While the big leaguers were mainly finishing up the first series of their new season Thursday, the minor leaguers started things up at the same time, and there are quite a few players whose progress fantasy owners should be following. While I continue to believe Texas Rangers prospect Jurickson Profar is so good that he will see enough time with the big club to make a serious impact, on Thursday he made his Triple-A debut for the Round Rock Express.
Profar made his mark, reaching base three times, stealing a base and dazzling defensively at shortstop. He's only 20 years old but seemingly ready for the Rangers right now should opportunity open up, and let's be clear, is not a must-own in ESPN standard, 10-team mixed formats. There are enough middle infielders to count on in a shallow league. In deeper formats, especially if you have deeper benches, I'd add him now. Each game that Mitch Moreland (0-for-11 so far) doesn't get a hit could make a promotion reality!
Of course, Profar wasn't the only potentially fantasy relevant player who enjoyed his Thursday Opening Day. Fantasy owners are always asking about which players they should be stashing away for later in the season. Here are several others who performed Thursday to keep an eye on, because not only do they seem ready for the big leagues, but it could be soon. These aren't necessarily the top prospects, but five on my mind this fine first Friday.
Tony Cingrani, P, Cincinnati Reds: The 23-year-old lefty had little trouble with the Toledo Mud Hens, as he permitted nary a baserunner through five sparkling innings. He ended up going six, throwing 84 pitches and allowing no hits, one walk and striking out a cool 14. And the Hens lineup featured several players with big league experience, including outfielder Quintin Berry, as well as future star left fielder Nick Castellanos. This was Cingrani's Triple-A debut, but he's likely the first call-up should a Reds rotation spot open up, and probably part of the reason why Dusty Baker wanted Aroldis Chapman closing again. If Mike Leake struggles, well, you know.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds: Cingrani's teammate on the Louisville Bats doubled in four at-bats and did not steal a base. What? How dare he not run!?! We know Hamilton will make a huge impact for fantasy owners, but he needs more reps in center field. With the Ryan Ludwick injury forcing Chris Heisey into starting duties, and merely fourth outfielder types in his way, one more injury could mean Hamilton gets the call. I'd still prefer Profar for stashing purposes, and believe Hamilton is still months away from promotion, but he's pretty much ready.
Anthony Gose, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Speaking of speed, Gose has plenty of it. Remember that the Blue Jays' new Triple-A affiliate is in Buffalo, rather than hitter-friendly Las Vegas, which should give us a more accurate portrayal of their players. Everyone hits in Vegas, as we'll see with New York Mets prospects now. Gose's Buffalo Bisons debut went well, with three hits and three runs scored. He did not steal a base. Keep an eye on Gose's plate discipline; he's already elite in center field, but he swings and misses a lot. So does current Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus, though, and if he struggles and the team views Rajai Davis as a fourth outfielder (correctly) or platoon DH, Gose should be doing a mini-Hamilton impression before Hamilton.
Hunter Morris, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers: I think he's relevant because I can't believe a big league team would feel content playing shortstop Alex Gonzalez at first base. And it's not as though Gonzalez hits. Morris does. On Thursday, the 24-year-old Morris smacked a two-run home run in the first inning for Triple-A Nashville, then later a two-run double. Morris slugged 28 home runs in Double-A last year, 74 extra-base hits in all, and Corey Hart is out until May. Gonzalez is not the answer.
Dee Gordon, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: For the record, I'm questioning whether he'll ever hit enough, but if he would just walk more and not look so overwhelmed at the plate, he could beat out the likes of Justin Sellers and Luis Cruz, pushing Hanley Ramirez to third base. Gordon walked and stole a base in four hitless at-bats Thursday for the Albuquerque Isotopes. A good two weeks in Triple-A might be enough for promotion, and let's be clear, he could steal double-digit bases in any month in the big leagues.
Others: The Wil Myers debut for Durham was rained out, but he was in the lineup in right field, batting third. My take on Myers is that he'll hit for power for Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays right away, and he is ready, but the fiscally prudent Rays will wait until June, no matter how Matt Joyce, Sam Fuld or current Rays perform. ... The Memphis-Oklahoma City game was also rained out, so St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras did not play. He's working in left field and can handle right field, but I see him and Myers on a similar timetable, unless a long-term injury creates opportunity. ... If you're wondering about Cleveland Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer, he's slated to start for the big club Saturday in place of shockingly injured Scott Kazmir. ... Baltimore Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy was placed on the DL at Double-A Bowie with right elbow stiffness. Uh oh. As of now, the team doesn't assume the worst. Bundy is 20, and I'd be surprised if he was called up before September. ... Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler started Thursday at Sacramento and struggled, allowing three hits, three walks and two runs in 3 1/3 innings, on 86 pitches. He's pitching for Las Vegas, so don't look too closely at his early-season numbers. He's ready. ... And Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino made his Triple-A debut for Tacoma and finished a single short of the cycle, knocking in three. Wow. I see him debuting for Seattle around midseason.