It's time to wrap up this edition of Fantasy Future with the National League West. Other editions can be found on the sidebar under Fantasy Futures whenever you so desire. Please do desire!
The NL West is an interesting mixed-bag of teams every year. It seems as though the division is always up for grabs and literally you can't tell at the start of the year who is going to be good and who is going to be bad. Usually every teams gets a taste of both first and last place and winning streaks and losing streaks are a dime-a-dozen.
This season you have your surprise team (Arizona), your disappointment (Colorado), and the teams that are doing exactly what they should be doing (San Diego and San Francisco) all the while I never know what to expect from the Dodgers. Each team has some interesting prospects, though you won't see many in the top 20 of prospect lists at this time. Many of the best have either already graduated or are still very young.
That's why I'm here. To tell you which ones to look out for in the coming seasons as you try to stay ahead of the game in your fantasy league. Not in the sense of "why am I here on earth?" because I hope my life holds a greater purpose than that. But maybe not. Maybe I was put here to tell you about Diamondbacks prospects. I guess that's better than nothing. On with it, here are the Giants top young players after the jump...
The San Francisco Giants
Top Player to Debut in 2011: Brandon Belt, OF/1B
As if there wasn't already enough pressure for a team to win the big one, the Giants almost needed to make the playoffs last year for holding Buster Posey back as long as they did. If they had fallen a game or two short, they would have had some 'splainin to do. With Belt, they didn't wait as long and he was with the team at the beginning of the season. However he hit .192/.300/.269 in limited duty and he was sent back to the minors.
Belt was the minor leagues biggest surprise last season, going from a 2009 5th round pick to the #23 prospect in the game thanks to a .352/.455/.620 season across 3 levels with 23 HR, 112 RBI, 22 SB, 43 2B and a 93:99 K:BB ratio. He's hitting .324/.462/.549 with 7 HR and 4 SB in 43 AAA games this year and is back in San Fran, hitting a double and a HR in his return on July 19th.
He has the potential to be a 20/20 player with lots of hits, doubles, and runs, possibly teaming with Posey to form a bad-ass middle-of-the-order duo for years to come.
Top Player to Debut in 2010: Buster Posey, C
The Rays were thought to be in line to draft Posey 1st overall in 2008, but instead opted for a variety of reasons to select Tim Beckham. Three other teams also passed on the catcher and the Giants were able to nab him at #5. He's so far been the most valuable player in that draft, beat out Jason Heyward for Rookie of the Year, and can sit back the rest of his career knowing he's already got that ring.
Posey hit .305/.357/.505 with 18 HR and 67 RBI last year, making him an amazing value at the catching position. However, when you come out of the gates so hot, it's hard to top the following year, leading to so many sophomore slumps that we see from great young players throughout the years. He was hitting .284/.368/.389 with 4 HR, 5 2B, and 21 RBI in 45 games this year before his devastating injury in the much-talked-about home plate collision. The average and OBP were solid, but the power had mostly vanished. Now he'll have to somehow regain that power next year, coming back from a leg injury, which is never easy.
I expect Posey to continue being a solid average and on-base player, but who knows what to expect in terms of home runs. He's still a top 10 catcher in fantasy, based on potential alone.
Top Player to "debut'" in 2010, part two: Madison Bumgarner, SP
He pitched 10 innings in 2009, but lets focus on the real heart of the 21-year-olds full-season debut. Bumgarner was the #10 pick in 2007 and just smashed through the minors in 2008 and 2009, making him a top 15 prospect for 2 years running. In 48 starts and 273 innings, he struck out 256 batters, walked 55, allowed 211 hits, and just 50 ER.
His strikeout rate has dipped as he's moved up, but by keeping the ball on the ground and in the park without allowing free passes, he's turned into one of the top young pitchers in the game.
Last season he posted an ERA of 3.00 with a FIP of 3.66. It's flip-flopped this season. In 118.2 innings he's posted an ERA of 3.72 but a FIP of 2.40 and xFIP of 3.11. His K-rate has bumped up to 7.81 while his BB-rate has remained steady, even going down a couple notches. He should make an excellent #1 or #2 starter for a long time.
Top Player on the Cusp: Gary Brown, OF
The Giants struck lightning in a bottle last year with outfielders like Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, and Andres Torres. The thing about lightning is that it is dangerous, hot, volatile, and shouldn't be kept in a bottle because it will eventually get out and go away. Such is the case with these players, who have not matched their surprising production from a year ago, along with Aubrey Huff. They'll need help to come from somewhere, and Belt can only do so much.
I don't know if Brown will debut this year, he's only at high-A right now, but next year should be the latest you'll see him in a Giants uniform. The #24 pick last year, he's been on a tear this year, hitting .313/.382/.469 with 39 SB, 24 2B, 8 HR in 90 games.
The Giants don't play much "small ball" and haven't typically gone after speedsters. But they drafted Brown knowing what he is so I suspect they'll like him to run in the bigs when he gets there. He's been getting some top-50 love on midseason lists and should be 2012's version of "Call him up already!" for the Giants.
Top Pitching Prospect: Zach Wheeler, SP
If you couldn't tell already, the Giants are hitting pretty well on first-round picks lately. Contrary to popular belief, that's pretty hard to do on a consistent basis. Wheeler was the #6 pick in 2009 and BA's #55 prospect headed into the season. He's been moving steady up the lists at mid-season with excellent strikeout numbers (95 in 82.2 innings) but he absolutely has to get his walks under control. He currently is walking 5 batters per 9. Because he walks a lot of batters and K's a lot of batters, he hasn't been getting very deep into games, averaging a little more than 5 innings per start.
Wheeler has a plus fastball and a plus slurve and only recently turned 21, so there's plenty of time for him to improve on those walks. That will still, in my opinion, hold him back from being a regular in the bigs until 2013.
One More for the Road: Eric Surkamp, LHP
If Wheeler is the top pitching prospect for the Giants (and he is) then Surkamp is easily #2 and will reach the majors first. The lefty has dominated throughout his career, but now 24 and dominating AA, he'll need to be moved up and I won't be surprised to see him in the bigs in September.
In 101 innings he has struck out 118, walked 32, allowed allowed 84 hits for a 2.05 ERA. Surkamp has 6 starts of 10 or more strikeouts this season. San Fran is a great place for pitchers, and Surkamp could benefit from that advantage as soon as 2012. The only thing holding him back is a current rotation that goes 6 deep thanks to Ryan Vogelsong randomly leading the league in ERA. Vogelsong, as far as I can tell, is only on a 1-year contract though and I won't be surprised to see the Giants let him walk away thanks to their pitching depth.
Top Prospect to Debut in 2011: Josh Collmenter, RHP
The Diamondbacks are surprisingly only 4.5 games back of the Giants in the West. Collmenter is indeed a rookie, but you won't find him on any prospect lists headed into the season. Despite this fact, Collmenter looks into a mirror every morning and says "You're good enough, you're strong enough, and gosh darn it, I like you." which has led him to a 2.65 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and 3.77 xFIP in 85 innings. He gets by more on control (1.69 bb/9) than he does strikeouts (6.14 k/9) but we've recently seen that work for pitchers like Doug Fister. Why not Collmenter too? Nobody is saying he's going to be a star, but he could solidify himself as a solid 3rd or 4th option.
Top Player to "debut" in 2010: Dan Hudson, RHP
A little bit of cheating earlier, leads to a little bit more cheating later. It's a vicious cycle. Hudson pitched 18 innings in 2009, but didn't really get his feet wet until last year. He wasn't very good for Chicago, so the White Sox called him mean names and then traded him to the Diamondbacks. In the world of "last laughs" so far Hudson and the D'Backs are winning the battle. He posted a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts after the trade. This year he's 10-5, 3.56 ERA in 20 starts with 102:30 K:BB ratio in 134 innings with a 2.88 FIP. Hudson is 24 years old and some people have started to make rumblings that he's indeed a future ace. So far so good.
Top Pitching Prospect: Tyler Skaggs, LHP
It doesn't sound right to say it. "Skaggs" It sounds like a very gangsta curse word. Something that Lil Jon would be sampling on his next single. Something that gets you sent to the principals office when you call your teacher a "Skagg" for telling you to be quiet. But instead it's the last name of a very good pitching prospect in the D'Backs system.
Tyler, as I like to call him, was one of the main pieces to come to Arizona in exchange for Dan Haren. To make-up for the loss of Haren would be too much of a task for any 20-year-old, but he is showing a lot of potential. He was BA's #82 prospect going into the year, but at midseason is getting some top-20 love. He pitched 100.2 innings in high-A this year with 125 K's, 34 bb's, 81 hits allowed and a 3.22 ERA. He was promoted and got roughed up in his first AA start (4 innings, 8 hits, 5 of them for extra bases) but he's still super young for the league. I'd expect Tyler to remain in AA for the rest of this season and probably to start next season unless he absolutely blows up. He could be a 2012 September call-up, with 2013 as a realistic ETA.
Top Player on the Cusp: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
This years version of Belt could very well be Goldschmidt. The player with the old-timey name was an 8th round pick in 2009 and proceeded to smash the heck out of the ball in his debut, hitting 18 homers 74 games with a .334 average. But he was 21 in the rookie ball and drafted in the 8th round, so ignore him. Last year he hit .314/.384/.606 in 138 high-A games with 35 HR and 42 2B but he was 22 in the California League, so ignore him. I guess we can't ignore him anymore.
Goldschmidt didn't even make BA's top 10 list for the D'Backs alone last year, but he's a top 100 prospect now. He's been tearing up AA to the tune of .300/.421/.612 with 27 HR in 94 games but surprisingly the team has not yet decided to give him a chance to replace Juan Miranda. The biggest change from year to year for Goldschmidt has been a walk rate that went from 9.5% last year to 16.5% this year, and a strikeout rate that went from 27% to 19.9%. However, he's been struggling mightily lately. His strikeout rate is back over 25% since the start of June, and he's hitting .220/.347/.441 in 72 July PA's. Only a small sample size, but Goldschmidt has a lot of work to do to prove doubters wrong, so the margin for error is thin. I believe he can be a solid walk and home run option for the Diamondbacks. Never in the upper-echelon of first baseman, but a potentially solid option with an upside of 30+ home runs.
Ouch My Arm!: Jarrod Parker, RHP
In an amazing turn of events, Parker had Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2010 and moved UP Baseball America's top 100 from #36 to #33. Reports maintained that the former #9 pick still had all the skills and mechanics pre-injury that made him a potential ace, so nobody batted an eye.
So far overall he's been good-not-great but understandably he is going to have some rust to shake off. In 86 innings he has a 77:44 K:BB ratio, an ERA of 4.08 and a FIP of 4.37 in AA. The walk rate is too high, but he's been better as of late. He's given up 3 runs in 20 July innings and struck out 8 in 5 innings in his last start, but also walked 4. If he can just get his control back, he could still be one of the leagues top pitchers somewhere down the line. I wouldn't expect him in Arizona before the 2nd half of 2012.
Top Prospect to Debut in 2011: Juan Nicasio, RHP
Look at the Rockies. Look closer. Go ahead, come in a little closer. You see that? Yep, its veteranship. The Rockies have felt like a young team for a long team. Like a group of kids pulling together for Denver when nobody expected them to. But upon closer inspection, this team has a lot of experience. Their two highest OPS's come from Todd Helton and Jason Giambi. The youngest hitter on the team this whole season has been 24-year-old Charles Blackmon. Unfortunately, that experience hasn't translated to wins like we thought it would, and the Rockies don't have that many players in the minors that are on the verge of helping.
Nicasio came into the year as BA's #8 Rockies prospect. The 24-year-old tore it up in A ball in 2009 (112 innings, 115 K's, 23 walks, 2.41 ERA) but while his 2010 ERA rose by a run and a half, the rest of his numbers remained good. That wasn't enough to get him much hype however. People are noticing now. After posting a 2.22 ERA in AAA with a 6.30 K/BB ratio, Nicasio was called to the big leagues. Results have been mixed, but he's also had some stellar starts like in his last one against Atlanta (7 innings, 5 h, 1 R, 4 K's, 1 BB) and if he keeps it up, Nicasio could be a permanent fixture in the rotation.
Top Prospect to Debut in 2010: Jhoulys Chacin, RHP
Chacin threw 11 innings in 2009, but again, this is how cheating works. Once I start, I can't stop. He was the #71 prospect going into last season and performed way over that expectation. After 7 starts in AAA, Chacin had a 1.51 ERA with 35 K's in 34.1 innings. He was just as solid in the majors, posting a 3.28 ERA in 137.1 innings with 138 Ks and 61 walks. While veterans like Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook have had their struggles, its the young guns that have helped keep this team afloat. Chacin has seen his K's take a dip this year, but he's still got #2 starter potential.
Top Player on the Cusp: Wilin Rosario, C
Fantasy owners always want to keep a close eye on catching prospects, especially when they play for the Rockies. Rosario was the #49 prospect by BA headed into the year and has kept his stock steady, if not rising. He is hitting .260/.302/.477 this season with 16 HR and 9 2B. His overall numbers have taken a step back from last year, but he had a terrible June and is bouncing back in July (.302/.362/.623 with 5 HR) to start to even things out. Chris Ianetta puts up okay offense for a catcher, but you can't overlook that he's hitting .217 in his last 225 games. Rosario could be the answer for a more stable and consistent option in Colorado.
Top RBI Guy: Nolan Arenado, 3B
Ty Wigginton is a nice stop-gap solution at third base, but he's not a long-term answer. Ian Stewart is clearly never going to work there. The next in line is 20-year-old Arenado, a 2nd round pick in 2009. He was BA's #80 prospect headed into the year, and should remain in the top 100. This season in the Cal League he's hitting .308/.355/.475 with 11 HR and 76 RBI in 91 games. The thing with RBI's is that they never translate and they are mainly affected by where you hit in the order and how good the guys in front of you are, but 76 RBI in 91 games is a lot of RBI, so I just figured I'd point that out. Because its fun and I ran out of ideas. Arenado is most likely 2 years away from reaching the big leagues, if he pans out at all. But if he does get there, he could be a serious threat hitting with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.
Top Relief Pitcher: Rex Brothers, LHP
If you're looking for long-term closer type guys, Brothers could be your answer. The former first-round pick has exclusively worked from the bullpen in his career and is now in the big leagues. He struck out 143 in 109.1 minor league innings and has a 23:11 K:BB ratio in 16.2 major league innings. Huston Streets contract expires after next season and has a mutual option after that, but don't be surprised if he gets traded before that anyway. If the Rockies are unable to compete next season, closers with expiring contracts are always the first to go.
Where Are They Now?: Tyler Matzek and Christian Friedrich, SP
In 2008 and 2009 the Rockies used their first-round picks on high-upside southpaws Friedrich and Matzek. Tyler Matzek was considered to be the best high school arm in the draft that year, and was still the #32 pick coming into this season. Friedrich was #33 headed into last season. They were supposed to lead the Rockies into the next generation of "Hey, we got pitching now!" Not so fast.
Matzek has made 14 starts this year and has an ERA of 9.78, "You mean 3.78 or 5.78 maybe, right?" Nope, 9.78. He's walked 66 and struck out 53 in 46 innings of work. His FIP is much better though in high-A. It's 8.09. What? That IS much better! Matzek personally requested to be given time off to work on his mechanics and after a month-long hiatus returned to make a start on Wednesday. He went 4 innings, allowed 2 hits (both doubles) and struck out 6. He also walked 5 batters, his main issue this season. Who knows what to think until he's put in more work.
Friedrich took his own step back last season, posting a 5.05 ERA in 18 starts. He returned to AA this year and while his ERA has been much better (3.72) his FIP has actually gone up (4.51) He's allowed 120 hits in 109.1 innings.
If you're looking for a player who may assume the top spot in the Rockies pitching prospects, check out Chad Bettis: 120 innings, 125 K's, 36 walks, 3.68 ERA.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Top Player to Debut in 2011: Dee Gordon, SS
While the Dodgers have officially dropped into last place in the NL West, they've effectively started a youth movement this year, having called up 3 of their top prospects this season. This first one I'll mention is Gordon, a player who exploded on the map by stealing 73 bases and hitting .301 in 2009. That got him to #46 on BA's list, however he was caught stealing 25 times. Last year stole 53 bases in 133 games and again was caught 20 times, but BA loved him even more, jumping him to 26 on their list headed into this season. He was called up to the big show on June 6th and started off hot, but was sent back to the minors after only 22 games. Since returning to AAA, he's been on fire, hitting .345/.390/.509 in 55 at-bats.
Gordon is a threat to steal 50 bases from the shortstop position, which is immensely valuable, but I wouldn't call him the next Jose Reyes. He could still be a top 5-10 shortstop in fantasy.
Top Player to Debut in 2011, part 2: Jerry Sands, 1B/OF
Sands is a former 25th round pick who burst onto the scene last year and had a lot of people wondering if he could actually translate into a major league star. He hit .301/.395/.586 across 2 levels with 35 HR, 93 RBI, and 18 SB. Scouts and fans were split on how "real" those numbers were and BA had him as only the 6th best Dodgers prospect, not making the top 100 overall. He started the year in AAA and then got 41 games with the Dodgers, hitting .200/.294/.328 with 2 HR, 17 RBI, and 3 SB. He's back in AAA now, waiting for another shot. I think the real question about Sands future is this: How good do you really have to be to replace James Loney? I think Sands has a real shot to start at 1B in the near future.
Top Prospect to Debut in 2011, part 3: Rubby De La Rosa, SP
Rubby made some noise last year when he posted a 2.93 ERA/3.39 FIP after a promotion to AA as a 21-year-old. He was even more impressive in AA this year, and is now in the majors. Rubby has a 3.73 ERA in 50.2 innings, 49:23 K:BB and 46 hits allowed. He'd have to pitch himself out of the rotation at this point, as the Dodgers will probably look to shed payroll during and after the season, and he'll come on the cheap as a rookie.
Top Prospect to Debut in 2010: Kenley Jansen, RP
While Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters get all the attention, Jansen has also been a strikeout king, posting 14 K's per 9 in his 59.2 inning major league career. He also walks 5.4 per 9 and you'd like to see him get that down below 4. He's not the closer right now, but long-term always bet on the strikeout guy.
Top Prospect in the Minors: Zach Lee, RHP
There was a lot of talk after last years draft that the Dodgers "punted" their first round selection by taking the "unsignable" Lee. It seemed his bonus demands were too high and many assumed that the Dodgers wanted to save money by drafting a player they couldn't sign. So much for that. They did get one of the top high school pitchers to sign and now he's become one of the top prospects in the minors. He's pitching in the Midwest League this year and has posted a 3.24 ERA/4.02 FIP in 75 innings. In his last start he went 5 innings, struck out 8, walked 1 and allowed 3 hits (all for extra bases mind you.) He'll be ranked by BA somewhere between 25 and 50 most likely before next season but that's very good for a player who doesn't turn 20 until September.
Fastest Riser: Trayvon Robinson, OF
Nobody expects the Dodgers to let Matt Kemp walk away, no matter the cost it takes to keep him. That won't however keep Robinson from making the bigs if he keeps playing like he is. He intrigued people by hitting .300 each of the last 2 seasons with a high OBP, good power, and excellent speed. But maybe everyone was waiting for that breakthrough. Okay, here it is: .301/.377/.574, 25 HR, 8 SB in 93 games and that should shoot him up to a top 100 prospect. There are some concerns though: #1. Where'd the speed go? He averaged over 40 SB per season the last 2 years, but is on pace for about 12 this year and he's been caught 6 times. When more of your hits go for HR, there could be less stolen base opportunities, but he's just not been good on the basepaths this year. #2. The strikeouts. Robinsons K's have shot up to 28.8% of his at-bats while his walks have dipped to 10.6%.
There's reasons to be excited and concerned about Robinson. He turns 24 years old in September, and I believe a lot of people will be concerned about him being a AAAA player. Of course, he hasn't played in the majors yet, that's just my prediction at the on-set of his career. He'll need to cut down on the strikeouts, keep up the power, and steal more bases to be a top fantasy option.
San Diego Padres
Top Prospect to Debut in 2011: Anthony Rizzo, 1B
I wrote a lot about Rizzo just before he was called up to the majors, exclaiming that the first baseman would have no problem with Petco (no more than usual) and could be an admirable replacement for Adrian Gonzalez. Just because he hasn't done that yet does not concern me, so I don't want to hear "ZOMG HE'S A BUST!" because he doesn't even turn 22 until next month.
Rizzo had nothing left to learn in AAA, where he hit .365/.444/.715, and if he gets sent back there, those are exactly the types of numbers he will continue to put up, so I commend the Padres for sticking with him so far even though he's hitting .143 in 117 PA's with 1 HR. This is how he'll learn. I won't be surprised if the Pads do send him down, I would even understand since it can be draining for a player to struggle so much, but Rizzo is every bit as good in my eyes now as he was a month ago.
Top Prospect to Debut in 2010: Cory Luebke, LHP
He's not exciting because he's already 26-years-old, he pitches for the boring Padres, and his fastball sits in the low-90s. He is however exciting if you've owned him this season, because he's posted a 2.57 ERA in 63 innings with a 69:19 K:BB ratio. Believe it or not, Luebke is a former 1st round pick (sandwich round), a good prospect (BA's #6 prospect for the Padres going into the year) and has crushed it in his four starts: 24 innings, 26 Ks, 4 BBs, 1.50 ERA. There's not much to not like about him right now, nothing moreso than the fact that he pitches for the Padres, which can be big bucks for fantasy owners.
Top Prospect on the Farm: Casey Kelly, RHP
He was the top pick of the Red Sox with dreams of being a hitter, but I think the Red Sox realized he sucked at that and said "Okay, you can be a hitter but if you suck, please pitch." and so then he sucked and went back to pitching where he is actually good. He was then the top prize of the Gonzalez trade and his stock may even have went up a little bit since he's going to be pitching in Petco. As a 21-year-old in AA this year, he's been pretty good: 3.99 ERA/3.92 FIP in 108.1 innings, 80:32 K:BB ratio. If the Padres are still bad next year and if Casey is still good, I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the 2nd half of 2012. He's a great sleeper pick next year depending on your leagues format.
Top Hitter on the Farm: Jedd Gyorko, 3B
Gyorko, which is German for "Tiny Dancer" (No its not), has shot up prospect boards this season, making some mid-season top 100 lists. He killed the California League this year, hitting .365/.430/.635, 20 HR, 86 RBI, 11 SB in 81 games. He was promoted to AA and is hitting .311/.397/.459 in his first 16 games there. The Pads current best player, Chase Headley, is at third for now but he's also been a hot topic on the trade market. Headley also has experience in the outfield, so no matter what, the Pads will find a way to get Gyorko into the lineup when the time is right, just like they did with Kyle Blanks.
The Padres have had their ups and downs with prospects. The Gonzalez deal so far looks great, even if Gonzalez does win MVP this season, the Pads picked up their top 2 prospects as well as Raymond Fuentes, a serious stolen base threat in the outfield. Meanwhile, they've had to deal with the off-field issues of former #3 pick Donavan Tate and are still hoping to see him healthy and out of trouble to reach his potential. Kyle Blanks has struggled in the bigs but needs to get another chance. Top 100 prospect Simon Castro is having a terrible season (7.73 ERA) and Jaff Decker isn't doing much better at the plate. But with Luebke having a fine season, that helps ease the pain somewhat. I truthfully don't see the Padres as being that far away from competing again. As far as fantasy goes, keep a close eye on the pitchers and always be wary of the hitters.