|Fantasy Baseball: Rookies to Watch in 2006 — Part 1||| Print |||Send|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on February 20, 2006
The best fantasy baseball experts know Major League players forwards and backwards; they also have knowledge of all the young players and rookies. Most of the time, leagues are won in the middle and late rounds, when Johan Santana and Albert Pujols are long gone. This is when you need to know the right players to take. Why overspend for someone like Matt Clement when there’s a rookie who will produce the same stats and will come so much cheaper? Why blow dollars on Reggie Sanders as a backup outfielder when guys fresh from the minors can produce at a fraction of the price? A team full of young players probably won’t do well, but having a few of them might mean the difference between second place and the glory of finishing first.
Conor Jackson, Arizona Diamondbacks — Last season, Tony Clark was amazing, hitting .302/30/88 and an OPS over 1.000. Giving the full time gig to Jackson before spring training starts shows just how dedicated the D-Backs are to their future star. Unless extreme ineffectiveness or injury slows him down, Jackson promises to hit for a high average (he has a .332 career BA in the minors) and has plus power potential. Since the position is so deep, avoid having him as a starter in mixed leagues, but he should have value as a CI or bench player; he is definitely worth a look in NL Only leagues as a starter.
Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers — In 378 at-bats in Triple A last season, Fielder launched 28 taters. That’s prodigious power potential. The Brewers dealt away Lyle Overbay, who is spectacular with the glove, just to open up the job for him. Expect a good year, something like .280/25-28/85. Not top tier, but definitely able to help your team if you know when to use him.
Mike Jacobs, Florida Marlins — Throughout the minor leagues, Jacobs put up a good batting average and got on base at reasonable clips. Just recently, the former Mets’ prospect added power to his game. In 100 AB’s at the Major League level in 2005, the catcher/first baseman hit eleven homers, including one in his debut. While we can’t expect that level of production to continue, we can expect 20 with a decent average over the entire year. From someone who has catcher eligibility, that’s a good thing, a very good thing.
Casey Kotchman, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — If you had to guess how old Kotchman was, what would be your answer? 24? 25? Wrong and wrong. He’s only 22 years old, which means improvement is very much in his future. Angels’ coaches say he’s learning to lift the ball, which will account for more power. Throughout his career, Kotchman has done some amazing things, like walk more than he struck out. This kid has talent, and I’m betting this is the year he does something good.
Josh Barfield, San Diego Padres — The 23 year old Barfield hit over .300 with 20 swipes and a little bit of power in Triple A Portland last year. The Padres might be ready to give him the everyday job, because he is their second baseman of the future. Bench players like Mark Bellhorn and Eric Young stand in the way, but just who are you going to bet on? If he beats them out in spring training, expect a .260 average, 15 swipes, and 10 home runs. These aren’t great, but nice to have lying around.
Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — It may be a little early to predict a jump into the Major Leagues, but second base is a weak spot for the Angels. Throughout his minor league career, Kendrick flat-out hit: .359/.404/.555/.959. These numbers are spectacular, and, oh, by the way, he steals bases. There’s no way Adam Kennedy will stand in Kendrick’s way for long.
Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers — When looking for comparisons for a Major League version of Kinsler, look no further than Michael Young. Many scouts — both inside and out of the Rangers’ organization — think that of Kinsler’s future. Throughout the minor leagues, Kinsler always got on base (career .382) and recently began hitting for power (23 bombs last season in Triple A). If given the every day job in 2006, expect a .280 average, 10-12 homers, and 7-10 stolen bases. In other words, he might be good enough to start at the Keystone position for your fantasy team.
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox — The Red Sox brought in Alex Gonzalez and Mark Loretta to fill the middle infield, but one of them won’t hold the job all season; injuries or ineffectiveness will rob someone of an everyday job. Pedroia can fill in at either spot with decent defense, but he has yet to dominate Triple A ball. He won’t produce much, but could be worth a roster space in a deep AL-Only league.
Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks — J.D.’s younger brother put up some nice numbers in the minor leagues last year. He has good plate discipline, power, and a chance to upstage the likes of Craig Counsell and Alex Cintron for a starting job this year. While it’s unlikely that Drew will be in the Majors from opening day, it is likely he’ll get called up when Counsell and Cintron fail to hit their weight.
Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins — I don’t know what the Marlins are planning for Ramirez, but if he gets the everyday job at the Major League level, it won’t be good. In Double A last season, the shortstop hit .271, but with weak OBP (.332), SLG (.385), and OPS (.720). It doesn’t look like good things will be in store for this former Red Sox prospect. You better hope he gets sent to Double A to put the polish on. Otherwise, he’ll have a lot to prove before he gets onto my team.
Brandon Wood, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — The Angels are trying to figure out if a team could have too many future stars. Brandon Wood went absolutely berserk, dominating pretty much every single pitcher he faced last year. In 2005, Wood hit .321 with 43 homers and 101 extra base hits. Read those numbers again, keeping in mind that he’s a middle infielder. The only negatives are that he struck out a bit and is only 21, so there might be a chance he spends the majority of the year in the minors. But if he comes up, make sure to grab him.
Edwin Encarnacion, Cincinnati Reds — The Reds called up their star third base prospect about half way through the season, and he clearly disappointed with a .232/.308/.436 line. There has been talk of moving Rich Aurilia over to third and let Encarnacion put the finishing touches on his game in Triple A to start the year. After all, he just turned 23 in January. If that happens, he could provide some decent offense down the stretch for your ballclub, but there might be a better option elsewhere.
Andy Marte, Cleveland Indians — Honestly, if you think that Aaron Boone can keep the everyday job this year, you should forget about fantasy baseball. The Indians will probably wait two or three weeks, enough time for Boone to fall flat on his face and Marte to have a tremendous start in Triple A Buffalo, before making the move to call Marte up. Once they do, he’ll become a cornerstone player on that team and figures to be great for the next twenty years or so.
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals — The fourth overall selection from last year’s draft came up to the Major League level after only 67 professional games. Finishing up the year with the big league club, Zimmerman hit .397 in 58 at-bats, including ten doubles. He’s one of the front runners for the NL Rookie of the Year (he’ll face a lot of competition from NL East mate Jeremy Hermida, more on him later). A guess as to what Zimmerman can put up is a .270 average, 12 homers, 60 RBI’s, and a couple of bags.
Brian Anderson, Chicago White Sox — It’s not very often that a rookie gets a near-guaranteed spot on defending champion team, but it’s happened this year. The White Sox traded away Aaron Rowand, which opened the spot; this deal shows just how much faith they have in Mr. Anderson. Fantasy owners would draft him only for his batting average, but he strikes out a lot, which might limit his contributions in that category.
Jeremy Hermida, Florida Marlins — He didn’t quite extinguish his rookie candidacy last year, so Hermida figures to be the early leader for the NL ROY. The left fielder, who hit a grand slam in his Major League debut, is only 22, but can hit .290-ish with 25 homers and 15 stolen bases. These could be numbers you expect from a starter in a mixed league.
Jason Kubel, Minnesota Twins — Last year was a complete loss for this once promising Twins’ outfielder, due to a gruesome knee injury suffered in the Arizona Fall League. He was expected to come back sometime last season, but never did. This raises a few questions about Kubel’s health going into next season, but I’d take a flyer on him in later rounds in AL-Only leagues.
Chris Young, Arizona Diamondbacks — Chris Young came to the Diamondbacks’ organization this offseason from the White Sox with much acclaim. However, he broke his hand in the previous two weeks, so that will probably wipe out his spring training. Eric Byrnes will start the season with the every day job, while Young goes on an extended rehab/spring training program for the first few weeks of the season. How well he will perform is anybody’s guess, but I doubt he’ll be worth a bench spot in your league. If he comes back from injury well, then you should pick him up.
Delmon Young, Tampa Bay Devil Rays — If you haven’t heard his name yet, then perhaps it would be best for you not to bother showing up at your draft. Young was named the 2005 minor league Player of the Year for absolutely dominating Double A and doing well upon reaching Triple A. Dmitri’s younger brother probably has a little bit of work to do in Triple A, but slow starts by Aubrey Huff, Rocco Baldelli, or Jonny Gomes could get him a spot. Expect a good batting average, home runs, and — dare I say it? — a few stolen bases. This kid is the next best thing and can produce in all five fantasy categories.