Similar to the other version of this column, which hits on Thursdays, the Friday edition offers a take on formerly-elite prospects, lesser-known farmhands and veteran minor leaguers who are on the verge of getting a shot in 2011 — all with a nod to their fantasy relevance and impact, specifically for this season. To help owners, I’ll include a player’s 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.
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Current Level: Majors
Statistics: .279 BA; .842 OPS; 12 HRs; 55 RBIs; 64 runs; 12 SBs; 72:44 K:BB over 341 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 9
Talent Rating: 9
Obstacle(s): He hasn’t had any for the past month or so
As I said a few weeks ago: “Kipnis…is one of the most MLB-ready ‘spects who’s yet to debut.” Given how little the Indians were getting out of second base (aside from Orlando Cabrera’s scrappy leadership), what Kipnis has accomplished at Triple-A this season and the public outcry for Cleveland to promote him already, the aforementioned tweet could very well have included the words “about” and “damn” sandwiched in between “ITS” and “TIME.”
The 24-year-old lefty-hitting Kipnis was drafted in the second round in 2009. While he’s played exclusively second base since last season, he actually spent most of his time at Arizona State as an outfielder. That’s interesting because there’s at least a possibility he sees some time in the outfield while Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo sit on the DL. That would make him slightly more valuable from an eligibility standpoint, but his bat fits better at the keystone, where he should get the majority of his time this year. (He’s clearly in the Indians’ future plans as a second baseman.)
Speaking of that bat, it’s about as polished as can be for a prospect. That’s not to say Kipnis is going to be mashing home runs, but he should hit his fair share of doubles and has enough pop to knock a handful out of the park over the final two-plus months. While we’ll see how he manages against big-league lefties, he’s actually handled southpaws slightly better (.313 BA, .923 OPS) than righties (.262, .803) at Triple-A this year. And while Kipnis isn’t a burner, he’s got above-average speed that will allow him to swipe enough bases to matter.
His rough July (.154/.250/.231) could be seen as a red flag, considering he was on the verge of a call-up this whole month, but Kipnis was also busy playing in the International League All-Star Game and homering off heralded Braves pitching prospect Julio Teheran to lead off the MLB Futures Game, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits the ground running upon his debut.
If you missed out on fellow top 2B prospect Dustin Ackley when he was promoted a month ago, make sure you snag Kipnis. They’re likely to have similar fantasy value for the rest of this season, with Ackley offering a tick more average and OBP, while Kipnis should bring a touch more in homers and steals. An immediate add-and-start in all AL leagues, Kipnis shouldn’t be your starting 2B in 10- or 12-team mixed leagues quite yet, but he’ll play at MI.
Michael Taylor, OF
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .278 BA; .813 OPS; 10 HRs; 38 RBIs; 22:46 K:BB over 209 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 8
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Overcoming terrible 2010; injury history; at the mercy of the trade deadline
When the A’s acquired Taylor from the Blue Jays for Brett Wallace in December of 2009, surely they expected this 2007 fifth-rounder, coming off a season in which he hit .320 and posted 20 homers and 21 steals, would be manning a corner outfield spot on an everyday basis by now. But after consecutive years of slugging .540-plus, the 6’5″, 256-pound specimen’s power somehow went AWOL in 2010. He hit just 6 HRs and slugged merely .392. To make matters worse, a wrist injury kept Taylor, 25, out for all of April and part of May to start 2011 — this, a year after hurting his shoulder playing winter ball, which may have contributed to last season’s power outage.
While Taylor hasn’t fully restored his top-prospect status since his return two months ago, he’s at least working himself back into Oakland’s plans. His 10 bombs — 7 of which came in June, when he slugged over .550 — show that there’s still some pop in his righty bat. With Josh Willingham a likely trade chip and Taylor already on the 40-man, there’s a path for Taylor to see enough at-bats to be a useful piece in AL-only leagues as a bench bat or possible OF5 in deeper play. And in keeper leagues where you can grab him now on the cheap, he may enter 2012 with a starting OF job.
ETA: Depending on what trades Oakland makes between now and the deadline, Taylor should be up by late-July or early-August so that an organization that’s constantly searching for power can see whether or not Taylor’s is for real.
Tom Milone, SP
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: 8-5 W-L; 3.02 ERA; 0.96 WHIP; 113:8 K:BB over 110 1/3 IPs
40-man roster: No
Opportunity Rating: 6
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Not on 40-man roster; ability to miss big-league bats; fly ball tendencies
It’s hard to believe that a pitcher leading all of Triple-A in both WHIP (0.96) and Ks (113), while also checking in at at No. 4 in opponent’s batting average (.232), hasn’t gotten a shot in the bigs yet. Such is life for Milone, a 24-year-old lefty. But while the numbers are dominating, his stuff is less so. Milone can hit 90 mph on the gun, but he sits in the high-80s and makes his hay by hitting his spots and keeping hitters off balance. The 2008 10th-rounder also sports an unpretty 0.77 GO/FO rate. So basically, he’s your soft-tossing, fly ball-prone lefty.
But man, oh man, the stats are hard to ignore. Like that out-of-this-world 14:1 K:BB ratio. Or the splits that indicate he might not get eaten up by right-handed batters, who have just 75 hits and an 85:6 K:BB against Milone in 83 1/3 IPs. Or the career 8.0 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 over over four seasons and nearly 500 IPs. It’s not like this is the first season Milone’s had success; his minor league ERA and WHIP are 2.99 and 1.13, respectively.
Still, his is the kind of profile that doesn’t often translate to big-league success, so there’s a risk that Milone gets blown up on occasion as a starter, which might make him better suited coming out of the bullpen down the line. But while I’m intrigued to see how he adjusts to the majors, I’d wait to see his first start or two before using him in NL-only leagues, where he could be a useful spot starter who could help your WHIP. The more immediate issue is that all five of the Nats starters are (somehow) pitching well enough to keep their jobs, so we may have to wait until the team decides to cap Jordan Zimmermann’s innings to get a look at Milone. Hey, maybe he’ll even walk a batter between now and then.
ETA: Mid-August is a possibility, but more than likely, Milone will be a September call-up.
If you have any suggestions for minor leaguers that you would like to see tracked, discussed and evaluated in Mining the Minors, feel free to post suggestions in the comments section. I’ll do my best to get to as many as I can.
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