While several young prospects are anxious to help your fantasy team this season, only a select few will begin the year on a big league roster. This makes this list difficult to project. Fortunately, I have it covered.
Just remember this: While these up-and-coming stars can be exciting to own, they’re not going to carry your team to fantasy stardom. Their true value is multiplied in dynasty and keeper formats.
1. Jeremy Hellickson (SP - TB): The right-hander flashed a mean fastball/changeup/curveball arsenal in 10 appearances (four starts) last season. His peripherals (8.17 K/9, 1.98 BB/9) were fantastic, but his .267 BABIP and 37.1 GB rate don’t add up. It’s tough to say he’ll improve on his 3.47 ERA, but a sub-4.00 mark is a realistic projection. His walk rate and batting average against will likely increase, however, leading to a 1.20 WHIP. The Rays may limit his innings, but he should still be the most productive rookie in his age-24 season.
2. Craig Kimbrel (RP - Atl): Kimbrel shined down the stretch for the Braves last year, striking out 40 batters in just 20 2/3 innings while posting a minuscule 0.44 ERA. The soon-to-be 23-year-old features a mid-90s fastball with excellent sink and a slurvy slider, both of which are plus-offerings. He’s expected to share the ninth-inning duties with Jonny Venters this season. The only downside to Kimbrel’s game is his Carlos Marmol-like command. In 151 career minor league innings, he posted a 5.7 walk rate.
3. Freddie Freeman (1B - Atl): Freeman made his major league debut last September, and hit his first home run off of Roy Halladay. The 6'5", 220-pound left-handed hitter displays a smooth swing, good plate coverage and the raw power to generate 20-plus home runs annually. He’ll likely begin the season batting eighth, which won’t do him any favors. Don’t overestimate the 21-year-old in his rookie season, but understand that his keeper value is high. Best-case scenario, he posts a line similar to what Ike Davis did (71/19/73/.264) in 2010.
4. Danny Espinosa (2B - Was): Espinosa hit .270/.365/.455 in parts of three seasons in the minors, including 22 HRs, 25 steals and a .268/.337/.464 slash in 481 at-bats last season between Double-A and Triple-A. The Nationals believe Espinosa has double-digit pop and speed. Bill James is even predicting 21 bombs and 19 steals from the 23-year-old (he’ll turn 24 in April). Scouts have questioned his ability to hit for average (James projects a .255 BA), but his 20/20 potential is intriguing. He’ll begin the season batting seventh, but could move up if he hits.
5. Aroldis Chapman (RP - Cin): Chapman wowed spectators in his 15 appearances with the Reds last season, registering the fastest recorded heater in big league history at 105.1 mph. This “freak of nature” pitch, as Baseball America refers to it, is seven to eight miles per hour harder than an 80 fastball on the 20-80 scouting scale. He also features a plus-plus-slider that makes him nearly unhittable. Chapman’s lack of command can get him into trouble. He will serve as Francisco Cordero’s setup man in the Reds’ bullpen in 2011, but fans and fantasy managers alike will be rooting for him to close games, should the aging Cordero slip up. Expect a sub-3.00 ERA with elite strikeout totals and perhaps 20 holds.
6. Domonic Brown (OF - Phi): Brown should make substantial contributions this season upon his return from a broken hand. Expect to see him by late-April. The 23-year-old is a five-tool talent with an upside that could yield 20-25 home runs annually with a .300 batting average.
7. Mike Moustakas (3B - KC): Moustakas dominated Double-A and Triple-A last season to the tune of 94 runs, 36 HRs, 124 RBI, .322/.369/.630 in just 484 at-bats. The 22-year-old left-handed hitter is expected to be a middle-of-the-order presence for years to come. His big league debut should come at some point early this season.
8. Kyle Drabek (SP - Tor): Drabek was the key piece that sent Roy Halladay to Philadelphia in December 2009. The 23-year-old has won a starting job in the Blue Jays’ rotation this season, but expectations should be kept in check. His best pitch, a swing-and-miss 12-to-6 curveball sits in the low-80s and has good depth and deception. He also offers a two and four-seam fastball, ranging from 90-96 mph. His changeup still needs some work. His stuff is frontline-worthy, but he’ll be no better than an average pitcher in the AL East this season.
9. Michael Pineda (SP - Sea): Pineda’s build (6'5", 250 pounds) makes for an intimidating mound presence. The 22-year-old has dominated minor league hitting to the tune of a 2.49 ERA with 396 strikeouts in 404 innings. He offers an explosive fastball that can reach 101 mph, but usually sits at 93-97 mph. He also throws a slider and a changeup, all from the same three-quarter arm slot. His control (2.1 BB/9 in the minors) is advanced, but he’s probably not yet ready for big league action. Expect some struggles in 2011.
10. Zack Britton (SP - Bal): Britton finished the spring 3-0 with 1.35 ERA in 20 innings, but the team optioned him to Triple-A in order to delay his service time. The 23-year-old southpaw features the best sinker in the majors, a low 90s fastball with great action and a plus-slider. He’s also developed a respectable changeup. He posted a 2.70 ERA with a 7.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 153 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season.
Chris Sale, Brandon Belt, Dustin Ackley, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Desmond Jennings, Jesus Montero, Mike Montgomery and Casey Kelly all figure to make their big league debuts in 2011 as well.
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