Middlebrooks' new approach was too much for Red Sox to ignore
Red Sox prospect Will Middlebrooks has started hitting to all fields in Triple A
Anthony Rizzo is struggling to hit left-handers, with a .207 average this spring
Manny Ramirez should be playing with A's in a little more than three weeks
With Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in the majors -- to disappointing initial results -- we need a few new top fantasy prospects to watch down in the minors. There are plenty, sure, but the one we probably should be watching will be easier to spot soon ... in the Red Sox's lineup: Will Middlebrooks.
We didn't even need a Kevin Youkilis back injury that required a DL stint to label Middlebrooks as the next most intriguing name in the minors. His Triple A manager, Arnie Beyeler, suggests Middlebrooks is worth the hype now more than ever because of an improved approach at the plate.
"The best thing he's doing is coming to bat and hitting the ball to all fields," Beyeler told a Rhode Island Fox TV affiliate. "Anytime you're doing that as a hitter, you're a pretty tough guy to pitch to."
The Red Sox's 23-year-old third baseman still strikes out too much and doesn't quite walk enough, but the numbers were tempting enough for Boston to pull the trigger on a call-up. Middlebrooks, who is nursing a sore thumb, is hitting .333 with nine homers, 27 RBI, 18 runs and three steals in just 24 games in Triple A.
Those numbers make a player owned in just 17 percent of CBSSports.com fantasy leagues a definite bargain stashee in deeper leagues.
"A lot of people are talking about it right now, but I'm here to play baseball every day," Middlebrooks told the station.
With Youk on the DL, Middlebrooks is going to be there (Boston) to play baseball every day -- and we will need a few more hot names to hype in our weekly Wednesday prospect report.
Here are the next wave of hot minor-league hitters to track, if you miss out on the Middlebrooks call-up (as you'll notice, there isn't much exciting in the way of hitters right now):
Jackson, 19 percent owned, doesn't have eye-popping numbers (.266-2-10-15-4, .369 OBP and .457 SLUG), despite a fast start and a 4-for-5 performance Tuesday night. But he is doing something most young lefty swingers don't: He is handling left-handers. He is hitting .407 (11-for-27 with .515 OBP and .889 SLG) against lefties.
"April was a good growth month for me," Jackson told MILB.com. "I endured some struggles and I'm looking forward to coming out of it and being a better player for it. I'm looking forward to the weeks ahead and putting what happened in April behind me.
"Obviously, you always want to succeed and get off to a good start, but the way I look at it is that it's forced me to make some adjustments that I wouldn't have made. I know there is a lot more to the player I am."
Jackson's best tool is speed and steals tend to be something every fantasy owner in rotisserie leagues seeks. The 23-year old is a poor man's Trout, and Jackson's advanced age gives a chance to out-produce Trout, and Harper, once he arrives.
No one can argue with the Cubs' decision to make Bryan LaHair (.390-5-14-11-0, .471-.780) their everyday first baseman, but maybe the Cubs can consider moving him to the outfield to make room for Rizzo later this year. The Cubs' plan has been to keep Rizzo in Triple A for a full season.
Rizzo, 26 percent owned, is doing his best to make that a tough plan to explain to the fanbase of the only sixth-place club in baseball right now. He is hitting a Middlebooks-like .374 with seven homers, 24 RBI, 17 runs, a .424 OBP and a .637 SLG.
The problem with Rizzo, other than the Cubs' season-long plans and the presence of the hot-hitting LaHair, is the fact Rizzo is not hitting lefties (.207), like Jackson is, and Rizzo's last trial in the majors was an unmitigated disaster last season in 128 at-bats (.141)
Yes, that Manny. Ramirez's 50-game suspension expires at the end of this month and Ramirez should start making some minor-league headlines soon, whether or not he shows his age at the plate.
Ramirez has the potential to help fantasy owners in deeper leagues, particularly if he hits third in the A's lineup in front of rookie Yoenis Cespedes. The A's (12-13) have played 25 of the 50 games Ramirez must sit, so we are just over three weeks away from a potential return.
If not for a recent assignment to the Triple A DL, Chisenhall might have been given an assignment to the major leagues. His .326-4-12-13-0 (.351-.562) stat line suggests he might have been capable of pushing the steady-but-not-spectacular Jack Hannahan back into a reserve role this summer, if not sooner.
Chisenhall's left calf strain doesn't appear to be serious, so we might be able to track Chisenhall's minor-league numbers again before the end of the month. Owned in 17 percent of leagues, don't entirely give up on the 23-year old just yet.
Myers, 21, was a lot more intriguing as a slugging catcher prospect, but he finally looks ready to make some serious headlines in the minor leagues. Like most of the hitters above, Myers is a bit flawed with his 26-to-8 strikeout-to-walk rate through 86 Double-A at-bats, but he is at least doing damage with the aggressive swings he is taking: .349-6-15-19-3 (.406-.663).
Myers has been particularly hot of late, too, posting an eight-game hitting streak (13-for-29, .448). He was underwhelming with a .254 average and eight homers in 354 at-bats last year, but his hot start this go-round makes it likely he moves to Triple A come June and perhaps the major leagues come August.
The Mets minor-league cupboard is looking a bit stronger, particularly in St. Lucie, which is off to a scorching 21-4 start thanks to erstwhile prospect Wilmer Flores (.322) and Corey Vaughn (.279, six homers), the son of former major-league slugger Greg Vaughn. Also, Zach Wheeler (1.75 ERA, .198 batting-average against and 30 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings) is looking capable of joining Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia in the Triple-A rotation.
Trevor Bauer took his first loss (5-1, 2.36 with 46 strikeouts in 34 1/3 Double-A innings) and Dylan Bundy allowed his first hit (0.00 with just one hit, one walk and 25 strikeouts in 17 low Class A innings), but they clearly can take their recent outings as "learning experiences."
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).
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