When projecting the 2011 fantasy value of prospects with little or no major league service time, their value is tied as much to opportunity as it is to ability. For example, prospects like Mike Trout and Shelby Miller have as much ability as anyone in the minors but will not see the big leagues until at least 2012. 

The following list of pitching prospects (max 16 MLB starts) contains the guys with the best current combination of opportunity and ability.

The cream of the crop is Jeremy Hellickson. Not that I am breaking any news with that statement, but I would be remiss in assuming every reader knows that Hellickson is at the top of this list is a given. 

The Tampa Bay prospect has produced at every level of the minor leagues posting fantastic strikeout numbers and displaying excellent control. One thing I particularly like about Hellickson is that he has logged more than 550 innings over five years in the minors. He has gone through the development process and is not simply being thrown to the fire. Plus, Hellickson will not just be the best of the prospects—he has the ability to jump right into the SP top-40.

After Hellickson, the fantasy value drops off somewhat. However, the opportunity is still there for the next four prospects that play on lesser teams with shallow rotations.  Michael Pineda, Kyle Drabek, James McDonald and Carlos Carrasco are all likely to be in big league rotations out of Spring Training in large part due to a lack of competition for those rotation spots. 

Kyle Drabek gets a ton of prospect attention because he is the son of a former major league pitcher, he was a first round pick in 2006, and because he was one of the prospects involved in the Roy Halladay trade.  But all that attention has probably made Drabek overrated.  

First of all, Drabek may not be able to provide the strikeouts that usually come with highly touted pitching prospects. In over 250 innings at AA, Drabek has posted a K/9 around 7.25. Not an awful number by any means, but it is likely to dip below 7.00 at the major league level. Drabek has also struggled with control at times. Last year he walked close to four batters per nine in 162 innings.  

The other thing that concerns me is that all these numbers I am quoting to you come from AA.  Unlike Hellickson, Drabek has not made stops at every level of the minors. He has never seen AAA and is now skipping the level and going straight to a big league rotation. A year at AAA would probably serve Drabek well, but after Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, and Marc Rzepczynski the Blue Jays have only Drabek and Jesse Litsch (career 4.54 K/9) to choose from in order to fill out their rotation.  You can certainly understand why the Jays would want to see if Drabek is ready to produce at the major league level rather than rolling with Litsch.

According to Jim Bowden, Michael Pineda is the favorite to win the fifth spot in the Mariners rotation.  Like Hellickson, Pineda has produced big strikeout numbers in the minors while displaying excellent control. However, like Drabek, Pineda could probably use more seasoning in the minors as he has pitched less than 150 innings combined between AA and AAA. 

If Pineda does in fact end up with a spot in the big league rotation out of spring training, do not fall into the trap of assuming big name prospects are major league ready. Take a wait-and-see approach with Pineda in mixed leagues, but feel free to hope his upside is realized sooner rather than later in AL-only leagues.

James McDonald seems to be a popular prospect here at The Fix as he showed up in Adam Ganeles’ sleeper list in our Draft Kit (BUY IT HERE!) and Jesse Mendelson mentioned him as a potential sleeper in recent article previewing the Pittsburgh pitching staff. And I’m with Adam and Jesse on McDonald.  

The former Dodger prospect produced well above average strikeout numbers at every level of the minor leagues (again, I like the fact that McDonald spent time at A, AA, and AAA), and his ability to miss bats so frequently may be why Bill James, tangotiger, and the Fangraphs fan projections all have McDonald projected to post a sub-4.00 ERA in 2011. 

Wins may be hard to come by playing for the Pirates and a high walk total may result in a 1.35ish WHIP, but if McDonald is able to strikeout close to a batter per inning with a sub-4.00 ERA, he will be a solid NL-only option and a nice spot starter in mixed leagues.

Carlos Carrasco is sure to have a spot in what may be baseball’s worst rotation in Cleveland.  He has certainly put in his time in the minors (over 300 innings at AAA), but he has not had quite the same level of production as some of the other prospects discussed above.

On the plus side, Carrasco has been good in the strikeout department and has induced a lot of ground balls in his short stints in the majors. On the flip side, control may be a problem. Walks have been an issue at times for Carrasco, and he may be a WHIP liability. He is not even flier-worthy in mixed leagues, but could be a useful back-of-the-rotation guy in AL-only leagues.

Finally, Julio Teheran (Braves), Manny Banuelos (Yankees) and Jordan Lyles (Astros) are three young prospects who have tons of ability and would have made this list if they had a little more opportunity. Each guy could receive a call-up at some point later in the season, so those of you in deeper leagues should place them on your watch list and keep an eye on their progress.

Written by Brett Talley exclusively for thefantasyfix.com. 


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