Mike Moustakas: Mining the Minors

There’s news of Dustin Ackley’s debut Friday. We’ll look at the 2009 No. 2 pick more in depth for tomorrow’s post. For now, let’s rewind and point out a handful of guys who were promoted in the past week, including one who just might be more valuable than Ackley.

Similar to the other version of this column, which drops on Fridays, the Thursday edition offers a quick take on players who recently made their MLB debuts or were recalled, from lesser-known farmhands and veteran minor leaguers to top-end prospects — all with a nod to their relevance and impact for fantasy. To help owners, I’ll include a player’s Talent Rating; but just as important is Cling Factor, which highlights the likelihood that a player will remain in the majors (or return, if already sent down) during this season.

Players listed in order of 2011 fantasy impact.

MIXED LEAGUE RELEVANT
_________________________

Mike Moustakas, Royals 3B
Minor-League statistics: .287 BA; .845 OPS; 10 HRs; 44 RBIs; 44:19 K:BB over 223 ABs
Talent Rating: 9 (out of 10)
Cling Factor: 9 (out of 10)
Whenever a guy with this kind of pedigree and this kind of power gets promoted, fantasy owners start to feel all tingly inside. (That’s not just me, right?) After all, the No. 2 pick in 2007 tied for the minor-league lead in homers (with Mark Trumbo) last year, when he smacked 36 over the wall between Double- and Triple-A. And it’s not like the 22-year-old left-handed hitter is only good for long balls; he also hit .322 with 124 RBIs and only struck out 67 times. This year, the Moose Man got off to a slow start (.229 BA and .714 OPS in April), but he’s picked it up since then and has his slash stats up to a respectable .287/.347/.845 on the year, to go with 10 homers and 44 RBIs. Add it all up, and it was time for one Mike to replace another in Kansas City. (That’d be Aviles, for those of you keeping track at home.)

While I like Moustakas a lot, and he’s gotten off to a great start in his first five big-league games — 5-for-17 with a homer and a nice 3:4 K:BB ratio — I see him struggling a bit more with the adjustment than fellow elite prospect and current teammate Eric Hosmer has. He’s shown an ability to make good contact (17% K rate) for a hitter with so much power, but he also likes to swing the bat enough to hold a walk rate just shy of 8% in his career. Not bad, to be sure, but I’m leery that major league pitchers will use his aggressiveness against him and we could see more strikeouts and some long slumps. Another aspect to watch will be how he fares against lefties, and whether or not the Royals use the switch-hitting Wilson Betemit at third when they face southpaws rather than risk Moustakas getting exposed. I don’t think it will happen, but if he struggles enough, the Royals could always go back to Betemit and Aviles at third base and let their prized prospect regain his confidence in the minors.

Still, as someone who could well hit 15 homers this season and who also plies his trade at the injury- and slump-ravaged hot corner, Moustakas is a must-add in all leagues, even mixed 10-teamers. While there’s a lot to like here, there’s also enough to be wary of, so he probably profiles best as a corner infielder or utility hitter in shallower leagues. But if you’re still waiting on David Wright to get healthy or you’re not sure you can trust injury-returnees Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Zimmerman full-time just yet, then Moose should be a useful Band-Aid — and with his upside, maybe more.

AL-/NL-ONLY RELEVANT
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Lucas Duda, Mets OF/1B
Talent Rating: 7
Cling Factor: 7
This may be Duda’s third stint with Mets already this season, but the 25-year-old 2007 seventh-rounder deserves mention in this space for his potential production in the power department. After breaking out across Double- and Triple-A last season — he combined for 23 homers, 87 RBIs and a nifty .967 OPS — Duda had already hit 10 bombs at Buffalo this year, with half of them coming this month alone. Hence, the recall. Between his brief call-ups earlier this season and some regular run last September, he’s yet to have any major-league success (.183 BA, .596 OPS in 120 ABs), but the Mets would be smart to deploy the lefty-swinging Duda, who does most of his damage versus righties (1.094 OPS, 22% BB rate), in a platoon with Jason Bay, who does most of his damage to the Mets lineup. And Duda’s also capable of at least filling in at first, where Ike Davis is still out for a while, so there’s more than one way to get his bat into the mix. He’s worth an add in most NL-only leagues as a bench guy with the upside of an OF4/5 or a corner infielder. His pop could come in handy, and he’s done about all he can do in the minors, so it’s up to Terry Collins to find ways to play him all Duda day. (Yes!)

Zach Stewart, Blue Jays SP
Talent Rating: 7
Cling Factor: 6
Called up to take the rotation spot of struggling rook Kyle Drabek, Stewart makes his MLB debut today against the Orioles. The 24-year-old righty, who was drafted in the third round in 2008 and came to Toronto from Cincinnati in the Scott Rolen trade, has jockeyed between starter and reliever in his career, but the Jays want to give him a shot to make it in the rotation. He’s actually being promoted from Double-A, where he’s been for the past year-and-a-half primarily because Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate is hitter haven Las Vegas, which can wreak havoc on a pitcher’s development. As is, his line doesn’t look all that sexy this season, as he’s sporting a 4.39 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, and his career 7.4 K/9 leaves something to be desired. If you’re in need of some pitching depth in AL-only play, he might be worth an add on spec. Otherwise, I’m tracking his first couple starts (after Baltimore, he’s lined up to face the Braves in Atlanta) to see how he handles things. The Jays do have a few other options, like Brad Mills, so the guess here is they wouldn’t hesitate to send Stewart down if he doesn’t pan out right away.

Anthony Bass, Padres SP
Talent Rating: 6
Cling Factor: 5
Making an emergency start in place of Aaron Harang (foot), Bass, a 23-year-old right-hander called up from Double-A, actually held his own pitching in Coors Field: 5 innings, 5 hits, 1 run and a win — albeit with a less-than-inspiring 1:4 K:BB. Still his minor-league ratios are solid at 7.5 K/9 and just 2.3 BB/9, and the 2008 fifth-rounder was 6-3 with a 3.53 ERA and 1.15 WHIP at San Antonio this year. Alas, that’s where he was returned after his successful first start, but Padres manager Bud Black said he expects Bass to return later this season. I’m not adding him now — the Padres have Wade LeBlanc to help cover things — but I’d keep tabs on how Bass fares in the minors going forward. If he’s recalled, he could be a decent spot start option when he throws at Petco.

Elih Villanueva, Marlins SP
Talent Rating: 5
Cling Factor: 5
Despite being the Marlins minor league pitcher of the year in 2010, when he went 14-4 with a 2.26 ERA and 0.96 WHIP at Double-A, there’s not really anything interesting here. See, the the 24-year-old righty is both hittable (8.4/9) and doesn’t have great stuff (5.8 K/9), a combination that doesn’t bode well for success in the majors. He somehow compiled an unsustainably awesome hit rate last year (6.9/9), but not surprisingly, that luck has course corrected in his first 72 1/3 innings at Triple-A, where he’s surrendered 91 hits and posted a 1.65 WHIP. To say the 2008 draftee’s first big-league start didn’t go well would be what I, and many others I know, like to call an understatement. Like the Marlins, who sent him back down immediately after his outing, I’ll pass.

***

When it comes to monitoring players for this column, I’ll handle the work, but if you want quick fantasy analysis of another recent recall, feel free to post in the comments section. I’ll do my best to get to as many as I can.

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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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