Eno Sarris has submitted to this high-quality publication a list of rookies whom he believes might be of some use to fantasy owners this season. While I certainly respect Mr. Sarris’s able analysis and all-around expertise in the fantasy arts, I also harbor an irrational sense of confidence about my own prospecting skills.
To that end, I submit this: a full fantasy team’s worth of players who still possess rookie eligibility (i.e. no more than 130 ABs or 50 IP in the Majors), but who’ve appeared neither on any iteration of Baseball America’s previous top-100 prospect lists or, because BA’s 2011 edition of same doesn’t come out till late February, Keith Law’s 2011 top-100 list.
While I make no claims about potential playing time for any of the following, it’s my feeling that the players below — were they promoted and given playing time — would outperform the players on Eno’s list.
With a view towards standing by my claims, I’ve challenged Mr. Sarris to a bet. I don’t know exactly how we’ll determine the victor — probably using MLEs or something — but I can tell you for sure that the loser buys the winner a beer at Ron Shandler’s First Pitch Arizona event in November.
May the best nerd win!
C: Ryan Lavarnway , 23
Organization: Boston Highest Level: Double-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .242/15/1
Comments: Despite the fact that I could — and maybe should — put Tampa Bay’s newly acquired Robinson Chirinos  here, the draw of Lavarnway’s power potential is too attractive. The catcher hit 21 homers in 2009 and 22 more in 2010, adding another three in 100 plate appearances at the Arizona Fall League. Lavarnway will strike out quite a bit, but he also appears to know his way around the strike zone, posting BB rates north of 9.8% in each of his minor-league stops of 100 plate appearances or more. The general feeling is that, offensively speaking, he’s ready for the Majors starting now. With the dearth of catching currently in Boston, any improvement in Lavarnway’s defensive skills could merit a promotion.
1B: Joe Mahoney , 24
Organization: Baltimore Highest Level: Double-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .250/10/15
Comments: Mahoney is the sort of person who’s 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, and that’s generally the sort of person whose best tool is power. Strangely, that hasn’t been the case with Mahoney, who went 29-of-30 on stolen bases in 2009 with Low-A Delmarva and then a slightly less impressive, but still interesting, 13-for-17 last season across two levels. The power arrived last season, as well, as the first baseman hit 18 homers in 508 PAs across two levels. Perhaps the best sign, however, is that Mahoney’s strikeout rate has actually declined with each promotion, from 23.5% with Delmarva in 2009, then 20.7% to begin 2010 with High-A Frederick, and, finally, 20.4% with Double-A Bowie.
2B: Brad Emaus , 25
Organization: New York (NL) Highest Level: Triple-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .238/12/9
Comments: A brief trip around his player page reveals that, in 1,115 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A, Emaus has walked 140 and struck out 138 — a.k.a. fewer — times. That’s good news. Also good news is that, after what appeared cosmetically to be a difficult 2009, Emaus posted good numbers in 2010. The truth is, even that 2009 wasn’t so bad, as Emaus showed the same sort of plate discipline (10.2 BB%, 13.7 K%), stole some bases (10-for-13 in 137 games) and still posted a league-average wOBA as a 23-year-old in Double-A. The Mets took Emaus from the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 Draft, presumably with the idea of giving him a chance at the second-base job. If he gets it, he might not impress with his average, but his decent home-run and stolen-base numbers should make him a consideration at the end of drafts in moderately deep leagues.
3B: Marquez Smith , 26
Organization: Chicago (NL) Highest Level: Triple-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .251/15/3
Comments: There’s little to say about Smith other than the fact that he’d make a decent Major Leaguer right this minute. As opposed to other players on this list (shortstop Zack Cozart  excepted), Smith’s glove work actually outperforms his bat, and would probably be worth 0.5 to 1.0 wins all by itself. But even then, the bat isn’t bad. ZiPS put his 2010 Triple-A MLE (zMLE henceforth) at .278/.340/.502 in 341 PA. That’s probably on the high side of what he’d do in an actual MLB season, but Smith’s still probably capable of a .250-plus batting average with 20-plus home runs.
SS: Zack Cozart , 25
Organization: Cincinnati Highest Level: Triple-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .239/16/15
Comments: Projected over 650 plate appearances, Cozart’s 2010 zMLE would have had him hitting 17 homers and stealing 27 bases. That’s pretty decent for a 24-year-old fringe prospect in his first exposure to Triple-A. That his zMLE also had him slashing .240/.290/.392 is, of course, some cause for concern. As you might suspect from that line, Cozart has some trouble making contact. Whether it’s Brandon Wood -level trouble remains to be seen. So far as fantasy owners are concerned, the power and speed combination at short will at least be worth a waiver-wire pick-up if and when Cozart finds himself in the Majors.
MI: Eric Farris , 25
Organization: Milwaukee Highest Level: Triple-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .265/4/29
Comments: Farris is a bit mysterious — if for no other reason that you almost definitely have never heard of him. Beyond that, though, he’s actually done some pretty impressive things pretty quietly. He went 70-for-76 on stolen-base attempts, for example, with High-A Brevard County in 2009. Also, for example, he’s struck out in fewer than 10% of all his professional plate appearances. Finally, last year, he handled an aggressive promotion to Triple-A (from High-A, that is), maintaining roughly the same plate-discipline numbers. Add to all that an impressive Fall League run, in which he recorded almost as many stolen bases (9-for-9) as strikeouts (11) in 74 at-bats for the Surprise Rafters.
CI: Conor Gillaspie , 23
Organization: San Francisco Highest Level: Double-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .265/7/0
Comments: No, it’s not an inspiring ZiPS projection. Nor is it really, to date, an inspiring minor-league career. Really this pick is based on two things: (a) Gillaspie’s proclivity for contact and, moreso, (b) his excellent Arizona Fall League performance. Playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Gillaspie hit a league-leading five home runs while only striking out five times. Yes, offensive numbers are generally inflated in Arizona, but Gillaspie’s numbers were still better than anyone else’s by these two measurements — which happen to be the two measurements whose samples most quickly become reliable. He’s an old 23, but that’s still young enough to be developing power.
OF: Charlie Blackmon , 24
Organization: Colorado Highest Level: Double-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .273/10/22
Comments: Blackmon was born right on July 1st, so his baseball age is slightly misleading, and so we might say that the center fielder is slightly older than we might like. That said, he showed excellent plate discipline in 2010, posting more than acceptable walk and strikeout rates while also going 19-for-26 on stolen-base attempts in 86 games (pro-rating out to 30-plus steals in 150 games). That’s not necessarily a great success rate, but indicates that managers might continue asking him to run. Furthermore, Blackmon was one of the more impressive hitters in the Arizona Fall League, hitting three homers while striking out just six times in 86 PA.
OF: Brandon Guyer , 25
Organization: Tampa Bay Highest Level: Double-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .256/8/22
Comments: The slash stats from Guyer’s last three minor-league stops are dizzying: .190/.236/.291 at Double-A in 2009, then .347/.407/.453 at High-A after a mid-June demotion, and then .344/.398/.588 last year at Double-A. A look at his batted-ball data over that time period sorts out most of the variance, though, as Guyer posted BABIPs of .223, .380, and .371, respectively. Obviously, the age and level are of some concern, but the underlying contact skills have mostly been there and Guyer is 60-for-70 on stolen-base attempts over the least two seasons, as well. Part of the trade that sent Matt Garza  to the Cubs, Guyer has a not-terrible chance of making the Rays’ Opening Day roster.
OF: Brian Cavazos-Galvez , 24
Organization: Los Angeles (NL) Highest Level: Low-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .272/12/34
Comments: There are some pretty clear strikes against this person whom I’ll refer to as “C-G” because his name is long and hurts to spell. First, there’s the fact that he was a 23-year-old in the Midwest League. Second is the fact that he’s taken a total of just 22 walks in 791 minor-league PAs. The good news is that he’s toolsy and, unlike some other players who’re described like that, appears to have pretty sweet contact skills. He struck out just once in 30 Dominican Winter League at-bats, and projects to have both power and speed at the Major League level if and when he arrives.
OF: Matt Young , 28
Organization: Atlanta Highest Level: Triple-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .246/4/25
Comments: According to Brian Cartwright’s OLIVER MLEs, Young has been a Major League-caliber player for the last three years — not a star, mind you, but someone who’s gonna post league-average wOBAs while stealing 25-30 bases and playing a league-average center field. ZiPS is less enthusiastic about Young’s power on contact, but still sees the plate discipline and 25-30 stolen bases. He’ll be useful in moderate to deep leagues if he gets playing time. Young was added to Atlanta’s 40-man roster over the off-season, so it’s likely we’ll get a chance to see that happen at some point.
OF: Jose Constanza , 27
Organization: Atlanta Highest Level: Triple-A
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .261/1/28
Comments: Constanza signed with the Braves this past offseason as a minor-league free agent. He’s averaged 48 stolen bases per 150 games over the last three years and, over that same stretch, has posted strikeout rates below 14% each season. Combined with his speed, his contact-intensive approach suggests he could bat around at least .280. Roughly speaking, he’s similar to his teammate Matt Young , just without even a hint of power. And way more Dominican, as well.
UT: Lucas Duda , 25
Organization: New York (NL) Highest Level: Majors
ZiPS (AVG/HR/SB): .243/16/1
Comments: Before a game last September, when asked about the defensive abilities of an outfield that featured Chris Carter , Lucas Duda , and Carlos Beltran , then-Met coach Jerry Manuel  said, “Whoooo, Lord have mercy…I’ve got to tell Pelfrey, Keep that (ball) down.” Besides being a sort of pathological thing to say, it’s probably representative of how Duda, at least, plays the field. Luckily, he hits well, posting a zMLE of .269/.339/.507 in 298 Triple-A plate appearances before earning a late-season promotion. With Ike Davis  at first (i.e. Duda’s ideal position), Duda will likely serve as a bat-first sort of fourth outfielder behind Jason Bay , Carlos Beltran , and Angel Pagan . Something around 20 homers with decent on-base skills is most likely for Duda in a full season.
SP: Chris Balcom-Miller , 22
Organization: Boston Highest Level: Low-A
ZiPS (IP/K/BB/HR/ERA+): 108.0/71/34//17/88
Comments: Balcom-Miller’s a player to be genuinely excited about, as he’s demonstrated the potential to grade out above average in the three major components that a pitcher can control — i.e. strikeouts, walks, and home-run prevention. His zMLEs for his 100 or so innings with High-A Asheville come out like this: 6.52 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 0.72 HR/9. Sites StatCorner and First Inning both have the righty’s ground-ball rate at around 60% — a number that makes sense with scouting reports of his fastball, which features heavy sink. He was traded at the end of last August to Boston in exchange for reliever Manny Delcarmen , a deal that the Red Sox almost definitely won. He may not make the Majors this year, but he’s likely to succeed once he does.
SP: Liam Hendriks , 22
Organization: Minnesota Highest Level: High-A
ZiPS (IP/K/BB/HR/ERA+): 136.0/85/41/16/86
Comments: A lot of what one can say about Balcom-Miller — in terms of output, at least — one can also say about Hendriks. Both are 22, both project as above-average in the three most important ways, and — related to points No. 2 — both seem to induce grounders at a decent rate. Hendriks’ rate appears to be slightly lower, but he’s also featured lower walk rates in his professional career to date. This winter, Hendriks pitched for his native Perth in the fledgling Australian League, posting a K:BB rate of 25:6 in 25.1 IP.
SP: Rudy Owens , 23
Organization: Pittsburgh Highest Level: Double-A
ZiPS (IP/K/BB/HR/ERA+): 117.0/71/28/16/87
Comments: Between some recent graduations to the Majors and then also a scourge known as the “Dave Littlefield Era,” the Pirates don’t really have a ton in the way of MLB-ready prospects at the moment. To say that Owens himself is a prospect’s prospect might also be an overstatement, as he lacks serious upside. But what Owens has done the last couple years is hard to ignore. In those last two years, across three levels, he’s pitched 274 innings and posted rates of 8.1 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, and 0.7 HR/9, all at the age-appropriate level. His zMLEs from last year in Double-A come out to 6.29 K/9, 1.97 BB/9, 1.38 HR/9. In other words, the home runs might ultimately be a problem, but control of the strike zone is certainly present.
SP: Alex Cobb , 23
Organization:Highest Level: Double-A
ZiPS (IP/K/BB/HR/ERA+): 118.1/84/45/12/85
Comments: Cobb might be on this list anyway for his 2010, which saw him post a 125:35 K:BB and 7 HR (zMLEs of 6.85 K/9, 3.58 BB/9, and 1.04 HR/9) in 119.2 Double-A innings; however, Cobb was particularly impressive in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 30 in 25.0 in the normally offense-heavy environment. The 6.12 ERA is unsightly and the 14 BB suggests there’s work to be done there, but studies by Pizza Cutter show that, for pitchers, samples for strikeout rates become reliable much more quickly than anything else. As people smarter than me have noted, Cobb would be more of a prospect were he in a different system.
SP: Michael Fiers , 26
Organization: Milwaukee Highest Level: Double-A
ZiPS (IP/K/BB/HR/ERA+): 111.0/84/47/15/80
Comments: Broadly speaking, Fiers has an oppotunity to be this year’s Daniel Nava . Like Nava, Fiers has been old for his levels. Also like Nava, Fiers has never failed. He now has a K:BB of 189:37 in 165.2 minor-league IPs, 31.2 of which came in Double-A Huntsville last season, where he preserved his ratios entirely. Apparently, he doesn’t have much in the way of velocity, but I can personally attest to his excellent curveball, which I saw him throw in spring training of 2010. Fiers might ultimately end up in relief, except for that (a) he reputedly has a good changepiece, as well, which would help negate platoon effects, and (b) he started in all five of his AFL appearances, striking out 17 in 18.2 IP.
SP: Alex Wimmers , 22
Organization: Minnesota Highest Level: High-A
ZiPS (IP/K/BB/HR/ERA+): N/A — Too little data
Comments: This actually feels like cheating a little bit, as Wimmers isn’t exactly on the DL (either type, your pick). The Ohio State product was drafted 21st overall last season by the Twins, signed a bonus for $1.33 million, and then struck out 23 of the 58 batters he faced for High-A Fort Myers. Furthermore, he’s reported to have three average above-average pitches. Still, he doesn’t appear on Keith Law’s list and Baseball America actually places him seventh in the Twins org — behind even Liam Hendriks  (see above). John Sickels actually places him second overall (in his preliminary rankings, at least) and FanGraphs’ Reed MacPhail basically splits the difference, putting him fourth. Personally, I trust the Twins’ vision so far as SPs are concerned and see Wimmers as very much part of that vision.
RP: Craig Kimbrel , 23
Organization: Atlanta Highest Level: Majors
ZiPS (IP/K/BB/HR/ERA+): 63.2/92/45/5/115
Comments: Picking Kimbrel is definitely cheating, as the righty (a) has already stuck out 40 Major Leaguers in just 20.2 innings and (b) is most probably taking over the closer’s role in Atlanta. Still, it’s a fact: Kimbrel has fewer than 50 MLB innings and has never once appeared on BA’s top-100 list. So, boom.
RP: Winson Abreu, 34
Organization: Toronto Highest Level: Majors
ZiPS (IP/K/BB/HR/ERA+): 55.3/53/26/5/113
Comments: If you care about things like life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then Mr. Winston Abreu  is your man. Abreu, 34, has pitched 924.2 innings between the minors and (briefly) Japan combined, striking out 1144 batters over that span. His last five Triple-A stints have been stupid-good: 256.4 IP, 361 K, 92 BB, 17 HR. For all of that, he’s pitched just 44.1 Major League innings. After spending the last two years in the Rays system, he was signed this past off-season by the Blue Jays.
RP: Tim Collins , 21
Organization: Kansas City Highest Level: Triple-A
ZiPS (IP/K/BB/HR/ERA+): 70.0/76/40/7/106
Comments: Just as likeable as Abreu, if for different reasons, Collins is a 5-foot-7, 155-pound lefty who was signed out of a Worcester (Mass.) high school and has gone on to record a 13.3 K/9 in his professional career — including 21 Ks in 20.1 IP as a 20-year-old in Triple-A last season. Because of his handedness, he could be relegated to a LOOGY role, but he might also fill the vacuum Joakim Soria  leaves behind if Kansas City deals him this season.