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Time is now to invest in Zunino, Buxton04/11/2013 1:06 PM ET
By Ashley Marshall / Special to MLB.com
This is the first edition of what will be a regular feature in which we use a Minor League perspective to give you the edge in your fantasy league. Have a fantasy question? Tweet it to @MiLB or @AshMarshallMLB with the hashtag #fantasyfocus.
Here's a look at what baseball's top 10 prospects did in the season's first week, what Minor League rehabs you need to be aware of and why you should buy low on Mike Zunino before his hot start gets noticed by other owners in your league.
We also ask whether Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. will have a meaningful impact for fantasy owners looking for another outfielder and why it's worth following the progress of 2012 draftee Bryon Buxton.
Top 10 Prospects
Rehabs of note
Cody Ross recorded one hit in 12 at-bats for Class A Visalia, striking out three times and recording two RBIs as a designated hitter. Recovering from a left calf strain that limited him to four Spring Training games, Ross could take part in an extended spring training game Thursday before rejoining Arizona on Friday.
Because his disabled list stint was backdated to March 22, Ross is eligible to return immediately.
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Dodgers hurler Chad Billinsgley allowed four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits and three walks over four innings for Rancho Cucamonga last Thursday. Rehabbing a bruised right index finger, he struck out two and hit a batter in a 72-pitch outing.
The fact that was was able to throw his curveball was more important than the actual results for Billinsgley, who will rejoin the Dodgers on April 10 in San Diego.
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Ted Lilly (left shoulder surgery) allowed five runs on nine hits, including three home runs, in six innings for Rancho Cucamonga on Friday. He struck out five batters and threw 77 pitches.
On Wednesday, he surrendered six runs -- five earned -- on eight hits and a walk over six frames for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. The Dodgers will now decide if he's ready to return.
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David Ortiz (right heel) is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday night. You can watch all of his at bats for as long as he stays with Pawtucket on MiLB.TV.
Stock Up, Stock Down
Stock up: Mike Zunino
After flourishing in his professional debut with Class A Short-Season Everett and Double-A Jackson, Zunino has taken off again at Triple-A Tacoma. He went 9-for-21 with four homers and 16 RBIs in his first five games with the Rainiers. Those clips will be impossible to continue as the season goes on, but such a hot streak certainly isn't out of the ordinary for the 2012 Gold Spikes winner.
The Mariners have Jesus Montero behind the plate, but it's long been thought he'd be best served as a DH. If Zunino comes close to continuing his current level of production, he'll be in the Majors within months. With hitting a premium at the catcher position, he's worth a pickup now if you have the roster space.
Mike Zunino stats
Stock down: Caleb Gindl
Gindl -- the Brewers' No. 18 prospect -- is starting his third straight season at Triple-A Nashville and hasn't shown a strong mastery of the level in the early going. He was just 1-for-19 with seven strikeouts in the Sounds' first five games of the season before breaking out a bit with a 3-for-5 showing along with his first homer of the season on Tuesday. Still, a slow start hasn't done much for the stock of a 24-year-old who projected as a fourth-outfield type anyways.
Byron Buxton: There's always a prospect, even a highly touted one like Buxton, who shoots up the organizational ladder a little quicker than expected. Time will tell if the Twins outfielder will be the next one, but the early returns have been fantastic. In his first five games with Class A Cedar Rapids, MLB.com's No. 19 prospect is 10-for-20 with two homers, a triple, a double, six RBIs and two stolen bases. Some believe he was the best overall talent in the 2012 Draft, and it's shown in the early going.
Under the Radar
Brandon Moss ran up OPS marks of .800, .877 and .952 in the three Minor League stints preceding his Major League breakout last season. Moss had always hit in the Minors but hadn't really cracked big league pitching untill, seemingly out of nowhere, the long-time Minor Leaguer hit to a .291/.371/.582 line with 21 homers in 84 games for the A's last season.
Dubbing someone the "next Brandon Moss" is hazardous terrain, particularly because the kind of breakout Moss had last year almost never happens.
But if anyone could lay claim to having a shot at the title, it might be Gwinnett's Ernesto Mejia. The 27-year-old Venezuelan, unlike Moss, has never had a shot in the bigs, but in his last two seasons in the International League he's registered .906 and .849 OPS marks (along with an .891 OPS in the Venezuelan Winter League this past offseason), hitting 40 home runs in 270 games in the process. If Freddie Freeman continues to miss time, Mejia just might get a shot in Atlanta, and, like Moss before him, might use that time to hit a whole bunch.
Will He Stick?
Jackie Bradley Jr.: In his first week-plus in the Majors, Bradley's shown a patient approach at the plate (six walks in seven games) unseen in most rookie hitters and has exhibited his trademark high-quality defense despite making the move to left field for the first time as a pro. Bradley has not, however, been making solid contact at the plate, with three hits in 23 at-bats (.130 average).
MLB.com's No. 32 prospect's near-term future on Boston's 25-man is primarily dependent on David Ortiz's health. The Red Sox designated hitter is expected to return within the month in which case Bradley's likely the first one back to Triple-A Pawtucket, barring a breakout string of performances between now and then. Be prepared to move him if you need immediate playing time in your outfield, but if you can afford to hold onto Bradley, do so as he is considered a long-term solution in the Red Sox outfield. He projects to be an asset in runs, stolen bases and OBP from the start.
Singling out a stat
There were eight Triple-A players who stole 30 or more bases in 2012, plus 15 more who accomplished the same feat at Double-A. Here are a few Minor Leaguers who could make an impact with their legs if given the Major League call:
Billy Hamilton is the easy choice, but even with his hot start (six steals in first four games) there's no guarantee he'll get enough big league at-bats to make that much impact in 2013. In keeper leaguers and dynasty leagues, obviously take a shot.
Adam Eaton, by contrast, should be owned in most leagues already. If injuries scared people off, don't be afraid to snap him up and stash him away. At the very least, keep him on your watch list for a month. He stole 38 bases in 48 attempts for Reno last year, leading to 119 runs scored. He has a decent eye and good plate patience, and though he won't harm your average or on-base percentage, he won't do too much for your power numbers. Still, if it's speed you're after, he is a good bet. He's on the DL with an elbow injury, so the legs are fine.
Other names to keep track of are Luis Durango (who led the PCL with 48 steals), Jimmy Paredes (37 steals in 124 games) and Jake Elmore (32 steals in 40 tries). For a more prospect-centric approach, pay attention to Houston's Jonathan Villar who starts the year in Oklahoma City, Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee in Durham and especially Aaron Hicks, who already cracked the Twins lineup.