Danny Duffy, Andy Dirks, Eric Thames: Mining the Minors

Last Thursday, there was a lot to get to, what with plenty of minor-league players — and even some really big-name prospects — making their MLB debuts. Just because there may not be an Eric Hosmer or Julio Teheran to introduce to owners this time, does that mean recent recalls should be altogether ignored? Disregard at your own risk, fellow fantasy fiends.

Similar to the other version of this column, which drops on Fridays, the Thursday edition offers a quick take on players who recently made their MLB debuts or were recalled, from lesser-known farmhands and veteran minor leaguers to top-end prospects — all with a nod to their relevance and impact for fantasy. To help owners, I’ll include a player’s Talent Rating; but just as important is Cling Factor, which highlights the likelihood that a player will remain in the majors (or return, if already sent down) during this season.

Players listed in order of 2011 fantasy impact.

Danny Duffy, Royals SP
Minor-League statistics: 3-1 W-L; 3.00 ERA; 1.11 WHIP; 43:10 K:BB over 36 IPs
Talent Rating: 9 (out of 10)
Cling Factor: 8 (out of 10)
If you add just one player from this week’s batch, Duffy is the guy to bring aboard. Perhaps only the third- or fourth-best among the Royals’ many elite pitching prospects, the 22-year-old lefty was nonetheless the closest to the bigs, thanks to his low- to mid-90s fastball, solid changepiece and good control. Alas, that last trait wasn’t exactly evident in his MLB debut Wednesday night, as the 2007 third-rounder walked 6 and threw a wild pitch in his four-inning start. Still, Duffy only surrendered 2 runs and struck out 4, and that wildness can be chalked up, at least in part, to nerves — while also serving as a reminder that it’s always smart to keep expectations for a rookie, even one with a pedigree, under control.

It’s worth reminding everyone that Duffy briefly left the Royals organization in the spring of 2010, but he returned a few months later and continued his march through the minors. He’s posted excellent numbers at every stop along the way — 27-14, 2.59 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 10.5:2.9 K:BB total — and with Kansas City’s rotation a constant carousel outside of Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen* (currently on the DL), there’s room for Duffy to stick. AL-only owners should jump at the chance to own what could be a No. 4 or 5 SP, and deep mixed leaguers should consider an him an immediate stash, as he could make for a nice matchups play (without much of a worry about a poor platoon split against righty hitters) or streaming option.
*Since it was his injured lat that led to Vin Mazzaro‘s recall, Chen is actually the guy who was responsible for this atrocity of historical proportions earlier in the week.

Andy Dirks, Tigers OF
Minor-League statistics: .328 BA; .902 OPS; 6 HR; 20 RBIs; 25 Runs; 10 SBs; 23:11 K:BB over 131 ABs
Talent Rating: 7
Cling Factor: 8
The Tigers’ outfielders have been anything but “grrrrreat” this season. Brennan Boesch‘s .748 OPS is the top mark; Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn — whiffing in over 30% of their at-bats each — may, in fact, be responsible for the winds sweeping off Lake Erie this time of year; and Magglio Ordonez is dead last (emphasis on “dead”) among outfielders in OPS. After putting Ordonez out of his misery by placing him on the DL (terribility), the front office brought up Dirks, a 25-year-old drafted in 2008, who impressed Detroit brass in spring (.333/.397/.561 in 57 ABs) and hasn’t stopped hitting since. The 2008 draftee didn’t struggle at all in his first shot at Triple-A late last season (.375 BA, 4 HRs, 10 doubles in just 22 games), and he’s put up similar numbers at Toledo this year.

Don’t mistake Dirks for a power bat, but he does enough with the stick and his legs (10 SBs this season after 20-plus in 2009 and 2010) that he’s clearly better than the fringe outfield options Detroit has been using, like Ordonez and Don Kelly and Casper Wells, oh my. Also helping Dirk’s cause? He swings lefty, so even if he’s really more of a fourth outfielder or platoon type, he should get extra run against right-handers — thanks to a .962 OPS — especially because Jackson’s (.591) and Raburn’s (.551) production goes even further south against northpaws. If Jim Leyland and Co. are smart enough to actually give Dirks regular PT, he’ll be ownable (and possibly startable) in AL-only formats, with a chance to entice 12- or 14-team leagues that start four or five outfielders.

Eric Thames, Blue Jays OF
Minor-League statistics: .342 BA; 1.029 OPS; 6 HRs; 30 RBIs; 27 Runs; 17:30 K:BB over 146 ABs
Talent Rating: 7
Cling Factor: 6
Thames fan here. The 24-year-old’s 2011 stats are inflated some by getting to bat inone of the minor’s best hitter’s parks* and in the hitter-friendly PCL, but the 2008 seventh-rounder broke out big-time a year ago at Double-A with a .288 average, 27 homers and 104 RBIs. Called up to help fill the void left by Adam Lind‘s DL stint (back), Thames’ minor-league strikeout rate (22.8%) will probably translate to a fair share of Ks in the bigs, but his walk rate (10.6%) also shows that he’s got an idea of what he’s doing at the dish.

According to the Jays, Thames will get regular at-bats between DH and left field, but the lefty-hitter’s stay might be short, since Lind is eligible to be activated Monday. Still, he’s on the cusp and has the momentum edge on Travis Snider (currently in Triple-A after yet another slow start in Toronto), so if the Jays tire of Corey Patterson or Juan Rivera — not the most stable left-field platoon there is — Thames would be in line to get another shot in the coming months, making him someone to watch in deep AL-onlies.
*StatCorner data is from 2010, since this season hasn’t been updated yet.

Doug Davis, Cubs SP
Minor-League statistics: 1-0 W-L; 1.74 ERA; 0.77 WHIP; 12:2 K:BB over 10 1/3 IPs
Talent Rating: 5
Cling Factor: 6
Before you ask — yes, that Doug Davis.* As in, the guy who used to be a serviceable back-end fantasy starter or streaming option about a half-decade ago as a Brewer. Now 35, the lefty has come a long way to make it back to the bigs, after missing most of last season with a heart problem and flexor tendon injury, which followed his 2008 battle with thyroid cancer. In between those maladies, he was actually surprisingly effective, if not efficient, as an innings-eater in 2009: 9 wins, 146 Ks, 4.12 ERA in 203 1/3 IPs — albeit with an MLB-high 103 walks.

Davis signed a minor-league deal in April with the Cubs, who were down two starters when Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner hit the DL. While Casey Coleman (7.22 ERA) and James Russell (his 7.20 ERA got him banished to the bullpen) tried to fill in, they weren’t cutting it, so the Cubs gave Davis a shot, and he paid them back with 5 innings of 4-hit, 3-run (1 earned), 6-strikeout ball in his first start since last July. Wells (forearm) is expected back perhaps as soon as next week, but Cashner had a setback in his recovery from a rotator cuff strain. That could allow Davis to stick in the fifth spot for as long as he proves he can handle it, since the Cubs will, no doubt, be extra careful with Cashner’s prized arm. From a fantasy perspective, there’s nothing exciting about Davis in any way, shape or form, so he’s only to be considered in the deepest of NL-only leagues — and even then, only by owners who are desperate for a spot starter.
*I just wrote 278 words on him. I really should consider getting myself checked out.

OTHERS RECENT RECALLS:

Cole Kimball, Nationals RP
Talent Rating: 6
Cling Factor: 7
Aside from Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and occasionally Todd Coffey, Washington’s pen hasn’t been all that mighty, and opportunity has arisen for Kimball, 25, who Baseball America rated as having the best fastball in the organization’s minor-league system. The righty has posted big digits in both strikeouts (9.6 K/9) and walks (5.5 BB/9). His 2010 walk rate — while not great at 4.5/9 — was the best in his career, so it’s no coincidence the 2006 draftee finally broke out: 8-1, 18 SVs, 101 Ks (11.6/9) and 4.5 BB/9 across Hi-A and Double-A. Those numbers, combined with his strong 2011 start (5 saves and no earned run in his first 13 2/3 IPs to start 2011), could translate to a solid K rate in the majors and earn Kimball some holds, so NL-only owners looking for a bullpen filler might consider him if he can throw enough strikes to stick around.

Brandon Snyder, Orioles 1B
Talent Rating: 6
Cling Factor: 5
Called up when Derrek Lee (oblique) put on DL, this 24-year-old is trying to salvage his career as a former first-round pick back in 2005. A converted catcher, Snyder is now a first baseman, but the power never developed enough — 13 homers in 2008 is his career-best — to make him a starting option there in the majors. His third shot at Triple-A was showing some progress (.276/.342/.455), but he’s almost certain to be demoted once Lee returns. Since Lee isn’t a long-term answer at first, Snyder may get recalled later in the year to see if he can carve out some sort of backup role, so AL-only owners may be able to use him as bench fodder come September.

Everett Teaford, Royals RP
Talent Rating: 6
Cling Factor: 7
The 5’11”, 155 southpaw joins fellow lefty Lilliputian Tim Collins* in the Royals’ bullpen. For now. The 27-year-old, whose stuff has played up as he’s transitioned from starter to reliever in the past year — career-high 10.3 K/9 at Double-A in 2010 and a solid 3.04 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 24:6 K:BB over 26 2/3 IPs at Triple-A this year — probably won’t be around once Robinson Tejeda makes his return. Not much of a fantasy impact to be felt here, but Teaford’s worth noting** because of how Kansas City has chosen to go the prospect route in filling out its bullpen, so he’ll probably be in the mix going forward.
*Listed (generously) at 5’7″, Collins is way shorter, but he does have 15 pounds on the svelte Teaford.
**Also worth noting? Teaford took the roster spot of Mazzaro, the dude who — it bears repeating — authored this ridicularity of heinousness.

Hector Noesi, Yankees SP/RP
Talent Rating: 6
Cling Factor: 5
This 24-year-old Dominican is a nice enough prospect as more of a finesse right-hander with great control (1.7 BB/9) who put up an impressive 2010 season: 14-7, 3.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP. With Rafael Soriano hurt, Noesi will get a shot to pitch out of the pen — he came on in extras Thursday night and tossed four shutout innings to get the win in his MLB debut — and he’s also a fallback rotation option should the clock strike 12, turning Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia back into pumpkins. But it’s always hard to get invested in a non-elite prospect (1.65 WHIP to start 2011) in the Yankees system, because the chance of any real contribution is minimal. Someone to put on your “Watch Lists” in deep AL-only leagues, in the event he gets a turn as a starter, but even then, he could be a blow-up waiting to happen.

Michael Bowden, Red Sox RP
Talent Rating: 6
Cling Factor: 5
Bowden used to be an intriguing prospect as a starter, but his stuff never quite measured up in his here-and-there MLB appearances (6.69 ERA, 1.68 WHIP), so Boston converted him to relief full-time last season, and he’s taken to the new role. The 2005 supplemental pick has actually been closing some games at Triple-A, where he’s earned 4 saves to go with a 1.59 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and a 28:4 K:BB in his 22 2/3 IPs. Alas, Bowden, 24, has become a true organizational piece, and he isn’t long for the Red Sox bullpen, what with the reports that Dan Wheeler (calf) will be activated today. More than likely, he’ll be taking the shuttle from Pawtucket to Boston a few times this year, but the fantasy impact won’t be worthwhile for any owner.

Sean Burroughs, D-backs 3B
Talent Rating: 4
Cling Factor: 5
Here’s a blast from the past (BFTP). Burroughs, a first-rounder all the way back in 1998, was once one of baseball’s best prospects with big-league pedigree (father Jeff won the 1974 AL MVP) who was expected to lock down the Padres third base job for a generation or three, if you believed the hype. Well, after a promising first full season in 2003 (.286/.352/.402), things went downhill almost immediately, and his last big-league plate appearance came as a Tampa Bay then-Devil Ray in 2006. His biggest problem was a lack of pop, and while that’s still evident as a 30-year-old with just 1 homer — despite batting in one of the better parks for lefties in the hitter-happy PCL — dude was hitting a hard-to-ignore .386. That got him a long-awaited return to the majors when the D-backs placed Melvin Mora on the bereavement list. It’s a great real-life story. Fantasy? Not so much, unfortunately.

Dallas McPherson, White Sox 3B
Talent Rating: 4
Cling Factor: 3
Another BFTP! Some of you may recall McPherson, 30, from his days as a top prospect in the Angels org based on his prodigious power. But ongoing battles with back injuries and making contact with baseballs ultimately left him without any shot at an extended big-league career. Sure, he resurfaced in 2008 as a Marlin, on the strength of a 42-homer campaign at Triple-A, but that led to just 11 at-bats as a September call-up. He joined the White Sox organization last winter, and even though he’s a third baseman and the White Sox hot cornermen — Brent Morel, Omar Vizquel and the now-DL’d Mark Teahen (oblique) — have put up a disturbing .567 OPS this year, Dallas and his .824 OPS this season won’t be seeing many at-bats in Chicago. And those he does, are likely to end in a strikeout (34% K rate). Not even “Watch List”-worthy.

Peter Kozma, Cardinals SS
Talent Rating: 2
Cling Factor: 3
Now 23, St. Louis’ first-round pick in 2007 has been a bust and then some, compiling an ugly .241/.316/.349 slash line in his four-plus minor-league seasons — and he’s hitting just .220/.284/.284 in his introduction to Triple-A in 2011. A depth recall after Nick Punto was DL’d, you can pass in all formats and don’t bother keeping tabs.

***

When it comes to monitoring players for this column, I’ll handle the work, but if you want quick fantasy analysis of another recent recall, feel free to post in the comments section. I’ll do my best to get to as many as I can.




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Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11


12 Responses to “Danny Duffy, Andy Dirks, Eric Thames: Mining the Minors”

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  1. Tyler says:

    Any word on Andrew Oliver (Tigers LH SP prospect)? Where would he rank on a talent and cling factors were he to be called up?

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    • Jason Catania says:

      After mentioning him in Charlie Furbush’s profile last month, I may yet get to Oliver, as he’s on my list. But with Brad Penny and Phil Coke (somehow) pitching better in recent weeks, I don’t think there’s as much of a need to rush Oliver, who’s pitching really, really well in Triple-A (2.89 ERA with a K per). In short, I’d give Oliver 8s across the board (Talent, Opportunity and Cling) because he’s likely going to be a legit fantasy option (say, a No. 4/5 SP in AL-only play) at some point this year — and once he’s up, I think the Tigers will want him to stay up.

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  2. Tyler says:

    Not exactly sure how reliable this is, but this well-respected Tiger’s blog (broke the Scott Sizemore call-up before anyone else) says otherwise regarding the timetable for Oliver:

    http://www.blessyouboys.com/2011/5/18/2176779/tigers-to-shake-up-pitching-with-additions-of-furbush-oliver#comments

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  3. Tyler says:

    Oh, and thanks for the response!

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    • Jason Catania says:

      You got it, Tyler. Always enjoy the give-and-take. And it’s kind of impossible to stay on top of every team’s macchinations, so I appreciate the heads-up on Oliver/Furbush.

      The timing seems a little odd, to me, given that Coke just started (and pitched well last night), but I guess they feel they need him to fix up what’s been a really rough bullpen (looking at you, Joaquin Benoit!). I’ll be keeping an eye on this to see if/when their call-ups actually do transpire. If so, Oliver becomes a must-add in AL-only play and probably worth consideration in deep mixed, although I’d see what he shows his first time or two (a la Duffy) before using him. Furbush in the pen isn’t quite as interesting, but he’d be worth keeping tabs in case Brad Penny slumps or gets hurt.

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  4. B N says:

    Perhaps more important for fantasy purposes is that Duffy seems to be completely unable to stop the running game. He gave up 4 SB in his last game, including one to Napoli. When Napoli is running on you, that’s a problem. If this trend continues, one should assume that any base stealer to get on will end up with one or two SB against Duffy.

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    • geo says:

      That’s not usual for him, actually. I would chalk that up to first night jitters. He’s better with runners than that.

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  5. chris says:

    what is duffy’s ceiling? i know hes an intriguing prospect but im in a keeper league and wondering if its worth using a waiver on him

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    • Jason Catania says:

      Chris: I think he can be a solid No. 3 SP (or strong No. 3) for fantasy purposes in a couple years. But whether or not you use a waiver on him depends on 1) your league type and 2) how your fellow owners use waivers in general.

      Re: 1) For instance, if you’re in a 10-team keeper where you can only hang onto, say, 5 players for one year max, then I envision Duffy as less keeper-worthy. But if you can keep as many guys as you want (with some sort of escalating price or draft round penalty) and it’s a 12-team AL-only, then yes, I’d make that move.

      Re: 2) If waivers are fairly carefree (lots of turnover and such), then I think Duffy would be a good gamble. But if going hard after Duffy means that you would almost definitely miss out on any of the next top prospects that are about to debut — remember, June will bring lots of them — then I would think twice. Perhaps you could hold out for a slightly better/more impactful prospect, like the Jays’ Brett Lawrie or even Duffy’s soon-to-be teammate Mike Moustakas.

      Bottom line: I think Duffy will be worth the claim in most cases, but there will be other prospect options on the way.

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      • Jason Catania says:

        Sorry, meant to say:

        “solid No. 3 SP (or strong No. 4) for fantasy purposes”

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  6. wily mo says:

    teaford’s kind of become a pet of mine. i don’t think it’s exactly the case that his stuff has played up because of switching to relief. around the middle of last year at AA he changed his mechanics to be looser and whippier and found that he gained velocity. he was pitching well and getting more strikeouts after that even as a starter. i keep hoping they’ll start him in the majors. right now it doesn’t really feel imminent. but i think he’s capable of it.

    sample article talking about the changes – http://atmlb.com/kvtl2J

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  7. wobatus says:

    I don’t think Andy Dirks is clearly better than Casper Wells. I’d say he is more a fringe option than Wells, but Wells doesn’t seem to be getting a clear shot at at least a platoon job.

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