One of the most common questions I encounter on a semi-weekly basis is “Ralph, who’s this year’s Victor Robles/Francis Martes/Cody Bellinger”. It’s a question that’s difficult to answer, but especially difficult to answer during Spring Training or the week following. Why? Well, it’s easy, we don’t have anything to base it off. No real games, no real at bats, no real stats. Unfortunately I have a day job, and Grey is yet to hand me a six figure salary to jet-set around the country to scout amateur and minor league baseball. Instead I’m paid in Helluva Good Cheese coupons and asked to scout little league games on a black and white TV with broken bunny ears. No matter because between games at the Taunton West Little League complex I have time to watch a few AAA and AA games a week while scouring through loads of leaderboards of all minor league levels. So through this deep data collection, I’ve developed the below list of players that are flashing promise, while simultaneously boosting their prospect status. Below are 20 or so names that have caught my interest in the early going.

Now that the intro is out of the way I’d like to acknowledge a personal milestone here on the baseball side of things, my 100th baseball post……Yeah! Thanks for reading all this drivel.

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The rebuild is in full swing and the Phils are sporting a new general manager. They sold off their best trade chip in 2015, Cole Hamels, and regardless of your opinion on the return, the Phils landed three of the prospects in this year’s preview in addition to some pitching depth. 2015 also featured solid performances from rookies Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, and Odubel Herrera, which gave fans of this team reason for optimism – something they’ll need in 2016 as it will almost certainly be a continuation of the rebuild. Philly will also have the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, which will add a premium prospect to what is now a deep and impressive collection of minor league talent.

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With Dylan Bundy having returned to live baseball, the focus around the 21-year-old phenom shifts from “when will he throw again?”, to “when will he throw in the bigs again?”. At the time of this writing, Bundy is preparing to take mound in Aberdeen for a start in the short-season New York Penn League. It’ll be his second outing since Tommy John surgery — the first one was quite good: 5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K. Now, while it’s terrific see Bundy pitching so well upon returning to game action, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s still a long rehab process ahead of him, and the O’s won’t jeopardize his progress by pushing him too quickly. Baltimore has scripted Bundy’s recovery, and barring any setbacks, I believe their plan includes some big league action this season, but I wouldn’t expect more than 1 or 2 starts in August/September.

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For those who missed it, we took a brief look at a handful of draft prospects earlier in the week, highlighting players who, by my estimation, have the quickest paths to fantasy baseball relevance. Without knowing who would end up where, it would have been a stretch to try to peg specific timetables on anyone listed. Even now, before signing bonuses have been agreed to, that sort of exercise seems silly. There is one ETA, though, that I can’t help but speculate over. The White Sox drafted Carlos Rodon third overall, and have begun the process of negotiating signing terms with Rodon’s agent, Scott Boras. Given Boras’s reputation, there are many who wonder if the Sox will even be able to sign the 21-year-old, but I’m not overly concerned on that end. Chicago established a precedent in 2010 when they pushed Chris Sale through to the big club only two months after drafting him in the first round, revealing a distinct willingness not to pinch pennies over service time. A similar fast-track for Rodon puts him (and Boras) one year closer to payday. I believe the “screw super two” attitude displayed by Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams will be a valuable bargaining piece for Chicago, and could lead to a bonus in the neighborhood of MLB’s slot suggestion. Granted, such a scenario would involve the lefty pitching in a relief role, it still wouldn’t derail any plans to have him join the starting rotation next spring. This is all to say that Carlos Rodon pitching at the highest level this season is not out of the question. Keep that possibility in mind during your upcoming dynasty drafts.

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On occasion, it works out where a notable prospect gets called-up to the bigs during the weekend, allowing me to post some notes on him before Grey gets the opportunity. That happens to be the case today, as LA has summoned 1B prospect, C.J. Cron, to the big club. Of course, when it’s me providing the spin on a call-up like this, we miss out on Grey’s clever wordplay in the title. Something like, “Angels Finally Embrace Pot Legalization, Will Roll with Cron(ic)” seems sufficient. In any case, Cron can mash. He established his power potential in 2012 at High-A, hitting 27 homers in 129 games. Then last season, he followed that effort with a puzzling 14 HR year at Double-A Arkansas, causing many to cool at the idea of Cron as an everyday 1B at the highest level. The pop appears to have returned in 2014, though: Through 28 games at Triple-A Salt Lake, Cron slugged .602 with 6 HR. At least for the short-term, there’s opportunity for the 24-year-old to earn regular plate appearances from the middle of the LA order. The upside in his stick is worth the gamble in deep leagues, especially if you’re hurting at CI.

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Organizational Talent Rankings via Baseball America
2013 (15) | 2012 (7) | 2011 (6) | 2010 (17) | 2009 (14)

2013 Affiliate Records
MLB: [90-72] NL Central
AAA: [69-75] International League – Louisville
AA: [59-79] Southern League – Pensacola
A+: [55-85] California League – Bakersfield
A: [65-74] Midwest League – Dayton

Graduated Prospects
Derrick Robinson (OF); Tony Cingrani (LHP); J.J. Hoover (RHP)

The Run Down
The fantasy buzz surrounding this group of Reds prospects is largely focused on Billy Hamilton and his mind-bending speed.  The Hamilton hype is certainly warranted, but what goes overlooked amid all that talk is the fact that he’s not even the highest impact prospect in this org.  No, that title belongs to Robert Stephenson, who headlines this top 10, and is soon to be headlining rotations across the fantasy game.  Behind the top two, the Reds have compiled a nice collection of prospects with polish, and prospects with upside.  From top to bottom, it’s not an extreme high-impact farm, but for fantasy purposes, this is a group to watch closely.

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