Archive for ‘Prospects’

Tuesday: 06.14.2011

The Next Wave: 21 (and a half) AAA Hitting Prospects

The turning of the calendar to June brings about the crossing of the nebulous Super 2 deadline that often keeps big time minor league prospects down a little longer than their talent necessitates.  As such we have seen an influx of prospects recently including names like Mike Moustakas, Anthony Rizzo, Dee Gordon and Jemile Weeks.  They join a host of blue chip youngsters already up including but not limited to Moustakas teammates Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy as well as Gordon teammate Rubby de la Rosa.

Though several highly anticipated players are up, “prospect season” is really just getting going and there are a lot of potentially high-impact players who could be called up in the coming weeks to help plug the holes of a fantasy team near you.  Depending on league format and roster size, you may want to roster some of these guys, trade for them or merely put them on a watch list and hope to anticipate their call-up just right to acquire them at the lowest price possible.  Some of them are further away, but you can never predict injuries so it is best to know these names for the summer.

First off, we will look at AAA hitters which offers 21 (and a half) names to keep an eye on.

Collin Cowgill (ARI, OF) – A mid-tier prospect within the D’Backs organization pegged as a 4th OF-type, Cowgill is embarrassing pitchers during his first tour of AAA.  He has been strong all year, but it is his white-hot start in June that is garnering attention: .524/.565/.857 w/8 XBH, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 3 SB and 13 R in 42 AB at AAA-Reno.  He may well be a product of the environment, but a .372 AVG and 1.053 OPS with 19 SB (in 21 tries) are impressive anywhere.

Honorable Mention goes to teammate in Reno, Wily Mo Pena.  He’s the “half” as he is no longer a prospect at 29, but he is a longtime favorite of mine and his .341 AVG, 1.106 OPS and 18 HR could earn a trip back to majors soon so I wanted to include him.  Gerardo Parra is playing some great D in left, but they might trade the D for a bat like that.

Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE, 3B) – Cord Phelps was called up to platoon with Orlando Cabrera, who can’t hit righties at this point and it is time to do the same with Chis and Jack Hannahan.  Unlike Phelps, Chisenhall has a sharp platoon that marries perfectly with Hannahan’s.  Chisenhall’s inability to hit southpaws shouldn’t keep him in the minors when a major league solution is so readily available, especially as Cleveland’s grasp on the division continues to rapidly slip away.

Jason Kipnis (CLE, 2B) – Another strong Indians prospects who continues to impress at every stop along the minor league trail.  His .830 OPS in 58 AAA games is his lowest mark at any level in three years a professional.  While it is great that the Indians are flush with major league ready prospects, it is unfortunate that none of them are on the pitching side which was always going to be the downfall of this hot start.

Yonder Alonso (CIN, LF) – I still think a trade is the best move for him as I don’t see how he deserves a shot in Cincinnati’s leftfield as an unproven prospect when Chris Heisey is already performing well above average and should be handed the job regularly.  All the talk of how mangled Cincy’s leftfield is boggles my mind as Heisey should play against righties and Jonny Gomes against lefties.  Problem solved.

Alonso, meanwhile, should be traded to shore up other areas on the team (pitching).  If he is dealt, there is little doubt that the trading team would bring him up immediately.  He has proven all he can in AAA with an .853 OPS in 159 games.

Zack Cozart (CIN, SS) – I’m not sure there is a level of excellence with the glove that Paul Janish could realistically reach, even at shortstop, to merit putting his bat in the lineup on most nights.  He has a 44 OPS+.  44!!!  Not only that, but Cozart has a strong glove so it’s not even a major hit.  He’s in the midst of his best season as a pro (.328 AVG, .870 OPS) and seemingly cannot be worse than Janish at this dish so a call has to be imminent, right?

Juan Francisco (CIN, 3B) – He’s not really a prospect at this point because he has been up each of the last three seasons including for nine games already this year, but all three samples are tiny (a high of 55 AB) so we haven’t really seen what he can do.  He has big time power potential, but he’s also very impatient and with Scott Rolen healthy, lacks a place to play.

Devin Mesoraco (CIN, C) – He’s also blocked at the big league level, but it’s by a 35 and 30 year old tandem so neither is the long-term solution and perhaps a trade of one could be imminent (to San Francisco perhaps?) opening the door to usher in the Mesoraco era slowly.  His prospect status was dimming before an explosive 2010 season that landed him 64th on Baseball America’s Top 100 list this preseason.  He has backed it up with a .330/.412/.569 line with 8 HR and 30 XBH (out of 65 total) in 197 at-bats.  Needs a trade (of one of the incumbents) or an injury, so he’s more of a wait-&-see unless you have a minor league roster in your league.

Clint Robinson (KC, DH) – The biggest problem with Robinson is right there next to this team in the those parentheses back there.  He’s already a DH.  That is a bit of a problem on just about any team, but apart from being locked behind David Ortiz on Boston or whichever of the two catchers in Detroit is DH’ing, he is on the worst possible team to be a DH-only player.  His former AAA teammate, Eric Hosmer, has gone up and grabbed the first base job in KC, but that squeezed incumbent Billy Butler to DH leaving nowhere for last year’s Texas League Triple Crown winner to go.

He isn’t quite winning the PCL Triple Crown, but his .349 batting average, 17 home runs and 50 RBIs are all near the top of all three categories.  He has maintained a steady 17-18% strikeout rate in his five years as a pro and he has improved BB/K each (save a dip to .44 in 2009) year from 0.45 in his first year to 0.79 this year.  Despite his giant season last year and a big start to this year, he is still seen as a middling prospect at best.

The best comp I can think of based on the reports I have read is a Jack Cust-type trading some of the power and walk rate of Cust for more batting average and fewer strikeouts all the while struggling to even get major league playing time.  I know full-well you can’t overrate minor league numbers, but damn his are good.  His best bet at this point is a trade out of organization, but somewhere in the American League so he doesn’t have to play the field.  (Pretty sure I just wrote the longest write up on the lowest ceiling of all the guys listed.)

Trayvon Robinson (LAD, OF) – Robinson is a perfect example of why you have to be careful with Pacific Coast League numbers.  He has already far exceeded his 2010 home run total of nine by clubbing 13 in the very hitter-friendly confines of Albuquerque.  He has a particularly odd split so far this year hitting to a 1.224 OPS in day games, but just .791 at night.  His speed is the more bankable asset in his arsenal as the power exists, but at a more modest level than his .538 SLG so far this year suggests.  His patience seems to have regressed significantly this year, too.  After a four year rise up to 0.58 BB/K last year (up from 0.27 in 2007), he’s back down to 0.26 this year.

Mat Gamel (MIL, OF) – The former 34th ranked prospect (2009) has become something of an afterthought having failed to top 96 games played in each of the past two years, but still just 25 he remains a huge power threat with an excellent hit tool (.303/.374/.522 w/11 HR in 228 AB this year).  The problem is that he might be a 25-year old DH.  Thought to be a Ryan Braun-lite based on his prodigious power and lack of defensive ability, the places where he could be hidden on the diamond are already taken, including one spot by Braun.  Thus his big league future with the Brewers remains cloudy.  Keep him on your radar.

Caleb Gindl (MIL, OF) – I liked what I saw out of him in the Arizona Fall League, although the three game sample was tiny, but the smallish (5’9”) Gindl packs a punch, especially against righties (.838 OPS; .917 v. RHP including all 6 of his HR).  He could feasibly play any of the three OF positions without embarrassing himself, but there isn’t a natural opening anywhere on the big league team with two big bats at the corners and Carlos Gomez’s exemplary glove essentially being his only value-add.  At 23, there is no rush so he might not get a shot until late this summer, if at all in ’11.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis (NYM, OF) – Probably more of a 4th OF long-term, Nieuwenhuis could get a shot sooner than later as he performs well at AAA (.298/.403/.505; best season as a pro so far) and Jason Bay struggles to hit his weight (.208 v. 210 lbs.).  Lucas Duda was first in line as he already has MLB experience and he’s up now, but if he doesn’t better his .611 OPS in 108 career AB, Nieuwenhuis should get a look.  He does a little of everything a la someone like Chris Denorfia.

Jesus Montero (NYY, C) – He’s gotten worse month-to-month in his second tour of AAA and some have suggested that perhaps he is bored a la Hanley Ramirez back in 2005 during his second go-round in AA in the Boston system.  Montero is hitting a decent .289, but there has been no patience and remarkably underwhelming power.  I would still keep a close eye on him because of the Hanley note.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he got the call to catch a bit and/or DH and then ended up catching fire right away.

Michael Taylor (OAK, OF) – Remember him?  The former top 30 prospect took himself off the radar with a rough 2010 season, his first full one in AAA.  Injuries exacerbated things, but he just couldn’t get right at the plate.  He missed April, but he’s back now and having a bit of a resurgence with a .297/.360/.440 line in 91 AB so far.  It wouldn’t take much for him to be an improvement over some of the outfield bats in Oakland so if he sustains himself, he could be up shortly after the All-Star break.

Adrian Cardenas (OAK, IF/OF) – The long-time infielder has become more an outfielder/DH-type in 2011 which definitely cuts into his value, but he is having his best season with the bat and that is all Oakland really needs to hear to be interested.  Plus with Jemile Weeks finally called up and Scott Sizemore traded over from Detroit, second and third base might finally have solutions that can push .700 OPS (which would be light years ahead of Mark Ellis’ .533 and Kevin Kouzmanoff .615 marks).  Cardenas has always been a .300ish hitter with a great batting eye and that has continued this year with a .329 average and 25 walks against just 20 strikeouts.  Hideki Matusi and David DeJesus are severely underperforming so Cardenas, still just 23 years old, could get a shot.

Dustin Ackley (SEA, 2B) – Ackley hates the month of April.  Not sure if there was some awful girl named April that wrong him or what, but he has hit .182 in 170 at-bats during April of his first two professional seasons.  In all other months, he is hitting a combined .305 in 594 at-bats.  I saw Ackley during Arizona Fall League in November and I was thoroughly impressed with his awesomeness, but a lot of outlets don’t see him as a high-impact hitter.

I’m not a professional scout and it was a small sample, but he looked great.  He could hit to all fields, had enough pop (mid-teens home run power, but a crapton of doubles) and of course absurd on-base percentage thanks to a tremendous eye.  I don’t care how good Jack Wilson’s defense is, he has a .528 OPS and Ackley should be playing second base for the Mariners, especially since they are in sorta-contention with their pitching staff.

Alex Liddi (SEA, 3B) – Liddi is a good example of why you can’t also focus solely on the numbers of a minor leaguer.  Context is so important.  He’s a 22-year old at AAA, which isn’t Jesus Montero-young, but still pretty young and he is holding his own.  He is having his best power season since his 2009 Cal League MVP, but his 34% strikeout rate is a career-high and would be problematic at the big league level.  He is an AL-Only pickup initially if he gets the call, but he has significant potential.  They did make a significant investment in Chone Figgins and it is hard to replace him because of the contract, but at some point a team cannot eat a .190 average and .494 OPS especially if you want to be a contender.

Thomas Neal (SF, OF) – It is merely an alphabetical coincidence that these last five players are all in offensively-starved organizations and Neal could benefit from the Brandon Belt injury.  Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand aren’t impressing at all with the bat in left and the former is terrible with the glove.  Neal has shown power before, but it went from home run to doubles power last year and has been the same this year.  He isn’t a *special* prospect, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have plenty of value as an everyday player who can give something across the board.  Think Martin Prado from last year (.307, 15 HR, 5 SB, R & RBI depending on lineup spot) with a lower batting average until he establishes himself at the bigs.

Desmond Jennings (TB, OF) – OK, Tampa Bay, enough with Sam Fuld.  It was a fun 15 minutes, but now it is time to get your best hitting prospect on the field and contributing to your lineup.  Jennings languished a bit last year in his first AAA stint dealing with nagging injuries for most of the year, but this is another example of not basing everything purely on the numbers because despite a .756 OPS Jennings was still doing a lot of stuff well last year.

He looks great so far in 2011 already popping three times as many home runs (9) as all of last year with a healthy wrist, getting on base a ton and displaying his absurd elite-level speed.  His strikeouts have ticked up to a career high 18%, but his walk rate has matched his career mark of 11%.  He is likely owned in most leagues with a  bench, but on the off-chance that he isn’t go get him now.

Brett Lawrie (TOR, 2B/3B) – Similar to Belt in San Francisco, Lawrie had fantasy owners salivating at the possibilities of what he could do at the major league level and then he got hit in the hand with a pitch.  Now Belt was already in the majors, but Lawrie was set to come up within the next day or two when it happened.  Originally they thought he would avoid the disabled list, but he hit the minor league DL just over a week ago.  He should come to the majors almost immediately after his activation and then everyone can resume drooling.

I am cautiously optimistic about his potential, as he delivers across the board talent with a .354 batting average, 15 home runs and 11 stolen bases.  But it was in the remarkably hitter-friendly environment of Las Vegas and the PCL and then of course he is still just 21 years old.  He isn’t a guarantee to come up and Ryan Braun the big leagues.  So temper your expectations and the price you are willing to pay to roster him.  Remember, everyone went nuts over Jason Heyward (with good reason as he appears to be a star in the making), but he needed 142 games to hit 18 home runs and steal 11 bases and no one had Lawrie as a better prospect.

Want a better example?  Try Lawrie’s current teammate in Vegas Travis Snider.  In 2009, he hit .337 with 14 home runs in 48 games (Lawrie’s numbers have come in 52 games) before coming up to the majors to hit .241 with nine home runs in 77 games.  That is why I cannot stress enough that you need to temper expectations with the shiny new toy and also not do something stupid like cut a perfectly productive player to roster Lawrie or any of these other prospects.  If you have a bad player or an open spot, then by all means, but don’t hurt your team by getting rid of a sure (or at least more sure) thing just for the small chance at something greater.  (OK, this was longer than the Clint Robinson capsule.)

Matt Antonelli (WAS, IF) – Remember him?  This one-time top 50 prospect started with San Diego making his major league debut at 23 years old back in 2008.  Coming into 2008 he was seen as a 5-star prospect by Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein thanks to a great 2007 (.307/.404/.491), but that year the wheels came off as he posted a .657 OPS at AAA before playing just 60 games over the next two years missing all but one last year thanks in large part to a hand injury.

Now 26, he has battled back and he has been raking in his first 22 games at AAA in the Washington organization.  He has a .358/.422/.531 line with two home runs (eight extra base hits in all), two stolen bases, six runs scored and seven driven in.  His strong batting eye appears to be intact as he has drawn nine walks against 12 strikeouts.  The only downside in this comeback story is that the three infield positions he plays are all blocked by cornerstone pieces of the future in Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.  The latter two are struggling a bit in various areas of their game, but at 25 and 24 years old, respectively, they are going to be given a chance as the Nats aren’t going anywhere.

In that 2008 write-up of Antonelli, Goldstein mentioned he was going to get reps in the outfield that Spring Training mostly to see if that would be a fit for the future.  Well it’s the future and that could be avenue to explore to get his bat in the lineup if he reaches the big leagues in the near future.  Of course Laynce Nix is raking (against righties) and Jayson Werth isn’t going anywhere so maybe a trade is truly the best chance.

Thursday: 05.26.2011

Fixing the Contenders – National League

Continuing onto the National League, let’s take a look at some moves the contenders could reasonably entertain in the coming months to patch holes and solidify their team to assert themselves for the entire year.

Fixing the Contenders – AL

A note from the AL piece: I forgot to point out that Hiroki Kuroda has a full no trade clause that could muddy things up if the Dodgers were looking to trade him this summer.  Thanks to Ray Guilfoyle from FakeTeams.com for letting me know that and also suggesting that Ryan Dempster could be an option for the Yankees.  I agree with Ray that he would be a nice fit as well.  Hell, maybe they will go for both.  They have enough minor league pieces to acquire both without decimating their system.

San Francisco Giants (27-22)

Team Needs: C, SS, bats in general

Had I not had plans last night to see The Hangover 2 (which was very funny, not as good as 1, but no one should expect it to be), this section would have looked a whole lot different because star catcher Buster Posey was lost for the season during a 12-inning battle against the Florida Marlins.  His leg was destroyed while blocking the plate against Scott Cousins and their anemic offense has now lost its best player.  Posey wasn’t hitting like he did last year, but the bar to be the best Giants hitter hasn’t been terribly high in 2011.  Posey had a .284/.368/.389(!) line with four home runs and 21 RBIs, not bad, but not quite the .305/.357/.505 with 18 home runs stud we saw a year ago, either.

This is a devastating blow to a team that desperately needed hitting before the injury.  The Giants could dial up the Cincinnati Reds and inquire about some of the amazing depth at catcher that the NL Central reigning champs have both on their team and in their system.  Or is that a fit?  Because Posey is a franchise player who will be back next year, the Giants don’t need to go big and trade for Devin Mesoraco, the 23-year old prospect who is following up a breakout 2010 with a big 2011 at AAA.

The Reds are currently top five in the majors in catcher production between Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan.  With Mesoraco waiting in the wings, they could afford to move one of them to address one of their needs at the same time.  Hernandez (.327/.375/.558)  is a 35-year old backstop in the last year of his contract while Hanigan (.253/.349/.347) is 30 and just starting a very team-friendly 3 year/$4-million dollar deal so I think the Reds would be more likely to deal Hernandez even though he is hitting better right now.

The Reds have the 2nd-worst team ERA from their starters (4.95) despite coming into the season with what seemed like a surplus of starters.  For either catcher, the Reds aren’t going to draw one of San Francisco’s top four arms (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner).  Ryan Vogelsong has been such a revelation and the 33-year old journeyman is pitching out of his mind with some pretty strong skills to back up his pint-sized ERA and WHIP (1.77/1.06).  Given that Barry Zito would be too expensive to trade, whether for the Giants (who might be forced to pay a bulk of the cash) or the receiving team (who would have that albatross contract on their books), Vogelsong might be the one to move.

Of course they can’t give up two of their top five arms and there is another move that is being rumored that would fit much better in the short and long term meaning they need to either to go with Eli Whiteside (the current backup), search within their system, hit the scrap heap of the free agent pool (Bengie Molina anyone?) or make a smaller trade with someone.

TRADE: Prospect Ryan Verdugo to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Ryan Doumit – The Pirates farm system is getting better, but they need to keep stockpiling arms as their lineup is starting to come together and a lot of their pitching prospects are years away.  Verdugo is a solid lefty who shifted back to the rotation after three years of relieving as a pro and he is having a strong season with 44 strikeouts in his 41 innings of work.

Doumit, meanwhile, has seemingly been on the block for several years now as his star has dimmed since a breakout 2008 season that portended big things on the way that never ended up coming to fruition.  He’s an adequate bat that would be a significant upgrade over staying in house with Whiteside.

So this overwhelming devastation may heighten San Francisco’s focus on filling their shortstop void that they inexplicably thought was filled with the Miguel Tejada acquisition this offseason.  Pablo Sandoval’s injury mercifully pulled Tejada from the most important defensive spot on the field, but it left Mike Fontenot there.

Overshadowed in today’s Posey news is that Fontenot is now on the disabled list, too, leaving them with Emmanuel Burris and rookie Brandon Crawford at the position.  From awful to equally awful to the most awfulest everz at a very important position.  Two key positions obliterated in one fateful night.

Focusing efforts on a certain star shortstop who is available, the Giants should make a blockbuster deal to fill this massive void now and in the future.

TRADE: Bumgarner, Crawford, Clayton Tanner and Darren Ford to the New York Mets for Jose Reyes – That feels like it should be enough, but it also feels like it could be too much.  I’m just not 100% sure where Reyes’ value is at this point.  The Mets’ farm is garbage right now so a big time major league arm and some solid pieces to stock the high minors for a piece like Reyes seems viable on their end, too.

Obviously to give up a huge arm like Bumgarner, a top 10 prospect from their org. and two other pieces, the Giants would have to gain some sort of assurance for themselves that Reyes isn’t just a rental.  You don’t take that kind of hit to your rotation for a few months of an electric table-setter.  It’s not like he can go on a Manny Ramirez run circa 2008.

If Reyes were just a rental then I think you lop off Bumgarner immediately and then perhaps that trio is enough.  Or maybe they replace Crawford with Ehire Adrianza, who is also a shortstop prospect that checks out a bit higher and is just 22 years old.

If a move for Reyes can realistically be done without devastating their current 25 to the point where there is no net gain, then they really should entertain it.  Crawford being instantly successful would be a huge upset considering he was a 24-year old in High-A who had reached AA in 2009 and 2010 yet performed terribly both times and has yet to hit AAA.

He was definitely raking (.322/.412/.593), but he was a 24-year old in the Cal League, so he should have been hitting well.  The Giants are rolling the dice with him because they have limited options at this point.

Moves:

  1. C – Trade Verdugo for Doumit
  2. SS – Trade Bumgarner, Crawford, Tanner & Ford for Reyes

Atlanta Braves (28-23)

Team Need: OF

When was the last time the Braves had three viable outfielders play a majority of their games in left, center and right?  It has been quite some time, but it looks like 2003 when they had Chipper Jones in left, Andruw Jones in center and Gary Sheffield in right.  All three posted .851 or better OPS marks while Chipper and Sheff were at .920 and 1.023, respectively.  Since then, they have pieced things together at one and sometimes two of the spots and injuries have put them right back there again in 2011.

They needed outfield help before Jason Heyward went out, but then he and Nate McLouth hit the disabled list together leaving Martin Prado as the last man standing out there.  Lucky for them they have a stupid amount of pitching both at the major league level and throughout their minor leagues which should allow them make a move with ease.

The problem is there is one major and a couple strong bats out there, but they are all corner outfielders.  With Prado in left and Heyward out, but expected back and in right, centerfield is their biggest need and there just aren’t a ton of options out there.  And I can’t see them trading with their hated rivals, the New York Mets, to get Carlos Beltran.  Plus Beltran probably works best in a corner to conserve his health.

That really limits their options unless something opens up from now until July.  As such, I could see them biding their time with fill-ins and then making a move for a guy who is also currently injured and scheduled to return in about a month, at the earliest.

TRADE: Prospect Erik Cordier to the Chicago Cubs for Marlon Byrd – Look, McLouth is terrible.  His return doesn’t help the Braves at all.  And there aren’t any significant outfield prospects on the way up for the Braves so getting Byrd not only helps this year but also in ’12 when he costs just $6.5 mil.  He isn’t a middle of the lineup impact bat, but he can definitely help the top of their lineup by getting on base early 35% of the time.

Cordier barely registers for the Braves, not because he’s a poor prospect, but because they have such a disgusting depth of arms.  Seven of their top 10 prospects this year are starting pitchers and a handful more within their top 25.  Not to mention the fact that they have a deep rotation at the major league level, too.

If he could realistically play CF, the Braves could inquire about and possibly acquire Andre Ethier from the Dodgers, but I just don’t see that.

Moves:

  1. OF – Trade Cordier for Byrd

Cincinnati Reds (26-25)

Team Needs: RP, SP

I discussed separately and in the AL portion of a move the Reds could do with the A’s to improve their bullpen while merely scratching the surface of their insanely deep stock of hitters in the minor leagues.

Their first two months of their 2011 season are a shining example of the adage: “you can never have too much starting pitching.”  It’s impossible.  It such a volatile position and so prone to injury that there really is no such thing as “too much”.  They came into the season with Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Edinson Volquez and Travis Wood ready to go as well as Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney for depth.

Arroyo has flailed (5.28 ERA, 1.44 WHIP), Bailey started the season hurt and looked great in his first five starts before getting hurt again; his status is up in the air, Cueto also got a late start to the season, but has been great in his four starts (2.19 ERA, 1.14 WHIP), Leake has been terrible and likes to steal cheap shirts, Volquez has imploded to the point where he has been sent back to the minors and Wood’s ERA (5.11) looks a lot worse than his skills would normally suggest (3.63 FIP).

That leaves them with a reliable arm in Cueto, a second who should improve with Wood and four question marks.  LeCure has been great as a swingman with four starts in his 12 appearances with great skills in both roles, but a significantly better ERA in the bullpen (0.68 vs. 4.79).  Maloney has been nothing special in AAA.

As I mentioned, they have remarkable hitting depth and that would allow them to make a move for a legitimate starter.  Of course, there aren’t a ton of legitimate starters set to be available, but I think the Dodgers would be a good trade partner with a putrid offense that needs help now and going forward.

TRADE: Prospects Chris Valaika and Neftali Soto to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Ted Lilly – Lilly also has a full no trade clause (why the hell do the Dodgers keep giving out full NTCs????) so a move would again be contingent upon the player, but I’m not sure why he wouldn’t want to go to a surefire contender like the Reds.  The Dodgers need a lot on the diamond, but infield is the real issue.

James Loney isn’t a good first baseman.  He simply doesn’t hit enough.  A lot of people believe he will at some point because of what he showed as a 23-year old (.919 OPS, 15 HR in 96 games), but at 27 after three straight years of sub-.800 OPS (and a .573 so far this year), I think it’s time to stop thinking something great is on the way.  Soto has some nice power potential that would fit really nicely at first base for the Dodgers with the added bonus that the Reds tried him out at catcher last year and it wasn’t a complete failure.

He would be an asset to the Dodgers at either position as both are barren for them (assuming they leave Jerry Sands in left).  His plate patience could use some work and he needs to shorten his swing or he could get eaten up in the high minors and then the majors, but his power has been on full display early on in his first stint at AA (.680 SLG).

Meanwhile Valaika probably works best at second base, but could maybe stick at short or third base depending on need.  Lucky for him, the Dodgers need all three positions.  With 237 games at AAA where he has had mixed success (struggled initially, but solid this year and last), it is time to give him a real shot at the big leagues and see what the 25-year old is made of and whether or not he can stick at the majors as an everyday player.

The Reds could reasonably do this move and the one I’ve proposed with the A’s to get Andrew Bailey for Yonder Alonso without seriously damaging their minor league system.  It would be a dent that’s for sure, but Alonso and Soto are blocked by Joey Votto and Valaika is blocked by Brandon Phillips at second and Scott Rolen now and likely Juan Francisco in the future at third so they are trading from surplus to improve their team and give them the best shot to win in 2011.

Moves:

  1. RP – Trade Alonso for Bailey
  2. SP – Trade Soto, Valaika for Lilly

These are obviously just some ideas for the seven teams across both leagues who I see as contenders.  Perhaps none of them come close to happening, but I think they are reasonable possibilities for how these teams could improve their team for 2011.

Among the NL contenders not listed, I didn’t see natural fits for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers.  Whether it’s a thin minor league system or not enough major league depth to trade from or the lack of legitimate opening to trade for, these four teams are contenders in my eyes, but as it stands in late May, I don’t see a major move for them right now.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these two pieces.  When it comes to trades with prospects included, I am making my best educated guesses, so we could see a team trade for a major leaguer I predicted, but give something totally different in return.  I look forward to seeing how things play out in June and July leading up to the trade deadline.

Tuesday: 05.24.2011

Fixing the Contenders – American League

As we near Memorial Day (less than a week away) and turn the calendar to June, we usually see the MLB standings start to stratify a bit with the contenders separating themselves from the rest of the pack.  That may not happen in the 2011 season, at least not for a while.  Right now there are just three teams who are 10+ games out two of which are the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, a pair of teams many still refuse to bury given the uncertainty of the Cleveland Indians and the expectations on those two teams coming into the season.

The other is the Houston Astros who were out of it before the season started.  Only three other teams are more than five games away from .500 (Padres, Dodgers and Cubs) so there could be a dearth of sellers as trading season in the MLB heats up.  Nobody really thought Seattle was going to be much of anything this year, but alas their rotation is running five deep headlined by two aces (Felix Hernandez & Michael Pineda; Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas & Doug Fister round out an impressive rotation) meanwhile Jamey Wright, David Pauley and Aaron Laffey have been nails out of the pen masking the fact that they still have a completely horrible offense.  The pitching has them just one game below .500 and a game and a half out of the division lead.

Similarly, expected bottom-feeders Arizona (23-23), Pittsburgh (22-24), Kansas City (22-24) and Baltimore (21-24) continue to linger.  While the league lacks a truly great team, there are still a group of contenders to be found within the 30, teams that should be focusing their attention on 2011 and doing what they can, whether internally or through trade, to get those October playoff tickets printed as soon as possible.

Today, I will go through the contenders who are ripe for a trade and identify the potential move(s) they could make.  I have seven teams on the list.  There are eight other contenders who I didn’t feel needed to make a significant trade because they are either getting some significant pieces back from injury and/or have the available talent in their minor leagues to fill their holes.  Or, at least in one case, I simply didn’t see a move to be made.  That doesn’t mean that it is a perfect team, just that their path to improvement is either a minor trade or sticking with what they have already.

Cleveland Indians (30-15)

Team Needs: 3B, SP, RP

Let’s start with the league’s best team record-wise.  Wow, that reads weird when in reference to the 2011 Cleveland Indians, but you can’t deny the fact that they have the best record in the baseball after 45 games.  If this team stays as is, I can’t see them holding on for 162.  I just don’t buy in the pitching outside of Justin Masterson, and he isn’t without his flaws (lefties still destroy him).  I think Masterson can be a solid pitcher, but their “best” pitcher to date, Josh Tomlin, will not hold up at all, in my opinion.  The 1.2 HR/9 will soon bite back in a big way and the 4.5 K/9 is just too low for this kind of success.

Jack Hannahan’s hot start (hitting .284 w/.837 OPS on May 3rd) has bought Lonnie Chisenhall some time to try and iron out his issues against southpaws (.208 in 48 AB), but now Hannahan has returned to Hannahandom (.238, .691) and it is time to give Chisenhall a shot.  It actually works out where they wouldn’t have to throw him in the fire right away against lefties as Hannahan is actually crushing them with a .387 average and 1.135 OPS in 31 at-bats.  They could run a straight platoon and improve their lineup.  Currently rated 4th or better in runs, average, on-base and slugging, the Indians lineup is performing beautifully to date, but you can never have too much offense.

To fix their starting pitching, I think they need to focus on someone who can miss some bats. With Alex White and his team-best 7.8 K/9 headed to the disabled list for up to three months with a finger injury, Masterson is the leader with a 6.7 K/9.  That is barely above the AL average of 6.5 among starters, so they should call up the Astros and inquire about a trade for an arm.

TRADE: Prospects Joe Gardner and Zack Putnam to the Houston Astros for Wandy Rodriguez – A pair of upper minors arms who ranked 9th and 17th in the org. list from Baseball America for the 32-year old lefty.  With two years left on his contract plus a 2014 option, Wandy won’t come cheap, but given his age the Astros should be open to trading him as he won’t be a part of their next great team.  Their minor league system is disgustingly low on talent so it’s time to start replenishing in earnest via trade.

They might still need to shore up the bullpen a little bit, too.  But that may be handled internally with the recent call up of Josh Judy, who struck out 20 in 17 innings at AAA prior to his call up.  Elsewhere, Nick Hagadone, their #10 prospect, has recently hit AAA after striking out 24 in 23 innings at AA and he could be there to shore up the relief corps early in the summer.

Moves:

  1. 3B – Promote Chisenhall up to platoon w/Hannahan
  2. SP – Trade Gardner & Putnam for Rodriguez, W
  3. RP – Judy recently called up; Hagadone en route

New York Yankees (25-21)

Team Need: SP

The Yankees are having the exact issue that everyone thought they would back in Spring Training with C.C. Sabathia as their top starter and a giant question mark after that.  Bartolo Colon has been a godsend with a strong ERA (3.77) and WHIP (1.20) and great skills (8.8 K/9, 3.7 K/BB) backing the rates up, but how long will it last for the 37 year old?  A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova have been up and down while Freddy Garcia, filling in for Phil Hughes, has been better (3.12 ERA) than his skills suggest as a 34-year old journeyman.

There is nothing at the AAA level that stands to be any better than what they have and Manny Banuelos in AA has gone more than five innings just once in his eight starts so he isn’t the savior that fans want him to be after seeing him excel in Spring Training.  That leaves the trade markets.  And while delusional fans might think Felix Hernandez is available, he’s not.  But they should venture out for a trade.

TRADE: Prospect Adam Warren to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Hiroki Kuroda – The 36-year old veteran is a free agent after this year so despite how well he has pitched since coming over to the States in 2008, he won’t net the Dodgers an overwhelming return of prospects.  That said, Warren was just outside of the top 10 on org. lists and the Yankees system is a deep one so that’s not chopped liver.  He has struggled with his control at AAA (27 K, 24 BB in 45 IP), but he is still just 23 years old and the Yankees have moved him aggressively (just 54 IP in AA).

The Dodgers system has a crap-ton of pitching and while you can never have too much, they might opt for a bat instead and I could see a toolsy, raw bat like Melky Mesa being dealt for Kuroda.  Mesa has 16 extra-base hits out of just 30 (.204 avg in 147 AB), seven stolen bases but also caught seven times and 16 walks aiding a solid 83-point AVG-OBP split, but also 50 strikeouts (34% K rate).  The 24-year old has been much better lately (.290/.372/.507 in May) after a horrid April (.129/.209/.256) which may elevate his trade stock a bit, though front offices focus more on pure talent & projectability than stats when it comes to prospects.

The Yankees might need more than one starting pitcher so they could also be in for someone like Jon Garland, Livan Hernandez, Aaron Harang or Francisco Liriano, too.  Again, they have a remarkably deep system so trading for a second level arm like one of the above (can you believe Liriano is now regarded as a second level arm?!) as well as a bigger impact arm would be doable.

Moves:

  1. SP – Trade Warren or Mesa for Kuroda
  2. SP2 – Trade David Adams for Harang

Detroit Tigers (24-23)

Team Need: RP

Relief pitching was supposed to be a strength of the 2011 Tigers after signing super-setup man Joaquin Benoit and pairing him with Jose Valverde at the back end of the bullpen.  The constant stream of power arms drafted and traded for recently was supposed to fill any gaps from starter to Benoit with guys like Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth, specifically.   Al Alburquerque has been a pleasant surprise with a 15.3 K/9 in his 15 innings, but walks have been a problem (11) for the rookie.

Chance Ruffin is doing well in his debut season as a pro, but he is just 22 and in AA, so the chances of him as a savior are slim.  Plus, the bullpen is young enough already.  Charlie Furbush was just called up from AAA and thrown right into the fire on Monday night after a Phil Coke injury in the fourth inning left the Tigers scrambling.  He responded admirably with 3.7 shutout innings striking out three and walking one.

He has been huge strikeout guy as a starter in the minors (9.5 K/9 career, over 10 the last two years) and he has a legitimate shot to keep those kind of rates in short stints out of the pen.  But with no reliever toting a sub-3.00 ERA, the Tigers will need more than one arm to cure those bullpen woes.

Thankfully for the Tigers, relief pitching is usually one of the most plentiful items in the trade market year in and year out.  And oftentimes, it is the cheapest commodity to acquire, too.  The Padres seem like a great trade partner as I count five arms that could (and should) be up for trade ranging from ace closer Heath Bell to the reborn Pat Neshek.

TRADE: Bruce Rondon and a throw in C-rated (or lower) prospect to the San Diego Padres for Mike Adams – Rondon is a 20-year old flamethrowing reliever (14.6 K/9), but control is a big time issue right now (8.6 BB/9).  He is allowing next to nothing when it comes to hits (1.6 H/9), though, so he has a 1.62 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.  Adams is 32 years old and a free agent after this year.  Plus he comes with loads of injury risk having never put together back-to-back full seasons.

As such, I’m not sure the Padres could really ask for too much from a prospective trade partner even given how great he is when he does pitch, especially this year with his otherworldly 10.5 K/BB in 22 innings.  His 8.7 K/9 is pretty good, but it’s the disgusting 0.8 BB/9 that is powering his insane season.

Luke Gregerson is five years younger, but also a free agent after the season.  He might draw a little more in return than Adams, but he hasn’t been the Gregerson from 2009 and 2010 so far this year.  His strikeout rate has seen a precipitous drop from 10.2 to 6.0 and he has become a lot more hittable allowing 10.3 H/9 (after 5.4 last year).

I can’t see the Tigers trading for Bell as the cost would be too much and Valverde isn’t going anywhere while Neshek would be too much of an injury risk having pitched just 34 innings since 2008 including his 12 this year.

Moves:

  1. RP1 – Promoted Furbush
  2. RP2 – Trade Rondon + PTBNL for Adams, M

 

Oakland A’s (22-25)

Team Need: Bats… about nine of them.

I covered the A’s a good bit last week specifically tied to them addressing their need of a bat (or several!) so I won’t do an entire re-hash.  Internally, I think Jemile Weeks should be called up soon because he is healthy for once and hitting really well in AAA while Mark Ellis is not.  Ellis had a stretch where he had multi-hit games in three out of six (10-for-24) and it moved his average up to a blistering .208.  That wouldn’t cut in 1968 much less now (OK, it might cut it in ’68… but it really doesn’t in ’11 even with the down hitting).

If they don’t want to try Weeks out just yet, then they should look to Adrian Cardenas, who continues to hit well having raised his batting average yearly since 2007 up to .357 this year while finally adding some pop, too, with a career high slugging percentage of .478.  He has shown a strong eye at the plate throughout his career as well, especially at the high minors with 136 walks to 150 strikeouts in 306 games at AA and AAA.  One of the two prospects deserves a look to jumpstart their anemic offense if they want to realistically contend this year.  I also think a trade is in order as they match up really well with another team in contention.

TRADE: Andrew Bailey to the Cincinnati Reds for Yonder Alonso – I covered this in great detail in this piece about Bailey a week ago.  Assuming he comes up back healthy and as good as we’ve seen him, this is a great fit for both teams involved.  Alonso doesn’t really have a future in Cincinnati being blocked by Joey Votto, Chris Heisey and Jonny Gomes and the Oakland bullpen is stocked.  Alonso can move directly into Daric Barton’s spot at first or into the outfield which would allow Josh Willingham to take Barton’s place.  Either way, Barton’s vomit-inducing .280 SLG has to get out of the everyday lineup.  They just can’t expect to win with that lack of production at a power position.  Hell, you can’t really take it on at any position, but especially first base.

The A’s could make another move closer to the deadline, but it would hinge on Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross coming back from their recent injuries to pitch like they were before getting hurt and recently returned Josh Outman to pick up where he left off in 2009 (which he showed he might do on Monday night with 7 strong innings).  That would give them some rotation depth which they could flip for another bat.

TRADE: McCarthy to the Detroit Tigers for Brennan Boesch – Starting pitching isn’t a primary need for the Tigers, but you really can’t have too much and the back end is tenuous with Phil Coke (who left his last start injured) and Brad Penny, meanwhile their outfield has developed some depth with Casper Wells and Andy Dirks joining the club.  Plus Magglio Ordonez will be back at some point which would give them six outfielders plus Don Kelly for three spots (DH is locked up by Victor Martinez most days).  This one would really be contingent on McCarthy’s health, of course.

Boesch isn’t tearing the cover off of the ball or anything, but David DeJesus has been awful and Boesch has at least shown the capability for some power in his time as a major leaguer.  McCarthy was a million dollar flier for the A’s and netting a 26-year old outfielder with some potential would probably be much more than they truly expected when they took the gamble on the former top prospect pitcher.

Moves:

  1. Bat1 – Trade Bailey for Alonso
  2. Bat2 – Trade McCarthy for Boesch

That covers the American League contenders.   I left out the Rays, Red Sox, Rangers and Angels, all of whom are contenders in my eyes, but don’t have an obvious trade scenario for a high-impact move.  The Rays, Red Sox and Rangers have pretty deep systems to attack needs or can be expected to play better once their current set of 25 begins to meet expectations (Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford; Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz returning from injury).

Meanwhile the Angels don’t have a glaring flaw they can attack via the market.  There aren’t any major first basemen available that would be a huge upgrade over Mark Trumbo.  If Vernon Wells performs anything like expected upon his return from the DL, he will help their power woes and they could shore up their pen via trade, but Scott Downs, Rich Thompson and Jordan Walden give them a solid trio and they can probably manufacture one more reliable arm without having to make a move.

Next up, the National League contenders.

Thursday: 05.19.2011

Prospect Spotlight: Jemile Weeks

Earlier this week I discussed the Oakland A’s and why they ought to consider moving Andrew Bailey if and when he comes back healthy and pitches like we are used to seeing.  They are at .500, just a game out of first powered almost exclusively by their great pitching, both starters and relievers.  Moving Bailey for the right bat would be an excellent upgrade to their lineup, but the 23rd-ranked offense (by runs) needs more than one move to make them a legitimate contender.

I mentioned that another move can be made from within the organization and I was referring specifically to second base prospect Jemile Weeks, brother of Rickie Weeks.  The 2008 first round pick out of the University of Miami has really struggled to stay healthy as a pro which has slowed his progress a bit, but he has been healthy so far this year showing why he was a first round pick and leading to his best season yet 29 games in.

Hip and leg issues have limited to just 77 and 80  games in his two full seasons as a professional.  When he is on the field, he shows an all-around game including speed, discipline, a quick bat and more power than you would expect from someone who is 5’9 and 160 pounds.  His stolen base numbers don’t suggest massive speed, but that is certainly tied to the hip and leg issues.

His .325/.418/.467 line includes 10 extra base hits and 18 RBIs from the leadoff spot.  I asked Ben Badler from BaseballAmerica.comwhat he thought of this production from Weeks and he said it’s “what he’s capable of when healthy.  [He] has to show he can stay that way still.”

Weeks at AFL 2009 (Photo courtesy of Amanda Rykoff)

His ceiling doesn’t quite have the near-30 home run power like his brother, but in exchange for that he shouldn’t have the same strikeout issues that does Rickie does which often drain his batting average.  Badler and colleagues compared Weeks to Ray Durham in this year’s handbook and Durham was a mid-teens home run hitter and a career .277 hitter so that fits the trade of power for batting average as compared to Rickie.

It’s only 29 games of elite production, but it’s health not talent with him so there shouldn’t be a fear that the bottom will fall out on his stat line.  He wouldn’t even need to be playing this well to merit a call up when you consider the “production” the A’s are getting at second base right now.  Mark Ellis has a gawd-awful .204/.229/.279(!!!) line in 147 at-bats with no home runs, 11 RBIs and 4 stolen bases.  He has had some pretty decent years in the past and he was never at risk of losing his job because he was an elite defender.  Maybe he is hiding an injury because he looks completely lost at the dish.

His defense is still strong, but the bat is just so bad that no amount of quality defense can offset the hit their lineup is taking primarily because Ellis isn’t the only gaping hole in their set of nine.  And at 34, he isn’t going to be a major part of their future so it is time to get the 24-year old up and into the lineup.  Weeks’ defense isn’t up to Ellis’ caliber, but it’s passable especially if he is contributing with the bat.  I asked Adam Foster of ProjectProspect.com what he thought of Weeks and he said, “[He] is off to a hot start.  I think he’ll cool off a bit, but if the A’s want an offensive upgrade at 2B, he is certainly an option.”

If you have an open bench spot, I would definitely speculate on Weeks in an AL-Only league and possibly in deeper mixed leagues if I really needed a middle infield boost in my lineup.  The A’s certainly do so they shouldn’t hold Weeks back too much longer as they are clearly contenders in that AL West with their ridiculous pitching.  A lot of times these call ups happen without warning so if you grab him early, he will be very cheap which is also good insurance because if it doesn’t work out for some reason then you can cut him with minimal damage to your FAAB budget.

Monday: 05.9.2011

Prospect Spotlight: Jose Iglesias & Yamaico Navarro

The prospect parade continued on Sunday as the Boston Red Sox announced they were calling up slick fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias to take the spot of Marco Scutaro, who is headed to the disabled list.

JOSE IGLESIAS

This call up has exponentially less fanfare than that of Eric Hosmer for many reasons, chief among them being that he isn’t near the talent from a fantasy aspect and the fact that he’s essentially going to be a defensive replacement.

The 52nd-ranked prospect by Baseball America is unquestionably excellent with the glove which has allowed him to climb the minor league ranks and reach AAA at the age of 21, but his bat lags way behind.  It’s always going to, too.  His ceiling is going to be a Rey Ordonez-plus.  He likely won’t be quite as inept at the plate, but .700 OPS will be a challenge (Ordonez had a career .600 OPS).

His lack of skill with the bat combined with his role as a defensive replacement make him a complete nonfactor in all fantasy formats.  I have seen him drafted to minor league rosters in some AL-Only leagues and I’m not entirely sure why (and I’m talking long-term, not just ’11).  Perhaps it is because he is the top rated or at least one of the top rated prospects on a high profile team, but those lists are all-encompassing meaning his remarkable defense matters.

Unless you play a Strat-O-Matic or Scoresheet league, his defense means nothing for fantasy players.

YAMAICO NAVARRO

I was hoping that Yamaico Navarro would get a call soon even over Iglesias as he brings a lot more potential with the bat, but he suffered an oblique strain and on May 7th he hit the 7-day DL in the minors.  That may be more why Boston went with Iglesias.

Navarro had a strong season last year (hitting .275/.356/.437 in AA and AAA) crossing three levels including a 20-game stint with the Red Sox from late August through the end of the year.  He was clearly overmatched in the small sample (.143/.174/.143), but that’s not too surprising for a 22-year old who had just 16 games of AAA experience prior to reaching the big leagues.

He is back in Pawtucket and off to a great start this season hitting .329/.436/.612 in 101 plate appearances.  He has 14 extra base hits including eight doubles, two triples and four home runs.  He has driven in 12, scored 19 and two stolen bases.

Perhaps as impressive as anything in his start is the 1:1 K/BB split (13 apiece).  His plate patience has been something he seems to be working on constantly as he was sitting 2.4-2.5 in 2007 and 2008 before dropping to 2.0 in 2009 and then a really nice improvement to 1.3 last year.

Primarily a shortstop in his minor league career, Navarro has also seen time at second base, third base and all three outfield spots this season.  With that flexibility plus a great start at the dish, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Red Sox soon selected him to be their super-utility man especially in light of the fact that their backup outfielders, Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald, are hitting a robust .158 combined (9-for-57).  It will depend on how those two play in the coming weeks and how quickly Navarro heals from the oblique.

But again even adding his 2011 start, he still has just 39 games above AA and he is still just 23 years old.  I think Navarro is someone to strongly consider depending on league format.  He may still be available in dynasty/ultra leagues, so check your wire.  Meanwhile, AL-Only leaguers using a more limited minor league roster (3-7 slots) might want to make room to invest as he will almost certainly get the call before September, especially if he keeps raking the ball when he returns from injury.  Don’t start releasing guys who are top 5-7 in their organization for him, but he is as good as any other lower rated org. guy… unless the org. is Kansas City.

Friday: 05.6.2011

Eric Hosmer & Julio Teheran Called Up

Yesterday and today have brought great news for two of the brightest minor league prospects in all of baseball as Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer and Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran both learned that they are getting the call up to the show.

Both were top 10 prospects on just about any list that you looked at this preseason and I had Teheran atop my list of National League pitching prospects back in March.  The call ups are very different in terms of what they mean for fantasy owners both in the immediate future and going forward.

HOSMER

Hosmer is chief among the coming wave of blue-chip talent for the Royals so him being the first to reach the majors amongst the hitters isn’t terribly surprising.  He probably could’ve broken camp with the team, but they wanted to see what Kila Ka’aihue could do with a legitimate shot at every day at-bats.

The Kila Monster raked his way through the minors including smashing 24 home runs in 94 games a season ago.  And at 27, the organization owed it Ka’aihue and themselves to see if he was going to be a major contributor for what they hope is a winning ballclub in the near future.  Or at the very least he could prove his worth at the major league level and then allow them to either flip him or Billy Butler for even more parts as those two plus Hosmer had the potential for a major logjam.

Well Ka’aihue couldn’t even hit his weight (240 lbs.) which might have been enough to stave off Hosmer a bit longer even though it would’ve been a far cry from the .319 he hit a year ago and the .292 he has posted in the last three years in the minors.  By the way, for those concerned with the financial implications of calling up Hosmer, check out this tweet from Royals aficionado Rany Jazayerli:

Absurd is right.  I understand gaming the system and keeping a guy down until late May or early June of a given year, especially if you don’t really have a shot to contend in a given year like KC this year, but keeping Hosmer down that long was just never going to happen.

So Hosmer gets the call due not only to Ka’aihue’s failures but also his own excellence.  He has punished AAA in his first tour of the league hitting .439 in 26 games along with 19 walks in 118 plate appearances giving him a .525 on-base percentage.  He actually had more walks than strikeouts (16), something he also did in an 87-game sample in High-A at the start of last year.

The power hasn’t been as prevalent as expected with just three home runs and five doubles in his 43 hits, but after posting a .233 ISO in his breakout season across two levels last year as a 20-year old, many believe it is simply a matter of when, not if in terms of his power production.  ESPN’s Eric Karabell made a strong comp to that end likening him to Logan Morrison.  Morrison showed power early on his career, but it tapered as he climbed the minor leagues though the batting average and on-base percentage remained elite.

Morrison hit just two home runs in his 62-game debut last year and was pigeonholed at some outlets as a no-power, high-average asset despite being just 23 years old coming into this season.  In his first 15 games he ripped four home runs while improving both his average and on-base percentage.  Of course that is a tiny sample, but you can see where Karabell was headed.

One aspect of Hosmer’s game many might not be aware of is the speed dynamic.  He stole 14 bases a season ago and amassed nine triples.  So while he may not deliver the punch right out of the gate (remember, he is all of 21 this year), he could offer some sneaky speed at the 1B or CI slot on your roster.

And let’s not completely rule out the power, either.  We are dealing with a whopping 26 games and if just two more balls had found their way over the wall, he’d be on a 31 home run pace over 162 games instead of the 18 we see now.

He is undoubtedly already on a roster in any keeper league that has minor league rosters, but of course check just in case.  He is probably rostered in most AL-Only leagues even if they are re-draft leagues as long as they have some kind of bench, but again, check.  In leagues where he is available, he is an asset worth going heavily for just about regardless of format.

The trickiest league for determining his value is the 10-team mixed league.  With legitimately talent consistently on the wire throughout the season, you don’t want to get sucked in by the potential of the shiny new toy.  Just remember what happened to Brandon Belt earlier this year (.569 OPS and demotion back to AAA in 17 G) and how underwhelming Freddie Freeman has been thus far (.700 OPS in 32 G).  Hosmer rates higher than both on virtually all prospect lists, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t end up performing quite similarly.

Rostering him in a 10-team mixer depends entirely on who you would be cutting to get him.  If you want to run your scenario by me, feel free to do so in the comments below or on Twitter (@sporer).  If it’s a luxury spot for you and you want to see if the lottery ticket hits, go for it.  If you’re cutting a contributing member of your team to take a shot on him, consider the potential downside, too, instead of just dreaming of what might happen.

Also, I would raise my bid substantially in OBP leagues.

TEHERAN

The Braves calling up their top pitching prospect was a bit more unexpected than Hosmer, but once the confetti settled and everyone read the fine print, the excitement was tempered after learning Teheran would only be up for a start on Saturday against Philadelphia because of a doubleheader before heading back to the minors.

As such, he should be treated as any other spot starter that you would use from the Trolling the Wire pieces I post here.  If you have been streaming starters this year, then I would consider him just ahead of Tom Gorzelanny, who is one of my recommendations for Saturday.  He isn’t without risk, but the Philly lineup is hardly daunting.

Teheran, younger than Hosmer at just 20 years old, has a 1.80 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 30 innings at AAA-Gwinnett going 3-0 in his five starts.  His 3.1 K/BB ratio is strong, but down significantly from his previous marks thanks to a 7.5 K/9 which is 2.5 off of last year’s pace.  In sort of an odd pattern, he has done this before, though I’m not sure how much stock I would put into it.

In his 15-inning debut back in 2008, he struck out 10.2 per game.  He followed that up with 7.4 per game in 81 innings as an 18-year old in 2009.  Then he ramped it back up to an even 10 last year in his best season yet which totaled 143 innings.  It could just be him getting used to the tougher competition, too.

Looking deeper we see the following:

Every promotion except the one from A-ball to High-A sees a drop in K/9, but when he repeated A-ball from 2009 to 2010, the strikeout rate climbed back up to an elite level.  In other words, as he gets used to a competition set, he adds the strikeout back into his arsenal as the premier way of getting outs.  These are all tiny samples, but the biggest simple sample is the High-A one which is nearly twice as long as most any other one and we see that he also put up his best strikeout rate there.

It would be more helpful to see splits from that stint to see if there is anything to this notion, but my general inclination is to not worry about the lower strikeout rate at the outset of his AAA career as I believe it will rise over the summer.

I wouldn’t read anything into why he is being brought up instead of, say, Mike Minor, either.  Minor pitched yesterday (May 5th) and pitched quite brilliantly mind you as he has all year so far, while Teheran hasn’t pitched since April 30th.  This allows them to build in a longer break for their 20-year old elite prospect as they find ways to limit his workload as well as give him a taste of the majors and perhaps learn something about just how close he is to sticking at the big league level.

Do not cut anyone of value to pick up Teheran in your league.  He should be a daily-league only play for those who are spot starting.  He will be back down to the minors after the start regardless of how well it goes.  The Braves have their five starters and if they need one on a long-term basis, it’s going to be Minor.

Just enjoy Teheran’s sip of coffee and hope that we get to see some of the excellence that is expected from this youngster in the years to come.  But if he’s pounded and lasts just four innings, don’t panic.  It means nothing.

Wednesday: 05.4.2011

Minor Leaguers in Fantasy Baseball, Part 3

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 HendricksRating: 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.

2011 PROSPECTS

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:

Bryce Harper

Mike Trout

Jesus Montero

Dominic Brown

Julio Teheran

Jeremy Hellickson

Aroldis Chapman

Eric Hosmer

Mike Moustakas

Wil Myers

Jameson Taillon

Dustin Ackley

Shelby Miller

Manny Machado

Matt Moore

Michael Pineda

Freddie Freeman

John Lamb

Mike Montgomery

Chris Sale

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.

Thursday: 04.28.2011

Minor Leaguers in Fantasy Baseball, Part 2

Yesterday I took a look at the impact of the 2010 rookie class and posited that could have a negative effect on how the fantasy community as a whole values prospects going forward.  Of course they are already overvalued as a whole so it may not move the needle a bit.

The fact remains that many owners are so eager to roster the next star that they often hamper their chances at winning just for the opportunity to be the guy who has Buster Posey on a cheap contract.  Posey was excellent last year and is off to another pretty strong start again in 2011, but he is the exception, not the rule.

In the next two parts of this series, I will look back at the top 20 prospects from 2006 to see how things have panned out for them.  What is the success rate of top prospects?  What is it that even defines success?  After looking back, I will have more thoughts on what this class from five years ago can teach us about the 2011 class and we should view minor leaguers now and going forward.

LOOKING BACK

So while the elite prospects acquitted themselves quite well, there were several players off the radar contributing legit numbers.  With just a year elapsed, it is impossible to truly judge the 2010 class completely, but the early returns are strong.  Let’s go back five years and see how things have gone for the top 20* prospects from 2006.

(*top 20 is a bit of an arbitrary cutoff, but seems like the right cutoff of the prospects who are coveted most by fantasy owners  who don’t have them and held tightest by owner who do)

1. Delmon Young (TB) – He was rated by BA four times: three times at #3 and #1 in 2006.  He was as can’t miss as can’t miss gets ripping through the minors in three years debuting at 20 years old and becoming a permanent big leaguer at 21.  Alas, he has kind of missed in terms of expectations-to-output ratio.  I have remained firmly entrenched on the Delmon Bandwagon as he is just 25 now, but last year was his first big time fantasy season since his rookie year when he hit .288 with 13 home runs, 93 RBIs and 10 stolen bases.  I would lean toward giving him an incomplete as I would like to see how his follow up season goes, but I think many would label him a bust.  Rating (1-5 scale, 5 being the best): 2 – Tough one to grade as we are still looking at a .291 career hitter who has played 150+ games in three of his four seasons, but the expectations were so astronomical that being just average is a disappointment both in fantasy baseball and on the field.

2. Justin Upton (ARI) – Another tough one to analyze as he is just 23 headed into his fourth full big league season.  That said, the results have been underwhelming with just the one truly star turn in 2009 sandwiched by two slightly above average seasons.  Through it all, he has failed to play 140 games in any single season.  Keep in mind that a major component of the grading here is how an owner of his back in 2006 feels now about turning away so many Godfather offers that may have brought him short-term glory and may have possibly unearthed a gem 2nd or 3rd tier prospect who would still be contributing today.  Rating: 2.5 – Earns a slightly higher mark than Delmon for delivering his big year while likely still a part of the original owner’s team, but otherwise his name is much bigger than the production.  His fantasy cost-to-talent ratio isn’t a favorable one for his owners let alone the regret he has saddled original owners with while looking back on offers.

3. Brandon Wood (LAA) – He is legitimately one of the worst major league baseball players ever.  He has put up more than a full season’s worth of 22 OPS+ (175 G, 501 PA).  That is unreal.  To have the alleged talent to earn that many at-bats combined with the constant failure takes a special kind of awful.  Rating: 0 – He likely changed how his original owners view prospects from now on.  You can bet that if they get have someone like Jesus Montero and get an equivalent offer to what they received for Wood back in 2006, they are taking it without blinking.

4. Jeremy Hermida (FLO) – Injuries just obliterated his career though it’s not like we shouldn’t have seen it coming as they started back in his minor league days.  Believed to be a dynamic five tool power-speed combo, Hermida never really ran at the big league level likely because there was no sense risking injury in the rare time he was actually on the field.  The power materialized in spurts, but all in all he was a colossal bust.  Rating: 1 – Teased with a strong 2007 campaign (125 OPS+, 18 HR), but played just 123 games that year and has posted an 85 OPS+ in 350 games since.

5. Stephen Drew (ARI) – Breezed through the minors in short order with some eye-popping numbers that just haven’t translated into fantasy stardom.  Drew is likely regarded as a hit from a real world standpoint as a slightly above average shortstop with only one truly bad year (2007), but he was supposed to be Hanley Ramirez/Troy Tulowitzki-good for fantasy owners and it just hasn’t happened.  Rating: 2 – Credit for showing up every day (three 150+ GP seasons out of four; fourth still had 135), but not enough fantasy goodness.

6. Francisco Liriano (MIN) – Burst onto the scene in ’06 with a truly brilliant season before succumbing to an arm injury that cost him all of 2007 and has rendered him inconsistent since.  He has the best single season of anyone on the list so far, but because his stock plummeted so quickly after ascent he too is something of a failure.  Rating: 2.5 – As an amateur free agent, he has far exceeded expectations on the field even if he never throws another pitcher again, but in the fantasy realm even the debut can’t keep him earning a weak grade.

7. Chad Billingsley (LAD) – The first one on the list to actually pay legitimate year-over-year dividends for his fantasy owner commensurate with expectations.  Original owners of his can proudly look back at the offers they declined in favor of hanging onto Billingsley as he has developed into a very reliable fantasy starter.  Rating: 5 – Even if you only held him for his first three years (league rules vary on minor leaguers), he rewarded you handsomely with 438 innings of 3.33 ERA, 35 wins and 401 strikeouts.  Given the inexact science of prospecting and incredible volatility of pitching, nobody would turn down that kind of production from a minor league pick.  And if you would, then you have wildly unrealistic expectations from those minor league draft slots.

8. Justin Verlander (DET) – A star who paid off for his owners regardless of your league’s rules when it comes to minor leaguers.  He won the Rookie of the Year out of the gate and followed it up very nicely with an even better year in 2007.  His 2008 year was a disappointment, but the composite of his first three years still yields 589 innings of 4.05 ERA with 46 wins and 470 strikeouts.  Rating: 5 – He had an extra-long shelf life for you to trade him for a big haul with two brilliant seasons to start off his career.

9. Lastings Milledge (NYM) – It’s a surprise he has lasted as long as he has given how poorly he has performed in a significant 1500 at-bat sample at the big league level.  He has been well below average with a career OPS+ of 91 and the only stint he was above average came in his 59 game sample of 2007 with the Mets.  At 26, he will likely get at least one more shot if not two or three, but he has been an unequivocal bust.  Rating: 1 – A two-time top 11 prospect on the BA plus the New York hype machine likely had his original owners fending off sweetheart offers on the reg.

10. Matt Cain (SF) – The crazy thing about the list so far as the amount of failed hitters and the fact that the biggest hits have far and away been starting pitchers.  It just goes to show that with prospecting there is really no safe route.  You just have to do your homework and put yourself in the best position to hit and then pray that you get a little lucky.  Rating: 4 – Dinging him a bit for the W-L records early on even though they aren’t indicative of his skill.  And the ERAs weren’t that great for mixed leagues early on.  That said, minor league rosters are usually found in single leagues (at least that’s been my experience) and he was a no-doubt gem in NL-only leagues even with the low win counts.

To be continued…

Wednesday: 04.27.2011

Minor Leaguers in Fantasy Baseball, Part 1

The upcoming rookie class in the Kansas City Royals farm system has a chance to be historic given its abundance of blue-chip star power.  In a way, it is already historic after placing nine prospects in Baseball America’s preseason Top 100 list.  Coverage of the minor leagues is growing exponentially year over year and knowledge of the next crop or even next, next crop can give you an edge in fantasy baseball in many different ways. That is important in an era where edges are evaporating left and right.

The easiest way is of course loading your supplemental minor league roster with future stars and waiting for them to emerge.  That sounds easy enough, but it doesn’t always pan out so smoothly unless you can predict the future.  Another not-so-easy issue when it comes to prospects is the handling of them in trades.  How much is potential really worth?  If a team that is building for the future offers you some useful pieces for the 2011 run in exchange for your top 10 guys, do you pull the trigger?

One of the ills of the fantasy community I speak of a lot here is the desire to have the shiny new toy to the detriment of their team whether overspending in an auction or overdrafting in a snake draft.  That affliction is only likely to maintain or even get worse after the 2010 season.

FIRST YEAR PHENOMS

Last year introduced a veritable throng of rookies to the fantasy landscape who made a major impact on races everywhere.  Seven different rookies popped more than 15 home runs (Mike Stanton 22, Tyler Colvin 20, Gaby Sanchez 19, Ike Davis 19, Jason Heyward 18, Buster Posey 18, and Pedro Alvarez 16) , 14 in all reached double digits while eight swiped 10+ bags half of whom topped 15 (Austin Jackson 27, Jose Tabata 19, Ian Desmond 17, Roger Bernadina 16).  There were 11 batters who hit .280 or better in 200+ plate appearances.  Of those, eight had more than 300 plate appearances (Jackson, Starlin Castro, Neil Walker, Posey, Tabata, Chris Johnson, Danny Valencia, Jon Jay and Florida’s Logan Morrison was close at 287).

On the pitching side, we had a 40-save closer (Neftali Feliz), a 13-game winner (Jaime Garcia) nearly 100 strikeouts and a sub-2.00 ERA from a non-closing reliever (Jonny Venters) and six guys with 12+ starts and ERAs at or below 3.50 (Daniel Hudson 2.45, Garcia 2.70, Stephen Strasburg 2.91, Madison Bumgarner 3.00, Jhoulys Chacin 3.28 and Travis Wood 3.51 [cheated a smidge there]).

EMERGING TALENT

And that is just a sampling of the first year players making their mark on the game last year.  There were several other strong performances in one category or another that were instrumental to their fantasy team’s success.

If last year is being dubbed “Year of the Pitcher”, then the subtitle has to be “…and the Rookie” as the overall impact of freshmen was historically awesome.  In other words, it shouldn’t be an expectation year-to-year.  Especially because identifying who will make the rookie impact is no easy feat. 

Just looking at the 25 names I mentioned as superlatives from last year, nine were in the top 20 of Baseball America’s preseason top 100 (including six of the top nine), but the highest rated of the remaining 16 was 62nd (Davis) and 11 didn’t make the list.

To be continued…

This is part one of a series on minor leaguers and their place in fantasy baseball.  This is just an appetizer looking back at last year’s crop, but could that amazing success cloud our judgment of rookies going forward?  Tomorrow I will take a look back at an older draft class to see how it has panned out.  What can we learn from it and how will it help us today as we contemplate offers from leaguemates for the Mike Trouts, Julio Teherans and Jesus Monteros of the world?

Thursday: 04.14.2011

Prospect Spotlight: Keyvius Sampson

We already know that anyone pitching in San Diego’s PETCO is instantly a bit better thanks to the spacious dimensions of the yard.  The Padres are grooming some legitimately talented arms that can pitch anywhere to the point that the Petco Push will make them nearly unbeatable.  Most recently it has been ace Mat Latos while Simon Castro and Casey Kelly are rocketing through the minor leagues, but one of the prospect we might soon see destroying hitters regardless of venue is Keyvius Sampson.

The diminutive (6’0) 20-year old is currently a second tier prospect in the Padres organization, but his talent has top 100 potential.  The 2009 4th round pick out of high school struggled with injuries in his first full season last year pitching just 43 innings in 10 starts.  However, he did impress in the limited sample with mid-90s velocity (sits 91-93, touches 95) that drove his gaudy 12.1 K/9.  The secondary stuff is behind the heater right now which is why he’s an org prospect right now as opposed to a top 100 guy, but it’s on the come.

He has good feel for both a curveball and changeup so while neither is terribly consistent just yet, at least both are in the arsenal as opposed to needing that third pitch which would leave him on the fence between starter and reliever.  Some reports have the changeup a bit ahead of the curve, but then others suggest the curve is a bit better.

So far in 2011, it would appear that the three pitches are firing on all cylinders as he has put together two truly excellent starts amassing 19 strikeouts in 11 shutout innings walking just one and allowing a mere two hits.  His first outing included six no hit innings with 10 Ks while Wednesday’s was nearly as impressive with five innings of 2-hit ball with nine Ks and the lone walk he’s allowed.  His next hurdle is proving health.

Elbow soreness got him shutdown last year and it likely stemmed from a tear in his right labrum, but so far he looks 100% healthy.  I think the Padres would just like to see him stay healthy and spend the season in A-Fort Wayne of the Midwest League as opposed to worrying about a promotion as the next step if the California League where pitchers routinely get destroyed regardless of talent.

If he can pitch a full season in A-ball and continue to excel, then he might be in line to skip High-A and go straight to AA-San Antonio for 2012.  The Padres did just that with Latos and Castro, allowing them to skip the pitcher’s hell that is the Cal League.

He is one to keep on the radar from a fantasy standpoint, but this white-hot start is definitely worth noting.