The season is but four days old and already the injuries are rolling in. Matt Holliday, Evan Longoria, and Brian Matusz are three of the bigger names to hit the disabled list over the weekend. Just yesterday, prospect hounds saw immediate returns with Zach Britton who dominated the Rays to earn his first major league victory and showed why many feel he is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.
If you would like to be the next owner in your league to benefit from a rookie promotion, it behooves you to know who is next in line for a promotion if another regular player needs to visit the disabled list. The trick with making minor league selections in your league is not always taking the best prospect available, but taking the best prospect that is usable this season. The owner that can balance both the future and the present with their farm roster is the one that will find more continued success over the owner taking the higher ranked guys in the low minors while overlooking the lesser-ranked guys that are closer to the majors. Here are three guys at each position that you need to watch for 2011 as they should be called up to replace an injury or for more duty at some point this season (listed in alphabetical order by position).
Robinson Chirinos - Chirinos turned a lot of head in camp with hit bat and with his glove work but fell victim to both a numbers game on the Rays roster as well as a desire by the club to see him get more experience above Double-A. Chirinos' bat is good enough where he could force his way up to the major league roster if the big league's offense needs a sparkplug or if one of Kelly Shoppach or John Jaso gets hurt. Chirinos also has some positional flexibility from his earlier days and could provide some spot help on the infield for a manager who has already played Johnny Damon at first base and Dan Johnson at third base.
Devin Mesoraco - Mesoraco, along with Wilin Rosario in Colorado, are the two best NL catching prospects around, but Mesoraco may have to wait awhile to showcase his stuff unless an injury happens. Ramon Hernandez is signed for $3M through the season and coming off a good offensive year and Ryan Hanigan is one of the better back-up catchers in the league. Mesoraco's power will play well in Great American Smallpark, so owning him now will benefit you greatly in the future.
Jesus Montero - Montero, like Chirinos, impressed with his bat, but he did not do his part with his glove work. The reports out of the Grapefruit League were less than impressive to the point that Gustavo Molina made the roster and Austin Romine seemed to have a better chance at one point than Montero of making the club. His power bat is going to be a pleasure to own once he gets to the major league level, but his path there may rely upon Jorge Posada getting injured running the bases.
Yonder Alonso - I've already talked about him as the most blocked prospect in all of baseball since he's stuck behind the defending MVP of the league. Alonso's best case for playing time is likely going to come from a trade but if you own Votto in your league, Alonso is a good insurance policy to have around for his ability to hit for a decent average but not for his power. He has first-round pedigree, but not first-round results in the power categories, a la James Loney.
Chris Carter - Carter is the exact opposite of Alonso in that he has plenty of power, but he also has problems with contact and the A's did their best to clog every possible spot in the lineup for Carter this season with their offseason acquisitions. The good news for fantasy owners is that Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui have not been models of health in the past so an opportunity may present itself at some time this season, if not before Carter impresses Billy Beane with more gaudy power numbers in the PCL.
Eric Hosmer - Kaaihue and Butler clog the first base and DH situation in Kansas City now, but if either has an issue, Hosmer is available once we get past the service time date for Super Two status. Hosmer only has 50 games above A ball to his name, but he's going to Triple-A to start this season, making him just a scoot down I-70 away from playing in Kaufmann Stadium if he is needed. Once he comes up, I expect it will be to stay.
Dustin Ackley - The Mariners are not going to contend this season, but it is unlikely the Mariners are going to sit Jack Wilson on the bench when he is being paid $5M this season. If they can find a taker for Wilson, it frees up a spot for Ackley to play sooner rather than later. He's only in Triple-A right now to fine-tune his defense and to stall his service clock.
Jason Kipnis - Orlando Cabrera was signed as a placeholder for second base as the Indians delay Kipnis' service clock. Unfortunately for Kipnis owners, Cabrera has been a model of health for most of his career, as he has but 3 stints on the disabled list since the start of the 2001 season. Kipnis is another player who profiles to be an above average fantasy second baseman once he comes up for good later this season.
Brett Lawrie - Lawrie gives the Jays a solid insurance policy if Aaron Hill has issues or Edwin Encarnacion has issues with his health as he has in the past. His bat should be a fantasy asset and that is what will get him to the big leagues as his defense is nothing special. He could play either second or third and should be a double-double type guy each season.
Zack Cozart - Cosart spent last season in Triple-A and hit .255 but had 17 homers and was 30 for 34 on the basepaths. He was added to the 40 man roster and has Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria in front of him. He doesn't walk a lot and struck out over 100 times last season in 553 at bats, but his double/double potential for homers and steals make him an intriguing option should he see a lot of playing time some time during this season. Enjoy the homers and steals and hope he hits more than .250 with his lack of plate discipline.
Devaris Gordon - Gordon will wait patiently in Triple-A for Furcal to once again have an injury issue in LA. Furcal is motivated to get a lot of plate appearances this season as his 2012 option kicks in once he hits 600 plate appearances this season. That's a total he has only hit twice in the last three seasons and he is coming off a season in which he only had 428 plate appearances. If Furcal has another health issue, Gordon will come up and do his best with his speed given that he's a rather undisciplined slash hitter who makes just average contact.
Jose Iglesias - Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie are already with the big club, but Iglesias looked good during spring training, especially in the field. His speed and ability to hit for average will be nice tools but there is not much help for power there. If he comes up, he would be plugged into the ninth hole, where he would have the opportunity to score some runs with the talent Boston has at the top of its lineup to drive him in.
Lonnie Chisenhall - Jack Hannahan has been a nice story this weekend, but he is clearly a placeholder for the franchise's future in Chisenhall. Chisenhall will take his first swings in Triple-A this week but should definitely see some time with the big club before this season is over. He has a slash line of .268/.338/.461 over the past two seasons and is just 22 years old as he goes to Triple-A to start this season.
Matt Mangini - Mangini would be an injury insurance policy if something were to happen with Chone Figgins. If Dayan Viciedo was not already on the 25 man roster, he would have been on this list because Mangini does not offer much to get excited about. He had a .313/.352/.521 slash line in the PCL last season but struck out nearly four times as often as he walked last season and that .313 average was nearly 40 points higher than his career average.
Mike Moustakas - The new moose is the prized possession at this position. 77 extra base hits last season between Double- and Triple-A and his 36 homers tied for the minor league league. If he is not in Kansas City by August 1st, something has gone terribly wrong or Wilson Betemit is having an MVP type-season.
Desmond Jennings - The next Carl Crawford label returns to Triple-A rather than ride the bench looking for at bats. Johnny Damon has already come up with a sore calf and Manny Ramirez's health history is not the best. Jennings will likely be up by the second half of the season one way or the other. One way is one of the veterans gets hurt - the other way is the Rays have a bad first half and the club decides to trade the veteran outfielders to contenders to contend in 2011.
Ben Revere - The Twins' outfield is already crowded but Revere is a solid insurance policy in the minors. I mentioned in an earlier piece that I like him because of his plate discipline and that his speed would be a solid fantasy factor with regular at bats. His lowest OBP as a minor leaguer is .371 so he knows what he has to do to get on base and use his best tool.
Eric Thames - Thames is the kind of player who could come up and make some noise with his power when he is recalled, but he could just as easily go down hacking as his swing has some holes in it. He has some three true outcome potential, but his power in that ballpark is quite intriguing if he is called up for a stint to fill in for an injury to the point he may just earn his keep.
Jeremy Hellickson, Michael Pineda, Mike Minor, Zach Britton, Kyle Drabek, and Brandon Beachy are already on major league rosters giving five prospects immediate opportunities to help fantasy owners. Here are three more:
Andy Oliver - Oliver needs just Brad Penny to continue to remind people how bad he has been in the American League during his career or for the Phil Coke transition to starting pitching to hit a speed bump. Oliver was roughed up in a big way when he was called up last year as he put 39 baserunners on in just 22 innings. He would immediately give you some help in strikeouts.
Mark Rogers - Zach Greinke is already hurt, and Chris Narveson and Randy Wolf are usually good for a stint on the disabled list as well. Enter Rogers, who has spent most of his career on the disabled list. He has had multiple arm surgeries and can still hit the upper 90's on the gun and struck out a batter an inning last year in 126 innings. Unfortunately, he also walked 75 batters. Like Oliver, the strikeouts should be there for Rogers but the ratios might be in trouble without improved command.
Jordan Lyles - He nearly won the fifth spot in Kissimmee, but Nelson Figueroa has it for now. Lyles should be up sooner than later for the Astros if he can have a better run in Triple-A this time around. The Astros brought him up to Round Rock late last season and he got raked allowing 48 hits and walking 11 in just 32 innings pitched. He has enough command to stay out of trouble but lacks the velocity of the other two guys here to get as many strikeouts.