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Minor League Barometer: Braves' Embarrassment of Riches

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.

Don't look now, but it's almost May. At this point in the season, you likely have a general idea of whether your fantasy squad will be a contender, whether you need to make some moves, or whether you might already be playing for next season in keeper leagues. If you find yourself in the latter two categories, perhaps some of the minor-leaguers below can be stashed away for later in 2011, or help out your keeper team in years to come.

UPGRADE

1. Randall Delgado, P, ATL -
The Braves have an embarrassment of riches from a minor-league pitching perspective. Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy have already seen time in the majors, Julio Teheran is in Triple-A and is arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball and Brett Oberholtzer and Arodys Vizcaino will be coming through the pipeline sooner rather than later as well. Delgado is likely right behind Teheran in terms of stuff. The 21-year-old has a 1.71 ERA and 18:8 25:9 K:BB ratio through 21.0 innings for Double-A Mississippi. He gets an abundance of ground balls and can hit 96 mph on the gun with his heater. If Delgado can maintain his command, he has frontline potential.

2. Brett Lawrie, 3B, TOR -
Although Lawrie has been on this list multiple times already to begin the season, his torrid hitting is simply too hard to ignore. The 21-year-old is batting .435/.473/.739 with four home runs, 12 RBI and four steals through 16 games for Triple-A Las Vegas. He has fanned 16 times while drawing just three walks, but it's tough to bash the plate discipline of a guy hitting .435. Lawrie's biggest hurdle to a big-league call-up is the fact that he's still learning to play third base and has already made six errors. Likewise, the Jays will probably choose to bring him up after June 1 to delay his arbitration clock. Nevertheless, once June 1 rolls around, Lawrie could be one of the first minor-leaguers to hit the big time.

3. Trayvon Robinson, OF, LAD -
Jerry Sands got the recent promotion to the Dodgers due to his massive power potential, but Robinson has been no less effective at Triple-A Albuquerque. The 23-year-old is batting .353/.431/.637 with three home runs and 17 RBI through 14 games. He knocked home five runs on April 23, and is batting .432 over his past 10 contests. The scariest part is that Robinson has swiped just one bag this season after stealing 38 in Double-A in 2010. Strikeouts remain a concern, as Robinson has been punched out 19 times in 14 contests. However, should James Loney and/or Sands continue to struggle for the Dodgers, Robinson appears to be ready to contribute immediately.

4. Danny Duffy, P, KC -
Just one year ago, the Royals were unsure whether Duffy would ever even pitch again, as he left the organization to "reassess his life priorities," according to assistant GM J.J. Picollo. However, Duffy came back with a vengeance at the end of 2010 and has been dealing to begin the 2011 season. Duffy has a 1.29 ERA and 16:4 K:BB ratio through 14.0 innings for Triple-A Omaha. Due to the fact that Duffy tossed just 62.1 innings last season, and has never pitched more than 126.2 innings in any season, K.C. likely will be careful with the 22-year-old. However, it is clear that Duffy is back among the elite pitching prospects in the game once again.

5. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARI -
Goldschmidt has been a hitting machine since his debut in 2009, with incredible power to boot. Through 16 games with Double-A Mobile, the 23-year-old is hitting .333/.471/.870 with nine home runs and 19 RBI. His plate discipline has been superb, as Goldschmidt has more walks (15) than strikeouts (12). The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder has never hit less than .314 at any level. Brandon Allen is technically ahead of him in Triple-A, but Goldschmidt has likely passed him with regard to future potential. Russell Branyan and Juan Miranda have been average at best at the big-league level, meaning that Goldschmidt could be a September call-up with an eye toward competing for the Opening Day job at first base in 2012.

6. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, SD -
A piece of the Adrian Gonzalez deal, Rizzo has been smoking Triple-A pitching to the tune of .431/.493/.800 with six home runs, 24 RBI and even three stolen bases through 16 games. The Padres have been rotating Jorge Cantu and Brad Hawpe at first base, neither of whom are hitting even close to the Mendoza Line. As a result, Rizzo could see the big club as early as June 1. Bear in mind, however, that with the Padres sitting at 8-13 and likely going nowhere this season, San Diego could choose to take it slow with the 21-year-old. Nevertheless, his stats have been off the charts to begin the 2011 campaign.

Honorable Mention

1. Alex Torres, P, TB
2. Marcell Ozuna, OF, FLA
3. Zach Lee, P, LAD
4. Yasmani Grandal, C, CIN
5. Adrian Cardenas, 2B, OAK

DOWNGRADE

1. Aaron Hicks, OF, MIN -
Once considered an elite prospect, Hicks has seen his star fade over the past season or so. He's still young, but Hicks' athletic prowess has not translated into baseball skills thus far. After a fairly mediocre 2010 season, Hicks has started slowly for High-A Fort Myers. The 21-year-old is batting .231/.317/.327 with three RBI through 14 games. His plate discipline is solid, but Hicks has not developed much power and is not stealing bags at a high rate either. If Hicks does not turn around his season quickly at the plate, he risks becoming a forgotten prospect for the Twins.

2. Stolmy Pimentel, P, BOS -
Pimentel has been blown up in two of his three starts for Double-A Portland. The 21-year-old sports a bloated 8.03 ERA and 6:6 K:BB ratio through 12.1 innings for the Sea Dogs. One of the better pitching prospects in the Boston system, Pimentel has been snake-bitten by the home-run ball in the past. Though clearly the sample size is small, Pimentel must provide more consistency during his outings. The 6-3, 165, righty must miss a few more bats and locate his secondary pitches to reach his ace potential.

3. Andrew Brackman, P, NYY -
Brackman has had a bit of a bumpy start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 6-10 righthander has a 5.06 ERA and 9:7 K:BB ratio through 16.0 innings for the Yanks. Usually much more of a groundball pitcher, Brackman is clearly a bit off as he has surrendered three home runs already while allowing entirely too many baserunners. Brackman had Tommy John surgery in 2008 and command was an issue for the 25-year-old in 2009. However, he must prove that his 2010 season, in which he posted a 3.90 ERA and 126:39 K:BB ratio between High-A and Double-A, was not an aberration. Likewise, the Yanks could use him as a reliever at the big-league level, at least in 2011.

4. Brandon Belt, 1B, SF -
Not to toot my own horn here, but maybe the Giants should have listened to me and left Belt in the minors to start the 2011 season? Although he was taking a lot of pitches at the plate early on and looked like he was going to turn the corner at some point, it did not happen. Belt hit .192/.300/.269 through 17 games, and the Giants sent Belt back to Triple-A Fresno to regain his confidence. This is merely a temporary downgrade, but once again furthers the notion that prospects like Buster Posey and Jason Heyward who come onto the scene at such a young age and hit right away are the exception - not the rule. Not surprisingly, Belt homered in his first game for Triple-A Fresno. He'll be back with the Giants shortly, but they probably would have been better served to wait until June 1 from the get-go.

5. John Lamb, P, KC -
Lamb burst onto the prospect scene last season between Low-A and High-A, posting a sub-2.00 ERA in 21 starts at those levels with a 133:32 K:BB ratio. However, he hit a wall in Double-A in seven starts to end his 2010 campaign and is back struggling in Double-A to begin this season. In 10 total starts for Double-A Northwest Texas between 2010 and 2011, Lamb has allowed 31 runs, posting a 34:21 K:BB ratio in 44.1 innings. The 20-year-old lefty still has time to develop, but he obviously must adjust to the batters at the higher levels.

6. Grant Green, SS, OAK -
Arguably the best hitting prospect in the A's system coming into the season, Green has struggled at the dish to begin the 2011 campaign. Green is batting .188/.254/.328 with two home runs and 12 RBI through 15 games for Double-A Midland. Green continues to battle strikeout issues, as the 23-year-old shortstop has fanned 14 times through 15 games. In 2010, Green struck out 117 times in 131 games despite hitting .318. It is still early, but his plate discipline must improve at the higher levels if he is to become the prospect Oakland had hoped.

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