Every inning, every plate appearance—heck, every pitch—counts.
At this stage, with barely a week left in both the regular and fantasy seasons, there can be no missed opportunities if you're vying to stay ahead of the competition in your rotisserie league or aiming to take the title in your head-to-head format.
When the playoffs are on the line, all hands (and arms) are on deck, whether that's in actual Major League Baseball, where teams are relying on prospect reinforcements down the stretch, or in the fantasy version of the real sport.
That's why you still need to pay attention to the hot new names that have come into the free-agent player pool over the past month or two—or even the past week.
Yordano Ventura of Kansas City is one player who comes to mind. Mere days after we mentioned him in the "Next in Line" section last time around, the 22-year-old right-hander was making his major league debut for the Royals. And if you wound up picking him up for a spot start, it paid off—just like it did for the wild-card chasing Royals—as Ventura hurled 5.2 innings of one-run ball against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday.
Another young arm is expected to be called up Friday, as Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune reports that the Tampa Bay Rays will recall righty Jake Odorizzi. His role isn't certain at the moment—he's a starter who might be used in relief—but Odorizzi still cracks the list of names to watch below after striking out eight and allowing only one run in four innings in Tuesday's Triple-A championship game.
Alas, there's so little time left now—with just about 10 games left for each team—that spending any time on prospects who are not in the majors by this point seems fruitless. So we'll eschew that portion of our programming this week, and we'll go 15 players deep in the "Already Up" segment, instead of the typical top 10.
But before we get to that, here's a reminder of the (usual) criteria for this column:
This spot will include prospects who already have been called up ("Already Up"), as well as others who are in the minors but are considered to be major league ready and on the verge of getting the call ("Next in Line").
To allow for more turnover from week to week, the list below does not include young players who have exhausted their prospect eligibility by exceeding 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched.
1. Danny Salazar, RHP, Indians (28.1 Percent Owned)
After a crazy line exactly a week ago—including nine strikeouts over 3.2 innings—Salazar's most recent start on Wednesday went a little longer, as he pitched six frames and allowed only seven baserunners. Alas, he also surrendered four earned and whiffed only three while picking up the loss.
The wild-card contending Indians are being cautious with their prized young lightning hurler, but they need Salazar, who has a 3.09 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 57 K's in 46.2 innings and is lined up to face the meek White Sox on Tuesday.
2. Billy Hamilton, SS/OF, Reds (14.2 Percent Owned)
Having been used primarily as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement, Hamilton finally made his first career start Wednesday, going 3-for-4 with a double, two runs, an RBI and four stolen bases. As noted by Mark Sheldon of MLB.com, Hamilton is the first player since 1920 (a.k.a. the "live ball era") to nab four bags in his first-ever start.
The only thing keeping him from being the top name on this list is his sporadic playing time, but he's capable of multiple steals whenever he's on the diamond.
3. Khris Davis, OF, Brewers (20.0 Percent Owned)
That wrist injury mentioned last week is still bothering Davis, who sat out Thursday's game after homering on Wednesday, which was his 10th knock in only 117 at-bats. At this point, the ailment is making it difficult to rely on Davis, but when he plays, he produces.
4. Josmil Pinto, C, Twins (1.9 Percent Owned)
Pinto has cooled following his torrid start, as he managed to get only three hits in the past week. But one of them was a huge come-from-behind, game-winning home run in the eighth inning that helped Minnesota spoil Sunday for the Rays. The 24-year-old backstop continues to play plenty with Joe Mauer out.
5. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals (0.7 Percent Owned)
As mentioned above, Ventura's inaugural outing on Tuesday went about as well as could have been expected. For the moment, he's scheduled to throw his triple-digit heater on the road against the Mariners on Monday, which would make for another fine spot start to deploy "Ace."
6. Josh Fields, RHP, Astros (26.8 Percent Owned)
The 28-year-old former first-rounder officially became the closer this week, which immediately gives him fantasy relevance.
Just be careful, though, because even though Fields has three saves since Sept. 5, he can also have maddening bouts with his control—much like he did Wednesday, when he walked three batters but didn't give up a hit or run.
7. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox (3.5 Percent Owned)
It has been a bit of a "blah" week for Bogaerts, who managed only eight at-bats but did notch two hits, two runs and an RBI while also picking up his first stolen base in the bigs. He's going to be a stud, but right now, the opportunity just isn't there for a 20-year-old on a team with World Series aspirations.
8. James Paxton, LHP, Mariners (3.1 Percent Owned)
After facing the Rays and Cardinals in his first two big-league starts—and doing rather well, thank you very much—Paxton continued his trial by fire on the road at the Tigers on Thursday. The hard-throwing southpaw was so-so this time around, giving up three runs on five hits in his five frames to go along with a 3/4 K/BB ratio. During his next time out, he's due to take on the Royals at home.
9. Robbie Erlin, LHP, Padres (0.0 Percent Owned)
A 22-year-old with plus control and command, Erlin was recalled at the end of August and has since shown that he's just about ready to handle starting every fifth day in the big leagues.
Because he doesn't miss a ton of bats and can be hittable, Erlin is going to have blowups from time to time, but the hope is that his precision—as well as pitching at Petco—can help limit the damage. At first blush, the matchup with the Dodgers on Friday doesn't look great, but it is at home, and L.A. could be resting their regulars after clinching the NL West on Thursday.
10. Erik Johnson, RHP, White Sox (0.1 Percent Owned)
Johnson's last start on Monday was by far his best one yet, as he fired six shutout frames with eight whiffs against the Twins. He may only have one final start left, so if you want to use Johnson, you'll have to do so in a tricky spot, as he's expected to take on the Tigers in Detroit on Sunday.
11. Tommy Medica, 1B, Padres (0.1 Percent Owned)
Injuries have hampered the 25-year-old Medica throughout his pro career. To wit, he's in season No. 4 with the Padres organization, and he's yet to play more than 93 games in a year.
You best use him while you still can, especially while he's hot, as he has smacked two homers and driven in six runs in his first nine games in The Show.
12. Burch Smith, RHP, Padres (0.7 Percent Owned)
Medica's mate is the third Padres player to appear on this list. Clearly, San Diego is rolling out the youngins to see who might be able to contribute in 2014.
Smith looks up to the task after giving up just seven hits and two runs—with 17 whiffs—in 12 innings over his past two starts. Like Erlin, the 23-year-old Smith will oppose the Dodgers when he toes the rubber on Saturday.
13. Matt Davidson, 3B, Diamondbacks (0.0 Percent Owned)
There have only been 10 at-bats for Davidson, but the 22-year-old has made them count by getting five knocks, including his first big league bomb. Now that Arizona has been mathematically eliminated, Davidson could see a bit more PT over the final week.
14. Chris Owings, SS, Diamondbacks (0.0 Percent Owned)
The same goes for Owings, who didn't do all that much in limited time over the past seven days. Still, he's in the mix for an Opening Day gig next year, so the D-backs should give him a chance to see what he can do while they still can.
15. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Orioles (1.7 Percent Owned)
Desperate teams call for desperate measures, and the O's surely are a desperate team. That means Gausman, who was the No. 4 overall pick in 2012 and is a starter pitching out of the bullpen this month, will continue to get innings. That will be especially true if he throws anything like the way he did Wednesday, when he whiffed five and didn't allow a baserunner over his two innings.
Honorable Mentions: Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Rays; Marcus Semien, SS, White Sox; Cesar Hernandez, 2B/OF, Phillies; Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Red Sox; Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets; Andre Rienzo, RHP, White Sox; Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers; Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals
Players who have exhausted their prospect eligibility since last week: Sonny Gray, RHP, Athletics; Michael Wacha, RHP, Cardinals; Mike Zunino, C, Mariners; Grant Green, 2B/SS, Los Angeles Angels
All ownership percentages come from ESPN Fantasy Baseball.
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