Tag Archives: prospects

Throwing Darts with the O’s

The Baltimore Orioles are perhaps already on a pace for a high-fifty to a mid-sixty-win season and they haven’t even played their first game. While it is going to be rough for years for Orioles fans, it presents a fascinating situation for fantasy players. A team laden with borderline MLB players means opportunities will abound for players within and without the Orioles system as they try to find something that will stick.

The Orioles willingness to not only dive head first into the Rule-5 draft but to keep not one but potentially three Rule-5 draftees on their opening day roster is a true indication that they need to find talent and harness talent wherever they can find it.

Two of the Rule-5 picks are players who have a history of issues with their hitting prior to 2018, but both enjoyed break-through seasons after getting new contact lenses. Any modest level of excitement should be tempered against the context (ineffectiveness) of their previous seasons as a hitter and the likelihood that they will regress particularly as a result of a two-level jump.

Richie Martin will be the primary beneficiary of this with the cut of Alicedes Escobar last week. The 24-year old shortstop was somewhat buried in the A’s season and would have been their Triple-A shortstop this year after enjoying a break-through season in Double-A with a .300 hitting, 25 stolen base campaign. Fantasy players, however, should consider any offense whatsoever a bonus. He is there first and foremost for his all-around plus defense where he has soft hands, good range, and a plus throwing arm. The speed tools are there, but there is little punch behind his bat, and really needs to concentrate on selectivity and making contact. As a player who puts the ball on the ground nearly 60% of the time, he’ll need to leg it out a lot of infield hits to be truly useful for fantasy players. He’s only an AL-only league find now and even should be a sub $5 draft day buy depending on when he’s nominated.

Drew Jackson looks to be his backup and like Martin was selected as a pure upside/talent play because of his raw natural tools. The former Dodger is a bit more intriguing as he tapped into some power (15 home runs), stole 22 bases, and has a history of walking (11%) last year. Right now, he is on the utility-player career path, but his broad array of talents makes him noteworthy if opportunity arises.

Matt Olson Injury
In other news, Matt Olson had hamate encision surgery. I found a medical abstract that indicates the median return to play time is about six weeks, but could be longer in some cases. The fact that he had the surgery almost immediately after having the injury and is an athlete, may improve his chances for a quicker return, but he could be out to late May or June if there are any complications and it remains to be seen how it will impact his power for the remainder of the season.

Mark Canha, will get first crack at replacing him. The 30-year old has no career-length platoon splits, but that does not mean it is a good thing as a .237/.240 hitter against lefties and righties over his career. Last year though he did do damage against lefties, batting .282/.337/.604 while continuing to struggle against righties. In other words, the A’s would be better off if he was the short-side of a platoon. Fine as a short-term fill-in in AL-Only leagues, but intriguing as a possible, situational, DFS play against lefties.

2019 AL Tout Wars Recap

This past weekend I made my 19th annual pilgrimage to Tout Wars.

For the second straight year, it was a bittersweet event after Steve Moyer’s passing last we lost my friend and former colleague back in my Mastersball.com days, Lawr Michaels. I met Lawr at the Arizona Fall League in 2000 and in 2001 we both participated in our first Tout Wars event in Steve Moyer’s basement, in Bethlehem, PA. I always looked forward to seeing him and catching up with him at events and certainly drafting against him, talking about our families, discussing our Strat league and music. His presence was missed even more so after having sat next to him at last year’s auction as we chatted throughout it.

——-
Ok, you came here for what, why, and the how of what I did. Overall, I am reasonably pleased with the results.

Pre-Draft Strategy:  After finishing last season, I am keen to redeem myself. To that end I budgeted $180 to $190 on hitting with the remainder on pitching with the idea that I would anchor my staff with an ace and closer and to draft a corps of hitters that were balanced in categories across the board. Mostly I just wanted to be patient and strike wherever I felt bargains were to be found. I’ve found in recent years that prices on players have been going higher than bid price more frequently and that even more discipline is required to stay true to your game plan. I also, per usual, but budgeted out my roster slots with the expectation that they would change and vary depending on where I could unearth value.

Draft Day Results: (Full Draft Day rosters can be found here.)

C: Mike Zunino $8
C: Jonathan LuCroy $7
1B: Edwin Encarnacion $24
2B: Dee Gordon $21
3B: Carlos Santana $25
SS: Jonathan Schoop $15
CI: Albert Pujols $5
MI: D.J. LeMahieu $9
OF: Aaron Hicks $23, Brett Gardner $15, Jacoby Jones $2, Willie Calhoun $1
UT: Nelson Cruz $25
Swing: Steve Pearce $3

Starters: Justin Verlander $36, Tyler Skaggs $9, CC. Sabathia $3, Mike Minor $7, Jamie Barria $2, Gio Gonazalez $1, Adam Ottavino $2, Blaine Hardy $3.

The Rundown
I didn’t purchase any players until the 21st player – Justin Verlander was nominated, rostering him at $36 which I felt was right around value. In retrospect, I could be have been more aggressive with my bids on Cole or Kluber who went for $35 and $34 respectively earlier and saved myself a $1 or two if I got to those numbers first, but on the other hand pitchers below this tier ended up being pushed higher than expected with both Ian Snell and Trevor Bauer hitting $30 and Jose Berrios hitting $25.

Closers: The upshot of spending $36 on Verlander backed me off a bit on going over $20 on a closer, though, spending $14 on Cody Allen. No closer is what I would define “a rock of stability” and Allen heads into the season as the Angel’s closer though I regret not having then highlighted $3 or so to target Buttrey later to lock down the save situation there. Allen, at least, has saved no fewer than 24 games the last five seasons and is still posting strikeouts well more than 10 per nine innings pitched. His walk rates, however, were well out of context with the rest of his career. Provided there is no hidden injury, I am banking on him rebounding to his career norms and mid 3’s walk-rates. If that happens, 30 to 35 saves is very attainable. The only other reliever I selected was Adam Ottavino who could have been a closer had he chosen to sign with a team looking for one, but instead opted to join the Yankees to win and is now quite some ways down on the pecking order despite his talents. He could still get a few saves, but I am mostly here for the extra strikeouts and good ratios. Blaine Hardy meanwhile will start the year in relief but was effective as a starter and I selected him with the potential to pick up innings in a swing capacity.

Catchers: I came in to this draft budgeting $5 and $3 for my two catchers., but once the early push for catchers and spending was over, they started to fall at reasonable prices, and I rerouted $8 to Grab Mike Zunino who I would’ve gone as high as $10 at the time on and Jonathan LuCroy at $8. While it is difficult to get excited about either player, I do not have two empty roster slots thought I’d be nice if either of these two gentlemen would make more consistent contact or draw a few more walks.

The Sweet Spot: At some point in every auction I tend to find a spot that seems me throw down quite a bit of cash in a short period of time. It comes as I start to find some bargains and players I have been waiting to be nominated finally come up. This happened between nomination 73 and 78 4 of the six players nominated. By this point I had decided that Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana would be my 1B/3B combination and got them within moments of each other. Encarnacion I felt was a several dollar bargain, so it let me go a $1 or so over what I thought I wanted on Santana to secure the duo which I believe at the time were the last of the $20+ rated corner players available at the time. I chased John Hicks within that spot but couldn’t bring myself to go $7 on a part time player. I also grabbed Tyler Skaggs at $9 (valued around $11) and Aaron Hicks at $23 (valued around at $25). Both are players who enjoyed breakout seasons last year with Skaggs having an elevated BABIP despite superior strikeout and control skills and improvement to make him a $15 or more pitcher next year could be in the works. Meanwhile, always blessed with good OBP skills, stayed healthy and showed off his five-tools even though the 20-20 season once projected of him is no longer going to happen.

Thoughts on Dee Gordon
I went on air on SXM Fantasy Sports Radio while on break from the draft and thankfully I did as the draft board said I bought Justin Verlander at $38 and I got that corrected before running into issues in the end game. I also got heavily quizzed about Dee Gordon who I had just bought at $21 despite his OBP struggles the previous season. I put my faith once again in career context in this case. Gordon is still an elite base runner who puts the ball in play frequently, but his 1.5% walk rate was less than half his career average and he’s typically in the mid three-percent range. When he is healthy, his BABIP which was .304 last year, is typically in the .340 to .350 range. If he does indeed bat ninth, he’ll see fewer plate appearances, but 30-plus stolen bases are still within his capabilities.

Other Hitters: Tout Wars rules allow players to qualify at positions if they play at 15 or more games. I had roughly around $15 to budget for my shortstop slot with having taken D.J. LeMahieu for my middle infield spot already at $9, so I was pleased to include Jonathan Schoop in my shortstop hunt and hopefully a fourth year straight of 20-plus runs and another player whose BABIP was suppressed compared to his career norms (.261 compared to .296 career) who could bounce back given no other significant changes in hitting skills/stats from his previous seasons. Willie Calhoun and JacCoby Jones were both low-cost options on players with some upside. While Calhoun has no spot to play and will star the year in Triple-A, he’s just an injury away form a starting job. Jones, meanwhile, will be the Tiger’s opening day centerfielder. The 26-year old lacks plate discipline, but power/speed skills that should justify the price tag alone, but also remains fungible given the investment.

Pitching Bargains Begin to Fall

After the initial high-pricing of the pitching market, the prices on some pitchers began to come back to earth as I was particularly pleased to purchase Minor at $7 and Jamie Barria at $2 who I had pre-draft values of $12 and $6 on. Minor will once again be in the Rangers rotation showing swing and miss skills as well as above average control. His fly-ball ways in Arlington, however, hold him back from getting to the next level. Barria will be a full-season member of Angel’s rotation this year. Some regression will happen given his 82% left-on-base rate, but he still has inning eater potential.

Reserve Rounds:
Mark Canha – He’ll be in a backup role for the A’s. Drafted to serve as a short-term Willie Calhoun replacement until someone better comes along though to be fair Canha performed quite adequate in a part-time role with 17 homers and a .328 OBP for the A’s last year and has the skills for a repeat or better if called into service again.

Speaking of something better, I am hoping that Alex Kirilloff is one of those things. One of the top outfield prospects in baseball, Kirilloff is a left-handed hitter who can already hit for power and for average at just 21 years of age. He’ll begin the year in Double-A. He’s the type of talent that could move to the Majors if he does his part and his team is contending and looking for some extra fire power.

I got by far the most grumbles for my drafting of Clay Buchholz. He’ll start the season in extended spring training and is with an organization in need of his talents. I am not expecting last year’s results, but someone I can swap into the rotation to that could allow me to play whoever is the hot hand.

My final selection was Sean Murphy. Perhaps the best upper-level catching prospect now with Danny Jansen in a full-time job, I thought it was wise to grab Murphy given the state of catching in the American League. His plus glove and arm will get him to the big leauges, but he also features good contact making skills and 15 to 20+ raw homerun power potential. Not expecting that this season, but a good start at AAA could have him push Nick Hundley out of the job.

To wrap things up I think I have a very competitive, solid core of players. My lineup mostly consists of proven veterans and my pitching is likewise similarly anchored that should keep me anchored. Last year’s squad was not nearly as balanced statistically and incorporated a much higher level of risk. This year, my odds of being competitive and challenging for a possible title I believe are much better.

Looking for Relief

Veteran or former closers were in the headlines as Brad Boxberger was dealt to Arizona and Jim Johnson moved to the Los Angeles Angels, both in exchange for minor league arms.

The Rays closer in 2015, Boxberger spent much of 2016 either ineffective or on the disabled list or both and then missed most of 2 017 due to a back injury. Though only a small 29.1 inning sample, once healthy, the righty re-established his dominance with a 12.3 K/9 and improved his control to a 3.4 BB/9 mark. Long-balls continue to be a problem for him, however, his career home runs on fly balls rate standing at 14%. As an arbitration candidate, a not insignificant pay raise is coming his way which may have been expedited the move. Archie Bradley has been penciled in to close for the Diamondbacks despite just a single career save and Boxberger will give them another option to consider this spring. Worst case he is poised to be the number one closer insurance policy.

He still works with a plus fastball, nasty slider, and changeup combination and his layoff have not resulted in any decline in velocity. However, he has shown to be somewhat injury prone and volatile in terms of control and as mentioned, home run allowance. Even if he wins the closer job outright, an aggressive investment is not recommended.

Jim Johnson, meanwhile returns to his AL roots after two years with the Braves and at this point in time may be utilized more in a setup or middle relief role with the emergence of Blake Parker and Cam Bedrosian, but as a pitcher with 176 career saves, he could easily end up back in the role if others falter. Earlier in his career, Johnson was known as a pitch to contact, extreme groundball pitcher type with above average command a mid-nineties fastball. In recent seasons, however, his curveball has become a more effective weapon and his strikeout rates have climbed to more than a batter per inning even though he does not throw quite as hard as he did at his peak. This season his command crumbled from a 2.8 to a 4.0 BB/9 awhile his groundball rates dropped to under 50% for the first time in his career. The result, despite a career-high 9.7 K/9, was terrible across the board. The 34-year old has been written off before, only to rise from the dead. It would be unwise to write him off a second time, but still should only be considered as an endgame option or not all on draft day if he doesn’t claim the closer’s role.

Moving on to the minor leagues, the Rays acquired Curtis Taylor from the Diamondbacks. Taylor is a projectable, 6’6” right-hander who pitched in A-ball last year, posting a 9.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. He was being used as a starter, but his upper nineties fastball and slider may lend themselves better to a relief role in the long run. He’ll move up to A+ ball next year, but a change in roles could move him through the system at a much faster rate.

Justin Kelly was acquired along with pool money from the Angels for Johnson. The 24-year old started in rookie ball and proceeded to then pitch at 4 subsequent levels, ultimately ending up in AAA before the season ended. Just because he moved that many levels do not mean he is any good. A former 33rd round pick, drafted just four shy of being drafted 1000th overall, tops out in the eighties and works with average at best pitches. Expect him to spend almost the entirety of 2018, if not his career, in AAA.

It’s All About the Glove: Breaking Down the Adeiny Hechavarria Deal

Trade Background: It’s all about the glove, at least from the Rays’ point of view. The Rays dealt minor leaguers Braxton Lee and Ethan Clark for Adeiny Hechavarria. From the Marlins, it was about getting rid of the remainder of Hechavarria’s $4.4 M dollar salary. Long term that makes him a non-tender candidate as he’ll head to arbitration once again this Fall, but that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

Roster Ramifications: Hechavarria was on the DL with the Marlins and will be activated later this week, so a corresponding move has yet to be made. He’ll take over as the primary shortstop with Tim Beckham and Daniel Robertson splitting time at second base. Taylor Featherston could end up the roster casualty though it could possibly be Robertson being sent down too since he has options remaining. The returns of Brad Miller and Matt Duffy, both not until the second half for Duffy for certain and possibly for Miller, will shuffle up this whole middle infield situation again in time.

For the Marlins, since Hechavarria was already on the DL, the deal does not result in any MLB-level roster changes. What it does is lock in J.T. Riddle as their primary shortstop. The Marlins do not have any other shortstop prospects close to MLB ready and so it is sink or swim time for Riddle. They do, however, have an array of journeyman/veterans with plenty of MLB experience in Triple-A to fill in should the need arise.

As for the minors, Braxton Lee will head to Double-A Jacksonville and Ethan Clark is moving to Low-A Greensboro.

Player Analysis: Without his plus glove Hechavarria would not have much of an MLB career. The 28-year old makes a reasonable amount of contact but lacks power, patience, and though he runs well, is not much of a stolen base threat. At best, the righty may provide a .270s to .280s batting average and single digit HR and SB totals.

Braxton Lee, 23, was a 2014 12th round draft pick by the Rays. A 5’10” centerfielder with well above average speed, Lee brings a decent approach to the plate, combining moderate selectivity and some contact making skills in an effort to put the ball on the ground and leg it out as much as possible. Not surprisingly the result is an almost complete lack of a power-hitting game. In fact, his first two professional home runs came this year in his fourth season of pro ball. He was having a nice season with a .318/.387/.391 slash along with 12 steals, but still barely surfaces on the prospect radar. Expect him to be on the journeyman/fifth outfielder career path.

Ethan Clark is not a high-pedigree prospect either. The 22-year old was a 2015 15th round draft pick and has worked in both starting and relief since signing with the Rays. Despite standing about 6’6”, Clark is not a power pitcher per se, but he has good command and his primary pitch is a heavy sinker that he mixes with a changeup and curve. In 55 innings Clark has posted an 8.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. At best, he projects as a back-end of the rotation starter or middle reliever. The development of a secondary pitch as a true swing and miss offering is the key here.

Conclusions: The Rays were determined to upgrade their defense and they accomplished that goal though it is uncertain whether or not Hechevarria will eventually fade into a defensive replacement role once Duffy and Miller both return to the scene. The Marlins meanwhile managed to shed some salary and acquire two prospects, though neither has a high ceiling, both have their utility and could contribute at the MLB level in time.