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MLB

Gerrit Cole’s Time Is Now: Fantasy Baseball Prospect Pendulum


Ben Carsley breaks down two of the best prospects he’s ever seen.

Welcome to Prospect Pendulum: a weekly series where we take a look at prospects with stocks on the way up and others with values in decline. This is Fantasy baseball we’re talking about here, so everything from injury to organizational moves to player performance can factor in to where a player ranks on a given week. We’ll look to dive deeper than most on this platform too, bringing you status updates on players well outside of your typical Top 100 lists.

This week, we look at four prospects who are about to make major Fantasy impacts, including two of the best I’ve ever seen in person.

ON THE UPSWING

Gerrit Cole (SP, PIT)

The first overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole got his long-awaited call to the big leagues last week, besting Tim Lincecum and the Giants on the way to his first major league win. Despite his No. 1 overall pedigree and track record of collegiate success, Cole is somewhat of a divisive prospect. Everyone agrees he’ll be good, but how good is a point of debate. Where some see a No. 1 starter in the making, others see someone whose approach and command will limit him to a No. 2 or even No. 3 role.

I’ve seen Cole pitch in person, and the six innings I glimpsed were enough to put me firmly in camp with those who think he’s going to be special. It’s true that Cole might throw some clunkers when he leaves the ball up, but his fastball-slider combo is downright special. If the changeup becomes more consistent, he’s going to strike a ton of people out. It may take Cole a year or two to dominate consistently, but he’s going to pitch some gems right away, and he’s a must-start in any matchup that’s neutral or better.

Xander Bogaerts (SS, BOS)

When I saw Cole in the report mentioned above, he took a perfect game into the fifth inning in Double-A. The man who broke that no-hitter up was Bogaerts, who took a 98 mph fastball the other way for a double off the wall that didn’t miss going over the fences by much. Quite simply, Bogaerts is the best prospect I’ve ever seen in person, and after last week’s promotion to Triple-A, he’s one knocking on the door of Fantasy relevance.

As the youngest position player in the International League, Bogaerts hit an incredible .311/.407/.502 with six home runs and 12 doubles in 259 plate appearances. Other than a lack of top-end speed, Bogaerts truly has no offensive weakness. He has excellent bat speed, good pitch recognition, a solid approach and plus power, with room to grow into plus-plus in his prime. You can project him to move off short to third in a few years, but he’s a capable defender at short right now. There’s a very reasonable case to be made that Bogaerts is the best prospect in the game, and now it looks like he’ll hit the majors by season’s end. Fantasy owners have every reason to be excited.

Zack Wheeler (SP, NYM)

Between Cole and Wheeler, Fantasy owners are being spoiled with high-upside arms this month. After weeks of speculation, the Mets have finally confirmed that Wheeler will make his MLB debut against the Braves. Wheeler is striking out well over a batter per inning but also posting a BB/9 of 3.54, and the biggest knock on the righty has always been his lack of elite control. Wheeler’s 3.93 ERA may look discouraging, but he pitches in a terrible pitching environment in Las Vegas.

Similar to what I wrote about Cole, Wheeler is going to throw some clunkers here and there. When he loses his command and leaves the ball up he becomes a bit homer-prone, and I don’t think he’ll ever have the friendliest of WHIPs for Fantasy owners. That being said, he’s going to end up with some 12-plus strikeout games too, and if he can throw 175 innings a season he’s a lock for 200-plus Ks. The man many once considered (and some still consider) a better overall prospect than Matt Harvey will now join the Mets ace to form what should be a devastating one-two punch for a franchise in need of some good news. Fantasy owners have reason to smile as well.

Mike Zunino (C, SEA)

Zunino was drafted third overall in the 2012 draft just about one year ago, and his meteoric rise through the Mariners farm system has been exciting to watch. Viewed as an advanced hitter out of college, Zunino did bad things to High-A and Double-A last season, and opened 2013 with an aggressive assignment in Triple-A. He was struggling there through 208 PA, but thanks to the struggles of Jesus Montero and a lackluster supporting cast, the Ms decided to promote their catcher of the future anyway. His draft pedigree and positional scarcity dictate that Fantasy owners must pay attention, but I’m hear to warn you that Zunino is not a Fantasy savior.

The problem with players like Buster Posey coming up is that they create unreasonable expectations for others who follow in their footsteps. Zunino is a good all-around catcher who should threaten for 20 homers a year with a respectable average. That’s a very nice player, and someone who’s worth noting in Fantasy, but it’s not a star. Zunino is more of a sixth or seventh hitter than a middle of the order guy, and he’s more of a future Top 10 Fantasy option than someone who’ going to carry your team. I have Zunino ranked as On The Upswing because any MLB playing time is good playing time, and he’s likely to be serviceable for the rest of the season. But he’s not an automatic add, and it also wouldn’t surprise me to see him struggle and get sent down within a month. He’s a solid name for the future, but the hype here is out of control.

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