Though we are in the midst of our third straight “year of the pitcher” (maybe it should be an “era of the pitcher”?), two hitters are capturing the attention of the baseball world. Rookie hitters at that. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the consensus top prospects in baseball this preseason, have lived up to their hype thus far leaving the baseball community drooling in anticipation of what will come next. The fantasy baseball community might be drooling most of all, especially those with the wunderkinds on their teams. Those playing in keeper leaguers are giddiest of the bunch.
Trout is on pace to produce one of the five best age 20 seasons since the expansion era (1961), in fact the 2nd-best if he maintains his current pace of production. Only A-Rod’s insane age 20 season tops Trout’s current pace from an OPS and OPS+ standpoint. Harper is on pace to be just the 2nd 19-year old to qualify for the batting title and post an OPS+ over 100. Not 2nd-best, 2nd at all in the expansion era (and subsequently the best at his current pace).
(data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com)
We got a 40-game taste of Trout at age 19 a season and it was less than impressive. He hit .220 with a .672 OPS including five home runs and four stolen bases. In exactly 60 more at-bats than he had last year, he has a .328 average, .907 OPS, six home runs and 19 (!) stolen bases.
Harper, meanwhile, spent his first pro season between A and AA last year. He crushed the former, posting a .977 OPS with 14 home runs and 19 stolen bases in 258 at-bats before getting a promotion. He faltered upon arrival posting a .628 OPS in his first 80 at-bats, but closed the year with an .878 OPS in his final 49.
It looked like he was going to need a similar adjustment to AAA as he had a .708 OPS in 72 at-bats before getting the call to the majors as the decimated Nationals needed his potentially impactful bat. Using arbitrary endpoints again, he seemed to need an adjustment period again posting a meager .650 OPS in his first 13 games. However, since May 13th he has hit .325 with 15 extra-base hits include seven home runs leading to a .988 OPS in 123 at-bats.
The two are on pace for some pretty impressive seasons even if you don’t factor in their ages:
Harper’s RBI total is pacing a bit low, but it won’t take much to boost that up. In fact, if you just added five to his current mark, he would move from 59 to 75 in a snap. By the way, a quick note about the pacing. I built in five off days for both of them just to be a bit conservative. I also included an 85% pace which builds in some regression should they fall off their current production pace yet maintain the same amount of at-bats. It’s kind of a wet blanket/reality check as they are likely at or very near the peak production of their seasons right now.
With the hysteria surrounding the two, I wondered about the future. Specifically next spring. I have my own ideas about their 2013 value, but I wanted to know where some of the top fantasy minds in the industry saw them going so I reached out to them with that very question. Here are the results:
Derek Carty (Twitter) – I imagine both Harper and Trout will be drafted higher than they should — fantasy players love drafting on hype, so much so that they’ll draft a guy who has to make good on his ceiling just in order to break even on the pick (see: Brett Lawrie, 2012) — although both should be quite good. Harper will offer more in terms of power while Trout will offer more in terms of speed.
A true 80 runner, Trout could swipe 40 bags next year (although some scouts feel he’ll slow quickly as he ages, given his body type). Harper could challenge 30 HR. and both could provide solid averages, although Trout’s power/speed combo will likely be superior to Harper’s, giving him the edge (especially leading off for the Angels). I’ll take Trout in the seventh and Harper in the 10th (subject to change, of course, based upon rest-of-2012 performance).
Eno Sarris (Twitter) – We asked this of analysts in the online scouting community going into the year for FanGraphs+ ($) and they were all split. Like right down the middle split. Dave Cameron writes a piece about how impressive Bryce Harper has been in the early going, and then Wendy Thurm writes that we shouldn’t forget about how good Mike Trout has been.
It seems clear that both will be great, and quickly, and so we’re left with the quintessential question: do you prefer to have power first, or speed? I’ll take the speedy guy, even if it’s a year older, and here’s why: 1) This speedy guy with power is more likely to add value in all five offensive roto categories. 2) This speedy guy comes with a great contact rate.
There’s nothing worse than a contact problem, and though Harper has a nice strikeout rate, his swinging strike rate (12.5%) is way above average and the sample is almost robust enough to worry about it (Ed. note: this was turned in before Harper’s 5 K performance, which Sarris subsequently wrote about).
Along with Trout’s speed, his better contact rate (9.6% better) should mean that his batting average will be better than Harper’s most years. It’s as simple as that, but there’s a little more. If stolen bases by themselves are rare, the true five-cat performer is even rarer, and if you can get your speed from guys with power, you avoid ever having to Juan Pierre it up. I know Harper has the ability to steal some bags now, but I see it more like athleticism and taking advantage of situations — a la Brandon Belt — than Trout-like wheels.
Both of these guys have upside — in one corner, you have a guy who could hit .280 with 25+ homers and 10+ steals as soon as next year, and in the other you have a guy that could hit .300 with 15+ homers and 40+ steals next year. The thing is, there’s an outside shot that Trout’s current batted ball mix (1.22 gb/fb, 12.2% HR/FB) and ISO (.192) are sustainable, in which case he might hit closer to 20 home runs and push the needle further in his favor.
I chose Trout over Harper when they came up and I’ll do it again. Oh, and round? I’ll take him as early as the third or fourth, depending on how the hype works out going into the season next year. If Harper gets more of the attention, I might gamble on taking Trout in the fifth or sixth in order to really pump him for value.
Joel Henard (Twitter) – Looking at Trout and Harper next season, it’s going to be a tough call. I definitely see them going way too early in drafts with owners drafting them in the 2nd round. I see both guys as later 3rd and early 4th round guys. I am a Harper fanatic and will probably draft him way too early, with that being said I would rank them in 3rd and 4th round.
Riley Breckenridge (Personal Twitter; PO Twitter) – Mike Trout: late 2nd round, early 3rd – Updated ZiPS projections have Trout pegged for a 90/15/60/33/.290 output in 2012. I think we’ll see an uptick in all five categories in 2013, (~95/18/70/38/.295), which brought to mind the 2011 model of Andrew McCutchen with more speed, a better batting average, and slightly fewer home runs. McCutchen’s ADP this year sat in the mid-20s, so I’d project Trout as a late 2nd rounder in most leagues.
Bryce Harper: late 3rd round, early 4th – Harper is a tougher call than Trout. His real value will come when he can give a fantasy owner 30+ bombs and ~20 steals. While I’m fairly certain that day will come, I’m not sure it’ll be in 2013.
Nando Di Fino (Twitter) – I actually ran numbers with Harper, Griffey, Yount, Mantle, and A-Rod — their 19-year old season vs. their 20-year old seasons. All but Yount put up insane numbers. Trout is essentially a year ahead of them right now, so it’s a sneak preview, to a degree. I look at them like this:
Harper: $32 roto player, with lots of power, great average, and some speed.
Trout: $34 roto player, with some power, great average, and a little more speed, which will get his value a tick above Harper’s.
In points leagues, I bet Harper is a little more valuable in 2013 when it’s all said and done, and I would wager that Harper would go in the first round in most drafts, while Trout falls to 2/3. In reality, they should probably both be late first-rounders in both formats next season, and will likely finish with late first-round value.
Al Melchior (Twitter) – Trout probably won’t maintain a .300-plus batting average going into next season, but he should have some Shane Victorino-type value with his speed/power combo. With the added hype of having been a top prospect boosting his value, I see him going as a 4th or 5th rounder.
Harper will hit for more power than Trout, and that will offset his relative shortcomings in batting average and steals. Think of him as Hunter Pence, but with more stolen bases and walks. Also likely to be drafted in the 4th or 5th rounds on average.
Cory Schwartz (Twitter) – Assuming both of these phenoms continue to produce at their current pace and rates, they’ll both be highly coveted in re-draft leagues next year. Personally I’d go after Trout first, because his edge in the stolen base category will likely outweigh the value of Harper’s superior power. He’s not likely to hit in the .320’s next year as he is right now, but I think his other production is realistic and projects to high teens in homers and 35-40 steals with an average in the .280’s and nearly 100 runs.
In a 12-team re-draft league, that type of player would probably go in the third round and possibly even sooner… think about Andrew McCutchen this year in terms of value; he’ll certainly go ahead of where Desmond Jennings did this year. Harper projects for a slightly higher average and could challenge 30 homers next year, while stealing 12-15 bases.
He’ll probably go a half-dozen or so picks after Trout, comparable to or before someone like Hunter Pence. Either way, both have clearly established themselves as potential impact players next year and, based on their production so far this year and expected growth going forward, neither will last very long on draft day.
Derek VanRiper (Twitter) – Valuing Trout and Harper for 2013 requires an unscientific calculation of their expected adjustment period as big league pitchers find ways to get them out. As we’ve learned through the first two-plus months of Brett Lawrie‘s 2012 season, elite tools don’t immediately lead to elite results over the first 500-600 plate appearances.
Trout should run enough to steal at least 25 bases while providing double-digit power, while Harper seems to be a better bet for 15-20 homers and double-digit steals, albeit with a lower batting average because of his ongoing development against left-handed pitching. In Trout, I think we’re looking at a player who will be valued as a third or fourth-round pick in many drafts next season (similar to Desmond Jennings in 2012), while with Harper it seems as though a Round 4-5 ADP seems more likely.
Scott Pianowski (Twitter) – I can’t see Trout lasting longer than two rounds, perhaps getting into the Top 12 or 15. He’s capable of being a dominant speed player right away and he has good (not elite) power, so we might have a five-category player here. It will be interesting to see how the league changes its pitching approach to him, and how the kid reacts.
Harper I don’t like as much as everyone else seems to for the immediate future. Down the road, of course, we can all see the superstar potential. I doubt I’d get him where I’m likely to slot him, maybe fourth or fifth-round value. And before anyone drafts either of these guys in 2013, remember all the sophomores that have broken our hearts.
Ray Flowers (Twitter) – If I was drafting today for the 2013 season I’d roster Trout for the reason many others are saying Trout would be their choice – it’s the speed component. I don’t doubt that Harper could make a run at 20 steals, but if Trout is swiping 40 bags as is obviously possible, Harper is going to have to hit a who lot more dingers to make up that difference in the fantasy game. Plus, I’m not sure that Harper is going to be a .300 hitter right off the hop, which will make his need for a major home run driven effort exceedingly important if he is going to outpace Trout next season.
Speaking of sophomore slumps, notice the 4th-place hitter on that age 20 list from above. Jason Heyward. Just two years ago he took the league by storm with a five-tool game worthy of the #1 prospect ranking he earned that preseason. Since then things haven’t necessarily gone as planned. He labored through injuries dropping 50 points on his batting average and 141 points on his OPS a season ago. He has been better on the whole so far this year, but his walk rate has dipped again while his strikeout rate is at a career-high 23%.
He serves as the most ready-made example of what Pianowski is talking about as does Brett Lawrie, a name elicited often by our panelists. I know what you’re thinking, “Harper and Trout aren’t Heyward and Lawrie!” And that may be true, but they were both elite, blue-chip prospects who took the league by storm in their debuts and have since struggled by comparison.
Trout didn’t take the league by storm initially (87 OPS+ in that 40-game sample last year) which is maybe why he feels different meanwhile Harper seems to be a generational, once-in-a-lifetime-type talent to whom rules of history don’t apply, unless we’re talking about the rules of Ken Griffey Jr.’s early career. While Trout matches up somewhat with A-Rod (who struggled in 17 and 48-game samples as an 18 and 19-year old before storming the league at 20).
Nevertheless, if they maintain these incredible paces, no one is going to care about cautionary tales from history and the pair will be very highly drafted in 2013 (like top 10 if they keep their current paces up). For me, I have Trout higher than Harper. His speed changes the fantasy game and when paired with his run production ability and batting average potential makes him my favorite type of player. I would value him as a 2nd rounder in 12-team mixed leagues and I can legitimately see him creeping into the 1st round.
Harper, meanwhile, is of course no slouch. He oozes with ability and his power could be transcendent in a hurry. In the lowered offensive era, that is huge. The Hunter Pence comparison given by a few of the analysts makes sense, but I would give him more pop (30+ HRs) while taking away some of the batting average (closer to .265-.270, compared Pence’s .280-.290 range with a couple of .300s mixed in), at least initially. Harper has .300/35 capability, I’m just not sure it shows up in year two. I would value him as a 3rd rounder.
Loosely averaging everyone’s thoughts and opinions yields Trout as a late second/early third round pick and Harper as a mid-to-late third round pick. They will continue to garner a ton of attention the rest of this season and their draft position will be written about a ton during the upcoming winter and early next spring at the various internet outlets and in every magazine that hits newsstands.