NL Playoff Push Prospects: Mining the Minors

Spinning off of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ promotion of Tyler Skaggs to the majors earlier in the week as they try to make a push for a playoff spot, it seems fitting to do a rundown of all the National League contenders and their prospects who might be in line for a call-up down the stretch, especially once rosters expand in September. Some of these players might seem to be another half-season or so away, but many are are on the verge of getting a shot, just like Skaggs was.

As for fantasy implications, the focus remains on 2012 impact, but this also will help any keeper and dynasty league owners whose settings require a player to debut in the majors before they can be acquired in fantasy.

You can find the American League version here.

Teams are listed in order of their place in the standings, while prospects are listed in rough order of where they rank in the team’s system. The player’s current level is in parentheses.

NATIONALS
Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B (AA): The No. 6 pick in 2011, Rendon has endured serious, nagging and varied injuries over the past two years, dating back to his time at Rice. In fact, he’s managed just 98 at-bats in his first pro season and is hitting only .255, but his 14% walk rate and .500 slugging percentage wink at his upside. If you think he needs too much seasoning to be mentioned here — and to be clear, he’s not yet major league ready — it’s worth pointing out that he was just promoted to Double-A and could get a come-check-out-the-majors-during-a-pennant-race call-up. If that makes him obtainable in your dynasty league, take action.

Eury Perez, OF (AAA): More of a fill-in outfielder than a starting center fielder on a team that has hopes of contending for years to come, Perez, 22, makes up for a total lack of power by making contact (14% K rate) and running (52 SBs per since 2010). A possible defensive replacement/pinch-runner in September.

Corey Brown, OF (AAA): Brown will be 27 in November, so he’s not a true prospect, but his lefty bat has power (23 HRs), and he could approach double-digit steals in a utility role. Just don’t expect much in the way of average, given his 27% whiff rate. Might be a fourth outfielder from Day 1 next season, even if it’s not in Washington.

Others include: Sandy Leon, C (AAA); Yunesky Maya, SP (AAA)

REDS
Billy Hamilton, SS (AA): You already know he just broke the pro baseball record for steals in a single season (148 and counting), but the 21-year-old Hamilton is more than just wheels. His bat has really improved (identical .852 OPS across High- and Double-A), as has his walk rate (14%). There’s been plenty of spec that Hamilton will be promoted in time to make the postseason roster as a pinch-running specialist, and his speed is so havoc-wreaking that he could swipe 10-plus in September, even without getting a single at-bat. His long-term fantasy value as a perennial 80-steal guy could be enormous, especially if he can stick at short (many think he’ll wind up in center field).

Tony Cingrani, SP (AA): A 23-year-old southpaw, Cingrani has quieted critics by dominating at High- and Double-A all season: 1.56 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 10.4 K/9 over 138.1 IPs. There’s a chance Cingrani’s called up for some innings out of the pen to finish off his phenomenal year, but he’s a quality keeper as a mid-rotation type who could be a rotation regular in Cincy by next July, making him worth watching in NL-only or deeper mixed leagues.

Daniel Corcino, SP (AA): Corcino has more upside than Cingrani, given his stuff and age (21) relative to competition (Double-A). But there’s also some risk that the righty’s 5’11” frame — and spotty control (4.0 BB/9) — might prevent him from becoming the next Johnny Cueto, which is an oft-mentioned comparison.

Others include: Didi Gregorius, SS (AAA); J.J. Hoover, RP (AAA): Kyle Lotzkar, SP (AA)

GIANTS
Gary Brown, OF (AA): Brown, 23, has overcome a brutal first two months to regain some of his prospecty shine with a solid .283/.351/.396 line overall. Still, he’s clearly struggled in his post-Cal League campaign, bringing questions of whether he’s a future first-division regular with All-Star upside or more of a second-division starter who plays good D, barrels balls and steals bases. As such, next season will go a long way toward determining Brown’s path. So even with Melky Cabrera’s suspension, it would be surprising to see Brown get the call. (Francisco Peguero, listed below, would be a better candidate for the short-term.)

Chris Heston, SP (AA): Heston isn’t a hard thrower, but the 24-year-old owns a solid 7.9 K/9 rate over four pro seasons, thanks mainly to his ability to mix and spot his pitches. He’s been hittable in the past, though, but if his gains in that department this year are legitimate, Heston could be a back-end starter — and roster-worthy fantasy option a la Tommy Milone — as soon as next year.

Heath Hembree, RP (AAA): Hembree looked to be on the cusp of the bigs earlier this season, when he started off hot and the Giants lost Brian Wilson for the year in April. Then things took a turn for the hard-throwing righty reliever, and he spent some time on the DL with an elbow injury. He’s back, but this closer of the future (perhaps by mid 2013) won’t likely be able to do much to help a bullpen that he really could have added to had he been healthy. Depending on what San Fran does over the winter, though, Hembree could be an intriguing ninth inning candidate come spring.

Others include: Francisco Peguero, OF (AAA); Conor Gillaspie, 3B (AAA)
Note: Roger Kieschnick, OF (AAA) is out for the year

BRAVES
Andrelton Simmons, SS (injured): Just a reminder that if Simmons, who was hitting .296/.336/.452 in his first shot with Atlanta, is available in your league, especially keeper formats, he’s expected back soon — and will head into next season as a likely Top 10 shortstop in fantasy.

Julio Teheran, SP (AAA): Man, what happened here? A consensus top tier prospect entering 2012 with a chance to pitch his way into the Braves rotation, Teheran has posted some of the worst numbers in all of Triple-A — a level he obliterated in 2011 — this season: 5.48 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 18 HRs in 116.2 IPs. Even his strikeout rate has continued its descent, from 10.0 K/9 in 2010 to 7.6 in 2011 to 6.3 this year. Frankly, there’s enough here to be concerned about, considering this was an arm once thought of as a future No. 2 starter (or better). The good news is the righty is still just 21, has shown flashes in between awful outings and still owns a plus fastball-change combo, but Teheran needs a third pitch (curve? slider?) to advance, and at this point, he’s further from the majors than he was a year ago.

Sean Gilmartin, SP (AAA): You hear occasional (and lazy) Mike Minor comps, because both were drafted by the Braves as college lefties with polish who wouldn’t need all that much developmental time. Thing is, Minor throws a bit harder and looked better in his time in the minors. But Gilmartin would be able to help out down the stretch in a bullpen role, if Atlanta wants to avoid a repeat of overtaxing its staff late. Not the most exciting keeper, but he should factor in for NL-only owners in 2013.

Others include: Evan Gattis, OF (AA); Cory Gearrin, RP (AAA)

CARDINALS
Oscar Taveras, OF (AA): It has been a stellar 2012 for Taveras. Just 20, the lefty-hacking Dominican has been tearing up Double-A all season with a .318/.378/.567 line, 34 doubles, 21 HRs, 85 RBIs and a scary-good ability to put the sweet spot on the stitches (11% K rate). He could really use another half-season to marinate so that he can step into the bigs ready to roll, but Taveras is precocious enough — and the Cards could get desperate enough — that a 2012 debut isn’t completely ridiculous. An absolute must-own in keeper and dynasty leagues of all shapes and sizes.

Shelby Miller, SP (AAA): Similar to Teheran, Miller has endured unexpectedly trying times this year. His 5.04 ERA and 1.42 WHIP signal the 21-year-old’s first real struggle in pro ball, and that — combined with a drop in velo earlier in the season — prevented Miller from getting a shot ahead of arms like Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal when St. Louis was in need. The good news is, Miller’s started to turn things around over his last five outings: 32.2 IPs, 29 hits, 12 ERs and a whopping 45:1 — repeat, 45:1! — K:BB ratio. The next step? Limiting the long balls, as he’s allowed 23 (yoiks) in his 125 IPs. With the Cards rotation getting healthy, Miller might’ve missed the boat on doing anything of note this year, but he’s got a good chance to be a No. 2 starter down the line, and he’ll rack up whiffs as a deep mixed league option by mid 2013.

Kolten Wong, 2B (AA): Second base in St. Louie has been a Who’s Who of Fringe Major Leaguers for years now, and Wong has the skill set to change that. There’s a Jason Kipnis-like pop-speed combo here, and Wong’s plate discipline and quick stroke will help him adapt to the bigs fairly quickly once he’s up. Speaking of, Wong would be lucky to get a September shot, but he could get a long look in March, with an eye toward an early 2013 promotion.

Others include: Trevor Rosenthal, SP (AAA); Ryan Jackson, SS (AAA); Brandon Dickson, SP (AAA); Eduardo Sanchez, RP (AAA); Victor Marte, RP (AAA)
Note: Matt Adams, 1B (AAA) is out for the year and Carlos Martinez, SP (AA) is one of the org’s top arms, but he’s far enough behind some of those mentioned above that a 2012 appearance isn’t expected.

PIRATES
Gerrit Cole, SP (AA): The top pick in last year’s draft, Cole has the stuff of pure and utter hitter humiliation — upper-90s heat, killer slider, nasty change — and while his stats have been good, they’re just shy of that corresponding level of dominance you might expect from the repertoire and pedigree: 2.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 9.4 K/9. But he is just in his first full pro season, and he’s already been bumped to Double-A, where he’s holding his own. Although he’s already around 120 innings, he could be someone the Pirates call upon in an emergency over the final few weeks — like, say, helping a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 1992 make the playoffs. There’s plenty to love here, and Cole is a Top 5 keeper arm who will make his debut in early 2013, if not before this season is over.

Kyle McPherson, SP (AAA): After missing the first couple months with shoulder inflammation, this 24-year-old right-hander has come back strong. McPherson has a quality arm that plays up because of his ability to command his pitches and keep from awarding free passes almost entirely (1.5 BB/9 career). He’ll likely team with the next two names down the stretch to make sure the Pirates are covered in the pitching department. NL owners should keep tabs for him next spring, too.

Justin Wilson, SP (AAA): The hard-throwing lefty made his debut recently, only to get sent back down after one appearance as a reliever. Normally a starter, Wilson, 25, should be back up once rosters expand, and he could handle a swing man role if necessary. An intriguing arm who is ready to help NL-only owners early on next year as a reserve or streaming option.

Jeff Locke, SP (AAA): Locke, another lefty, doesn’t have the same velo as Wilson, but his control (2.7 BB/9 in 2012) is a tick or two better. His 2012 role would likely be in the pen — he already earned a quick look there in August — where he can help cover for the departed Brad Lincoln, and long-term, Locke is an innings-eater with limited upside.

Others include: Tony Sanchez, C (AAA); Bryan Morris, RP (AAA); Matt Hague, 1B (AAA)

DODGERS
Allen Webster, SP (AA): Webster gets a mention here over Zach Lee, whom many consider L.A.’s top young arm, because he’s slightly more ready at this stage. Webster’s first handful of starts were disastrous — 5.68 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP through 25.1 IPs — so much so that the org shoved him into the pen to work things out. And he has: In the 96.1 IPs since, the 22-year-old righty sports a 2.99 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. The nice 8.7 K/9 is offset some by a 4.2 BB/9, but Webster has the ability to limit the damage due to a heavy fastball that generates oodles of grounders, and he’s surrendered just one homer all season. A future SP4 for dynasty leaguers, Webster could handle some bullpen duty if the Dodgers so choose.

Alex Castellanos, INF/OF (AAA): This one doesn’t compute. The Dodgers have spent much of 2012 with little to no offense all over the diamond, and yet the club has somehow kept a guy with a PCL-leading 1.068 OPS down on the farm for all but 23 plate appearances. Although the stats may suggest it, there isn’t quite thunder in Castellanos’ bat; rather, he’s more of a gap hitter who has enough strength to yank on occasion. But what makes Castellanos, 26, really intriguing for NL-only owners is his versatile profile, one that could push him north of 10-plus homers and steals in a semi-regular role while also playing all over (2B, 3B and OF) to earn eligibility points. He’ll almost definitely be up next week, and he could crack the 2013 Opening Day roster.

Tim Federowicz, C (AAA): A.J. Ellis has been a nice story and clearly has the tools to be a solid big league backstop, albeit one who might do better in a shared role — as long as the other catcher isn’t Matt Treanor. Treanor might fit the Good Clubhouse Guy™ mold to a tee, but he’ll never not be Mr. Misty May, so it’s about time to see if Federowicz, who’s hitting .295/.372/.470, can team with Ellis to be a long-term answer behind the dish for the Dodgers. He probably earns a call-up in the final month, but expect Federowicz to factor into two-catcher NL-onlies next season.

Scott Van Slyke, OF (AAA): Andy’s boy has seen some big league action this year, and he possess the power to be a threat as a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman/pinch hitter (19 HRs per since 2009). Still, at 26, he is what he is by now, which is less intriguing with two-thirds of the Dodgers outfield already locked up long-term.

Others include: Chris Withrow, RP (AA)
Note: Yasiel Puig, OF (High-A) has been fast-tracked so far, but it seems silly to think he’d get to The Show just two months after signing.

DIAMONDBACKS
Trevor Bauer, SP (AAA): I take it you’ve heard of him, yes? Well, just because the No. 3 pick last year (and the first in his class to reach the majors) squandered his initial chance by walking too many (13 in 16.1 IPs) doesn’t mean he won’t be ready when the D-backs call on him again before the season’s through. Yes, the control remains an issue, but that’s pretty much the only thing Bauer needs to tighten up before he’s ready for his closeup. And he could easily put his electric stuff to use in the bullpen for the stretch run, if Arizona wants all arms on deck for one final playoff push. A top-notch keeper for all leagues who will enter 2013 with a great opportunity to be in the five-man.

Matt Davidson, 3B (AA): Davidson, 21, is the club’s third baseman of the future, thanks to his above-average power (career-best 22 HRs and counting this year) and good on-base ability (.352 career). Had the D-backs not brought in Chris Johnson recently, and backed him up with Ryan Wheeler (a prospect in his own right, but not quite in Davidson’s level), this 2009 supplemental round pick could have been a big bat to call on. Alas with both of those guys around next year, it’s likely Davidson will spend most of the season learning in his first go-round at Triple-A, but he’s still a nice dynasty play for 2014.

Adam Eaton, OF (AAA): Relatively unknown heading into 2012, Eaton has put up some of the best stats in the minors: .381/.455/.539 with 45 doubles, 128 runs and 43 SBs. He was below the next guy on the depth chart earlier in the year when Chris Young was out, so Eaton was passed over. But he’s 23 and ready to go. Just factor in that his numbers are inflated by the hitter’s environment, so what looks like the profile of a future MVP candidate is really one belonging to a 5’8″, 185-pounder with a chance to be an everyday center fielder who can smack liners, swipe bases and get the job done on D. Still, there’s fantasy value in that, especially in NL-only play or deeper mixed leagues, and Eaton could make things very interesting for Arizona next spring, given how bad Young has looked since his return.

A.J. Pollock, OF (AAA): Pollock, 24, is having a fine season, but that’s just it — it’s fine, nothing more, nothing less. Pollock is a major leaguer, and he’s been shuffled up and down all season, so he could help deep NL owners when rosters expand. But he’s a fourth outfielder in the long run because not one of his tools is plus. He and Eaton could both make the squad by Opening Day 2013, but they may be battling it out in an either/or scenario. Pollock won’t hurt owners, but there’s limited fantasy potential outside of reserve outfield depth.

Others include: Evan Marshall, RP (AA)
Note: Tyler Skaggs, SP (MLB), who made his big league debut Wednesday and could be up for the rest of the year, would have ranked No. 2.

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If you have any other names to share, bring them up for discussion in the comments.



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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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Trey Baughn
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Gyorko?

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Padres aren’t playoff contenders…