Top fantasy baseball prospects for 2009, Part I
It's all about the playing time.
Every Web site that features fantasy analysis has its list of the top fantasy prospects, but most of them take the long view, basing their rankings on potential. This list is different. All we're concerned with is which prospects can help your team this season. Not 2010 or 2011, but right now. So although we'll definitely factor in upside, potential playing time is one of the most important considerations in ranking prospects for 2009.
For example, Reds outfielder Chris Dickerson, who is technically a rookie because he is short of the 130 at-bat threshold, would not appear on a list of the best prospects in the game if we were to look at overall future potential. If we're looking at just fantasy prospects for 2009, however, Dickerson's potential starting job puts him among the players to which you should pay close attention. We want guys who are going to play, while still downgrading them if they might not do much with the playing time they might be given.
I might like Buster Posey just as much as the next analyst. But if I think he'll go the Matt Wieters route of spending the entire season in the minors before taking over for Bengie Molina as the Giants' starting catcher in 2010, Posey shouldn't be on a 2009 prospects list because he will have no major league impact.
Undoubtedly, I have excluded some young prospects who will manage to rocket all the way up from Class A to the show. For example, I didn't expect Clayton Kershaw to make it all the way to the majors last season. If you're scanning the list, however, and wondering where Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner or Braves outfielder Jason Heyward are because you think they'll be awesome, you're not wrong. They will be awesome, just not in the big leagues this season.
If you'd prefer to see a list for keeper and dynasty leagues, check out Keith Law's list of 100 prospects, which will serve you well.
I don't really think that highly of some of the prospects (even though this is a list of top prospects), but because they have the chance of getting some decent playing time, I make sure to address them so you know what to expect. Try not to get too hung up on who is ranked 20th versus who is ranked 21st. In many cases, especially as we get further down the list, the differences aren't that great. If you have questions about why a certain player ranks highly, again, it's often because of the playing-time issue, not because he's necessarily a better prospect than players below him in the rankings. You might decide a lower-ranked player is the one you would choose as a matter of personal preference, or because it's a level of risk you are more willing to tolerate, or because that player's potential category contributions fit your team better.
Because this list is being produced days before the first games of spring, it'll be pretty fluid and subject to change based on developments during camp. Spring performance, injuries, changes in a projected role and all sorts of other factors can shoot a player's '09 fantasy value (and thus his ranking on this list) significantly up or down during the next month. This list represents a best guess as exhibition play starts, but make sure you closely monitor our reports from spring training for the latest information. Note that a player needs to have maintained his rookie status to appear here, which means he must have attained fewer than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 45 days on a big league roster.
1. Matt Wieters, C, Orioles
Wieters should hit for both average and power from day one when he becomes the Orioles' starting catcher, an event that might be delayed a little bit so as not to start his arbitration clock and keep him under control for another year. Many thought fantasy owners were reaching for players such as Evan Longoria and Geovany Soto last season, but doing so worked out well. Do the same with Wieters. He is the top prospect to pursue this year and also should be one of the top 10 catchers to come off the board on draft day. Find another catcher to fill in for the first month or so and wait for the fantasy goodness that likely will come starting in May.
End of camp update: Wieters will indeed start the season in the minors, but likely will be up by June, and his impact bat can't be ignored. Ryan Braun and Hunter Pence showed in 2007 that despite starting the season in the minors, you can still have big fantasy value.
2. David Price, SP, Rays
You already know about Price, but the question will be how many innings he pitches this season. The Rays have two pitchers in Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann who are out of minor league options and conceivably could fill the last open slot in the rotation while Price's innings are conserved in the bullpen or, worse, in the starting rotation at Triple-A. Rob Neyer details this here. I don't think that's the most likely scenario, but even if Price doesn't start off in the big league rotation, he'll be there soon enough. Expect 150 innings with strikeouts and a sub-4.00 ERA. More innings would be just a bonus. He still has work to do and won't be a star just yet but will hold his own just fine.
End of camp update: Unfortunately, Price did caught up in a numbers game, both in terms of players out of options and also likely in terms of service time. That said, like Wieters, he's not expected to stay in the minors more than a month or two, and 150 innings at the big league level are still entirely possible this season.
3. Cameron Maybin, OF, Marlins
Maybin is still a very raw athlete with projection in his body who will swing and miss at a lot of pitches, but his speed will be useful in the short term. His attraction to fantasy players for '09 is his starting role in center field and ability to steal at least 20 bags while providing double-digit homers given full-time at-bats. The batting average? Well, that's another story. Many have compared him to Mike Cameron, and I will join that chorus. Fantasy owners know Cameron has been a solid fantasy asset for years, even though you have to cover his batting average elsewhere. Maybin can be a fantasy producer right out of the gate.
End of camp update: The only question is Maybin's spot in the order. He may bat leadoff against left-handed pitching, and at the bottom of the order against right-handers. He's going to play, and he's going to run, but the power may take a little bit of time to come as Maybin says he's going to be focused more on just getting on-base.
4. Travis Snider, OF, Blue Jays
Given the Jays' lack of options, especially when it comes to players with power, Snider will be given a long leash as the team's primary designated hitter. The average might not be great -- likely something in the .260 range -- and he'll rack up the strikeouts, but he'll have 20-homer power in the short term with the potential for more if he adapts to big league pitching quicker than you'd expect from a 21-year-old. He'll eventually become a middle-of-the-order hitter in the big leagues, but we don't know how much of that ability will be on display in the immediate future.
End of camp update: Despite missing some time with a sore knee, Snider homered four times this spring, and is still expected to be the team's designated hitter and make a run at AL Rookie of the Year.
5. Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals
The Cardinals' experiment in trying Skip Schumaker at second base is a boon to Rasmus, as it helps make his path to playing time a little clearer. Last year I said Rasmus reminds me a bit of Nick Markakis, and I'm not backing off that thought. Rasmus started slowly for the second straight season as he battled his swing mechanics and an assortment of injuries, the biggest a sprained knee in July that cost him the final month of the season and prevented a call-up. However, he was raking before his season ended. The 22-year-old didn't play winter ball but instead worked on adding muscle before reporting to camp, a task in which he reportedly succeeded. Rasmus is capable of double-digit steals and homers even in part-time play, and if Chris Duncan's twice-operated-on neck remains an issue, even more at-bats could come Rasmus' way.
End of camp update: Rasmus will break camp as the team's fourth outfielder, and should not be overlooked in the reserve round of mixed drafts, as he could start taking some of Duncan's playing time as the season goes on.
6. Chris Perez and Jason Motte, RP, Cardinals
One of these two likely will win the Cardinals' closing role, although veterans such as Ryan Franklin also are in the mix. Motte has the bigger upside simply because he has more development in his future. He converted from catcher to pitcher just two seasons ago and so far has gotten by on nothing but sick high-90s fastballs while trying to learn a second pitch. Perez brings the hard stuff as well, but his control problems might not settle down enough to keep him in a ninth-inning role. Whichever one you pick, handcuff him with the other just in case, as they present a good opportunity for cheap saves.
End of camp update: Though it's not technically official yet, Motte has won the job, with Perez demoted to Triple-A. Motte has not only been bringing heat this spring, he's been throwing strikes, which has always been the thing that has set Perez back. Franklin may squeeze out a save chance here and there, but the job is Motte's to lose. Motte's slider and change have both shown some improvement this spring, and he could be a top-20 closer with his strikeout ability.
7. Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
Andrus hit .295 with 54 thefts at Double-A last season despite missing three weeks with a fractured finger on his throwing hand. His skills have drawn comparisons to vintage Edgar Renteria, profiling as an above-average defender who can hit .290 with 10-15 homers and 30 or more steals. We need to temper expectations for 2009, however, as he's just 20 years old. Michael Young's move to third base to make room for Andrus this season has been well documented, and even with Omar Vizquel on board as veteran insurance, the job is Andrus' to lose. He lacks power, and his average will struggle to stay better than .250, but if he plays, he can steal bases for speed-starved fantasy owners. As much as we dislike one-category players at times, they do have value.
End of camp update: Andrus will be the Rangers' starting shortstop and will bat ninth. The Rangers won't be too concerned about his batting average as long as he brings the defense and speed, and infield hits may help prop up his numbers.
8. Chris Dickerson, OF, Reds
Dickerson has a chance to claim the starting left-field job, and although his average might seem a bit iffy, double-digit homers and 20-steal potential would come with the at-bats. There already is talk, though, that he could be in a platoon situation with Jonny Gomes. At least Dickerson would receive more at-bats and still would be a matchup play in mixed leagues. But if it looks as though Red manager Dusty Baker is going the veteran route with Gomes or, even worse, Jacque Jones, move Dickerson down your lists.
End of camp update: Dickerson hit the ball really well this spring, and continued to show both power and speed. It appears he will have the lion's share of at-bats in left field. His strikeout rate is a concern, but there's the potential for some quiet value here.
9. Kenshin Kawakami, SP, Braves
The consensus on Kawakami is that he's a potential No. 4 starter because of his cutter and ability to throw strikes. He also has added a splitter in the past year. But he might be a bit homer-prone, and how well his command translates will be the key. He's locked in the as the fourth starter, and a Hiroki Kuroda-like campaign certainly is plausible.
End of camp update: Kawakami acquitted himself well this spring, despite occasional issues with finding the strike zone. He had some shoulder fatigue in mid-March, but will open the season in the Braves' rotation.
10. Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Marlins
Entering camp, Sanchez is the front-runner for the Marlins' first-base job. He's attempting to make the jump from Double-A to the majors, but he'll need to produce right away because Dallas McPherson hit 42 home runs last season in Triple-A and Logan Morrison is advancing quickly through the system. I've viewed Sanchez as a sleeper ever since I saw him at the Arizona Fall League in 2006, and he has hit .305 with more walks than strikeouts in the low minors. He also has improved his power, hitting more than 40 doubles in each of the past two seasons. He'll have to hit in the spring, though, so watch closely. Otherwise, Jorge Cantu will play first and either McPherson or Emilio Bonifacio would play third.
End of camp update: Slowed by a knee injury this spring, Sanchez was sent to Triple-A after losing out on a starting job to Bonifacio. However, if Bonifacio struggles out of the gate -- a distinct possibility -- Sanchez could get a quick recall.
11. Taylor Teagarden, C, Rangers
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has the inside track on the Rangers' starting catching job, but Teagarden's power and on-base ability put him right in Salty's rearview mirror. His average won't be great, but he can draw walks and take the ball out of the park even in a backup role. His above-average defense might help him squeeze out more and more playing time as the season goes on, as questions remain about Saltalamacchia's defense. Teagarden's two calling cards are power potential and above-average defense behind the plate. This year's catcher pool has a number of intriguing offensive options for those who want to grab their backstops late, and Teagarden's homer potential in a hitters' park is one of them.
End of camp update: Teagarden will open the season as the backup to Saltalamacchia, but is expected to see a bit more time than the average backup. He's a definite sleeper in all formats.
12. Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies
The Rockies' outfield picture is crowded with Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs the lead candidates to join Brad Hawpe on Opening Day, with Scott Podsednik and Carlos Gonzalez also in the mix for playing time. That situation won't make it easy for Fowler to earn at-bats in 2009, but he might do just that. He likely won't start the season as the Rockies' center fielder, but he could end the season there. A tremendous athlete, Fowler is a player who looks to be able to turn some of his physical tools into baseball skills. He has been learning how to switch-hit since becoming a pro, and although his swing still isn't very smooth and authoritative from the left side, it's improving. His speed can pay immediate fantasy dividends while the rest of the package comes along, and he also could post a decent batting average because of his legs.
End of camp update: Fowler was so impressive in camp, he will be the team's fourth outfielder and could work his way into some sort of platoon arrangement in either left or center depending on the performances of Smith and Spilborghs. It's not of the question that he could get 400-plus at-bats.
13. Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees
Still technically a rookie, if Gardner plays, he can steal in bunches. His battle with Melky Cabrera for the center-field job needs to be watched very closely. He doesn't bring much else to the table but has shown the ability to draw walks and make contact, helping his chances of reaching first base. From there, he uses his speed to get home. He swiped 50 bases in 136 combined games between Triple-A and the big leagues last season and went 13-for-14 in the majors. Remember when Scott Podsednik routinely swiped 40 or more bags per season?
End of camp update: Gardner did win the center field job in the Bronx, and will attempt to use his thievery skills at the bottom of the Yankees' order. Manager Joe Girardi says that Gardner will be playing most every day for now.
14. Tommy Hanson, SP, Braves
Hanson is on the outside looking in for a spot in the Braves' rotation, despite dazzling me and other scouts by blowing hitters away with his four-pitch repertoire at the AFL and making me think I was looking at a pitcher who reminded me a lot of John Lackey. The Braves' front three of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens should be fairly stable, with Kawakami and Tom Glavine filling out the last two spots. Jorge Campillo and Jo-Jo Reyes are could be in the mix should someone falter. Still, if Hanson keeps pitching the way he pitched last season, he can force himself into a spot sooner rather than later, and he profiles as a true top-of-the-rotation guy. I definitely want to stash him away this season and hope he'll work his way into the rotation.
End of camp update: Hanson was very impressive in camp and will start the year in Triple-A and wait for an opening. Once he makes his big league debut, don't expect him to go back down again.
15. Mat Gamel , 3B, Brewers
Gamel's, um, questionable defense at the hot corner has been well documented, but he can hit. Nobody believes he'll stay at third, but for now, he's still there, as the other positions he conceivably could play in Milwaukee are occupied. Given that the tandem of Bill Hall and Mike Lamb are what stand in his way, Gamel could see significant at-bats this season. Gamel won't hurt you with his batting average and will be a solid run producer with plus power. A shoulder impingement early in camp, though, could not have come at a worse time, given that Hall is on the shelf for a bit. Still, that platoon arrangement might not keep him out of a big league lineup for long if he keeps swinging the bat like he's capable.
End of camp update: Gamel's playing time will continue to be directly linked to Hall's ability to bounce back this season. The team waived Lamb, and Gamel will start the year at Triple-A to wait for his chance. Given Hall's past struggles, that chance could come sooner rather than later.
16. Matt LaPorta, 1B, Indians
In Indians general manager Mark Shapiro's ideal scenario, LaPorta would tear up Triple-A for a month or two and give him some hard decisions to make around June. LaPorta won't hit for much average, but he will post a good on-base percentage and will have 40-homer power as he develops as a big league hitter. His bat could force the issue at first base or DH if Travis Hafner or Ryan Garko struggles at the beginning of the season.
End of camp update: LaPorta will actually play the corner outfield spots at Triple-A, after mashing the ball in camp, hitting .361 and slugging .611, which gives him even more of a chance to see big league time in the first half of the season.
17. Koji Uehara, SP, Orioles
Uehara is a fly-ball pitcher who will have to make sure his excellent command in Japan makes the trip overseas, else he could have a long season in the AL East. Still, he throws strikes and is locked in as the second starter for the Orioles. He profiles as more of a pitcher at the back end of the rotation, and he definitely has some downside, but he could have some fantasy value this season.
End of camp update: He's battled a hamstring injury in camp, but will be the No. 2 starter.
18. Derek Holland, SP, Rangers
If it seems as though the lefty Holland came out of nowhere as a top pitching prospect, well, it's because he kind of has. Holland barely hit 90 mph on the gun when he was drafted in 2006. His fastball now sits in the mid-90s and reaches up to 97 at times. Holland also has an above-average changeup to complement the fastball and give right-handers fits. His command is advanced enough that even though Neftali Feliz has the higher long-term ceiling, Holland could make a more immediate impact in 2009 if given a shot in the Rangers' rotation. The back end of the Rangers' rotation could be a train wreck again this season, so given the pitchers ahead of him, that shot could come sooner rather than later.
End of camp update: Holland did nothing camp to dissuade anyone from thinking he will make his big league debut this year. The Rangers' rotation is still full of question marks and players with limited upside.
19. David Huff, SP, Indians
One of my sleeper AL pitchers for '09, Huff will have a chance to earn the fifth starter's job this spring in a battle with Aaron Laffey, Zach Jackson, Scott Lewis and Jeremy Sowers. If he doesn't take advantage of that opportunity, he'll take a spot regardless when Carl Pavano inevitably goes down or Anthony Reyes proves to be less than durable. When Huff's on, the southpaw commands four pitches to all parts of the zone. His fastball works anywhere from 86-92 mph, and he fires two-seamers to the catcher's arm side and four-seamers to the glove side. His changeup is his best pitch, a 74-78 mph offering with sink and fade that he throws with good arm speed. His delivery is effortless and deceptive. He repeats it fairly well and throws strikes. There's a lot to like here.
End of camp update: A biceps issue cost Huff a chance at a rotation slot, as his projected spring starts went to Lewis instead. However, he's healthy now, and will wait for a chance at Triple-A. Given the uncertainty of Cleveland's rotation after the front two of Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona, Huff will almost certainly get a look at some point.
20. Eric Young Jr., 2B, Rockies
Young has a chance to win playing time at second base for the Rockies this season but also could win a utility role off the bench playing outfield from time to time. Either way, his speed demands attention, as he swiped 46 bags with a .391 on-base percentage in the Texas League last year, a nice follow-up to his 73-steal season in the California League in 2007 and 81-steal campaign the year before that. He's a completely one-dimensional player, but that dimension is intriguing, and we know the Rockies are totally willing to start such players, as they've used Willy Taveras. Many speedsters' Double-A on-base percentages evaporate as they move up the ladder, but those gaudy theft totals need to be on your radar screen.
End of camp update: Young will start at Triple-A and likely break into the big leagues as a utility man later this season. His speed is still well worth paying attention to for NL-only reserve list consideration.
21. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
Players who have a combination of power and speed are always in high demand among fantasy owners, and McCutchen could eventually bring both. He's still a work in progress, though, and the Pirates have enough outfield options surrounding Nate McLouth to let the 22-year-old continue to develop at Triple-A. Still, if McCutchen starts out well and the Pirates' season goes as it has gone in recent years, he could be a fantasy factor in the second half.
End of camp update: McCutchen had a fantastic spring and made it really tough for the team to send him down, as he almost hit his way into a job. Nyjer Morgan is still the starter in left field, but did not have a good camp and can't afford a slow April. McCutchen will be up at some point, and when he does come up he's going to play.
22. Fernando Perez, OF, Rays
Anyone who watched the playoffs last year knows about Perez's speed. If you're looking for cheap steals, Perez might be your guy. Rajai Davis stole 25 bags in fewer than 200 at-bats for the A's last season, and Perez can get some thefts in a similar fashion if he makes the roster as a backup outfielder. As of now, he's penciled in to start the season at Triple-A because the Rays have five outfielders (Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Matt Joyce, Gabe Gross, Gabe Kapler), but pay attention if it looks as though Perez will earn some playing time.
End of camp update: Unfortunately, Perez dislocated his left wrist this spring and will be out four to five months, so cross him off for this season.
23. David Freese, 3B, Cardinals
With Troy Glaus expected to miss the first month of the season, Freese will have the first shot to claim the third-base job on Opening Day. He'll battle Brian Barden for the role because the team would prefer not to rush Brett Wallace and would like to give him time to develop at the upper levels of the minors. The 25-year-old Freese hit .306 and slugged .511 at Triple-A last season and could be a useful player for the first month and perhaps more if Glaus doesn't bounce back well from his shoulder surgery. Wallace is the team's third baseman of the near future, but Freese is the guy for the moment.
End of camp update: Joe Mather appeared to have the job early in camp, after Freese reported to spring training still limited from a January car accident, but Mather slumped so badly in spring games that Freese was eventually able to take advantage. Then came news that Glaus could be out for a good portion of the first half of the season, further enhancing Freese's immediate fantasy value.
24. Rick Porcello, SP, Tigers
The Tigers appear committed to pushing Porcello quickly, and he is likely to make his debut at some point this season. Even manager Jim Leyland has conceded the 20-year-old "is not that far away," and the early returns from camp have been impressive. Porcello's profile is exactly what you want in a pitcher, a ground-ball hurler who gets punchouts. He's already showing an advanced feel for pitching that will make him a factor for a rotation spot at some point this season.
End of camp update: Porcello won the fourth starter's job, and though the last time the Tigers promoted a player from the low minors to a rotation spot this quickly (Jeremy Bonderman), it didn't go so well that first year, Porcello could be a special case. The upside is tantalizing, and he could be worth a late look in your league to see if you get lucky.
25. Alcides Escobar, SS, Brewers
We're unlikely to see Escobar -- of whom I've been a big fan ever since he held his own at age 19 in the Arizona Fall League a few seasons ago -- unless someone gets hurt, but if either J.J. Hardy or Rickie Weeks (who has never been the picture of health) winds up in the trainer's room, Escobar could have a starting job in the middle infield. He has little pop but can bring batting average and steals.
End of camp update: Escobar will start the season at Triple-A and wait for a middle infield slot open up.
26. Neftali Feliz, SP, Rangers
The Rangers' starting staff should leave much to be desired yet again this season, and it is certainly within the realm of possibility that one of the best pitching prospects in the game could make his big league debut in 2009. That's a tall but doable order for a pitcher with fewer than 170 innings of pro experience and just 10 starts in higher than Class A ball, but his electric fastball and good changeup could lead to some immediate success. He blistered the minors last season, losing very little off his numbers in a late-season promotion to Double-A. He struck out 153 with just 51 walks in 127 2/3 innings total, allowing just three homers all season. The Rangers hopefully have learned some lessons from rushing Edinson Volquez too quickly, but Feliz could force the issue by the second half. He is a potential future ace to tuck away.
End of camp update: Like teammate Derek Holland, Feliz impressed in camp, and likely will make his debut at some point this season, especially as the Rangers will definitely need more starting pitching at some point.
28. Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Nationals
Zimmermann more than held his own at Double-A in his first full season of pro ball, posting a 103-to-39 strikeout-to-walk rate in 106 innings and showing his slider could be an out pitch. He's a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter who has a chance to win a big league job sooner rather than later, given that the Nationals have no problems pushing pitching prospects up the ladder quickly.
End of camp update: Zimmermann won the fifth starter's job and likely will see 150 innings this year if all goes well. He showed he can throw all three of his pitches for strikes and was not afraid to attack hitters. He's worth a look in deep leagues.
29. Jeff Samardzija, P, Cubs
Samardzija is battling for the fifth-starter role with the Cubs and would bump up this list if he were to win the job. For now, he trails Sean Marshall for the spot. If Samardzija doesn't win it, he likely would be back in set-up and middle-relief roles, which would not seem nearly as attractive to fantasy owners. His command and control are still shaky, so temper expectations regardless of his role, but he could continue to have some success on velocity alone.
End of camp update: Samardzija struggled enough in camp that he's struggling just to make the bullpen, so no fantasy value here for the moment.
30. Travis Ishikawa, 1B, Giants
Ishikawa is the leading in-house option for the first-base job, unless the Giants add a corner infielder later in camp to push the 25-year-old back to the bench. Ishikawa doesn't have much upside. He can post a decent OBP and might hit 10-15 home runs, but his average might be in the .250-.260. Even if he does play, he'll probably just be a stopgap until his team finds something better. He's an endgame pick at best in NL-only leagues if it looks as though he'll earn significant at-bats.
End of camp update: Ishikawa had a huge camp (seven homers), to solidify his hold on the first base job, and is now a solid play in the NL endgame.
31. James McDonald, P, Dodgers
McDonald is pegged to start the season in the Dodgers' bullpen, likely in a middle-relief role, so he gets his feet wet in the big leagues. The plan is for him to start later in the season. He's not an overpowering pitcher but has good secondary stuff with a curve and changeup that make his total repertoire effective. His upside is as a fourth or fifth starter because he could be a little homer-prone, though his home park will help in that regard. He's a sleeper if he lands a starting rotation gig, a distinct possibility given the question marks at the back of the Dodgers' rotation, but he's just another guy if he pitches in middle relief.
End of camp update: McDonald wound up winning the fifth starter's job, as the other candidates were just horrible. The team will monitor his workload, but there's some definite upside, especially given his home park.
32. Jon Niese, SP, Mets
Niese will compete with Tim Redding and Freddy Garcia, among others, for the Mets' fifth-starter job. Although Niese picked up a useful cutter last season, the 22-year-old might still struggle with his command in the big leagues this year, and his lack of consistent velocity doesn't give him much margin for error. Still, his curve is a major league pitch, and he could have some use in NL-only leagues if he wins a spot in the rotation.
End of camp update: Niese couldn't beat out Livan Hernandez for the fifth starter job, as he struggled with his command in camp, but he'll be back at some point.
33. Max Ramirez, C, Rangers
Ramirez likely will see big league time only if one of the Rangers' other young catchers gets injured or dealt, as has been rumored. The problem is he's not a very good defensive catcher and likely will spend most of the season at Triple-A trying to improve his defense. If given a chance, however, his bat can be an asset in the big leagues, as he'll hit for pop and get on base at a position where fantasy owners are always looking for offense. The Rangers are in an enviable position with their catching situation.
34. Aaron Poreda, SP, White Sox
Poreda has a chance to win the fifth starter's job or a spot in the bullpen out of spring training, and given the team's other options, I expect he'll have a spot as a starter regardless at some point. The southpaw can dial it up to the mid-90s, and his slider has potential, but his secondary stuff is still very much a work in progress. He's being pushed a little too quickly, but his raw ability could compensate in the short term and give him some fantasy value.
End of camp update: Poreda didn't show enough control or development of his secondary stuff to win a job coming out of camp, but he'll almost certainly make his debut at some point this season, though it might be in the bullpen.
35. Scott Lewis, SP, Indians
Lewis is a command lefty who throws strikes and finally overcame years of injuries to make his big league debut last year. His fastball barely tops 87 mph, but he has a plus change and can hit his spots. His fly-ball tendencies could be problematic, but he's a mild sleeper if he earns a spot in the back of the Indians' rotation again this season. If he does, he'll provide yet another example of why you want your sons to be left-handed.
End of camp update: Lewis won the fourth starter spot, and is a sleeper in AL-only formats. However, he had a couple of horrific outings after it was announced he won the job, so he'll have to find his stuff again in a hurry.
36. J.A. Happ, SP, Phillies
Happ is one of the leading contenders for the final spot in the Phillies' rotation with Chan Ho Park, Kyle Kendrick and fellow prospect Carlos Carrasco, and that is exactly what Happ profiles as: a back-of-the-rotation starter who can miss enough bats to have some value in NL-only leagues.
End of camp update: Happ lost out to Park as the fifth starter, despite pitching well in camp. More than likely, he'll take over that role at some point.
37. Adam Miller, RP, Indians
Is this the year Miller finally stays on the mound and contributes in the big leagues after finger and elbow injuries derailed three of his past four seasons? The Indians hope that by moving him to the bullpen, that will be the case. They also hope his upper-90s heater and sharp slider will give them a solid set-up option behind Kerry Wood and that Miller could be a future closer. If nothing else, Miller can be a solid strikeout-per-inning reliever, and those have more fantasy value than many owners think.
End of camp update: Miller is still having finger issues that cropped up again right before spring games started, and is trying to change his delivery to alleviate them. He can be safely ignored for now.
38. Michael Bowden, SP, Red Sox
In an ideal scenario for the Red Sox, their top six starters (seven when John Smoltz returns) do as they expect, allowing Bowden to continue to develop as a starter in Triple-A or get indoctrinated into the big leagues in a low-pressure bullpen role. Stranger things have happened, however, and Bowden isn't that far off from being a solid option in the middle of a big league rotation.
End of camp update: Bowden is still in the back of the pecking order for a rotation job, especially when Smoltz returns, but since when has a big league team not needed a lot of starting pitching depth?
39. Carlos Carrasco, SP, Phillies
As mentioned in the Happ comment, Carrasco will compete for the fifth starter's job in Philly. He's always been a little overrated as a prospect for me. He's a little too hittable and has no real big league out pitch, so he might not be able to sustain his strikeout ability. Still, Carrasco has enough potential that I wouldn't mind stashing him away in NL-only leagues this year and hope to get lucky.
End of camp update: Carrasco will open the year in the Triple-A rotation and wait for an opening, though J.A. Happ is likely ahead of him in the immediate pecking order.
40. Gio Gonzalez, SP, A's
Gonzalez has long been a hot starting pitching prospect, and even while getting lit up in the big leagues last season, he was still striking out a batter per inning. That said, sometimes he nibbles a bit too much and has trouble throwing enough strikes. The diminutive lefty definitely has some weapons, especially a curve that's an out pitch when he can put it in the strike zone. But he must refine his command and control if he's to have success at the big league level, especially this season. I've never been a huge fan, and the worst-case scenario is that he could be just another Casey Fossum. He's a favorite to win the fifth starter's job for Oakland this spring, but he might not keep the job. The role, however, and his ability to miss bats means he must be on this list.
End of camp update: A shoulder injury prevented Gonzalez from winning a rotation job, but he'll likely get an opportunity at some point.
41. Brett Cecil, SP, Blue Jays
A former college closer whom the Jays converted to starter, Cecil has advanced quickly, thanks to a solid three-pitch arsenal. He reached Triple-A in his second season and seems ticketed for big league starts at some point this season. The Jays have serious question marks about their rotation this year, and Cecil could be one of the answers. He's a definite sleeper in AL-only leagues.
End of camp update: Cecil will start at Triple-A to work on refining his command, but the Blue Jays still have potential issues with the back end of their rotation, so Cecil will get a chance at some point.
42. Brett Anderson, SP, A's
Although Anderson lacks the upside of teammate Trevor Cahill, he is more polished and a bit more ready for prime time. Given the uncertainty in the A's rotation, his fastball command and feel for solid secondary stuff could allow him to have success in the second half of the season. He has pitched just six games above Class A but has a polished arm and could move quickly.
End of camp update: Anderson was one of the most impressive arms in the Cactus League this spring, and parlayed that into a rotation spot to start the season. Pay attention in all formats, as he could have an impact right out of the gate.
43. Chris Tillman, SP, Orioles
If you're the Orioles, everything after the first two spots in your starting rotation is a total uncertainty. The most advanced of your premier pitching prospects could enter play this season, even if you want to be careful about not rushing him. Tillman, who will turn 21 in April, fanned 154 in 135 innings last season, thanks to a plus curveball and ability to change speeds. He still walks a few more than you might like, but he'll be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter very soon.
End of camp update: Tillman was sent to minor league camp very early, but his future is still very bright. He'll work on his changeup as well as fastball command in the minors, and could still have some impact in the second half.
44. Jordan Schafer, OF, Braves
The Braves will go with a combination of Josh Anderson and Gregor Blanco as their center fielders to begin the season. Neither of those two might keep Schafer out of the lineup for long if he starts strong in the minors. After his performance-enhancing drug suspension last season, he had trouble getting back on track, but he started coming around and was turning heads for the right reasons again by the end last season. Because Jason Heyward isn't ready yet, the center-field job could be all Schafer's by the end of the season, and he has 20-20, homer-steal, potential for fantasy players for a full season if he can handle southpaws a bit better.
End of camp update: With the trade of Anderson, it appears Schafer will be the Opening Day center fielder, and is a definite sleeper in all formats given 500 at-bats. He would make a big jump up this list if it were re-ranked today.
45. Jason Donald, IF, Phillies
Here's your Chase Utley hedge, if you own him and aren't feeling lucky. Donald, a shortstop by trade, is capable of playing second or third to facilitate getting into the lineup. Manager Charlie Manuel has already said that Donald won't make the club unless he can play every day, and the closer Utley gets to full health, the less likely it is that will happen. Between Utley's hip and Pedro Feliz's back, however, Donald has a couple of avenues with which to get playing time this season if neither recovers as expected, not to mention he might be the Phillies' prime trade chip at the deadline. He might have been dealt this offseason were it not for Utley's injury. Donald can hit for average, provide at least 10 home runs and swipe a few bags given regular at-bats. The downside is he could spend most of the season at Triple-A.
End of camp update: Donald will open the season at Triple-A so he can play every day, but any injury at second, third, or short will get him a quick ticket back to the big leagues.
46. Drew Sutton, IF/OF, Astros
Sutton repeated Double-A this season, but the 25-year-old second baseman hit .317 with a .931 OPS while stealing 20 bases. A switch-hitter, his swing is smooth and balanced from both sides. His relatively slight frame would indicate he doesn't generate a lot of power, but he has some pop thanks to great swing mechanics and can square balls up consistently. He showed to be fairly versatile in the AFL, being able to play shortstop and the outfield, and I think he has a chance of becoming a quietly productive player. He has an inside track on at least a utility job coming out of camp, and given that Geoff Blum and the oft-injured Kazuo Matsui are players who stand in the way of his playing time, Sutton could be a player to stash away in NL-only leagues.
End of camp update: The Astros' trade for Jeff Keppinger means Sutton will start the year in the minors, but a strong start to the year could get him to Houston by mid-season.
47. Chris Getz, Brent Lillibridge and Jayson Nix, 2B, White Sox
These three players will battle for Chicago's second-base job until Gordon Beckham is ready to take over, which could be sometime this season. The winner of the competition might be worth a look in deep AL-only leagues. I'm not a fan of any of them being able to hold on to the job for any length of time. Getz is more of a utility player, I don't think Nix can consistently hit big league pitching and Lillibridge might not make enough contact to take advantage of his speed tool. Of the three, Lillibridge is the most attractive to fantasy owners, as he could steal 30 playing every day.
End of camp update: Getz won the starting second base job, and Lillibridge won a utility role, backing up at second and short. Nix got hurt in camp and cost himself a chance at a job. Beckham continues to loom in the minors, so both Getz and Lillibridge have to perform right away to keep their respective roles.
48. Jose Ceda, RP, Marlins
Acquired from the Cubs in the Kevin Gregg trade, Ceda -- with his upper-90s heat -- is a dark horse candidate to pick up some saves in the Florida bullpen if Matt Lindstrom can't hang on to the job, provided Ceda's minor shoulder issue at the beginning of camp remains just that.
End of camp update: Ceda's shoulder is now healthy, but he'll begin the year at Triple-A and attempt to pitch his way into a setup role in the big leagues.
49. Ryan Perry, RP, Tigers
The plan is for Perry, Detroit's 2008 first-round draft pick, to begin the season as the closer at Double-A. He got his feet wet for 14 games in the low minors last year, but the team has acknowledged he is on the fast track and could even finish camp with the big league club. If he doesn't, he still might not stay in the minors very long. Given the questions at the back of the Tigers' pen and Perry's prototypical closer stuff, including a 97-98 mph heater, he bears watching.
End of camp update: Perry was lights out in camp to win a bullpen job, and it's not out of the realm of possibility to think he could overtake Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon to become the team's closer at some point this season.
50. Bud Norris, P, Astros
If David Huff is my AL pitching sleeper this season, Bud Norris is my NL guy. Norris is a 23-year-old right-hander in the Astros organization who was drafted in the sixth round in 2006. He missed two months last season with an elbow injury but dazzled with a three-pitch combination at the AFL, even flashing a plus change. Norris has been a starter virtually his entire pro career, including 19 outings at Double-A in '08, sporting a 4.05 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 80 innings. He turned some heads, however, in relief and might be best suited as a late-inning power reliever or closer in the future. Norris picks up a lot of velocity out of the 'pen, consistently working at 95-97 mph with late movement. He couples his fastball with a high-80s power breaking ball, a pitch that he throws like a curve but acts more like a late-breaking slider. His build and repertoire have drawn some comparisons to Ben Sheets, as both are relatively short right-handers who have two power pitches, but Norris' command is far behind Sheets' at this point. Regardless of Norris' role, his live arm is one to watch, and I think he could eventually close games in the big leagues if the Astros decide starting is not for him. Why else is he a sleeper of mine? Here is the projected Astros rotation behind Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez as of this writing: Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler and Brandon Backe. And LaTroy Hawkins is Jose Valverde's primary set-up man. That's why.
End of camp update: Norris had his moments this spring, where he was used strictly as a reliever, and was one of the later cuts. He'll work in the Triple-A rotation and wait for a chance.
[Editor's Note: We have removed the (No. 27) entry dedicated to Angels prospect Nick Adenhart out of respect for the Adenhart family and the Los Angeles Angels. Adenhart was tragically killed in a vehicular accident on April 9.]Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.
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