So you’re struggling to keep your head above water in your fantasy league and you were naive enough to think that Carlos Pena was going to have a rebound season at first base. Then all of a sudden, the Kansas City Royals call up phenom Eric Hosmer from AAA. You immediately shoot over to your league only to find out that some lucky SOB has barely beaten you to the punch and grabbed him off the waiver wire.
Whether you’re in a standard one-and-done fantasy league or a multi-year keeper, paying attention to the minor-leagues can give you a huge edge over your opponents. Had you been following along on Hosmer’s ridiculous AAA numbers, you might have known that he was a prime candidate for a call-up and maybe you wouldn’t be cringing every morning when you check your team and discover another 0-4 performance from Pena.
“But Travis,” you say, “I’m too busy what with my job, and I have to make time to play with the kids. I can’t be constantly checking up on minor-league leader boards.”
Worry not, fair Blankards, I’ve got you covered in this week’s edition of What’s Your Fantasy.
Desmond Jennings – OF – Tampa Bay Rays
We’ve been hearing a lot about the 24-year-old Rays’ outfielder over the last couple years. Some are comparing him to Carl Crawford (which he’s not) while most think he’s going to be a very good player someday. With his hot start in AAA-Durham, that day may be coming soon.
With an outfield that still has the struggling Sam Fuld starting almost every day and also has to share Ben Zobrist with second base, the Rays may give Jennings his long-awaited chance at the Major League level. So far this season with the Durham Bulls, Jennings has shown all around ability at the plate with a .300/.414/.492 slash line with great patience and is second in the International League with 29.9 wRC.
Over the next few weeks, if Fuld continues to struggle at the plate, keep your eye on the Rays’ to see if Jennings gets a call-up. Not only could he provide you with some outfield depth, be he’ll steal a ton of bases and will chip in the odd homerun as well.
Anthony Rizzo – 1B – San Diego Padres
You may remember Rizzo’s name from the Adrian Gonzalez trade this past winter. Rizzo is being groomed as his replacement in San Diego and considering Brad Hawpe is currently the everyday first baseman at the Major League level, his day may be coming sooner than later.
Rizzo, who is still just 21-years-old, is currently tearing apart the Pacific Coast League with a ridiculous .377/.447/.708 slash line and has 12.3 wRC/27 (per 27 outs; measures how many runs he’d be worth if he were the only hitter in a 27-out game). His very high .424 BABIP ensures regression eventually, but he still has a career .857 OPS in the minors and has battled his way back from cancer. Most thought it would take Rizzo a little longer to get his strength back; apparently those people were very wrong.
Look for Rizzo to receive that vaunted phone call sooner than later.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis – CF – New York Mets
With centerfielder Angel Pagan on the disabled list and Jason Pridie his current replacement, the Mets may give this young outfielder a call-up. The former third-round pick has shown a terrific approach at the plate with AAA-Buffalo so far in 2011, drawing a walk in over 14% of his plate appearances which has led to a .412 on-base percentage. He leads the International League with 30.3 wRC and has shown the ability to play solid defense in centerfield.
If the Mets reward Nieuwenhuis with a call-up, he’ll steal some bases and pop the odd homerun. Like Jennings, he could give you some depth in the outfield.
Jay Buente – RHP – Florida Marlins
With the continued struggles of Chris Volstad and Javier Vazquez at the Major League level, don’t be entirely surprised if, sometime in the next month, the Marlins give this 27-year-old converted reliever a call-up. In nine games (four of which have been starts) this season, Buente has been near unhittable with a 6.33 K/BB ratio and a 1.74 FIP with AAA-New Orleans.
Buente probably won’t give you a ton of value long-term, but if he gets called up and you’re desperate for a pitcher, he might give you some good starts.
Zach McAllister – RHP – Cleveland Indians
McAllister is a one-time Yankee prospect who was dealt to the Tribe last season in the Austin Kearns deal. After struggling over the past two seasons, he appears to have rediscovered what once made him successful. In six starts so far with AAA-Columbus, McAllister is 6-0 with a 3.00 ERA and a 2.99 FIP thanks to a strike out rate that has returned to his pre-2009 marks when he was climbing his way quickly through the Bombers’ ranks.
With Carlos Carrasco struggling and the recent call-up of top pitching prospect Alex White, the Indians may be ready to bring McAllister up very soon. He currently sits seventh in the IL with a 4.83 K/BB ratio.
Mike Montgomery – LHP – Kansas City Royals
With the call-up of Hosmer, it’s clear that the Royals are not going to baby their impressive crop of young talent and Montgomery could be the next to get a ticket to KC. With the injury to “ace” Bruce Chen (yeah, I laughed at that too), the Royals currently have a five-man rotation consisting of Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies, Sean O’Sullivan, and Vin Mazzaro. The Royals have been surprisingly good so far this season and if they truly want to contend in the winnable AL Central, they might want to see if they can improve on that group.
Montgomery has made only 20 starts higher than A-ball and has yet to turn 22, but has a 2.84 ERA in seven starts with AAA-Omaha. His FIP is elevated due to a 4.97 BB/9 rate, but he has shown terrific command at every other stop and should eventually do the same at the AAA-level. He might get called-up before then and he’s a pitcher you’re going to want to grab, especially in a keeper league.
Until next week, Happy Baseball!
Travis Reitsma is the fantasy baseball guru here at Getting Blanked, but he also writes more broadly about baseball over at Baseball Canadiana. You can also follow him on Twitter and ask him fantasy-related questions. Who knows, maybe they’ll be answered here.