Cody Buckel (Rangers) – Cody Buckel has skyrocketed up the prospect ranks since the Rangers drafted him out high school in the second round of the June 2010 draft. Making his professional debut in the class-A South Atlantic League last season, Buckel tore apart the competition to the tune of a 2.81 ERA, 120 strikeouts and a 4.44 K/BB in 96 2/3 innings. He’s managed to kick his performance up a level so far in 2012. After shutting out the Frederick Keys on Thursday for seven innings, Buckel now ranks atop the Carolina League in strikeouts (41), opponent’s batting average (.167) and ERA (1.31). He has yet to allow a homerun in 34 1/3 innings pitched and his ridiculous 3.55 ground-out/fly-out ratio is almost three-times the league-average mark. His remarkable body control and athleticism allows him to get every bit of torque out of his thin, un-intimidating frame. His fastball isn’t over-powering, but he spots it to both sides of the plate between 89-92 MPH consistently. He can touch 94 MPH when he really reaches back, but his heater’s riding life and his long stride and delivery allow it to play up. His cutter has turned into a legitimate plus while both his curveball and changeup are developing into solid-average pitches. The Rangers have plenty of pitching depth at the top of the system, but Buckel hast the talent to work his way into the rotation or a late-inning bullpen role by 2014, regardless. He should be available in the vast majority of keeper leagues, with most owners takings flashier guys like Trevor May and Dellin Betances in front of him. Pick him up.
Nick Castellanos (Tigers) – The minor league leader in batting average, Lakeland Flying Tigers’ (Class A+ Florida State League) third baseman Nick Castellanos is quickly developing in to the star player the Tigers envisioned when they took him with the 44th overall pick in the 2010 Draft. The Tigers ultimately handed Castellanos a whopping $3.45 million signing bonus to forgo college and play pro ball. After putting together an impressive debut in full-season ball last year, batting .312/.367/.436 in the Midwest League, Castellanos’ bat has exploded this Spring. Through his last ten games he’s belted three doubles, a triple and a homerun while hitting .429. Facing older, more-seasoned competition and fighting the heavy, humid, power-killing central-Florida air, the twenty-year-old has manage to mash his way to the top of the league in batting average (.426), doubles (8) and weighted on-base average (.465). Regarded as one of the game’s most gifted young pure-hitters, Castellanos has the tools to post a .300 batting average in the big leagues one day. His power needs more time to develop, but when he’s ready, he should be one of the game’s top-shelf third baseman. Assuming Miguel Cabrera is not the Tigers’ long-term answer at third base, Castellanos has a fairly clear path to Detroit. He’s arguably the game’s top third base prospect and is a valuable commodity in long-term keeper leagues.
Jackie Bradley (Red Sox) – Opening his first Spring playing professionally in the Carolina League, Bradley has been absolutely on fire, posting a .405/.500/.703 triple-slash line through his last ten games. In that span, he’s collected six extra-base hits and six stolen bases. He now leads the Carolina league in runs scored, walks, stolen bases and he ranks second in doubles and 4th in batting average. Selected by the Red Sox in the Supplemental First Round of last June’s Draft, the former Gamecocks’ centerfielder has received wide praise for his baseball acumen. Jacoby Ellsbury should be in a Red Sox uniform until 2014 at least, but Bradley is polished enough to force himself in to outfield conversation as early as next spring, and could take over an everyday job soon after that. His tremendous defensive ability will help him move through the system quickly, He lacks the speed to be a real stolen base threat in the big leagues, but his plate discipline, prowess as a left-handed hitter and extra-base pop make him well-worth considering in long-term keeper leagues.
Billy Hamilton (Reds) – After setting the decade’s single-season stolen base mark last year, swiping 103 bags in total, the twenty-one-year old Hamilton continues to rank atop the minors in thefts in 2012. While playing shortstop for the Bakersfield Blaze of the California League, the burner has already managed to steal 31 bases through his first 26 games this season, nearly doubling the next highest total in pro ball. His bat appears to be catching up with his wheels too, as he’s doubled both his ISO– from last year’s 0.082 to 0.186–and his walk-to-strikeout ratio– from 0.39 to 0.78. Through his last ten games, he’s hit .405/.458/.500, and stolen seventeen bases in twenty attempts. With Brandon Phillips locked-up long-term, and the emergence of Zack Cozart as an everyday player, the Reds don’t need to rush Hamilton to the Major Leagues. Once he does get to the Show, however, he has the speed and bat skills to develop in to an star-powered lead-off man and elite fantasy infielder. He’s a must-have in long-term keeper leagues.