Talent, spacious surroundings make A's Parker a name to watch
Jarrod Parker struck out 21 batters in 20 1/3 innings in minors this season
Kirk Nieuwenhuis' effort, power may win him job as Mets' starting CF
Injuries to OFs in Boston will open playing time for prospect Lars Anderson
This week's spin around the majors' lesser known players takes us from coast to coast with a can't-miss blue-chip prospect, two overachievers making names for themselves while trying to secure full-time gigs and a former top prospect who hopes a position change can finally get him a fair shot at a big league career.
The centerpiece of the trade that sent Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks last offseason, Parker, one of baseball's brightest pitching prospects, is set to make his American League debut on Wednesday in an afternoon start against the White Sox in Oakland. The 23-year-old right-hander is getting a chance to become Oakland's fifth starter following a four-start stint at Triple A Sacramento, where he went 1-0 with a 2.18 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings. Two years removed from Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2010 season, Parker has an accomplished repertoire of pitches, including a four-seam fastball in the mid 90s, and a slider that often makes batters look foolish. He made his big league debut last September and shut down the Dodgers, allowing no runs, four hits and a walk in 5 2/3 innings, though he wasn't involved in the decision. With his stuff and the ability to bust inside on batters, he's going to benefit from the expansive foul territory in Oakland's O.co Coliseum that often turns what would be foul pop-ups in the 29 other stadiums into easy outs, which has has helped Oakland's pitchers regularly rank toward the top in team ERA. He's an immediate pickup in all AL-only leagues and should strongly be considered by mixed-league owners as well.
A big reason for the Mets surprisingly solid start this season has been the play of this rookie center fielder, who has stepped in for the injured Andres Torres to quickly become a Citi Field fan favorite. Thus far in his young career, the 2008 third-round pick from Azusa Pacific has made a strong case for becoming the Mets' long-term answer in center, batting .333/.407/.521 with two home runs, including a display of power to the opposite field with a shot to left-center off San Francisco lefty Barry Zito. The rap against him in the field is that he's not fast enough to play center, but so far he's been adequate with a flash of brilliance thrown in, showing that he's willing to go all out for a diving grab. With Torres' return from a calf strain on the horizon, it'll be interesting to see if Terry Collins chooses to go back to the veteran or stick with the promising yet somewhat limited rookie. That uncertainty shouldn't prevent mixed league owners in search of outfield depth from adding him, at least in the short run.
With southpaw Chris Narveson out with a torn rotator cuff, the Brewers turned to reliever and spot starter, Estrada, who allowed one run in five innings against the Rockies while striking out a career-high nine. In his fifth big league season, the former Washington National has pitched reasonably well in his nine career starts for the Brewers, averaging 5 1/3 innings per start with a 3.65 ERA, .229 opponents batting average and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings, all while going 3-2. Although rookie right-hander Wily Peralta, widely regarded as Milwaukee's best prospect, was called up to take Narveson's place on the roster, manager Ron Roenicke said the spot in the rotation is Estrada's for as long as he's effective. That could stretch the entire season, considering he's pitched well in the roles he's been asked to fill and deserved the chance. For now, Estrada is an NL-only pickup for those in search of an extra starting pitcher. But if you have a spot to stash Peralta, he's worth the long range investment in keeper leagues.
Sharing a name with Sports Illustrated's esteemed motor sports scribe and Nebraska Cornhuskers apologist didn't get the strapping first baseman on this list; his call-up to provide the potent yet suddenly snake-bitten Red Sox offense with some much needed depth did. A left-handed swinger, Anderson was once considered the jewel of the Boston organization, but he's been thoroughly blocked from getting more than a late-season cup of coffee at Fenway in the final days of the past two seasons. First in his way was Kevin Youkilis and now it's Adrian Gonzalez, the heart of the Red Sox batting order who's signed through the 2018 season. Bobby Valentine's team, however, is in dire straits in the outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury and his replacement, Jason Repko, both disabled. That leaves Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross as everyday players with newly-acquired Marlon Byrd and Darnell McDonald as the other options. But those two are a combined 7-for-74 this season (.095), which creates an environment where you could see an outfield consisting of Anderson in left, Sweeney in center and Ross in right, especially against right-handed pitchers. And although Anderson is no longer considered a source of great power and didn't get off to a fast start at Triple A Pawtucket (.255/.358/.400), anyone getting regular at-bats in a lineup that's averaging more than five runs per game is fantasy worthy. He's not a mixed-league candidate but should be on the watch list of everyone in AL-only leagues.