“Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
That sentiment——if not the exact percentage attached to it——holds true for fantasy baseball. Think about it: The most talented prospect in the world can’t do anything to help your fantasy team if there’s no chance he’ll sniff a big-league job any time soon. Conversely, a less-talented, lesser-known minor leaguer on the verge of a call-up has the opportunity to get his foot in the door and contribute sooner rather than later, which can lead to the best type of success: the unexpected kind. Just because the production isn’t projected to be as rewarding doesn’t mean it can’t be, which is why these players need to be monitored. Because in the deepest of deep leagues, opportunity only knocks so often.
This season I’ll be dropping some player names who fit this bill in this “Mining the Minors” column. If you’re looking for a take on Bryce Harper, Mike Trout or Jameson Taillon, you’ve come to the wrong place; they are too far away from the bigs to help anyone in 2011. If you’ve come to hear tell about the Triple-A feats of Jesus Montero and Domonic Brown, you won’t; they are, simply, too elite. Here, we’ll be focusing on minor leaguers who fall into one of the following categories:
To be clear: The primary criterion for this column——the raison d’être, if you will——is to help deep-league owners keep tabs on minor leaguers who, on the Talent-and-Opportunity spectrum, lean toward the Opportunity portion. Maybe someone’s having a surprisingly impressive season deserving of a call-up. Perhaps a replacement is needed for an injured big-league starter. Mayhaps the major league depth chart at the player’s position is populated by has-beens and never-will-be’s. That’s not to say these players are untalented, but rather that they are ready to put the talents they do possess to use in the bigs——and if everything works out right, for your team. All you have to do to get the lowdown? Do like Woody said and just show up.
Fittingly, the first batch of “Mining the Minors” is just in time for yesterday’s start of the minor-league season.
Zack Cozart, SS
Current Level: Triple-A
Opportunity Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Talent Rating: 6 (out of 10)
Obstacle(s): Paul Janish; Edgar Renteria; Reds’ hopes of contention
Chances are, you haven’t heard of Cozart despite his 17-homer, 30-steal 2010 campaign at Triple-A. Why not? He’s already 25, which in the magical world of Prospect Land makes him a tad too old to be among the elite. Despite some holes in his swing (.262 career average), the 2007 second-rounder’s bat is legit: 20+ doubles and 10+ homers in each of his three full minor-league seasons. That’s the sort of thing that should get fantasy owners excited, especially considering how shallow the shortstop position is. Also exciting? Edgar Renteria and Paul Janish are the most obvious hurdles between Cozart and a big-league job. Though they’re both off to roaring starts, the 35-year-old Renteria is no longer capable of handling everyday duties, while the best that can be said about Janish is he’s a passable defender who can occasionally take a walk (8.8% BB rate). The bigger issue could be the reigning NL Central champs’ playoff aspirations: Would a contender really be willing to hand over the starting shortstop job mid-season to a rookie? The guess here is yes, especially after the Reds endure a couple months of Renteria and Janish.
ETA: June. Or as soon as “Janteria” becomes too much to stomach.
Chris Davis, 1B
Current Level: Triple-A
Opportunity Rating: 3
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Mitch Moreland; Jon Daniels
It’s tough to get sent down at the end of spring training after leading your team in homers, RBIs and slugging, but that’s just what happened to the erstwhile Rangers first baseman of the future. Davis’ meteoric rise to the bigs as a 22-year-old in 2008 may have worked against him; if given more time to marinate in the minors, he may not have struggled so much in the majors (.248 BA, 34.5% K rate). Still, the pop (.211 career ISO) is going to be there——only we don’t know where “there” is. Davis made clear his desire to be in the bigs before getting sent to Round Rock——in his first game, Davis showed he’s already in mid-season form with a homer and a pair of punchouts——meaning he’s a prime trade candidate on a team that has plenty of other options at 1B or DH. While he could net the Rangers, say, some un-terrible pitching help, Davis does provide valuable insurance in case Mitch Moreland (not a sure thing, by any means) falls on his face or Jon Daniels actually finds a taker for Michael Young and his $48 million. It’s unlikely that any team that acquires Davis would do so without giving him regular PT, meaning he could mash 20 homers (depending on when a deal is finalized). In this case, it’s important to remember that Young gains 10-and-5 rights (and thus, can refuse a trade) in May. So if Texas gets stuck with him, swapping Davis would be their next best option to get a return that could help this season.
ETA: As soon as Jon Daniels finds a taker for Davis——or Young.
Scott Mathieson, RP
Current Level: Triple-A
Opportunity Rating: 7
Talent Rating: 6
Obstacle(s): Phillies’ confidence; injury history
Jose Contreras and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Madson are the guys who will hold down the closer fort while Brad Lidge is out. Nevertheless, the bullpen door is already open a crack, and Mathieson is in position to take advantage. Lidge is expected to miss the first half of the season with a rotator cuff injury. Frankly, a lot can happen in that time, and it would be foolish to think the Phillies wouldn’t need an extra power arm in the pen over the next few months. Point being: If nothing else, Mathieson would be a savvy recall for some depth. Who’s to say Lidge won’t be slower to recover than expected, and Contreras and Madson won’t struggle as closer Band-Aids? Surely, even Vizzini wouldn’t call those possibilities inconceivable. Don’t go planning on anything more than a handful of save opps, if even, for Mathieson, especially since the Phils, for whatever reason, didn’t exactly show the utmost confidence in him last year; they actually DFA’d him at one point, and he only made two big-league appearances despite piling up 26 saves at Triple-A last year, to go with a 2.80 ERA and 11.6 Ks/9. Regardless, the bullpen’s current state is in flux, and Mathieson’s 2010 digits are impressive enough that the 27-year-old two-time TJ surgery survivor will be worth owning as a high-K reliever in deep leagues, even if he doesn’t get a single save.
ETA: Early May, if not sooner.
When it comes to monitoring these players, I’ll do the grunt work, but 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 going forward.
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