Future Baseball Studs And A Fantasy Round Up

Stephen Strasburg Photo by Icon SMI

Throughout the course of the year, there are several different dates/events that receive plenty of hype and that fans look forward to.  Opening Day, Week 1, the All-Star Break, the Trade Deadline and Free Agency are just a handful.  Another event that generates plenty of hype and optimism is the Amateur Draft.  Each sport has one with varying levels of media coverage.  The NFL and  NBA drafts, rightfully so, generate the most fanfare because the impact of rookies can be immediate in some cases.  Guys like Brandon Jennings, Matt Forte, Chris Paul and Percy Harvin are guys who played a large role in the performance of their teams on the field/court as rookies and also contributed mightily to the success of countless fantasy managers.  MLB is obviously a little bit different.  Very rarely do draftees make the jump from college or high school to the highest level of pro ball.  Mike Leake is certainly a humongous exception.  Fans have to be more patient with their MLB teams’ draft picks than they do with those of their NFL and NBA teams, but that has not stopped MLB from trying to turn their draft into a larger and more media friendly event.

Lately, though, it seems as though the required amount of patience required from MLB fans awaiting their top prospects has been shorter.  Tighter wallets/fatter bonuses (ironic, huh?) and higher expectations have combined to create the urgency and temptation to push top talent more aggressively through the Minors to the Bigs.  Bigger talent and better developmental systems allows these prospects to answer the call.  Not only are young guys making tangible contributions to their real teams’ win-loss records, but they are also making sizable impacts on fantasy leagues – keeper leagues in particular.  Here are a few guys from recent drafts who serve as evidence of the decreasing gap between Draft Day and Opening Day.

2009 Draft

Stephen Strasburg (1st overall, Debut: June 8, 2010) – He should have done the “Mike Leake” before Leake did it.  He’s already lived up to the hype early on striking out 22 in 12.1 innings.

Mike Leake (8th overall, Debut: April 11, 2010) – Not as explosive as “The Stras”, but he has a 2.68 ERA in 77.1 IP without any Minor League experience – impressive!

Drew Storen (10th overall, Debut: May 17, 2010) – Future closer is already helping to bolster the Nats’ bullpen.

2008 Draft

Brian Matusz (4th overall, Debut: August 4, 2009) – The numbers aren’t pretty, but considering that he’s a rookie pitching in the AL (b) East, he deserves some credit for standing up to the competition even if his ERA is 4.92.

Buster Posey (5th overall, Debut: May 29, 2010) – He’s currently batting .344 and I’ve seen him described as “the right-handed Joe Mauer“.  What else needs to be said?

Gordon Beckham (8th overall, Debut: June 4, 2009) – Struggling mightily in 2010, but had a great rookie year, batting .270 and belting 14 homers.

Justin Smoak (11th overall, Debut: April 23, 2010) – Struggling in his first go-around, but has shown solid command of the strike zone with a 27/40 BB/K ratio.

Ike Davis (18th overall, Debut: April 19, 2010) – Mets are .5 game out of first place and Davis is a big reason why.

2007 Draft

David Price (1st overall, Debut: September 14, 2008) – 10 wins so far in 2010!

Matt Wieters (5th overall, Debut: May 29, 2009) – Not living up to the hype so far, but he is another guy who was compared to Mauer coming up.  “Mauer with power” – what’s not to like about that?

Jason Heyward* (14th overall, Debut: April 5, 2010) – The J-Hey Kid has an .875 OPS as a 20-year old.

Rick Porcello* (27th overall, Debut: April 9, 2009) – Ugly numbers in 2010, but pitched 170.2 innings of 3.96 ball as a 20-year old rookie in 2009.

Mike Stanton* (76th overall, Debut: June 8, 2010) – Trying to carry his juggernaut Double-A production into the Marlins lineup.

2006 Draft

Photo by Icon SMI

Evan Longoria (3rd overall, Debut: April 12, 2008) – Reached full-blown stud status in 2009.

Clayton Kershaw* (7th overall, Debut: May 25, 2008) – The walks come in bunches, but he’s got a career 9.47 K/9 and .211 BAA.

Tim Lincecum (10th overall, Debut: May 6, 2007) – Two full seasons, two Strikeout Crowns (if such a thing really exists), two Cy Young Awards.

*Drafted out of high school

It is evident from the list above that most of the players making quick impacts on the Major League level are those that are drafted out of college.  Even so, the time between draft and debut is shrinking.  Not only that, but we are starting to see more high school talent making quicker rises through the Minors as well.  This means that many of the players from the 2010 draft (the guys not named Bryce Harper) will become familiar names before long.  We’ll watch several of them in the 2011 Future’s Game and then by 2012 we will start seeing some of them in MLB unis.  The ascension of top draft picks is not as quick as it is in the NFL or NBA, but the wait isn’t as long as it used to be.

Fantasy Ruckus

Catcher – Mike Napoli; I recently suggested that fantasy managers keep an eye on Ryan Doumit for the simple fact that he was going to be spending some time at 1B on the days he wasn’t catching.  Well, Mike Napoli already has 1B eligibility in Yahoo! leagues, and with Kendry Morales gone for the season, he will finally get the 450+ ABs that fantasy owners have been hoping for.  His numbers are not too impressive right now so the price in a trade could be cheap.

First Base – Mark Teixeira, Justin Smoak; The current and “future” Teixeira have both struggled.  Smoak is a rook, so his struggles are expected.  Not so much for Teixeira.  Let’s take a deeper look into each player though.  Smoak has struck out once every four at-bats which is a bit high, but not exorbitant for a rookie.  He has been hitting line drives at a 25% clip though which one would think is enough to overcome a semi-high strikeout total and push a batting average into the .250 range – at least.  However, it seems the balls he puts into play – even those of the line drive variety – are finding gloves as his BABIP has dropped anchor at .237.  The story is quite similar for Teixiera which is fitting considering the similarities between the two players.  If you look at Teixeira’s numbers you will notice that the K & BB rates and batted ball types are very similar to what he’s done over the course of his career.  The BABIP, however, sits at .247 for the season which is substantially lower than his career mark of .305.  Buy low on Teixeira if you can and add Smoak in keeper leagues if he’s still available.  Each one should see his numbers increase from this point forward.

Second Base – Ian Kinsler; While his overall numbers aren’t exactly bad, they are not worthy of his pre-injury Top-20 draft position.  His power has been non-existent and his speed has not been on display on the base paths.  Now, we expected the drop in SB, but the drop in power is not going to fly.  He’s hitting ground balls and fly balls at a 1-1 clip and the fly balls he does hit are not being driven evidenced by his lone HR and 2% HR/FB rate.  Normally I like to roll the dice on under-performing studs, but I would have to say leave Kinsler alone for 2010 and hop on him at a discount in 2011.  Ankle injuries – especially high ankle sprains – are notoriously slow to heal and Kinsler even said that he was prepared to deal with pain for the rest of the year.  That is not an encouraging thing to hear from a player who’s argument as a Top-20 fantasy producer was already a bit sketchy heading into the season.

Third Base – Pedro Alvarez; It’s time for the Alvarez Era to being in Pittsburgh.  Word is he’ll immediately be thrust into the middle of the Pirates order.  After a slow start at Triple-A Indianapolis, Alvarez ended up with a .277/.363/.533 slash line with 13 HR and 53 RBI.  Slowly but surely Pittsburgh is putting together a lineup that will be more exciting if not more dangerous.

Short Stop – Hanley Ramirez; Han-Ram has had a solid season, but has it been worthy of the No. 1 or 2 overall selection in fantasy drafts?  The general consensus would have to be ‘no’.  A .290/.374/.492 line with 10 HR and 35 RBI from your short stop is nothing to complain about at all.  The only thing is, you probably passed up several guys producing at a higher level right now which is tough to swallow.  How do things look for the star short stop going forward?  First of all, he’s making a lot of contact and mostly swinging at strikes.  That tells us that he is not swinging at too many bad pitches.  Now that we’ve established that he’s not whiffing too often we can check out his batted ball numbers which are a bit out of whack.  His line drives and fly balls are down as he has hit a lot more balls on the ground so far this season.  His HR/FB rate is a robust 15.9% but only 30.4% of his contact has resulted in fly balls compared to 41.5% in 2009.  His BABIP stands out as well.  While his .299 mark this season is right in line with the league average, it pales in comparison to his .346 career mark.  To me, it just appears that Ramirez needs to get his timing and rhythm going.  I have a hard time blaming his “struggles” on his benching and the accompanying distractions nor is there an injury hampering him that we know of.  This looks like one of those instances where fantasy managers just need to stand pat and ride out the wave.  Maybe if you’re lucky someone in your league will panic and unload him at a discount.

Outfield – Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff; Who are these guys?  Well, we know Aubrey Huff, but we just haven’t seen him like this in a couple of years.  While he has been inconsistent from year to year, Huff has shown the ability to produce power and patience with a solid overall line.  Therefore, it is fair to invest in the Giant with confidence.  It is likely that he is still available in free agency and even more likely that he’ll provide a short term boost – at the very least.  I have a little less confidence in Torres, but he has been very solid all year and if you are struggling offensively, it couldn’t hurt to consider riding the hot hand.  Torres has not produce much power, but he has done some work on the bases with 11 swipes and he has shown solid strike zone command with a 30/38 BB/K.  These names are far from exciting or intimidating, but that won’t matter if they help you in the standings.

Pitching – Edward Mujica, Mike Adams, Luke Gregerson; How about the Padres ‘pen?  Think they have something to do with the team’s first place standing in the NL West?  Of course they also have Heath Bell closing games out, but that is where things get interesting.  Bell has long been rumored as a trade chip for the Padres and with the emergence of the three guys before him, the decision to move him could become easier.  As a group, the aforementioned trio has combined to post a 2.40 ERA, .77 WHIP and 109/16 K/BB ratio in 97.2 IP.  Just in case you read that wrong….that is 109 strikeouts and 16 walks.  The question at this point becomes which guy receives the first crack at closing duties?  That is a question that I can not provide a good answer to.  My advice: own all three of them.

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