Harper, Trout lead prospects crop destined to make 2012 impact
Bryce Harper has few obstacles to majors once he works on weaknesses in minors
Julio Teheran's eventual call-up could make significant impact on fantasy season
Drew Pomeranz posted a 9-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings this spring
Baseball season is fully under way now. Ho hum. Everyone see theses current major leaguers time and again. The real excitement is found in the minors, where many have gotten only a glimpse of the up-and-comers down on the farm, maybe late in spring training games, maybe at a minor league park near you. But prospect hounds love following the numbers with the top prospects starting in the minor leagues.
It is prospect scouting season and we have some big-time prospects waiting in the wings after failing to make their teams this spring.
A lot of these guys below are going to be the top names on the rumor mills, minor league stat sheets and highlight reels. They are going to be the most-sought names come May and June, when teams call for reinforcements.
Here are the top 10 prospects to watch in the first half (with CBSSports.com's ownership percentage in parenthesis):
Davy Johnson didn't get his way, but once Harper proves capable of handling Triple-A and center field, he will be in the major leagues. It is quite telling that Mike Morse opens the year on the DL, yet Harper still opens in Triple-A. Harper is not down there because he is blocked by viable big-league talent. He has work to do. His talent suggests he is going to make short work of it.
Trout, unlike Harper, has already gotten a taste of the big leagues. He didn't set the world on fire, though. The Angels have a glut of veteran outfielders (mostly overpaid) to rotate through this April. Once the likes of Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter prove unfit for at-bats -- and Trout puts up his usual dominant numbers -- we will see a future 30-30 talent get the call. Like Harper, injuries stalled him in a bid to make the team out of spring training, but, similarly, a start in Triple-A is the best thing for him.
Brown won't unseat Shane Victorino or Hunter Pence in the Philly outfield, but if John Mayberry doesn't take the next step in left, or Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton cannot pick up enough slack at first (forcing Mayberry there), Brown is going to be up and injecting some life into an old and banged-up Phillies lineup. They figure to need some offense and a hot start by Brown in Triple-A will be a quicker fix than waiting for the returns of Chase Utley (knees) or Ryan Howard (Achilles'). Brown, who passes the scout's eye test with flying colors, hasn't set the world on fire with his numbers yet, so perhaps that is all his front-office is waiting for.
Teheran had the door wide open to make the Braves' rotation this spring, but he was beaten out by the likes of Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado for the Nos. 3-5 spots behind Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. Tim Hudson (back) is hoping to return before the end of April, so the Braves went with Delgado over Teheran at this point. Teheran has already dominated Triple-A (15-3, 2.55 with 122 strikeouts in 145 innings), so it shouldn't take long for him to rise back up when the Braves need a new No. 5 starter. This is a potential game-changer in fantasy, despite what his slow spring suggests.
Rizzo hit .364 with two homers this spring, but he wasn't given a chance to make the club. The Cubs were resigned to going with Bryan LaHair to start the season. In fact, they say they want to go with that the whole season. Rizzo is going to make that tough to do. He was easily the most impressive bat in the minors last season and another hot start will make it easier for the Cubs to change gears and get a look at him in Chicago's colors.
The Rockies cut ties with Casey Blake, so they are starting the season with Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco at third base. Who? Exactly. Nelson wasn't a bad shortstop prospect, but he doesn't figure to hit enough to hold down a regular spot with the Rockies at third, much less fantasy. Arenado figures to be one of the best hitters in the minors this season. He will move as quickly as his numbers dictate. He just might be the next Brett Lawrie, and we saw just how much he was adored in drafts this spring.
If you don't get Harper, Brown or Trout, Jackson is a nice consolation prize. The California product just might be the most fit for the major leagues. The Cubs have well-paid vets in Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and David DeJesus in their outfield, but Jackson is going to be moving one of them quickly if he gets off to a hot start. He has 25-25 potential and a decent spring likely gives the Cubs confidence to go to him early as needed.
Pomeranz actually has made the Rockies' rotation as the No. 5 starter, so he will be working with the minor league club until making his debut April 15. He is the easy answer for who will be the first prospect called up. His hot spring (0.82 ERA and 9-3 K-BB ratio in 11 innings) suggests he can be an impact fantasy pitcher right away. Stash him now if you need another starter in deeper leagues.
Bauer is the latest favorite on the prospect block. The No. 3 overall pick last June was rumored to be in the rotation mix this spring and really didn't disappoint. The D'backs just figured Josh Collmenter can hold down the No. 5 spot after the surprising year he had last season. Bauer is an elite prospect who broke Mark Prior's Pac-10 strikeout record last year. That screams front-line fantasy ace and he is more stretched out than most at this stage. So, if he arrives, look out ...
While it is Lance Lynn replacing Chris Carpenter in the Cardinals rotation out of the gate this season, it is Miller's power arm that makes him one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. He struck out 170 batters in 139 2/3 innings last season and a hot start in the minors will get him ushered to the big-league club in a hurry. If not for a mediocre spring, he would have been a hot commodity in fantasy already.
Honorable mention: RHP Jarrod Parker, 23, Athletics (22)
Parker is in the Pomeranz class. The A's don't need a No. 5 starter until April 17, so Parker can be that guy with a hot start. He wasn't as great as he can be a year ago, but he was recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, and the D'backs did get a very good young veteran arm in Trevor Cahill for him this winter. The ceiling is still high on Parker. If Parker gets the nod in Oakland later this month, you're going to want to take note.
The list of highly-debated prospect names won't end there. Heck, it might not even start there. There are just so many good prospects to pick through, anyone who strikes out 10 in seven shutout innings or goes on a homer tear can be gobbled up "just in case" in fantasy. Here are the remaining most-owned minor-leaguers to keep tabs on this April:
1. LHP Andy Pettitte, 39, Yankees (31) -- No, not a prospect but he can be an impact "call-up" if he is ready by May 1.
2. 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, 23, Indians (27) -- He's lost some luster, but it will just take a hot streak to get him back up.
3. RHP Jacob Turner, 20, Tigers (17) -- Age doesn't scare the Tigers, who can make Turner a winner right away.
4. LHP Brett Cecil, 25, Blue Jays (15) -- He has already won 15 games in the majors, so losing out on a rotation spot was a surprise.
5. LHP Danny Hultzen, 22, Mariners (15) -- Picked one spot before Bauer (above) Hultzen was given a chance to make the team without an official pitch as a pro.
6. SS Manny Machado, 19, Orioles (15) -- He is perhaps the best prospect with no chance to make the major leagues this season.
7. SS Jurickson Profar, 19, Rangers (14) -- See the Machado comment. Many like Profar even more than Machado, too.
8. RHP Brad Peacock, 24, Athletics (14) -- He is still in the mix (with Parker) for the A's No. 5 spot due to come up April 17.
9. RHP Gerrit Cole, 21, Pirates (14) -- He was picked No. 1 ahead of Hultzen and Bauer, so you have to take note -- even if the Pirates will move him more cautiously.
10. LHP Manuel Banuelos, 21, Yankees (14) -- The Yankees already have five solid starters with Pettitte and Michael Pineda (15-day DL, shoulder) waiting in the wings. He just doesn't fit, yet.
The next 10: SP Tyler Skaggs, D'backs; SP Jameson Taillon, Pirates; OF Wil Myers, Royals; C Travis D'Arnaud, Blue Jays; 3B Anthony Rendon, Nationals; 2B Johnny Giavotella, Royals; C Ryan Lavernway, Red Sox; OF Leonys Martin, Rangers; SP Dylan Bundy, Orioles; and 3B Miguel Sano, Twins.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. If you miss his Monday baseball trends, Wednesday prospect report or Friday pitching review, you can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).