2009 NL Youth Watch

Last updated: March 12

Welcome to the seventh installment of the Youth Watch in the MLB Preview. Every year, we look for players 26 or younger that could make an impact on their respective clubs in the upcoming season.

Some players on the list have already established themselves with regular roles with their teams, while other players will likely make their mark later on in the year.

For the first time ever, we've added a fantasy twist to the youth watch to suggest if and where these players should be considered.

Click here for the American League Youth Watch | Click here to return to the 2009 MLB Preview

NL East

Yunel Escobar: Shortstop - Atlanta Braves

While he didn't post spectacular numbers, Escobar was good with his bat posting a .288 average with 24 doubles. He posted a .366 on-base percentage and his walk rate jumped up substantially.
What to expect: Escobar should once again hit for a high batting average. He's young enough that he could improve on his 10 home runs, but if his stats stay similar, he could be the next Placido Polanco, which isn't that bad.
Fantasy Value: With second base being a bit deeper this season than in years past, Escobar remains a decent late-option. If you miss out on the big name guys, you might as well wait late and nab Escobar, who will help your average and runs.
Atlanta (MLB) 136 514 10 60 2 .288 .366 .401
Past Picks: 2008 - Jair Jurrgens, 2007 - Chuck James, 2006 - Brian McCann, 2005 - Jeff Francouer, 2004 -Adam LaRoche, 2003 - Marcus Giles

Gaby Sanchez: First Base - Florida Marlins

At 25, Sanchez is a little bit old to have spent most of 2008 in Double-A, but he posted really good offensive numbers and almost walked as many times as he struck out.
What to expect: It's hard to tell what the Marlins will do, but right now, Jorge Cantu is getting most of his spring work at third, meaning the Marlins would like Sanchez to make the jump. He he starts the year in the majors, a .275 average and 15-20 home runs wouldn't be out of the question.
Fantasy Value: In a keeper league, he's someone to look at, but in a yearly drafted league there are many safer and better options at first.
Florida (MLB) 5 8 0 1 0 .375 .375 .625
Carolina (AA) 133 478 17 92 17 .314 .404 .513
Past Picks: 2008 - Cameron Maybin, 2007 - Anibal Sanchez, 2006 - Jeremy Hermida, 2005 - Jason Stokes, 2004 - Dontrelle Willis, 2003 - Josh Beckett

Daniel Murphy: Outfield - New York Mets

The 24-year old moved all the way up the majors in 2008 and showed that his batting skills translated well against better pitchers
What to expect: Despite the fact that he's played the infield in the minors, Murphy will be the starting left-fielder for the Mets. He should hit for a .280+ average and has shown some speed in the minors. He could reach double digits in both home runs and steals.
Fantasy Value: It's doubtful he'll ever be a truly feared power hitter, but if you take him for he can be this year, he's got value as a fourth or fifth outfielder, especially if he runs.
NY Mets (MLB) 49 131 2 17 0 .313 .397 .473
New Orleans (AAA) 1 4 0 0 0 .250 .400 .250
Binghampton (AA) 95 357 13 67 14 .308 .374 .496
Brooklyn (A) 3 14 0 2 0 .500 .500 .500
Past Picks: 2008 - John Maine, 2007 - Mike Pelfrey, 2006 - Victor Diaz, 2005 - David Wright, 2004 - Orber Moreno, 2003 - Ty Wigginton

Lou Marson: Catchers - Philadelphia Phillies

After a very good season in Double-A, the 22-year old was a September call-up, and got his first hit in the final game of the season.
What to expect: Marson, who looks to be the Phillies catcher of the future will likely start the season in Triple-A, but if he continues to hit, he could be splitting time with Carlos Ruiz in the majors after the All-Star break.
Fantasy Value: While he didn't hit for power in the minors last season, Marson is an effective hitter. He struck out 70 times, but walked 68, which means his batting average should be legitimate. He has no value now in leagues, but if he gets a chance, he could produce John Baker type numbers.
Philadelphia (MLB) 1 4 1 2 0 .500 .500 1.250
Reading (AA) 94 322 5 46 0 .314 .433 .416

Past Picks: 2008 - Kyle Kendrick, 2007 - Cole Hamels, 2006 - Ryan Howard, 2005 - Gavin Floyd, 2004 - Brett Myers, 2003 - Marlon Byrd

Elijah Dukes: Outfield - Washington Nationals

Dukes, missed a total of 75 games because of knee, calf and hamstring injuries, but in the 81 games he played, he notched 13 home runs and 13 steals.
What to expect: There's no doubting Dukes ability on the field, but he's been plagued thus far in his young career by off-field issues. If he can manage a full season, he could hit 25 home runs and net 20 steals while hitting .275 or more.
Fantasy Value: Dukes should be a guy you target in the mid-to-late rounds because of his potential. The crowded Nationals outfield might scare other owners away, as could the off-field issues, but if he's going to get regular time, he could break out.
Washington (MLB) 81 276 13 44 13 .264 .386 .478
Columbus (AAA) 17 47 1 6 2 .234 .368 .404
Potomac (A) 6 17 0 1 0 .176 .364 .235
Past Picks: 2008 - Ross Detwiler, 2007 - Felipe Lopez, 2006 - Ryan Zimmerman, 2005 - Nick Johnson, 2004 - Chad Cordero, 2003 - Endy Chavez

NL Central

Geovanny Soto: Catcher - Chicago Cubs

After a brief audition in 2007, Soto claimed the starting job in Chicago in 2008, and didn't disappoint being named the National League Rookie of the Year.
What to expect: The 26-year old emerged as one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, and the Cubs were not shy about his workload. Because he's still young, Soto will likely once again catch in 135 games, and he should be able to once again hit in the .280's with over 20 home runs.
Fantasy Value: Soto obviously has value in all leagues, but if you're in a league where two catchers must start, his value increases much more. Slot him with Brian McCann, Russell Martin and Joe Mauer as tops in the game.
Chicago Cubs (MLB) 141 494 23 86 0 .285 .364 .504
Past Picks: 2008 - Carlos Marmol, 2007 - Matt Murton, 2006 - Ronny Cedeno, 2005 - Jason Dubois, 2004 - Todd Wellemeyer, 2003 - Juan Cruz

Jay Bruce: Outfield - Cincinnati Reds

The Reds top prospect got a chance to play everyday after being called up in May and struggled in the jump from Triple A to the majors.
What to expect: Now that he's entering his second season as a regular, Bruce should see his counting stats increase and it wouldn't be shocking if his batting average jumped into the .270 range.
Fantasy Value: Fantasy players have heard a lot about Bruce over the last few years, and now is the time to take Bruce especially in keeper leagues. 30 home runs isn't out of the question, and even if his batting average stays low in 2009, he's only going to get better in the next bunch of years.
Cincinnati (MLB) 108 413 21 52 4 .254 .314 .453
Louisville (AAA) 49 184 10 37 8 .364 .393 .630
Past Picks: 2008 - Johnny Cueto, 2007 - Homer Bailey, 2006 - Edwin Encarnacion, 2005 - Wily Mo Pena, 2004 - Ryan Wagner, 2003 - Austin Kearns

JR Towles: Catcher - Houston Astros

The 25-year old was expected to take the job over from Brad Ausmus last season, but he injured his hand in April and wasn't able to get it going before being sent down to the minors.
What to expect: Towles is in a position battle with Humberto Quintero, but because of his upside, he should be able to claim the starters job. He shouldn't hit in the .100's again, but he could very well hit in the .260s with some power.
Fantasy Value: Looking at Towles minor-league numbers, the first comparable player that comes to mind is Paul Lo Duca from years ago. A high (for a catcher) average with around 10 home runs and an outside shot at 10 steals. He's worth a selection late in a keeper league.
Houston (MLB) 54 146 4 16 0 .137 .250 .253
Round Rock (AAA) 48 164 7 28 4 .304 .370 .500
Past Picks: 2008 - Michael Bourn, 2007 - Hunter Pence, 2006 - Willy Taveras, 2005 - Chris Burke, 2004 - Taylor Buchholz, 2003 - Kirk Saarloos

Manny Parra: Starting Pitcher - Milwaukee Brewers

The 26-year old left-hander was better than the National League average for starters in 2007, despite pitching a career high 166 innings.
What to expect: It usually takes lefties a little bit longer to figure things out at the major league level, and there is reason to think that Parra will get better. The Brewers should be competitive again this season so a 9-12 win season with an ERA in the 4.20 range should be attainable.
Fantasy Value: Parra still could be a little bit under the radar when it comes to fantasy, and he really shouldn't. While he's far from an ace, his strikeouts are useful and his ERA won't burn considering he'll be at the back end of your rotation.
Milwaukee (MLB) 29 10 8 166 147 75 4.39 1.54
Past Picks: 2008 - Corey Hart, 2007 - Prince Fielder, 2006 - Rickie Weeks, 2005 - Jose Capellan, 2004 - J.J. Hardy, 2003 - Nick Neugebauer

Andrew McCutchen: Outfield - Pittsburgh Pirates

At one point, it looked like the Pirates were going to continue to rush their 2005 first-round pick, but he stayed in Triple A all season, and he thrived there.
What to expect: The Pirates outfield is a crowded place right now. Nate McLouth's break out last season, likely means that McCutchen will start the year back in Triple-A again, but he'll be a regular with the club likely before the All-Star break. He plays great defence and could hit .270+ with the potential to steal 10+ bases in limited action.
Fantasy Value: The 22-year old is still widely viewed as a guy who projects out to be a very good player. His walk rate went up substantially in 2008, which bodes well for his future. He might not be that much help in 2009, but he'll be a mid-to-late round pick in 2010.
Indianapolis (AAA) 135 512 9 50 34 .283 .372 .398
Past Picks: 2008 - Tom Gorzelanny, 2007 - Ian Snell, 2006 - Zach Duke, 2005 - Mike Gonzalez, 2004 - Jason Bay, 2003 - Aramis Ramirez

Chris Perez: Relief Pitcher - St. Louis Cardinals

The 23-year old first round pick in 2006 made his debut in May and did well in the Cardinals bullpen earning seven saves.
What to expect: Perez is in tough with another youngster Jason Motte for the closer's job with the Cardinals in 2009. If he gets it, he should save at least 20 games for a fairly competitive team.
Fantasy Value: If he closes, Perez immediately has the appropriate value that a mid-to-low end closer would have in your league. If Motte earns the job, Perez becomes a great late-round steal. A player who gets a lot of K's and could earn some saves as well.
St. Louis (MLB) 41 3 3 7 41.2 42 22 3.46 1.34
Memphis (AAA) 26 1 1 11 25.1 38 12 3.20 1.17
Past Picks: 2008 - Yadier Molina, 2007 - Chris Duncan, 2006 - Anthony Reyes, 2005 - Rick Ankiel, 2004 - Adam Wainwright, 2003 - Mike Crudale

NL West

Justin Upton: Outfield - Arizona Diamondbacks

Upton missed two months of the season with an oblique injury, but still managed to hit 15 home runs with the Diamondbacks.
What to expect: The D-backs expect Upton to improve, and there's every reason to believe that he will. While he struck out three times for every walk he got, which likely contributed to his lower batting average, Upton is young enough to turn it around. He could hit 20-25 home runs with a .265+ batting average.
Fantasy Value: Upton is trending upwards and at such a young age, he's somewhat unique in the fantasy landscape. In year to year pools, he's a mid-rounder at best, but keeper league owners might want to get on Upton now. The breakout is coming and he should be good for many years to come.
Arizona (MLB) 108 356 15 42 1 .250 .353 .463
Tucson (AAA) 15 61 3 10 2 .279 .353 .508
Past Picks: 2008 - Chris Young, 2007 - Stephen Drew, 2006 - Connor Jackson, 2005 - Luis Terrero, 2004 - Jose Valverde, 2003 - Lyle Overbay

Chris Iannetta: Catcher - Colorado Rockies

After starting the season as a backup to Yorvit Torrealba, the 25-year old took over the job late in the season and never looked back.
What to expect: While Iannetta thrived in the his third season, there's room to think that he still could grow as a hitter. Almost half of his hits last season were either doubles or better. He's got a good eye, and 20-25 home run season with a .270+ average isn't out of the question.
Fantasy Value: Because he plays for the Rockies, Iannetta could be undervalued at your draft or in your league. Numbers are numbers and there are not many catchers that can add a serviceable average with the pop that Iannetta has.
Colorado (MLB) 104 333 18 65 0 .264 .390 .505
Past Picks: 2008 - Ubaldo Jimenez, 2007 - Troy Tulowitzki, 2006 - Clint Barmes, 2005 - Garrett Atkins, 2004 - Chin-Hui Tsao, 2003 - Juan Uribe

Chad Billingsley: Starting Pitcher - Los Angeles Dodgers

For the third straight year in his three-year career, Billingsley decreased his ERA while increasing his work load. The 24-year old opens the season as the Dodgers ace.
What to expect: Despite adding about 40 innings pitched than he had in any other season in 2008, Billingsley still managed a strikeout an inning while keeping the ball in park, only serving up 14 home runs all season long. He should once again post 15 wins or so with an ERA around 3.30.
Fantasy Value: Billingsley showed that he's one of the best young starters and should be treated as such, especially in keeper leagues, where his strikeouts and the fact that he pitches half his games in Los Angles only help out fantasy owners. Right now, he could be regarded as a young Javier Vazquez.
Los Angeles (MLB) 35 32 16 10 200.2 201 80 3.14 1.34
Past Picks: 2008 - Matt Kemp, 2007 - Russell Martin, 2006 - Dioner Navarro, 2005 - Antonio Perez, 2004 - Edwin Jackson, 2003 - Joe Thurston

Wade LeBlanc: Starting Pitcher - San Diego Padres

After an O.K. season in Triple-A, Leblanc was a late season call-up by the Padres, but the 24-year old left-hander really struggled.
What to expect: LeBlanc is currently in a battle with a bunch of other pitchers to claim a late spot in the Padres location. LeBlanc has been a good strikeout pitcher at every level he's played and that should translate to the majors at some point. His ERA might hover around 4.60-500, but he'll rack up 120+ strikeouts.
Fantasy Value: Unless you're participating in a really deep league, LeBlanc doesn't seem to be a pitcher to draft and stash, but he's someone to keep an eye on. Because the Padres don't look like they're going to be that good, his win totals could be depressed.
San Diego (MLB) 5 4 1 3 21.1 14 15 8.02 2.06
Portland (AAA) 26 25 11 9 138.2 139 42 5.32 1.28
Past Picks: 2008 - Chase Headley, 2007 - Adrian Gonzalez, 2006 - Josh Barfield, 2005 - Sean Burroughs, 2004 - Khalil Greene, 2003 - Oliver Perez & Jake Peavy

Pablo Sandoval: Third Base - San Francisco Giants

After impressive stints in both single-A and double-A, Sandoval got called up in August and thrived in multiple roles with the Giants.
What to expect: While he can play catcher, first base and third base, the Giants look to be committed to playing him at third. While he strikes out a lot in comparison to his walk totals, Sandoval could very well hit over .300 with 10-15 home runs as a full time player.
Fantasy Value: The 22-year old could have real value in your pool depending what his eligibility is. If he qualifies as a catcher in your pool, and you missed out on the upper tier, grab him - especially if he's playing third for the Giants. You'll get more productive at-bats from your catcher spot, as he'll get more chances than fantasy catchers that actually catcher. No matter what the eligibility though, he should be owned. He's young and he can hit.
San Francisco (MLB) 41 145 3 24 0 .345 .357 .490
Connecticut (AA) 44 175 8 37 0 .337 .364 .549
San Jose (A) 68 273 12 59 2 .359 .412 .597
Past Picks: 2008 - Tim Lincecum, 2007 - Jonathan Sanchez, 2006 - Matt Cain, 2005 - Noah Lowry, 2004 - Todd Linden, 2003 - Kurt Ainsworth

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