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Fernandez, Bradley have potential, but ...

4/1/2013

Well before the Sunday night surprise of the Houston Astros knocking off the mighty Texas Rangers to open the 2013 season, a few big league teams surprised many by promoting top prospects to the majors. A few weeks ago, it would have seemed awfully unlikely and premature for Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez and Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley to start this season under the bright lights of the big leagues, but it's not an April Fools' joke, and fantasy owners seem wisely curious about the repercussions.

I'm generally cautious about trusting young, inexperienced players for fantasy purposes, but I cannot ignore the talent and opportunity Fernandez and Bradley are getting. In a standard, 10-team league, I wouldn't part with anyone ranked in my top 200, but there's certainly no harm in adding them for a final roster spot if that's not the case. As always, it depends on whom you're jettisoning to free agency to make room. Just be careful here, because the chances of these youngsters thriving initially and carrying fantasy rosters -- they're not Mike Trout and Bryce Harper -- is not, sorry to say, overwhelming.

Fernandez is 20. Yes, Trout and Harper were awesome last season prior to legal drinking age, but this right-hander has never appeared in a minor league game above Single-A ball. Frankly, it's mystifying that the Marlins, in the embarrassing state they're in, would start the time clock of a top prospect right now, while the other Florida team likely will wait months before promoting slugging outfielder Wil Myers, who seems ready. The Marlins aren't contenders. Fernandez dominated in the minors last year, but he was also sent packing from spring training more than two weeks ago after throwing only two innings with the big league club. It's stunning that he's scheduled to get the call to pitch Sunday at Citi Field against the New York Mets. Right-handers Nate Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, neither of whom was listed as hurt before the weekend, are now on the disabled list and expected to miss April, creating the void, but I'm still thinking this is only a short-term opportunity.

While Fernandez was highly touted -- he was the No. 16 overall prospect by colleague Keith Law -- he's still the same guy who hurled for the Greensboro Grasshoppers and Jupiter Hammerheads in 2012. Despite his gaudy numbers, I wouldn't cut any pitchers in my big league top 60 to acquire Fernandez. I also wouldn't cut fellow prospects with a good shot of pitching in the big leagues this year, such as Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole. I would, depending on the makeup of my rotation, part with pitchers seemingly devoid of significant upside, such as Ross Detwiler and Shaun Marcum, as well as Bronson Arroyo, Clayton Richard and Vance Worley, to get him, because if Fernandez struggles or gets demoted, there's so much pitching depth for a standard league, it's not hard to find similar options. Fernandez has upside, and perhaps he'll dazzle the Mets, but he's probably not ready for what the Marlins have done here in promoting him. I can't begin to accurately project his numbers; if he makes 25 starts, I'd say an ERA in the high 3s with perhaps a strikeout per inning, but I don't expect close to 25 starts from him.

As for Bradley, 22 and a bit more experienced, I'm a bit more optimistic, but fantasy owners should also know what they're getting, and it's not equivalent to a potential ace, as Fernandez could be. Again, this is not Trout or Harper. Bradley doesn't have nearly that type of power. He's fast and has excellent plate discipline, which should result in a safe batting average and modest stolen base totals (not Michael Bourn, but perhaps 30 steals soon), but the numbers we all see from spring training (.419 batting average, 2 homers, 2 steals) should not be trusted as a harbinger. Frankly, it's surprising the Red Sox would promote him so quickly based on four weeks of games that don't count. Regardless, Bradley has become somewhat of a cult hero in Boston, and he's not pushing anyone significant out of work, so why not? Jonny Gomes, far from a Gold Glover, can assume designated hitter duties, along with Mike Carp, now that David Ortiz is on the DL. That stint could be a few weeks or a few months, it's hard to tell, but if Bradley doesn't hit, it's unlikely the Red Sox would let him keep struggling.

As with Fernandez, I wouldn't cut a top-60 outfielder to sign Bradley, Law's No. 40 prospect. There are 60 outfielders owned in at least 88 percent of ESPN standard leagues. After that, I'd start considering it based on the player and your team needs. For example, ESPN Fantasy projects Gomes for 17 home runs, but little else statistically helpful. I'd cut him for Bradley, because if Bradley is in the majors for only a few weeks, there are Gomes types available if you need to replace him. David Murphy, Denard Span and Jon Jay are proven players, safe statistically and for playing time, while Starling Marte, Aaron Hicks, Myers and even the injured Adam Eaton bring significant upside as well. I'd keep them. I'd cut modest power types who do not run and do not help in batting average, like Gomes, Ryan Ludwick, Raul Ibanez and Lucas Duda, to find out about Bradley, though. I just can't see Bradley hitting close to .300 in the big leagues or stealing many bases this early in his development.