Welcome to the weekly Fantasy Baseball Prospect Primer. In this space, we will inform you about prospects that have recently been called up or who might become fantasy contributors in the near future. Especially good for Keeper leagues, you'll want to check in weekly to get the latest news and advice for the coming week about prospects of fantasy relevance. Whether you need a great future keeper or you’re just tired of starting Tommy Hanson in that last SP slot, or if you're just looking for the next big thing in fantasy baseball, this is the article for you!
Gerrit Cole (SP, PIT) Meet Gerrit Cole, the no. 1 pick from the 2011 MLB Draft out of UCLA. Cole is being called up by the Pirates to make his major league debut Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants, and he'll be in line for one of those heralded two-start weeks for weekly head-to-head match-ups. As I write this, Cole is available in 66% of leagues and he is certainly worth a flier for all fantasy leagues and especially in keeper formats.
Cole has been on the fast track to the majors since he was drafted in 2011. In 2012, he sprinted through Single-A and Double-A leagues with a sterling ERA at 2.78 and a K/9 right around 9.0. Some scouts and front office people expected him to get the call during the roster expansions at the end of the 2012 season, but the call never came, as the Pirates faded in the brutal NL Central. Cole started 2013 in Indianapolis at Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate where he made 12 starts, pitching to a 2.91 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. I’m a big fan of those numbers but what alarms me is the strikeout rate has decreased from 9+ to 6.2. This tells me that the more advanced hitters in Triple-A are seeing his pitches better and they aren't fooled. I certainly don’t expect to see any improvement at the major league level, especially since some of the best and most patient hitters in baseball reside in the NL Central.
But enough of the Debbie Downer-- there is a ton of potential here. Cole was chosen #1 for a reason; he's definitely a workhorse and should be an innings-eater at the major league level. He has a plus fastball that will sit around 95/96 mph, and he complements it with an excellent slider that has some of the best bite in the minors. His changeup is average right now, but it is a developing pitch for him and can be really good if he has it going.
My prognosis the rest of the way for about 15 starts would be a solid line of 90 IP with a 3.80 ERA, a respectable WHIP of 1.25, and a K/9 at around 7.0. Most called up pitchers start to overpower and press for more strikeouts so I wouldn't be surprised to see a small increase there. Pick up at your discretion, but in keeper leagues you cannot ignore the upside-- he can grow into a certifiable ace sooner rather than later.
Zack Wheeler (SP, NYM) What a lucky week we all have when not one but two high-upside pitchers get called into action. Now, this one comes with a disclaimer, as Wheeler was set to be called up for Friday’s game against the Chicago Cubs (which would have been a nice matchup) but he struggled in his latest Triple-A outing and it’s now looking like his debut will be postponed until next week, sometime around June 19th. Still, the time is now to pick this guy up if you have the room. He’s owned in only 23% of leagues as of this writing, and I expect that to rise to around 50-60% upon official news of a call-up.
Raise your hand if you like Matt Harvey. Well, many scouts had Harvey as the second-best pitcher in the Mets' organization behind Wheeler. High praise no doubt, but all the makings are there. He has four pitches: a fastball that he can raise at will, a hammer curveball that is already a plus pitch, and then he mixes in a changeup and a cutter. He will primarily work with the fastball (94-95 mph) and that very nice curve, while the change-up and cutter are works-in-progress that he can effectively use to keep hitters off balance around 10-15% of the time.
Currently, Wheeler sits at Triple-A with a 4.14 ERA and 9.4 K/9. Some of you might balk at a 4.14 ERA in the minor leagues, but Wheeler has been pitching in the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in Las Vegas, so you should pay no heed to the ERA numbers. For those of you that don’t know, the entire PCL is a hitter’s paradise and frankly, a 4.14 ERA really isn’t bad at all. For reference, look at all those Mariners hitting prospects that hit well in Triple-A and then struggle when called up. That’s because the fields are short and the air is hot league-wide. I'd expect Wheeler to be just fine at Citi Field and that ERA will probably be better than Cole’s because of competition against the weaker NL East. I expect fewer starts from Wheeler than Cole so I’ll go with 12-14 starts (he’s going to be on an innings limit); let's estimate 80-85 innings of 3.45 ERA with around 8.0 K/9. The only red flag here is the 1.39 WHIP at Triple-A, and while some of that is the Pacific Coast League, some of it is wildness and walks, so be advised.
OTHER NOTES AND BITS
Jose Alvarez (SP, DET) It’s not everyday an unknown prospect is called up for the Tigers and he pitches a gem. This guy is nowhere to be found on top prospects lists but he had 72 K to only 15 BB this year in the minors. He’s worth putting on your watch-list to see what happens, but nobody expects him to stay in the majors. Besides, Drew Smyly should be getting the next full-time rotation spot opportunity if it ever happens.
Wil Myers (OF, TB) A lot of chatter right now about one of the top hitters in the minors being called-up up “within the next ten days.” Well, I still don't see a concrete roster spot for Myers. Unless the Rays decide to sit or cut ties with DH Luke Scott, there is no justification for sitting Kelly Johnson, Desmond Jennings or Matt Joyce at the moment. That said, Myers has big-time power and is tearing it up in the minors, so watch this one closely in the coming week.
Nick Castellanos (3B/OF, DET) The 3B-turned-OF has been hearing some rumors lately about a call-up. I've heard nothing concrete, and I'm not sure it would be the savviest move by Detroit's front office. Castellanos is just now adjusted to Triple-A and hitting .295 with 10 HR, so calling him up might put him back in the student-of-the-game mode. In my opinion, it would be better to spend a little more time in the minors working on his plate discipline. And don't forget: Austin Jackson isn’t far from returning from injury. I’d keep Castellanos on the watch-list for now.
Tyler Skaggs (SP, ARI) Skaggs has been sent back down to Triple-A which means he’s under my watch again. He could definitely use some more location polish, but Skaggs's stuff is big-league ready. Rest assured, we will see him again in the near future.
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