Hank Conger, Fernando Martinez, Adam Eaton: Mining the Minors

Injuries are the theme in this installment. As in, one former top prospect’s current DL stint is costing him a golden opportunity, a used-to-be-can’t-miss player needs another shot before he suffers yet another ailment, and a future big leaguer could use some more aches and pains to befall those ahead of him if he’s going to make his debut this season.

This column offers a take on formerly-elite prospects, lesser-known farmhands and veteran minor leaguers who may be on the verge of getting a shot in the majors — all with a nod to their fantasy relevance and impact. To help owners get an idea of just how good a player is (or might be), I’ve included a Talent Rating; but just as important is the Opportunity Rating, which points out the likelihood that a player will make his way to the majors during the year based on various factors (i.e., age, depth chart, recent performance, etc.).

Hank Conger, Angels C
TALENT: 6 (out of 10)
OPPORTUNITY: 9 (out of 10)
DOB: 1/29/1988
MILB STATS: .357/.390/.554, 5 doubles, 2 HRs, 8 RBIs, 7:3 K:BB over 56 ABs
Conger is missing out on what could have been a sweet chance to get regular at-bats to prove himself in the majors. With Chris Iannetta out for 6-8 weeks with a broken bone in his wrist after getting hit by a pitch, the Angels are embarrassingly thin at catcher, as colleague Mr. Swydan covered on the mother site. Unfortunately Conger, once considered the team’s catcher of the future, is also on the shelf with a sprained right elbow. The latest has him about 7-10 days away from returning, which means he would likely head back to Triple-A for a few games, and if all’s well, a promotion could follow by the end of the month. Conger isn’t as highly thought of as he used to be, but the biggest reason he’s failed to land a regular role in the bigs has to do more with his defense — a Mike Scioscia requirement — than his bat. A switch-hitter, Conger has enough power and plate discipline to hold up at a position from which any offensive contribution is practically a cause for celebration.
ETA: With Iannetta expected to be out of action through June, Conger should get the call as soon as he himself is healthy enough. That’s obviously a bit up in the air at the moment, but this is certainly a situation to monitor over the next week or two, especially in AL-onlies and leagues that require two starting catchers.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: C1 in 12-team AL-only leagues or C2 in mixed 12-team leagues

Fernando Martinez, Astros OF
DOB: 10/10/1988
MILB STATS: .317/.376/.507, 9 doubles, 6 HRs, 26 runs, 27 RBIs, 27:11 K:BB over 142 ABs
Yes, seriously. Martinez has been around — and overhyped — since, like, forever. But after being released by the Mets in January, the Astros snatched him up, and the still-just-23-year-old has so far proved to be a savvy add for a club who is in full-on rebuilding mode. While Martinez never really showed much in his irregular stints for New York (a .183 BA over 131 ABs across three separate seasons), there’s a small chance he could be a poor man’s post-hype sleeper type in fantasy, especially now that he’s in a new org and expectations are essentially nonexistent. Of course, there’s the ridiculous injury history to worry about, so it might help if Houston recalls Martinez before he splits a fingernail or nicks himself while shaving. But for a guy who’s legs have typically been the issue, he does at least seem to be moving around better, as evidenced by his earning the Astros minor league defensive player of the month for April. Other than the injury factor, though, there’s not much in the way, what with J.D. Martinez, Brian Bogusevic, Travis Buck and Justin Maxwell comprising a wholly underwhelming group of corner outfielders on the big league club.
ETA: Frankly, it’s a bit strange that the Astros haven’t already called upon Martinez by now, considering the state of their outfield (not a one on the 25-man has an OPS north of .689). Barring injury (if that’s even a reasonable phrase to use in this case), it would be surprising if he doesn’t make his return to the majors by mid-June.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: OF5 in NL-only 12-team leagues

Adam Eaton, D-backs OF
DOB: 12/6/1988
MILB STATS: .368/.456/.471, 11 doubles, 1 HR, 14 RBIs, 43 runs, 15 SBs, 21:16 K:BB over 155 ABs
First off, no, it’s not this guy. Secondly, Eaton is being covered more to familiarize fantasy folk with a guy who’s probably nothing more than a fourth outfielder type than a stud that his current stats might make some think. While he’s absolutely raking since being promoted to Triple-A (after A.J. Pollock was called up following the injury to Chris Young), the .391/.457/.522 line comes in the hitter-friendly PCL and at hitter haven Reno. That said, Eaton’s lefty bat, strong eye (14.7% career BB rate) and above-average speed (69 SBs in 227 career games) make him a fine candidate to have a career as a versatile backup outfielder, pinch hitter and pinch runner in the majors. With Young expected to return soon, it would seem that Pollock would be returning to Triple-A to get regular at-bats, which means he would once again be the first recall should injury strike a D-backs outfielder again. And there’s also the issue of Eaton’s not being on the 40-man roster, which is more of a formality than an obstacle, but it’s still another notch against a guy who’s been one of the minor’s hottest hitters this year.
ETA: While Eaton’s having a really nice year, quite a bit would have to go wrong in Arizona to get him to the majors before September. But he’s at least a name to know in uber-deep formats.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: Reserve OF in NL-only 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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I think the Astros haven’t called up F-Mart yet because they want to be able to give him regular at-bats in RF and let him try and run away with the job. Therefore they are trying to give Bogey every chance to prove himself before they bench him and bring up F-Mart. That will in turn also boot out one of Buck or Maxwell likely and Maxwell they would have to release completely I think.