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Jordan Lyles, Brandon Belt and Tyler Colvin: Mining the Minors

This week’s edition covers one top prospect making his MLB debut and a pair of recalls who didn’t fare so well earlier this season. Plus? The usual batch of players who only apply to really deep leagues. In fantasy, no transaction is too small.

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.

MIXED LEAGUE RELEVANT
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Jordan Lyles, Astros SP
Minor-League statistics: 3-3 WL; 3.20 ERA; 1.24 WHIP; 41:16 K:BB over 59 IPs
Talent Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Cling Factor: 7 (out of 10)

It’s not often a prospect reaches the majors before he can legally drink. Sure, there are a handful every year, and even this season, we’ve already seen the Braves’ Julio Teheran make it to the bigs at 20. This sort of thing gets fans, and fantasy owners in particular, especially excited because there’s nothing quite like a younger-than-usual ‘spect making his debut to put the hype machine into overdrive. Well, in Lyles’ case, there’s plenty of reasons for optimism — and just as many to keep owners’ hopes and dreams in check.

The right-hander got the call Monday to take Wandy Rodriguez‘s (elbow) rotation spot. And his debut the very next day against the Cubs was a rather auspicious one: 7 innings, only 5 hits allowed, 2 runs and a 4:0 K:BB ratio. Given that, as well as Lyles pedigree as the No. 38 pick in 2008, it’s time to jump in with both feet, right? Not so fast. On one hand, Lyles did look good and once Wandy returns, his main competition for a starting gig will be Aneury Rodriguez and his 5.40 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. But on the other hand, Lyles isn’t overpowering — he sits in the low-90s — so his strikeouts likely won’t measure up; and even though he has great command of his three average-to-plus pitches, any good his control (2.5 BB/9) will do for his WHIP will likely be offset by a high hit rate (9.1 H/9).

Given his tendencies, pitching in the Senior Circuit and at Minute Maid (a neutral home turf despite its rep) will certainly help, but Lyles is probably best on the bench whenever he faces a top tier offense or takes the mound in a hitter’s park like Coors or Chase Field. He makes a lot of sense as an add-and-stash if you’ve got room on your bench in deep mixed leagues to see how his first few starts go. And in NL-only play, he should slot in as a useable SP4 or SP5 from the get-go.

Brandon Belt, Giants OF/1B
Minor-League statistics: .337 BA; .994 OPS; 4 HRs; 21 RBIs; 31:27 K:BB over 101 ABs
Talent Rating: 8
Cling Factor: 6

We’re already pretty familiar with Belt as one of baseball’s top prospects heading into this season. Excitement only intensified when the 23-year-old made the team out of spring training. Of course, upon his poor start (.192 BA, .569 OPS in 60 PAs) and corresponding demotion to Triple-A in mid-April, many owners dumped him by the wayside. His ownership percentages — just 6% in Yahoo! leagues and 3.5% in ESPN — reflect as much.

Part of the problem was — and to some extent, still is — the Giants other options on the active roster: from Aubrey Huff at first base, which is where Belt had seen most of his action in April, to Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and Nate Schierholtz in the corner outfield spots, which is where Belt is expected to play going forward now that Huff has returned from right field to his more natural first base. While the Giants need as much offense as they can get to cover for a rash of injuries to Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot — that’s the primary reason they recalled Belt, who to his credit, was slashing an impressive .337/.470/.525 since being sent down — Giants manager Bruce Bochy said that Belt isn’t likely to play every day, but rather will fill in wherever and however he’s needed. Not helping matters any is the fact that the lefty-swinging Belt was hit by a pitch on his left wrist on Tuesday. Fortunately, the injury is only a bone bruise that should keep him out a few days.

At this point, Belt remains more of an option in single leagues or very deep mixed (say, 15 teams) for the short-term. But if he can take advantage of any opportunities while the injured players are still out — or if Huff continues to struggle (.628 OPS) — Belt could establish himself enough to earn an increased role. Don’t hold your breath for any real Belt breakthrough this year, but then again considering how badly San Fran needs offense — their 3.5 runs/game is third-worst in baseball) — the Giants would be wise to give at-bats to the guys who are hitting best as the season progresses. If Belt is one of them, and he has the skills to be, then he would certainly warrant mixed league consideration as a spot starter at 1B, OF or Utility.

Tyler Colvin, Cubs OF
Minor-League statistics: .260 BA; .783 OPS; 1 HR; 8 RBIs; 13:2 K:BB over 50 ABs
Talent Rating: 7
Cling Factor: 8

Colvin is in Mixed League Relevant more by default than anything else. The Cubs outfield is fraught with injuries (read: Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Reed Johnson), so Colvin was called up as a reinforcement. In fact, he should be getting the majority of starts in left field, considering he bats left-handed and the team’s alternatives are guys like Lou Montanez and Brad Snyder.

Before surprisingly making the Cubs Opening Day roster last year, the 25-year-old, who was a first-rounder back in 2006, had shown some decent pop in his minor-league career but was held back by an inability to take a walk (6.1% BB). His 2010 big-league breakout stemmed from the same formula — 20 HRs, .246 ISO, 7.6% BB) — which caused some sabermetrically-inclined fantasy owners to recognize Colvin as less of a sleeper this year and more of a bust. Turned out, based on his early-season play (.113 BA, .449 OPS) and accompanying demotion, the latter has proven true to date.

Granted, Colvin wasn’t getting regular PT — he’d only amassed 62 at-bats before getting sent down on May 14 — so those stats should be considered accordingly. But he only fared marginally better in his time at Triple-A (.260 BA, .783 OPS), so it’s not as if he was forcing the Cubs hand. Still, there’s a real opportunity here for Colvin to get at-bats everyday, and he’s proven he can hit in the majors, so if you’re searching for a fifth outfielder in deep mixed leagues, you could do worse than take a gamble that he’ll provide an immediate boost in power (a la Nolan Reimold). Otherwise, Colvin’s a better fit for NL-only leagues at the moment, where he is capable of holding down an outfield spot as long as the Cubs are running him out there.

AL-/NL-ONLY RELEVANT
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Eric Young Jr., Rockies 2B/OF
Talent Rating: 6
Cling Factor: 7
Everyone’s favorite stolen base sleeper — he’s swiped 330 bases in 647 minor-league games — is up yet again with the Rockies. The 26-year-old knows how to get on base (.387 career) and was having a dynamite first two months in Colorado Springs (.363 BA, 1.006 OPS and 17 SBs), so he’ll get some time at second base (where Jose Lopez didn’t pan out and Jonathan Herrera is “holding down the fort”) and in centerfield (where Dexter Fowler has stalled in his development). Young has yet to stick in the bigs, but his blazing speed makes for a clever add for NL-only owners in need of stolen bases.

Yunesky Maya, Nationals SP
Talent Rating: 7
Cling Factor: 7
Maya got his own Mining the Minors treatment last month. In short, the 29-year-old Cuban is more of a finesse right-hander, and he didn’t exactly kill it in his first start of 2011 (4 2/3 IPs, 4 ERs). But he’s ready for his shot after posting a 3.79 ERA and 0.99 WHIP at Triple-A — it’s just that he could find himself back in the minors once Tom Gorzelanny (elbow) returns from his DL stint.

Josh Reddick, Red Sox OF
Talent Rating: 8
Cling Factor: 6
Already covered in this column, Reddick is likely to be back-and-forth between Triple-A Pawtucket and the Red Sox several times this year. The 24-year-old is ready to contribute in the bigs — he’s already got 12 homers and more walks this year (26) than he had all of last (25) — but in Boston, that means he’ll be a fourth outfielder at best. As it is, he’s only getting a chance now because Darnell McDonald is on the shelf. Probably not worth adding except in the deepest of AL-only leagues, but if the Red Sox use him as a trade chip in July, his stock gets significantly more intriguing.

Brandon Crawford, Giants SS
Talent Rating: 6
Cling Factor: 5
The most interesting things about Crawford, 24, are his shortstop eligibility and the grand slam he hit in his MLB debut. While the fourth round pick from 2008 does fall in San Fran’s top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America, he hadn’t advanced past Double-A — he was actually playing at Hi-A at the time of his recall while recovering from a broken finger — and he’s yet to show any sustained success offensively in the minors (.748 OPS). As mentioned above with Belt, the Giants have endured roughly 37 injuries recently, so Crawford’s call-up was primarily out of desperation. Once Pablo Sandoval returns this month, pushing Miguel Tejada back to shortstop, Crawford should find himself back in the minors. Then again, stranger things have happened.

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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.