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The minor league season has been going for even less time than its major league cousin, but that won’t stop us from taking a look at some prospects who may end up in the majors at some point in 2011. Today, we will examine a few Triple-A outfielders who are hitting well to start the season, and who you may want to keep an early eye on in AL- or NL-only leagues.

Desmond Jennings, TBA

Jennings isn’t killing it in Triple-A just yet—his .266/.413/.391 line is similar to last year’s showing of .278/.362/.393—but it is expected he will join the Rays in the bigs at some point this summer. Most people should already be aware of who Jennings is; so what can we expect the quality of his performance to be like once he is in the majors for good?

Jennings’ 2010 Triple-A line translates into a True Average of .238 at the MLB level, a figure that in turn represents a translated triple-slash line of .240/.313/.331. Jennings hit .190/.292/.333 in his 24 plate appearance cup of September coffee for a TAv of .241, right in line with the expectations set by the minor league translation (of course, we’re talking about just 24 plate appearances).

While his on-base percentage in 2011 is off to a healthier start, Jennings is showing the same lack of pop in his bat as he did last year; over parts of three seasons, he has a .286/.380/.412 line at Triple-A. The Rays could use Jennings in the majors because of his glove work—if he gets on base at a healthy clip and contributes defensively, they can wait on his power to develop—but if his most impressive traits right now are on-base percentage and defense, he isn’t going to be an impact rookie in many formats.

You should by no means avoid adding Jennings when he is available, but don’t blow a significant portion of your FAAB budget on him, as chances are, unless he shoots from good to great at Triple-A soon, he won’t be worth your investment just yet.

Josh Reddick, BOS

Reddick fell behind Ryan Kalish on Boston’s depth charts in 2010 thanks to a combination of a poor first half, another disappointing set of plate appearances in the majors, and Kalish’s own strong showings in the minors and with the Red Sox, but he may get a chance to rectify that soon. Kalish has a partially torn labrum in his left (throwing) shoulder, and may have season-ending surgery to fix it.

His .266/.301/.466 line from Triple-A in 2010 doesn’t look terribly impressive, but it’s a tale of two halves: Reddick hit .207/.255/.353 before the All-Star break in 266 at-bats, but tore up the International League afterward to the tune of .351/.372/.627. He has picked up where he left off, and sits at .279/.367/.574 79 plate appearances in 2011.

With Reddick, plate discipline is the major issue worth looking at. It’s clear he can absolutely mash, but he won’t get pitches he can crush in the majors if he doesn’t learn to shrink his strike zone. That he currently has 10 walks against 11 strikeouts is a potentially huge sign, given he punched out 73 times against 25 walks last year at the same level, and currently has 292 minor league whiffs compared to just 131 walks.

Even with Kalish out, Reddick may not factor into Boston’s future plans, but a strong 2011 campaign at Triple-A will put him back on other team’s radars and give him the trade value that his 2010 season helped to destroy. If he can get playing time—and can learn to take a pitch every now and again—he could have some value in AL-only leagues.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, NYN

Kevin Goldstein expected Nieuwenhuis to reach the majors in late 2011, but his bat may force the issue earlier than that. Captain Kirk is hitting .344/.452/.574 thanks to a pair of homers and eight doubles in 73 plate appearances, an excellent sign considering his 2010 stint in Buffalo was a bit of a downer (.225/.295/.358).

Jason Bay isn’t going anywhere thanks to the $57 million remaining on his deal, but right fielder Carlos Beltran has been productive in the early going and may end up being dealt by the Mets, who are not quite bad enough for a full-on rebuild, but not quite good enough to contend, either. The Mets called up Jason Pridie rather than Nieuwenhuis to replace the injured Angel Pagan in center, but later on in the season there is little chance Pridie would get the call over one of the team’s top prospects.

Nieuwenhuis should get the attention of NL-only owners who want some outfield depth, but don’t expect an impact player out of the gate. He is not a serious power threat, but he has some pop (.183 career ISO). He doesn’t steal a ton of bases, but has exceeded double digits in each of his three full campaigns. He has two fewer strikeouts (345) than games played (347), and while striking out in over 22 percent of his plate appearances isn’t terrible by any means, his propensity to whiff may result in batting averages that will neither harm nor help your fantasy team.

Given some playing time, Nieuwenhuis could be a solid ballplayer as soon as 2011, and provide value in NL-only and deep leagues. As for the other two players mentioned above, 2012 may be the better time to expect big things, but there is no harm in keeping an eye on the kids down on the farm at this early stage.

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jj0501
4/25
How about Eric Thames ?
spetro
4/25
Jennings can steal a base, right?
RallyKiller
4/25
Nieuwenhuis "doesn't steal a tons of bases, but has exceeded double digits in each of his three full campaigns." Which would imply triple digits, or more, in steals each year, would it not? Suggest "reached double digits" will correct the misimpression.
ndemause
4/26
Good catch, thanks!
PeterCollery
4/26
How does 190/.292/.333 translate into a higher TAv than 240/.313/.331?