It's early enough in the baseball season to still be filled with hope, anticipation and optimism, even if your fantasy squad is off to a rough start.
With just the month of April behind us, it's still early enough to be in a temporary slump; remember, there's plenty of time to turn things around and right the ship.
But as we turn the calendar page, we think we've got enough of a sample of statistics to officially be able to tell you who's hot. Because even if we don't want to be pessimistic about poor starts, we're more than happy to be optimistic about good ones. Just call us the Pollyanna of the Futures Exchange.
So with that in mind, this week's column will take a look at some of the more intriguing names on leader lists around the Minors through the end of April.
In the bigs
Jonathan's pick: Andrew Bailey, RHP, Athletics
This is a bit of a stretch for our theme this week, but he is among the American League leaders in relief wins (his two trail
only Jason Frasor's three). Obviously, this isn't why you should know about the A's reliever. AL-only owners should be interested because he's got 18 Ks in 15 2/3 innings. He's also given up only three hits en route to a 0.57 WHIP, providing the kind of setup numbers that could help you right now. For all owners, with Joey Devine out for the year, it's easy to see that Bailey could get a few save opportunities along the way if/when Brad Ziegler isn't available. He's got that kind of stuff.
Lisa's Pick: Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies
Let the inevitable "Dexy's Midnight Runners" comments begin. This is actually the second time we've highlighted the speedy center fielder in the Futures Exchange, as we also featured him in our season kickoff package. But for those of you who held off on picking him up because he was being eased into the starting role, what are you waiting for now? His five stolen bases in an April 27 victory over San Diego tied a modern-day rookie record, and all five came in the first four innings. His nine steals lead the National League, and he's also hitting a solid .278. The power will come, and the speed is obviously already here; odds are, if you snoozed, you lost out on this rare talent.
A phone call away
Jonathan's pick: Eric Young Jr., 2B, Rockies
Don't know if you folks have noticed this, but finding guys who can single-handedly help you compete in the stolen base department isn't so easy these days. E.Y. Jr. is one of those guys. He's racked up as many as 87 steals in a season during his Minor League career and swiped 46 bags in just 105 games last year. His 14 steals so far this season lead the Pacific Coast League and rank him second overall in the Minors. The best thing is that he's been caught only once, indicating that he's learning the nuances of the art of basestealing after entering the season with a modest 76 percent career success rate.
Lisa's pick: Jake Fox, 1B/OF/C, Cubs
OK, so the odds are that the 2003 third-rounder out of Michigan may not keep up his torrid April pace all season. As of May Day, he was leading the Minors in homers (12), RBIs (31) and slugging percentage (.988), while also hitting a robust .420. Still, that's long enough for it to be more than just a fluky hot streak. The catcher-turned-first-baseman/outfielder, now 26, combined to rack up 31 homers and 105 RBIs for Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last summer, and he grabbed the Cubs' attention by hitting .350 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 22 spring games. He could be dangerous in a utility role, and his ability to catch adds to his value.
A year away
Jonathan's pick: Jarrod Parker, RHP, Diamondbacks
We here at the Exchange like to keep everyone out there up to speed when someone interesting gets promoted a level. When it's a top prospect, it's even more important to get the info to you. So we bring you the D-backs' top pitching prospect, who was moved up to Double-A after just four starts in the California League. Parker, just 20, didn't get the memo about that being a hitters' league, as his 0.95 ERA topped the circuit when he got bumped up. He was touched for three earned runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings in his Southern League debut, but that did little to slow his momentum. Mr. Parker, meet the fast track and -- consequently -- everyone's fantasy radars.
Lisa's pick: Anthony Slama, RHP, Twins
Sure, you could argue that at 25, he's a little old for the Double-A Eastern League, but it's not like Slama has been lingering in the Minors and repeating levels. A 39th-round pick out of San Diego as a senior in 2006, he signed as a draft-and-follow the next spring, so he has just one full season under his belt. During that span, he rung up a combined 1.23 ERA in 78 games, scattering 60 hits in 102 2/3 innings, walking 34 and striking out 159 while limiting hitters to a .168 average. In 2008, he led the Florida State League with 13.94 strikeouts per nine innings (third in the Minors), and this year, he's among the Minor League leaders in that category with an amazing 16.03 K/9. In an organization stocked with young starters and a shaky 'pen at the big league level, he could be a big factor before long.
Further down the road
Jonathan's pick: Kyle Drabek, RHP, Phillies
Remember him? Doug's kid was the Phillies' top pick in the 2006 Draft, then missed most of the 2008 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2007. Well, he's back and then some. The 21-year-old right-hander has collected 37 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings while posting a 1.06 WHIP and a 2.45 ERA over five outings. It's easy to forget about a guy when he's on the disabled list, but this guy had one of the best arms in the '06 Draft and appears to be all the way back.
Lisa's pick: Jason Knapp, RHP, Phillies
Keeping it in the Phillies family, the 18-year-old from Annandale, N.J. (just over an hour from where he's pitching at Class A Lakewood), gave notice early when he struck out a team-record 14 batters on April 21. He's played musical chairs with Drabek and Atlanta prospect Tommy Hanson for the Minor League strikeout lead all season and currently holds the top spot with 41 Ks. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder posted a 2.61 ERA over seven games in the Gulf Coast League during his pro debut last summer, and he owns a 2.73 ERA through five starts for the Blueclaws.
MiLB.com Beat the Streak
They say the California League is hitter-friendly. Jonathan says "prove it" with his Beat the Streak picks all coming from the Cal League this week. Lisa, meanwhile, decided to stick to her (current) Maryland roots and play up the California-Carolina League rivalry by going all Carolina League, just for spite.
May 4: JM: Eduardo Perez, Dodgers/Inland Empire; LW: Kris Watts, Pirates/Lynchburg
May 5: JM: Alex Liddi, Mariners/High Desert; LW: Matt McBride, Indians/Kinston
May 6: JM: Brandon Crawford, Giants/San Jose; LW: Christopher Marrero, Nationals/Potomac
May 7: JM: Buster Posey, Giants/San Jose; LW: Christian Marrero, White Sox/Winston-Salem (yes, they're brothers)
May 8: JM: Joseph Dunigan, Mariners/High Desert; LW: Jason Heyward, Braves/Myrtle Beach
May 9: JM: Jack Shuck, Astros/Lancaster; LW: Danny Espinosa, Nationals/Potomac
May 10: JM: Travyon Robinson, Dodgers/Inland Empire; LW: Cody Johnson, Braves/Myrtle Beach