Playing in a fantasy baseball keeper league? Maybe it's a dynasty league, which is even more fun (and removes the stress of deciding who to keep and who to scrap). This especially applies to dynasty owners, but if your league utilizes any sort of keeper format, you need to read this article. Even if you don't play your fantasy baseball "for keeps," you might find a few young, under-the-radar contributors for your fantasy squad. The only real criteria I'm applying to this list is that I'm staying away from super prospects. We all know who Bryce Harper, Casey Kelly, Mike Trout, and Eric Hosmer are. I'm going to mostly stay away from anyone who cracked the top 50 of the top 100 prospects list, that way you at least should be taking away new information from this article instead of reading the same regurgitated junk. Now without any further ramblings from me, let's get going.
SP Brandon Beachy, Atlanta Braves
You don't even need to worry about a wasted roster space if you play in a non-keeper and want to add this guy. Beachy isn't anywhere near as hyped as Atlanta's top pitching prospect Julio Teheran, but Beachy is actually on the big league squad and getting it done. In 42 innings, Beachy has 45 strikeouts, a 2.98 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 4.09 K/BB. He's only got one win, but he'll earn a bunch more going forward. His ownership has already jumped up to 65%, so it will be tough to get him. But if you can still pick him up, do it without hesitation, because at 24 years old, this kid is a keeper.
C Hank Conger, LA Angels
Jesus Montero may be considered the best catching prospect in baseball, but I'd like to respectfully disagree. Not only are household names J.P. Arencibia and Devin Mesoraco better, but because there are no concerns with his ability to catch or call a game, I'd like to enter Hank Conger's name into the discussion. Just 23, Conger has forced his way from being buried on the Angels depth chart to being their primary catcher, because not only can he catch, he has shown that unlike Jeff Mathis, he can also hit. He's got a career minor league slash line of .297/.360/.465 with 47 home runs and 254 RBI in just over 1500 at-bats. So far this year he's hitting .308/.368/.538 with 3 dingers and 10 ribbies. Did I mention he's a catcher? This kind of production doesn't grow on trees at this position. His ownership doesn't even crack 1% (0.8% to be precise), and since the Angels have been counting on him to be their future backstop, he's got a safe job.
OF Ryan Kalish, Boston Red Sox
Since every player in the Boston organization, major or minor league, seems to get hyped to a level where expectations are impossible to meet, you've probably heard the name Ryan Kalish— a lot. Especially when Adrian Gonzalez trade rumors were at their peak. But this guy is for real. He reminds many of a young Trot Nixon, and since he is happy just to play and is willing to give his all and do whatever it takes to win, that may be an apt comparison. In a short stint with the Red Sox last year he managed 4 homers and 10 steals with his .252 average, and after J.D. Drew's contract expires at the end of this season, Kalish is almost certain to become Boston's next right fielder. His minor league career line of .282/.370/.433, 40 home runs, and 86 steals shows that he can do a little bit of everything. If you have the liberty to keep a lot of players, he's a very safe bet, but if your keeper slots are scarce then honestly better value can be found elsewhere.
Jaff Decker, outfielder, San Diego Padres
Decker was named the #82 prospect prior to this season by Baseball America, but unless you follow baseball very closely you've probably never heard his name. He was a first round pick in 2008, and for the past three seasons all he's done on San Diego's farm is rake. In 2009 he hit .299 with 25 doubles, 16 home runs, and 10 steals. In 2010 he had a little bit of a sophomore slump with a .262 average but still reached 17 homers and 5 steals. Those may not be the most impressive minor league seasons ever compiled, but so far in 98 at-bats at the AA level, Decker has mashed 9 home runs, 32 RBI, stolen 3 bags, and hit .276/.418/.663. For the ~99% or so of you who can't calculate OPS off the top of your head, that's good for a 1.081 mark. San Diego has the second worst OPS in the league, sitting at a .625 mark. Decker won't see big league action for a year or two, but he'll be an instant upgrade when he gets there so you have to keep an eye on him. Given how bad Ryan Ludwick and Will Venable have been this year, they may even try and rush Decker up this season.
SP Cory Luebke, San Diego Padres
Staying in San Diego, they've got another beast who should be a big-time contributor in the very near future. Luebke has been pitching relief this year for the Pads, but in the grand scheme of things he's a starting pitcher and both the Padres and Luebke know it. They're just waiting for a spot to open up in the rotation for him. In the Minors, Luebke compiled a 32-17 record with a 3.49 ERA and 7.5 K/9, so he's got really good stuff. If you remove one brain fart he had against the Reds (1 IP, 6 earned runs), he's been really good. Luebke hasn't even given up a run since that incident, giving him a 1-1 record, 4.24 ERA, and 9.5 K/9 on the season. Stay tuned, next time you hear his name from a major sports news outlet, he won't be working out of the bullpen. He should team up with Mat Latos to make a formidable 1-2 punch atop the Padres starting rotation.
C Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
Lucroy, a third round pick in 2007, has all the offensive tools to become a very dependable big league catcher. By the time he was done in the minors, he finished with a .298/.379/.459 line with 35 homers and 202 RBI. He struggled a bit to adjust to big league pitching last year (.253/.300/.329, 44 K in 75 games), but Lucroy has taken a big step forward in 2011. In 60 plate appearances, the 25 year old has managed a .321/.383/.415, 1 home run, 6 RBI line. For a young catcher in his second season, he's hitting very well and can only keep getting better. He's also going to have a very nice supporting cast with Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, and Casey McGehee, so at the thin catcher position Lucroy should be a very good source of run production. He's owned in 3.9% of leagues, so you'll probably be able to snatch him up and not look back.
SP Drew Pomeranz, Cleveland Indians
Pomeranz was a first round draft choice last summer by the Indians, so you have probably heard his name at least once. Most pitchers take a few or even several years to develop into useful contributors to a functional major league roster, but like Stephen Strasburg, Pomeranz may be pitching himself on a fast track to the big leagues. I'm not a major league scout and I've never even seen Pomeranz play, so I won't make an actual comparison between these two, but the stats Pomeranz has posted so far are eye popping, and should he keep it up he is definitely going to zoom up the minor league ladder. In 23 innings at High A, Pomeranz is rocking a 1.54 ERA, 34 strikeouts (that's a 13.1 K/9), 7 walks (4.86 K/BB), and 0.85 WHIP. Don't be shocked to see Pomeranz in AA or AAA by the end of this year and possibly even Cleveland by late 2012 or for the start of the 2013 season. And if you've got keepers? Get him now, his ownership is essentially 0%, and if you've got keeper spots to spare it won't hurt you to stash him on your bench until he's ready. This investment should pay dividends.