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John Sickels' Column: Minor League Mailbag

John Sickels

John Sickels

John Sickels writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

I get frequent questions from readers via email, and this year weíll turn them into a twice-monthly mailbag feature. Send your questions to JASickels@aol.com for consideration. I canít answer every question, but I read every one, and the best questions will end up in the mailbag.

Clint from Anaheim writes: How soon do you think the Tigers will promote Jacob Turner? Is he another Rick Porcello, or will they handle him more slowly?

As you no doubt know, Turner was Detroitís first-round pick last year, ninth overall, out of high school in St. Louis, Missouri. He got a $4.7 million bonus, largest ever for a high school pitcher, and signed a major league contract. The latter factor puts a time limit on his development, but scouts think heís advanced enough that he can avoid the Todd Van Poppel Effect of being rushed too quickly for contract reasons.

Turner made his first professional start this past weekend, throwing five shutout innings on Apr. 10 for Low-A West Michigan, allowing two hits and fanning seven. He didnít walk anyone. This is the same combination of power (92-97 MPH fastball) and precision noted by scouts in high school. His curveball and changeup are both highly promising and much ahead of his age. He throws strikes, and draws notice for strong mound presence and work ethic. Basically, he just needs to stay healthy and build up his experience basis of innings.

Heís not far from Porcello at the same stage, and it could be theoretically possible for Turner to appear in the majors in 2011. 2012 is probably a better bet, as the Tigers arenít quite as desperate for starting pitching as they were when they moved Porcello up last spring. If I had to guess, Iíd say that Turner will spend the first half of 2010 at West Michigan, then move up to the Florida State League in late June or July. He would begin 2011 in Double-A, with a major league promotion possible late next year and a rotation spot possible in 2012.

The Tigers may have other plans, but even that timetable would be an aggressive one.

James B. from Waco, Texas asks: How soon can Jordan Lyles of the Astros move up? I drafted him in my dynasty league, so how fast can he pay off?

Lyles is beginning 2010 in Double-A, skipping past the High-A level. He pitched for Lexington in the Sally League at Low-A last year (going 7-11, 3.24 with a 167:38 K:BB in 145 innings), and is still just 19 years old: the Astros are showing great confidence in him with an assignment to the Texas League at such a young age. He was so-so in his first start on Apr. 11, allowing six hits and three runs in 4.1 innings, though he did strike out four.

Lyles can hit 93-94 MPH but often works in the 89-91 range. He has a great changeup, and made significant strides with his curveball and slider last year. His control is very sharp and heís an efficient pitcher. Heís also athletic, which should help him stay healthy, and he might pick up more velocity if he fills out his 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame a bit more.

I donít see Lyles as a future No. 1 starter, but I think he can be a strong No. 3 or maybe a No. 2 in his best seasons. Given his youth, I expect that the Astros will be conservative with him, and I donít expect to see him in the majors this year. A trial sometime in 2011 is much more likely. In fantasy terms, I wouldnít expect a big payday until 2012, but if you can hold onto him that long, he has a good chance to be a very fine pitcher. Watch his K:BB and K:IP ratios closely this year. If they remain sharp, heís making a quick adjustment and the timetable could move up somewhat.

Jack K. from California writes: I see that Allen Craig made the Cardinals' roster, but he hasnít gotten much playing time yet. Iím holding him as a bench player, but is there a chance he will get to play or should I cut him loose?

Craig has received six at-bats so far, but unless someone else gets hurt it will be hard for him to play consistently for the Cardinals. He has nothing left to prove in the minors: heís a career .306/.366/.513 hitter, including .322/.374/.547 last year in Triple-A. He can play the corner outfield spots and first base without hurting you, and can handle third in an emergency. Heís a great extra guy for the Tony LaRussa to have on the bench, but fantasy owners who picked him up as a sleeper (like you) are no doubt frustrated.

I donít know the specifics of your league, so it is hard to give direct advice. In general terms, if you have enough roster/reserve/minor league spots, I think Craig is worth holding on to. His hitting skills are good enough that heíll get a chance to play eventually, though whether thatís in St. Louis or with another team I canít say. He would be excellent trade bait should the Cardinals need to make some deals down the stretch.

Basically, what to do with Craig depends on what the rest of your roster looks like, your balance between trying to win this year and the future, and what other teams are doing. I wouldnít just dump him.

C.T. from Beloit, Wisconsin, asks: At what point do we give up on Carlos Triunfel, the Mariners' prospect?

I have had some skepticism about Triunfel over the last couple of years, and it is true heís not hitting well in Double-A just yet (4-for-22 so far in five games for West Tennessee). But it is way, way, way too soon to be giving up on this guy as a prospect. Heís only 20 years old, and missed an entire season of development time last year with the broken leg.

Iím still not certain what kind of player Triunfel will become. His power hasnít developed yet, but heís already starting to lose his speed. His defense remains problematic: he has a very strong arm, but will likely lose the range for shortstop. Iím not sure that the Mariners have handled him especially well. But I come back to the fact that heís the age-equivalent of a college sophomore right now. The tools are still there, he is very young, and it is much too early to conclude that heís a busted prospect.

In fantasy terms, if you are in a long-term keeper league with enough roster space, I would hold him. If your view is more short-term, or if roster space is at a premium, there are likely better investments to look at.

Joe from Coral Gables, Florida, writes: Give me a sleeper prospect in the Rays' system!

Iíd keep an eye on lefty David Newmann, who threw seven shutout innings in his first start this weekend for Double-A Montgomery.

A fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2007, Newmann missed all of 2008 with a knee injury, but came back last year to post a 3.44 ERA and a 128:46 K:BB in 131 innings for Charlotte in the Florida State League, allowing just 108 hits. He has a hard 88-90 MPH sinker, has a strong curveball, has developed a good changeup, and throws strikes. Heís an older prospect at age 24 (25 in June), but this is because of missing a year to Tommy John surgery in college and then the knee issue in 2008.

The Rays are usually conservative about promoting pitchers, but given Newmannís age they might be more aggressive with him. Heís got good stuff, throws strikes, and is a lefty. Definitely a pitcher worth tracking.

Article first appeared 4/12/10

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