This Week's Specials
Tony Pena, RP, Diamondbacks
Comparable player: Rod Beck
I drafted Pena in 2002, when he was Adriano Rosario and was four years younger than his current listed age. He remains a prospect because of his mid-90s fastball, sharp slider and solid control. He was a bumb (a bum who bombed) as a starter in the high minors, but the D-backs moved him to the pen and, as you can see, he took to the role like a born liar to a new fake ID (d'oh). I expect him to make the bigs out of spring training and to post solid numbers as he preps to make a run at the closing job. My only concern is his K-rate isn't as elite as his stuff would lead you to believe. Still, he's a big saves sleeper and has serious upside as a WHIP and ERA savior.
Billy Butler, OF, Royals
Comparable player: Dick Allen
As of this writing, he is batting .419-2-10 with five doubles and a superb 3-5 K/BB ratio in 31 spring at-bats. The only thing holding Butler back is his defense. He is working like the dickens to improve from awful to adequate in left field and my money is on this kid. He's only 21 this season and could easily be rookie of the year if he gets 450 at-bats. If all goes according to plan, Butler could develop into an MVP candidate in the next 2-4 seasons. In deep, deep leagues he might already be gone but, if he isn't, he definitely merits consideration. He could have a fantasy impact in a number of leagues in the second half of the season (a la Nick Markakis last season). Down the road, I could see multiple .300 seasons with a peak in the 35 homer range. Another comp: He looks like a younger, right-handed Brian Giles.
Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Cubs
Comparable player: John Smoltz
Smoltz had a ton of work to do to turn himself into a pitcher, but he was always a great athlete with a very projectable frame. Samardzija (try typing that 20 times a minute!) is 6-foot-5, built like an ox, and many of you guys have seen him star for Notre Dame on the gridiron (I don't watch much college football -- too busy learning about prospects and the NFL). His NFL draft stock started plummeting as his baseball stock grew because he touches 99 mph. His slider could develop into a plus pitch and his athleticism is off the charts -- meaning, he could turn his fastball and inconsistent breaking stuff into 200-plus career wins if he works at it. Jeff still has football on the brain, so whether he achieves his potential depends on his ability to focus on one sport. I can't think of one "two-sport star" (e.g. Deion, Bo) who wouldn't have been far better at hardball if they'd quit football. But Samardzija's potential was such that he went in the first round of my keeper-league minor-league draft and he's someone to know.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt
Comparable player: Mark Teixeira
Like Tex, Alvarez spurned the Red Sox to hit the college ranks. Like Tex, Alvarez is indifferent defensively but has top-of-the-scale power and fine plate discipline. Alvarez is slumping right now, but he usually has excellent plate discipline and the ability to hit for average. He also rallied like a madman starting around this time last season, and I wouldn't be surprised if he easily leads Div. I in homers this year. I expect Pedro will be the No. 1 pick in the 2008 amateur draft, and you better jump aboard this bandwagon while there's plenty of room. He could be a 40-homer monster at the next level.
I'm elated to see that one of my favorite sites, Perfectgame.org, is now partnering with the Worldwide Leader. Perfect Game puts together a series of amateur showcases and is probably the best source of high school prospect info on the Web. I first glommed onto the site because a friend, David Rawnsley, went to work for PG after he left Baseball America. David used to work in the Astros front office and he has a great eye for talent. He is also open-minded and generous with his time (with me, at least!).
Perfect Game's site is somewhat hard to navigate, but if you are willing to invest some time, you'll find excellent scouting reports on hundreds of prep prospects.
Josh Vitters, 3B, Cypress HS (Anaheim, Calif.):
Comparable player: Scott Rolen
PG says Vitters has a "strong, broad frame and a physical presence, strong lower half. Offense - plus plus bat speed, aggressive, fires hands, swing is alive, quick to ball, quick trigger, easy and explosive power, good trajectory off bat, handles velocity easily, premium hitting prospect. Defense - has feel for the game, strong arm, makes plays, can play on move, tools and reactions fit well at 3B, aggressive to ball, prototype at the position. A top-tier player."
Vitters is the top high school hitter in an uber-strong 2007 amateur draft, and I could see him developing into a Rolen or a healthy Jack Clark. Guys with Vitters' pedigree usually spend little time in the minors, and hit the majors fast. He isn't a sure thing because we can't be positive about his K/BB skills until he hits full-season ball in '08, but I've had a pretty good track record with high schoolers of this caliber in my leagues. He's very nice.
The Sloan of fantasy-baseball analysts, David Srinivasan writes about statistics and the minors for ESPN.COM, if you wish to ask questions, or want to be bored by David's insights regarding Rick Porcello, please e-mail him at email@example.com.