I hope everyone out there had a wonderful winter holiday. The final 2012 edition of The Kids Are Alright features another group of players to boost your fantasy stock in 2013. Call it an after-Christmas special. This edition is heavy on starting pitching, with two right-handers and a left-hander, and a power hitting third baseman--all things fantasy owners can use.
I had a hard time deciding between the two top arms in the Seattle organization. The more I read about Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen, the more I realized that Seattle could give the middle finger to the American League and bring both up in 2013. Choosing between one to write about was like Sophie's Choice. I hope after reading this, fantasy owners can make the best choice for their teams.
Taijuan Walker, RHP, SEA - Walker is ranked ahead of Hultzen in the organizational prospect rankings and outclasses Hultzen in overall athleticism and velocity. Walker's fastball comes in at 93-95 and can hit 97 and he maintains his velocity well through each start. His best pitch by far is his plus-plus fastball, although he struggles to control it at times. He has three other pitches--an emerging curveball and changeup, and a cut fastball that's a work in progress—though he lacks consistent command with all of them. With that tremendous fastball and a skill set that boasts 60-plus in all marks (on a scale of 80), Walker's ceiling is what puts him a hair above Hultzen. Unfortunately for me, Walker skipped the advanced-A California League in 2012 and jumped right to Double-A, so I didn't get to see him pitch.
Danny Hultzen, LHP, SEA - Hultzen is the counterpoint to Walker in many ways: a polished, mature lefty with a more varied repertoire. His fastball is 90-92 with a max of 95 and he has a plus changeup. He also throws a slider. All his pitches benefit from a deceptive delivery. Hultzen was a standout pitcher at the University of Virginia and the Mariners snagged him with the #2 overall pick in 2011. He has a few control issues to work out. Hultzen and Walker pitched in the same rotation in Double-A Jackson in 2012 and will likely do the same in Triple-A Tacoma in 2013 before their inevitable call-ups.
Seattle's rotation currently has an opening for a fifth starter. Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez were serviceable in 2012. Once Hultzen and Walker are ready, they are much better options in the rotation. If either pitcher would flame out, it would be Walker but I don't see that happening for either one. Walker's still quite young at 19, with plenty of room to grow. Hultzen's maturity on the mound is one of his best intangible attributes.
As a quasi-supporter of the Oakland Athletics, I have to say the idea of Hultzen and Walker in the same rotation as King Felix makes me a bit ill.
Miguel Sano, 3B, MIN - Minnesota's top prospect the last two years, Sano boasts some of the best power in all of baseball. He led the Midwest League with 28 home runs and 100 RBIs. He put up a solid walk rate (80 walks to 144 strikeouts). Everything about Sano's hitting is ideal. Defensively he needs some work but with his cannon arm, the Twins can afford to be patient.
Sano was the center of MLB's effort to reclaim legitimacy among its Dominican scouting and baseball development operations. An extensive investigation proved that Sano's identity is real and he even voluntarily underwent blood tests and bone scans in an attempt to verify his age. Those methods proved inconclusive.
I met the scout who signed Sano, Fred Guerrero. He's the son of legendary Dominican scout Epy Guerrero. I met both while I was in the Dominican Republic last year doing a research project. The Guerreros do everything above board when it comes to scouting so I believe everything with Sano is legit.
Power-hitting third basemen are always a priority for fantasy owners, so Sano is worth waiting for the next two years. He'll be in advanced-A in 2013 and he should continue his steady climb through the system until 2015, when he could be ready to take over in Minnesota. Right now the Twins have a whole lot of nothing at the hot corner, aside from Trevor Plouffe who can play first, second, or outfield. It won't be a problem for the Twins to move him once Sano is ready.
Zack Wheeler, RHP, NYM - Wheeler became the Mets top prospect after he was traded at the 2011 trade deadline. He's a classic power pitcher: tall, lean build, throws 93-95 with a max of 97, and strikes out a lot of guys.
I've been covering the Giants' system since 2005 so I saw Wheeler through every step of his career. My initial impression of Wheeler when he was drafted was a right-handed, more polished version of Madison Bumgarner. I watched nearly every start he made in advanced-A San Jose in 2011 and I saw a pitcher who was very good until he lost a batter to a hit or a walk. Then he would unravel. His mound presence was almost nonexistent.
After he was traded to the Mets, they tinkered with his mechanics and it led to a complete turnaround.
Some concerns about Wheeler: he has so-so endurance and his command can be uneven. The Mets love him and he makes a strong one-two punch with Matt Harvey in the future rotation. I waited to write about Wheeler until the R.A. Dickey situation was resolved. Wheeler will probably return to Triple-A in 2013 to improve upon his growth and will be up in New York as soon as he's ready. 2014 isn't out of the question.
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