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Fantasy Focus: Pitching, catching, outfield
Ventura, d'Arnaud, Springer will make for exciting fantasy options
03/14/2014 10:00 AM ET
Yordano Ventura should provide fantasy owners with plenty of strikeouts during his rookie campaign. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Fantasy leagues are often won on the margins -- the latter rounds of the draft, the waiver wire pickups, etc. They're also decided by what moves aren't made (e.g., opting not to go for the "next big thing" who ends up struggling). What kind of players usually fit in both groups? Prospects, of course. In the second of a two-part series (read part one), we consider the pitching, catching and outfield prospects you should know, which ones you should ignore and which ones you can file away for later (hello, dynasty leagues).

Catchers

Name to Know: Travis d'Arnaud, Mets -- It's simple, d'Arnaud is the one catching prospect you should have your eye on going into your draft or auction. He's going to start right away in Queens, so you won't have to worry about taking up a roster spot while he toils in the Minors. What's more, he's likely to actually produce in the Majors. He achieved a .300 average and double-digit homers in 2012 and 2011 before a broken foot limited his time last year. Grab him as a solid backup option at the start because you'll be able to get him at that value, but he could very well be worth much more by season's end.

Name to Ignore: Austin Hedges, Padres -- This is where I hedge (apologies, apologies) my bets a little. There is no doubt Hedges is a big-time catching prospect, and if you're a Padres fan, you should be excited he's in your organization. His defensive skills may be unmatched among catching prospects -- just don't put him on your fantasy team quite yet. The bat, where he'd make your fantasy money, isn't much to write home about as MLB.com gives his hit and power tools both 50 grades, and his offense figures to be neutralized at pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Hedges is ranked highly on every prospect list in the business, but ignore that and keep him off your fantasy rankings for a few more years.

File Away for Later: Blake Swihart, Red Sox -- The Red Sox have basically rigged the system to make Swihart their catcher of the future. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia leaving via free agency, the defending World Series champs inked veteran A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal, and David Ross has one year left on the two-year contract he signed last offseason. The 21-year-old Swihart -- a good switch-hitter who was also the organization's Minor League Defensive Player of the Year last year -- will start at Double-A Portland, where his bat should continue to flourish. He could compete with defensive wizard Christian Vazquez, who doesn't have a similar hitting/fantasy profile, for the full-time starting gig in 2015 and then run with it from there.

Outfielders

Names to Know: George Springer, Astros -- Springer had the most eye-popping 2013 in the Minors, nearly gaining admittance to the 40-40 club. (He finished with 37 homers and 45 steals.) Even though we're still unsure where he'll start the 2014 season, it's fairly certain he'll hit the Majors at some point, and when he does, he should be in your fantasy lineup. Springer's combination is rare. It's why the 40-40 club is illustrious. If you want a reason for concern, you can find it in his high strikeout rate (mid-to-high 20s through his Minor League career). But when he makes contact, it's hard contact, and when he gets moving, he gets moving quickly. Twenty-plus homers and 30-plus steals in the Majors isn't out of the question this year.

Oscar Taveras, Cardinals -- After an impressive 2012, Taveras was believed to have been on the fast track to St. Louis, where he could have been part of the Cards' run to a National League title. Instead, an ankle injury limited him to just 46 games with Triple-A Memphis. The 21-year-old left-handed hitter will be back to full-time duty this season, when he'll get a chance to show off his 75 hit tool and 60 power. The Cards already have a solid outfield of Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos and Allen Craig (with Jon Jay and Shane Robinson coming off the bench), but if Taveras fully returns to form in Memphis, the Cardinals will find a spot for yet another fantastic homegrown product.

Gregory Polanco, Pirates -- Andrew McCutchen ... Starling Marte ... Gregory Polanco? That seems like the logical progression, and boy, is that scary for NL Central clubs. Polanco put in a solid 2013 campaign, slashing .285/.356/.434 with 12 homers, 71 RBIs and 38 steals across three levels and then took it up a notch over 44 games in the Dominican Winter League (.331/.428/.494/5/28/7). Reports are that his production improvements are no anomaly. Polanco will definitely be at Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season, meaning he's likely to fall off the radar for some fantasy owners, but make sure you grab him either in the late rounds or off the wire when rumors of a callup begin.

Names to Ignore: Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox -- This might be the cruelest "Name to Ignore" because I really do value Bradley as a player, assuming he beats out Grady Sizemore for the starting center field gig in Boston. (If he doesn't get the starting role, then his lack of fantasy value is obvious.) His defense is phenomenal, and I think he'll get on base enough to carry plenty of weight in Boston's talented lineup. But he's unlikely to hit many homers, steal a lot of bases or hit for a high enough average to justify a spot in your fantasy outfield, especially with the dearth of options there. He should be a bit more valuable in OBP leagues, due to his patient approach.

Billy Hamilton, Reds -- I wouldn't be surprised if you scrolled this page just to find Hamilton to see where he'd land. He's one of the most intriguing -- and divisive -- fantasy options of this or any year, really. You know where to start. His 88 stolen bases between the Minors and Majors last year were impressive and yet still pale in comparison to his 155 from 2012. Stolen bases hold a lot of value in fantasy, and there's unlikely to be anyone in the game who is as capable as Hamilton to put up monster numbers in that category.

But will he actually do it? I have my doubts. Hamilton is more likely to flirt with the Mendoza line this season than he is to bat even .270. The low average also means fewer chances to steal. Even if he steals 50 bags, which would have led the National League last year, he'll be down in so many other areas that you'll be hard-pressed to make up for them all. My advice: let someone else draft Hamilton while you go for a more well-rounded player.

File Away for Later: Clint Frazier, Indians -- When I say later here, I mean much later, because it's likely to be at least two years until Frazier sniffs fantasy relevance. That shouldn't stop you from keeping tabs on the young outfielder as he starts his first full season in the Indians' system. The 19-year-old received 65 power and 60 run tool grades from MLB.com -- right on or slightly below Springer numbers -- and those numbers could grow as scouts get more looks at him against professional competition. If he lives up to those expectations, Frazier has the potential to be the combination of power and speed that fantasy owners love so dearly.

Starting pitchers

Names to Know: Yordano Ventura, Royals -- Like Springer, it's still TBD whether Ventura will start the year with the big club, but there is no doubt that he'll make an impact at that level sooner rather than later. Despite his 6-foot frame, Ventura has a monster fastball and an above-average curveball that helps him rack up strikeout after strikeout -- 155 over 134 2/3 Minor League innings last season. He has three Major League starts (3.52 ERA, 15 1/3 innings) under his belt now as well, so first-time jitters should be flushed out. Ventura should be an AL Rookie of the Year candidate. Don't be the one who hears about him too late.

Taijuan Walker, Mariners -- Unlike Ventura, we know Walker will be on the Major League roster to begin the season. Unfortunately, he'll also be stuck to the bench. The right-hander was shut down for seven days with a sore shoulder this spring and is likely to miss the first few weeks of the season. That may be a reason to put him under "Name to Ignore" at least in terms of draft time. All the same, MLB.com's No. 6 prospect, who posted a 2.93 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 141 1/3 Minor League innings last year, is too good to simply set aside. The strategy: don't draft him to be safe, watch for the announcement that he'll officially pitch, drop your most underperforming pitcher and pick him up. You'll find your value there.

Archie Bradley, D-backs -- There's no way around it. Bradley, who posted a sub-2.00 ERA in 123 1/3 Double-A innings mostly as a 20-year-old last year, is ready for the Majors right now. Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against him in terms of the Arizona rotation with six starters (Patrick Corbin, Bronson Arroyo, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, Randall Delgado) already up there. So he'll start the year at Triple-A Reno instead, waiting his turn. But don't expect Bradley to be like former top D-backs prospect Tyler Skaggs; he'll take his Major League opportunity and run with it when he gets the chance.

Name to Ignore: Allen Webster, Red Sox -- But what about his great stuff? That's what you may be thinking when it comes to Webster. Indeed, his fastball is something to behold when it's on, and his slider and changeup aren't too shabby either. But his control (3.7 BB/9, 16 HBP in the Minors last year; 5.3 BB/9 in the Majors) leaves a lot to be desired. With Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo also up in Triple-A Pawtucket this year and Henry Owens coming on fast, it's likely that Webster could be passed on the organizational depth chart and head to the bullpen, where that stuff will play much better. Even if he does get the call back up for a spot start, pass.

Jake Odorizzi, Rays -- A lot of teams would love to have a pitcher like Odorizzi -- a reliable middle-to-back-of-the-rotation starter -- and indeed two organizations have made trades to get him in their system. But the fact is he's not going to be much of a player on the fantasy scene. He'll start out as the No. 5 man in the Rays rotation, where all three FanGraphs projections peg him to have an ERA above 4.00 with a K/9 in the 7.0 range. There's some real value there, but there will be plenty of other pitchers more worthy of your fantasy roster.

File Away for Later: Lucas Giolito, Nationals -- The 19-year-old right-hander will just be starting his first full Minor League season in 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012. That might be cause for concern, but it should actually be cause for excitement because this guy is going to be good fast. His fastball has an 80 grade and his curveball (65) and changeup (55) should develop with more time on the mound. The fantasy stats should follow as he climbs the ladder.

Relief pitchers

Name to Know: Nick Wittgren, Marlins -- Reliever prospects don't normally hold much water -- they're usually pitchers who don't quite have the stuff to be starters in the Minors, meaning their road is limited -- but they do have value in terms of fantasy because of their potential to become closers who get the all-important save in the Majors. Wittgren stands out among the group because his numbers (0.77 ERA, 26 saves, 63 strikeouts, 10 walks in 58 1/3 innings) last year were good enough to make any fantasy owner salivate. He'll likely start the year in Double-A Jacksonville and not have fantasy relevance until the second half of the season at the earliest. But Wittgren is a name to know now among a limited fantasy group.

Name to Ignore: Bruce Rondon, Tigers -- This time last year Rondon would have been the top of this list. He was one of those fantasy players that everyone calls a sleeper so much that he actually becomes overvalued. Many thought he was the Tigers' closer of the future. Instead, his control issues caused him to yo-yo between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo. Now, the Tigers have signed Joe Nathan to a two-year deal to be their closer, meaning Rondon is limited to a setup role at best. Goodbye, fantasy relevance.

File Away for Later: Dellin Betances, Yankees -- As late as 2011, Betances was a top-25 overall prospect. Then he posted a 6.44 ERA to go with 99 walks in 131 1/3 innings in 2012. He struggled at the outset for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, so he was sent to the bullpen. Voila. The 6-foot-8 right-hander posted a 1.35 ERA with 83 strikeouts, 26 walks and a .163 batting average-against in 60 innings. He's carried that over to an impressive spring and is likely to start the year in the Yankees bullpen. With Mariano Rivera retired, David Robertson takes over as closer with no clear No. 2 option if he falters. The former pride of the Yankees system, Betances could be that hurler if his success continues.

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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