For Mike Trout, the future seemed mapped out already.
After a year of tearing up the lower levels of the minors, he was putting in his time at Double-A and putting up the numbers you'd expect for a prospect of his caliber. If he wasn't already so far advanced for his age, you'd expect him to move up to Triple-A any day now, but the Angels hadn't hinted of such a promotion. They might not have even considered it. Trout was 19, and they weren't going to rush him. Fantasy owners knew that and were perfectly content stashing him for whenever his time came, be it next year or the year after.
They just didn't expect it to be Friday afternoon.
But so it was when they checked their smart phones during their lunch breaks and discovered their long-term answer was now a short-term fill-in, leaving them to wonder how, in these days of endless Internet analysis, something as crucial as the arrival of a top prospect could catch them so off guard -- how something as simple as a Peter Bourjos hamstring pull could rock the foundation of the Fantasy universe and cause a player's ownership percentage to rise from 24 to 55 overnight.
Granted, Trout's stay in the majors is by no means permanent, but the fact of the matter is he's here now, as are Eric Hosmer, Jordan Lyles, Dustin Ackley, Lonnie Chisenhall and countless other prospects who seemed so close, yet so far away just a few months ago. Which begs the question: Who's next?
Hard to say, as the Trout example showed us. But disregarding injury, a select few stand out as more likely than the rest. They aren't necessarily the best prospects in the minors, but based on their expected arrivals and expected contributions when they arrive, they're the ones most worth monitoring in Fantasy.
Now watch Bryce Harper get called up tomorrow.
1. Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
Triple-A stats: .275 BA, 12 HRs, 17 SBs, .370 OBP, .827 OPS
As far as prospects go, Jennings was arguably the biggest tease of the first half. Having already made his major-league debut last year, a return within the first few months seemed like a given, especially with the Rays in contention and without a suitable major-leaguer in left field. So what are they waiting for? Clearly, Jennings' performance isn't the problem. The 24-year-old is having a career season power-wise, bouncing back from his wrist issues of a year ago, so perhaps the Rays just want to make extra, extra sure his arbitration clock doesn't begin a year early. Clearly, they could use his on-base percentage at the top of their lineup, so he has to arrive sooner than later. And since he won't be arriving wide-eyed after last year's experience, he's a good bet to make an immediate contribution even in mixed leagues. If you have a free roster spot, why not stash him?
2. Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians
Triple-A stats: .297 BA, 11 HRs, 11 SBs, .380 OBP, .886 OPS
The Indians gave Cord Phelps a first crack at their starting second base job, but probably because they knew he wouldn't stand a chance once Kipnis arrived. With Phelps' poor showing and subsequent return to the minors, it's only a matter of time before Kipnis makes his debut for an overachieving team needing a boost to remain in playoff contention. Kipnis, a converted outfielder, has been the definition of steady during his time in the minors, hitting about .300 with about a .380 on-base percentage at all four stops. He's a good, steady offensive player with a skill set not all that different from Dustin Ackley's, and with no real stumbles up the minor-league ladder, he has a good chance of making an immediate impact in Fantasy. If he lands somewhere between Jemile Weeks and Ackley among second basemen, as his pedigree suggests he could, you'd like his chances of helping your Fantasy team, right?
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks
Double-A stats: .315 BA, 25 HRs, 78 RBI, 1.064 OPS, 63 BBs, 72 Ks
|1.||Vance Worley, RP, Phillies||13|
|2.||Guillermo Moscoso, RP, Athletics||3|
|3.||Trevor Plouffe, SS, Twins||2|
|4.||Matt Moore, SP, Rays||1|
|5.||Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds||1|
|6.||Kyle Blanks, OF, Padres||1|
|7.||Nick Franklin, SS, Mariners||1|
|8.||Trayvon Robinson, OF, Dodgers||1|
|9.||Deck McGuire, SP, Blue Jays||1|
|10.||Tyler Skaggs, SP, Diamondbacks||1|
At the start of the season, Goldschmidt was considered more of an anomaly than a prospect after hitting .314 with 35 homers and a .990 OPS in the hitter-friendly California League. But instead of regressing as expected when he took the next step up the minor-league ladder, he actually improved, not only maintaining the same big power numbers, but also upping his strikeout-to-walk ratio from 3-to-1 a year ago to nearly 1-to-1 now. He's progressing faster than the Diamondbacks can promote him, which is why general manager Kevin Towers is entertaining the idea of having him skip Triple-A entirely and starting for the big-league club in the second half. Goldschmidt may not have the certainties of Desmond Jennings and Jason Kipnis as an overnight sensation who has yet to play a game above Double-A, but he could potentially make the biggest Fantasy impact of anyone on this list.
4. Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds
Triple-A stats: .303 BA, 9 HRs, 49 RBI, .378 OBP, .889 OPS
A best-case scenario for Mesoraco in the second half would be if the Reds fell out of contention and shopped one or both of Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan at the trade deadline. Then again, the 23-year-old is so close to being a finished product that the Reds might decide to go that route no matter where their record stands. Mesoraco, a first-round pick in the 2007 draft, surged up the minor-league ladder last year and has validated that performance by hitting for both average and power with a respectable batting eye at Triple-A Louisville. A catcher who can hit is an immediate prize in Fantasy, regardless of whether or not he's playing every day, and of all the catchers with legitimate offensive potential in the minors, Mesoraco's all-around game is the closest to being major-league ready. His arrival is simply a matter of how much risk the Reds are willing to tolerate.
5. Leonys Martin, OF, Rangers
Double-A stats: .348 BA (112 at-bats), 4 HRs, 10 SBs, 1.007 OPS, 15 BBs, 8 Ks
Martin may not seem like an obvious choice to arrive this year. In fact, the hype on him died down so quickly after his signing in early May -- in part because of a back injury in June -- that he might not even be on your radar in Fantasy. But he's no ordinary prospect. His experience in Cuba gives him an advantage over most minor-leaguers, and it shows in his numbers. The Rangers have had a gaping hole in center field all season, and though the current plan calls for them to move Josh Hamilton there and promote Chris Davis to play left, chances are that's a last-ditch effort before turning the reigns over to Martin, who's clearly on the fast track with his promotion from Double-A to Triple-A over the weekend. Once he arrives, he'll be a fixture at the top of the Rangers lineup, making him valuable in any Fantasy format.
Honorable Mention: Jesus Montero, C, Yankees
Triple-A stats: .289 BA, 7 HRs, .763 OPS, 21 BBs, 62 Ks
Montero's numbers don't seem particularly impressive considering he was the No. 3 prospect according to Baseball America entering this season. In fact, they're worse than they were at the same minor-league level last season. But that's not the main reason the 21-year-old is no more than an honorable mention on this list. His defensive shortcomings eliminated him as an option behind the plate for the Yankees before the season even started, meaning his best chance of making a Fantasy contribution in 2011 was with another organization. That seemed plausible back when Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia were considered last resorts in a makeshift starting rotation. Perhaps the Yankees will decide they still have a big enough need there to part with their top prospect, and perhaps Montero's new organization will still conclude his bat is major-league ready. But as things stand now, he's further from reaching the big leagues than he was in spring training.
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