Minor Developments: Early returns

You can find more from Rob Steingall at SNYWhyGuys.com

The minor league season is finally underway, so let’s take a look at the early returns and start projecting arrival times for some of the top prospects in the minors. Getting an early jump on prospecting can lead to big value later in the summer for your fantasy team.

Let’s kick things off by checking in with top prospects Bryce Harper(notes) and Mike Trout(notes), the current poster children for the future of fantasy baseball.

Harper has gotten off to a bit of a sluggish start, hitting .211 with seven strikeouts to only two walks at High-A Hagerstown. Don’t go jumping off the ledge yet, fantasy gamers. He’s still only 18 years old and playing at a very advanced level for his age. The power is off the charts, and we’ll begin seeing that as soon as he adjusts to pro ball and wood bats. It still wouldn’t be shocking to see him in Washington at the end of the 2012 season.

Trout, on the other hand, is off to a scorching start out of the gates, batting .318 with three homers through his first six games. Trout could very well be this year’s Mike Stanton(notes), a guy who forces his way into the lineup due to his ridiculous minor league efforts. Five-tool players don’t grow on trees, and Trout oozes sick fantasy potential, so think about making the add if current center fielder Peter Bourjos(notes) really begins to struggle badly. Trout also offers plus defense in the outfield. I’d still expect the Angels to take their time with him, but would it be crazy to see him at some point this summer? I don’t think so.

Sticking in Halo country, the club called upon top pitching prospect Tyler Chatwood(notes) earlier this week to take the rotation spot of the “injured” Scott Kazmir(notes). He struggled a bit in his first outing (5 IP, 4 ER, 4 BB, 3 K), but that should be expected from a guy who has only pitched 74 innings above Single-A ball. Chatwood’s arsenal includes a mid-90s four-seam fastball and mid-70s curve, as well as an average change-up. I believe Chatwood is being rushed, but we’ll let his performance make that determination. He’s not on my radar for this season, but could be a nice fantasy asset for those in dynasty formats.

I can’t help but wonder if the injury to Josh Hamilton(notes) has the Rangers pushing the panic button today, with the big news being the expected signing of Cuban defector Leonys Martin. The club is reportedly offering Martin, a center fielder, a whopping $15 million dollar bonus along with a spot on the 40-man roster. Here is a little background on Martin, who was a budding star in Cuba. He offers speed, defense, and true lead-off ability, and may see the field in short order if Julio Borbon(notes) can’t pick up the pace. I’d expect Martin to start off at Double-A Frisco, and move quickly from there.

Need a catcher in your dynasty league? Jesus Montero(notes) is probably long gone, but don’t sleep on Reds farmhand Devin Mesoraco(notes). He’s currently tearing the cover off the ball for Triple-A Louisville, batting .294 with three homers in his first six games. He posted a line of .302/26/75 across three minor league stops last season, and looks to be picking up where he left off in ’10. Mesoraco is a bit of a late bloomer, but that isn’t uncommon for catching prospects. If your dynasty league is sleeping on him, run to the wire and make the add.

It’s getting late, so let’s wrap-up with a lightning round …

Dodgers first base prospect Jerry Sands has already mashed four homers in his first six games, and is also hitting .417. Keep in mind that the Pacific Coast League is a hitter friendly environment. Current first baseman James Loney(notes) doesn’t appear to have much upside left, so we could get a look at Sands later this summer.

Montero is doing his thing at Triple-A (.480, 1 HR). With Russell Martin(notes) appearing to be healthy and raking, where does that leave Montero? If the club is desperate for pitching at the deadline, do they dangle him in a deal for Francisco Liriano(notes) or King Felix?

With Rafael Furcal(notes) injured yet again, how quickly do the Dodgers pull the plug on stopgap options and give top prospect Dee Gordon(notes) a shot? He’s off to a nice start at Triple-A (.360), and has five steals without being caught, a sign of great improvement. He’ll be a speed category killer immediately if he gets the call.

Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall(notes) has started off on the right foot (.292/1/7). He’s a service clock casualty, and we’ll have to wait until late May or early June for his highly anticipated debut.

Tigers pitching prospect Andy Oliver(notes) has impressed in his first two starts, going 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 14/3 K/BB ratio in 12 innings of work. He’ll be the first arm called up if the Tigers need a starter, and could help in AL-only formats if he’s made the proper adjustments. By the looks of it, so far, so good.

We’ll close with a big congratulations to Minor Developments favorite, Mariners pitcher Michael Pineda(notes), on his first major league victory. Pineda was as advertised Tuesday against the Blue Jays, attacking hitters with his upper-90s fastball and mixing in a nasty, hard-biting slider. While he was a strikeout artist in the minors (154 in 139.1 IP in ’10), even more impressive has been his efficiency. While Jeremy Hellickson(notes) is good, Pineda will provide far better value in fantasy this year.

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Rob Steingall is a nationally syndicated fantasy analyst whose work has appeared in newspapers including The Providence Journal.

Updated Wednesday, Apr 13, 2011