Yesterday I took a look at the impact of the 2010 rookie class and posited that could have a negative effect on how the fantasy community as a whole values prospects going forward. Of course they are already overvalued as a whole so it may not move the needle a bit.
The fact remains that many owners are so eager to roster the next star that they often hamper their chances at winning just for the opportunity to be the guy who has Buster Posey on a cheap contract. Posey was excellent last year and is off to another pretty strong start again in 2011, but he is the exception, not the rule.
In the next two parts of this series, I will look back at the top 20 prospects from 2006 to see how things have panned out for them. What is the success rate of top prospects? What is it that even defines success? After looking back, I will have more thoughts on what this class from five years ago can teach us about the 2011 class and we should view minor leaguers now and going forward.
So while the elite prospects acquitted themselves quite well, there were several players off the radar contributing legit numbers. With just a year elapsed, it is impossible to truly judge the 2010 class completely, but the early returns are strong. Let’s go back five years and see how things have gone for the top 20* prospects from 2006.
(*top 20 is a bit of an arbitrary cutoff, but seems like the right cutoff of the prospects who are coveted most by fantasy owners who don’t have them and held tightest by owner who do)
1. Delmon Young (TB) – He was rated by BA four times: three times at #3 and #1 in 2006. He was as can’t miss as can’t miss gets ripping through the minors in three years debuting at 20 years old and becoming a permanent big leaguer at 21. Alas, he has kind of missed in terms of expectations-to-output ratio. I have remained firmly entrenched on the Delmon Bandwagon as he is just 25 now, but last year was his first big time fantasy season since his rookie year when he hit .288 with 13 home runs, 93 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. I would lean toward giving him an incomplete as I would like to see how his follow up season goes, but I think many would label him a bust. Rating (1-5 scale, 5 being the best): 2 – Tough one to grade as we are still looking at a .291 career hitter who has played 150+ games in three of his four seasons, but the expectations were so astronomical that being just average is a disappointment both in fantasy baseball and on the field.
2. Justin Upton (ARI) – Another tough one to analyze as he is just 23 headed into his fourth full big league season. That said, the results have been underwhelming with just the one truly star turn in 2009 sandwiched by two slightly above average seasons. Through it all, he has failed to play 140 games in any single season. Keep in mind that a major component of the grading here is how an owner of his back in 2006 feels now about turning away so many Godfather offers that may have brought him short-term glory and may have possibly unearthed a gem 2nd or 3rd tier prospect who would still be contributing today. Rating: 2.5 – Earns a slightly higher mark than Delmon for delivering his big year while likely still a part of the original owner’s team, but otherwise his name is much bigger than the production. His fantasy cost-to-talent ratio isn’t a favorable one for his owners let alone the regret he has saddled original owners with while looking back on offers.
3. Brandon Wood (LAA) – He is legitimately one of the worst major league baseball players ever. He has put up more than a full season’s worth of 22 OPS+ (175 G, 501 PA). That is unreal. To have the alleged talent to earn that many at-bats combined with the constant failure takes a special kind of awful. Rating: 0 – He likely changed how his original owners view prospects from now on. You can bet that if they get have someone like Jesus Montero and get an equivalent offer to what they received for Wood back in 2006, they are taking it without blinking.
4. Jeremy Hermida (FLO) – Injuries just obliterated his career though it’s not like we shouldn’t have seen it coming as they started back in his minor league days. Believed to be a dynamic five tool power-speed combo, Hermida never really ran at the big league level likely because there was no sense risking injury in the rare time he was actually on the field. The power materialized in spurts, but all in all he was a colossal bust. Rating: 1 – Teased with a strong 2007 campaign (125 OPS+, 18 HR), but played just 123 games that year and has posted an 85 OPS+ in 350 games since.
5. Stephen Drew (ARI) – Breezed through the minors in short order with some eye-popping numbers that just haven’t translated into fantasy stardom. Drew is likely regarded as a hit from a real world standpoint as a slightly above average shortstop with only one truly bad year (2007), but he was supposed to be Hanley Ramirez/Troy Tulowitzki-good for fantasy owners and it just hasn’t happened. Rating: 2 – Credit for showing up every day (three 150+ GP seasons out of four; fourth still had 135), but not enough fantasy goodness.
6. Francisco Liriano (MIN) – Burst onto the scene in ’06 with a truly brilliant season before succumbing to an arm injury that cost him all of 2007 and has rendered him inconsistent since. He has the best single season of anyone on the list so far, but because his stock plummeted so quickly after ascent he too is something of a failure. Rating: 2.5 – As an amateur free agent, he has far exceeded expectations on the field even if he never throws another pitcher again, but in the fantasy realm even the debut can’t keep him earning a weak grade.
7. Chad Billingsley (LAD) – The first one on the list to actually pay legitimate year-over-year dividends for his fantasy owner commensurate with expectations. Original owners of his can proudly look back at the offers they declined in favor of hanging onto Billingsley as he has developed into a very reliable fantasy starter. Rating: 5 – Even if you only held him for his first three years (league rules vary on minor leaguers), he rewarded you handsomely with 438 innings of 3.33 ERA, 35 wins and 401 strikeouts. Given the inexact science of prospecting and incredible volatility of pitching, nobody would turn down that kind of production from a minor league pick. And if you would, then you have wildly unrealistic expectations from those minor league draft slots.
8. Justin Verlander (DET) – A star who paid off for his owners regardless of your league’s rules when it comes to minor leaguers. He won the Rookie of the Year out of the gate and followed it up very nicely with an even better year in 2007. His 2008 year was a disappointment, but the composite of his first three years still yields 589 innings of 4.05 ERA with 46 wins and 470 strikeouts. Rating: 5 – He had an extra-long shelf life for you to trade him for a big haul with two brilliant seasons to start off his career.
9. Lastings Milledge (NYM) – It’s a surprise he has lasted as long as he has given how poorly he has performed in a significant 1500 at-bat sample at the big league level. He has been well below average with a career OPS+ of 91 and the only stint he was above average came in his 59 game sample of 2007 with the Mets. At 26, he will likely get at least one more shot if not two or three, but he has been an unequivocal bust. Rating: 1 – A two-time top 11 prospect on the BA plus the New York hype machine likely had his original owners fending off sweetheart offers on the reg.
10. Matt Cain (SF) – The crazy thing about the list so far as the amount of failed hitters and the fact that the biggest hits have far and away been starting pitchers. It just goes to show that with prospecting there is really no safe route. You just have to do your homework and put yourself in the best position to hit and then pray that you get a little lucky. Rating: 4 – Dinging him a bit for the W-L records early on even though they aren’t indicative of his skill. And the ERAs weren’t that great for mixed leagues early on. That said, minor league rosters are usually found in single leagues (at least that’s been my experience) and he was a no-doubt gem in NL-only leagues even with the low win counts.
To be continued…