Blake Snell Gets the Call

The Tampa Rays will call up their top pitching prospect, Blake Snell, to make what appears to be a one-time spot start against the Yankees tomorrow. While Snell’s short-term value is suspect particularly since he has yet to work beyond five innings in Triple-A season, he’s certainly a grab and stash type if available in redraft leagues given that he could get a more extended look later this season. It would be highly unlikely to find him available in keeper or dynasty league formats on the free agent market.

Background and Analysis: Snell was a supplemental first-round draft pick back in 2011 by the Rays. The left-hander was considered a fairly middling prospect for the earlier portion of his professional career, battling command issues and owning a fairly unrefined, though projectable, arsenal of pitches. 2015 was a complete break-through. Snell increased the velocity on his fastball, regularly touching the mid-nineties, and elevated his changeup to become possibly his best pitch. That pitch, in combination with what was already a plus slider, gives him multiple swing and miss pitches. All of this occurred as he simultaneously improved his command, dropping his walk rates to the sub 4.0 range at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

The end result was a pitcher with a four-pitch repertoire including three-plus offerings including multiple weapons against right-handers, improved command, and the plus sinker to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. As a result, Snell leaped on the prospect radar becoming one of the better pitching prospects in the game today.

Fast forward to 2016, Snell has been fairly dominant in three Triple-A starts with a 13.2 K/9 over 14.1 innings. It should be noted, however, that in two of his three starts he walked 3 batters in under 5 innings of work in each outing and has a teeny sample size walk rate over the 4.0 mark.

Overall there is a tremendous amount to like about Snell, but his control after only a single season of showing some improvement still remains at least a yellow flag to be cautious for those considering activating him or using him in DFS immediately.

Colabello Suspension

In light of the 80-game PED suspension for Chris Colabello, one can expect Jesus Montero to have his contract purchased from Triple-A to become Justin Smoak‘s platoon partner at first base.  As I discussed earlier this season, Montero is a player who could do some damage given the opportunity. This could be that opportunity for the former Yankee to finally establish himself as a big-leaguer.

Travis Shaw, Red Sox Starting Third Basemen

It was announced today that Travis Shaw will enter the season as the Boston Red Sox’s starting third basemen sending Pablo Sandoval to back-up 3B/1B/pinch-hitting role. So what, you may ask, are the odds of this move actually sticking? Is Shaw a legitimate starter and can he prevail against major league pitching? What is the opportunity cost of not playing Sandoval?

Well, first and foremost, the number one reason Shaw was selected over Sandoval was for his defensive skills. Shaw came up as a first basemen and was considered plus for the position. Shaw played third base in college and has a good glove and throwing arm, but a somewhat limited range which was of course the reason he moved to first base as a professional. Be that as it may, he still has the greater range compared to Sandoval who has ranked as one of the worst defensive third basemen in baseball.

Offensively, Sandoval at only 29 years of age already appears to be post peak. The switch-hitter remains an aggressive, contact-oriented hitter who has struck out around 13% of the time over his career, but who has also swung well above the league average on balls outside the strike zone throughout his career. Of concern, last year was Sandoval’s increasing tendency towards becoming a ground ball hitter which may place a cap on his power production and ability to hit for average. The groundball rate of nearly 50% represents a substantial jump from the previous season and so could be an outlier, but it remains to be seen whether or not it is the beginning of an unwelcome trend. In other words, despite his substantial contract, having the Red Sox play a sub-par defensive 3B with limited power and on-base skills that may be more of a detriment to the team than a positive seems reason enough to at least give another player a chance.

Enter Travis Shaw. As I have mentioned, while he is an adequate defender at third, he still represents a substantial upgrade at the position. On the hitting side of things, Shaw has demonstrated greater power with 18 home runs combined between Triple-A and the Majors. The lefty is a fly-ball hitter who has consistently demonstrated average power, hitting 19 homers in 2012 followed by two straight seasons of twenty-one home run campaigns in 2013 and 2014. Shaw’s power production has been considered average and not the outstanding variety typically coveted for starting first basemen in the majors, but if he can handle third base over the course of the season, his power would profile far better there.

Earlier in his career, Shaw demonstrated above-average control of the strike zone but since reaching AAA has become less passive with walk rates dropping from around 14% to the 8% mark and just 7.3% of his time in the majors last year. Not surprisingly his strikeout rates have gone up correspondingly though they translated well to the majors and have not spiked upwards further though it remains to be seen what they do over a larger sample.

The overall combination of power and plate discipline skill suggests Shaw could be an average regular, capable of hitting in the .250s to .270s with upper-teens to low-twenties homerun power. In other words, if he can achieve that level while playing superior defense to Sandoval he should, in theory, be able to hold off the competition. Any ability on Shaw’s part to reassert some control of the strike zone would only help to further entrench him and reduce the chances of him being a streak hitter. At the moment, Shaw’s skill set does suggest he could endure some peaks and valleys which could potentially reopen the door for the well-paid Sandoval. Fortunately, in most leagues, up until this announcement Shaw was available at a discount or in reserve rounds, making the risk of investment low while providing plenty a good amount of room for possible profit. Considering I selected him as  my first pick in the reserve round of AL Tout Wars as a result of purchasing A.J. Reed at auction, I certainly hope so!

What’s a Joey Rickard?

Joey Rickard was on virtually no one’s radar heading into spring training. A quick scan of just about every prominent prospect publication on the market not only doesn’t list the former Devil Ray amongst the top prospects but do not even mention him on any lists or are any prospect depth charts. Still, the Orioles selected him in this past off-season’s Rule-5 draft as a potential back-up, a role that seemed to be consistent with his ceiling at the time. The former ninth-round pick certainly has some attractive skills, particularly for that role, as a solid defender at all three outfield positions.  Offensively, Rickard enjoys having plus speed and is coming off of a twenty-four stolen base season amongst three different levels of minor league play. The righty also possesses a fundamentally sound approach at the plate, walking more often than he struck out between A+ and AA ball last season. That approach fell somewhat apart as he made contact just 81% of the time in 104 Triple-A plate appearances while watching his walk rate slip to under 10%. Tools-wise, Rickard’s most significant shortcoming in his game is a lack of power. He managed just two home runs last year and has hit no more than eight in any previous single minor league season. Fortunately, Rickard has at least shown modest gap power, hitting doubles and triples at solid rates in the minors.

As of this writing, it appears Rickard has forced the Orioles hand and will open 2016 as their starting left fielder and will likely force them to rework Korean import, Hyun-Soo Kim’s contract to the point of either requesting he go to the minors or have his contract voided altogether (with compensation of course).

As fantasy players, with stolen bases in such high demand, it forces our hand too. In order to obtain him, if you’ve already drafted that is, AL-only leaguers will have to commit a fairly significant amount of FAAB in order to claim him. Such a bid comes with substantial risk. Rickard is clearly no sure thing to stick particularly once scouting reports on him circulate about the league.

This is still the same player who managed a .243/.337/.296 line in AA as recently as 2014 and has also, at times, showed signs of having difficulties against right-handed pitching. Rickard may end up starting for much of 2016 but he still probably profiles as a fourth or fifth outfielder beyond this year.

So often we see the next great speedster all set to make his debut only to be overpowered by major league pitchers. Much of it can be tied to a lack of translation of their contact skills and/or overall plate discipline fail to the Majors. Rickard is in that same boat and the odds are stacked against him. I wish him luck but remain skeptical for now.

A Word About Jesus Montero

If Montero could catch, we wouldn’t be talking about him being put on waivers, claimed on waivers, and then the Blue Jays most likely trying to slip him through waivers to get to the minors. Instead, we’d be probably be analyzing the righty from the standpoint of a player entering his fifth season as a full-time player. That is a testament to his bat in that our expectations of production from catchers are far more forgiving and when compared to other current backstops, he fits in nicely and would be more coveted than quite a few.

Coming up through the minors Montero’s raw power and original position created quite a bit of hype. As a right-handed hitter with his power potential who did not strikeout overly much and who walked a fairly average amount, it looked like Montero had a bat that would not only stick, but that should translate fairly quickly to the Majors. Unfortunately, Montero did not advance defensively as planned and became one of a plethora of right-handed first basemen/designated hitter types. Still, the Yankees extracted Michael Pineda from the Mariners from him and the Mariners indeed gave him a shot.

Looking back at 2012, while Montero certainly did not dominate, for a 22-year old playing full time in the majors he did actually translate most of his minor league skills fairly well when considering most players his age were still in AAA, batting .260/.290/.386 with fifteen homers isn’t all that terrible. Again, were he a catcher of any skill, it might have been heralded as quite a success to not only handle a major league staff but to show some offensive potential. Regardless of position, 2012 looked like something Montero could build off. Instead, he struggled early in 2013 and ended up spending a lot of time out of action. By 2014 he was already out of the Mariner’s plans. While Montero has yet to fulfill his promise and has not dominated at any minor league level, he is still coming off of two solid AAA seasons. At 26 the move to journeyman AAA roster filler has probably begun in earnest. There is a chance he could push his way into a platoon at first base depending upon the volatility of Chris Colabello, but it’s likely the Jays are not the best fit for him and that Toronto could end up being one of a few pit-stops in 2016.

2016 AL Tout Wars Recap

This past weekend I enjoyed my annual tradition of participating in two AL-only auctions in two days in NY, NY. While I may love my local league, if you’ve surfed over here, you’ve come to hear more about my AL Tout Wars team. This was my sixteenth Tout Wars draft, my sixth in the American League after 10 years in the National League.

AL Tout Wars
AL Tout Wars – The Fish Bowl

For the full results, you can go here:

Pre-Draft: My pre-draft focus was on full-time at-bats. In particular, I targeted at bats those from players with well-established baselines with the idea that I would probably spend between 75% and 80% of my budget on hitting. my pitching would involve purchasing an anchor starter and an established closer closer and filling in my staff around that. I also decided that I’d prefer not to go above $29 for any single player and spread the risk a bit.

So how’d that go, Rob? Well, I spent 67% on hitting and ended up with a pretty traditional team. I am not sure if I recall a Tout draft where there was this aggressive, some might call unrestrained, bidding on hitting.  So, I changed things up as I often do mid-draft, readjusting my individual roster slot goals on the fly on my spreadsheet.  To be honest, this was nudged a bit when I nominated Shawn Tolleson at a price of $14 and received crickets. I’m perfectly fine with this price considering I had him valued a few dollars higher, but with Chad Allen already rostered at $20, this forced my hand away from my pre-draft budget targets.

The Players: Catchers: James McCann ($8) and Kurt Suzuki ($2) – The catching market being slim, I decided to go with two who at least would not hurt me.

First Base: Albert Pujols ($19) – Despite being in the decline phase of his career, Pujols is still durable and coming off of a 40 home run campaign. I purchased him at that price with the idea that he provide at least 25 home runs and that his batting average on balls in play wouldshift back towards his career norms and provide a slightly better OBP.

Second Base: Brian Dozier ($24) – While I can’t expect much more than .315 to .320 OBP, I drafted him for legitimate mid-twenties home run power. His speed skills indicate that his decline in stolen bases was more the result of a decline in opportunities rather than the decline of his raw speed.  Maintaining double-digit steals should at least not be an issue and a return to a slightly higher level might even be reasonable.

Third Base: Kyle Seager ($22) – If you are looking for consistent, boring production from a player amidst his peak, Seager is a clear target. I was pleased to get both Dozier and Seager right at about at value.

Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons ($5) – Not much upside here unless he reverses the ground-ball trend, but his glove ensures consistent at-bats.

Corner: A.J. Reed ($3) – I like to take at least one risk of this nature each time in Tout. He’ll start the year in AAA and could push his way into a starting job by mid-season, depending on the success of others on the depth charts. Given his skill set, I believe he’ll exceed the value drafted, provided the Astros give him the opportunity. Needless to say, finding a back-up for him in the reserve round quickly became my top priority there.

Middle Infield: Chris Coghlan ($5) – I had Coghlan as one of my pre-draft targets. Tout Wars rules allow for 15 games to be the minimum position qualifier rather than the standard twenty, so his power/speed/OBP combination along with his aforementioned versatility and the A’s intent to get him in the lineup regularly, I’m hoping this is a solid bargain.

Outfielders: Nelson Cruz ($26), Kevin Pillar ($18), Melky Cabrera ($12), Carlos Beltran ($12), Seth Smith ($5)

I admit to going slightly overboard on Cruz and Pillar, though I still believe in both players’ ability to produce this season. Cruz’s salary may have been better spent on a speed source or someone with a broader base of skills. The Pillar purchase came as a direct result of me chasing for speed when he was one of the few remaining starters with that talent. The Jays will be using him as a leadoff hitter which in theory could push him towards 30 steals this season, but it remains to be seen how long they’ll keep him there considering his tendency towards poor walk rates. His combination of gap power, speed, and contact skills, at least, gives hope that he is capable of at least repeating last year’s output. The days of Beltran and Cabrera supplying much in the way of stolen bases is long gone, but both again fit my fairly low-risk, get at-bats strategy at reasonable purchase prices as did Seth Smith and Victor Martinez.

In review, this is a roster full of players I am hoping will have one last hurrah. Pujols, Beltran, Martinez, and Cruz are all near the end of their respective careers but continue to display competitive skills. This team will sink or swim depending on whether or not these players decide to show their age.

Starters: Felix Hernandez ($22), Masahiro Tanaka ($17), Andrew Heaney ($3), Chris Bassitt ($3), Anibal Sanchez ($1), Eduardo Rodriguez ($2), Derek Holland ($2)

When targeting my anchor, I did not have Felix Hernandez in mind, having him valued perhaps a bit higher than I intended to spend. I was pleasantly surprised to have him at $22. Yes, the thirty-year-old showed some signs of decline with a drop off to an  8.5 K/9, his highest walk rate since 2011, and his highest ERA since 2008. The right-hander stilll has an otherwise strong skill set going forward and there is hope for improvement given the anomaly that was his home run rate on fly balls from last season. I saved some of my risk for the pitching side, obtaining upside pitchers like Heaney and Rodriguez for a combined $5. Their health and emergence as rotation members will be critical components of my team, but on the same token at just $5 they are both easy to move on from if they fail instead.

Relievers: Cody Allen ($20), Shawn Tolleson ($14) – It is possible I could lead the league in saves this year,. It is, however, more likely that I’ll try to get off to an early lead here and then trade one of the two for other needs, content to tread water in the saves category thereafter.

Bench: Travis Shaw, Aaron Judge, Richie Shaffer, Joakim Soria
Shaw and Judge are both insurance policies. Shaw will go into my lineup immediately to replace A.J. Reed. Should he somehow beat Pablo Sandoval out for the Red Sox’s third base job that will be gravy. He still looks likely to eclipse 300 plate appearances as a super-sub. Judge will be 2016 in AAA and his power bat could push his way into the Yankee’s lineup later this season. In theory, he offers additional trade leverage, plugging his power into my lineup while allowing for me to trade a veteran power bat for another need. Shaffer offers similar potential to Shaw, but perhaps less opportunity at the moment. Soria will go immediately into my active roster to replace an injured Rodriguez or Sanchez.

Kiss of Death?
So the rosters have just been entered into our stats service at which has a “toy box” feature that includes two separate projection systems that project the final standings. Apparently these systems like what I did, positioning me at either first or second place.  Is this a kiss of death or are my chances this good? My sense is it’s a bit of both. My team is so veteran-hitting deep, that most projection systems are comfortable regressing and/or hedging projections for these players to a certain level without expecting failure. We’ll find out if they and my own assessments were correct. What do you think?