Posts tagged ‘top prospects’

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.

Thursday: 02.3.2011

Three Questions – San Diego Padres

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide set to come out in a few weeks, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

What happens to this offense without Adrian Gonzalez?

Oh don’t worry, new first baseman Brad Hawpe will fill in so well that you will barely notice Gonzalez left.  A .298/.393/.511 line with 31 bombs and 101 RBIs shouldn’t be a problem for Hawpe.  OK that’s obviously an egregious lie that I don’t believe in the least.  Do you want to know how important Gonzalez was to an offense that still only finished 22nd with him?  Look at this:

Gonzalez led them in five key offensive categories and no one was really close.  Chase Headley was the 2nd-highest qualifying batting average at .264, Will Venable’s 13 home runs were 2nd to Gonzalez, Headley had a whopping 58 RBIs to finish 2nd on the team, Yorvit Torrealba was 50 points behind Gonzalez with a .343 OBP, but that came in just 325 at-bats.  The 2nd-highest qualifying on-base percentage was again Headley with a paltry .327 mark.  And in the most hotly contest of the five categories, Headley finished 14 hits behind Gonzalez with 161 on the season.

Counting stats for Padres hitters are likely to be even worse than they were last year cutting into the already stunted value of the group.  Headley managed those 58 RBIs despite hitting behind Gonzalez, who was getting on base 40% of the time for him.  The team added some pieces in addition Hawpe including a brand new double play duo with Orlando Hudson at second base and Jason Bartlett at shortstop as well as former super-prospect Cameron Maybin, but the loss of Gonzalez is still a major blow to an offense that was already pretty poor.

The power-sapping ways of PETCO park are nothing new and Padres hitters have long been evaluated with that impact built in, but without their superstar cog in the middle the entire group takes another hit to their value.  The chances of the six year streak of a non-Gonzalez entity topping 100 R or 100 RBI being broken seem slim.  The last two players to do it were in 2004 when Mark Loretta scored 108 runs and Phil Nevin drove in 105.

Following up a career year with one of his worst, what’s in store for Jason Bartlett in 2011?

The 2010 season was a rough one for Bartlett especially in light of his breakout 2009 in which he hit 14 home runs, drove in 66 runs, scored 90 runs, stolen 30 bases and hit .320, all career highs.  Lucky for him, he plays shortstop which is a barren wasteland after the top tier so he will have some value no matter what.  How much exactly is going to be tied to how many stolen bases he rack up.  He had a string of 23, 20 and 30 before last year’s 11, so the ability is there and San Diego was the 6th-runningest (so surprised that didn’t get a red squiggly line under it in Word) team last year with 124 stolen bases.

Additionally, he can offer some batting average value or at least not be a drag for a team.  Last year his .254 was a drag as regression bit back hard from 2009 and instead of falling back to career norms, he was actually a bit unlucky.  He is .281 hitter for his career and there is no reason to think he shouldn’t bounce back to that in 2011 and if luck breaks his way again, it wouldn’t be tough for him to top .300 again.  So as a late round speed/average shortstop, he has some value.  As I mentioned already, counting numbers will be tough to come by on this team.  Especially for Bartlett who isn’t particularly adept at getting on base.  Though he has a career .345 OBP, it is propped up by the standout 2009 and a .367 mark in 372 plate appearances back in 2006.

One last thing to consider with him is that he has only averaged 135 games played in the last four years with a high watermark of 140 and a low of 128.  That means you’re going to need a replacement for around 27 games, or 16% of the season.  Given the dearth of talent at shortstop, this can be a problematic proposition.  His backup is likely to be Kevin Frandsen or Everth Cabrera.  You could fill one of Bartlett’s strengths depending on who fills in, Frandsen for average and Cabrera for speed.  If you’re left hitting the wire, you may find that the remains are somehow even less appealing than Frandsen and Cabrera.

Is Cameron Maybin ready to pay dividends on his blue chip prospect status?

The problem is we might not even notice if he does improve because of his home ballpark.  He has certainly proven everything he can in the minor leagues so it is time for the three-time top 8 Baseball America prospect to start showing the talent at the big league level.  At 24 with just a season’s worth of big league plate appearances (610) under his belt, even a poor 2011 wouldn’t be enough to write him off completely but it would put closer to Brandon Wood territory.

The biggest issue right now is the striking out.  He has struck out in 31% of his major league at-bats despite the significant gains in K% in the minors.  After striking out in 32% of his AA at-bats in 2008, he cut down to 20% in his first run through AAA in 2009 followed by 19% in 130 AAA at-bats last year.  Any contact would be better than striking out for Maybin at this point.  At the very least, he could maybe use his excellent speed to turn some of his groundballs into base hits.

Better pitch recognition can increase his value another way as more walks would again allow him to add value by way of his speed.  As noted in the Bartlett section above, the Padres aren’t afraid to run, but it is hard to do much running with a .302 on-base percentage.

I don’t think Maybin will magically fix the strikeout and walk issues all at once in 2011, but I think we will see incremental gains in his first full season which should yield a 20+ stolen base season and low-teens power.  You can do much worse than that for a low dollar late outfield option in NL-Only leagues.  I don’t think he is quite a dollar days guy just yet, especially if your league has any guys who love grabbing the next big thing, but his price tag shouldn’t be pushing double digits.  As a single digit buy, I would highlight him as a quality end-game play perfect for rounding out a team.

Monday: 06.8.2009

Roy Halladay: The Complete Picture

It wasn’t always bubblegum and lollipops for the American League’s best pitcher. Roy Halladay notched his major league-leading 10th win of the season on Sunday with a complete game shutout of the Kansas City Royals. The complete game was his third of the season and second of the week as he continues to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the junior circuit’s best pitcher. In fact he is right on the heels of Johan Santana for baseball’s best overall. It was an up-&-down path to stardom for Halladay, though.

He came to the majors for a cup of coffee in 1998 getting just two starts totaling 14 innings. He made the club the following season as a 22 year old and went 8-7 in 149 innings with an incredibly lucky 3.92 ERA. He had essentially a 1.0 K:BB rate with 82 strikeouts against 79 walks and allowed better than a hit per inning for a 1.57 WHIP. You can understand why I declared his ERA so fortunate. Things came to a head the following season as he maintained his 1.0 K:BB ratio and was decimated to the tune of a 10.64 ERA and 2.20 WHIP in 68 innings of work. He stayed down for the rest of the year save three relief appearances in September.

Then he had to work his way up from High-A at the beginning of the 2001 season. Toronto’s 1999 #1 prospect according to Baseball America was essentially in remedial classes as a 24-year old working his way back to the bigs from High-A, where he was a reliever. He made seven starts between AA and AAA before coming back up in July. In his first appearance (a 1st inning bailout of Esteban Loaiza, who had given up 5 runs in just 1/3 of an inning), he was destroyed, allowing six runs in 2+ innings of work and it looked like all of his hard work was for naught. But the Blue Jays stuck with him. He had come a long way having displayed the best control of his career during the minor league stints of 2000 and 2001. And though just 71 innings of work, his strikeouts were way up, too.

The rest, as they say, is history. He started 16 times the rest of 2001 and put together a 5-3 record with a 2.71 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.3 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 103 very strong innings. The next season he made the All-Star team and he followed that up with a Cy Young Award winning performance. His only hiccups in the run up to becoming one of baseball’s elite were a bum right shoulder in 2004 that limited him to 133 innings and a freak accident broken leg the year after that again held him under 150 innings (141.7). Since 2002, he has been the gold standard for complete games with his 40 (including Sunday’s) standing as a major league best in that timeframe (Livan Hernandez and CC Sabathia, 28).

Outside of just being fascinating on its own accord, I wanted to write about Halladay on the heels on my piece of patience that I wrote yesterday. I’m not suggesting you should’ve held over Halladay yearly since 1999 if you owned him, but rather that you can’t just write off young players at the first sign of distress. Halladay was a highly thought of prospect, but it took 336 innings spanning parts of four years for him to really break through. Today’s fantasy owner would’ve discarded him after the 2000 meltdown and then been baffled by his emergence two years later. In fact, it’s unfair to limit it to just fantasy owners. The baseball watching public and media would’ve behaved similarly on both fronts. This is speaking generally of course, as there are pockets of people and certain outlets that don’t hastily judge prospects on minuscule samples.

Brandon Phillips is another example. He was a highly touted prospect for several years ranking 9th, 2nd, 1st and 1st in his organization from 2000-2003. He was in the top 20 for all baseball in 2002 (20th) and 2003 (7th). After a 31 AB stint in 2002, he came up for over 100 games in 2003, but struggled mightily in 370 at-bats. In fact, he put up a .206/.246/.310 line in his first 432 at-bats spanning parts of four seasons, but 86% of those at-bats came in one season as a 22 year old. Alas, the Indians gave up on him and let him go in a trade at the beginning of the 2006 season. He finally got a full season’s worth of work at the age of 25 and performed quite well with 17 HR, 25 SB and a .276/.324/.427 line. He got even better in his age 26 season, going 30-30 and garnering a shred of MVP consideration. He had paid dividends on the prospects from the early 2000s and it’s not like he was a late bloomer at 25, just that the Indians were wildly impatient.

The latest iteration could be happening before our eyes in the form of Edwin Jackson. Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers at age 17 back in 2001, it feels like Jackson has been around forever. The Dodgers afforded him a whopping 75 innings in the big leagues before discarding him at the age of 22 to the Rays for Danyz Baez and Lance Carter. The Rays gave him a sample even larger than Halladay’s 336 innings as they saw him through 381 innings spanning three seasons with varying degrees of success. The only thing is, they didn’t stick around for the payoff. Instead they dealt him to Detroit for Matt Joyce. Jackson is enjoying a career year at age 25 (just like Halladay) thanks in large part to massively improved control (just like Halladay). In fact, Jackson has improved his walk rate four straight seasons going from 6.2 BB/9 in 2006 to 2.1 BB/9 through 83 innings in 2009. I’m not saying Jackson is going to be the next Roy Halladay based on 83 excellent innings of work, but there are some nice similarities.

In fact, when I started this piece, it was for the sole purpose of showing Halladay’s path and how it had bumps in the road to stardom. As many of you may know, I’m a diehard Detroit Tigers fan so I don’t want this coming off as a spin job to say my favorite team’s new shiny toy is headed towards the top 3 starting pitchers in all of baseball in the coming years. Jackson is just one of many examples that shows that major league teams are sometimes hasty in their judgment of youngsters and expect too much of kids that haven’t fully matured. That effect trickles down to the fantasy baseball community and creates these seasons deemed as “out of nowhere” that shock everyone even if the player was highly thought of coming up through the minors and is still very young. They are actually just breakouts due to the maturation of mid-20s players. Not everyone will come up and be Ryan Braun, Tim Lincecum or Evan Longoria.

Ervin Santana went through this last year. His breakout was seen as a “rising from the dead” because he had been solid if unspectacular in his first two seasons and then hit a major road bump in season three with a 5.76 ERA in 2007. That season included a trip back to AAA to try and “fix” him. The thing is, his skills hadn’t just fallen off of a cliff that year. He was actually striking out more than ever (7.6 K/9) leading to his career-best K:BB ratio of 2.2. The walks were up a tick at 3.5 BB/9, but he wasn’t nearly as broken as was perceived. Then last year, his control improved dramatically and he had a breakout season at age 25. So far this year he has stumbled out of the gate after starting the season on the disabled list. Two flameout starts have inflated his numbers, but he took a huge step forward on Friday with 8 and 2/3rds of 1-run ball against the Detroit Tigers. It was the first start I had seen of his all year and he looked so 2008 as he brought the boom, boom pow on the Tigers. (I really won’t blame if you stop reading and never come here again after that…)

Who will be the next player written off at far too young an age only to meet or exceed his prospect promise?