Every year, a group of young stars is introduced to the world of Fantasy Baseball at its finest. Last season, we saw the likes of Matt Wieters, Gordon Beckham, Chris Coghlan, Andrew Bailey, Tommy Hanson and Rick Porcello.
This year, we have 10 new names that could potentially impact the way the 2010 campaign plays out. Here, we will take an in-depth look at each, and we will see exactly if and where you should draft these newly introduced rookies.
10. Alcides Escobar (SS) (MIL)
What better way to start our countdown than with a guy that made our list last year, Alcides Escobar? Escobar, who I predicted would be starting in Milwaukee before season's end, did get his share of at-bats in 2009, hitting .304 with one HR, 11 RBI and four SB. The young middle infielder barely qualifies as a rookie this coming season, as he was just five at-bats away from losing his newbie status.
With this, though, Escobar only puts himself in the position to attempt to win the NL Rookie of the Year crown. It also helps that former Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy has been moved to the Twins this offseason, so Escobar now officially has the starting job going into the 2010 campaign. Be on the lookout during your upcoming fantasy draft for this young stud, as Escobar could easily be grabbed as a late sleeper in any fantasy format.
The youngster brings unparalleled speed to any person's roster, as stolen bases should very well factor in to his potential greatness on the field.
To conclude, we are looking at a guy who compares well to Elvis Andrus of the Rangers last season: solid glove, little power (for now), great speed and the potential to hit for a decent average. Not too bad considering the lack of solid shortstops nowadays.
9. Jesus Montero (CA) (NYY)
It must be hard being a Yankee prospect these days. Just when you think you have the opportunity to be brought up to the big leagues and make an impact, WHAM!, veteran Jorge Posada has one of his better years to date. To add onto this, the Yankees have nowhere to move Posada if you were to be brought up, as they have the big bat Mark Teixeira at first base and newly signed Nick Johnson at DH.
This is what it must be like for young catcher Jesus Montero, who at this point has done all he can to prove his worth in the minors.
The 20-year-old backstop had a stellar year in 2009, hitting .337 with 17 HR and 70 RBI, and now he is hoping to follow this performance with another in 2010. The main question for Montero is simple: How long will it be before he finally reaches the pros? We can look at this in one sense and say this year. I mean really, how much more does Posada have left in the tank? Now, I am going on record and saying that Posada still has a good bit left, as he proved last year. At some point, though, the Yankees front office will have to evaluate their options.
When it comes to fantasy, I highly (and I mean highly) doubt that Montero is taken on Draft Day. I'm not saying that anyone should go out and get him, though. For Montero, just simply keep an eye on his productivity as the season progresses, as he could very well be in the bigs sooner rather than later. If he does get the opportunity to play in the Bronx, take a shot and pick him up as a free agent.
8. Wade Davis (RHP) (TB)
Once again, Tampa Bay is bringing up a solid young gun to help bolster their rotation. Last season, it was southpaw David Price, and now righty Wade Davis is ready to steal the show. Davis did see limited time last year with the Rays, going 2-2 (both wins against the Baltimore Orioles) with a 3.72 ERA and 36 Ks, beginning his pro career on a positive note.
Like Escobar, Davis did not record enough playing time to actually lose his rookie status, so he comes into the 2010 campaign with the opportunity to take home some hardware at season's end.
Davis brings a solid arsenal of pitches to the table, including a 96 mph heater, a plus curve, a straight change and a cut fastball. He also brings confidence and poise to the mound in Tampa, where he has been projected as a potential future No. 2 starter. As Rays Director of Minor League Operations Mitch Lukevics put it, "He's tough as nails."
For your fantasy draft, taking Davis as a late pick (when I say late, I mean final rounds late) wouldn't be such a bad idea, as you can never have too many sleepers in your starting rotation. Davis has great upside, so expect positive things from this rookie come summertime.
7. Justin Smoak (1B) (TEX)
Well, if you're a Rangers fan, then you should be pretty happy after reading this list. Smoak is the first of two Texas prospects to make this season's countdown, and it shouldn't be long before we stop calling him a "prospect" and begin calling him a "pro."
With the first base situation in Texas being inconsistent (Chris Davis was on and off at times last season, and that .238 average does not scare anyone), first baseman Justin Smoak could very well see his first action at some point in 2010. In '09, he hit for a .290 average with 12 HRs and 57 RBI between three teams in the minors. This season, he should be hoping to get the opportunity to do the same in the majors.
As far as fantasy goes, Smoak should only be drafted in keeper leagues at this point, as he won't be getting any time in Arlington come Opening Day. Think of him as you would Montero: a guy who you don't draft, but instead keep on a waiting list. The second he comes up, stash him on your bench and see how he produces.
All in all, Smoak should be a solid switch-hitting first baseman for years to come, and 2010 could very well be both his pro debut and his coming-out party as he begins his highly anticipated MLB career.
6. Neftali Feliz (RHP) (TEX)
I guess I didn't keep Rangers fans waiting too long. When it comes to power pitchers, Feliz is right at the top of the list. In his 31 innings with Texas last season, he went 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA and 39 Ks. Not too shabby for a young gun. Feliz's fastball has been known to hit anywhere from 94-99 mph on the gun, something that has proved effective with his complementary curve and changeup.
Impressed? If not, here's what MLB.com had to say about Feliz's ceiling: "It's scary to think about. He's still projectable and his secondary stuff is improving. He's got future ace written all over him."
"He's got future ace written all over him" is right. Matched with a potent Texas offense featuring the bats of Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus and soon enough Justin Smoak, some are predicting that Feliz could go on to win as many as 15 games in 2010.
So what does this mean for his fantasy value? It means more than you could ever imagine. The kid is going to be a stud, and there is no doubt that he will be battling it out with another young pitcher later down on this list for the AL Rookie of the Year award. In your fantasy draft, grab Feliz with a mid-to-late round pick, as his upside is matched by few. He should bring plenty of strikeouts and wins to any lucky fantasy owner.
5. Buster Posey (CA) (SF)
The second catcher to make our list, Posey comes into 2010 as one of the better-hitting position players as a rookie. Posey, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2008 MLB Players Draft, had a solid minor league campaign in '09 before being called up by San Francisco, hitting .325 with 18 HRs, 80 RBI and six SBs between two farm clubs.
Now, though, Posey can all but forget the MiLB. He is slated next to young catcher Eli Whiteside on the Giants' roster heading into Spring Training, and many believe Posey will win the starting job come Opening Day.
Posey's gap power should prove effective in a balanced Giants batting order, as he will be able to provide much-needed RBI from further down in the lineup. For fantasy, Posey is a nice late round pickup with tremendous upside. Before long, you could see him starting on your fantasy roster instead of simply riding the bench.
4. Mike Stanton (OF) (FLA)
The first outfielder to make the list, Mike Stanton seems to be the final piece in the reconstruction of the Florida Marlins outfield. First, Cameron Maybin came onto the scene, only to be sent back down to the minors and then brought up again. Next, Chris Coghlan made his presence known at the top of the Marlins' lineup, making himself a candidate for NL Rookie of the Year in 2009. Now, Stanton hopes to join the group this season.
Stanton, who hit .255 last year with 28 HRs, 92 RBI and three SBs between two farm clubs, is expected to assume the role of right fielder in Florida when his number is called. That is where the problem becomes apparent: Cody Ross is currently there, and his solid numbers mean he doesn't plan to move.
For now, Stanton's fate lies in the hands of Ross, but that doesn't mean we won't get to see the outfield prospect at some point this season. His pure power makes him a prototypical middle-of-the-order bat, maybe helping to push him onto the big league squad.
In your fantasy draft, don't plan to grab Stanton at any point. Just treat him like a closely watched free agent as the season wears on.
3. Jason Heyward (OF) (ATL)
It's funny how we saw no outfielders for the first six names, but then all of a sudden they begin coming out of the woodwork. Heyward, who many (including myself) believe is the best position prospect in all of baseball, currently has the keys to glory. Now he just has to find the door.
The opportunity of a lifetime is in front of the 20-year-old Braves outfielder, who is hoping to make the starting lineup out of Spring Training. If he does, he would assume the right field spot held for years by Jeff Francoeur. With Nate McLouth in center, Heyward in right, and newly added Melky Cabrera in left, it would be hard to argue against the Braves having one of the better outfields in the National League.
Heyward's numbers in the minors last season (.323-17-63) prove that the kid knows how to hit for an average, and his excellent base-running skills give fantasy owners another reason to want to grab him on Draft Day. Speaking of the draft, grab this kid when you get the chance. If you have a mid-to-late round pick, I highly suggest taking a gamble on this youngster. In the end, we are talking about an All-Star caliber right fielder who is currently drawing comparisons to the great Willie McCovey.
2. Madison Bumgarner (LHP) (SF)
I'll be the first to admit, the final two guys on this list made it hard to decide who was better. In all actuality, these two aren't far apart (so don't get mad at me, Giants fans; Bumgarner is a very, very close second.). For now, though, we are here to talk about Madison Bumgarner.
As if the Giants couldn't add another young gun to their arsenal already including Matt Cain and Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, they go ahead and add a crafty southpaw to the mix. Bumgarner had a stellar year in the minors in '09, going a combined 12-2 with a 1.85 ERA and .211 batting average against him in 131.1 innings between high Class-A and Double-A ball. The Giants then brought him up to the pros, where he pitched 10 innings, recording 10 Ks and a 1.80 ERA.
The lefty has a solid number of pitches, including a mid-90s fastball with solid late life, a curve, slider and changeup. In my opinion, he is the front runner to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. To put it simply, the kid is good.
For Draft Day, be sure to give this kid a solid look with one of your mid-round picks. He is already going into Spring Training slated as the No. 5 starter, so just knowing that he will be matched up against other teams' No. 5s is a plus. He is a future ace playing on a team that already has two of them. The one thing a Giants fan will not be able to complain about this season is their rotation. It is scary good at this point.
1. Brian Matusz (LHP) (BAL)
Finally, we come down to our No. 1 spot, and we hit a guy that has already had success at the major league level. Brian Matusz, who compares well with Bumgarner, came up with the Baltimore Orioles last season, going 5-2 with a 4.63 ERA and recording 38 Ks in 44.2 innings. The O's knew exactly what kind of talent they were dealing with in this southpaw, so they ended his season early in order to make him eligible for this season's AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Personally, I believe he is the front runner in the American League. Matusz brings a mid-90s fastball along with an above average curve and slider, and the way he mixes up his pitches is outstanding. Add that to an offense behind him that is growing by the day (including the man he pitches to, Matt Wieters), and we have a formula for success at the big league level.
Brian Matusz will be a solid mid-round draft pick in any fantasy league; I had him on my squad last year as he pitched well down the stretch in '09. This lefty has future ace written up, down and all around him, and having him in a rotation with youngsters Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen makes the Orioles a potential sleeper team in the AL going into the 2010 campaign.