brave made quite a splash when he received an early July call-up, obliterating opposing pitching at a ridiculous .413/.913/.413 pace, with a 1326 OPS and 6 Homers', 5 Doubles, and 16 Ribbies' in just 15 games. July was quite a month for those owners who were astute enough to snatch Francouer offa' the 'Wire, and the Atlanta phenom concluded his rookie campaign with 13 Outfield Assists, 2nd only to Cliff Floyd, and a line of .300/14/45. While some sites and mags' believe Francouer will see a correction in his numbers, I'm more of a "glass 1/2 full kinda' guy" and I believe that, with a full off-season and spring with the big club under his belt, Jeff Francouer will again approach last season's production.
A sophomore campaign of .290/26/90 is not beyond his reach.

3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays; OF'er Delmon Young: Detroit Tiger Dmitri Young's "little bro," Delmon has Dmitri's size but possesses much greater talent. Inked straight out of High School "D-Train" was placed on the fast-track and he D-molished and D-railed opposing pitching at Double-A Montgomery last season, whalloping a .336/.582/.386 line, with 20 Homers, 13 Doubles, 4 Triples, and 71 RBIs. Strong enough to knock the white off of the ball, Delmon's looked good at the plate thus far this spring and has locked-up a starting gig. A 3-category contributor at the least, .280/18/60 should be about right... and that's barely tapping into Young's rare ability!
**NOTE: 'Train is the kind of player who comes along perhaps once every 25 years or so, and he has the potential to make a HUGE fantasy impact this season.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks; 1B Conor Jackson: A collegiate 3B, Conor Jackson was expected to land in 'Zona last season but veteran 1B Tony Clark's stunning .304/30/87 season kept Jackson at Triple-A Tucson for most of the year and forced him to play LF when he finally DID come up. The "extra coat of paint" certainly didn't hurt Jackson, if anything the additional work bolstered his versatility and will help bear big league fruit.
A big man at 6-2/230, Jackson recorded 1 extra-base hit out of every 3 hits and walked twice as often as he struck-out. That kind of dish discipline is exceedingly rare and bodes awfully well for the future. So far this spring, and keep in mind that spring numbers hold little water with many league observers, Conor Jackson has hit the ball to all fields at a frantic .474 pace.
Yet another youngster with NL "Rook' of the Year" capability, the D-Backs are committed to starting Jackson and will stand by him this season. Look for the player to affirm the club's faith with a .290/15/75 '06.

5. Florida Marlins; C/OF'er Josh Willingham: A solid fantasy sleeper, Willingham's path to the plate was paved when former starting Catcher Paul Lo Duca fled to NY. Although veteran Miguel Olivo is making a run at the starting job, Willingham is a much stronger hitter as evidenced by his '05 Triple-A production. In 66 games and 219 ABs Willingham recorded 71 hits; 19 balls left the park, 14 went for Doubles, 3 were Triples, and he went on to etch a .324/.676/.455 line. The knock on the 27 year old Catcher is his suspect defense, but that's a significant criticism. Manager Joe Girardi, a former Catcher himself, is quite understandably a stickler for "behind the plate excellence." Still, Willingham isn't getting any younger, he could see time at 1st Base, and frankly the Marlins' iffy O could use his bat.
While I don't think he'll make quite the same impact on his team that some of the other young players will have upon theirs, Josh Willingham could still be an excellent #2 catcher and turn in a .255/17/50 season.

6. Milwaukee Brewers; 1B Prince Fielder: Former Major Leaguer Cecil Fielder's "little boy," ain't nothin' little about Prince. At 6-0/260 Fielder cuts quite a figure, and woe is the Shortstop attempting to turn the DP or the Catcher looking to block the plate once Cecil's baby-boy has a full head of steam going! Just 21, Fielder has always been a punishing hitter however his defense has been problematic. But, after honing his D and working to turn baby fat into mature muscle while in the Minors, Fielder looks to be the Brewers' '06 starting 1st Baseman. Another year of Minor League work wouldn't have hurt young master Fielder, but after watching their prize prospect "go medieval" on Trip'-A pitching; .291/28/86 with 8 swiped bags and a Slugging % .569 in just 103 games, the team dealt former 1B Lyle Overbay and cleared the way for their young Prince.
Fielder does need to sharpen his batting eye as he fanned approximately once per every 4 ABs, but the potential Home Run champ' is a key cog in Milwaukee's rebuilding plan... and that future begins this year!
An excellent #2 fantasy 1st Baseman or "Utility Player," Prince Fielder projects for a .275/26/75 season... and perhaps even better.

7. LA Angels of Sub-Saharan California and Anaheim; SS Brandon Wood: Wood was reassigned to the minors on Wednesday, 3/15, but do not expect him to remain there for very long. One of Baseball's top 15 prospects, Wood turned 21 earlier this month and looks to be just an injury or extended slump away from being called up. A sneaky bench stash, Wood whacked 43 Dingers' and a downright silly 51 Doubles while at High-A Rancho Cucamonga last season, and has All-Star ability. It's difficult to forecast anything for Wood right now so I won't. Just keep an eye on the Minor League reports and if Brandon Wood IS promoted... don't hesitate to grab him if you have need of a Shortstop.

8. Milwaukee Brewers; 2B Rickie Weeks: Weeks, the 2nd Milwaukee player to make this list, is just one of several sub-25 year olds expected take the new "Brew-crew" to the next level. And, much like his teammate Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks made short work of Minor League pitching last year. A blossoming power hitter with 30 HR/30 SB po', the 2nd overall pick in the '03 draft hit a scorching .320/.655/.435 last year, and out of 65 totalbase hits a ridiculous 35 went for extra-bases. But while challenging, Triple-A pitching remains a far cry from big league pitching and Weeks had his troubles at the Major League level last season, hitting .239/13/42, with 96 strikeouts in 360 ABs.
Last season aside, Rickie Weeks' average WILL improve and, at an awfully thin position this season, he looks to be a top 10 fantasy 2nd Baseman. Surrounded by an intriguing mix of promising youngsters (1B Fielder and SS J.J Hardy) and veteran bats (OF'ers Geoff Jenkins and Carlos Lee, and 3B Corey Koskie), .270/19/65 with 30 thieved bags could be on the conservative side.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks; SS Stephen Drew: On a list that already boasts one child and one "little" brother, I'm tossing another sib' out there; J.D Drew's 23 year old brother, Stephen. While injuries have prevented J.D, who was the recipient of a great deal of hype when he broke into the league, from developing into the kind of player scouts and baseball "people" thought he'd be Stephen's ceiling is even higher!
Initially it was thought that the younger Drew would be moved to the Outfield, but it's looking increasingly likely that he'll remain a Shortstop. In turn, it was also believed that Stephen would play Triple-A ball and receive a mid-late summer call-up, but Craig Counsell's bum shoulder has afforded him the chance to stay with the big 'Backs. Although Stephen Drew probably won't make as big a fantasy splash this season as some of the previously mentioned players, if he sticks with the big club and plays in as many as 120... pencil the gamer in for .275/22/75. And with his talent, if Stephen Drew is afforded the opportunity those figures could even be on the shy side..

10. NY Mets; OF'er Lastings Milledge: GM Omar Minaya has spent a LOT of money and assembled a talented cast of mashers for manager Willie Randolph to play with, but the starting rotation... eh', they could go either way. One thing Minaya did not do was draft the "toolsy" OF'er Lastings Milledge. Pre-dating the Minaya era, Milledge's game is based on speed and contact, and the '03 12th overall draft pick hit .318/8/46 with a SLG % of .452, an OBP of .389, and 29 steals between Doub'-A Binghamton and High-A St. Lucie last season.
While he'll likely start '06 in the Minors due to the Mets' embarrassment of Outfield riches, contingent upon how he fares a late-season cup of coffee or injury call-up is not out of the question. Not yet 22, Milledge has ample time to gain some High-A seasoning... and maturity. Adventurous owners belonging to "Dynasty" or deep, DEEP ongoing Keeper leagues might be inclined to gamble a late/last round flyer on Milly' and stash him away. Possessing great speed and the ability to make contact, the future leadoff hitter will be surrounded by a po-tent Met lineup and could eventually become a .300/15/40/95 40 SB player.

11. Washington Nationals; 3B Ryan Zimmerman: A big (6-3/220), nimble, defensively gifted 3rd Bagger, the Nats' took Zimm' with the 4th overall pick in last year's draft and his value varies dramatically predicated upon who you talk to. Considered an early favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year award by some... and that's high praise given that the National League is positively overflowing with gifted young arms and position players, Zimmerman's also been called "nothing more than a .260-.270/15-20 Home Run Hitter" by others. The fact is, the 22 year old corner infielder began the '05 season by systematically dismantling AA pitching (.326./.528/.371), and finished the year by playing 20 games with his big league brethren. In those 20 games Zimmerman really caught manager Frank Robinson's attention by hitting .397/.569/.416, with 10 of his 58 hits going for Doubles. Robinson recently stated that he feels Zimmerman could develop into a 30-40 Homer hitter, but there's nothing in the young player's history that indicates he'll develop that kind of power, and cavernous RFK Stadium will undoubtedly work against him.
So far this spring, though, Ryan Zimmerman's acquitted himself quite well at both the plate and in the field, and should be considered an excellent fantasy sleeper.
While I don't see the Nat' 3rd Sacker crushing 30 Homers' this season, a .280/20/75 campaign would not be an unreasonable projection. And if Robinson's correct, Ryan Zimmerman could be as good as .289/26/85 this season.

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