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Highlighting top pitcher prospects for 2012

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A good pitcher is hard to find ... except if you're prospect hunting in Fantasy Baseball.

The minor leagues are full of pitchers who throw hard, and pitchers who throw hard are perhaps just a tweak away from greatness. It could be the development of a secondary pitch. It could be the refinement of their existing arsenal. It could be improved control, command or mechanics. Or it could be none of the above. It could never happen, which is most often the way it goes.

But if a prospect is a prospect for what he could do and not what he already does, then every organization has some hard-thrower to trumpet as its crown jewel. He only needs to do this, this and this.

And what if he doesn't? Well, he wouldn't be alone. Of the 11 pitchers from last year's list who still have rookie eligibility, five -- Mike Montgomery, Casey Kelly, Kyle Gibson, Chris Archer and Tyler Matzek -- weren't good enough to make the cut this year. Of course, none of them are exactly lost causes. Each still has that dangling "could" to keep Fantasy owners interested.

My point is that projecting pitchers is in many ways a guessing game. You'll find hundreds of high-caliber arms in the minors, but obviously only a small percentage of them become Fantasy-relevant pitchers. Your best bet is to target the ones with the highest ceilings or the clearest paths to the majors.

And low and behold, those are exactly the ones you'll find here.

Note: This list has been adjusted for Fantasy purposes. Long-term potential is one of several factors that influence the order and is arguably less important than the player's expected role in 2012. These prospects don't all profile as superstars, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy right now.

1. Matt Moore, 22, Rays
Where played in 2011: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 12-3, 1.92 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 210 Ks, 155 IP
Major-league stats: 1-0, 2.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 15 Ks, 9 1/3 IP

The Rays won only one playoff game in 2011, and they did it on the arm of Moore, a 22-year-old left-hander who limited the eventual AL champion Rangers to two hits over seven shutout innings in only his second career start. It was the crowning achievement in a near-perfect season for the top pitching prospect, who was so dominant at every stop that he's now generating a Stephen Strasburg-like buzz. He turned heads with his 200-strikeout performance at Class A in 2010, but then when he did it again -- only with a much better ERA and WHIP -- in the upper levels of the minors last year, his destination at the top of the rotation was clear. The Rays indicated as much in their decision to start him in Game 1 of the ALDS. He clearly has nothing to gain by returning to the minors, posting an adequate walk rate to go along with his unbelievable strikeout rate, so you can trust the Rays will clear a rotation spot for him by opening day. Moore should be the first prospect -- pitching or otherwise -- selected in standard mixed-league drafts, going off the board as early as Round 9 or 10. His RP eligibility only gives him an added boost in Head-to-Head leagues.

2. Trevor Bauer, 21, Diamondbacks
Where played in 2011: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: 1-2, 5.96 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 43 Ks, 25 2/3 IP

After being selected third overall in the 2011 amateur draft, Bauer is already itching to make his mark. No, he didn't set the world on fire in his first stint in the minors, but the Diamondbacks apparently liked what they saw enough to give him a shot at a rotation spot this spring, which says something about his talent (as if the high draft pick and Golden Spikes Award didn't). Through his studies in biomechanics, effective velocity and pitch tunneling, Bauer has developed a unique style that makes the most of his smallish frame, allowing him to pitch deep into games despite his high strikeout rate. He's more likely than not to return to the minors for the start of 2012, but the Diamondbacks clearly have the future ace on the fast track and will find a way to get him in the rotation by midseason. When they do, the Fantasy impact should be immediate. Think Mark Prior. Think Tim Lincecum. Think of a way to have Bauer on your roster when that time comes, perhaps even by drafting him in standard mixed leagues.

3. Julio Teheran, 21, Braves
Where played in 2011: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 15-3, 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 122 Ks, 144 2/3 IP
Major-league stats: 1-1, 5.03 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 10 Ks, 19 2/3 IP

Baseball America ranked Teheran the top pitching prospect entering 2011, so needless to say, his performance in his first stint in the majors was a little underwhelming. But considering he was only 20 when he debuted in May, getting rushed because the Braves had to fill a rotation spot on short notice, he deserves a little slack. At Triple-A Gwinnett -- a more appropriate level for his stage of development -- he was as advertised, ranking first in the International League in wins (15), second in ERA (2.55) and fourth in WHIP (1.18). The performance earned him a second look in September, and he appeared to be more comfortable then. Teheran is still learning the ropes, but he has all the makings of an ace and is mature enough to handle a full-time rotation spot already. The Braves will give him a long look this spring, but the rotation appears to be full. Rest assured, though, Teheran will arrive for good at some point in 2012 and is worth stashing in deeper leagues for when that time comes.

4. Shelby Miller, 21, Cardinals
Where played in 2011: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: 11-6, 2.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 170 Ks, 139 2/3 IP

Miller has gotten plenty of hype since the Cardinals selected him 19th overall in the 2009 draft and has lived up to it at every step up the ladder. He actually took two steps up that ladder in 2011 and improved in both, going 9-3 with a 2.70 ERA in 16 starts at Double-A Springfield. He still needs to work on his secondary pitches, which is why he'll likely remain in the minors for at least the first half of 2012, but his mid-90s fastball has the kind of movement that should make him one of the game's top strikeout artists once he reaches the majors. The Cardinals are weak enough at the back end of their rotation that they'll likely decide to break in their future ace at some point this season, making Miller worth drafting even in seasonal NL-only formats for the possibility of a midseason arrival. If you play in a long-term keeper league, chances are he's been unavailable for a couple years now.

5. Jarrod Parker, 23, Athletics
Where played in 2011: Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 11-8, 3.79 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 112 Ks, 130 2/3 IP
Major-league stats: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 1 K, 5 2/3 IP

If you think Parker's 2011 numbers don't look like those of a top prospect, you're right, but keep in mind he was working his way back from Tommy John surgery, which he had late in 2009. Control is typically slow to return for pitchers coming off that procedure, and that was every bit the case for Parker, who issued 36 walks in 66 innings over his first 14 starts. By comparison, he issued 19 walks in 64 2/3 innings over his final 12 starts, and his ERA was only 2.64 during that stretch. The strong finish earned him a spot start in September, when he shut down the Dodgers over 5 2/3 innings. The Diamondbacks' surplus of pitching prospects allowed them to trade Parker to the Athletics in a deal for Trevor Cahill this offseason, and though Parker goes to a tougher league with the move, he also has a better chance of winning a rotation spot out of spring training. His deep arsenal, complete with a sinking fastball, has long made him an ace in waiting, and he finally gets an opportunity to make good on that potential with the Athletics. He's worth a late-round flier even in standard mixed leagues despite his less-than-stellar supporting cast.

6. Drew Pomeranz, 23, Rockies
Where played in 2011: Class A, Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 4-3, 1.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 119 Ks, 101 IP
Major-league stats: 2-1, 5.40 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 13 Ks, 18 1/3 IP

Pomeranz's first professional season couldn't have been going any more swimmingly. The fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft had an ERA below 2.00 and was striking out more than a batter per inning, rising all the way to Double-A Akron by mid-July. But then, he got traded to the Rockies in the deal that brought Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland. On the one hand, the move allowed Pomeranz to reach the majors sooner, accelerating his timetable in Fantasy. On the other hand, it put him in a ballpark known for destroying more accomplished pitchers than him, potentially lowering his ceiling. Pomeranz didn't seem the least bit intimidated by his surroundings, though, allowing two earned runs over 10 2/3 innings in his two home starts -- a number that's even more impressive when you consider he had lost a couple miles per hour on his fastball at that point in the season. At age 23, Pomeranz still needs to figure out how to last a full season, but he has the poise of a major-leaguer and will have a shot at a rotation spot this spring. He's worth a late-round flier in mixed leagues just in case he wins it.

7. Gerrit Cole, 21, Pirates
Where played in 2011: Did not play -- signed late

In a draft class lacking the hoopla of a Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper, Cole was the first player to go off the board in 2011. He may not be the most hyped pitching prospect in draft history, but he's still a good one. Though he signed too late to appear in a minor-league game, he got a chance to show off his stuff in the Arizona Fall League, lighting up the radar gun with a fastball that reached as high as 102 miles per hour. His size should make him a workhorse at the top of the rotation, and his stuff should make him a perennial candidate for 200-plus strikeouts. Needless to say, he profiles as a staff ace, and depending on how quickly he advances in his first minor-league season, he could get a look in the majors late in 2012. Cole isn't exactly a must-have in seasonal formats, but you wouldn't want to let him go unowned in long-term keeper leagues.

8. Tyler Skaggs, 20, Diamondbacks
Where played in 2011: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: 9-6, 2.96 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 198 Ks, 158 1/3 IP

The Diamondbacks have always been high on Skaggs, targeting him as the key piece in the deal that sent Dan Haren to the Angels in 2010, but the hype didn't really begin to build on the left-hander until he reached Double-A in the second half last year and was just as dominant there as at every other stop, going 4-1 with a 2.50 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 10 starts. Along with 2011 first-rounders Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley, he's one of three budding aces in the Diamondbacks system. Obviously, he has the most professional experience of the three, but he might actually be second in line behind Bauer, who figures to get a shot at a rotation spot this spring. With Skaggs expected to open 2012 in the minors, he's a better fit for long-term keeper leagues than seasonal formats, but he's further along than his 20 years of age would have you believe. If you're looking for a pitching prospect who could potentially make a Matt Moore-like impact this September and rank at or near the top of this list next year, Skaggs is a prime candidate.

9. Jacob Turner, 20, Tigers
Where played in 2011: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 4-5, 3.44 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 110 Ks, 131 IP
Major-league stats: 0-1, 8.53 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 8 Ks, 12 2/3 IP

The Tigers have never shied away from rushing their top pitching prospects. It worked out pretty well for Justin Verlander. Perhaps not for Rick Porcello. The jury's still out on Turner, but considering he allowed 12 earned runs over 12 2/3 innings in his three major-league starts last year, he probably wasn't ready. The Tigers have come to the same conclusion, which is why they've been targeting a veteran hurler to fill the opening in their rotation this offseason. But just because Turner arrived before his time doesn't mean his time is far off. The ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft was just as impressive between Double- and Triple-A last year as he was in the lower levels of the minors and actually posted his best numbers after his promotion to Triple-A. Though he's unlikely to live up to Verlander's lofty standards, Turner has frontline potential and is awfully close to meeting it as a 20-year-old. In addition to long-term keeper leagues, he's a worthy pick in AL-only formats for when he eventually secures a rotation spot this summer.

10. Danny Hultzen, 22, Mariners
Where played in 2011: Did not play -- signed late

Hultzen was one of three pitchers selected to kick off the 2011 amateur draft, and like Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, his experience at the collegiate level should reduce his timetable for reaching the big leagues. Though a rotation spot out of spring training is a long shot considering he has yet to pitch in a minor-league game, Hultzen will at least get a look after making a good impression in the Arizona Fall League, where he allowed no runs on five hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts over his final 6 2/3 innings. If he's already able to dominate some of the game's top hitting prospects, how far away is he from handling major-leaguers? Assuming the left-hander doesn't have any hiccups in his race up the minor-league ladder, he could arrive at some point in 2012 and secure his place in the rotation for the next several years. Hultzen may never overtake Felix Hernandez or Michael Pineda as the staff ace, but he has plenty of upside in his own right and is worth drafting in AL-only and long-term keeper leagues.

11. Taijuan Walker, 19, Mariners
Where played in 2011: Class A
Minor-league stats: 6-5, 2.89 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 113 Ks, 96 2/3 IP

Though he played mostly shortstop in high school, Walker showed enough potential as a pitcher for the Mariners to invest a supplemental first-round pick in him in 2010. And if his work during his first full professional season is any indication, he might be the steal of the draft. He dominated hitters at Class A Clinton, demonstrating a Michael Pineda-like arsenal with a high-90s fastball and a healthy breaking ball, and his control is surprisingly good for a player so new to pitching. Though Walker is hardly a finished product at age 19, his early dominance is an indication that, like Pineda, he should advance to the big leagues at some point in his early 20s. He won't arrive in 2012, so his short-term appeal is virtually nonexistent. But if you're looking for a bit of a project in a long-term keeper league, Walker is probably the best among the options who are likely to be available. He's already dominant, and he only figures to get better as he gains experience.

12. Jameson Taillon, 20, Pirates
Where played in 2011: Class A
Minor-league stats: 2-3, 3.98 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 97 Ks, 92 2/3 IP

Though it's a moot point considering they had the second overall pick, the Pirates say they would have selected Taillon over Bryce Harper in the 2010 draft, which seems a little far-fetched, but it should at least give you some idea of Taillon's upside. The right-hander's 6-foot-6 frame, ability to hit 98 on the radar gun and sharp breaking ball (though his is more of a curve than a slider) make him potentially the second coming of Josh Johnson, which would of course be a dream come true for Fantasy owners. Though his numbers in his first professional season weren't bad, they didn't completely live up to the hype, but keep in mind the Pirates limited his arsenal for the sake of his development, with an emphasis on preserving his arm and improving the command of his fastball. Considering he was throwing his secondary pitches only 20 percent of the time, his numbers were pretty darn impressive. The Pirates are clearly willing to take their time with Taillon, which means the earliest he'll arrive is at some point in 2013. His upside clearly makes him a must-have in long-term keeper leagues.

13. Brad Peacock, 24, Nationals
Where played in 2011: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 15-3, 2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 177 Ks, 146 2/3 IP
Major-league stats: 2-0, 0.75 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 4 Ks, 12 IP

Peacock was in 2011 what Brandon Beachy was in 2010, rising from relative anonymity to put up sinister numbers in the upper levels of the minors. Peacock's breakthrough is a little easier to understand, though. He was a shortstop in high school and, therefore, had to learn the ins and outs of pitching at the professional level, getting knocked around in the process. But when it finally clicked, his mid-90s fastball and sloping knucklecurve -- Mike Mussina, anyone? -- made him practically unhittable. The performance earned Peacock a September call-up, and though the strikeout rate didn't translate, the dominance did. The Nationals have been active enough this offseason that they could potentially bump the right-hander out of the rotation picture by opening day, but as the roster currently stands, he's in contention for the fifth spot, making him a sleeper for NL-only and perhaps even deeper mixed leagues. Like Beachy, Peacock's out-of-nowhere performance makes him a player to approach with caution, but like Beachy, if he's able to continue it at the major-league level, he'll be the talk of every Fantasy league.

14. Dellin Betances, 24, Yankees
Where played in 2011: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 4-9, 3.70 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 142 Ks, 126 1/3 IP
Major-league stats: 0-0, 6.75 ERA, 2.63 WHIP, 2 Ks, 2 2/3 IP

Betances' 2011 was a disappointment, to say the least, coming off a 2.11 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 17 starts between Class A and Double-A in 2010. His problem was a high walk rate, which also plagued him earlier in his minor-league career and might just be part of his identity at this stage of his development. He'll have to be better than he was last year to survive at the major-league level, as his embarrassment of a debut in September showed, but given his heat and high strikeout potential, Betances doesn't have to be a control artist to pitch at the top of the rotation. His size (6-feet-8, 260 pounds) should help him gobble up innings even with his high pitch counts. Every Yankees pitching prospect gets a boost because of the expected run support and victories that go along with playing behind a loaded lineup, but Betances' upside is high enough that he would deserve a spot on this list regardless of his organization. He won't win a job out of spring training, but at age 24, he could be up for good by June. Take a flier on him in AL-only leagues.

15. Manuel Banuelos, 21, Yankees
Where played in 2011: Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: 6-7, 3.75 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 125 Ks, 129 2/3 IP

With A.J. Burnett collapsing and Bartolo Colon faltering down the stretch in 2011, the Yankees' temptation to promote Banuelos must have been great. Fortunately, they resisted and have continued to resist the idea all offseason, which means Banuelos should have a year -- or at least the majority of a year -- to work out the kinks at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Really, it's only one kink: his walk rate. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff and strikes out a batter per inning, but as we've seen with Jonathan Sanchez, he won't amount to much if he issues a free pass every other inning. Fortunately, the walks weren't an issue for Banuelos until he reached the upper levels of the minors. In fact, his command was part of what made him such an intriguing prospect in the first place. Chances are he got in a little over his head at age 20 and will improve in his second year against upper-level competition. Banuelos has some deeper AL-only appeal in case the Yankees are unable to hold him back, but he's a better fit for long-term keeper formats.

16. Martin Perez, 21, Rangers
Where played in 2011: Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: 8-6, 4.33 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 120 Ks, 137 1/3 IP

Another year, another disappointing performance from the pitcher whose stuff is apparently so good that scouts are willing to grant him infinite leeway. Perez has been a top prospect since the Rangers first signed him as a teenager in 2007, and though he has struggled with ERAs on the wrong side of 4.00 over the last two seasons, the Rangers haven't hesitated to push him through the system. Just when he finally seemed to get comfortable at Double-A last season, posting a 3.16 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 17 appearances, they bumped him up to Triple-A, where he fittingly produced a 6.43 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 10 appearances. The extreme highs and lows suggest the Rangers are rushing Perez, which makes little sense considering their surplus of starting pitchers at the major-league level and his 21 years of age. From a pure stuff standpoint, Perez still rates as a top prospect, but you have to wonder if the hasty promotions have hindered his development. He's still worth stashing in long-term keeper leagues even if he has lost some of his luster, but unless he has a sudden breakthrough at Triple-A, he likely won't reach the majors until 2013.

17. Carlos Martinez, 20, Cardinals
Where played in 2011: Class A
Minor-league stats: 6-5, 3.93 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 98 Ks, 84 2/3 IP

After a sizzling debut in Rookie ball in 2010, Martinez firmly established himself as an elite prospect with a dominant follow-up performance in 2011. The smallish right-hander formerly known as Carlos Matias posted a 2.33 ERA and 1.06 WHIP with well more than a strikeout per inning over his eight starts at low Class A, and though his command betrayed him after his promotion to high Class A, the Cardinals believe a mechanical issue was to blame. The 20-year-old may still be in need of some coaching as he works his way up the minor-league ladder, but his 100-mph heat should ultimately be enough to carry him no matter what bumps he faces along the way. He showed with his 1.38 ERA over his first 20 minor-league starts just how devastating it can be if located properly, and locating it was never a problem for him before his promotion last year. If the adjustment comes quickly, Martinez could get back on the fast track and potentially earn a September call-up, though a 2013 arrival is more likely. He's a better fit for long-term keeper leagues than seasonal formats.

18. Addison Reed, 23, White Sox
Where played in 2011: Class A, Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 5 saves, 1.26 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 111 Ks, 78 1/3 IP
Major-league stats: 0 saves, 3.68 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 12 Ks, 7 1/3 IP

Reed is the only pure relief pitcher on this list, but given his potential to contribute in Fantasy this season, the ranking is certainly justified. You know how Craig Kimbrel entered last season as the favorite to close for the Braves and wound up being the best reliever in Fantasy? Well, Reed has the potential to do something similar for the White Sox, provided they give him the opportunity to close now that Sergio Santos is in Toronto. No, you shouldn't expect him to set a rookie record for saves or pile up 127 strikeouts, but Reed's 1.47 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 85 2/3 innings between the majors and minors last year look a lot like Kimbrel's numbers during his rise to the majors in 2010. Reed also has experience closing, having done it for Stephen Strasburg while at San Diego State, so the transition would come naturally for him. The White Sox could go any number of directions with the closer role at this point, which is the only reason Reed doesn't rank even higher on this list, but as the roster currently stands, the rookie looks like the leading candidate for saves. He's worth a late-round flier until that changes.

19. Nate Eovaldi, 22, Dodgers
Where played in 2011: Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 6-5, 2.62 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 99 Ks, 103 IP
Major-league stats: 1-2, 3.63 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 23 Ks, 34 2/3 IP

At this time a year ago, Eovaldi was an also-ran in a system overrun with mid-level pitching prospects, but an eye-opening performance at Double-A Chattanooga earned him a promotion as a fill-in starter in late August. He performed so well in the role, compiling a 3.09 ERA in six starts, that he looked like he might keep it permanently, but the Dodgers ultimately chose to preserve his innings by bumping him to the bullpen in September. If that wasn't enough of an injustice, they then signed retreads Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang in the offseason, making the bullpen the only place Eovaldi can win a job this spring. More likely, the 22-year-old will return to the minors to get some Triple-A innings under his belt, which should only help considering he was rushed because of injury. Eovaldi has a mid-90s fastball that should translate to success in the majors, but his so-so secondary stuff makes him less than a sure bet. Because he has already shown some potential at the highest level, he's worth stashing away in NL-only leagues for the inevitable midseason call-up.

20. Arodys Vizcaino, 21, Braves
Where played in 2011: Class A, Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 5-5, 3.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 100 Ks, 97 IP
Major-league stats: 1-1, 4.67 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 17 Ks, 17 1/3 IP

After an injury-plagued 2010, Vizcaino looked every bit like an elite pitching prospect in 2011, maintaining an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio as he climbed the minor-league ladder from Class A Lynchburg to Triple-A Gwinnett. The Braves' need for a right-handed reliever late in the season allowed Vizcaino, a starter in the minors, to make his major-league debut sooner than anyone expected at the tender age of 20, but the bad news is he was effective enough in the role that the Braves might actually leave him in the bullpen for the start of 2012. For Fantasy purposes, it'd be a waste of talent, especially since Vizcaino is no threat to wrestle the closer role away from Craig Kimbrel, but the Braves need someone to lighten the load for Kimbrel and Jonny Venters late in games. If Vizcaino isn't in the bullpen, he'll be in the minor leagues, so he wouldn't be an immediate contributor in Fantasy either way. As long as the rotation remains his long-term destination, he's worth owning in long-term keeper leagues, but you'll want to keep an eye on the situation.

21. Jake Odorizzi, 22, Royals
Where played in 2011: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: 10-7, 3.73 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 157 Ks, 147 IP

When the Royals shipped Zack Greinke to the Brewers last offseason, they were simply trying to get a maximum return for a player they knew they couldn't keep long-term. But in Odorizzi, they may have landed a directly replacement for Greinke. Granted, the 22-year-old still needs to get through the upper levels of the minors before he can live up to such a comparison, and that's hardly a given considering his struggles at Double-A Northwest Arkansas late last year. But before his midseason promotion, he was lighting up Class A Wilmington with the kind of strikeout (11.8 per nine innings) and walk (2.5 per nine innings) rates that Greinke is putting up in the majors today. Like many of the Royals' top pitching prospects -- a list that includes Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer and John Lamb -- Odorizzi falls outside the can't-miss category, but he's coming off the best season of that group and would be the most likely to have instant success in the majors. He figures to get his shot at some point this season, making him worth a roster spot in both AL-only and long-term keeper leagues.

22. Randall Delgado, 22, Braves
Where played in 2011: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 7-7, 3.88 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 135 Ks, 139 IP
Major-league stats: 1-1, 2.83 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 18 Ks, 35 IP

Delgado is the least-heralded of the Braves' trio of pitching prospects -- behind both Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino -- but he was the most useful from a Fantasy perspective down the stretch in 2011, posting a 2.83 ERA in seven starts, including five in September with the wild card on the line. Granted, he wasn't as good as his ERA would suggest, pitching five innings at a time with a relatively low strikeout rate, but he showed impressive poise for a 21-year-old. The Braves don't have an opening in their rotation for Delgado this spring, but that's probably for the best. With another year at Triple-A to refine his stuff, he should look more like a No. 2 or 3 starter upon his return. He could be the first pitcher up from the minors if the Braves lose a starter to injury, so you wouldn't want to overlook him in the late rounds of NL-only drafts. Though he doesn't have quite the ceiling of Teheran, Delgado should at least be a top-40 Fantasy option in his prime.

23. Robbie Erlin, 21, Padres
Where played in 2011: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: 9-4, 2.99 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 154 Ks, 147 1/3 IP

Erlin came over from the Rangers along with Joseph Wieland in the Mike Adams trade last July, and the two might as well be mirror images of each other. Neither throws particularly hard, but both have good minor-league numbers thanks to outstanding control and plus secondary pitches. Those types of pitchers have limited ceilings, obviously, but Erlin and Wieland are so good at what they do that they should rank among the top 40 starting pitchers in Fantasy someday, especially if they get to play half of their games at PETCO Park. Erlin gets the nod over Wieland here because he's the one who throws left-handed and because, of the Padres' deep collection of pitching prospects (Casey Kelly, Keyvius Sampson and Joe Ross, to name a few), he might be the closest to being a finished product. He ranked second in the minors in strikeout-to-walk ratio last year (9.6) and fourth in WHIP (0.95). If you're looking for a future ace in a long-term keeper league, you could probably do better, but if you're looking for a safe bet, Erlin is your man. Don't be surprised if he arrives at some point in 2012.

24. Eric Surkamp, 24, Giants
Where played in 2011: Class A, Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 11-4, 1.94 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 170 Ks, 148 1/3 IP
Major-league stats: 2-2, 5.74 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 13 Ks, 26 2/3 IP

Though considered just a middle-of-the-road prospect entering 2011, Surkamp made a name for himself with his performance at Double-A Richmond, posting a 2.02 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning against some of the most talented hitters in the minors. He was in line for the pitching triple crown when he got the call to the majors in late August. His performance down the stretch was mixed. He got off to a good start, but his control abandoned him over his final three starts, ruining his numbers. He doesn't throw hard, but he's able to register high strikeout totals because of his ability to locate and maximize his secondary pitches. In a best-case scenario, he's another Ted Lilly -- a left-hander who has maintained a high strikeout rate and low WHIP despite a high-80s fastball -- but of course, he still has a long way to go to live up to that comparison. With Jonathan Sanchez now in Kansas City, the Giants are short on rotation depth in the majors. When they decide they've had enough of Barry Zito, Surkamp will be the first man up. He's worth stashing in deeper NL-only leagues for the occasion.

25. Liam Hendriks, 23, Twins
Where played in 2011: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 12-6, 3.36 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 111 Ks, 139 1/3 IP
Major-league stats: 0-2, 6.17 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 16 Ks, 23 1/3 IP

Hendriks is yet another young Twins pitcher with less-than-elite stuff, but like Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey before him, he's able to make up for it with stellar control and a full arsenal of pitches. What separates Hendriks from those two is his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. If he's stranding what few baserunners he allows, he's not going to give up many runs, and that's been his formula for success so far in the minors. Granted, he got knocked around in four starts with the big club late last year, but the Twins weren't at all discouraged by the performance and have seemingly cleared a rotation spot for him this offseason by trading Slowey to the Rockies and moving Brian Duensing back to the bullpen. Hendriks' limited ceiling makes him less than enticing in long-term keeper leagues, but his potential to be a steady innings eater and WHIP specialist makes him worth a flier in AL-only formats, especially if he opens the season in the majors. And don't be surprised if you find yourself scooping him off the waiver wire at some point in mixed leagues.

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