Time is now to invest in Zunino, Buxton

Mariners catching prospect yet to be challenged in Minors

Mike Zunino has hit 17 homers in 49 Minor League games. (Jordan Megenhardt/MLB.com)

By Ashley Marshall / Special to MLB.com | April 11, 2013 9:06 AM ET

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

Organization   Player  
Texas Rangers   Jurickson Profar Profar hit .300 with a double and three RBIs in his first six games of the season. It may take him time to adjust to Triple-A pitching, but even if he continues to hit for a high average, the bigger question is where the Rangers could squeeze him into their crowded infield.
Baltimore Orioles   Dylan Bundy Bundy has yet to make his 2013 debut after being shut down with stiffness in his throwing elbow during Spring Training. An MRI showed nothing to be concerned about, but keep an eye on his fastball velocity once he returns to the Minors.
St. Louis Cardinals   Oscar Taveras Baseball's No. 3 prospect made his Triple-A debut for Memphis on Monday after returning home for a family funeral. He was 1-for-2 with an RBI and a run scored. He had five at bats with a hit in a game suspended in the 12th inning Wednesday night.
Tampa Bay Rays   Wil Myers Myers' power numbers may take a dip following a move from the PCL to the IL, but expect steady growth in most categories. He's batting .360 with five RBIs and five runs scored in his first six games with Durham.
Seattle Mariners   Taijuan Walker Walker fanned eight batters over five innings in a losing effort on Opening Day, but he also walked four batters, yielded five hits and surrendered two homers. He threw 55 of 91 pitches for strikes. On Wednesday, he pitched five more innings, allowing three runs -- none earned -- on four hits and two walks. He fanned five.
New York Mets   Travis d'Arnaud The backstop is batting .267 with two RBIs through five games. Three of his four hits have gone for extra bases, and he has worked seven free passes compared with just three strikeouts.
Miami Marlins   Jose Fernandez With injuries to Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, Fernandez got a chance in the back of Miami's rotation. He fanned eight in his Majors debut Sunday and he'll get another start Saturday against the Phillies. He'll be limited to 150-170 innings, so don't expect him to go too deep into games, even if he's lights out. Unfortunately, he may already be gone in all but the deepest leagues after his dominant outing against the Mets.
New York Mets   Zack Wheeler Wheeler has struggled in his first two PCL starts. He's allowed six runs over 8 2/3 innings, walking six batters and striking out nine. He has a 1.98 WHIP for Las Vegas, and he'll need to show the club more before they call him up and start his clock. Reports of a blister may explain his lack of dominance.
Pittsburgh Pirates   Gerrit Cole Cole yielded three runs on five hits over four innings for Triple-A Indianapolis on April 5. He struck out two batters, uncorked one wild pitch and threw 40 of his 63 pitches for strikes in the loss to Colorado Springs. Rain -- and a high pitch count -- limited his second start Wednesday to two innings, where he allowed a run on four hits while fanning five batters.
Arizona Diamondbacks   Tyler Skaggs Skaggs tossed six scoreless innings for Triple-A Reno against Colorado Springs on Sunday. He said his command and confidence is coming back, and he said he's almost ready to return to the Majors. He'll be on a six-inning limit against Sacramento this week, after which he says he'll be allowed to pitch for as long as he's effective.


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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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
Date Opp AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
4/4 @FRE 4 3 3 1 1 1 3 1 1
4/5 @FRE 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
4/6 @FRE 4 1 2 1 0 1 5 1 1
4/8 @SAC 4 1 3 1 0 1 4 0 0
4/9 @SAC 5 1 1 0 0 1 4 0 2
Totals   21 6 9 3 1 4 16 2 6

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.

Finders Keepers

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.

Tweet this

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.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB. Sam Dykstra and Jonathan Raymond also contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More