This week, we’ll cover two Padres and a Dodger. In other words, those of you in NL West-only leagues are in luck.
Similar to the other version of this column, which hits on Thursdays, the Friday edition offers a take on elite prospects, lesser-known farmhands and veteran minor leaguers — 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.
Kyle Blanks, 1B/OF
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .315 BA; .985 OPS; 15 HRs; 59 RBIs; 71:31 K:BB over 292 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 9 (out of 10)
Talent Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Obstacle(s): Position questions; alarming strikeout rate
Just 16 months ago, Blanks was one of fantasy’s top sleepers. The 2004 draftee (a 42nd- round steal) was rated as the Padres’ top prospect after 2008 and coming off a rookie campaign in which he’d mashed 10 HRs and posted an impressive .868 OPS in 148 ABs. Sure, there were warning signs — he K’d in 34% of his ABs — but the the first baseman-turned-outfielder’s power was hard to ignore. Then the righty-hitting Blanks went out and batted just .157 — with an even worse 45% K rate — in his first 102 ABs in 2010, earning him a ticket back to Triple-A. Soon thereafter he had TJ surgery, and his 2010 went from promising to disappointing to over.
Besides the injury, questions about his place in the organization began to arise during the offseason after the Padres acquired first base prospect Anthony Rizzo from the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Plus, Blanks not only got a late start to 2011 at the end of April, he also was sent to Double-A to begin his recovery. Despite a so-so 200 plate appearances at San Antonio, Blanks got bumped to Triple-A in June, just as Rizzo got the call to the majors, and the numbers have followed: .365/.435/.791. Even better, he’s smacked 5 HRs and 16 RBIs in his past 10 games. He’s now nearing the one-year anniversary of his major surgery, and Blanks seems to finally be getting back to full health.
There are still some caution flags here. Blanks is still whiffing at 24% this year, which will translate to a higher number in the majors, and his position — his 6’6″, 270-pound frame is a better fit at first than in left field — is still up in the air. But Rizzo could be on his way back to the minors after really disappointing so far (.161 BA, .597 OPS) in his first go-round, and there could also be an opening in the outfield if trade candidate Ryan Ludwick gets moved. That’s two possible paths to playing time for Blanks, whose potent bat deserves another shot — and would make for a strong addition in 14-team mixed leagues and all NL-onlies. This is exactly the type of player that shouldn’t be forgotten simply because of some setbacks. Given his age (still just 24) and power potential, Blanks may wind up being the prototypical post-hype sleeper.
ETA: Expect to see Blanks back in the bigs before this month is out.
Trayvon Robinson, OF
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .300 BA; .935 OPS; 21 HRs; 56 RBIs; 8 SBs; 104:38 K:BB over 317 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 7
Talent Rating: 8
Obstacle(s): Dodgers recently acquired Juan Rivera; needs to adjust his approach
The biggest contribution Juan Rivera makes to the 2011 fantasy season may just be roster-blocking one of the Dodgers’ top position prospects. Robinson is a 23-year-old switch hitting outfielder who ranks in the top 5 in Triple-A with 21 homers, and before LA traded for Rivera earlier this week, the 2005 10th-rounder was next in line for the team’s rotating left field job.
While this may have bummed out some owners, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing for Robinson’s career in the long-term. A fast and athletic player, Robinson seems to have drastically altered his approach this season. A guy who totaled 52 doubles and 85 steals over the past two seasons has managed just 9 two-baggers and only 8 swipes so far in 2011. And after posting a career-high 17 bombs in 2009 — his only double-digit homer year prior to this season — Robinson may be falling in love with the long ball rather than relying more on his speed and athleticism. Further evidence? His already high 28% K rate from 2005-10 has reached new (read: not good) heights at 33% this year. Could be that Robinson is taking advantage of the hitter haven that is the PCL, but perhaps he should be reminded that power won’t play as well at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium.
There’s something intriguing here, and if Robinson gets a shot before the season is out, he could be of help in NL leagues. But the dramatic shift in his approach — not to mention, the swing-and-miss tendencies — would make me worry about Robinson getting exposed in his first taste. Now that he’s proven he can hit balls out of the park, here’s hoping he concentrates more on making contact and getting on base.
ETA: He almost definitely would have gotten a shot by the end of July, but the trade for Rivera likely puts Robinson in a holding pattern. Expect him to get the call this year, but it may not come before September now.
Brad Brach, RP
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: 2.15 ERA; 0.83 WHIP; 25 SVs; 66:6 K:BB over 46 IPs
40-man roster: No
Opportunity Rating: 8
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Trade deadline timeframe; not on 40-man roster
To be totally honest, I’d never heard of Brach — who clocked in at No. 30 in the Padres org this year, according to Baseball America — prior to this June, but he caught my eye while I was perusing the minor league saves leaderboard. Granted, he was closing games in Double-A, but the peripherals made me take notice. A 25-year-old right-hander who was drafted in the 42nd round in 2008, Brach may just be the next out-of-nowhere reliever for the Padres.
After absolutely owning hitters in Double-A — 44 IPs, 32 hits, 64:5 K:BB — Brach was promoted to within one step of the majors on July 4. (Apparently, hitters in the Texas League had more than one reason to celebrate that day.) And while he’s not a scout’s darling because his main (only?) above-average pitch is a mid-90s fastball, he’s put up similarly gaudy stats at every stop in his career: 1.96 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 11.6 K/9 (compared to just 1.5 BB/9), all to go with 99 saves the past three seasons.
With Heath Bell a highly-sought after trade candidate, Brach would be a worthy add to the bullpen for the big league club once any deal is done. Closer-in-waiting Mike Adams would obviously get the first opp at saves, but Brach could work his way into a setup role. And his low-ERA, low-WHIP and high-strikeout potential would make him a very nice staff filler in NL play.
ETA: He’s only pitched two innings at Triple-A, but as long as he holds his own there until Bell gets dealt, Brach should make his way to San Diego soon thereafter.
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