Prospect Profiles: A Selection of Opening Day Rookies

Opening day rosters are in the process of being finalized and with that, a crop of rookies are receiving some of those final slots. Let’s get to know some of these players a bit better.

Aaron Judge will be the Yankees opening day right fielder and there is a lot about him that screams “prototypical right fielder”.  Judge has the requisite range and arm to be an upgrade at the position over the aging Matt Holliday. He also has excellent raw power that may allow him to reach and exceed the 30 home run mark multiple times over his career. The question mark here is the approach and his handedness. He’s a right-handed, all or nothing hitter capable of drawing walks 10% or more of the time, but has also struck out around a quarter or more of the time in the minors and during his trials in the majors has struck out over 40%. Judge has worked to shorten his swing, moving away from a leg kick, but will always remain a right-handed hitter who strikes out at least semi-frequently. Expectations beyond much over a .240s batting average should be held in check until he shows improved contact-making skills. He’ll have greater utility in OBP leagues where he could hit .220 and still produce an OBP in excess of .300.

Staying in the outfield we move over to Detroit where JaCoby Jones has earned at least a platoon role (vs. lefties) in centerfield. Jones is a good tools player who has yet to really impress over an extended period at any one level of the minor leagues. The former third round pick, for example, struck out 30% of the time over 324 plate appearances while posting a .243/.309/.356 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage slash line. Jones has plenty of raw power and speed and does have 20-20 potential has not shown the former talent in-game on a consistent basis since A-ball where hit 23 home runs and stole 17 bases. Jones earned the job through an excellent spring training performance, showing off his power and speed potential as well as his plus defense. In a full-time role, he looks like he would be overmatched and quickly dispatched back to the minors, but he might hang on for a while in a more specialized role. The opportunity and speed make him worthy of a pickup in most AL-only formats.

Adalberto Mejia defeated Jose Berrios and Nick Tepesch in the quest for the Twin’s fifth starter job. The 23-year old left-hander came over in a deal with the Giants for Eduardo Nunez. Mejia is not a high-profile arm but is a fairly finished project who throws four pitches for strikes and gets swings and misses with a plus changeup and a decent slider. His skills may actually profile better as a left-handed specialist in the long run, but he has a deep enough arsenal to be a competent back of the rotation starter and inning eater. I would put him on my AL-only watch list or reserve roster at most at the moment.

Koda Glover was a 2015 8th round pick by the Nationals. A reliever, he flew through the minors, pitching at three levels in 2015 and three more again, including the Majors, last year and ended up in this spring’s closer competition, ultimately having to settle for a middle relief role. At 6’5”, 225 pounds, Glover throws hard, regularly hitting the mid to upper nineties on his fastball and has a filthy slider to go along with it. Put him on your saves sleeper list though there are a few names ahead of him currently on the depth chart.

One of the more exciting rookies to earn an everyday job to begin 2017 is the Pirates’ Josh Bell. The 24-year old, former second-round pick had a dismal spring training which hopefully can be ignored. The switch-hitter with his plus bat-speed and tremendous approach, drawing walks at equal or in excess of his strikeouts should allow him to make an impact in the batting average and OBP department immediately. Bell’s also hit 17 home runs between two levels of play last year and that power is still emerging. A mid to high-teens home run out put showing with a .280s batting average and .350-plus OBP are well within his reach for the coming season.

Prospect Profile: Jacob May

The White Sox, pushing towards rebuilding mode, did not aggressively pursue veterans to add to their outfield, instead focusing on minor league invitees and their system’s own depth. Early on, Charlie Tilson was considered one of the front-runners as a rookie candidate to grab a starting job but has been slowed by injuries. In his stead, Jacob May has pushed forward to claim the starting centerfield job, but can he hold onto it and just who is this guy?

May, 25, was a 2013 third round pick out of Coastal Carolina, so not a completely unheralded prospect in this case. He’s a smallish (5’10”) switch-hitter whose standout tools is speed gathering 37 stolen bases in 2014, 38 in 2015, and 19 over his 321 plate appearances in Triple-A in 2016. It should be noted, however, that May is not necessarily a high-percentage stealer with a 69% and 70% success rates respectively over those two seasons. It remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be given the green light and whether or not make the necessary improvements to keep it.

At the plate, May leaves quite a bit to be desired as a potential starter. He has marginal power with a sub .100 isolated power in the upper levels of the minors, and lacks in the plate discipline department, striking out far too often (22% in 2016 in AAA) and fails to get on base (4.7% walk rate). He fared slightly better in the latter two departments in his 2015 Double-A stint but has yet to show that at a higher level of competition.

In summary, May speed tools certainly make him a must-grab in AL-only formats, but he strikes me as someone whose modest skills and talents will be overexposed during a prolonged stay. Long term I see him as a fourth/fifth/Triple-A roster filler outfielder. Extract what value you can from him while he gets some plate appearances.

AL Tout Wars 2017, A Draft Day Recap

Tout Wars 2017 – American League Recap

This past weekend I participated once again, alongside friends and industry colleagues, in Tout Wars, the AL version. I’ve been participating in Tout since 2001. This year marks my seventh time competing for the AL. The question is, of course, “will I finally take home the prize this year?” My initial take is, it’s going to be an interesting ride if I do.

Pre-draft strategy: In years past, I’ve gone heavier hitting with a budget of roughly $190 to $205 allocated with anywhere between $70 and $55 left for pitching. I’ve swung to a slightly more conservative allocation lately ($180/$80 at the start of draft day) and may be glad I did with multiple teams this year seeking to push the $190 mark on hitting. Every year I budget my players by slot and shift it on the fly on my spreadsheet as what is on my roster and what is in the player pool varies.

Player wise, I considered Justin Verlander as an anchor option in the mid-twenties, but then opted for a more spread-the-risk focus given the number of pitchers available in the teens range, with Kevin Gausman and Michael Fulmer amongst others drawing my attention. I also decided I would focus on one anchor-closer in the $16 to $19 range, a third starter or a second closer in the lower teens and fill in from there with innings.

On the general hitters’ front, I wanted to make sure I focused more on blending in speed. In years past I’ve loaded up on 4 out of the 5 categories, coming away from drafts well short in the stolen base categories.

Catchers
No one is all that enthused, well ever, at the catcher draft pool. (Maybe say: No one is ever enthused about the catcher draft pool.) I decided from the get-go I’d focus on Gattis and others in the mid-teens range and then fill in my second slot with an end-gamer. I had and continue to have little interest in going above value chasing catchers for the sake of having one.

The Rest of the Hitters
I was Very focused on Carlos Santana.  I had him budgeted for $25 in an OBP-based league as well as other members of the lower-twenties 1B class as possible candidates. For second base, third base, and short I plugged in low to mid-twenties for each of those slots. I then plugged in single digit to low teens figures for my middle infield and corner. For my outfield, I focused on one two outfielders in the twenties, one in the teens and the last in high single digits with a $1 or two left over for my UT and swing as hitters.

The Results
So here’s what I bought:

Catcher: Evan Gattis $16, Roberto Perez $2
I’ll admit I probably purchased Gattis a bit above where I wanted him, but on the same token, despite draft day values with respect to the possession, these players get chased above value in general as teams attempt to land someone viable and I was not willing to chase the likes of Mike Zunino, Yan Gomes, and son on. The fact that Gattis will spend extensive time not behind the plate is actually a plus given the wear and tear of the position. He’s not a tremendous OBP candidate but is one of the more reliable hitters at the position with four straight seasons of achieving 21 or more home runs. A more productive season in 2017 could even be in the cards as Gattis will not spend significant time in the minors getting ready to catch again and instead will spend the entirety of 2017, health-permitting, in the majors.

First Base: C.J. Cron $12
So things did not go according to plans here. Other first basemen went earlier and at higher prices than I desired and many other owners were hot on his tracks when he was finally nominated, eventually going a $1 above my budget. I couldn’t bring myself to say “$27”. As a result, there was not really anything left in the $20 range on the board. So I focused on Cron who I had in the mid-teens, shifted more money to my outfield budget, and was pleased to get Angel’s first basemen below my projected value especially since he may be in line for a greater number of plate appearance this year.

Second Base: Jason Kipnis $16
The Pricing of players I targeted like Jean Segura, Jose Ramirez, etc.  was more competitive and higher than I budgeted. We went to a break and I looked at what was left to spend money on. I had amongst the most, if not the most dollars to work with at the time and focused on several players. I weighted Kipnis’ start on the DL alongside the still fairly solid value I had him at given what else remained, put him on my list. (Last sentence is confusing in terms of grammar) Because I valued him in the low-twenties and he might only miss the first few weeks of the season, I felt $16 was a possible bargain as a power/modest speed threat still.

Third Base: Alex Bregman $20
Bregman was my true target after the break. I dislike targeting rookies and their inherent volatility, but he has strong fundamental skills with a quick/contact-making bat and 20-plus homerun potential. The $20 I spent is technically “under projected value”, but this is definitely a purchase well into his risk above minimum expectations. Much of my success is going to bank on his sophomore season.

Shortstop: Didi Gregorius $6
My other target after that break was Brad Miller and would’ve gone as high as $18.  I lost out to Lawr a second time who was willing to hit $19. After losing out, I shifted yet more money to my outfield and decided to take a chance on Didi Gregorius. Whether or not he’ll have a job when he returns from the DL remains to be seen, but for now, the Yankees are filling in with utility types and not top prospect Gleyber Torres. Prior to the injury, Gregorius was valued into the mid-teens, if not higher and I still had him in the low-teens despite the injury. Taking him at all is a risk, but at $6, with a return as soon as late April or early May, I thought I had him at a price that could ultimately be an easy return on investment, shoulder permitting.

Middle Infield: Jef Lowrie $1
End-game. It was him or J.J. Hardy. This made me instantly put Franklin Barreto at the top of my list for the reserve round draft.

Corner Infield: Pablo Sandoval $7
I was prepared to go higher and happy to land him at this price. The thinner version of the Panda is having a great spring and has the job locked in. At 30 years of age, a rebound to his pre-2015 levels I feel is extremely reasonable. I have been targeting him in all my leagues this year since he’s going below my projected values. He’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Outfielders & Swing: Jose Bautista $26, Jarrod Dyson $17, Carlos Gomez $19, Steven Souza $9, Lorenzo Cain $20

Bautista has been going under value in many leagues, but his power remains as is his value as an OBP player. I had a slot slated for $26 and had him valued at $27. As for Jarrod Dyson, I was noticing that the bidding on speed-merchants was Luke-warm. I wanted to avoid my under-purchasing of speed in previous years, so I went in at $17 to nab him. In theory this is below value given the steals, but I’ve never been a fan of the other skills. I’ll just cross my fingers and hope he still achieves a career high in plate appearances (369 is that high to date). I went after Gomez on similar precedent (what does this mean?) of the Luke-warm/risk adverse bidding when he came up. Again, he is another player I had valued at over $20, but a high risk $20. A healthy Gomez can still get to the mid-teens HRs and the 20-steal range to earn $19. He is still only 31-years old. In theory, he might still have a rebound or two left. Lorenzo Cain is coming off of an injury, but I feel far more confident in his skill set which has stabilized in recent years and thought he was a bargain at $20. Again, he was among the players I targeted for my budget coming off of that break. If nothing else, I have leverage in speed now to trade for other needs. Souza is yet another player with some power/speed skills and dealt with injuries last year. He is an OBP risk given his titanic strikeout rates, but again a possible bargain at $9.

Utility: Kennys Vargas $3
I should have nominated him at $1 and let someone else grab him. He may not make the opening day roster and is dealing with an ill-timed spring injury.

Pitchers: Carlos Carrasco $20, Michael Fulmer $15, Joe Musgrove $7, Carlos Rodon $6, Steven Wright $4, Lucas Giolito $2, Sam Dyson $11, Mychal Givens $2, Kelvin Herrera $19.

Jeff Erickson nominated Herrera as the second nomination at $17. I had him at around $19 and bid $18 when it seemed he might get crickets on it. This is a budget slot filled at  $1 less than I had budgeted, letting me use those funds elsewhere. My first starting pitching grab of Fulmer at $15 was right on target with my plan. Going after Carlos Carrasco, coming off an injury, was off plan when I really was focused on guys like Gausman, Porcello, Hamels, and Sanchez in the mid-teens. If healthy, Carrasco has the skills to earn that value, but we’re talking about a pitcher who has made 30 starts just once and has never thrown more than 183.2 innings. I’m probably buying into too much risk here. For my low-teens slot, I had Musgrove as one my favorite options and was pleased to land him at $7. His stuff, command and bat-missing abilities will have him in the earlier group in the mid-teens or higher next year. The budget savings let me go grab Sam Dyson as a second closer for $11. I know he has other pitchers breathing down his neck for the closer job. His value could very well come down to his management’s patience if he has a bad outing in a row or three.

As I approached the later rounds, I still had only three starters. After last years’ experience of quickly losing two of my five starting pitchers drafted, which in turn quickly sabotaged my season, I wanted to add some more innings. Carlos Rodon was possibly above value especially given that he may begin 2017 on the DL and has some talented arms coming up through the system behind him. Still, he has filthy stuff and his command is improving. Failure or a breakout are both potential outcomes here. Knuckleballer Steven Wright pitched well until injury and then proceeded to get hit hard. The Red Sox added to their depth with the Chris Sale addition, so it remains to be seen how long or how many starts Wright will receive. He could return a profit on his price especially if Price’s injury is more severe or Drew Pomeranz scuffles. I purchased Givens early on as a roster filler as a possible Zach Britton backup and a high-strikeout arm when he was nominated by Glen Colton and Rick Wolf. He’s worth more than $2 to be sure. My final grab, given a dearth of talent at the Major League level, was a speculative play in advance of the reserve round in the form of Lucas Giolito. Reynaldo Lopez may have been a better selection here given his greater experience and the possibility he may get recalled from the minors more quickly, but Giolito is the higher rated prospect with more upside and will get his chance too.

Reserve Roster: Franklin Barreto, Matt Davidson, Yovani Gallardo, Ronald Torreyes
Barreto, especially given Lowrie’s injury history, has a very good chance at a mid-season call-up. A quick adjustment to the majors could make him a game-changer for my season with his blend of tools and skills. Davidson, if he makes the roster for the White Sox, could be an option for my lineup if Vargas fails to make the Twins. Gallardo could fill in some innings for Rodon. If his shoulder is healthy, a rebound is possible, but on the other hand, I would not mind in the least if he didn’t have to touch my roster unless he showed some signs of life first. With Gregorius out, Torreyes was nabbed to bridge the gap.

Wrapping Up
Things ended up going quite a bit differently than I planned and I even ended up moving more dollars towards the pitching side with a final 175/85 split. I often focus on making sure I get the at-bats and eschew risk-taking, but this year I embraced it instead. I think I have built a team that could certainly compete at a high level or implodes in spectacular fashion. Given the lack of trading in Tout, however, the risks you take that pan out may be the ones that win you the league. I’ll take the risk.

 

 

 

The Diamond Exchange: Royals Sign Hammel

Yesterday the Kansas City Royals brought in Jason Hammel in on a two-year deal.  A move, sadly, was necessary to do to the untimely death of Yordano Ventura.

Hammel, 34, at least can be relied upon to pick up some of the innings as he comes off a second consecutive thirty-start season, though he has never thrown more than 177.2 innings and a season and seems to end up in the 170-ranging every full season of his career. The righty was also left off the Cubs’ World Series roster due to elbow tightness and must prove he is once again healthy. His control numbers should, therefore, be a primary focus to monitor that issue.

Hammel has a solid history as a strike-thrower (Career 2.8 BB/9 and 2.9 in 2016), but has been noted to allow home runs at high rates on a regular basis and has consistently, thanks in part to suppressed batting averages on a ball in play, has kept his ERA under a 4.00 with some frequency despite allowing home runs on fly-ball rates ranging in the 11 to 13% area.

Going forward there really is not much reason to expect any substantial changes from his performance, health-permitting, given a stable skill set and no changes to the velocity of his offerings. While his suppressed BABIP might regress, he is moving to one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the majors with respect to home runs and should benefit from that making him still a candidate to get into the double digits in Wins and possibly still maintain a below-4.00 ERA though his xFIP and FIP last suggested that it should be in the mid-4’s. If you spend more than $5 on auction day in AL-only leagues, however, you will certainly eat into or could completely erase your potential profit margin.

Personal Note: I have been nominated as one of three finalists for Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year, Print for 2016! You can listen in and see if I won this evening by tuning into http://www.siriusxm.com/fantasysportsradio tonight at 9 PM eastern!