- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Prospect Impact: Zunino, McPherson, Cosart

This offseason, as transactions unfold and news breaks on the big league level, we’ll take a look at how the ripple effects shake out on the prospect side, focusing primarily on 2013 fantasy impact, with an eye toward the future, too.

This week: The Mariners’ 2012 first-round pick could make his debut a lot sooner; an injury opens the door for a pair of under-the-radar Pirates arms; and the Astros may convert a top pitching prospect to closer.

ACTION: The Mariners trade C John Jaso to the A’s in three-team deal for 1B/OF/DH Michael Morse
IMPACT: C Michael Zunino, Mariners

Colleague Jeff Sullivan hit on this deal at the mother site, and fellow RotoGrapher Mike Petriello gave his fantasy take, but the prospect aspect of this transaction is that Zunino, the No. 3 pick in last year’s draft, now has one fewer obstacle in his path. In fact, while unlikely, it’s not altogether out of the question that the 21-year-old backstop could earn a call-up to Seattle in the season’s first half (think: June/July), which would be an incredibly quick ascent to the majors, especially for a position that typically requires one of the longest developmental learning curves. Then again, Zunino isn’t a typical catching prospect, not when he tore up Low-A (.373/.474/.736 with 10 HRs and 10 doubles in just 110 ABs) and skipped a level up to Double-A, where he continued to rake (.333/.386/.588 with 3 HRs, 4 doubles), albeit in a super-small sample size (51 ABs). The righty-hitting Zunino has above-average power, strong contact skills and an excellent approach, all of which help his chances to debut at some point in 2013.

FANTASY VALUE: With Jaso out of the picture and Miguel Olivo a free agent, Jesus Montero is the only “catcher” left on the M’s 40-man roster. The club has to bring in a veteran platoon backstop at the very least, because Montero still shouldn’t be behind the dish on a regular basis and pushing Zunino onto the Opening Day roster would be a lotta bit insane. But the University of Florida product should return to Double-A to begin 2013, and if he gets off to a good start, he’s the sort of mature prospect who could hold his own even if called up with limited time at Triple-A. If he gets a chance in 2013, Zunino would fit best as a starter in AL-onlies or two-catcher leagues, once he’s up. In a year or two, though, he has the goods on offense, to be a clear Top 10 fantasy catcher, so keeper leaguers will want to jump on him.

*Colleague Marc Hulet ranked Zunino No. 1 among the Seattle Mariners Top 15 Prospects earlier this offseason

ACTION: Free agent SP Francisco Liriano‘s deal with the Pirates remains on hold
IMPACT: SPs Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke, Pirates

Back in December, the Pirates somewhat surprisingly agreed to sign Liriano to help fill out their rotation. The deal, though, has been held up after a physical indicated an injury to the left-hander’s right arm. Pittsburgh has since brought back veteran Jeff Karstens to help cover in case new terms can’t be reached with Liriano. The real beneficiaries, though, are McPherson and Locke, who will compete for the final spot in the five-man. McPherson, who debuted in late 2012 (24 hits, 8 ERs, 21:7 K:BB in 26.1 IPs) is a 25-year-old right-hander with quality stuff and great control (1.5 BB/9 in minors). Locke, who’s also 25 (and no longer technically a rookie after pitching 51 innings in the bigs between 2011 and 2012), is a southpaw who thrives more on finesse but has shown he knows how to get hitters out. McPherson has a slightly higher upside, perhaps that of a low-end No. 3 starter, whereas Locke is more in the mold of a passable No. 4 or 5.

FANTASY VALUE: While neither pitcher is going to win a league for you, owners should be rooting for McPherson to earn the job out of camp. If he doesn’t, though, NL owners should keep tabs, as McPherson should be the first arm called up to take over a spot. He has better control and is less hittable than Locke, meaning he’ll have a better chance to help out in WHIP, while his ERA shouldn’t hurt much. Don’t expect much in the way of whiffs, but McPherson would make for a worthy streaming starter in deep NL-only formats.

NOTE: For those wondering about prospect Justin Wilson, he’s also an intriguing name to know as a lefty with a mid-90s fastball and some big league experience, but he looks more likely to end up in a bullpen role, at least in the short-term.

ACTION: The Astros GM says his club is still looking for a closer
IMPACT: SP (or RP?) Jarred Cosart, Astros

The possibility of Cosart, 22, being converted to closer came up late last year after the Astros traded away Wilton Lopez, who finished the 2012 season in the role. Houston signed reliever Jose Veras to a one-year deal soon thereafter, and speculation began that the veteran right-hander would be a ninth-inning candidate. The whole Cosart-for-closer idea, though, was brought up by none other than GM Jeff Luhnow, so there’s at least some heft behind it. Cosart has been a top prospect as a starting pitcher since he was with the Phillies (prior to joining the Astros in the Hunter Pence trade), but there have been concerns that his across-the-body delivery might lead to injury issues, and the corresponding school of thought is Cosart would be an ideal late-inning reliever, which could not only lower the injury factor but also increase Cosart’s mid-90s fastball a few ticks. As is, despite the big fastball and solid secondary offerings, Cosart owns so-so 7.5 K/9 for his career, which has reached Triple-A (five starts). The Astros rotation isn’t exactly filled with proven, experienced or, you know, good candidates, so taking Cosart out of the picture would be risky. But just this winter, Houston has acquired the likes of Philip Humber, John Ely and Alex White to try to put the back-end of its five-man together, while the bullpen has been severely depleted by the loss of Lopez and Brett Myers, who was traded last July.

FANTASY VALUE: Cosart has the profile of a pitcher who could struggle adjusting to the majors as a starter, especially now that he’ll pitch in the tougher league. The likeliest scenario is probably that Cosart begins 2013 as a starter in Triple-A, and depending on how that goes, he could break into the bigs sooner but in a less-taxing role as a reliever, with an eye toward starting in 2014. That’s not going to do much to help fantasy owners next year, but keep track of this situation in the spring to see how the Astros use Cosart. For keeper leaguers who already own him, Cosart might be a good name to float in trade talks in case another owner gets caught up in the prospect and/or closer hype.

*Colleague Marc Hulet ranked Cosart No. 6 among the Houston Astros Top 15 Prospects earlier this offseason