Archive for June, 2011

Thursday: 06.30.2011

The Hail Mary Team, Part 1

As of right now 13 others are at 82 games, 11 teams are at the exact halfway point (81 games) and the remaining six are very close.  By Monday, every team will be at or beyond the halfway point so it’s safe to say the fantasy baseball season is also at the midpoint.  By now you should have a pretty strong feel for your team one way or another.  Unfortunately for some of us, that way might be “another” meaning lower end of the standings seemingly without a prayer.

You might not be like me, a guy who plays multiple leagues, meaning your summer could essentially be ruined before the fourth of July and with football (and with it fantasy football) in limbo, things look bleak.  But fear not, I am here to help.  While things may seem hopeless, they aren’t always as they seem and there may still be some hope or at the very least you can put in every last bit of effort and buy yourself at least another month to six weeks of fun trying climb back into the race.  Remember, while it best to win the league, many leagues still have a strong incentive to finish second, third or fourth (and sometimes fifth depending on league format) assuming there is a prize pool on the line (or a minor league draft which is often the reward for that first spot out of the money).

With that, I present to you the Hail Mary Team.  This team is for the owners who are down deep in the standings and for whom it looks like nothing short of a miracle will save them.  The Hail Mary Team is a list of currently underperforming (and thus almost certainly undervalued) assets who can reasonably be believed to be in for a major upturn in the second half of the season as they regress toward their career mean (regression to the mean isn’t always negative).  Whether they are dealing with a rash of bad luck, injury, flat out poor play or all three, their track record says they are way better than this and thus why not invest, especially at a discounted rate?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula to determine if a team is a candidate for this method, so you will have to base it on your league and the standings are stratified (though feel free to contact me in the comments or on Twitter if you want my opinion on the matter).  Ideally, you would want to have the most points to gain the counting categories (HR, R, RBI, W, SV, K) as opposed to the rate stats (AVG or OBP, ERA & WHIP) because the rate stats will be much harder to move at this point and going forward.  As you pile up innings and at-bats, great performances, even the best of the best, have less impact on those three categories.  That doesn’t mean you want to be dead last in the counting stats, but ideally a few (if not all) would be nicely clumped to where a surge could earn you several points instead of needing 6 HR for 1 pt but then another 20 for the next pt and still 10 more the third point, etc… you get the point.

The guys on the HMT should be available via trade at less than full price in your league (and some may even be waiver wire assets).  What you might do is trade one of your decent guys (not stars) for two or even three (depending on the players involved) of these players so the end result is still a net gain (assuming the Hail Marys [Maries?] connect, of course).  You may already have some of these guys which has led to your issues in the first place.  Hang onto them, add more and hope to catch lightning in a bottle.  The really fun part here will be the building of this team since actually winning is a longshot.  So if you team is on the ropes and you love trading, then this is a strategy for you.

Don’t be afraid to trade your stars in this strategy, but make sure you get a mint and that the extra assets are filling for zeroes or close to it.  Also make sure to get the upper echelon Hail Mary Teamers for your stars.  Don’t trade off your solid Hunter Pence for two “Also Keep In Mind” guys.  That will make more sense when you see the players, but the main point is that if you are getting several assets to plug some of the many holes that buried you in the first place, then don’t trade your star asset or at least don’t trade him to the owner who won’t pay.  Ideally you would like to keep your two or three best assets while adding a handful of the HMT’ers to the equation.  As always, I am available on Twitter (@sporer) clarification or for advice on potential offers.

One other thing before we get to the team of players, this is best executed in redraft leagues for obvious reasons.  If you are toast or near toast in a keeper league, you should be building for 2012 (and reading my Keeper Building Block series to help you with that) as opposed to taking a flier on winning the league or pushing your way into a money spot.

I will break this up a bit, but the entire team will be out by Monday so you can spend your fourth of July day off working the trade wires (or hanging out by the pool with some cold ones… either or).

CATCHER:

Carlos Santana (CLE) – Right or wrong, fantasy managers still pay a lot of attention to batting average and let that be the primary indicator as to whether or not a guy is playing well.  Santana’s batting average is .226 meaning he could be discounted.  However, some owners may realize he has 11 home runs already and he’s on pace for 23 with 74 runs scored and batted in along with an unexpected six stolen bases which is damn good from catcher even with a bad batting average.  If your league’s Santana manager is one of those realizing his full value, just move along, I have another name for you to fall back on.

Mike Napoli (TEX) – He is coming off of a busted month where he only played eight games before getting hurt.  He is slated to started his rehab assignment soon so now is the time to pounce.  His owner might look at the .221 average and think, “Man, I knew he wouldn’t be a batting average asset, but I wanted better than this, plus he only has 10 homers, dude’s weak.”  Dude’s not weak.  He’s toting an .836 OPS and .365 wOBA despite that garbage average because he’s walking at a near-career high clip (15%) and smashing a bomb every 14 at-bats.

Also keep in mind: Joe Mauer.  I can’t imagine he is anywhere near full price.  Some people never discount big names, though.  But check in on his team’s manager, you never know.  He won’t offer the power potential of the other two, though, and his primary asset (batting average) is the toughest category to fix.

FIRST BASE:

Coincidentally, both Santana and Napoli qualify at first base so you could use one of them or go with the obvious name…

Adam Dunn (CHW) – Do I really need to enlighten you on why he’s on this team?  Seven seasons of 38+ home runs including five with 40+, he didn’t just forget how to play.  He’s never been great against lefties, but a career mark of .234 with an .800 OPS is a helluva better than the 1-for-53 superslump he is current mired in against southpaws.  He might suck the rest of the year, there’s a real chance of that when you see him play.  That’s why it is a Hail Mary Team, because he might also smash 20+ home runs and getting some BABIP fortune to push his current .262 BABIP closer to his .294 career mark.

Also keep in mind: Aubrey Huff.  Should be dirt cheap and he was great as recently as last year.

SECOND BASE:

Dan Uggla (ATL) – Going with the obvious name here again, but it’s the best fit so there’s no reason not to put him on this “team”.  He does have 12 home runs so he isn’t terribly far off the pace of the 31 average he has set the over the last five years, but it comes with a .178 average and modest RBI and runs scored paces of 55 and 69, respectively, so he certainly shouldn’t be untouchable.  He is basically on pace for Aaron Hill’s 2010 season at this point right down to the absurdly low .189 BABIP so there is a precedent for this kind of season out of a proven player, but his power upside is worth the gamble for this experiment.

Ryan Raburn (DET) – He has become the second half surge posterboy over the last two years.  Last year he ended the first half with a .637 OPS and just two home runs.  He went on to rip 13 home runs, drive in 46, hit .305 and post a .900 OPS in the second half.  In 2009, it wasn’t so much that he languished through the first half, he was solid (.842 OPS, 6 HR in 50 G), but he took it to another level in the second half.  From the trade deadline to season’s end, he hit .350 (in 55 games) with 10 home runs.  Something about the dog days of summer puts a spring in Raburn’s bat.  He has the added benefit of dual-eligibility at second base and in the outfield.

Also keep in mind: Kelly Johnson & Hill.  Johnson is another guy who might draw a discount because of his .210 batting average, but a more savvy owner (or just one paying attention) realizes that his 26 HR/16 SB pace takes a lot of the sting out of that batting average.  You won’t know if you don’t inquire.  Hill’s comically low 3.2% HR/FB can’t  stick all year can it?  Not after years of 15% and 11%, right?  Although he did go a full season with a 4% rate back in 2004 plus he loves being the outlier of bad luck in metrics (see also: his 2010 BABIP mentioned above).  He can be a last resort at this position.

 

Next: Shortstops & Third Basemen

Wednesday: 06.29.2011

Keeper League Building Blocks: Shortstop

For the past couple of years, shortstop has been universally regarded as the thinnest position on the diamond in terms of fantasy baseball talent.  The star power is there at the top, but things thin out quickly only adding to the value of someone like Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez (this year’s performance notwithstanding, of course).

I had Jose Reyes with those two as the clear stars at the position with a huge gap down to the next tier (as did most, though Reyes’ ranking fluctuated a bit with some putting him closer to Jimmy Rollins than whomever was second between Ramirez & Tulow) and if you didn’t get one of those, you might as well just wait because the next tier or two was going to be overvalued just because they played shortstop and you could get better talent at other positions in those rounds and then take a shot on any number of like-valued shortstops.

How do things shape up for the next crop of talent at the position?  That is what we will look at today continuing the Keeper Building Block series.  While second base was a good position in the preseason position with enough depth to go around for the most part, it came up lame with keeper potential.  Shortstop is a bit better as many were worried about how they would fill the position during their drafts and auctions, but now three months in we see some names emerging as cheap pieces worth keeping.

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Elvis Andrus (TEX, 22) – Andrus is a great example of how young players to don’t necessarily develop linearly.  After his strong rookie campaign as a 20-year old, he was a bit overrated as many expected him to simply build on his .267, 6 HR, 33 SB season.  Instead he regressed a bit.  His average dipped a bit to .265 while he hit exactly 0 home runs.  He lost just one stolen base on his total, but his caught stealing total rose from six to 15 showing a significant decline in base running skill.  Overall, his wOBA (think of it on OBP scale & click the link for more) dropped from .322 to .298.

Many fantasy baseball owners saw a .002 batting average drop, two stolen base drop and a loss of six home runs that you weren’t expecting out of this player at a non-power position and combined it with the scarcity of shortstop to actually upgrade Andrus’ stock.  His average draft position essentially cut in half from 151 in 2010 to 71 this year.  Fantasy owners have to happy with the early returns.  He is hitting a career-best .278 with three home runs and 22 stolen bases putting him on pace for six and 44 as we near the halfway point.

His age, position and excellence in a key category make him a prime fantasy asset.  But his age also means we could see another dip in performance in 2012 as he will still just be all of 23 years old.  If 2010 is a floor, though, he is still fantasy viable in most league formats, especially standard ones as he was an easy top 10 shortstop last year.  In a lot of leagues, he still has at least one more year on a cheap contract making him my top shortstop building block.

Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE, 25) – I have discussed (whined) more than once how I am often a year early on guys.  I’ll get amped about a sleeper, secure him on every team I can and watch him deliver underwhelming numbers or worse, flop entirely.  Cabrera is the latest addition to the list as I couldn’t wait to roster him as a late round, low dollar SS/2B last year.  Injuries limited him to just 97 games and left me needing a replacement for 65 games.  Now I won’t pretend I saw this coming from Cabrera last year, this year or any year.  I had him down for 13-16 home runs and 20-24 stolen bases which would have been pretty significant gains on his 2009 totals of six home runs and 17 stolen bases.

He has had an impressive power surge this year without sacrificing any speed putting him on pace for 27 home runs and 25 stolen bases with a shiny .296 batting average, too.  Coming off of an injury-riddled season, he had an average draft position around 200 and cost of just a few bucks making him a prime keeper target for non-contenders looking toward 2012.

I don’t necessarily see him becoming a perennial high-20s home run hitter (of course we have to see him do it once, first), but a high-teens, low-20s home run hitter with 20+ stolen bases and batting average to go with it (career .285 hitter) is an incredible commodity.  He is a bit over his head, but not wildly so and even if he “only” went 15-15, that’d be great at shortstop especially at the low cost you would have invested.

Starlin Castro (CHI, 21) – Like Andrus, Castro is insanely young making him an elite commodity in fantasy baseball, especially in dynasty leagues.  But I will reiterate with him that just because we have seen growth (so far) from season one to season two (.325 to .353 wOBA) doesn’t mean it will happen again in 2012 for this 22-year old (regardless of where he finishes 2011).  He has proven a little less patient this year dropping his walk rate from 6% to 4%, but he has also brought his strikeout rate down in concert from 15% to 11% so he isn’t just blindly hacking away at everything, either.

His batting average might be a bit BABIP-inflated (which sits at .351), but he managed a .346 mark in 506 plate appearances last year so perhaps he is setting his level a bit higher than the average.  Batters don’t regress toward a league average as much as pitchers, instead setting their own over time with speedsters generally trending higher (Ichiro has a career .354 mark).  He has the speed to add to his BABIP and he needs to keep hitting .300+ or else his fantasy value takes a significant hit as the power isn’t there yet and might not be for a year or two (if ever).

Through his first 856 plate appearances, he appears to be a hit collecting machine with good speed which has plenty of value in our game.  He is on pace for 88 runs scored and 74 driven in, both of which are pretty good given how inept the Cubs as a team.  I rated him behind Andrus and Cabrera because so much of his value is tied to the batting average which can bounce around wildly from year-to-year even without a skills change.

Stephen Drew (ARI, 28) – This is one totally league-dependent as he won’t be at a keeper-price in all leagues, but from what I saw this preseason, he was in a lot of leagues.  He doesn’t have a single-digit price necessarily, but I like his skills profile enough that I would keep him at a mid-to-high teens cost, especially if my league was prone to significant inflation.  He doesn’t overwhelm with his numbers.  In fact, in comparison to his skill level, he is somewhat underwhelming in the fantasy categories, but he is bankable and that has a role.  Let his cost in your league be the guide on him.

Ian Desmond (WAS, 24) – Right now, Desmond is a speed-only asset, pacing toward 40 stolen bases, but that is literally it so far this year.  His average is .224 and his wOBA is a woeful .271. He showed some pop in the first 607 at-bats of his career with 14 home runs, but that has evaporated this year with a .089 ISO and a six home run pace in 562 at-bats.  There is some upside here, though, given his age and the fact that he is likely a single-digit cost in every league.  He wouldn’t be my first choice at this position or anything close to a centerpiece for my best trade assets, but he isn’t a horrible option as one of your last keepers.

Dee Gordon (LAD, 23) – Gordon is an unproven speed asset with the chance to be a speed-batting average asset as he develops and gets experience.  His runs scored will depend on the Dodger offense and his spot in the lineup.  Do not bet on any power now or in the future.  He hit seven home runs in 1544 minor league at-bats which is as clear a sign as you need to know the power isn’t coming.  And if for some reason that wasn’t enough, one look at his 5’11/150 lb. frame oughta do the trick.

Alcides Escobar (KC, 24) – Escobar is a more advanced version of Gordon so while I’d take Escobar for the rest of ’11, I’d take Gordon in a keeper scenario.  He is still a speed-only asset right now, but with 1000 plate appearances under his belt, he has more experience and thus is closer to becoming someone who could reasonably offer some batting average upside along with the speed.  Conversely, with 1000 PAs under is belt, the sample is getting large enough to where we might not see much growth on his career .249 aveage.  He is hitting .245 this year after a huge hot streak so that tells you just how poorly he was hitting before the streak.

JJ Hardy (BAL, 28) – Not everyone is going to trust Hardy regardless of how he finishes the year.  After back-to-back 20+ HR seasons, he hasn’t lasted more than 115 games in the last two years totaling just 17 home runs in 754 at-bats.  He is finally completely healthy and performing like the 2007-2008 version that averaged 25 bombs a season.  He is on pace for 26 home runs this year along with a .303 batting average that doesn’t appear to be a pure fluke. Crazy how well guys can perform when they are healthy.  He can’t be more than a few bucks in just about every league and he is still on the right side of 30, so I would take a shot on him in a lot of league formats.  I am generally more risk-averse than not, but I have a soft spot for Hardy (no pun intended), I guess.

Tuesday: 06.28.2011

Trolling the Wire: Week 13 Tuesday-Friday

Do you ever have those nights were fatigue just catches up and you just go out like a light well before you planned and there is no amount of Red Bull that will keep you going?  That was me last night.  I not only fell asleep much earlier than planned, but I slept in my desk chair for most of the night.  This wasn’t alcohol induced or anything crazy like that, I just passed out.  My body had enough and said, “I’m done for longer than the 4 hours (or less) you have been giving me.”

Thus the Tuesday-Friday spot starter picks I promised did not go up.  Here they are now.  I’ll include Tuesday’s just for posterity.

TUESDAY:

Clayton Richard (SD v. KC) – Just playing the home split with Richard.  He has a 2.25 ERA in Petco with 5.2 K/9 and 1.8 K/BB rates, but outside his ERA balloons to 5.85 with 4.3 and 1.1 rates.

WEDNESDAY:

Tim Stauffer (SD v. KC) – Oh my jeezorz, everyone hates this guy.  Every week he throws a gem or two and I think his ownership rate will soar or at least move to a point where I can no longer use him because he won’t be on as many waiver wires, alas every week it does NOT happen and so here he is again.  Enjoy.

Carlos Carrasco (CLE @ ARI) – He has allowed a whopping two runs in his last four starts spanning 30 innings (0.61 ERA).  He also has a healthy 6.3 K/9 in that time so don’t let his season-long 5.5 mark dissuade you.  This is a three-time top 54 prospect according to Baseball America growing up before our eyes.  He and Justin Masterson give Cleveland a 1-2 punch that offers them more legitimacy than they had when they were riding the coattails of Josh Tomlin.  The Shin-Soo Choo injury is a killer, but pitching can cover a lot of hitting woes.

THURSDAY:

Brett Cecil (TOR v. PIT) – Rolling the dice here.  Cecil had a terrible start to the season and actually got demoted to AAA.  He was actually doing really well in the hitting-heavy PCL until a recent stretch that included an 8 ER bombing in just 3.3 innings.  He managed 7.2 K/9 and 2.6 K/BB rates in 79 innings.  Picking on the Pirates a bit, but let’s see what he can do in his return.  One caveat: if you’re protecting a strong ERA and WHIP in a head-to-head league, I would probably pass here.

FRIDAY:

Edwin Jackson (CHW @ CHC) – He has pitched to a 3.09 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 3.3 K/BB rates to back it up since May.  His June has been pretty strong too as he has gone six-plus in every outing and notched eight strikeouts in each of his last two outings.  He needs to pitch around Carlos Pena who is in the midst of one of his huge streaks, but otherwise he should be fine with the Cubs lineup.

Jason Vargas (SEA v. SD) – He has been a bit inconsistent putting virtually even splits home and away, but even though he has struggled a little bit in June he still has two complete shutouts and he has gone seven or more innings in all but one of his five outings for the month.  An average pitcher who has shown the ability to go off for a big game is a must-start against the Padres.

Tuesday: 06.28.2011

The Top 15 for 2012 Right Now, Part II

Last time out, I covered 11 names I legitimately considered for the top 15 for 2012 and I am sure there were a few names that you were surprised to see on the outside.  Let’s see who actually makes the top 15 as it stands right now:

15. Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS, OF) – On a Carl Crawfordian pace this year of 51 SB, 19 HR, 83 RBI, 118 R and .304 AVG.  So they added a Crawford-like line to the lineup, just not from the guy they paid all the money to in the offseason.  Ellsbury is more of a .285 hitter, but that’s a difference of 13 hits for his at-bat total which isn’t too much to a fantasy team’s bottom line.  He is just one home run from a new high watermark in home runs, but I’m not sure he can be counted on for high-teens power just yet.  Even still, he can almost singlehandedly win you the stolen base category while getting you a nice head start in runs at the same time.  The power production is an added bonus.

14. Prince Fielder (MIL, 1B) – Fielder is a tremendous power source who has just entered his prime.  I might be alarmed by the on-off pattern of his OPS totals (sub-.880 in even years, 1.010 or better in odd years) if those kind of staggered patterns had any predictive value whatsoever.  The fact is that even in his “down” years, he is a still 30-home run hitter.  I put a lot of stock in his 157+ games played record from 2006-2010.  My goal in the early rounds is bankable production as nothing kills a team more than missed time.  You can’t predict injuries, but Prince sure hasn’t shown any propensity for getting hurt so with him you are playing the favorable odds.

13. Alex Rodriguez (NYY, 3B) – Are you ready to write him off?  I’m not.  He is on pace for another 30-100 season, marks he hasn’t been below since 1997.  And he would have a streak of 30-100-100 just as long if it hadn’t been for some injuries the past two seasons.  Third base is painfully thin which boosts his value even though his numbers don’t really “overwhelm” anymore.  That he was able to reach 30-100 the last three years despite games played totals of 138, 124 and 137, respectively, only tells you the kind of transcendent talent he is even in his mid-30s.

12. Robinson Cano (NYY, 2B) – “Oh hey guys, don’t mind me, I’m just Robinson Cano and I’m on pace for .290-30-100-100-13.  Yeah, I have added some speed to my game this year already setting a career high in June (6), no bigs.  Yes, I started the first half of May on a .186 slump and I was even hitting just .273 as of June 9th, but that didn’t suit me so well so I have been hitting .420 since putting to rest any fears about me.”  Thanks, Robbie.  The counting stats are pretty much locked in because of his teammates and nothing in his profile suggests you can’t count on mid-20s to low-30s home runs totals with a .300-.320 average.  Oh and he’s played 160-159-161-160 games the last four years and he’s on pace for 160 this year.  Consistency, embrace it!

11. Troy Tulowitzki (COL, SS) – He is currently on pace for .276-30-107-85-13 with just one of his patented “cannot-get-him-out-for-two-weeks” streaks which he started the season with back in April.  I would be willing to bet that he has at least one more of those which will surely boost his season pace.  He is an across the board star at shortstop and posting three 24-32 HR/92-99 RBI seasons in the last four has earned him first round credibility.  Though the one chink in his armor is the streakiness.  This applies to head-to-head leaguers, but while he can win two weeks going away during one his streaks, he will disappear for weeks at time shortly thereafter.  In roto you set it and forget it, but in H2H I would push his ranking down a bit.

10. Hanley Ramirez (FLO, SS) – Barring an insane second half, he is in line for the worst year of his career, but it still somewhat salvageable.  Despite the busted year, it would be foolish to overreact and downgrade him too much.  This is still a guy with five elite years under his belt at the thinnest position on the diamond.  You want to pass him over?  Good, more for me.  It will depend how his final line looks, but there is a good chance it will look pretty lame for Ramirez’s standards and that will drive his value down too much in a lot of leagues.

Those owners who benefit from his drop will be like the owners who have Jose Reyes this year, in other words, they will have a great value on their hands.  I still bumped him down a bit from where I had him this preseason, but that is based more on guys who emerged than a pure downgrade of Ramirez.  I could still envision a scenario where I take him in the top 5-7.  There aren’t major gaps in talent between these elite players.  I think it is as close between 1 and 15 as it’s ever been.  Or least as I ever remember.

9. Evan Longoria (TB, 3B) – Injuries have derailed the huge year I thought we would see from Longo in 2011 and there is a growing chorus that believes he is overrated as a first round fantasy pick.  I’m steadfastly in the Longoria camp and I don’t plan on leaving for 2012.  He is one of six players to start his career with three straight seasons with a .500+ SLG in 500+ PAs*.  The others are Albert Pujols, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Earl Averill and Paul Waner.  For those of you scoring at home, that’s five Hall of Famers (yep, I’m putting Pujols in as an active player).  He will need to do some work to notch a fourth (which all the Hall of Famers achieved), but either way this is a superstar in the making.  Like Ramirez, there is still time to salvage his season this year.  His skills profile is worth betting on, especially at 26 years old playing a thin position.

(*the one flaw in this is that Baseball-Reference’s Play Index doesn’t delineate between first season and rookie season so any player who may have had a cup of coffee one year and then went on to three straight 500 PA/.500 SLG seasons won’t be captured in this study.)

8. Carlos Gonzalez (COL, OF) – CarGo’s 2010 has a good chance to end up as his career year, yet many believed it was a sign of things to come and elevated him as the top outfielder in the game.  Gaudy BABIP and HR/FB rates propped up his batting average and home run totals meaning it would take a unique streak of luck to see 34/.336 again in 2011.  That doesn’t mean I thought he would stink, but I preferred him a little later in the first round than most and third amongst outfielders.  Let’s not forget that he will be just 26 years old next year.  Not only is the elite talent bunched together as we head into 2012, but a lot of the key pieces are still very young.

7. Jose Reyes (NYM, SS) – This is about where he would have ranked this preseason had his health been guaranteed and he wasn’t coming off of his two worst seasons including one in which he played just 36 games.  He has more triples in 73 games this year (13) than he had in his 169 games the last two years (12).  His pace for 57 stolen bases would eclipse the two year total by 16.  In other words, he is back to being superstar Reyes.  He isn’t on pace for the double-digit home run total we saw in four out of five years from 2006-2010, but he is still raking the ball as evidenced by the triples count and the pace for a career-high of 42 doubles.  This season is well in line with the track record he established from 2005-2008 and if you favor positional scarcity, Reyes is worth a pick anywhere between here and the top of the draft.

6. Matt Kemp (LAD, OF) – Back in November of 2010, I ranked Kemp 23rd in my top 24 and by the time draft season rolled around, I was taking him anywhere in the second round even if it was the 13th pick overall (1st pick in the 2nd round of a standard 12-teamer).  In that piece I said he could rebound for a big 30-30 season in 2011.  Jeez, I may have severely undersold him.  He is on pace for a 44-44 with 125 RBIs, 104 Rs and a .324 batting average.  Even as bullish as I was on Kemp, I didn’t necessarily see this.  There is still more than half the season so nothing is set in stone, but one thing we do know is that Kemp is a fantasy star.  Sure his .249 batting average hurt those who took him in the first round in 2010 (*raises hand*), but he still played EVERY game and delivered pretty big numbers in the other four categories.  The Bison is a beast… and he turns all of 27 next year.

5. Adrian Gonzalez (BOS, 1B) – Remember how many times you thought, “what would Gonzalez do if he wasn’t stuck in Petco?”.  The answer is: this!  Gonzalez has been downright elite and he is on pace for a .356-34-151-119 season doing exactly what we all thought he might with the Green Monster (peppering it with a league-high of 25 doubles; on pace for 53).  He would merit some first round consideration from 2006-2010 (a period during which he played fewer than 160 games just once and it was 156), but his home park and weak supporting cast would always hold him back.  Coming in this season, he was a first round pick in a lot of leagues, but not quite a consensus first rounder.  Now everything sets up in his favor and at 30 next year, he is still in his prime.  Even if he falls off of his absurd paces (especially the .356 & 151), he will no doubt be elite and finally be a no doubt first rounder.

4. Jose Bautista (TOR, 3B/OF) – It is a big statement to rate him this high based on 229 games, but does anyone really still see him as anything close to fluke at this point?  He has actually improved on a career year and significantly so taking his game from a power-only to well-rounded with a gaudy .328 batting average, an absurd .473 on-base percentage and a pace for double-digit stolen bases.  Not only that, but a recent move back to third base all but guarantees his eligibility there for 2012 which adds a lot to his value given the dearth of talent at the position beyond the small tier of elite options.  He has given us every reason to believe his surge into stardom, but I still couldn’t rank him above the legend.  His third base/outfield eligibility is definitely a huge plus and I could see someone taking him #1 overall or at least ahead of this next guy, but I had to go with the insanely long track record of excellence.

3. Albert Pujols (STL, 1B) – Even in the midst of what was considered a “down” year, Pujols was on pace for .279-36-95-110-11 before going down with a major injury.  In fact he was adding to his pace almost every day in June and it isn’t unreasonable to believe that he would have continued to stay hot and get back near the paces we are used to from Prince Albert.  Alas, Pete Kozma has no idea how to throw a ball.  Pujols has been knocked from his #1 perch, but I certainly wouldn’t blame someone for keeping him there, even at 32 years old.  He is as reliable as a player gets and even his “bad” year was a very good season (currently ranked 17th amongst hitters on ESPN’s Player Rater, 22nd overall) before it was derailed by a major injury.

2. Ryan Braun (MIL, OF) – I had Braun 5th coming into the season so this isn’t a major leap for the 27-year old outfielder who is kicking off his “prime” with a bang.  He is displaying some newly discovered speed that may or may not be totally legit, but regardless of that he earns this high ranking for his remarkable consistency, the same reason he check in 5th for me in 2010.  Remember the .500 SLG stat about Longoria?  The only reason Braun wasn’t on it is because he missed the threshold of 500 plate appearances by eight in his rookie year.  I think we can let him slide since he posted a .634 SLG that year.  Since then he has three straight years of 663 or more plate appearances with .500+ SLG (including seasons of .553 and .551).  It just doesn’t get much better or more reliable than Braun.  And given his age, there is reason to believe he can do more than the .307-32-105-99-16 average we have seen in his first four full seasons.

1. Miguel Cabrera (DET, 1B) – I don’t care if he plays the deepest position on the diamond, I am building my team around a guy who has seven straight years averaging .317-34-117-100 in 158 games.  And he is well on his way to an eighth season right in line with those averages.  During the stretch, he has been below the batting average mark just twice (.292, .294), the home runs three times (26, 33, 33), the RBIs three times (103, 112, 114) and the runs scored three times (85, 91, 96).  In other words, even when he strays from the average, he remains elite.  None of the deviations would leave fantasy owners disappointed in Cabrera even in the seasons where he combined two “below average” categories together.  He will be just 29 years old next year and with his ridiculously strong skills profile (he’s actually on a four year decline in strikeout rate from 22% in 2007 to 16% so far this year), I have him as the #1 overall pick for 2012.

I would love hear your thoughts on the rankings, if you thought there were snubs and who you’d take #1 if not Cabrera.  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Monday: 06.27.2011

The Top 15 for 2012 Right Now, Part I

The 2011 draft season was seen as one of transition for the upper tier of players as there wasn’t much agreement beyond the top two players on how the rest of the first round should play out.  Hell, there was even some dissent against Hanley Ramirez as the #2 (some had him #1, others had him #3 or #4), though that was more of a vocal minority.  He and Albert Pujols were pretty clearly the first two picks in most drafts.

After those two, any combination of about 15-18 names could make up the remaining 10  picks in the first round of a 12-team mixed league.  Expanding it to a 15-team league opens the pool up to about 20-24 names depending on the preference of the drafters in that league.  Now there is always going to be some shifting from draft to draft, but in 2011 you could see someone taken sixth overall in one league who wouldn’t crack the first round of another.

And the 2011 season isn’t likely to change things for the 2012 season.  Just as the MLB as a whole has tightened up with fewer great teams, so, too, has the player pool as there are now several guys in contention for the #1 spot with Pujols looking mortal throughout 2011 and now shelved for at least month, likely two.  Several contenders for #1 means a lot of uncertainty after that as you could feasibly have a draft where the top five teams all get their #1 guy; that certainly hasn’t been the case for several years.

Despite the clutter at the top, I am going to do my best to outline the top 15 as I see it for 2012 at this point.  This isn’t just going to be a ranking of the best players through nearly three months of 2011, that does us no good.  We have to take what we have seen so far and properly weigh it into the thoughts we had coming into the season about these players.  You have to be careful not to overrate or underrate the most recent season.

Jacoby Ellsbury was at worst a 2nd-round pick heading into 2010 after a pair of excellent seasons.  He sat out through most of an injury-riddled season during which he played just 18 games hitting .192 with a .485 OPS.  His skills hadn’t eroded, it was all injury.  I always say you can’t put a lot (any?) stock into Spring Training stats with the lone caveat being guys returning from injury.

The hard numbers still don’t mean a lot even in these cases, but you want to see that they are playing and appear as healthy as is being reported.  Ellsbury led the team in ST at-bats with 62 and performed really well suggesting he was ready to go.  Even still, he was going no earlier than the 4th round in most drafts.  Of course, Jose Bautista had a season for the ages in 2010 and he was going just a handful of picks before Ellsbury.

I understand the skepticism with Bautista and while I did believe he would remain a major force, I never saw him doing this.  I thought he could be a 37-42 HR hitter with a great on-base percentage and decent batting average.  I found the Ellsbury skepticism a  little more peculiar.  He had a track record of excellence, he had crept into first round consideration just a year ago and while he was injured throughout most of 2010, all signs pointed to a full rebound for 2011.

Those are two clear cases on each end of the spectrum, one overrating the most recent season and another underrating it.  If I had to do one, I would rather underrate the previous season as with someone like Bautista.  I don’t want to be in a position where I ignore or at least diminish a guy’s track record (whether it be Ellsbury, Matt Kemp or Jose Reyes) just because he didn’t exactly display those skills at their peak in the most recent season.

Let’s start with some honorable mentions.  I think it so tightly packed with the top 25 or so that you could reasonably make a case for any of these guys to be in the list of 15, alas they were just out of mine:

Rickie Weeks (MIL, 2B) – It has never really been a question of talent with Weeks, rather health and he is en route to a second straight healthy season which are producing the kind of numbers we had hoped to see in his early-to-mid 20s.  He might almost be a bit underrated at this point as people are still afraid of his given the health issues that plagued the early part of his career.

Drew Stubbs (CIN, OF) – He was one of those sleepers who got so much run that it almost sapped his sleeper value.  He will be a batting average black hole as long as he continues to pile up the strikeouts and this year’s pace is even crazier than last year’s 168 (tracking toward 214).  As such that puts his AVG & OBP at risk which in turn could cut into his runs scored and stolen bases adding risk despite the juicy fantasy numbers.  See also: Young, Chris B.

Nelson Cruz (TEX, OF) – He has top 10 talent when performing at his peak potential, but injuries have undercut that potential significantly and he just can’t be trusted for a full season of production.  He may also be running less as a means of body conservation (4 SB in ’11 after 20 & 17 the last two years).

Kevin Youkilis (BOS, 3B) – Another season in line with his 2008 & 2009 (his 2010 was injury-shortened) seasons with good power and excellent run-based stats thanks to being a part of that elite offense in Boston.  The dearth at 3B would probably be enough to boost him into the top 15 of OBP-leagues.

Curtis Granderson (NYY, OF) – As my favorite Tiger who has now become my favorite non-Tiger, I would love to believe blindly in this surge in performance, but I have to be realistic.  Many predicted a power spike for him in his new home environs last year, but injuries cut his season short for a career-low in games played.  He is making up for the lost time with a 45-home run pace in 2011.  I am not sure he will make that this year or become a consistent 40+ HR guy if he does keep this dream season going.  So while he does get elevated as compared to his 2010 preseason value, he’s not quite first round material even as a power-speed combo with plenty of lineup support for R and RBI.

Mark Teixeira (NYY, 1B) – The dissipation of the batting average that was present in his mid-to-late 20s pushes his value down a bit especially in the fantastically deep first base pool.  He hit .295 from 2004-2009 before hitting .256 a year ago and following it with a .244 mark so far this year.  Still, a lengthy track record 100+ runs scored and driven in with 30+ home run power (including a 48 HR pace so far this year) earn him consideration for an early round pick in any draft.

Mike Stanton (FLO, OF) – Sometimes I forgot that this guy is just 21 years old.  That’s insane when you consider his talent.  The growth of players this young is not linear so we can’t guarantee he will show more development year over year, just ask Justin Upton, but still it is nice to see incremental improvement in strikeout (down 3% to 31%) and walk (up slightly from 8.6% to 9.3%) rates this year.  He will be a high draft pick throughout 2012, but he’s not quite first rounder for me.

Andrew McCutchen (PIT, OF) – He’s a better Drew Stubbs, way better in fact, trading a bit of speed for stronger foundational skills (strikeout & walk rates).  He is also hitting in the middle of the lineup for the Pirates so his RBI opportunities are much greater than Stubbs and as the Pirates continue to improve he will has some 100-RBI seasons.  Until that point, he is just outside the top 15, but another big season jumps him up from the 35-45 range he occupied this preseason.

Jay Bruce (CIN, OF) – Another player on the rise, Bruce offers incredible power potential and should see his value come up from the 65-75 range he was in this past year.  Some wonder if his .281 batting average from 2010 is a peak, while others believe he can be a .300 hitter one day without affecting his power.  Though it will be his fifth season, he will be just 25 years old next year and the best of Bruce may still be on the way.

Joey Votto (CIN, 1B) – This is less an indictment on Votto and more a commentary on the depth of quality players.  I was really high on him for 2010 and it paid off even more than I expected with the 37 home runs which were propped up by an unsustainable HR/FB of 25%.  Given that, I couldn’t understand why people saw him as high as the 3rd or 4th overall pick.  His ADP ended up in the 7-10 area, but I think he is a bit lower than that for 2012.  Barring unpredictable HR/FB surges, he is a high-20s/low-30s home run hitter.  He makes up for the power deficiency with a great batting average (career .314) and the chance of some speed (which could dry up if he doesn’t improve his 60% success rate this year).  That is still worth an early round pick, but not a first rounder.

Justin Upton (ARI, OF) – Upton has an absurd amount of talent, but we have yet to see it all come together.  We could be seeing most of it this year, but if he stays healthy for the whole year, it will be a first.  He has played 108, 138 and 133 games in his first three full seasons with varying degrees of success yielding 106, 129 and 110 OPS+ marks.  He has a .300-20-20 season in there, but he has yet to top 90 runs scored or driven in (which isn’t all his fault as those are team-dependent) and he is only pace to check the runs scored one off of his list this year.  He is a huge name, a great centerpiece for a dynasty team (23 years old) and loaded with potential, but he hasn’t yet earned my trust as a bona fide first round fantasy pick.

Those are the guys who just missed.  I’ll break this up into two parts to keep the length reasonable.  Up next is the top 15 for 2012… at this point.  Subject to change before the 2012 season starts.

Monday: 06.27.2011

Sunday Twidbits: June 26th

Here are this week’s MLB Sunday Twidbits which is something I’ll be doing every Sunday throughout the baseball season.  It’s an exercise whereby I tour the league giving a statistical tidbit per team on Twitter feed (@sporer).  Sometimes a team or two will get more than one if I have more than one nugget I really want to share, but every team will be represented at least once.  Check the sidebar on the right for previous editions of Twidbits.

Ari – David Hernandez was crushed for 5 ER w/out recording an out on 6/7. Since: 8.7 scoreless IP w/9 K, 1 H, 3 BB. Nice MR option w/10 K/9. (Ed. note: The Tigers bombed him shortly after I wrote this up.  He is prone to the occasional implosion, but the numbers from implosion-to-implosion are really good at least.)

Det – Justin Verlander is 6-0 in 49.7 IP (8+/start) w/0.72 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 8.5 K/BB over his last 6 starts. He is the AL’s best.

Det2 – Al Alburquerque has stifled 21 of 22 inherited runners. A great pickup if you’re high on IP: 2.05 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 15 (!) K/9.

Col – Ubaldo Jimenez has a 3.31 ERA/1.29 WHIP since 5-17; even better 2.43/1.20 in June w/7.8 K/9 & 4.1 K/BB

Col2 – Ty Wigginton hitting .298 w/7 HR, 16 RBI & 14 R in June. Scarcely owned depsite 1B-2B-3B elig: C 63%, Y! 41%, E 62%. Must-own.

Col3 – Wiggy (cont.) He’s a fantasy Swiss Army Knife & has had 20+ HR in 4 of last 5 yrs and now in Col. How wasn’t he drafted more?

NYY – CC Sabathia was winless in his 1st 4 starts despite a healthy 2.52 ERA; on Sat. he became 1st SP to 10 W going 10-3 w/3.43 in last 13.

Oak – Hiccup or problem? Trevor Cahill was rocked in 4 straight, but has a 1.15 ERA in 16 IP w/13 K in his last 2. Just beating up the NL?

Phi – Saturday was 35th time Cole Hamels has gone 8+ IP in his career. The Phillies offense has averaged 3.3 runs per game in those starts.

LAA – Jered Weaver fell off the radar a bit after his insane April; he’s on fire again: 3-0, 1.35 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 7.1 K/9 & 3.1 K/BB in last 47 IP

LAA2 – Dan Haren gets 4.3 R/G of support, 4th-lowest in AL. One of those 3 “ahead” of him? Teammate Jered Weaver: 3.9. #neverchasewins

LAD – Dodgers haven’t scored 2+ R in an innings for 2 wks. So why did Dan Haren give their only 2 guys (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier) anything?

LAD2 – LAD (cont.) He still won, but those two went 5-for-6 against Haren scoring all 3 of the runs he gave up. C’mon, Dan. Just face Loney.

Cin – Maybe Dusty Baker is using Chris Heisey best by rarely starting him. Starter: .225/.299/.382 in 279 PA; Sub: .356/.402/.644 in 102 PA. Odd.

Bal – Don’t confuse Jake Arrieta‘s 9-4 rec. w/success. His 1.2 HR/9 & 1.7 K/BB scream caution, his rec. is built by MLB-best 9.4 R/G of support.

Was – Roger Bernadina is worth owning (E 41%, Y! 14%, C 26%) as a pwr/spd mix. Hitting .400/.426/.644 w/3 HR & 2 SB in last 11; .333 for June.

CWS – At some point, Ozzie Guillen has to be held accountable for playing Adam Dunn v. LHP. He’s now 1-52 (.019) w/24 Ks. Let Lillibridge DH. (Ed. note: Or as reader Paul Bourdett suggested, call up Dayan Viciedo and let him take the hacks at DH against southpaws.  He is killing it in AAA.)

CWS2 – Dunn (cont.) Yes, it’s a small sample overall, but as much as Dunn is struggling, he needs some time off v. southpaws.

Bos – Andrew Miller isn’t an insta-pickup just bc he’s on Boston. He put on 10 baserunners against SD in 5.7 IP. The 6 Ks were nice, but…

Bos2 – Miller (cont.) He has done nothing to earn our trust at the MLB level. Facing Pitt today, then @HOU & v. BAL, proceed w/EXTREME caution

Pit – Jose Tabata was carted off w/an inj. on Sunday & AAA OF Alex Presley was pulled out of his gm shortly thereafter. NL-Onlys take note.

Pit2 – Presley (cont.) He could be in line for some of Tabata’s PT. The 25 y/o is hitting .336/.389/.500 w/8 HR & 18 SB.

Pit3 – Pirates (cont.) But I’d bet on Xavier Paul (speed) & Garrett Jones (power) seeing legitimate increases in their PT first.

Atl – Jason Heyward hitting .297/.381/.405 in 10 G since return from DL. Overall #s miiiight offer buying opp., espec. in non-keeper lgs.

SD – Chase Headley is still widely available & might be worth platooning on the road. Hitting .474 on latest rd trip; .304 AVG/.806 OPS career.

TB – James Shields bumps Verlander to co-best. Last 3: 27 IP (yes, 3 CGs) w/0.33 ERA, 0.59 WHIP, 8 K/9, 6 K/BB & of course 3-0. AL ASG starter?

TB2 – Nice wknd for BJ Upton in Hou: 4-11, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 3 R, 1 SB. Hitting .297 in last 9; prob just means a 1-20 upcoming. He hates batting avg.

Hou – Matt Downs .272/.381/.556 w/5 HR in 97 PA. Rakes RHP & at home; so sit him for Clint Barmes at home v. righty. You wonder why you suck Hou?

Min – Ben Revere is the likely benefactor from Delmon Young inj. Revere hitting .284 w/11 R, 4 SB in June. Serves specific purpose & comes cheap.

Mil – Nyjer Morgan at .309/329/.471 in June, but just 1 SB. Perhaps it’s all of his XBH: 7 2B, 3 3B & 2 HR! A slightly better NL ver. of Revere.

CHC – Reed Johnson picked up where he left returning from the DL w/a .933 OPS w/2 HR & 4 RBI in 10 gm. No shallow mixed appeal, but deep & NL-Only

KC – Joakim Soria is back. His June: 12 IP, 12 K, 6 SV, 6 K/BB, 4 H. I hope you pounced on him as soon as he was cut on Memorial Day. Saw it in 3 lgs.

Tor – Edwin Encarnacion is hitting .283/.353/.522 in June w/2 HR, 3 RBI, 5 BB. Hardly overwhelming, but he quals at DH for lgs that requie true DH.

StL – The Cardinals sans Albert Pujols have not had a good week: 1-5 record, .240/.292/.373, 4.57 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

StL2 – In ’10 Jon Jay hit .383/.433/.583 in 115 AB over 49 G (2.4 AB/G); Aug-Sep as a reg. (42 GS), he hit .244/.309/.314 in 172 AB over 56 G (3.3)

StL3 – Jay (cont.) Same in ’11 w/reg PT: .349/.408/.514 thru May (54 G/22 starts); .239/.276/.324 in June (22/17). Sell now while #s still high.

NYM – Daniel Murphy‘s June .318/.355/.386, overall .296/.343/.408; mostly AVG, but 2B/1B elig w/10 G at 3B, too. He’s a playing time glue guy.

Tex – Nelson Cruz is coming out of his funk: .364/.389/.818 w/6 2B, 3 HR, 8 RBI & 1 SB in his last 8. Overall #s might offer small discount. Buy.

Cle – Cle is 8-16 in June bc despite success of Masterson & Carrasco, other 3 SP have 5.32 (Talbot), 6.60 (Tomlin) & 7.62 (Carmona) ERAs.

SF – Ryan Vogelsong does not care that he is Ryan Vogelsong, still has allowed more than 2 ER just once in 13 starts. Skills remain strong, too.

SF2 – Vogel (cont.) Doesn’t mean he isn’t some to sell. 13 starts convinces ppl he’s legit, but 86% LOB% & 5.1% HR/FB = SOME regression on 1.86 ERA

SF3 – Vogel (cont.) Let’s say he ends yr w/a 3.00 ERA. He’d be 3.83 ROtW. Oddly enough, that’d be a sub-100 ERA+. 3.10+ = 4.00+ ERA

SF4 – Vogel (cont.) You’re not going to rip someone off for a 33 yr old journeyman, but any upgrade to your tm would be worth moving him. Sell.

Sea – I shy away from low-K SPs, but Doug Fister is criminally under-owned (high of 31% @ CBS): 3.13 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 2.9 K/BB + Safeco & great D

Flo – Mike Dunn has K’d at least 1 batter in all of his last 13 outings, but otherwise been terrible: 6.60 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 4 HR, 18 K… ouch.

Flo2 – That’s why you never spend a lot on middle RPs, you have to be able to cut bait at a moment’s notice. Aroldis Chapman stung ppl this yr.

Sunday: 06.26.2011

Trolling the Wire: Week 13 Monday

Oof, ugly week.  On the heels of the best week of the season, Trolling turned in the 2nd-worst of the year with a 4.25 ERA.  Five of the 15 picks performed well so hopefully you picked some or all of those.  I realize most people don’t use every pick during a given week so I just hope on the down weeks that you got in on a few of the favorable results so I didn’t totally sink your pitching for a week.

I remember on Saturday seeing Washington with a goose egg into the 7th and I was excited that John Danks was helping salvage the week, but alas he went out with an injury after just 1.7 innings.  In fact, he ended up on the disabled list shortly thereafter.  Had he gone seven shutout innings, the week would have been right at 4.00 ERA.  Oh well, time to regroup.  There is a light slate on Monday and I only have one choice, so I’ll share that now and then post Tuesday-Friday by Monday afternoon.

MONDAY:

Brandon Beachy (ATL @ SEA) – Came off of the disabled list with a bang striking out 11 Blue Jays.  He gets a worse team in a better ballpark and there is no reason to stick with him, especially as his ownership rate sits well below where it should be as he was cut a lot while injured (Y! 49%, ESPN 68%, CBS 88%).  He won’t be available everywhere and especially in really active leagues, but definitely check just to make sure.  If he throws another gem on Monday, he will almost certainly be snapped too much for Trolling.

Friday: 06.24.2011

Trolling the Wire: Week 12 The Weekend

Some quick picks for the weekend

SATURDAY:

John Danks (CHW v. WAS) – In three June starts, he’s 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 7 K/9.  Take out the butt-kicking he suffered in Toronto at the end of May and he has a 3.31 ERA since April 30th.  He’s coming back around and this is a guy who should be owned across all formats.

Justin Masteron (CLE @ SF) – Masterson’s Achilles heel is lefties and SF only has three: Brandon Crawford, Aubrey Huff & Nate Schierholtz.  Crawford is an all-leather rookie in there for his defensive chops at short while neither Huff nor Schierholtz has been able to post an OPS better than .700 this year.

Jason Vargas (SEA “at” FLO) – Florida is only the home team in that they will bat last, but the game is in Safeco where Vargas has allowed a .650 for his career and .631 on the year. 

SUNDAY:

Doug Fister (SEA “at” FLO) – Taking full advantage of the U2 concert that forced this series to Seattle, I’ll go with another Mariners pitcher who takes advantage of his home park.  Fister allows a .68 OPS at home and just a  .590 OPS against right-handers.  The Marlins have just one regular lefty in their lineup (Logan Morrison) and the only other one who could start is the non-threatening Dewayne Wise.

Thursday: 06.23.2011

2011 Futures Game Roster Primer

As I have become more and more interested in prospects the last few years, the All-Star Futures Game has become one of my favorite events of the year.  This year’s sets up to be another great game with the best & brightest of the game’s future getting a chance to show off on a big stage.  This year’s game is highlighted by the consensus 1-2 prospects in the game this preseason: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.  The order of the two may have varied, but they topped just about every list.

Here’s a look at all of the participants along with some information about their 2011 season:

(I apologize for the table, it’s a lot uglier than the one I built originally.  I have no idea why the tables I build out don’t work properly when I load the HTML.  It’s frustrating.)

Player Team Age Level BA Org. RK Season Stats Notes
Paul Goldschmidt ARI 23 AA 11 .328/.450/.656, 22 HR, 61 RBI in 250 AB Hit 35 HR last yr; has 1 HR every 14 AB in 1062 min. lg ABs
Tyler Skaggs ARI 19 A+ 2 11.1 K/9, 3.2 K/BB, 3.36 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in 83 IP A key piece in the Dan Haren trade
Julio Teheran ATL 20 AAA/MLB 1 7.8 K/9, 3.8 K/BB, 1.83 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in 79 IP Top rated pitching prospect, reached AAA after just 40 AA IP
Arodys Vizcaino ATL 20 A+/AA 7 8.7 K/9, 3.6 K/BB, 2.86 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in 66 IP Health is the primary concern otherwise yet another ATL stud
Manny Machado BAL 18 A 1 .276/.376/.483, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 3 SB in 145 AB Came out on fire in Apr, but knee inj. cut most of May & some of Jun
Jonathan Schoop BAL 19 A/A+ 10 .313/.369/.487, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 53 R in 265 AB Enjoying nice full-season debut, no longer SS w/Machado in system
Chih-Hsien Chiang BOS 23 AA UR .307/.363/.620, 11 HR, 41 RBI, 21 2B in 192 AB Breaking out in AA repeat w/same HR total already in 246 fewer AB
Will Middlebrooks BOS 22 AA 11 .294/.335/.478, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 27 R in 201 AB Power starting to show in a breakout season for the 3B
Matt Szczur CHC 21 A 7 .327/.383/.463, 5 HR, 46 R, 16 SB in 214 AB Good ballplayer, great person
Gregory Infante CWS 23 AA, AAA 6 8.2 K/9, 2.0 K/BB, 1.64 ERA, 1.39 WHIP in 33 IP Had 5 scoreless IP in majors in ’10, but control is the final hurdle
Dayan Viciedo CWS 22 AAA 3 .324/.364/.520, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 22 2B in 281 AB Free-swinger did well in 104 MLB AB last yr, unsure why B.Morel has job now
Yonder Alonso CIN 24 AAA 4 .313/.373/.496, 8 HR, 40 RBI, 35 R in 256 AB Major league ready, but no place to play thus it’s time for a trade
Devin Mesoraco CIN 23 AAA 3 .322/.404/.545, 8 HR, 42 RBI, 26 2B in 233 AB Has carried over last year’s huge breakthrough w/another big season
Jason Kipnis CLE 24 AAA 3 .291/.372/.496, 8 HR, 42 RBI, 10 SB in 258 AB Could be up soon as Cord Phelps flounders in limited opportunities
Drew Pomeranz CLE 22 A+ 4 11.4 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 1.93 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 61 IP SP help is on the way for CLE w/he & Alex White, who got hurt earlier this yr
Nolan Arenado COL 20 A+ 3 .283/.327/.418, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 38 R in 251 AB The 3B job is open in COL, but even the fast-track would be late ’12
Wilin Rosario COL 22 AA 2 .263/.302/.469, 11 HR, 25 RBI, 28 R in 213 AB 2nd tour in AA hasn’t been as kind w/122 pt drop in his OPS
Francisco Martinez DET 20 AA 4 .291/.332/.427, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 44 R in 227 AB Numbers don’t overwhelm even in ’11 breakout, but keep his age in mind
Jacob Turner DET 20 AA 1 7.2 K/9, 3.1 K/BB, 2.94 ERA, 1.08 WHIP in 80 IP Might break ’12 camp in DET rotation given aggressive promos in Motown
Jhan Marinez FLO 22 AA 4 11.6 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 3.77 ERA, 1.61 WHIP in 29 IP Lacks much command right now, but mid-90s arm could close in future
Jose Altuve HOU 21 A+/AA 28 398/.434/.612, 8 HR, 51 RBI, 23 SB in 299 AB Insane numbers are impressive regardless, but more so from 5’5″ Altuve
Kelvin Herrera KC 21 A+/AA 30 10.2 K/9, 13.3 K/BB, 1.27 ERA, 0.74 WHIP in 35 IP Converted SP has reinvented himself as an elite RP, though health is a concern
Wil Myers KC 20 AA 2 .295/.366/.418, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 23 R in 146 AB Heating up after slow start in which he played just 20 G through May
Mike Trout LAA 19 AA 1 .324/.424/.557, 9 HR, 9 3B, 24 SB in 244 AB Actually better than ’10; could feasibly reach MLB by late summer
Alfredo Silverio LAD 24 AA UR .324/.343/.581, 7 HR, 50 RBI, 11 3B in 253 AB Quite a free swinger w/just 89 BB in 2082 pro ABs
Tyler Thornburg MIL 22 A 6 10.0 K/9, 3.0 K/BB, 1.57 ERA, 1.08 WHIP in 69 IP Bright spot in thin MIL system w/mid-90s heat
Kyle Gibson MIN 23 AAA 1 9.4 K/9, 4.0 K/BB, 3.89 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in 76 IP Std. MIN control artist missing a lot of bats in ’11; could be up this summer
Liam Hendriks MIN 22 AA 6 8.2 K/9, 4.4 K/BB, 2.81 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in 77 IP An Austrailian version of the MIN profile
Matt Harvey NYM 22 A+ 4 10.9 K/9, 3.8 K/BB, 2.37 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in 76 IP Great pro debut for the UNC product; could be NYM’s #1 prospect in ’12
Jefry Marte NYM 20 A+ 26 .283/.357/.402, 5 HR, 32 RBI, 9 SB in 254 AB Has to hit to have a real future, 15 E at 3B
Austin Romine NYY 22 AA 6 .298/.362/.421, 4 HR, 31 RBI, 23 R in 178 AB Part of trio of Cs in NYY top 6 prospects; related to MLBers Andrew & Kevin
Grant Green OAK 23 AA 1 .293/.344/.407, 4 HR, 37 RBI, 35 R in 263 AB Many believe he doesn’t have the chops to stick at SS
Jarred Cosart PHI 21 A+ 4 7.5 K/9, 2.1 K/BB, 3.16 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in 74 IP Huge ceiling, but still quite a while away
Sebastian Valle PHI 20 A+ 6 .343/.355/.482, 3 HR, 22 RBI, 21 R in 166 AB Just 2 BB in 169 PA, I’m not sure an SP could walk Valle if he tried
Chase d’Arnaud PIT 24 AAA 10 .280/.347/.418, 4 HR, 33 RBI, 17 SB in 239 AB He’s not *completely* ready, but he can’t be worse than Ronny Cedeno
Starling Marte PIT 22 AA 4 .338/.371/.475, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 15 SB in 263 AB Hasn’t hit below .309 since coming to the States in 2009
James Darnell SD 24 AA 12 .346/.438/.634, 16 HR, 57 RBI, 57 R in 257 AB His ’11 SLG (.634) isn’t too far from his AA OPS in 101 G last yr (.756)
Reymond Fuentes SD 20 A+ 4 .294/.354/.351, 0 HR, 30 SB, 52 R in 265 AB Speed & defense CF who came over in Adrian Gonzalez deal
Gary Brown SF 22 A+ 3 .328/.398/.477, 6 HR, 47 RBI, 32 SB in 287 AB Needs to become a smarter base stealer (70% success rate in 46 attempts)
Carlos Martinez StL 19 A 3 11.8 K/9, 3.6 K/BB, 2.48 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 33 IP Making big waves in ’11; will skyrocket up lists for ’12
Shelby Miller StL 20 AA 1 12.1 K/9, 4.1 K/BB, 2.39 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in 79 IP Could be the #1 SP prospect in baseball for ’12
Alex Liddi SEA 22 AAA 13 .260/.326/.471, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 22 2B in 289 AB Has underwhelmed in upper levels since High-A MVP in 2009
James Paxton SEA 22 A UR 13.1 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 2.70 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in 50 IP Paxton has shown little rust after yr off due to being ineligible for Sr. season
Hak-Ju Lee TB 20 A+ 4 (for Cubs) .339/.412/.468, 2 HR, 20 SB, 51 R in 233 AB I have seen nothing but rave reviews for Lee, can’t wait to see him play
Matt Moore TB 22 AA 2 11.9 K/9, 4.5 K/BB, 2.43 ERA, 0.97 WHIP in 78 IP His K rates in five years as a pro: 13-13-13-13-12; total of 12.7 K/9 in 420 IP
Martin Perez TEX 20 AA 1 8.5 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 3.28 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in 82 IP Example of numbers not telling everything in minors, still TEX #1 after 5.96 ERA
Jurickson Profar TEX 18 A 2 .268/.378/.490, 6 HR, 26 RBI, 38 R in 208 AB 32 BB/29 K in 248 PA, good for 13% BB rate; already a plus-plus defender at SS
Henderson Alvarez TOR 21 A+/AA 17 5.4 K/9, 3.1 K/BB, 2.98 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in 51 IP Seems to have K-worthy stuff, yet relies on heavy GB lean (59%) instead of Ks
Bryce Harper WAS 18 A+ 1 .330/.429/.586, 14 HR, 45 RBI, 13 SB in 227 AB Living up the immense hype in pro debut, what will he do next?
Brad Peacock WAS 23 AA 10 12.1 K/9, 6.4 K/BB, 2.46 ERA, 0.85 WHIP in 80 IP Has taken K & BB rates to new heights adding to burgeoning crop of WAS arms
Wednesday: 06.22.2011

The Next Wave: 11 AAA Pitching Prospects

Just over a week ago, I wrote up a bunch of AAA hitting prospects who we could see make an impact throughout the summer and now it is time to take a look at a group of pitchers who could do the same.  As with the hitters we have already seen a large group of pitchers come up such as Danny Duffy, Rubby de la Rosa, Juan Nicasio, Brad Hand, Andrew Oliver, Charlie Furbush, Alex Cobb and Alex White.

We have also seen Randall Delgado, Mike Minor & Julio Teheran from the Atlanta Braves, but they have bounced back and forth from minors to majors.  All three are currently down right now, but since they have already been up, you won’t see them on this list.

This list is thinner than the 21 hitters that were discussed, but that actually works out just fine given how plentiful pitching has been this year in the dramatic new pitcher’s era that has carried over (and accelerated) from 2010.

Todd Redmond (ATL) – It is just ridiculous how much major league-ready pitching this organization has right now.  How often does a 26 year old in AAA with a 2.52 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 6.9 K/9 and 3.1 K/BB have almost no chance at making it to the majors with his current team?  Not very often, but when your parent club runs five deep on their rotation followed by three blue-chip prospects ahead of you, it is tough sledding for big league playing time.  Perhaps they will consider moving Redmond in a trade and he will get a shot with a new team.

Felix Doubront (BOS) – The backend of the Red Sox rotation is very much unsettled and there is no certainty that recent call-up Andrew Miller will be the savior which could open a chance for Doubront and his strike-per-inning arm.  He has a sub-3.00 ERA over his last 117 minor league innings (2.89) combining this year and last with 112 strikeouts.  I hope he does get a chance to prove himself as a starter because he can miss bats and induce groundballs at a strong rate; keep the southpaw on your radar.

Kyle Weiland (BOS) – Another hard thrower, Weiland also has a strong sinker and has put together a strong debut in AAA striking out nearly 10 per game though control is a bit of an issue (4 BB/9).  He has induced a lot of groundballs at every stop including at a 48% clip this year.  He profiles a little more like a reliever than Doubront for me mainly because of the control, but there is no denying that Weiland has been one of Pawtucket’s best starters.

Duane Below (DET) – The Toledo Mud Hens has a strong rotation earlier this between Below, Furbush and Oliver.  Furbush has come up and stabilized the bullpen at the big league level and Oliver got a quick two-start look before returning meaning perhaps Below is next?  Phil Coke has hardly been special in his conversion from reliever to starter and while I much prefer Oliver long-term, Below could get a look and perhaps contribute for the rest of 2011 while Oliver continues to work at AAA.

Below (25) is two years older than Oliver, but it has been a deliberate ascension through the minors for the lefty.  Coming off of 2009 Tommy John Surgery, his strikeouts have tumbled from strikeout-per-inning stuff to a craftier 6.6 K/9 level, but he has improved his control significantly to compensate.  I don’t see star potential, but he could come up and be a deep mixed league or AL-Only league asset thanks to a solid, though unspectacular skill set.

Mike Montgomery (KC) – The 2011 season has delivered the first bit of real adversity in Montgomery’s career as a pro as he pummeled every level up until AAA with ERAs of 2.61 or better at every level save a 3.47 at AA.  He had shown impeccable control and command at every level up until AA, too, when his walk rate pushed 4.0 per game (3.9 in 60 IP) giving him his first sub-2.0 K/BB.  Those struggles have amplified and continued at AAA as he has a 5.3 BB/9 and 1.4 K/BB leading to a very ugly 5.83 ERA and 1.55 WHIP.  He could turn it around, go on a stretch and be in the majors in a flash which is why he is included on this list, but things haven’t gone exactly according to plan for Montgomery.

He looked pretty sharp when I saw him back in April, but that was also his best month by far (2.67 ERA) and yet he wasn’t as crisp as he looked in Arizona Fall League.  Pitcher growing pains are nothing new so just be patient if you own him in a league with minor league rosters and prepare for the very real possibility that he doesn’t hit the majors in 2011 or only gets a cup of coffee in September.

Kyle Gibson (MIN) – Hey, a groundball-heavy strikethrower, how original Minnesota.  Gibson pounds the zone as those in the Twins organization are wont to do and his slider and changeup not only induce plenty of weak on the ground contact (55% GB rate this year; 54%+ at all four stops as a pro), but also generate a lot of swings & misses allowing him to pile up enough strikeouts for a 9.4 K/9 in 76 innings at AAA.  He might be what I wish Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey were all these years which is a combination of the best parts of themselves (pinpoint control, above average strikeout rates) and Carl Pavano essentially trading their fatal flaw of a flyball lean (which leads to gopheritis) for Pavano’s primary asset: a near-50% groundball rate.

I couldn’t believe he didn’t get a call up when they were floundering, but now their resurgence has been starting pitcher driven which could keep him down until late July, if not later.  I continue to have zero confidence in Nick Blackburn though there isn’t a shortage of smoke or mirrors in the United States so he might be fine, but Brian Duensing is better as a reliever and Gibson really should already have his spot at this point.  I would keep a close eye on Gibson’s progress and Minnesota’s transaction log because I think he could make an instant impact.

David Phelps (NYY) – Phelps has 156 strong innings at AAA the last two years yielding a 3.7 K/BB so I’m not sure why they even wasted their time with Brian Gordon, who had the impressive debut, but got obliterated on Wednesday in Cincinnati.  He is a 32-year old journeyman reliever and they are in the midst of a pennant race so Phelps or the next guy on this list, both college arms, probably should have gotten the nod there.  But that has passed.

The fact is that the 60% of their rotation is a question mark and you could make a case for as much as 80% given how unreliable AJ Burnett is start to start.  How much can Bartolo Colon deliver when he gets back from injury?  They can’t patchwork the entire rotation with rookies and so they will probably make a trade or two, but Phelps should get a chance at some point this year, especially if Phil Hughes doesn’t show marked improvement when he returns after two more rehab starts.

Adam Warren (NYY) – You can essentially re-read the above and fill in Warren for Phelps while tamping down the expectations a few notches as Warren hasn’t quite been as impressive.  He has just a 5.7 K/9 and 1.6 K/BB so don’t let his better ERA (3.07 to 3.38) fool you.  Still, Warren is a higher rated prospect within the org and minor league numbers don’t always tell the whole story so you will need to keep a close eye on the situation to know who is leading if/when another chance for promotion comes up.

Neil Ramirez (TEX) – How unexpected is Ramirez’s season?  He came in as the 27th ranked prospect in the org according to Baseball America and he was slated to start the season at High-A.  He did and in his only start there he struck out nine in 4.7 innings allowing just a hit and zero runs.  The AAA club needed an arm five days later so he got what was supposed to be a spot start.  After throwing six shutout innings against the blue chip-laden Kansas City Royals AAA affiliate allowing just three hits with five strikeouts and zero walks, the decision was made to keep him at AAA.

He hasn’t disappointed at all striking out 10 batters per game in his 62 innings and maintaining a strong 2.4 K/BB (the walk rate is a little high at 4.1) en route to a 3.65 ERA and 1.33 WHIP.  He has unquestionably been the best starter for the AAA team, but whether that means he will get the call at some point this year remains to be seen.  He isn’t without flaws.

Though he can pile up the strikeouts, the walks are an issue as I mentioned and he has a heavy flyball lean (never more than 40% GB at any level including 38% this year) which could be problematic in Arlington during the middle of the summer.  The way he has responded to being thrust into AAA this year makes me like his long-term prospects, but in the short-term he could be Derek Holland-esque with some tantalizing starts as well as some flameouts.  He is far from the Rangers’ best pitching prospect, too, which tells you how well they are set up going forward.

Brad Mills (TOR) – He was in the midst of a great season showing that perhaps it wasn’t so hard to pitch in the PCL with a 2.86 ERA in 85 innings halfway through June.  He has hit one helluva rough patch the last two outings combining for just 11 innings allowing 13 runs (11 earned) thanks in large part to four home runs pushing his season ERA to 3.57 in an 11 day span.  His skills still remain quite strong though with an 8.1 strikeout rate, 2.3 walk rate and 3.6 K/BB rate in 96 innings of work.

Yet somehow Zach Stewart leapfrogged him from AA to replace Kyle Drabek in the rotation.  With only Ricky Romero pitching anywhere near expectations, Mills should get another shot (he has 30 MLB IP over the last two years) at some point this summer.  He picked a nice time to finally have a breakout season in the minors and tame AAA hitters after two unsuccessful tries in 2009 and 2010.

Tom Milone (WAS) – Speaking of breakout seasons, this mid-tier organizational prospect has exploded at the AAA level enhancing his already brilliant control while amping up his strikeouts a bit to post a Cliff Leeian 16.4 K/BB rate in 76 innings (Lee was at 16.3 after 139 innings last year, but a late summer swoon pushed him all the way down to 10.3, 2nd-best in MLB history).  Milone was quite impressive last year at AA, but he has taken it to another level this year allowing as many homeruns as he has walks (5 apiece).

He doesn’t have overpowering swing & miss stuff so it would be a minor miracle for him to post anything near a strikeout per inning at the big league level, but he can no doubt be a backend of the rotation asset as a control artist who spins a gem every once in a while.  We have seen several guys with this kind of profile do some good things in the majors, especially this year with offense down so much.  I think he can be a John Lannan-plus trading some of Lannan’s big groundball rate for a strikeout rate better than Lannan’s nearly unusable sub-5.0 marks of the last three years.  I hope Milone gets a call soon as I am eager to see what he can do in the majors and how much of his gaudy statistical profile will come with him.  They are really putting something together in Washington.  It’s not always *only* about the blue-chippers as you need glue guys like Milone.

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