What do two rehabbing big leaguers and a hot shot closer-of-the-future candidate have in common? That’s right: All three are in this week’s episode of Mining the Minors.
In addition to recently-promoted top prospects, this column offers a fantasy take on those who are formerly-elite or lesser-known, as well as veteran minor leaguers and injured major leaguers, all of whom are on the verge of getting a shot in the majors. 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.).
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox SP
TALENT: 7 (out of 10)
OPPORTUNITY: 9 (out of 10)
CURRENT LEVEL: Triple-A
MILB STATS: 0-3 W-L, 3.65 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 30:9 K:BB over 37 IPs
ON 40-MAN ROSTER: No
We all know Matsuzaka’s major league career has been a disappointment compared to the hype that followed him when he came over from Japan in 2007. Sure, he’s had some good moments, even some good seasons, but for the most part, he’s spent much of his MLB career battling everything from injuries to control problems to the Red Sox organization itself over how he trains. His latest obstacle has been coming back from Tommy John surgery, which he had almost exactly one year ago (June 10). Not surprisingly, even that had a few hiccups, as manager Bobby Valentine claimed Dice-K wasn’t “all that close” back in mid-May, followed by the club re-starting the right-hander’s rehab clock to get an extra 30 days, thanks to a diagnosis of a “sore neck.”
Finally, though, after eight rehab outings — six of which came at Triple-A Pawtucket — it appears Matsuzaka is ready to return to the Red Sox. His last outing was cut short after 40 pitches (just 1.1 IPs), indicating it was a tune-up for his return Saturday. He hasn’t really been effective in the majors since the middle of 2010, but he’s been successful in the past and should be able to notch a few wins and rack up some whiffs, provided he’s healthy. Plus, he’s still only 31 and is pitching for a new contract (assuming he doesn’t head back to NPB). In AL-onlies, Matsuzaka is a worthy gamble that could pay off nicely, just don’t expect any miracles.
ETA: Dice-K is expected to be called up to start on Saturday against the Washington Nationals, replacing the recently-demoted Daniel Bard in Boston’s rotation. Chances are, Matsuzaka will stick in the five-man as long as he’s capable of throwing non-terrible innings, because the Red Sox are serious about getting Bard right in the minors, and they don’t have much else in the way of reinforcements.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: Streaming SP in mixed 12-team leagues or SP4 in AL 10-team leagues
Salvador Perez, Royals C
CURRENT LEVEL: Triple-A
MILB STATS: N/A
ON 40-MAN ROSTER: No
After hitting .331 with 13 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs in his 39-game debut last year, Perez was a popular sleeper at catcher coming into the spring. Then he went and tore his meniscus in early March, an injury that required surgery and was to keep him out for about three months. Well, it’s about that time, and Perez’s rehab has gone well. He started playing and catching in extended spring training games a few weeks ago, and he’s set to report to Triple-A Thursday. Given the state of Royals catching — the fort has been “held down” by Humberto Quintero and Brayan Pena — Perez can’t get back soon enough.
Known more for his defense, Perez had started to come into his own as a hitter in 2011, and it’s not every day that a catching prospect is ready — both offensively and defensively — to appear in big league games at the age of 21, like Perez did. While he’s not going to hit .330 again and doesn’t walk at all (5% BB in minors), he does know how to barrel the ball consistently, doesn’t strikeout much (just 10% K) and has enough juice to smack plenty of doubles and double-digit homers over a full season. At this point in the season, Perez is a great option if he’s been forgotten about and remains available, especially in a league that requires two starting catchers.
ETA: Barring any setbacks in his rehab assignment at Omaha, Perez should be back within a week or two. His stats won’t dictate when he gets recalled, rather that will be based on how he feels and when he’s ready to catch nine innings on a daily basis. Once he’s all set, he’ll be the guy in Kansas City.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: C1 in mixed 14-team leagues or C1 in AL 10-team leagues
Stephen Pryor, Mariners RP
CURRENT LEVEL: Majors
MILB STATS: 1-0 W-L, 0.64 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 9 SVs, 39:12 K:BB over 28 IPs
ON 40-MAN ROSTER: Yes
Pryor zoomed through the Mariners system, reaching the majors last week after being selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. He’s a very large human being (6’4″, 245) who throws in the mid-to-upper-90s and will touch 100 (as he did to strike out Paul Konerko in his debut). The righty’s second-best pitch is a hard cutter that he developed last year, a weapon that could eat up left-handed hitters.
In case you hadn’t heard, Brandon League was recently removed from the closer role, a move that is thought to be temporary, because the Mariners would certainly like to re-insert him into the ninth-inning job, build up his trade value, then deal him at the deadline. In his stead, Tom Wilhelmsen — another big right-hander — has picked up a pair of saves and is likely to get the first crack should a League trade come to fruition. But the fact that Seattle brought up Pryor this soon shows how much the org likes him as a late-inning option. If Pryor wants to make his way to the last three outs of games this season, he’ll have to clean up his control some (4.6 BB/9 career), but he’ll surely be helpful in leagues that count holds, and his peripherals could be dynamite, considering he owns a 5.8 H/9 rate and 12.3 K/9 rate in the minors.
ETA: Already up. If you’re an owner who likes to speculate on saves, Pryor is one of the best under-the-radar candidates who should still be available in your league.
POTENTIAL FANTASY ROLE: RP in AL 10-team leagues, with a chance to be relevant for saves-seekers in all leagues later in the season
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