Today’s Chatter topics? Injury news about one of the top catching prospects in baseball and some analysis on an underrated shortstop ‘spect who could factor into the 2012 fantasy landscape.
1) Travis d’Arnaud’s Thumb Surgery May Push Back His Arrival — But Not By Much
When it comes to big-time prospects, there’s no such thing as a minor injury. So with recent news that the Blue Jays’ Travis d’Arnaud underwent surgery on a torn ligament in his left thumb, that’s obviously something the team — and his keeper league owners — could have done without. The 22-year-old catcher hurt his thumb during the 2011 Baseball World Cup, where he hit just .188 (3-for-16, but all three knocks were doubles) as a member of Team USA. As the story linked above points out, d’Arnaud is expected to be ready for spring training, which is obviously great news for a young player who may just be the best catching prospect yet to make his MLB debut after he was named MVP of the Double-A Eastern League in 2011 by hitting .311 with 21 HRs and 78 RBIs.
As for the fantasy spin, in particular with regard to next season, I would imagine any lingering effects from the injury could give Toronto pause about rushing d’Arnaud back, which could mean the 2007 first-rounder won’t reach the majors in 2012, especially since this marks his second consecutive year cut short by injury. A back issue limited him to just 71 games in 2010, his first year with Toronto following his arrival from Philadelphia in the Roy Halladay trade. Best case scenario most likely has d’Arnaud starting next season at Triple-A and making a September cameo, a la the Reds’ Devin Mesoraco. Provided d’Arnaud’s development isn’t hindered too much by this, he could be ready to tandem with current Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia come Opening Day 2013. Still a great keeper to own or acquire in dynasty play.
2) The Braves’ Shortstop Crowd Just Became A Company
With the report that Matt Lipka, Atlanta’s 2010 first-round pick, is moving from short to centerfield, the likelihood of the Braves shortstop trio turning into a campy 1970s sitcom has, sadly, gone by the wayside. In its annual prospect handbook, Baseball America actually actually mentioned that the Braves envisioned Lipka as a centerfielder when they drafted him, but the org wanted to give him the chance to stick at short. The 19-year-old struggled some at A-ball in his first exposure to full-season (.247/.305/.304), but he’s still raw and his above-average speed was evident with 28 SBs (even if he’ll need to work on his efficiency: 14 CS). That tool is what Atlanta is hoping to take advantage of by asking him to patrol center.
While Lipka isn’t really relevant from a fantasy perspective just yet — he’s only worth owning in very deep and long-term keeper leagues — what this decision does tell us is that perhaps the Braves are showing more faith in two other shortstop prospects, Andrelton Simmons — a 22-year-old 2010 second-rounder who won the Hi-A Carolina League batting title (.311) — and Tyler Pastornicky. Simmons, who doesn’t possess much power (1 HR in 517 ABs in 2011) but should have gap pop (35 doubles), the wheels to swipe some bases and owns the higher all-around upside, is still about two years away.
In the meantime, with incumbent SS Alex Gonzalez‘s contract expiring (not to mention, Jack Wilson’s, too), Pastornicky suddenly finds himself as the leading in-house option for the Opening Day job, which makes him very much an intriguing name to know in fantasy. After coming over in the Yunel Escobar deal in 2010, Pastornicky, 21, slashed .314/.359/.414 at two levels this year. While he’s not a masher by any stretch, he should be able to sting the ball on occasion (15 HRs the past two years), and he does have the speed to surpass 20 SBs if given regular playing time, as he swiped 62 across 2010 and 2011. Considering he only spent 27 games in Triple-A, it might be a bit hasty for Atlanta — a contending team — to simply entrust such a pivotal role to a rookie without breaking him in slowly or at least having a backup plan. But remember, with the way other Braves position player prospects have fared recently (Jason Heyward in 2010, Freddie Freeman this year), it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Pastornicky get every opportunity to win the job in spring. And since short is such a shallow fantasy position, any new name with a chance to make an impact has to be monitored.
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