Andrelton Simmons, Nate Eovaldi, Garrett Richards: Mining the Minors

It’s not quite on par with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout being promoted within hours of each other in late April, but this week has seen its share of promising prospects getting the call, including a new shortstop in the A-T-L and a couple of quality arms out in Cali.

In addition to recently-promoted top prospects, this column offers a take on those who are formerly-elite or lesser-known, as well as veteran minor leaguers, all of whom are on the verge of getting a shot in the majors — with a nod to their fantasy relevance and impact for this season. To help owners get an idea of just how good a player is (or might be), there’s a Talent Rating, but just as important is the Opportunity Rating, which points out the likelihood that a player will make his way to or stay in the majors during the current season based on various factors (i.e., age, depth chart, recent performance, etc.).

Andrelton Simmons, Braves SS
TALENT: 8 (out of 10)
OPPORTUNITY: 9 (out of 10)
DOB: 9/4/1989
MILB STATS: .292/.372/.421, 9 doubles, 3 HRs, 21 RBIs, 28 runs, 10 SBs (2 CSs), 20:20 K:BB over 171 ABs

The Curacao native nearly beat out fellow prospect Tyler Pastornicky for the Braves starting shortstop job this spring. Turns out, he just needed a couple more months to finish the job. The Braves decided late Wednesday to call up Simmons to replace Pastornicky, who was slashing just .248/.281/.324 and in need of improving his defense.

Simmons broke out last season, hitting .311 and winning the batting title at High-A Carolina League as a 21-year-old, making him one of the youngest at that level. Always a superb defender, his bat has actually started to catch up to his mitt, as he was posting a career-best .794 OPS in his first shot at Double-A — again as one of the circuit’s youngest.

The 2010 second-rounder is a line-drive hitter with gap power, but he’s also hit all 3 of his homers over his past 10 games, and he knows how to get the barrel to the ball consistently. The approach and discipline are both very good, considering his strikeout rate is just 7.4% for his career and his 10% walk rate this year is a marked improvement. Simmons should also be able to swipe some bases, too, although he’s got some work to do in that area; he’s 10-for-12 in 2012 but went just 26-for-44 last year.

The overall package may not make for a crazy impact in fantasy leagues this year — he’s likely to be better in real life, at least immediately, because of his D — and he does have just 43 games above A-ball, but any starting shortstop deserves serious consideration, especially one with Simmons’ upside.

ETA: Now. As in, go get him. It’s pretty clear Pastornicky wasn’t cutting it for the Braves, so it’s Simmons’ turn. He should certainly get at least as long of a leash as his predecessor was afforded (145 ABs) to prove he’s either ready or not. And remember, the last time Atlanta promoted an elite shortstop straight from Double-A, Rafael Furcal turned out to be pretty good.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: SS or MI in mixed 12-team leagues

Nathan Eovaldi, Dodgers SP
DOB: 2/13/1990
MILB STATS: 2-2 W-L, 3.09 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 30:13 K:BB over 35 IPs

Eovaldi is taking over for Ted Lilly while the left-hander is on the DL with shoulder inflammation. The severity of that injury is still being determined — there’s a chance Lilly could be out for a while — so Eovaldi is getting a legitimate chance to pitch with the big boys again after making his debut last season. The righty, who notched a 3.63 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in his 2011 debut, throws in the mid-90s and has a hard slider. He looked strong in his first action with the Dodgers on Tuesday, hurling 7 innings of 4-hit, 2-run ball with 4 Ks and 1 walk against the Brewers. The key for Eovaldi, who was brought up from Double-A, is going to be staying in control of his stuff, as he walked 20 in his 34.2 IPs with L.A. last year and owns a career walk rate just under 4 per 9 in the minors. Pitching in the NL and having Dodger Stadium as his home park will help, but he’s liable to have a few blowups. And it might be wise to avoid his next outing, which comes Sunday against the Rockies at Coors Field.

ETA: Eovaldi is in the rotation until either Lilly returns or he pitches himself out of it. As long as he avoids the latter, though, there’s plenty of opportunity for Eovaldi to stick in a five-man that also includes injury-prone types like Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: Streaming SP in mixed 12-team leagues or SP5 in NL 10-team leagues

Garrett Richards, Angels SP
DOB: 5/27/1988
MILB STATS: 5-2 W-L, 4.31 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 48:29 K:BB over 56.1 IPs

Richards is expected to fill in for Jered Weaver, who went on the DL after his back gave out in the first inning of his start on Monday. Richards came in against the Yankees in a relief role Wednesday, but that was likely just to get him some action — he’s a starter. A supplementary round pick in 2009, Richards has breezed through the minors thanks primarily to his durability (143 IPs in the minors in each of 2010 and 2011). In fact, the right-hander actually made his major league debut last year (14 IPs), although that was due in large part to a lack of big-league ready pitchers in the Angels system. Richards is a fine arm to have, given his size (6’3, 215) and ability to handle a starter’s workload, but the quality of his breaking pitches is lagging, and while his fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s, it’s also rather straight. To be fair, his ugly WHIP this year can be attributed somewhat to pitching in the PCL. The club hasn’t yet announced who will start Sunday against the Rangers, but it looks to be Richards. Steer clear for now, but Richards could be a solid back-end starter down the road.

ETA: Richards is up for the time being, but his place with the Angels depends entirely on Weaver’s health. Even if Richards pitches well, he’s not taking anyone’s job, so he’ll return to Triple-A as soon as Weaver’s back is, well, back to normal.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: Streaming SP in mixed 14-team leagues or SP5 in AL 12-team leagues

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Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11

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Simmons over Pennington? Seems like it.