Picking up where we last left off, part 3 of the series looks at the rest of the top 20 from 2006 to see how successful that class ended up being from a fantasy perspective. Remember, they are being graded on their fantasy impact with a heavy lean toward their first three years (when most fantasy owners who own them as minor leaguers can keep them for an initial low price, usually $5).
11. Prince Fielder (MIL) – Hands down the best of the bunch thus far. He has five straight seasons with 157+ games played with tremendous results (110 OPS+ in ’06, never lower than 130 since). For a rebuilding team back in 2005-2006, they are thrilled with the returns of Fielder whether they had him as a minor league pick or traded a bundle for him to a contending team. This is what people are hoping to get with someone like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout (not necessarily the same package of results, but the superstar performance). Rating: 6 – Yes, he exceeds the scale. You just can’t get better results out of a prospect whether in fantasy baseball or in the real world game.
12. Howie Kendrick (LAA) – Conversely, this isn’t exactly what you want out a prospect. He is just now entering his prime (and off to a fantastic start), but the lead up has been disappointing as last year was his first season topping 105 games when he played 158 but only put up the same stat line as that 105 game season (and not even as good in some areas). He has been a ho-hum fantasy asset. Though he could still be a success at 27 years old, he has definitely been a bust for fantasy leaguers as a once blue-chip prospect. Rating: 1.5 – Simply hasn’t played enough and the results, outside of some decent batting averages early on, have been unimpressive.
13. Alex Gordon (KC) – He actually peaked at #2 on the BA list (2007), but he’s been an unmitigated disaster since then. He checked in at #13 on the 2006 list before ever seeing a pitch as a professional and proceeded to have an excellent season at AA-Wichita with 29 home runs, 101 RBIs and 22 stolen bases all while hitting .325 in 130 games. Considering that he started his pro career in AA and tore it up, he was one of the most prized young commodities in the game and his fantasy owners no doubt mulled over some truly amazing offers before inevitably deciding to enjoy the next George Brett instead. Whoops. Rating: 0.5 – He is off to a nice start and has done a bit more in the majors than Wood or else he’d have earned a 0, too.
14. Andy Marte (CLE) – Biggest bust this side of Christina Hendricks. Rating: 0 – Yeah, that’s all I’m going to write about him. He has 20 home runs in 301 career games after three 20-home run seasons in the minors before 2006.
15. Ryan Zimmerman (WAS) – The 2005 #4 overall pick needed just 67 minor leagues games to reach the majors and that happened the year he was draft. That’s pretty impressive. He came up for great 20-game cup of coffee and he has been an excellent major leaguer since. Of course he is stuck on the disabled list this year and he will be out at least six weeks thanks to abdominal surgery. But judging him on the whole, the only logical conclusion is that he has been an overwhelming success as the star player of the Washington Nationals. Coming up the year he was drafted as a 20-year old and not only sticking ever since but performing at a well above average clip (career 121 OPS+) makes Zimm one of the best overall prospects of the last five years. Rating: 5 – I don’t instantly recall how much fanfare he received back in 2006 as a minor leaguer, but as a top five draft pick he was no doubt firmly entrenched on the radar. He has done quite well for his owners whether they drafted him or traded for his services.
16. Ian Stewart (COL) – The blurb on the Baseball America list says that Stewart drew comparisons to former Rockie Larry Walker. Wow, I see why the scout wanted to remain anonymous on that comment. A 38-year old decrepit Walker did more in 100 games than anything Stewart has done in his career. He showed elite power in the minor leagues (.234 ISO) and for second it appeared as though it was starting to show at the majors with a 25-home run season in 2009, but he regressed back in 2010 and then stumbled so badly out of the gate in 2011 that he was sent back to the minors (though he was recently recalled). He may be a late bloomer (26 this year), but he is very unlikely to ever meet the lofty expectations placed upon him in the minors. His #16 rank in 2006 was a drop from #4 the year before while his mediocre season in the minors led to a 30-spot drop for the 2007 list. He has definitely been a bust for his original fantasy owners and now he is polluting the rosters of a new set of owners. Rating: 2 – Slight credit for 25 and 18 home run seasons in 2009 and 2010.
17. Conor Jackson (ARI) – The various maladies that derailed what looked like a promising career aren’t necessarily Jackson’s fault, but they have limited him to just 90 games played across the last two seasons. However his initial owners, which is our focus in this piece, have to be pretty pleased with what he delivered in the three year stretch from 2006-2008. If they turned away offers to keep their prized prospect, they can’t be too angry with the .292/.371/.451 line with an average of 14 home runs, 71 runs driven in, 73 runs scored and four stolen bases (powered mostly by a season of 10 in 2008). Rating: 4 – Not quite star level, but when you consider the failure rate of prospects, his three year run was quite valuable.
18. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (ATL) – A slightly better version of Andy Marte considering his stats are a bit better in fewer games and he wasn’t a three time top 14 prospect like Marte. That said, he is still a huge bust. At 26, I guess it’s feasible for him to still be something of value, but he gave nothing to his original fantasy owners who had him as a prospect. Rating: 1 – Assuming they remember any of them, they have to be kicking themselves for passing on the sweetheart deals that game their way for this highly sought after backstop.
19. Andy LaRoche (LAD) – Often the younger brothers of professional athletes are expected to be better than the older sibling, but that is far from the case in the LaRoche household. Adam LaRoche has carved out a very solid career as mid-20s power first basemen while his brother is in his third organization in four years. He was never the super-hyped “must-have” prospect meaning there likely isn’t a lot of regret tied to offers passed up to keep LaRoche. Though given how poorly he has performed, I’m his original fantasy owners wish they’d have taken any deal that involved getting a productive major leaguer in exchange for LaRoche. Rating: 1 – It took until his third year just to register 225+ at-bats in a season.
20. Carlos Quentin (ARI) – He has had an up and down career tied mostly to a host of injuries both in the minors and in the majors. Those who had him in NL-Only leagues were really burnt as he flopped in his first two major league stints posting a combined .230/.316/.425 line in 57 and 81 game samples in 2006 and 2007. Then he was traded to the White Sox and exploded for an MVP-caliber season that was cut short by injury. He has remained a power threat, but hasn’t quite captured the magic from his 2008. Rating: 2.5 – It is hard to account for all the potential factors here. As I said, NL-Only owners were burnt to a crisp here though mixed leaguers did get an amazing season his third year in the big leagues . I settled at 2.5 giving credit for the awesome season, but not too much since he has been underwhelming otherwise.
Totaling up the ratings, we get an average of 2.4 across the 20 players (because I included halves and broke the scale on each end with a 6 and two 0s). That’s not very good. Breaking it down shows us just how sketchy even the best prospects can be:
There are 14 players with a 2.5 rating or worse, which is the threshold I would consider to be a failur. Now this is of course a subjective scale, but based on the criteria, I’m not sure you could find much disagreement regardless of who was doing the rating. The biggest consideration goes to initial performance because we are comparing it against the perceived value back when they were prospects prior to reaching the bigs.
APPLYING THE 2006 LESSON
How do we apply what we learned here to the current prospect landscape in 2011? There isn’t a surefire rule for prospects thus there isn’t one specific takeaway from this exercise. If I were to come away with one notion it would be not to put so much stock into minor leaguers and when faced with a favorable deal loaded with proven talent (and this isn’t a far-fetched scenario, prospect hounds often are willing to overpay) to trade a blue chip prospect, even if it is the one that EVERYONE thinks CAN’T MISS, pulling the trigger is the way to go.
Sure you might be trading away the next Prince Fielder or Zimmerman, but the odds are much higher that you’re trading away a Gordon or Marte or LaRoche or Salty or Stewart or you get the point. And even if you are trading away the former, it isn’t like you are getting ripped off for him (which is probably the main point here), you just won’t be able to tout having rostered the next big thing from day 1. As silly as it sounds, that very thing means a lot to people as they aim to prove how smart they are when it comes to projecting talent.
If it isn’t really your fault if your prospect fizzles out (and it really isn’t), then you aren’t a master scout ready to get your Stalker and stopwatch and post up behind home plate when one of your guys hits, either.
A major part of the must-have-youth epidemic in fantasy baseball is that everyone is trying to set themselves up for the future while still contending. They want to be the New England Patriots who continue to trade for more picks in the future instead of just picking some damn players for once.
Don’t be that guy. If you are lucky enough to nab a Mike Trout who skyrockets up prospect lists leaving with this massively sought after commodity, but you also have a core of legitimate talent on expiring contracts, don’t be afraid to deal Trout for the missing pieces to championship puzzle.
One thing we have learned in the early part of 2011 is that with these insane injuries, you’re never really “set”. If you are looking at your roster at any point in the season that isn’t the final day of a championship season and thinking you can’t use any help, then you are only fooling yourself.
That doesn’t mean you should turnover your roster everyday with trades and waiver pickups, but unless you can predict the future, you roster is always in need of care and if it means trading a top prospect and you’re getting a great offer, I don’t see any reason to pass it up.
I picked the 2006 list because it is five years old and thus can be reasonably judged as all of the players have had ample time to prove themselves one way or another. Of course it is just one data point in the grand scheme and only 20 prospects on that data point meaning the 70% failure rate I ended up with isn’t necessarily the norm.
Perhaps 2006 was an anomaly, however I am pretty certain that it isn’t too far off, especially when the measure for success in fantasy baseball is a much higher bar than in on the field baseball. If we were going solely on real life baseball success, about 65% of those players would be successes.
So getting back to the 70% failure rate, let’s bump it down a bit since the sample was limited and say that 12 of any given top 20 will be fantasy failures. That means that 12 of these guys, who currently hold significant value in their fantasy leagues, won’t pan out:
Though it is very early, Hellickson, Chapman and Pineda are all already enjoying some big league success and giving back to their owners in a positive way. Sale was great in his stint last year, but he’s been terrible so far this year. Freeman is impossible to judge after just 133 plate appearances, but it hasn’t been great so far.
So that leave 15 players, realistically the jury is still very much out on all five already in the majors so let’s just say they stay as is with the three pitchers continuing to succeed and Sale & Freeman never quite paying off. Of the remaining 15, 10 more are likely to massively underwhelm their fantasy owners in their first three years at the big league level. Do you have any of those 15 remaining players? How confident are you that yours are part of the five who will make it? Trust me, everyone is saying to themselves that their guy or guys are in the five, but the problem is that we all have different players on the list meaning we really have no idea.
While the trend toward collecting young, unproven talent is in vogue for major league teams, it should be the opposite for fantasy league teams. Any time you can turn over completely unproven talent for viable, bankable players, you should do it. It is a bit of a gray area if you are out of contention, but even then I think you should be going after young talent that is logging major league reps whenever you can (think Brian Matusz types from last year).
Please don’t read that to mean that you should never keep minor league players and trade them for 20 cents on the dollar, I’m certainly not saying that. To be clear what I am saying is that when you get great offers for the best prospects around, you are going to have more success taking the offer than you are by sitting on your minor leaguer and hoping he becomes a star, especially if you are in a position to win the title that season.