Tucked away in Reno a killer slithers quietly in the grass. This Snake, packed with venom so toxic it could paralyze the opposition with one strike, continues to wind a course of destruction through Double and now Triple-A, leaving victims in its wake bewildered, vexed and completely humbled.
The creature's name: Trevor Bauer.
Every year as spring gives way to summer, insatiable owners with various deficiencies often rest their hopes of a turnaround on unproven, uber-talented prospects with a flair for the spectacular. So far, hitters Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and, most recently, Matt Adams (we hope), materialized from the minors to provide struggling managers with the statistical jolt they so desperately needed.
However, most ballyhooed pitching prospects have failed to do the same.
Jarrod Parker was quite useful over his first three turns yielding just four earned over 20 innings. Sadly since then, spotty command and poor run support have turned him into a stream-only starter. Meanwhile, Colorado southpaw Drew Pomeranz, a top-50 farmhand according to Baseball America, posted a wretched 5.87 BB/9 during his lousy five-game tour with the Rockies.
Bauer, however, is a completely different animal.
After the former UCLA standout humiliated Southern League hitters for the first quarter of the MiLB slate (48.1 IP, 1.68 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 11.17 K/9), Arizona GM Kevin Towers threw down the gauntlet. Last week he promoted the organization's No. 1 prospect to Triple-A Reno, quite possibly the tiniest, most unfriendly pitching venue in all of professional baseball. It's an environment so sinister, ERAs typically resemble Jabba the Hutt's waistline. Tower's reasoning: If Bauer is successful there, he'll be successful anywhere. From MLB.com:
"I wouldn't say he completely overmatched Double-A," D-backs GM Kevin Towers said. "But I think if you look at his numbers, we wanted to put him in an environment where he probably was facing a little better competition, a little more of a veteran hitter, smaller ballpark where it's going to be a little more difficult for him."
No surprise, Bauer's response: "Thank you sir! May I have another."
In his debut with the Aces last Friday, the flamethrower sent Fantasyland into a tizzy. Over eight spectacular innings versus Oklahoma City he surrendered just one earned on four hits (1 BB) with 11 strikeouts (Watch his final punchout here).
Though not as polished as Stephen Strasburg, Bauer could make a minor-to-majors impact similar to what the Nats' phenom did two years ago. The self-described mad scientist, who thinks groundballs are overrated, certainly has the stuff. His darting mid-90s fastball and sensational curve both score 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His changeup, splitter and slurve, nicknamed "The Bird," also register as plus pitches.
His command at times does slip, evident in his 4.84 BB/9 this year at Double-A, but his unique cerebral approach proves he is a true one-of-a-kind. The righty's 13-step pregame routine, featuring tension bands, isometrics, extreme long-toss and bizarre tribal-like dancing, is very unconventional. To Bauer, the extensive ritual helps prevent injury while maintaining peak mentality, a viewpoint Josh Beckett would probably never adhere to.
Despite locals' cries for an immediate call-up, Bauer is expected to receive additional Triple-A seasoning over the foreseeable future. Daniel Hudson is expected to return May 26, bumping Pat Corbin from the rotation. And because Wade Miley has pitched so well, it will likely take an injury or disastrous downturn by the lefty or Joe Saunders for Towers to make a move. Still, the eight-percent owned rising star needs to be stashed in 12-team and deeper leagues. His strikeout potential alone could vault K-deprived owners up the ranks.
Patience needs to be a virtue, but at some point this summer Bauer will bite.
Fearless Forecast (w/Arizona): 78.1 IP, 6 W, 3.49 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 87 K
FLAMES OF THE WEEK
Brian Dozier, Min, SS (3-percent owned) — The underappreciated Twinkie is Allen Craig before the Cardinal became a lineup staple, a largely ignored hitter who simply rakes. Though he displays modest pop, Dozier has an excellent feel for the strike-zone consistently applying bat-to-ball. At every stop in his journey to The Show, he never posted a strikeout percentage above 16.1. He also notched a career .305 BA down on the farm. Because he's seeing steady action in the sixth spot, he may also contribute better-than-expected RBI production. Also equipped with double-digit wheels (29 SBs in '11), the Brett Favre-U product is a mixed-league employable middle infielder in the mold of Zack Cozart. If you're an impatient Alexei Ramirez owner tired of the 0-fers, Dozier is an ideal stopgap.
Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 406 at-bats, .276 BA, 6 HR, 52 RBI, 43 R, 8 SB
Elliot Johnson, TB, 2B/SS (19-percent) — The Ray of statistical sunshine is another middle man who is being largely ignored by owners even in moderately deep mixers. With Evan Longoria shelved, which forced Sean Rodriguez to third, the 28-year-old has taken advantage of the extended playing time at the six. So far this month he's totaled a .323 BA with two homers, six RBI, eight runs and six steals. His high strikeout volume (25.0 K%) will likely surpress his BA long-term, but his attractive minor league returns (.319-11-56-72-30 in '10), particularly in steals, arrow to sustainable value in 12-team and deeper mixers. Recall last year in a limited role with the Rays (160 at-bats), he flashed 15-20 potential (4 HR, 6 SB) despite hitting a ghastly .194. Consider him a useful MI until Longoria returns sometime in late-June/early-July.
Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 324 at-bats, .258 BA, 7 HR, 40 RBI, 34 R, 14 SB
LAMES O' THE WEAK
Dee Gordon, LAD, SS — Admittedly, my bold preseason prediction the speedster would threaten or eclipse Jose Reyes' single season benchmark in SBs this century will fall a few dozen short. Unless he starts rapping hits soon, the Mendoza-hugging shortstop could be shipped back to Albuquerque in short order. His increasing whiffs ('11 K%: 11.6, '12: 18.8) and overall lack of success against fastballs, particularly over the outer half, are trying Don Mattingly's patience and curbing what Dee does best, swiping bags. Currently mired in a 4-for-36 slide, Donny Baseball plans to give Gordon occasional rest to clear the kid's head. Eventually, he should come around, making him a strong buy-low candidate. This week in one-for-one industry deals he was swapped for Ted Lilly, Eric Hosmer and Jed Lowrie. Buy on the bear.
Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 448 at-bats, .274 BA, 1 HR, 28 RBI, 67 R, 41 SB
Dan Haren, LAA, SP — Historically, the righty storms out of the gate then slowly fades during summer's dog days. However, this year, the Angels' workhorse has flipped the script. With only one victory on the season and an ERA hovering in the mid-4s, he's failed miserably to live up to expectation. Overall, he's the 714th-best player in the Y! universe. Checking under the hood, Haren's increase in walks combined with an unsavory 1.13 HR/9 are the primary reasons for the ERA inflation. The rest of his peripherals are in line with the norm. Once he finds the strike zone with more regularity and leans hard again on his cutter, his totals should greatly improve, as his 3.69 xFIP indicates. Like Gordon, he's a discounted commodity worth pitching a lowball offer for. He was dealt straight up for Alex Rodriguez, Jim Johnson and Michael Cuddyer in recent industry one-for-one swaps.
Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 155.1 IP, 11 W, 3.49 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 130 K
QUICK HITTERS (Random musings from my demented head)
• Just when you thought Kevin Millwood retired a decade ago, he reappears. Showing vintage, heyday form, the 37-year-old tossed consecutive masterful performances on-the-road in two extremely difficult venues, Yankees Stadium and Coors Field. Against the Rockies he twirled his first complete game shutout since 2003, the same year a 15-year-old Dustin Ackley earned his driver's permit and 50 Cent was blowin' up the Billboard charts. Leaning more on his cutter, Millwood has induced more groundball outs and dramatically increased his K/9. Though run support will be a problem and he'll likely be dangled to a contender at the deadline, he's worth monitoring even in shallow leagues. His next two turns, both against Texas, are intimidating, but he limited the Rangers to a mere one run over six innings (7 Ks) on April 11. Emerge from those starts unscathed and the wily veteran, owned in just three-percent of Y! leagues, may earn a renewed fantasy following.
• Chipper Jones' hair may be graying by the second, but he's swinging the bat with the smoothness of a 25-year-old. The 40-year-old is on pace for only his second 90-RBI campaign and highest HR/FB percentage since 2005. Occasional aches and pains are always a possibility with Larry Wayne, but the 60-percent-owned hot corner deserves more love in shallow mixers. Despite missing a few games with residual pain in his knee and most recently a calf strain, he's the 11th-best 3B in the Yahoo! universe, ranking ahead of more coveted commodities Alex Rodriguez, Brett Lawrie and Michael Young. On a per game basis, where he currently ranks fourth among eligible three-baggers, he might be one of the virtual game's deadliest hitters. Have to admit, it will be a somber day when he digs into the box for the last time. Thankfully, I'll always have his pleated Dockers shorts and leather braid belt to remind me of the good times.
• For whatever strange reason, I have an affinity for big-boned players. Not sure what the internal trigger is, but it could possibly stem from my rather hefty collection of Bob Hamelin Upper Deck rookie cards from 1990. His pinchable cheeks, plus power and accountant glasses were, I guess, too irresistible. Being a chubby chaser, I'm jumping aboard the Matt Adams bandwagon. Now that Fat Elvis, Lance Berkman, has officially left the building for the next 6-8 weeks, the Cartman-wide first-baseman is must-grab material even in fairly shallow mixers. Scouts describe him as Freddie Freeman with more pop. Glancing at his stellar minor league record, that's not far from the truth. First base is an overloaded position, but Adams has a shot at a .280-18-65-55 line over the rest of the season, provided he sticks in the lineup.
• If an unsightly number of red "DL" tags currently decorate your roster, seek out the services of Arizona's Josh Bell. The former top prospect in the Orioles system may finally bloom in a new environment. An overzealous approach held him back during his time in Baltimore, but after totaling a 0.59 BB/K and .381 BA prior to his promotion to Reno, he is showing signs of maturity. Officially supplanting Ryan Roberts at third base, he should see plenty of action over the coming weeks. The swooning D-Backs are desperate for offense. Don't be surprised if his two-run blast off Aaron Harang Tuesday night springboards him. Bell definitely possesses enough raw power to churn out 15-plus homers over the remainder of the season.
• It's great to see wholesome, good-natured pound-your-teammate-in-the-face-during-a-voluntary-workout-while-he's-looking-the-other-way fun has returned to the NFL. Similar instances have existed in fantasy circles for years. When Funston poached Nelson Cruz in a magazine mock a couple of years ago, he felt the Noise's fist of fury. You might be asking: "Evans, you're so scrawny, you couldn't flatten a tortilla." But, my friend, never judge a book by its cover. Anyone who poaches Doug Martin right before my pick in football drafts this year better be prepared to feel my wrath.
• Movies about board games is a bizarre concept. But since Liam Neeson is in "Battleship," I'll eventually break down and see it when it hits the Red Box. After watching him in "Schindler's List," "Batman Begins," "Taken" and "The Grey," I'm convinced he could make a film about Mark Prior's career ("Operation: The Mark Prior Story") enjoyable. Next to Daniel Day Lewis, he's undoubtedly the Noise's favorite thespian.
• Maxim's rank of Kate Upton at No. 39 on its annual Hot 100 list is akin to the Y! fantasy brass placing Josh Hamilton behind Ben Zobrist on the baseball Big Board, a travesty. Justin Verlander would agree. There's no way bubble gummy Taylor Swift (No. 26) possesses more bedroom sizzle. No way.
Want to bean Brad in the head? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise and be sure to check him along with Andy Behrens, Brandon Funston and Scott Pianowski on The Fantasy Freak Show (Now on iTunes) every Friday at 5 PM PT/8 PM ET on Yahoo! Sports Radio