Top 5 Fantasy Baseball Prospects
1- Manny Machado, SS
Machado was off to a fine start at Low-A before suffering a knee injury. Upon his return he was quickly promoted to High-A, and his final stat line there was only modest. Tough to say how much of his slip in production can be blamed on his knee injury, and how much can be blamed on adjusting to a new level. At just 19 years old, he's got time to repeat High-A to start the year, and still be age appropriate for his level.
Machado has top notch offensive tools that would make him a fantasy stud if they actualize and he sticks at the position. Some scouts feel he'll lose a step as he physically matures and slide over to third base. Others think he'll be fine at shortstop. Regardless of where he lands defensively, his bat will put him near the top of the heap at either position. Machado has the power potential to eclipse 20 home runs annually. He has shown solid discipline, and doesn't strikeout often enough to prevent me from throwing around a potential .285 batting average or better in the majors. Plop that power and average in the heart of an order, and you're talking about a guy that can pile up runs and RBI. That's a heck of a ceiling. Two more full seasons in the minors may be all he needs. Machado is one of the most desirable dynasty league prospects to own.
2- Dylan Bundy, SP
There were a number of people that felt Bundy was the best pitching prospect in the 2011 amateur draft, better than number one pick Gerrit Cole. Bundy slipped to pick four, where the Orioles didn't hesitate to snatch up the Oklahoma prep arm. According to Baseball America, he throws three fastballs, a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and a cutter. The four-seamer is explosive and sits in the mid-90s and hits 100 mph. The other two fastballs are also thrown with plus velocity, but sit a couple ticks below the four-seamer. He backs his trio of fastball with a plus curveball and a change-up that is just below average, but capable of becoming yet another plus offering. The fact he already has a feel for his change-up is pretty astonishing since a power arm of his ilk usually chooses to simply blow away high school batters.
Bundy's control is lauded, and even though he's a high school draftee, he could move fast. The Orioles have no reason to rush him, but he could force their hand if he overpowers minor league batters. Optimists should feel free to peg his ETA in the bigs at 2014. If that sounds crazy, add a year to it and say 2015. If you can nab him before he embarrasses minor league hitters, all the power to you. If not, be prepared to pay through the nose for his services (and rightfully so).
3- Jonathan Schoop, 2B/3B
Machado may get all the headlines, but double play partner Schoop is a nice prospect himself. Schoop makes a ton of contact (had an identical 13.4 percent strikeout rate in Low-A and High-A in 2011), and projects to have average home run power. He isn't a burner, so don't expect more than a handful of stolen bases. His power ceiling trails Machado's. That said 14-18 home runs and a plus batting average would be solid. He has a skill set that would play well from the two hole, something that would be good for his run and RBI totals.
4- Xavier Avery, OF
Avery is a toolsy outfielder that is more athlete than baseball player. His approach at the plate is a mess, and he has high bust potential. There aren't many high ceiling prospects in the Orioles system, so Avery finds his home on this list based on the outside shot the light bulb goes on. He showed promise in the Arizona Fall League hitting .288/.378/.414. He has yet to show much home run power, and may never show much. He is a burner, though, and stole 36 bases in Double-A before adding nine more in the AFL. I wouldn't hold my breath on Avery, but the pickings were slim here.
5- Dan Klein, RP
Klein is recovering from shoulder surgery. Not exactly the best way to start a prospect write-up. He is progressing well though, and Will Lingo of Baseball America says he should be ready to throw off a mound in June. Klein's fastball isn't a blazing heater, sitting in the low-90s, but he has two plus secondary offerings in his change-up and curve. He also throws a solid-average slider. That repertoire has helped him toy with minor league batters across three levels in 39 innings of work. His career minor league ERA is 0.92, and he has a 10.85 K/9 with a 1.62 BB/9. Klein has pitched in Short-Season ball, Low-A, and Double-A. If he is able to recover his pre-injury arsenal, he won't be in the minors much longer. Klein isn't a lock to get beyond pitching in the 8th inning, and shoulders are fickle, so tread carefully.
Bonus- Parker Bidwell, SP
Bidwell pitches off his heavy sinking high-80s to low-90s fastball. He has a projectable frame that should allow him to add a few miles-per-hour to his heater, and a swing-and-miss curveball. His change-up needs work, but there is some upside here even if his career minor league ERA of 4.94 would suggest otherwise.
Top 5 in 2012
1- Matt Antonelli, 2B
Holy cow! Matt Antonelli is still a prospect? Yes, yes he is. Years removed from being a first round pick of the Padres, and no longer a Baseball America top-100 prospect, Antonelli is getting another shot at sticking in the majors. He spent all of 2011 in the Nationals organization, and hit well in Triple-A Syracuse. His play earned him a major league contract with the Orioles, and he has two potential paths for playing time. If Brian Roberts continues to struggle with the concussion issues that have derailed his last two seasons, Antonelli may be waiting in the wings. He also saw time at third base in the minors, and could toss his hat in the ring for a fairly open position battle. He has always been an incredibly patient hitter working tons of walks, and 2011 was no exception (13.1 percent walk rate in Triple-A). He hit for average, .297, and power, eight home runs in 359 plate appearances. If he gets regular playing time, low-to-mid teens home runs and a respectable average could be in store.
2- Ryan Flaherty, 3B
Flaherty was a Rule Five pick from the Cubs, so he'll need to remain on the roster, or be offered back to them. He hit for power, and was solid with the stick in general at the Double-A level. He then proceeded to vomit all over himself in Triple-A hitting .237/.277/.399 in 186 plate appearances. As ugly as that line is, it came in a small sample. Perhaps he's good enough to make the leap. Perhaps he's not. At least he'll be in the third base competition, and Casey McGehee is the poster boy for surprising performances after a ho-hum minor league career.
3- Ryan Adams, 2B
Adams has already been introduced to major league pitching filling in for the injured Roberts. He hit .281/.333/.326 and struck out too often (26.0 percent strikeout rate). Also, he failed to show useful power, hitting zero home runs, or useful speed, stealing zero bases. He should hit for more power, but he's not a base stealer. The bar is set low to make an impact at the middle infield position in deep mixed leagues and AL-only formats. A hot streak filling in at the keystone position could make him ownable for a brief period of time. That's about the best case scenario with Adams.
4- L.J. Hoes, OF
He isn't likely to reach the majors this year, but it is possible. Hoes played well when challenged with a Double-A assignment. He hit .305, and even flashed power in the second half of the season. His approach is sound, 43:56 walk-to-strikeout rate in 344 Double-A at-bats, and he's ready to attack Triple-A pitching. He doesn't have great speed, but it is above average and could net him double digit steals. A hollow average “glue guy,” seems like a reasonable best case in 2012 if Hoes were to reach the majors.
5- Dan Klein, RP
Jim Johnson doesn't inspire much confidence in me as the team's closer. Toss in that if he does play well, the rebuilding Orioles could be tempted to deal him like they did with Koji Uehara in 2011, and you have a recipe for Klein potentially nailing down a few saves in the late summer. How much are saves worth to you?