Thornburg, Archer and Grimm: Mining the Minors

No, that’s not the name of a law firm. Rather, those are the last names of three under-the-radar pitching prospects who made their MLB debuts in the past week. Click below to take a closer look at the trio, and as a bonus you’ll get not one, but two more minor leaguers nearing the bigs.

In addition to recently-promoted top prospects, this column offers a fantasy take on those who are formerly-elite or lesser-known, as well as veteran minor leaguers and injured major leaguers, all of whom are on the verge of getting a shot in the majors. To help owners get an idea of just how good a player is (or might be), there’s a Talent Rating, but just as important is the Opportunity Rating, which points out the likelihood that a player will make his way to or stay in the majors during the current season based on various factors (i.e., age, depth chart, recent performance, etc.).

Tyler Thornburg, Brewers SP
TALENT: 7 (out of 10)
OPPORTUNITY: 7 (out of 10)
DOB: 9/29/1988
MILB STATS: 8-1 W-L, 3.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 71:24 K:BB over 75 IPs

Thornburg’s first full season after being drafted in 2010’s third round went about as well as the Brewers could have hoped (2.57 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 10.5 K/9). The only blemish, a 3.8/9 BB rate, has been cleaned up this year (2.9/9). The question with Thornburg, though, is just how effective he can be in the majors as a starting pitcher, given that he’s undersized (6’0″, 190), which leads to a fastball that lacks plane and tends to be flat. Case in point? Thornburg surrendered — count ’em — four home runs against the Blue Jays in his first-ever start Tuesday. The righty has obviously shot through the minors so far, but this is a pitcher who really needs time to prove himself at Triple-A, a level he hasn’t seen yet.
ETA: Thornburg’s debut came a little sooner than the Brewers would have liked because of Shaun Marcum‘s injury. He’s not ready to pitch every fifth day in the majors just yet, and the fact that Milwaukee chose him over fellow right-handed prospect Wily Peralta is somewhat telling — albeit, more for Peralta, who is struggling with a 5.96 ERA at Triple-A. Thornburg’s stay should be a short one, and even though there’s a chance he gets recalled in the second half, especially if the Brewers trade off Zack Greinke and/or Shaun Marcum, he’s not ready for fantasyhood at the moment.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: Reserve SP in NL 12-team leagues

Chris Archer, Rays SP
DOB: 9/26/1988
MILB STATS: 4-8 W-L, 4.81 ERA, 1.43 WHIP; 90:45 K:BB over 76.2 IPs

Archer is still trying to recapture the form that made him a key piece in the Matt Garza deal with the Cubs after his crazy good 2010 (15-3, 2.34 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.4 K/9). He hasn’t been terrible, and his mid-90s heat hasn’t diminished, but the results haven’t matched the expectations in the season-and-a-half since the trade. The right-hander’s biggest problem is that despite his talent and an ideal starter’s frame (6’3″, 200), he could wind up a reliever because his dynamite stuff — especially a killer slider — is all too often undone by his sketchy control (5.2/9 BB career) and a problem with lefty batters (1.71 WHIP the last two seasons). The ingredients are there, though, Archer just needs a cook.
ETA: Archer started on the road against the Nationals on Wednesday, and he looked pretty good, throwing 6 innings of 1-run ball with 7 whiffs and (surprise!) just 1 walk. Despite the strong showing, he’s almost certain to return to Triple-A once Jeremy Hellickson is back, which might leave Archer with another start or two. Alex Cobb is holding his own and Jeff Niemann will eventually make his way back in the second half, so the only way Archer gets a legitimate chance before next season — when he should compete for a rotation job in spring — is if an injury occurs.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: Streaming SP in AL 10-team leagues

Justin Grimm, Rangers SP
DOB: 8/16/1988
MILB STATS: 8-3 W-L, 1.87 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 67:14 K:BB over 77 IPs

Because of the Rangers system’s depth and the batch of you-can-dream-on-’em pitching prospects surrounding him, Grimm can get overlooked. While Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez and Cody Buckel get most of the attention, Grimm, a right-hander, just keeps going about his business of notching quality starts by limiting baserunners (1.18 career WHIP) and homers (just 10 in over 200 IPs) and striking out enough batters to get the job done (8.0 K/9). What Grimm lacks in upside compared to some of his fellow Rangers ‘spects, he more than makes up for with a consistency that could make him a reliable mid-rotation starter in the near future. Of course, he’ll be competing against plenty of other arms on the way.
ETA: Grimm’s first start against the Astros Saturday was a good glimpse at his ability: 6 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs, 7 strikeouts and no walks. Surely, the Rangers weren’t expecting him to make it to the majors so soon, but a bittersweet combo of injuries to their rotation and Grimm’s continued improvement coalesced into just such an opportunity. With Roy Oswalt slated to pitch Friday and Derek Holland likely back by month’s end, Grimm’s stay will be short, but he’s one to keep an eye on as a possible trade chip. If he gets moved, he’d almost definitely pitch in a better home park and have fewer obstacles to joining a rotation full-time either later this year or next.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: Reserve SP in AL 12-team leagues

A.J. Griffin, A’s SP
DOB: 1/28/1988
MILB STATS: 6-3 W-L, 2.66 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 84:14 K:BB over 94.2 IPs

A former college closer, Griffin has excelled since converting to a starter full-time last season. His best assets are his durability — he’s on pace to surpass his 160.2 IPs in 2011 — and his fastball command (1.7 BB/9 career). After carving up Double-A to start the year (2.49 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 9.1 K/9), the righty was jumped to Triple-A, where he’s done nearly as well (2.81, 0.94, 7.0). Griffin doesn’t have a whole lot more room for projection, and he won’t be a big strikeout guy in the majors, but the combination of his control and pitching in Oakland should make him an intriguing option in deeper fantasy leagues as soon as he gets the call.
ETA: The biggest hurdle for Griffin at this point is whether he gets a chance to show what he can do before Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden return. But with Bartolo Colon a trade candidate, the No. 5 spot in the rotation still unsettled and Griffin pitching the way he is, signs are pointing to a promotion by the All-Star break.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: SP5 in AL 12-team leagues

Ryan Wheeler, D-backs 3B
DOB: 7/10/1988
MILB STATS: .366/.404/.575, 18 doubles, 10 HRs, 67 RBIs, 54:20 K:BB over 268 ABs

In honor of D-backs fans and fantasy baseball owners proposing the team should #FreeTrevorBauer, how about starting #WhyNotRyanWheeler? After all, while Ryan Roberts, Cody Ransom and Josh Bell have been an ungodly troika of third base ineptitude, Wheeler has been a beacon of hot corner hope at Triple-A all season long and especially lately, as he’s hitting a ho-hum .481 and slugging a don’t-mind-me .684 in June. Wheeler isn’t quite this good — the PCL certainly helps — and he’s probably best suited as a utility player or second-division starter, but at some point, something has to give when you’ve gotten next-to-nothing from a position and there’s a young player leading the minors in RBIs just a phone call away.
ETA: In Matt Davidson, the D-backs have a more highly-thought of third base prospect doing his thing at Double-A (15 HRs, .900 OPS), so Wheeler’s window of opportunity is now. With the trade deadline approaching, it would make sense for the D-backs to give him a shot sooner rather than later to see if he can handle the job or if they need to make a deal to improve.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: CI in mixed 14-team leagues or AL/NL 10-team leagues

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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

6 Responses to “Thornburg, Archer and Grimm: Mining the Minors”

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  1. chri521 says:

    Wheeler talent and opp rating at blank.

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    • chri521 says:

      Fixed now thanks! 3B for Ari has been a revolving door of 1 hit wonders hasn’t it?

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  2. Jason Catania says:

    chri521: Yep, fixed after you pointed it out. Thanks. It’s been a rough spot for Arizona. Maybe the only team with worse production at third base is the White Sox, where Brent Morel, Eduardo Escobar and Orlando Hudson are some kind of historically bad.

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  3. Eminor3rd says:

    Haha, i literally clicked on this link with the intent of making a joke about how it sounded like a law firm.

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  4. Redsoxnation88 says:

    That is the primary reason the White Sox are scouting Youkilis. They are the front runner, according to sources in Boston, to get him. Arizona is in the mix also, with the Pirates, Indians and Reds kicking the tires also.

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