Minor Achievements: Arm yourself, now!
Ian Stewart, 3B, Rockies: I wrote about Stewart recently, but figured his major league debut is cause for revisiting this 22-year-old potential stud. A lefty hitter who was taken in the first round of the 2003 draft, Stewart was rated Colorado's No. 1 prospect in 2005-06 by Baseball America after he batted .317/.401/.558 as an 18-year-old in the rookie-level Pioneer League in 2003. He then batted .319/.398/.594 in the low-A South Atlantic League as a 19-year-old in 2004. In the Sally League, Stewart walked 66 times in 505 at-bats and had 31 doubles, nine triples and 30 homers. Many were frustrated by Stewart's .274/.353/.497 performance at high-A Modesto in '05, and then jumped right off the bandwagon in '06, when he batted .268/.351/.452 at Double-A Tulsa.
This isn't rational. You had a 21-year-old kid at Double-A who belted 41 doubles, seven triples and 10 homers versus pitchers who were two or three years older. This season, Stewart batted . 304/.376/.478 with 23 doubles, two triples and 15 homers in 414 at-bats. His strikeout and walk totals were decent (49 walks, 92 whiffs). This kid isn't perfect, and he's coming up at an odd time: He whiffed 13 times versus only one walk in his last nine minor league games. Still, I have faith, and NL-only leaguers should, too. In time, he has the power for 35 homers a season if he stays healthy and the Rockies make room for him in the lineup.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians: A year ago, Cabrera was a defense-first middle infielder whose future was as a big league backup. But Cabrera has a tremendous advantage over the myriad other infielders in the minors with similar skill-sets: youth (he doesn't turn 22 until November). Because he is so young, his offensive game came together with pretty nice results this season. The plate discipline Cabrera showed in low-A ball in 2005 blended with a spike in power, and he batted .310/.381/.454 at Double-A Akron before coming up to Triple-A Buffalo and batting .316. Cabrera had nine career homers in 939 at-bats coming into 2007. At Akron, however, Cabrera hit 23 doubles, three triples and eight homers in 425 at-bats and showed excellent plate discipline (45 walks and 42 strikeouts).
Baseball America's Jim Callis doesn't believe in Cabrera's bat, and one must be a bit skeptical because of Cabrera's big spike from 2006 (when he batted .249/.310/.349). But I'm a believer. He's 6-foot, 170 pounds, so he's not tiny, and he could add some weight to his frame and develop enough power to hit 12-18 homers a year. Honestly, he just might end up hitting 25-30 dingdongs a year, but let's be conservative and figure he should be a .285-12-75 hitter with 60-plus walks. He's not a plus-plus runner, but he managed 25 steals (in 32 attempts) this season, so 15-18 steals a year in the majors isn't out of the question, either. The only question: Will the Indians find a spot for Cabrera next season? Because of his youth, batting potential and cheap salary as a rookie, I'd expect the Indians to give him serious PT. I'd also expect him to be a bargain you can get at the end of your auction or off the waiver wire.
Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals: Oh, Ricky, you were so fine. & Your strikeout rate, it blew my mind. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. My high school history teacher said that, and he's as right today as he was in 1982.
I traded for Ricky in 1998, the summer my eldest daughter was born. A year later, he made the majors, posting a 3.27 ERA with 39 whiffs in 33 innings. He was incredible, going 25-9 with 416 strikeouts and a 1.05 WHIP in 300 2/3 minor league innings. He was baseball's best prospect and could pitch in the mid-90s with a wicked breaking ball. But Rick's family life was sad and complicated. His father was a convicted drug smuggler who spent the better part of his son's life in and out of prison. Rick's half-brother shared the same fate, a life of drugs and jail. Excuse the dime-store psychology, but I wonder if the problems Ankiel faced off the diamond had a role in his meltdown during the 2001 playoffs.
If you remember that season, you might remember Ankiel as I do, the brightest young pitcher I had ever seen. Every time I looked at a box score, it seemed as if he had gone six strong innings with eight strikeouts. He was 21, and the world was his oyster. The Cards handled him carefully that year, and I figured Ankiel might have 300 career wins in him. Then he lost control of his fastball and his future. After several injuries and years of scuffling, he became an outfielder.
Ankiel was a great two-way player in high school, and some scouts thought he would have been a fine center fielder from Day 1. Well, here he is, folks, and if you didn't jump aboard the bandwagon in 1998, you can do so now. But should you?
One important thing hasn't changed, and one tremendously important thing has. His K-BB ratio as a minor league pitcher was 3.4. His K-BB this season as a hitter is 3.6. I don't care who you are, 90 whiffs and 25 walks in 389 Triple-A at-bats signals a problem. The thing that has changed is Ankiel's age: He's 28. Yes, belting 32 homers and slugging .568 is impressive, but major league pitchers are going to solve Mr. Ankiel.
I'm pullin' for ya, Rick, but I don't have the same faith in you. Years ago, you looked like the greatest. Now I'm merely hoping you can bat .250 and finish with 120 career homers.
Brandon Moss, OF, Red Sox: Moss, 23, batted .290/.369/.473 at Triple-A Pawtucket with 35 doubles, two triples and 13 homers in 427 at-bats. His propensity for strikeouts is scary (with 123 thus far), but he has a decent eye for walks (52), and he is young enough to improve dramatically. He's a fine athlete, and I could see Moss turning into a starter next season who provides good value to those in deeper leagues. By his peak age, he could be a starter in any league.
Edwin Bellorin, C, Rockies: Should you trust Bellorin? I don't think so. A 25-year-old, Bellorin's career minor league numbers are .264/.310/.358 in 1,823 at-bats. Yes, I know he's batting .326/.369/.529 at Triple-A Colorado Springs (18 doubles, nine homers in 221 at-bats). I also see his contact skills look solid with 16 walks and 27 whiffs, but he's no spring chicken, and he hasn't performed at this level in a season lasting more than 59 games. He might end up being good NL-only fodder, but at this point, I'd be very wary.
Mauro Zarate, RHP, Marlins: Hi, Zarate! Sorry, my Dad used to have a bottle of that stuff under his sink when I was a kid. It tasted like chicken, but it worked almost as well as Old Spice on the 5th-grade girls in Harlan, Ky. Zarate has made a rather amazing jump this season, going from the Florida State League (high-A) to the majors. Zarate throws a sinker, a rising fastball and a plus changeup he honed this season. Zarate had a 1.40 ERA in Double-A, and went 1-0 with a 0.96 ERA at Triple-A Albuquerque in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Zarate's 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, and he has done very nicely this season, but the Marlins are yo-yoing him, and I don't suspect he'll be sliding into a worthy role anytime soon. Avoid him for now.
David Srinivasan writes about statistics and the minors for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com. If you have questions, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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