Norris a help to Suzuki now, but likely a threat in near future
Oakland's Derek Norris considered on of top 3 or 4 MLB-ready catcher prospects
Chris Archer struck out seven and walked one in promising first start for Rays
Anthony Rizzo has the second-best OPS in all of organized baseball this season
Normally in this space we dig deep, sometimes very deep, to talk about players that average fantasy owner likely knows little or nothing about. However, since there are at least a handful of blue chip players available this week, please forgive this look at prospects a little higher on the Q-Score list than we normally delve into.
There's no doubt the Nationals are thrilled with the trade that brought them one of the best pitchers in the NL this season, left-hander Gio Gonzalez, acquired last offseason from the A's, but in a year or two Oakland may look back on the deal and wonder how they were able to pull off such a steal. In addition to lefty Tommy Milone, who has been impressive, going 7-5 with a 4.13 ERA thus far for Oakland, the A's also obtained right-handed prospects Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole plus Norris, the backstop who is considered by many one of the top three or four MLB-ready catching prospects in the game.
While Norris' recall appears bad for Kurt Suzuki owners, the reverse might be the case. The two are now expected to split duties behind the plate for the A's, thus providing some much-needed rest for a catcher who has backstopped the third most innings in the majors over the past three seasons (behind Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters). Norris has some pop in his bat, as evidenced by his walk-off, three-run home run in Sunday's win over the Giants. He hit eight home runs before his recall with a line of .273/.331/.474, after knocking out 20 home runs last season with Harrisburg, Washington's Eastern League affiliate. As we all know, Oakland is a pitchers' park and difficult for young hitters to thrive in, so don't expect the bearded wonder to instantly become the next Terry Steinbach. But Steinbach's numbers are exactly the numbers you can expect to see from Norris (minus Steinbach's outlier 35-home run, 100-RBI year in 1996), meaning 15 home runs and 60 RBIs.
The Rays' organizational pitching depth is the envy of most of the 29 other franchises, and Archer is yet another example why. Summoned from Durham to replace Jeremy Hellickson in the rotation, Archer, 23, responded by allowing only one earned run on just three hits over six innings in a hard-luck loss to the Nationals. The flame-throwing right-hander struck out seven Nats and walked just one, impressive for someone with a 2-to-1 K-to-BB ratio with a 4.81 ERA in at Triple A this season.
Earlier this season when Jeff Niemann went down with a broken bone in his foot, the speculation was that his replacement would come down to Archer and Alex Cobb, and Cobb prevailed. But Archer finally got his chance and came up big. He's always had electric stuff, featuring a four-seam fastball he can throw in the mid 90s, and a hard, biting slider. Still, there are questions about whether he can harness his great potential every fifth day. He's a pickup in deep AL and keeper leagues. Mixed leaguers should take a wait-and-see approach, holding out to see how he fares against the Royals and Tigers this week.
This season we've been treated to the promotions of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout and this week the third member of the most-highly-anticipated-offensive-superstar trio of '12 makes his season debut. This won't be Rizzo's big league debut -- he hit .141/.281/.242 last season for San Diego -- but it does mark the start of a new era on the North Side of Chicago. Rizzo, 22, is seen as the young savior of a franchise that hasn't had one since the days of Sammy Sosa. Playing in his third organization run by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, Rizzo's acquisition was among the first orders of business for the new regime when they took over the Cubbies over the winter, trading Andrew Cashner and his triple-digit fastball plus a minor leaguer for Rizzo and another not-ready-for-primetime talent.
At Triple A Iowa, Rizzo tore up the Pacific Coast League, leading the circuit in home runs (23), total bases (179), slugging (.696) and OPS (1.101) while placing sixth in batting (.342), third in RBIs (62). His OPS is the second-best in all of organized baseball above short-season Class A-ball, trailing only Oakland prospect Miles Head, who stands at 1.121 (between Single A Stockton and Double A Midland). There's no doubt that the 6-3, 220-pound, straight-out-of-central casting first baseman can hit, it's just a matter of when he will adjust to playing in the big leagues. There's a power void at first base in the senior circuit, so he's someone to go all-in on if you play in one of the few NL-only leagues where he's still available. There's always a chance that he'll struggle again early on in his Cubs tenure, but the lessons of Harper and Trout have taught us that there's no guarantee of that either. It's time to pounce.
Rizzo will be joined in the majors this week by the most highly-anticipated pitching prospect in the game when Bauer, the third-overall selection in the 2011 Draft, toes the rubber against the Braves at Turner Field this week. Last year in 16 starts as a junior at UCLA, Bauer was outstanding, going 13-2 with a 1.25 ERA and 203 strikeouts in 136.2 innings, earning the Golden Spikes Award as College Baseball's best player. He didn't carry that dominance over in his first pro season, going 1-2 with a 5.96 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over seven starts between High A and Double A. His fast track to the big leagues sped up this year when he jumped from Mobile of the Southern League, where he was 7-1 with a 1.68 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 48.1 innings, to Triple A Reno, where he went 4-0 with a 2.82 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 44.2 PCL innings. In those 16 starts he fanned 116 batters, the most by anyone in the minors this season. He slots in for the injured Joe Saunders in what has become a young, promising Diamondbacks rotation that features Wade Miley, Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill. Arizona is in the thick of a pennant race, so their leash will be short should the youngster struggle, but in any case, he's a no-brainer add in all leagues, keeper or not.
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