Note: This is Part III of our pre-draft series on sleepers and breakouts. We have already dealt with the 27-year-olds and third-year starting pitchers. After these top 25 rookies, we'll unveil our list of the top 100 prospects.
Going on a blind date is a tricky proposition. You could wind up with someone who looks like Miss America, or someone who resembles a Fantasy writer -- which is clearly much less intriguing.
Picking prospects is just as risky, mostly because they have such a wide range of potential return. We have to tweak our way of presenting them and how we think of them.
Take Alex Gordon and Ryan Braun for example. Gordon entered last spring with a clear job and as the up-and-coming third baseman who could hit 30 homers in his first year. But it was Braun who hit five homers in 34 spring at-bats en route to a demotion to the minors mid-spring.
Gordon looked like the prospect to have at the position ... until he hit .173 in April and .195 in May for the Royals. Meanwhile, Braun hit .334 and popped 10 homers in Triple-A during that time. Then, Braun got the call and became the huge prize for Fantasy owners with his 34 homers and .634 slugging percentage, which was bettered by only AL MVP Alex Rodriguez.
So, while a solid prospect might be a Draft Day darling because he will have a starting job, an even better one is right behind him and capable of making an even bigger splash during the summer.
Our top prospects list this year is going to focus not only on talent, but what things might look like coming out of the year, instead of going into it. Here are the top 25 prospects to know on Draft Day, some of which you shouldn't even consider picking in some leagues. They might start the year in the minors, but they project to have the biggest impact on Fantasy before everything is all said and done in 2008.
Age is what they will be on April 1, 2008. Also, all players here are rookie eligible, according to the official MLB rules, which requires less than 130 at-bats, 50 innings or 45 days of service time (not including days under 40-man roster expansion in September).
|Preseason All-Rookie Team|
|(Players with roster spots to lose)|
1. 3B Evan Longoria, TB
AGE: 22 | THINK: Ryan Braun
2007 STATS: Triple-A (104 at-bats) -- .269 average, five homers, 19 RBI, 19 runs, 0 steals (.398 on-base percentage, .490 slugging percentage) / Double-A (381) -- .307-21-76-78-4 (.403-.528)
Although Longoria hit 26 combined homers to Braun's 44 (34 in majors, 10 in Triple-A), he is two years younger, walks more and strikes out less -- three very good reasons to expect big things. Scouts who saw him in the Arizona Fall League (.318-4-8-9, .380-.682) said they see him hitting 30 homers in the majors ... this year -- just like Braun did a year ago. The Rays said at the winter meetings that Akinori Iwamura is moving to second base regardless and Longoria will play third when he is ready, hoping it is on opening day. Longoria might not be the first rookie drafted, but he is our pick to be the most productive, so there is big-time sleeper potential here.
2. RHP Clay Buchholz, BOS
AGE: 23 | THINK: Justin Verlander
2007 STATS: Majors (four games, 22 2/3) -- 3-1, 1.59, 22, 10, .184 / Triple-A (eight games, 38 2/3 innings) -- 1-3, 3.96, 55, 13, .221 / Double-A (16 games, 85 2/3 innings) -- 7-2, 1.77, 116, 22, .180
It is hard to argue with a rookie who has already thrown a no-hitter (in his second major-league start). Buchholz has nothing to prove in the minors and the Red Sox will certainly need him sooner rather than later now that Curt Schilling (shoulder) won't be ready for the season and very well might be out of the year. As a potentially dominant young arm for arguably the best team in baseball, you could have a superb steal on your hands with Buchholz on Draft Day. Just don't count on him going more than 180 innings, which he has yet to do as a pro.
|Long-term OF prospects|
3. OF Jay Bruce, CIN
AGE: 20 | THINK: Larry Walker
2007 STATS: Triple-A (187) -- .305-11-25-28-2 (.358-.567) / Double-A (66) -- .333-4-15-10-2 (.405-.652) / High Class A (268) -- .325-11-49-49-4 (.379-.586)
Longer-term prospect lists will have Longoria and Bruce flipped, but we cannot bill this 20-year-old (he turns 21 in April) on Longoria's level because the Reds have a crowded outfield and might be inclined to send Bruce to Triple-A to start the season. He shouldn't stay there long, especially because of Ken Griffey and Ryan P. Freel injury-checkered pasts. Bruce has already proven capable of meeting every challenge, so consider him someone worth picking in Fantasy leagues where you can stash a prospect for a month or two. A Hunter Pence-like splash is certainly possible.
4. RHP Joba Chamberlain, NYY
AGE: 22 | THINK: Curt Schilling
2007 STATS: Majors (19 games, 24 innings) -- 2-0, 0.38 ERA, 34 strikeouts, six walks, .145 batting-average against / Triple-A (three games, eight innings) -- 1-0, 0.00, 18, 1, .179 / Double-A (eight games, 40 1/3 innings) -- 4-2, 3.35, 66, 15, .218 / High Class A (seven games, 40 innings) -- 4-0, 2.03, 51, 11, .181
AKA: the Venus Fly Trap -- for his ability to attract bugs in the postseason. Joba has name recognition that will have him taken earlier than all rookies on Draft Day. Heck, some dummy might even wear his "Joba Rules" shirt to your draft. But we cannot guarantee he will start, especially since the Yankees have ample rotation options and they don't have a setup man who is as good as Chamberlain looked in that role last fall. There aren't a lot of leagues where Chamberlain the setup man will have great value. Also, Chamberlain the starter will likely be drafted before many reliable veterans, and there is no certainty he can even handle 180 innings in the majors. We won't deny the talent, but there are reasons to be cautious. In fact, someone who won't win your league will take him too early on Draft Day -- namely that guy above in his t-shirt. Let them.
5. OF Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS
AGE: 24 | THINK: Johnny Damon
2007 STATS: Majors (116) -- .353-3-18-20-9 (.394-.509) / Triple-A (363) -- .298-2-28-66-33 (.360-.380) / Double-A (73) -- .452-0-13-16-8 (.518, .644)
Ellsbury's power didn't look like it would come close to Damon's, but he picked up his game when he arrived in Boston and has far more steals potential. The catalyst should lead off, play center and fill both of those roles for years. Rotisserie owners will value him more than Head-to-Head points leagues, because he can steal 40-plus bases as a rookie, but his postseason exploits might make him tough to acquire on the cheap on Draft Day.
6. OF Cameron Maybin, FLA
AGE: 20 | THINK: Alfonso Soriano
2007 STATS: Majors (49) -- .143-1-2-8-5 (.208-.265) / Double-A (20) -- .400-4-8-9-0 (.538-1.050) / High Class A (296) -- .304-10-44-58-25 (.393-.486) / Low Class A (7) -- .571-0-1-1-0 (.667-.571)
Maybin, who is just two days younger than Bruce, proved unworthy of his quick call-up to the Tigers last year. But that didn't stop the Marlins from getting him in the Miguel Cabrera-Dontrelle Willis blockbuster. Maybin will start in center for the Marlins sooner or later, perhaps on opening day, if he proves more capable in spring than he did last September. If this list was only about talent, Maybin is arguably more intriguing than Longoria or Bruce. Lean and lanky like a Soriano or Hanley Ramirez, Maybin will initially dominate in the steals category and eventually become an annual .300-30-100-100-30 threat and a Glove Glove outfielder.
7. RHP Ian Kennedy, NYY
AGE: 23 | THINK: Mike Mussina
2007 STATS: Majors (three games, 19 innings) -- 1-0, 1.89, 15, 6, .191 / Triple-A (six games, 34 2/3 innings) -- 1-1, 2.08, 34, 11, .205 / Double-A (nine games, 48 2/3 innings) -- 5-1, 2.59, 57, 17, .163 / High Class A (11 games, 63 innings) -- 6-1, 1.29, 72, 22, .183
Unlike Phil Hughes, Kennedy will still have to earn his rotation spot this spring, barring a trade. Hughes and Chamberlain made bigger splashes with the Yankees, but neither of them had the numbers Kennedy had, combining to go 12-3 with a 1.91 ERA, .182 batting-average against and 163 strikeouts in 146 1/3 innings. The USC product doesn't have the high ceiling of Hughes, but he has a far better body than Chamberlain, whose bulky frame brings up questions about conditioning and staying healthy. Kennedy can be a big winner for the offensively potent Yankees, but we have to rank him this low because he is less certain to play a large role out of the gate. He still has to beat out Chamberlain and setup man TBD to be the Yankees' No. 5 starter.
|Long-term C prospects|
8. C Geovany Soto, CHC
AGE: 25 | THINK: Poor man's Javy Lopez
2007 STATS: Majors (54) -- .389-3-8-12-0 (.433-.667) / Triple-A (385) -- .353-26-109-75-0 (.424-.652)
Our projections on young catchers have failed us in recent years as our top rookie catchers to target on Draft Day -- Chris Iannetta (2007), Jeff Mathis (2006) and J.D. Closser (2005) -- have proven to be duds, especially when compared to in-season call-ups Jarrod Saltalamacchia ('07), Russell Martin ('06) and Brian McCann ('05). Well, we're hoping last year's Triple-A breakout, Soto, can finally be the Draft Day rookie stud and not another dud. His numbers in Triple-A and the brief time with the Cubs in September certainly suggest he can be. The Cubs are ready to hand him the everyday job, and it is rare a contending club trusts a rookie backstop.
|Long-term SS prospects|
9. Brandon Wood, LAA
AGE: 23 | THINK: Troy Tulowitzki
2007 STATS: Majors (33) -- .152-1-3-2-0 (.152-.273) / Triple-A (437) -- .272-23-77-73-10 (.338-.497)
The Angels cleared their shortstop position this winter and said the job would eventually be Wood's to lose -- although speedy Erick Aybar or nifty gloveman Maicer Izturis would initially keep the spot warm. But what if Wood proves capable out of spring training? There is serious power potential here, albeit with a number of strikeouts and the stigma of possibly being yet another disappointing Angels position-player prospect. Once compared to Cal Ripken, the player who made being a big man at shortstop possible -- we could see Wood go on a Tulowitzki-like run. He is not as polished defensively or at the plate, but just two years ago Wood looked like the best prospect in baseball, when he hit 43 homers and slugged an unshortstop-like .672 in Class A.
|Long-term 3B prospects|
10. 3B Andy LaRoche, LAD
AGE: 24 | THINK: Ryan Zimmerman
2007 STATS: Majors (93) -- .226-1-10-16-2 (.365-.312) / Triple-A (265) -- .309-18-48-55-2 (.399-.589)
If not for injury woes, younger brother would have already made his rookie splash in Fantasy leagues. Andy has legit power and enters spring training on equal footing with aging Nomar Garciaparra as the Dodgers' every day third baseman. At this point, LaRoche is the more intriguing option -- especially since Nomar has looked ready to move into a veteran reserve role. In his prime, we see LaRoche as a .300-30-100-100 third baseman. We don't see those lofty numbers this year, of course, but he is certainly talented enough to surprise this spring and be useful in all Fantasy leagues.
|Long-term 1B prospects|
11. 1B Joey Votto, CIN
AGE: 24 | THINK: The good Aubrey Huff
2007 STATS: Majors (84) -- .321-4-17-11-1 (.360-.548) / Triple-A (496) -- .294-22-92-74-17 (.381-.478)
There are some very good things in Votto's corner for a breakthrough in '08: 1. He has great power and a good deal of patience (70 walks); 2. He will make his home in the coziest hitter's park in baseball. But he does still have Scott Hatteberg (and perhaps Adam Dunn) in front of him. Well, in the case of Hatteberg, that could be more good news. Votto has a good enough bat to slug with the best of the rookies in this class, but he will have to earn his at-bats. Also, first base is a very deep position in Fantasy, so Votto will have to be outstanding to have even a marginal impact in standard leagues.
12. OF Kosuke Fukudome, CHC
AGE: 30 | THINK: Another Damon
2007 STATS: Japan (348) -- .294-13-48-64-5 (.443-.520)
Scouts called the Cubs' offseason import a cross between Hideki Matsui (except, not as powerful) and Ichiro Suzuki (except, not as speedy). Somewhere in between those two might lead you to think he will be the next Tsuyoshi Shinjo, an ex-Mets/Giants import. That would be awful news for the Cubs and Fantasy owners. But Fukudome has far better plate discipline and should be able to produce well enough to be a steady contributor in mixed leagues. He is coming off an elbow injury, but the Cubs are confident he will be healthy this spring and are expecting him (read: paying him four years and $48 million) to be their everyday right fielder.
13. OF Colby Rasmus, STL
AGE: 21 | THINK: A speedy Jim Edmonds
2007 STATS: Double-A (472) -- .275-29-72-93-18 (.381-.551)
The Cardinals didn't trade veteran Jim Edmonds to the Padres to necessarily slot Rasmus in center this spring, but they are seriously considering it if the top talent doesn't fall on his face this spring. There are many in the Cardinals' organization that believe Rasmus has the makeup to handle the jump from Double-A to the majors, but how many lefty-swinging outfielders can the Cardinals rely on? They already figure to slot Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan in the corner spots. Regardless of whether Rasmus makes the team out of spring, he should arrive in 2008 and be a potential contributor in all Fantasy leagues.
14. 1B Daric Barton
AGE: 22 | THINK: Nick Swisher
2007 STATS: Majors (72) -- .347-4-8-16-1 (.429-.639) / Triple-A (516) -- .293-9-70-84-3 (.389-.438)
Barton has the strikeout-to-walk ratio the A's love (69-78), fanning less than the number of free passes he receives. The converted catcher, and former key piece to the Mark Mulder trade, has legit power despite hitting just nine homers in 516 Triple-A at-bats. He had 38 doubles, and minor-league two-baggers tend to become big-league homers, especially for patient hitters. He might have to compete with disappointing Dan Johnson for at-bats, but Barton is talented enough to start for a rebuilding A's club and will be a sleeper in deeper leagues -- albeit at a deep position.
15. LHP Franklin Morales, COL
AGE: 22 | THINK: Poor man's Johan Santana
2007 STATS: Majors (eight games, 39 1/3 innings) -- 3-2, 3.43, 26, 14, .241 / Triple-A (three games, 17 innings) -- 2-0, 3.71, 16, 13, .323 / Double-A (17 games, 95 2/3 innings) -- 3-4, 3.48, 77, 45, .226
Morales has two traits to match Santana: his Venezuelan heritage and left-handedness. He also projects to be a front-line starter, which he showed down the stretch for the NL champions. That is a tough home park to work half his games in, especially when you consider his two worst outings last season came in Coors Field, where he went 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA in three starts. The Rockies have a great offense, though, and Morales enters spring with a rotation spot to lose. He is not quite as dominant yet as teammate Ubaldo Jimenez, but that could further help Morales fly under the radar.
|Long-term RHP prospects|
16. RHP Homer Bailey
AGE: 21 | THINK: Josh Beckett
2007: Majors (nine games, 45 1/3 innings) -- 4-2, 5.76, 28, 28, .257 / Triple-A (12 games, 67 1/3 innings) -- 6-3, 3.07, 59, 32, .204 / High Class A (two games, eight innings) -- 0-1, 10.13, 7, 5, .385
Bailey, who flies just under rookie status, was not exciting with the Reds last season, but that is the great news. He is a future ace and it might even happen for him this year after he gets drafted in the late rounds in Fantasy. His 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate was scary bad, but he is just getting his feet wet. Trust the scouts and ignore his so-so numbers to date. Bailey can be a big-time winner for a Reds team that needs him desperately in their rotation.
|Preseason All-Prospect Team|
|(Players destined to open year in minors)|
17. 3B(/OF?) Chase Headley, SD
AGE: 23 | THINK: Michael Young
2007 STATS: Majors (18) -- .222-0-0-1-0 (.333-.278) / Triple-A (433) -- .330-20-78-82-1 (.437-.580)
A second-round pick out of Tennessee in 2005, Headley had a breakthrough season last year. The Padres were trying him out in left field and that should help him make the team this spring. There is a huge hole there in San Diego. The switch-hitter strikes out a lot, but he balances that with a fair share of walks and decent power to all fields. The Padres really need power and youth in their lineup. They might even consider slotting Headley at third base if Kevin Kouzmanoff has a disappointing second year. Headley's positions (third or outfield) are full of sluggers and that makes it tough for him to have a true impact in standard mixed leagues, but we wouldn't put it past this talent.
18. OF Carlos Gonzalez, OAK
AGE: 22 | THINK: Andre Ethier
2007 STATS: Triple-A (42) -- .310-1-11-9-1 (.396-.500) / Double-A (458) -- .286-16-75-63-9 (.330-.476)
The scouts love the skills of this Venezuelan lefty-swinger, but the numbers really haven't been there yet. The A's picked him up in the Dan Haren deal, along with elite pitching prospects Greg Smith and Brett Anderson. Gonzalez had the biggest prospect name of that package, but we still think the hype exceeds the substance so far. Our comparison of Ethier is a good one and a player the A's used to have in their own system. Gonzalez will have a wide-open opportunity with the rebuilding A's and the fact scouts love him tells us we have to consider taking that flier on Draft Day -- especially in AL-only leagues.
19. 3B(/2B?) Ian Stewart, COL
AGE: 22 | THINK: Poor man's Chase Utley
2007 STATS: Majors (43) -- .209-1-9-3-0 (.261-.372) / Triple-A (414) -- .304-15-65-72-11 (.379-.478)
It has been a dilemma that prospect hounds have been concerned about the past few years: Where is Stewart going to play with Garrett Atkins breaking through for the Rockies? Well, after the departure of Kaz Matsui and Jamey Carroll, the answer might be in Colorado at second base, which is where he was working this winter. If Stewart handles the defensive switch and is able to win the starting job over fellow rookie Jayson Nix or veteran Marcus Giles, take notice in all leagues. This is a future star in the making -- especially with his offensive potential at a thin position and amid the rare air in Colorado. If not for the questions about the position switch, we would place him in the top 10 rookies here.
|Long-term 2B prospects|
20. 2B(/OF?) Matt Antonelli, SD
AGE: 22 | THINK: A right-handed Chase Utley
2007 STATS: Double-A (187) .294-7-24-34-10 (.395-.476) / High Class A -- .314-14-54-89-18
This first-rounder out of Wake Forest is a better long-term prospect than Headley, but he will have to battle the more well-polished player for at-bats in left this spring. Because of Antonelli's speed (28 steals combined in the minors), they were trying him in center this winter, but that was before the Padres acquired veteran Jim Edmonds. Antonelli is the more intriguing prospect over Headley because of his speed-and-power mix and his potential second-base position eligibility in your league.
21. RHP Hiroki Kuroda, LAD
AGE: 33 | THINK: Poor man's Daisuke Matsuzaka
2007 STATS: Japan (26 games, 179 2/3 innings) -- 12-8, 3.56, 123, 42, .261
Kuroda is coming to America much older than Dice-K and with far less fanfare, but he reportedly throws in the mid-90s with command, which can make him as effective as Dice-K was in his relatively disappointing rookie year. He won't be as good as we expect Dice-K to be this year, but in a pitcher's park in Los Angeles -- for a team expected to contend -- Kuroda can match Dice-K's 15 victories and 4.40 ERA of a year ago. He is less of a strikeout pitcher, but is far more polished than most rookie starters.
22. 1B/OF Steve Pearce, PIT
AGE: 24 | THINK: A poor man's Jeff Bagwell
2007 STATS: Majors (68) -- .294-0-6-13-2 (.342-.397) / Triple-A (122) -- .320-6-17-18-5 (.366-.557) / Double-A (290) -- .334-14-72-57-7 (.400-.586) / High Class A (75) -- .347-11-24-19-2 (.412-.867)
Unlike many young sluggers, Pearce doesn't strikeout at an unacceptable rate (70 Ks in 487 minor-league at-bats). The problem is he needs a full-time position. Since a platoon with at first is unlikely, Pearce spent time in right field down the stretch with mixed results. The lowly Pirates need to find a way to get his bat in the lineup and if he does, consider him a sleeper in all Fantasy leagues. The fact he plays in Pittsburgh will certainly help him fly under the radar, although we don't think you can count on him in mixed leagues just yet.
23. C J.R. Towles, HOU
AGE: 24 | THINK: The good Jason Kendall
2007 STATS: Majors (40) -- .375-1-12-9-0 (.432-.575) / Triple-A (43) -- .279-0-2-5-2 (.354-.279) / Double-A (216) -- .324-11-49-47-9 (.425-.551) / Low Class A (90) -- .200- 0-11-14-3 (.339-.278)
Like our explanation with Soto, we are wary of young catchers making a splash in Fantasy. Calling the game and preparing with pitchers is more important in the big leagues than offense, which is likely the reason we're usually disappointed by taking a young player at the position. The Astros are ready to go to Towles, though, who has steals potential at the position. Brad Ausmus is still in the mix to help handle the game-calling, so perhaps Towles has a support system to succeed in his first year.
|Long-term LHP prospects|
24. LHP David Price, TB
AGE: 22 | THINK: A 6-foot-6 Scott Kazmir
2007 STATS: NCAA Division I (18 games, 133 1/3 innings) -- 11-1, 2.63 ERA, 194 Ks, 31 BB, 0.95 WHIP
Price was the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Vanderbilt and has yet to throw an official pitch as a pro. That will come this spring as the Rays suggest he might even be a candidate to earn the No. 5 starter's spot out of camp. We don't quite know what to expect, of course, but you have to trust the scouts at this point. They are often right about the top arms -- as long as those arms stay healthy. We doubt he makes the majors without a stop in the minors, but when a talent like this is even talked about as an option we have to mention him on this list.
25. LHP Aaron Laffey, CLE
AGE: 22 | THINK:
2007 STATS: Majors (nine games, 49 1/3 innings) -- 4-2, 4.56, 25, 12, .287 / Triple-A (16 games, 96 innings) -- 9-3, 3.08, 75, 23, .243 / Double-A (6 games, 35 innings) -- 4-1, 2.31, 24, 7, .225
Laffey has lapped Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers in the Indians' organization and the team might see him as the incumbent No. 5 starter heading into spring training. At 49 1/3 innings, he just barely qualifies as a rookie still. If he wins the No. 5 job, he should be a solid rookie, too, because that Indians team is a top contender with a potentially potent offense. Laffey's stuff is not that impressive -- he profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation guy -- but he can help in any Fantasy league when the matchup(s) is/are right in a given Fantasy week.
This top 25 just scratches the surface. Here are a slew of other rookies to watch this spring with the potential to make a significant Fantasy impact this season: 2B Jayson Nix, COL; OF Jordan Schafer, ATL; OF Brandon Jones, ATL; 1B Shelley Duncan, NYY; RHP Jair Jurrjens, ATL; LHP Manny Parra, MIL; RHP Johnny Cueto, CIN; LHP Jacob McGee, TB; RHP Carlos Carrasco, PHI; LHP Will Inman, SD; LHP Gio Gonzalez, CHW; RHP Jeff Niemann, TB; RHP Luke Hochevar, KC; LHP Glen Perkins, MIN; LHP Greg Smith, OAK; OF Wladimir Balentien, SEA; RHP Adam Miller, CLE; LHP Clayton Kershaw, LAD; SS Reid Brignac, TB; RHP Max Scherzer, ARI; RHP Eric Hurley, TEX; RHP Troy Patton, BAL; RHP Collin Balester, WAS; C Jeff Clement, SEA; RHP Nick Adenhart, LAA; SS Sean Rodriguez, LAA; LHP Chuck Lofgren, CLE; RHP Chris Volstad, FLA; RHP Gaby Hernandez, FLA; 2B Chris Coghlan, FLA; RHP Radhames Liz, BAL; LHP Garrett Olson, BAL; OF Joe Mather, STL; RHP Philip Humber, MIN; RHP Kevin Mulvey, MIN; OF Andrew McCutchen, PIT.
You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com. Be sure to put Attn: Top 25 rookies in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.