Fantasy baseball junkies are dangerously nearing overdose after the surprising injection of young talent in early August, especially Justin Upton (Diamondbacks), Adam Jones (Mariners), and Delwyn Young (Dodgers). Milwaukee has three rookies playing every day and another in the rotation. Detroit is calling up Jordan Tata. Danny Richar's playing everyday in Chicago. Lastings Milledge is back with the Mets. Billy Butler has joined the Royals. Even the Yankees are supporting cheap labor in the form of Phil Hughes. All of these teams, with the exception of Butler's Royals, are in the thick of pennant races, which suggest a change in the accepted "book," which suggested you didn't introduce a rookie in the second half unless you had a catastrophic injury or were completely out of it. The season-making performances of midseason callups like Jeff Francoeur, Russell Martin, and Jered Weaver in recent years no doubt have something to do with changing the thinking of general managers around the league. While there was a great deal of activity at this years trade deadline, it will be interesting to see whether the Indians get as much out of Kenny Lofton down the stretch as Arizona gets out of Upton, or Seattle gets out of Jones. Will Kyle Kendrick outperform Kyle Lohse in Philadelphia? We may see more rookies in August. We will definitely see more rookies in September, when the rosters expand. Here are some names you might not recognize (you won't find Felix Pie or Philip Humber on this list), but who will be known by fantasy junkies by next spring at the latest.
Steven Pearce - 1B - Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates traded for Adam LaRoche last year, giving up Mike Gonzalez, as well as Brent Lillibridge (SS) and Jamie Romak (OF). Both Lillibridge and Romak have put together good minor league seasons. In fact, if the Braves weren't so loaded with middle infield talent, we would probably see Lillibridge in the majors this year. As usual, the Braves came away from this trade a winner, even though Mike Gonzalez is going to miss a year to injury. LaRoche has struggled with the Pirates. He is significantly off the pace he set during a career year in Atlanta in 2006, over a hundred points off in Slugging Percentage, and forty points in Batting Average. He is dead last among NL first basemen in AVG, SLG, OBP, runs, hits, and RBI. But, perhaps more importantly, in a move common to the Pirates of the last decade, this thoroughly mediocre veteran is blocking their best young talent. After setting an assortment of school records during two seasons at the University of South Carolina, Steven Pearce has moved quickly through the minor leagues, scorching at every stop. This year he has made three stops - High A, AA, and AAA - with a combined .338 average and a 1.046 OPS. After hitting .357 with 2 HR in his first 9 games with the AAA Indianapolis Indians, it seems reasonable to expect that Pearce will get a good long look in Pittsburgh this September.
Rick Ankiel - OF - St. Louis Cardinals
He was subject to perhaps the most infamous big-league meltdown in baseball history, challenged only by Chuck Knoblauch in recent memory. After finishing second in Rookie of the Year balloting in 2000, Ankiel was completely unable to find the plate and set a postseason record for wild pitches. Now he's back, at the age of 27, but as a rightfielder with outstanding athleticism, a 95-mph canon, and impressive power. But, still thinking like a pitcher, he believes everything is a strike. At AAA Memphis this season he has slugged 32 HR and 89 RBI in only 101 games. He's also struck out 88 times and drawn only 24 walks. This is indicative of an all-or-nothing Rob Deer-esque power hitter. Such a player might be valuable to the depleted Cardinals, who need to focus their free agent dollars on pitching, especially if Ankiel can develop just enough plate discipline to make himself more Adam Dunn-esque.
Kevin Slowey - SP - Minnesota Twins
Matt Garza, Boof Bonser, and Scott Baker are on everybody's radar because of they are being groomed at the major league level this season. However, Slowey was 3-0 for the Twins during a seven start cup of coffee in the first half. His ERA was nonetheless 5.84, so he must of benefited from some Morneau-sized run support. However, back in the minors he has gone 8-3, with a 1.89 ERA, and seven times as many strikeouts as walks (84/12). Minnesota is only six games out. They have an interesting remaining schedule. 21 games against the White Sox, Rangers, and Royals, teams they should be able to handle. And, 18 games against the Mariners, Indians, and Tigers, the teams they will presumably be chasing. If the Twins get within striking distance, look for Slowey to replace Carlos Silva.
Sean Gallagher, Jeff Zamardzija, Mark Holliman - SP - Chicago Cubs
Gallagher is probably the only of these three that might be legitimately major league ready, and I wouldn't be taking a flier on any of them in my fantasy league. However, I leave you with this reasoning: Do you think the Cubs believe that there will be two consecutive World Series winners who consider Jason Marquis a quality fifth starter? Over the last three seasons, in the second half Jason Marquis is 10-20 with an ERA around 6.00. Lou Pinella has been complaining that he doesn't have a long reliever (a.k.a. Mop-up Man). He sure does. He just has him in the rotation.