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Minor League Barometer: Prospects Close to the Majors

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.

The baseball world was abuzz with the debut of Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper on Saturday, coinciding with the recall of Angels uber-prospect Mike Trout. Harper had a hit in each of his first two games for the Nats, while also showing off the leather in center field as well as his cannon for an arm. Trout is 2-for-14 since his ascension, but with Bobby Abreu gone and Peter Bourjos struggling, the Halos could look to Trout to jumpstart their season.

Who else could make the quantum leap to the majors? Let's look in this week's Minor League Barometer.

UPGRADE

Zack Wheeler, P, NYM
The prize of the Carlos Beltran deal, Wheeler has lived up to the expectations thus far in his brief time with the Mets. The 21-year-old righty sports a 1.75 ERA and 30:14 K:BB ratio through 25.2 innings for Double-A Binghamton. Although the walks are still a bit high, Wheeler continues to miss bats. Opposing batters are hitting just .198 against him. He's also getting ground balls at a nice clip, posting a 1.50 GO:AO ratio. All in all, Wheeler is among the better pitching prospects in the game and could make his MLB premiere this season.

Andrew Chafin, P, AZ
Do the Diamondbacks really need another stud pitching prospect? Apparently they just might have one in Chafin, the No. 43 overall pick in the 2011 draft. The 21-year-old has mowed down the opposition at High-A Visalia with a ridiculous 45:6 K:BB ratio through just 27.2 innings for the Rawhide. A 2.28 ERA is not too shabby, either. Clearly the left-hander sits behind a glut of hurlers in Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and the recently promoted Patrick Corbin. However, Chafin should be watched closely should his success continue.

Edwar Cabrera, P, COL
At every level, Cabrera will have his doubters. He's on the thin side and does not possess an overpowering fastball. However, he has done nothing but dominate the opposition at nearly every stop in the minors. In 2012, the 24-year-old has a standout 1.64 ERA and 29:3 K:BB ratio through 33.0 innings for Double-A Tulsa. His control, location and off-speed offerings keep hitters guessing in the batter's box. He doesn't project at as an ace, but it likely would be wise not to discount Cabrera.

Barret Loux, P, TEX
Loux has an interesting story, having originally been a top-10 draft pick of the D-Backs in 2010. However, he failed a physical before signing, and Arizona ultimately decided not to sign him. Texas decided he was worth the risk, though, and Loux ultimately latched on with the Rangers. After an above-average first full season in the minors in 2011, Loux has found his groove at Double-A. The 23-year-old has compiled a 1.63 ERA and 28:8 K:BB ratio through 27.2 innings. He has an excellent frame at 6-foot-5, 215, and could move up rather quickly due to his polish.

CHECK STATUS

Jared Mitchell, OF, CHW
Up until this season, Mitchell had been a colossal disappointment for the White Sox. A first-round pick in 2009, he missed all of 2010 with a brutal ankle injury. The 23-year-old struggled in his return in 2011, slashing .222/.304/.377 with nine home runs, 58 RBI and 14 steals in 129 games at High-A. However, he's raking to begin 2012, hitting .341/.471/.561 with a home run, 20 RBI and six steals through 24 games for Double-A Binghamton. A few questions remain about Mitchell despite his early season success, though. Can he keep it up for the long haul? Will he hit for enough power at the higher levels? And can he cut his strikeouts? Time will tell, but proceed cautiously.

Miles Head, 1B, OAK
Head came to the A's in the offseason from Boston in the Andrew Bailey trade. He's off to a fast start at High-A Stockton, batting .368/.390/.716 with six home runs and 24 RBI through 23 games. The power and production is evident, but the lack of plate discipline may be cause for concern moving forward. Head has fanned 21 times, while drawing just three walks. Clearly not a player in the Billy Beane-Moneyball mold, it will be interesting to see if the A's can turn Head into a more patient player at the dish, or whether he's too far along to be changed. If he hits .368 it's obviously less of an issue, but something tells me that's not going to last.

Fernando Martinez, OF, HOU
How about this blast from the past? Shockingly, the former Mets prospect is still just 23. Now with the Astros, Martinez is hitting .318/.379/.518 with four home runs and 21 RBI through 22 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City. There's perhaps no better place for a young player right now than Houston, a team that is in full rebuilding mode. With the team expected to be a seller once again at the All-Star break, along with a less-than-stellar right-field platoon, Martinez may get a shot to make some noise with the Astros sooner rather than later.

Alen Hanson, 2B, PIT
Keep Hanson's name stored away; all he's done in 2012 thus far is hit .410/.441/.695 with four home runs, 14 RBI and 10 steals through 24 games for Low-A West Virginia. At just 19, his plate discipline needs work, as Hanson has fanned 23 times while drawing just six walks over that span. It also remains to be seen how much power he will actually develop. However, it's hard to argue with the overall results thus far. He's clearly a few years away from making an impact, but the combination of speed and emerging power at his position makes him an intriguing prospect and a possible future hot commodity.

DOWNGRADE

Chris Dwyer, P, KC
Dwyer has been unable to regain his 2010 form for the Royals. Double-A appears to be getting the best of him, as the 24-year-old lefty posted a 5.60 ERA and 126:78 K:BB ratio in 141.1 innings at that level in 2011. This season has been no better for Dwyer, who has a 5.64 ERA and 20:11 K:BB ratio through 22.2 innings. Dwyer has been allowing entirely too many base runners; walks have been of particular concern. He has strikeout potential, but looks to be stuck in neutral.

Zack Cox, 3B, STL -
Cox has limped out of the gate for Triple-A Memphis, batting just .195/.244/.338 with two home runs and three RBI in 22 games. He has fanned 21 times over that period, while drawing just four free passes. Although David Freese has been injury prone in the past, he has started 2012 where he left off during the World Series last year. In other words, not only has Cox started slowly, but he is blocked by the World Series MVP and an apparent budding superstar. Barring injury or trade, Cox likely will be stuck in Triple-A for the foreseeable future.

Anthony Rendon, 3B, WAS
A little late to the party here, but Rendon suffered a slight fracture in his left ankle in mid-April and will miss a sizeable chunk of the 2012 season. The concern is that Rendon has already proven injury-prone at a relatively young age. He had surgery to repair ligaments in his right ankle in 2009, and his shoulder injury was one of the most talked-about issues of the 2011 draft. Rendon can certainly swing the stick, but he won't be able to produce if he can't stay on the field.

Cory Spangenberg, 2B, SD
The good news? Spangenberg has swiped 10 bags already on the young season at High-A. The bad news? He's batting just .239/.290/.293 with seven RBI and does not project to hit for much power at all. Not the worst thing in the world for a middle infielder in the National League, but a higher average is certainly a must for the 21-year-old to be more fantasy-relevant. Otherwise, Spangenberg could end up as nothing more than a bench player to get your squad some extra stolen bases. Last season he hit .316 with a .419 on-base percentage; the Padres are hoping those numbers are more indicative of his future prospects than his stats in 2012.

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