Fantasy Baseball 2013: 10 Top Prospects to Pick Up in Keeper Leagues

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistApril 23, 2013

Fantasy Baseball 2013: 10 Top Prospects to Pick Up in Keeper Leagues

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    Add these future stars to your fantasy baseball squads now, and you will reap the considerable rewards down the line.

    Keeper league owners must place one eye on the present and one on the future. This is not, however, clearance to embark on a rebuilding project that sets your team back for the next three years. There's no need to toss any chance of immediate success down the drain. 

    But in most leagues, it wouldn't hurt to roster a prospect or two still waiting for the nod to the show.

    If any of these top minor leaguers are sitting on the wavier wire, scoop them up before it's too late. It will pay off when they're headlining your squad in a couple of years.

    Keep in mind that this list assumes the keeper league does not contain a prospect system. All these prospects should be long gone in formats that conduct minor league drafts before the season starts.

Honorable Mentions

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    These 10 are not among the guys explored in detail, but that's not meant as a slight.

    Jurickson Profar - The Texas Rangers are in no rush to bring 20-year-old Jurickson Profar up to the majors, but his time will come soon enough.

    Profar projects to offer rare five-category production from a middle infield spot once he finds his comfort zone as a big leaguer. Ranked No. 1 by Baseball America and MLB.com, his potential is a secret to nobody.

    Dylan Bundy - He has yet to pitch this season due to right elbow discomfort, but owners should patiently await Dylan Bundy's return.

    Last year, Bundy toyed with low Single-A hitters to the tune of five hits, two walks and 40 strikeouts during 30 innings in which he allowed no earned runs. The 19-year-old nearly pitched his way onto the Baltimore Orioles pitching staff this spring.

    He could debut later in 2013, and there's clear ace upside here.

    Zack Wheeler - Injuries to Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum have sent New York Mets fans crazy calling for Zack Wheeler's promotion. While the need exists for another pitcher, Wheeler isn't ready yet.

    After barely pitching in Triple-A last year, he has already walked 12 batters in 18.1 innings while posting a 4.91 ERA. Give him some time before joining Matt Harvey in New York.  

Mike Zunino

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    Catcher is always a tough slot to fill, so a savvy owner must pay attention to any valuable prospects behind the plate.

    Mike Zunino is hardly Buster Posey 2.0, but he is a polished prospect who could be starting for the Seattle Mariners by the season’s end. The 22-year-old has quickly ascended up Seattle’s farm system, starting this season in Triple-A after opening 2012 in the Rookie League.

    He has cooled off a little after a scorching start to the year, but Zunino is still slugging .648 with five homers and 25 RBI in 14 games. Such pop could propel him to the majors soon.

    Jesus Montero, who is mired in a slump, is better suited for a designated hitter role anyway. Zunino is much more competent defensively, but not far off offensively. Stash him now before it’s too late.

Jake Odorizzi

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    Last offseason’s blockbuster trade is commonly labeled a James Shields for Wil Myers swap. The Tampa Bay Rays, however, also received a top pitching prospect for their troubles.

    Regarded as the Kansas City Royals’ top young hurler, Jake Odorizzi posted a 3.03 ERA and 8.4 K/9 ratio last season before getting jettisoned to Tampa Bay.

    He has started off the year strong, notching a 3.18 ERA, 25 strikeouts and five walks through 17 Triple-A innings.

    Starting pitching isn’t the offense-starved Rays’ concern, but Odorizzi could join David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb to form baseball’s deepest rotation comprised exclusively of young talent.

    Look for the 23-year-old to debut sometime this season. He’ll never match Price or Moore’s ace potential, but Odorizzi should morph into a sturdy starter that you’ll be glad to have on your roster.

Anthony Rendon

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    Ryan Zimmerman’s hamstring injury brought about Anthony Rendon’s debut sooner than expected.

    At this time last year, Rendon was playing in low Single-A ball before quickly climbing up the ladder to Double-A. He struggled in Harrisburg, hitting .162 in 82 plate appearances.

    This season’s go-around at Double-A flowed much smoother, as Rendon hit .292/.462/.500 in 14 games. That was enough to convince Washington that he represented their best alternative to replace the injured Zimmerman.

    Rendon probably won’t help owners searching for immediate production, but he can pay massive dividends long term.

    Like Zimmerman, Rendon also has suffered a slew of injuries throughout his career. If he can stay healthy and find a permanent place on the field, Rendon could blossom into an All-Star third baseman.

Yasiel Puig

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    Not just anyone draws Bo Jackson comparisons.

    Yasiel Puig entered spring training as a prospect unknown by the casual fan, but that changed quickly. The 22-year-old Cuban defector displayed freakish athleticism and a monster bat that almost landed him an Opening Day nod.

    With nowhere to put him, the Los Angeles Dodgers instead sent him to Double-A, where he tormented pitchers with a .333/.385/.625 slash line and three homers in 52 plate appearances.

    Those poor young pitchers can rest easy now after the Dodgers placed Puig on the disabled list with a sprained thumb. He’s on the sidelines now, but not for long.

    Maybe someone who was stashing him loses patience and dumps him for an active body. If you can afford to clog up a bench spot, Puig is well worth the future investment. 

Danny Hultzen

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    The Seattle Mariners have a lot of talented young starters on the horizon, but Danny Hultzen should get a rotation spot first.

    Hultzen’s numbers varied drastically between his Double-A and Triple-A stints last year. While he decimated Double-A, registering a 1.19 ERA and 0.93 WHIP through 75.1 innings, he posted a much uglier 5.92 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in Triple-A Tacoma.

    This season’s Triple-A tenure is faring much better. Through four starts, Hultzen has struck out 25 while only walking six. His ERA stands at 2.78.

    Baseball America rated him as the No. 29 prospect prior to the season. Taijuan Walker might possess more upside, but Hultzen is currently the more polished option.

    How much longer can Joe Saunders, Aaron Harang and Brandon Maurer hold off the future front-end starter’s arrival?

Nolan Arenado

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    After nearly making the big-league roster out of spring training, Nolan Arenado is knocking on the door for a call-up.

    He nearly worked his way onto the Colorado Rockies roster, but the club ultimately decided against moving him straight from Double-A to the majors. The 22-year-old third baseman is again campaigning for a promotion, hitting .414/.431/.759 in Triple-A.

    Arenado is ready, but Colorado might not feel pressured to bring him up due to a surprising 13-5 start. While this alleviates the need to satiate the fans with a hyped debut, it could also cause them to seek an upgrade to help maintain their standing atop of the National League West.

    Chris Nelson, who is still searching for his first home run, is not quite a mainstay at the hot corner.  Arenado offers an immediate power upgrade, and Coors Field will lift the slugger’s upside even higher.

    Keep tabs on Arenado, who will be owned in all leagues once he gets promoted.

Gerrit Cole

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates can’t hold Gerrit Cole off forever.

    Selected first in the 2011 MLB Draft, Cole will eventually bring some excitement to a Pittsburgh team currently sporting A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez at the top of its rotation.

    He almost made the roster out of spring training, but they went the cautious route and directed him to Triple-A. While he has posted a 2.76 ERA, Cole has allowed 11 walks through 16.1 innings. Since he recorded a 3.1 BB/9 ratio last season, there's no need to panic yet.

    Most rankings place Cole somewhere in the top 10 of baseball’s best prospects (Baseball America puts him at No. 7, MLB.com has him at No. 9). With a deadly fastball that hits the high-90s and a 9.3 career K/9 ratio through the minors, it’s easy to see why.

    As long as Cole can re-harness his control, Pittsburgh’s potential desire to postpone his arbitration clock is the only thing stopping him from punching a ticket to the big leagues.

Wil Myers

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    Well, duh.

    It’s hard to imagine a keeper league in which nobody drafted Myers. When a guy hits .314 with 37 homers and a .987 OPS, people take notice.

    Myers only has one homer so far in Triple-A this season, but he’s not quite slumping either with a .406 on-base percentage. He could certainly lend a hand to Tampa Bay’s meager offense that is collectively hitting .229.

    If the Rays are serious about winning the American League East, they’ll have to call Myers up despite the financial incentive tied to trapping him in the minors. Myers will join the club soon enough and can immediately become a fantasy starter.

    A 20.8 percent strikeout rate makes Myers far from a sure bet to reach superstar heights, but he certainly has the goods to become an early-round mainstay in future drafts.

Billy Hamilton

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    Need speed? This guy could win you stolen bases for the next decade.

    Billy Hamilton solidified himself as an elite prospect last season when he swiped a mind-blowing 155 bags during 132 games.

    The Milwaukee Brewers led all of baseball with 158 total stolen bases last year. Hamilton stole more bases than 28 MLB teams.

    Due to his struggles at the plate, Hamilton has snatched just 13 bases so far in Triple-A. While the fantasy community is ready for his speed to hit the grand stage, a .231/.296/.323 slash line shows that he needs more time.

    The Cincinnati Reds don’t have a spot for him at the moment, and a World Series contender won’t play an unpolished hitter to appease fantasy baseball owners. Unless injuries force their hand, don’t expect a call-up anytime soon.

    Still, he’s an absolute game-changer in any league that counts steals. Once he debuts, you’ll regret not having him on your side.

Oscar Taveras

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    There’s no open spot for Oscar Taveras in St. Louis, but let’s see how long that lasts.

    It’s going to be tough for the Cardinals to not bring up a .319 career minor league hitter that looks like the second incarnation of Vladimir Guerrero. He’s right up there with Myers for the crown of baseball’s best hitting prospect.

    The Cardinals don’t have an opening in the outfield, and Matt Adams’ sizzling bat further hinders a need for the 20-year-old.

    Then again, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig have fallen to injuries plenty of times before. But it shouldn’t even have to come to that.

    Jon Jay is a decent outfielder, but his .408 career slugging percentage is not imposing fear into opponents. He’s also slumping in the early stages with a .197 average, so St. Louis might get bored of him if that persists.

    Because of his added potential of double-digit steals, Taveras will probably outperform Myers as a fantasy option throughout the two young stars’ careers.