Seattle SP Walker could be a fantasy baseball steal this season
FEB 20, 2014 6:55p ET
Who is next?
It may be the most popular question in all of sports. The common query carries plenty of weight in fantasy baseball as owners are always looking for an edge over the rest of their league.
Every owner has Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera on their pre-draft radar. It’s the shiny new toys out of the box that tend to slide down draft boards in most casual leagues and where an educated owner can tip the scales in their favor.
Below are my top five fantasy baseball prospects for 2014:
Taijuan Walker – SP (SEA)
2013 Stats: Finished 9-10 with 2.93 ERA and K/9 rate over 10.0 between AA Jackson and AAA Tacoma
Analysis: When asked to compare 21-year-old Walker to another pitcher, Mariners’ skipper Lloyd McClendon said Justin Verlander’s 2006 rookie year. McClendon also said he expects his top pitching prospect to begin the season in the majors.
Walker is ranked the No. 2 pitching prospect and No. 6 overall on MLB.com’s 2014 Pipeline and Bernie Pleskoff just named him to his American League prospect “Dream Team.”
Walker picked up one win in three late-season starts with the Mariners last season. He was yanked after five innings pitched in each of those three starts. His fastball hovered around the mid-90s during the major league stint.
I currently have him ranked 230th overall or an average draft position of the 20th round. I would feel extremely comfortable rolling the dice on Walker come draft day.
Walker Update (2/28): Walker was shut down for at least a week with shoulder inflammation.
Walker's Fantasy Life: While researching Walker, I stumbled upon an article on Larry Brown Sports that reported the Mariners' star pitcher is currently dating former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien's daughter, Angela. Like her dad, she, too, is a quarterback, but in the Lingerie (Legends) Football League.
George Springer – OF (HOU)
2013 Stats: Hit .303 with 37 HR and 45 SB between AA Corpus Christi and AAA Oklahoma City. Springer struck out 161 times with only 83 walks.
Analysis: The Astros’ fanbase wanted Springer – the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year - called up at the end of last season. The front office expects him to be their starting right fielder in 2014, but depending on how spring training goes – in addition to service time concerns – the big bat may not roam the outfield on Opening Day.
Aside from the strikeout issues noted above, is that with the addition of Dexter Fowler, Springer will slide over to right field this spring training. He may need a little seasoning with only 62 Triple-A games on his impressive statistical resume.
Here’s the bottom line: if he’s a better hitter with greater speed (45 SB) than Mark Trumbo – a fellow big bopper with strikeout issues – I’m all for taking a stab on Springer in the last few rounds. The Astros' need a spark and Springer is the light.
Archie Bradley – SP (ARI)
2013 Stats: 12-5 with a 1.97 ERA and 8.68 K/9 rate at Double-A Mobile
Analysis: Because the Diamondbacks signed Bronson Arroyo, some would assume that Bradley should start the season in the minors. However, as FS Arizona’s Jack Magruder reported over the weekend, Bradley could still make the big league team. Arizona’s general manager, Kevin Towers, also stressed Bradley would not be sent down to delay his arbitration clock.
Right-handed hitters only managed a .202 batting average against Bradley last season and he won his last six starts. His fastball has been clocked around 100 miles per hour. Thus, a 9.9 K/9 rate during his entire minor league career is not a surprise.
Without a major league or even Pacific Coast League (a hitter’s paradise) sample size to digest, Bradley may experience some hiccups at the onset, but expect the hard-throwing righty to settle in and contribute for the Diamondbacks in 2014.
Yordano Ventura – SP (KC)
2013 Stats: 5-4 with 3.74 ERA and 9.47 K/9 rate in 14 starts at Triple-A Omaha
Analysis: Five pitchers are vying for the Royals’ fifth starting spot. That includes the 22-year-old Ventura who snagged a cup o’ coffee, three starts, with the Royals during a playoff push at the end of 2013. His electric fastball hit 102 miles per hour during that stint.
Here are the big three names Ventura will be competing against in spring training:
• Luke Hochevar (30 years old): Did not start a game for Royals in 2013. Finished 8-16 with a 5.73 ERA in 32 starts during the 2012 season.
• Wade Davis (28): Finished 8-11 with a 5.32 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 24 starts last season.
• Danny Duffy (25): Returned from Tommy John surgery. Finished 3-0 at Triple-A with a 4.08 ERA and 2-0 in five starts (1.85 ERA) with the Royals last season.
Masahiro Tanaka - SP (NYY)
2013 Stats: 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.
Analysis: He’s about to earn No. 1 pitcher dollars after signing a seven-year $155-million contract, but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is quick to temper expectations and plans on Tanaka being the Yankees No. 3 pitcher in 2014.
“He dominated the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) ,” former MLB player and FS1 MLB analyst Gabe Kapler said on the FOX Sports Team Report podcast. “He was better than (Hideo) Nomo. He was better than Yu Darvish. He’s been the best. There’s no question Tanaka is the best pitcher on that staff.”
The FOX Sports fantasy department ranked Tanaka 101st overall. Because of the name recognition and affiliation with the Yankees, he could fall off some boards earlier than warranted, but should be a solid investment midway through your draft.
Prospect Names to Know in 2014
Jose Abreu - 1B (CWS): at a shallow fantasy position, Abreu's raw power will be a nice add to owners' rosters in 2014. Ranked 120th overall in FOX Sports Top 300. I have him at No. 139 now, but expect him to move up during next update.
Chris Owings - SS (ARI): Didi Gregorius was a big piece in the trade that sent Diamondbacks' pitching prospect Trevor Bauer to Cleveland. However, the shortstop isn't a lock to start the season with Arizona. Owings hit .330 with 12 homers and 20 stolen bases at Triple-A Reno last year.
Christian Yelich - OF (MIA): Skipped over Triple-A to help a paltry and young Marlins' offense last season - will be a regular starter in 2014
Matt Davidson - 3B (CWS): Traded by Diamondbacks to White Sox this offseason - hit .280 with 17 home runs and 74 RBI last season at Triple-A Reno - competing against Conor Gillespie and Jeff Keppinger for gig
Kolten Wong - 2B (STL): lack of consistent playing time made 2013 Cardinals' stats hard to judge - .153/.194/.169 triple slash - be sure to read this FanGraphs article on Wong and his fantasy potential at at very shallow position
Nick Castellanos - 3B (DET): takes over third base in Detroit as Miguel Cabrera slides back to first base - hit .276 with 18 homers, 76 RBI and 37 doubles at Triple-A Toledo last year
Billy Hamilton - OF (CIN): the speed is well-known, but can he get on base to steal said bases and score runs for owners?
Sonny Gray - SP (OAK): has recovered from a broken thumb (non-throwing hand) - finished 5-3 with 9.42 K/9 rates, 2.67 ERA and 2.92 xFIP in 10 starts for the A's last year - another value pick here
Danny Salazar - SP (CLE): made quite a first impression with the Tribe at the end of the 2013 season - finished 2-3 in 11 starts with a whacky 11.25 K/9 rate (it was 11.83 at AAA) - his average velocity with the Tribe was above 95 miles per hour according to FanGraphs.