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Minor League Barometer: Nova Lands in the NYY Rotation

Jesse Siegel

Jesse Siegel

Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

This Week's Minor League Barometer will keep with the theme of identifying recent minor leaguers with the chance to make an immediate impact in the majors. To give all of the young studs their due, an effort will be made not to repeat any prospects mentioned from last week. The following neophytes have either helped or hurt their cause this spring.

UPGRADES

1. Ivan Nova, P, NYY -
Nova will likely break camp as the No. 4 starter for the Yankees, cementing his spot in the rotation with a dazzling six innings of no-hit ball against Baltimore. Nova allowed four hits, did not walk a batter and fanned four. Overall this spring, Nova has compiled a 1.29 ERA and 7:2 K:BB ratio in 14 innings for the Bombers. Opposing batters are hitting just .170 against him. The sample size is small, but with a newfound slider, and New York's potent lineup behind him, Nova has the chance to make an impression this season.

2. Carlos Carrasco, P, CLE -
Once a highly-touted prospect for the Phillies, Carrasco ended up with The Tribe as a result of Cliff Lee's first stint with Philadelphia. Carrasco is also a likely No. 4 starter for his squad, after posting a 3.83 ERA and 38:14 K:BB ratio in 44.2 innings down the stretch last season. Although he has been knocked around a bit this spring, he has posted a 12:4 K:BB ratio in 12.1 innings for the Indians. He is a strikeout pitcher who relies on his fastball, but also has decent command of his off-speed pitches. The 24-year-old is certainly one to watch as the season begins.

3. Brent Morel, 3B, CWS -
Morel has won the starting third-base job for the White Sox. Although his greatest asset appears to be his slick fielding, Morel showed some pop last September with three home runs during his brief stint with the big club. He is more of a doubles slugger than a home run hitter, though he hit a combined .322/.359/.480 between Double-A and Triple-A last season, showing he is certainly no slouch in making contact with the bat either. With everyday at-bats, Morel could be a nice sleeper at the hot corner.

4. Danny Espinosa, 2B, WAS -
Another rookie starter, Espinosa should play second base on Opening Day for the Nationals. Espinosa is having a fantastic spring, batting .304/.347/.478 with two home runs and 14 RBI in 15 games. He has shown plus-power from the second base slot. Patience at the plate, as with most young players, will be Espinosa's biggest issue, as he can be prone to strikeouts and has not drawn a single walk during spring training. However, he's been able to put the ball in play enough to win the starting job and will likely bat seventh for the Nats. The 23-year-old is someone to target as a sleeper due to the lack of depth from a fantasy perspective at second base.

5. Andrew Cashner, P, CHC -
Cashner looks to be the frontrunner for the fifth spot in the Cubbies rotation. He pitched out of the bullpen for Chicago last season, and his biggest nemesis was command. The 6-foot-6 flamethrower walked 30 batters in 54.1 innings with the big club, while also sporting a mediocre 4.80 ERA. Prior to that, however, Cashner was dominant as a starter in Triple-A. He posted a 2.05 ERA and 59:15 K:BB ratio in 57 innings with the Iowa Cubs before getting the call to the bigs. He's been a bit wild as expected this spring, but has been getting a ton of ground balls with his improved breaking stuff. Combine that with a high-90s heater and the implosion of competition Carlos Silva, and Cashner has a shot to impact the NL Central if he can harness his pitches.

6. Zach Britton, P, BAL -
Much like San Francisco's Brandon Belt, Britton was not supposed to be a candidate to make the big league squad this spring, but has been tough to ignore. Britton has allowed just one run in 14.1 innings in major-league tuneups, posting an insane 4.33 GO/AO with his power sinker and low-90s fastball. The Orioles starting pitching is anything but solid with Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta all struggling at the back end of the rotation, meaning that even if Britton gets sent down to the minors to start the year, it won't be long before he's back up with the O's.


Honorable Mention

1. Brandon Beachy, P, ATL
2. J.P. Arencibia, C, TOR
3. Matt Dominguez, 3B, FLA
4. Kila Ka'aihue, 1B, KC
5. Daniel Hudson, P, ARI

DOWNGRADES

1. Craig Kimbrel, P, ATL -
The closer of the future for the Braves, Kimbrel surrendered four runs in his first 2.1 innings pitched this spring. Although Kimbrel rebounded with four scoreless innings, manager Fredi Gonzalez said he plans to use both Kimbrel and Jonny Venters to close out games to start the year. Venters has not allowed a run in eight innings so far this spring, and opposing batters are hitting an anemic .077 against him during spring training. Kimbrel should be the sole closer sooner rather than later, but temper your expectations to begin 2011.

2. Yonder Alonso, 1B, CIN -
Sometimes the Downgrades have less to do with performance, and more to do with roster spots. As a hitter, Alonso has stellar plate discipline with plus-power and the ability to hit to all fields. The 23-year-old is hitting .321/.367/.500 this spring. However, NL MVP Joey Votto blocks Alonso's path to the bigs. The former first-round pick is too valuable to trade and has not succeeded in attempts to play left field or third base. The Reds would likely rather Alonso get everyday at-bats in Triple-A than have him ride the pine as a backup in the bigs. As such, trade or injury appears to be Alonso's only way to making an early-season impact at the major-league level.

3. Brandon Allen, 1B, ARI -
Allen is vying for the starting first-base job with the Diamondbacks. He is having a nice spring, batting .333/.354/.578 with one home run and nine RBI through 21 games. The problem lies in the competition, as fellow first baseman Russell Branyan is hitting a robust .436/.500/.718 with three home runs and 10 RBI. Meanwhile, Juan Miranda is viewed as the most complete candidate, with a better glove than Branyan and a line of .310/.442/.595 with three home runs and seven RBI this spring. Allen has been impressive at both first as well as in left field, but there might not be room for him at either slot. Xavier Nady and Gerardo Parra also are battling for time in left, meaning that Allen could be a candidate for Triple-A or a trade. It remains to be seen if he is in the future plans for the D-Backs.

4. Esmil Rogers, P, COL -

Rogers still may end up as the fifth starter for the Rockies, but he is anything but a sure thing. Perhaps the only reason Rogers will be in the rotation is due to an injury to veteran Aaron Cook, who has a fractured right ring finger. Last season, Rogers appeared in 28 games for Colorado, eight of them as a starter. Overall, the 25-year-old posted a 6.13 ERA, with opposing batters hitting .318 against him. He wasn't exactly lighting it up in Triple-A before that, and has been roughed up this spring. He's amassed a 5.68 ERA in spring training, including allowing six runs in five-plus innings during his most recent start. Although Rogers does have strikeout potential, the fact that he has been eminently hittable the past year or so does not bode well for his chances of success.

5. Lance Lynn, P, STL -
Lynn lost out on the fifth starter job to Kyle McClellan and was optioned to Triple-A, as he posted a 4.91 ERA in four starts this spring. In Triple-A last season, Lynn had a 4.77 ERA and 141:62 K:BB ratio in 164 innings for the Memphis Redbirds. Lynn gets a downgrade because his upside appears rather limited; he is viewed as more of a back-of-the-rotation innings eater than anything else, despite a mid-90s heater and a hard sinker. He's had trouble keeping the ball down during his career as well, a recipe for disaster at the big-league level. Lynn could see some action for the Cards during the 2011 season, but expectations of dominance should be kept to a minimum. He does not have the ceiling of fellow St. Louis minor leaguer Shelby Miller.

6. Ben Revere, OF, MIN -
Revere is considered one of the better prospects in the Twins organization. A contact hitter, Pierre batted .305 with a .371 on-base percentage in Double-A last year, while also swiping 36 bases. Although blessed with blazing speed and an eagle eye at the dish, Revere has almost no power, hitting four home runs in his minor league career. This spring, he batted just .205/.256/.359 and lost the reserve outfield slot to Jason Repko. The Twins would probably rather have Revere get daily at-bats in Triple-A anyway, but his lack of power may hinder his ability to become an everyday outfielder. He should be viewed as a player in the mold of Brett Gardner, Juan Pierre or Rajai Davis. In other words, not an elite prospect.