Once again a weekly cycle of the 2011 season has passed, and once again some names have surfaced at the major league level who must be on our fantasy radar, starting with the Rays and outfielder Desmond Jennings. The degree of faith Tampa has in Jennings is partially witnessed by their letting Carl Crawford go without much of a fight during the off-season, and many thought Jennings, who played 17 games last September (.190-0-2), would be the left fielder at Tropicana this year. With .294-41-200 minor league totals, including 188 steals and a fine .382 OBP (240 walks to 320 whiffs) Desmond should be owned in just about every format.
The Reds selected shortstop Zack Cozart in the second round of the 2007 draft, and the 25-year old has mostly advanced a level a year since, spending both last season and part of 2011 in Louisville. As a minor leaguer Cozart has a .270-50-225 line that includes 16 triples and 112 doubles over 1940 at-bats, with 55 swipes. Cozart also has a decent OBP of .332 (161 walks to 358 strikeouts) and his good start (.324-2-3) has been a welcome addition over the rather feckless duo of Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria. Unfortunately, Cozart was hurt over the weekend and placed on the disabled list with a hyperextended elbow. It is unclear at this time how long his DL stint will be of if the Reds will look outside of the organization in the interim.
The diminutive Jose Altuve rocketed through the Houston system without a problem, allowing the Astros to shuttle Jeff Keppinger off to San Francisco. Altuve is all of 21 years old, reaching drinking age in May. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Venezuela in 2006. The 5' 7" second baseman has somewhat surprisingly added a little pop to his repertoire which previously featured good plate discipline and contact along with speed. After toiling in rookie leagues as a teenager, in 2010 at Single-A Lexington, Altuve slashed .301-.366-.448 with 39 steals in 94 games before being promoted to High-A Lancaster where he went .276-.333-.457 in 31 games. He began the 2011 campaign back in Lancaster where he improved to .404-.447-.601 in 52 games, forcing the leap to Double-A Corpus-Christi where he continued his torrid pace, going .361-.388-.569. The power may not play in the Bigs, but his on base skills and stolen base potential render him someone to keep an eye on as he continues to mature.
Speaking of Keppinger, he is not really of too much value save in the deepest of leagues. As my MLB.com mate Hank Widmer and I were discussing prior to Friday's Giants game, Keppinger is not much different from Mike Fontenot and any others the team has used to fill the void of Freddy Sanchez (who really has the best eye and bat on the SF team). For a guy who is supposed to be a patient hitter, logging a .302 average with just a .314 on-base percentage corresponding tells me different.
Cleveland has been fairly aggressive with advancing minor leaguers and their newest prize is second baseman Jason Kipnis. The second baseman was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 draft by the Padres, then in the second round of the 2009 and then went .306-1-19 over 29 games at the New York-Penn League that year. Kipnis climbed from High-A (.300-6-41) to AA Akron (.311-10-43) to finish 2010. This year, at Triple-A Columbus, Kipnis is .279-12-55 and his overall .865 minor league OPS--.377 OBP and .485 SLG including a fine 114 walks to 197 whiffs--merit giving the keystone player a chance again, in just about any format.
Catcher Tyler Flowers was rated as high as the #60 prospect in baseball by Baseball America last year, but somehow the now 25-year has fallen from elite prospect stature. Originally selected by the Braves in 2005 (33rd round, though Atlanta also picked Flowers in the 27th round of the 2004 draft), Atlanta swapped the backstop with Boone Logan for Javier Vazquez after the 2008 season. Flowers has minor league totals of .275-80-315 over six seasons (535 games) and a fine .391 OBP (324 walks to 519 strikeouts), and was hitting .261-15-32 at Charlotte this season when summoned. Catchers often do not mature till they are a little older, especially in the majors, and I would not dismiss Flowers and his chances. A.J. Pierzynski is not getting any younger.
Interim Yankees third sacker Brandon Laird was selected by the Indians in the 27th round of the 2005 draft, but opted out, signing with the Yankees after being selected in the same round two years later. Laird has .278-79-341 numbers in the minors, with 140 walks to 353 strikeouts. He is obviously a stop gap till Alex Rodriguez returns a few weeks out (reportedly), but, note that Laird has played the corner spots in the infield and the outfield this season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year, so he could indeed stick after ARod returns. Still, Laird probably has little potential value in any format beyond AL only.
It seems all today's youngins’ were drafted multiple times before signing, and Cleveland's David Huff is no exception. First drafted by the Angels in the 31st round in 2003, then in the 19th round by the Phillies in 2005, and finally in the first round (#39 overall) by the Tribe in 2006, for good. After going 8-2, 4.36 over 12 starts at Columbus last year, he went 8-3, 3.86 over 17 this season and was then called up. Over 427.2 innings in the minors, Huff allowed 402 hits and 116 walks with 344 strikeouts, meaning he is not overpowering, but does have some control, and that can be a difficult thing to make effective with major league hitters (Huff's major league totals of 14-19, 5.65 supports this). Huff did get off to a good start with his first outing against the Twins, going seven good innings, allowing just five hits and a pair of walks and no runs getting his first win. He is surely worth a flier in an AL league if available, and is worth watching, though proceed cautiously.
Duane Below was a 19th round pick of the Tigers in 2006, and unlike his mates above, that was enough for the left hander to sign. He has since toiled for Detroit, going 41-32, 3.66 over 112 starts and 306 innings. With 555 whiffs to 575 hits allowed and 237 walks, Like Huff, Below is not really overpowering. He pitched well his first start, going five innings allowing three hits and one run, the result of a homer, while earning a no-decision. As with Huff, Below might be worth a chance in a deep AL format, but again, be careful.
Looking at a vet who might lend a hand for the stretch, the Marlins Javier Lopez has had a horrendous looking season at 8-12, 5.73 over 107.2 innings so far this year. But, over the past month, over 31.1 innings, he is 2-2, 2.87, with 28 strikeouts to just four walks, with 27 hits allowed (0.98 WHIP) and the tradewinds have bantered Lopez' name which could be a boost. But, if you need to gamble on a stretch arm, Vazquez is as good a gamble as you will find.