It's a fact: Fantasy owners love prospects.
Everyone wants the next big thing, and hunting around to uncover those key young players who can help your squad over the final month or two of the fantasy season is exciting, especially to owners in deeper leagues.
While the focus here falls primarily on the rest of 2013, it's worth pointing out that it will be challenging for any prospect to make a major impact on the fantasy landscape in less than two months. But for owners in keeper formats, you should have at least one eye on those who might break out in a big way next year, too.
When it comes to this season specifically, though, picking prospects comes down to three factors: talent, opportunity and timing. The last two elements are key in this case; a prospect can be more talented than most, but if he's not deemed ready by his organization or if there's no real opportunity to play, he may not get a shot over the final month-and-a-half, even when rosters expand in September.
The list below does not include young players who are in the minors but have exhausted their prospect eligibility based on the number of at-bats or innings pitched, like Tyler Skaggs of the Arizona Diamondbacks or Aaron Hicks of the Minnesota Twins.
There also won't be any prospects who are currently in the majors, like Christian Yelich of the Miami Marlins, Danny Salazar of the Cleveland Indians or Wilmer Flores of the New York Mets.
Without further ado, here are 15 prospects that owners should be keeping tabs on for help down the stretch and/or at the start of the 2014 season.
Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Boston Red Sox
Boston doesn't have much at third base after trading away Jose Iglesias last month, and there's been some speculation the 20-year-old, who's hitting .301/.395/.490 with 14 homers between Double- and Triple-A, could get a chance sooner than later.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
This 23-year-old hit 24 home runs and stole 32 bases last year in just his first full pro season, and he's just one homer shy of the minors' first 30-30 campaign since 2009. Lord knows the Astros could use the outfield help; Robbie Grossman can't do it all by himself!
Mike Olt, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Vision problems cost Olt more than a month earlier this year, but the 24-year-old was traded last month, finally freeing him from being blocked by Adrian Beltre. There's 25-homer potential here and not much ahead of him on the depth chart, so once Olt gets hot for his new organization, he'll be up.
Nick Castellanos, OF, Detroit Tigers
Left field has been blah for the Tigers all season long, and Castellanos' path was cleared up when the next guy on this list was sent elsewhere at the deadline. The 21-year-old has made major advances in his plate approach at the minors' highest level.
Avisail Garcia, OF, Chicago White Sox
The 22-year-old is one more at-bat shy of losing his prospect status, and he could be recalled by his new team ASAP now that Alex Rios has been traded to the Rangers, according to Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Garcia, by the way, is hitting .379 at Triple-A.
Michael Wacha, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
The final rotation spot has been a bit of a bugaboo for St. Louis since Jaime Garcia went down, but Joe Kelly seems to have plugged the hole for now. Still, expect to see Wacha get another chance to start after he looked solid (4.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) in three spot starts.
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Walker, 20, may be the leading candidate for the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year Award—depending on Bogaerts' eligibility—as he tore through Double-A (2.80 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.9 K/9) and has settled in just fine at Triple-A. What better way to prep him for next year than with a little taste of the majors in September?
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Fantasy owners have been dying to see what this 22-year-old can do after he swiped a baseball-record 155 bases last year, but Hamilton has taken a step back in his first go-round at Triple-A (.311 OBP and "only" 68 SB). As such, he won't break into the Reds lineup as anything other than a pinch-runner or defensive replacement, but he could still nab double-digit bases in that role, though.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-backs rotation has been a mess for much of the past few months, and even though Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill are coming back, the 20-year-0ld Bradley and his electric arm (9.6 K/9) could get called up from Double-A for reinforcement.
Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets
Montero, 22, flies under the radar in prospect circles, but he's nearly ready to help the Mets, who could give him a handful of starts to get him shaped up to be in their 2014 rotation.
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Little dude, big heat. The 5'11" 22-year-old sits in the mid-90s and touches triple digits regularly. With 124 Ks over 106.1 frames across Double- and Triple-A, Ventura could be used in a bullpen role as the Royals make a last-ditch playoff push.
Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Boston Red Sox
The 23-year-old didn't do much after his sensational spring got him on the 25-man roster, but he's more polished than many others on this list and could be a useful plug-in for runs and steals.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
The No. 4 pick in 2012, Gausman was rushed to the bigs this year, and despite a 6.21 ERA and seven homers allowed, he wasn't completely overmatched (26 K, 9 BB in 33.1 IP). He's been mentioned as a potential call-up for bullpen help, where his upper-90s velocity would play up even more.
Which of these prospects are you waiting on most for your fantasy team?
Travis d'Arnaud, C, New York Mets
The 24-year-old has a serious knack for getting injured. He reached the 300-AB mark only twice in his first six pro seasons, and he's going to fall short again this year after missing three-plus months with a fractured bone in his foot. But the Mets need d'Arnaud to be their catcher of the future, so he could get some time in the near present to show what he can do.
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
The 21-year-old has been hampered by an ankle injury for much of the season, so he's probably a stretch to include here, as he's played only one game since late June. Still, he's arguably the game's No. 1 overall prospect, and there's too much talent to leave him unmentioned.
Honorable Mentions: Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cleveland Indians; Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks; Matt Davidson, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks; Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Boston Red Sox; Sonny Gray, RHP, Oakland Athletics; Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers; Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, Houston Astros; Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals; Erik Johnson, RHP, Chicago White Sox; Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
What other prospects are you expecting to make a fantasy impact over the final six weeks? Let's discuss in the comments.