Mining the Minors: The Return

Hello, boys! I’m baaack!
–Russell Casse from Independence Day

Much like the so-crazy-he-has-to-be-right Casse from the 1996 summer blockbuster Independence Day and his never-ending efforts to prove non-believers wrong about his alien abduction, I am bringing back the Mining the Minors column to continue my quest to keep fantasy owners aware of lesser-known minor leaguers who are nearing the majors — and (crazy, I know) just might make an impact on fantasy teams in deeper and/or keeper leagues.

Or put another way: Just because many of these non-big leaguers are currently unowned in the vast majority of fantasy leagues doesn’t mean they should be, ahem, alien to you, dear fantasy owner.

For those of you new to this space, of if you just need a refresher on the method behind this column, I invite you to read the inaugural Mining the Minors from last season.

In the interest of staying current, I’ve taken the liberty of updating the above link with examples from last season of the various types of minor leaguers I’ll be checking in on this year.

1) Lesser-known prospects making names for themselves
2011 Impact Examples: Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Altuve, Ryan Lavarnway, Juan Nicasio, Brad Peacock, Addison Reed

2) Solid but non-elite prospects
2011 Impact Examples: Jemile Weeks, Eric Thames, Henderson Alvarez, Lance Lynn, Josh Collmenter, Javy Guerra

3) Former top prospects whose careers had stalled or fallen off
2011 Impact Examples: Danny Duffy, Todd Frazier, Fautino De Los Santos, Alex White, Zach Stewart and Nick Hagadone

4) Triple-A veteran types
2011 Impact Examples: Ryan Vogelsong, Nolan Reimold, Brett Pill, Jose Constanza, Tom Wilhelmsen, Michael Fiers

This column offers a take on formerly-elite prospects, lesser-known farmhands and veteran minor leaguers who may be on the verge of getting a shot in the majors — all with a nod to their fantasy relevance and impact. To help owners get an idea of just how good a player is (or might be), I’ve included a Talent Rating; but just as important is the Opportunity Rating, which points out the likelihood that a player will make his way to the majors during the year based on various factors (i.e., age, depth chart, recent performance, etc.).

Heath Hembree, Giants RP
TALENT: 7 (out of 10)
OPPORTUNITY: 8 (out of 10)
DOB: 1/13/1989
MILB LEVEL: Triple-A
MILB STATS: 1.50 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 8 SVs, 3.8 H/9, 7.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
ON 40-MAN ROSTER: No
A big, strong, hard-throwing righty with a mid-90s fastball and a wicked slider, Hembree is pegged as the Giants closer of the future. He was expected to be in line to take over for Brian Wilson next year, but that timetable may get pushed up with Wilson out for the year. Not to mention, plenty of injuries and other problems have befallen the likes of Jeremy Affeldt and Guillermo Mota, severely hampering what had been a deep Giants bullpen. Hembree wouldn’t step into the closer role immediately, but he could get a shot to work his way into the ninth inning by season’s end, and he would rack up holds and whiffs in the meantime.
ETA: Given the Giants ever-depleted bullpen, Hembree would be a big boost who shouldn’t arrive later than midseason.
FANTASY ROLE: RP in mixed 12-team leagues

David Cooper, Blue Jays 1B/DH
TALENT: 6
OPPORTUNITY: 8
DOB: 2/12/1987
MILB LEVEL: Triple-A
MILB STATS: .328/.398/.546, 12 doubles, 4 HRs, 28 RBIs, 13:14 K:BB
ON 40-MAN ROSTER: Yes
Adam Lind, folks, is hitting .198. In fact, he hasn’t hit above .251 since his breakout 2009 campaign, which quite frankly, is looking like the fluke year in a career that is otherwise ordinary at best. Cooper doesn’t have Lind’s power, but his lefty bat could produce plenty of doubles — he had 51 in 467 ABs at Triple-A and another 7 in 71 ABs with Toronto last year — which would be a nice balance to the over-the-fence pop already in the Blue Jays lineup. Plus, Cooper’s plate discipline (10.7% BB, 12.9% K) would almost definitely be an improvement on Lind’s current (.283) and career (.315) on-base percentage. At the very least, Cooper is ready to be a big-league backup at both first and DH.
ETA: If Lind doesn’t turn it around, Cooper should get another shot by late May or early June.
FANTASY ROLE: 1B or CI in AL/NL 12-team leagues

Alex Castellanos, Dodgers 2B/OF
TALENT: 6
OPPORTUNITY: 9
DOB: 8/4/1986
MILB LEVEL: Triple-A
MILB STATS: .366/.477/.746, 4 HRs, 11 RBIs, 7 SBs, 17:12 K:BB
ON 40-MAN ROSTER: Yes
Castellanos came over from St. Louis in the trade last year for Rafael Furcal. The deal obviously worked out rather well for the Cardinals, as Furcal hit .255 with 7 homers and helped them win the World Series, but the Dodgers will likely get something out of it on their end, too. Castellanos has always shown solid kick in his stick (.502 slugging) and owns enough speed to swipe double-digit bases if given enough PT. What really helps his cause is 1) he’s been shifted from outfield, where his bat wouldn’t profile well, to second base, where he could be a sneaky fantasy option; and 2) the Dodgers are using guys like Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe, Adam Kennedy and Jerry Hairston Jr. to plug their infield, so there should be ample opportunity for Castellanos to get some run once he’s recovered from his hamstring injury and called up.
ETA: Between the next-to-nothing production the Dodgers are getting at second base, third base and left field on the Dodgers, Castellanos could find his way to L.A. this month.
FANTASY ROLE: 2B or MI in AL/NL 12-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

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Trying to figure out in what way Danny Duffy’s career stalled or fell off…