If you are a fantasy player of some long standing, you have probably heard the argument that “for every Frank Thomas there are a hundred Paul Konerkos.”
The basis for this is that is so easy to be enamored of a hot youngster riding a rocket to The Show. However, statistically, it is just likely that that prospect will struggle for a while ala Mr. Konerko, as opposed to being the next coming of Ted Williams from the first at-bat as Mr. Thomas was.
And, it is not that Konerko is a bad player, at all. Quite to the contrary. However, it took him time--and three teams--to adjust, and that is more the norm.
The thing is, fantasy players all want to win because, well, winning is fun. But, we also want to be smarter, being savvy enough to pick up just the right combination of solid vets and unheralded up-and-comers to grab a title. But, we also want to be the one who “discovers” the Hanleys and Lincecums and Longorias under the noses of our league mates.
Unfortunately, the “Thomas/Konerko Principle” tends to raise its head killing those best laid plans, as names like David Price and Matt Wieters will no doubt remind us all (especially those heavily invested in either, let alone both in 2009).
Still, players do come up, and they do succeed each year, and what we have done to deal with this over the past ten years is look unflinchingly at the minor leaguers of the past year, crunching their numbers and coming up with a Top 250 Prospect list.
To qualify for the Top 250, a player must retain rookie status, meaning less than 130 at-bats, or 50 innings pitched with the parent club, or more than 45 consecutive days on the major league 25-man roster (meaning September and call-up time does not count with respect to the days rule).
In order to make our list, a pitcher must have thrown a total of 70 minor league innings, or accumulated 200 at-bats, at any combination of levels from Low-A up through Triple-A. And that means no Stephen Strasburg.
Players are rated on specific skills, such as power and control (strikeouts to walks, and by inning) for pitchers, and walks to at-bats and extra base hit percentage for batters, but, players are also given credit for succeeding young.
Which means an 18-year-old who pitches 140 innings at Double-A and strikes out 157, despite an ERA of 5.09 and won-loss of 3-11, will likely score much higher than a 25 year old who has gone .319-26-87 at the same level.
That is because a 25-year-old should be able to more than compete at Double-A based upon experience, while an 18-year old is doing it primarily with raw tools. The idea, though, is that if the tools are indeed there, and showing themselves early, the chances for that skill set to be enhanced with experience suggests success at higher levels, at an earlier age.
As one might expect, a lot of the names who appear on the list are those familiar, but our analysis has revealed players of skill way before the curve (such as Carlos Zambrano as #1 in 2001, and Albert Pujols as #10 in 2000, Joba Chamberlain at #9 in 2008, and Jair Jurrjens at #25 in 2006 and #16 in ‘08). In other words, there are always some surprises. And, there are some players, like Buster Posey, who are clearly comers, but for one reason or another just miss.
Of course, most of these players are likely still a year away, so don’t bet the bank on them. But, if your format allows for minor leaguers, this is where to look for your stash. And, some will make it to the Bigs, and even earn considerable playing time in 2010, so you certainly want them all on your radar.
Below are the Top Ten:
- Neftali Feliz (21, P, Rangers): The hard throwing Ranger hurler scores a first, that being the first top finisher to ever have played in the majors. I actually witnessed Feliz’ debut on August 3, 2009, when he became the first MLB hurler to strike out the first four batters he faced since Pete Richert debuted in April of 1962. Rumor has it Feliz has been clocked at 109, and the gun hit 103 during that first appearance, but apocryphal or not, he has major gas. Better, the 31 strikeouts to eight walks (and just two taters) over 31 innings says everything. I am betting Feliz, a starter in the minors, will be the Rangers closer by end of season and for a while beyond.
- Juan Ramirez (19, P, Mariners): As a 19-year old, Ramirez more than held his own at High-A High Desert. He is also an example of the notion that power/control are better barometers of skill than won-lost or even ERA for young players. Ramirez was 8-10, 5.12 last year in the tough California League, but he whiffed 111 of those batters. His big problem is getting the ball up on crucial pitches (18 homers) but, if he conquers that there is a lot of ceiling.
- Michael Stanton (19, OF,Marlins): After going .294-12-39 over 210 Florida State League at-bats, Stanton was promoted to AA Jacksonville where he struggled some (.231-16-53) with his on-base totals, but still provided a solid resume entry. 129 of his career 268 minor league hits have gone for extra bases—that is almost half--and that is a very good sign.
- Deolis Guerra (20, P, Twins): Guerra has made this list three years running (Guerra was our #1 prospect in 2008), and, well, the Twins thought enough of the then 17-year old to insist upon his inclusion in the Johan Santana swap of 2007. Because he is young, again the ERA and control numbers have to be taken in context, so the things to focus on are holding his own at AA (6-3, 5.12 after being promoted) and the whiffs (312 over 457 innings). By the way, the 1.26 WHIP he posted at AA in 2009 suggests a lot of the earlier control struggles are behind him.
- Michael Montgomery (20, P, Royals): Kansas City’s first round selection of the 2008 draft, Montgomery has shinnied up the ladder, splitting an excellent 2009 at Wilmington (4-1, 2.25) and Burlington (2-3, 2.27). He struck out 98 over 110 innings with a fine strikeout-to-walk rate of 2.17, and he allowed just one home run over those innings, at both levels, over the whole of last year. Pretty remarkable.
- Jesus Montero (19, C ,Yankees): The heir-apparent to Jorge Posada, Montero rocked in 2009 with a combined .337-17-70 mark split between A and Double-A. The .950 OPS is particularly good, as is the minor league career .379 OBP. The Bombers tend to do as well developing players as do they buying them and Montero is both home grown and the real thing.
- Hector Rondon (21, P, Indians): One of the players on this list to watch most for 2010, Rondon went a combined 11-10, 3.38 split between AA Akron and AAA Columbus in 2009. He struck out an excellent 137 over 146.1 innings, walking a meager 29 for a WHIP of 1.175. The Tribe has been very good at developing prospects over the last 15 years, and Rondon simply looks like the next in line. Get your ticket now.
- Ruben Tejada (19, SS/2B , Mets): Were it not for the presence of Jose Reyes, Tejada would be the next big thing at short with the surname Tejada. At 19 he more than held his own, going .289-5-46 with 19 swipes. A good contact bat (37 walks to 59 whiffs last year), Tejada played 120 games at short last year, and 14 at second, and figures to play there more in 2010 as the Mets gear up to have one of the most exciting second base/shortstop combinations in the bigs.
- Jason Heyward (20, OF, Braves): Atlanta’s #1 pick in the 2007 draft, Heyward advanced right up through the minor league system in 2009, going .296-10-31 over 214 at-bats at Single-A Myrtle Beach, then .352-7-30 at Double-A Mississippi, finally sneaking 13 at-bats at AAA Gwinnett (.364-0-2). The aggregate was .323-17-60 totals, including a spectacular 51 each of walks and whiffs which equates to a .408 OBP and nearly half of his 117 hits (46, precisely) went for extra bases.
- Freddie Freeman (20, 1B , Braves): The Braves might have an embarrassment of riches from the 2007 draft just within this year’s Top 10, as Freeman was drafted right behind Heyward, in the second round. Playing at both A, then AA, along with Heyward, Freeman managed only eight homers in the aggregate (.282-8-58), but a year earlier, at Rome, Freeman went .316-18-95 with an .899 OPS. He has shown increasing discipline at the plate as well, walking 11 times to 19 strikeouts after landing in AA Mississippi last year.
The Mastersball Top 25 Prospects are listed below (note the entire Top 250 can be purchased in a sortable spreadsheet as part of either our Gold or Platinum subscription packages at www.mastersball.com):