It's a rite of spring, much like the first crocuses pushing up from the ground and the birds coming back north.
The Futures Exchange is back for another season of letting you, the fantasy enthusiast, know about all the young players coming up from the Minor Leagues.
Normally, this column will have its usual categories: In the bigs, which features prospects making their first splash on the big stage; A phone call away, which showcases Minor Leaguers who are ready but waiting for that first opportunity; A year away, where I primarily talk about Double-A players who won't make an impact until 2009; and Down the road, where I highlight prospects who are a few years away from reaching the bigs but should be on your radar if you want to achieve long-term success.
For now, since we're all about instant gratification, we're going to focus just on guys who are about to make their first major impact on the big league stage. I'm giving all of you the benefit of the doubt that you know what the Joba
Chamberlains and Jacoby Ellsburys of the world can do. So for this first installment of the Exchange, we'll focus in on the top prospects making it "in the bigs" for the first time.
Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays: I really don't get what the organization's hesitation is about. Longoria's ready. His
teammates think he's ready. I sincerely hope they wouldn't send him down simply to keep his service clock from starting. If they're serious about getting better, he needs to be in there from Day 1 (sorry, Hillary). What he's doing this spring isn't far from what he's capable of doing over a full season. He's going to hit for average and power, and he figures to drive in plenty of runs. I don't think there should be another rookie who should be higher on your list right now.
Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds: Cueto has been in Homer Bailey's shadow, but all that has changed with his performance this spring (2.08 ERA, 12 Ks in 13 IP). He's cemented a spot in the rotation, more or less, and here's hoping he isn't ruined. I don't care what kind of hitters' haven Great American Ball Park is, you need Cueto on your staff in any kind of format. He may not look like much at 5-foot-11 and about 175 pounds, but neither did Pedro Martinez. You heard me.
Jay Bruce, OF, Reds: Know that part in "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training," when Bob Watson and company lead the crowd in saying, "Let them play!"? I want to go into Dusty Baker's office and start that mantra: "Let him play! Let him play!" Sure, Ryan Freel's having a nice spring, so is Norris Hopper, and Corey Patterson is around, but can you really tell me that any of them is a better everyday option than Bruce? He got reassigned, but it has to happen soon, right? You may want to hedge your bets and draft him a little lower, but if you're in a keeper league, grab him right away. He'll force his way back up soon, and you'll want the average and power the minute that happens.
Colby Rasmus, OF, Cards: Yes, he just got reassigned, but it's going to be a matter of when, not if, he gets called up. I guess, technically, that makes him "a phone call away," but he's so close to being ready that you need be sure to keep him on your radar. He can do it all; he may not hit for a good average right away, but he's got plenty of pop and he'll steal some bases.
Jayson Nix, 2B, Rockies: He got off to a bit of a slow start this spring, but Laynce's brother (what's with the extraneous "Y's" in this family?) has come on strong and looks to have the edge in the Rockies' competition at second. Nix has had an up-and-down Minor League career, but last year he swatted 11 homers and 33 doubles, hit over .290 and swiped 24 bases. In that big league lineup, he'd make for a nice third middle infielder who'll score a bunch of runs, steal some bags and maybe hit a few balls out of the park.
Brian Barton, OF, Cards: Boy, the National League Central is a good place to be. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for a good Rule 5 story. It's been Barton vs. Juan Gonzalez for that last outfield spot in St. Louis. Juan Gone has been hurt, shocking as that may sound, and Barton's hit .353. Barton may be the fifth outfielder, but it looks like there will be a rotation of sorts in which he'll get a fair share of at-bats. The guy can rake -- though more for average than for power -- and could make for a good final outfielder, especially for those of you in NL-only leagues.
Chris Volstad, RHP, Marlins: The Marlins may not need a No. 5 starter for a while, so don't be alarmed if Volstad gets sent down initially. He's posted a 1.13 ERA over 16 spring innings, and with all the injuries and issues they've had in camp with respect to pitching, he may sneak into the rotation. If it doesn't happen right away, it could happen very soon, and he'll certainly contribute sooner than anticipated. An extreme ground-ball guy in that park should have some value, though the Ks won't be there initially. NL-only owners, especially those in keeper leaguers, should be eager to get this guy.
Nick Adenhart, RHP, Angels: He belongs in the same category as Volstad, in terms of being a guy who's snuck into the rotation picture despite having pitched only at the Double-A level. He won't turn 22 until the end of August, and even if he doesn't win that No. 5 starter spot, there's no doubt he's closed the learning curve. Anyone still in big league camp at this point has to have a shot. If he gets sent down, the chances of him seeing considerable time in the bigs in 2008 are very good. AL-only players and keeper leaguers need to keep a very close eye on him.
Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers: This is my super-sleeper. Not that people don't know about him already, but he may be up in L.A. very soon. Kershaw has been extremely impressive in big league camp, and the Dodgers are discussing the possibility of him breaking camp with the big club. Not sure how that would work exactly, but even if he gets sent down, there's little question in my mind that he makes a major contribution this year. And everyone -- in every format -- needs to be ready. Kershaw is as legit as they come, and he's the kind of young hurler who can help you in all sorts of categories right from the get-go.