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November 6, 2014

Five to Watch

Post-Hype Prospects for 2015

by Craig Goldstein

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Just over a year ago, I introduced myself to you by using the phrase “mound-dwelling tautonymic counterpart” in an attempt to dazzle and impress. Now you know the sandwich-loving truth, though, and despite the need to hate, you can’t help but love. I bring you back to that time in your life when things were better, before you knew me and what I’m about, only to say, I’m about to discuss the same topic.

Each offseason, keeper and dynasty owners have roster crunches to figure out. Ever the complicating factors are those players who once carried lofty ceilings but have yet to turn tools and talent into production. They’ve exceeded their rookie eligibility, meaning they can’t be stashed on a farm team, and it’s decision time. Generally, it is about weighing the option of carrying the high upside/high risk post-hype prospect, or someone with a lower ability to impact your rotation/lineup, but who is a surer thing to do so.

Last year’s article hit well on A’s catcher Derek Norris, and relatively so on Eaton and Skaggs (pre-injury). Others in this vein include Jake Arrieta, Devin Mesoraco, Wily Peralta, Carlos Carrasco, and even Lonnie Chisenhall. While some of those breakouts are more real than others *cough* Chisenhall *cough*, it goes to show that sometimes talent takes longer to develop than we anticipate. That doesn’t mean we should give up though.

There’s a theory I’m partial to that says we need 1,000-1,500 at-bats at the major-league level to know who a hitter really is. Given how early some prospects are being promoted these days, it’s possible we need to be even more lenient. That said, knowing when they’re going to be useful to you is as important as knowing if they’ll be useful. Below are five guys I’d work to keep, given the chance. Ben Carsley will be following with another five names next week, as we held a little snake draft to determine which players we wanted to write about. The names range from some obvious guys who might be tough calls in shallower leagues, to some deeper options

Nick Castellanos - 3B - Tigers

The Good: Castellanos’ slash line of .259/.306/.394 isn’t so bad for someone with 18 total plate appearances prior to this year, and is right about the league average of .258/.318/.396. He lashed 31 doubles, enabling his slugging percentage to stay within shouting distance of league average even though his home run stats are relatively meager. Following a brutal start the season, Castellanos posted OPSs of .886, .705, and .706 from June-August, showing that he could be the type of player we expected in spurts.

The Bad: He ran out of gas in September, reverting to the lower .600s OPS player he was the first couple months. He only managed 11 home runs on the season, validating the concerns about his power output, and while the slash line is solid, especially in regards to his age and level, it’s fair to say the batting average fell short of where expectations were for many fans and owners.

The Recommendation: As mentioned above, it can take a lot of at-bats (or plate appearances) before a prospects true nature can be determined. I’ve always believed that Castellanos would hit, and while the power is a question mark, I think 15-18 homers isn’t an unreasonable expectation. It’s also true though, that it could take him several years to get to that point, and that he needs to find a way to be productive elsewhere, while he takes his time developing that power. Detroit could lose Victor Martinez in the offseason, which would be a blow to his counting stats (either RBI or R, depending on where they hit him), but he’s generally part of a productive lineup, and I think we could see a batting average in the .280 range, in relatively short order. He swung and missed more than anticipated, and while that’s a negative, I do think there’s an adjustment coming. He’s not going to be elite, possibly ever, in fantasy, but if your league keeps 140-160 players (or more), I think he’s worth holding on to.

Arismendy Alcantara - 2B/CF - Cubs

The Good: He played in the major leagues? There’s not a ton to love from a season that produced a .237 TAv and a 31 percent strikeout rate from a non-power-hitting player, that much is clear. Still, Alcantara hit 10 home runs in 300 plate appearances, and at that pace, a full season’s worth of games would put him over 20. For a guy with second-base and outfield eligibility, that’s pretty good. Add in the eight stolen bases he mustered—which, again, over a full season, puts him on pace for just short of 20 stolen bases. He did all of this while suffering from a .266 BABIP, despite never posting one below .332 in the minor leagues.

The Bad: The .237 TAv and 31 percent strikeout rate are more than enough to drain value from his counting stats, but he supplemented them by recording a sub-league average walk rate. There’s no avoiding how bad Alcantara was at the plate outside of the home runs, and there’s no reason to sugarcoat it. The upside is that he was 23 years old in his first taste of the major leagues, and he handled a mid-season position change relatively well on the defensive end. It’s speculation to say that such a thing took its toll at the plate, but it’s not illogical. While he’s not altogether patient at the plate, Alcantara has shown the ability to identify pitches, and the strike zone. Plus, he clearly has the ability to make pitchers pay when they challenge him in the zone or miss their spot. If he can cut back on taking hacks on pitches outside the zone (34 percent vs. the league-average 31 percent), he should get better pitches to hit, and do what he can with them.

The Recommendation: I’ve long championed Alcantara and despite the brutal display in 2014, I’m not about to quit on him yet. His value drops in the outfield, but with 21 games started at second in 2014, he’ll carry multi-position eligibility into 2015 anyway. We’ve seen his ability to help in home runs and stolen bases despite being bad everywhere else, so the idea is that if he’s actually adequate in those other categories, he could not only stave off some power regression, but add to those totals. I like his likelihood of playing everyday in 2015, and there’s plenty of value in that, but give the horrific-ness of the slash line, I’d say he’s worth keeping if your league holds on to 180-plus players, depending on the situation.

Jonathan Schoop - 2B - Orioles

The Good: 16 homers. That’s it.

The Bad: Literally everything else.

He had a 2.7 percent walk rate. TWO POINT SEVEN. He walks less often than I do, and I live in a studio apartment that contains a chair with wheels. He doesn’t hit for average, he strikes out often, and in general was just exceedingly bad outside of home runs. His defense improved throughout the year, so sticking at second shouldn’t be a problem even though he’s never going to be great there.

The Recommendation: Why even talk about Schoop if all you’re going to do is insult his talents and reference your low quality of life, then, right? The thing is that Schoop played the entire season at age 22, and has been aggressively pushed by the Orioles for years. He’s never had the numbers to merit what people thought of him in terms of quality, but then he’s always been young for the level and needed time to adjust. At the major-league level, those adjustments become more difficult, and so could take longer to make. Similar to Alcantara above, Schoop was awful this year and still did something well from a position that lacks power. If he can be a .240 hitter, you’re looking at 20-plus home runs easily, and the RBI to go with it. He’s never been one to walk, but something in the 5-6 percent range is a lot more likely down the line. There’s no reason you need to hold on to him after this train wreck of a season, but he might be someone to snag in the deep, deep rounds just in case he can make the necessary changes, and become a 20-homer threat.

Jake Odorizzi - SP - Rays

The Good: Odorizzi pushed his strikeout rate from 18 percent in ‘13 to 24 percent in 2014, and while his walk rate jumped in turn, the tradeoff was clearly worth it. He established a career high with 168 innings, and made 31 starts for the Rays, solidifying a spot in the rotation. He recorded a 2.62 ERA, and was one of the more valuable pitchers from May-July, striking out 107 batters in 90 innings, to go with a 3.00 ERA. His .356 BABIP on ground balls against was significantly higher than the .248 league average, and Tampa generally has a good defense, so that should come down. Then again, he hardly induces grounders, so the affect won’t be that big.

The Bad: The home ERA is nice, but on the road he posted a 6.92 ERA. He also really struggled to turn the lineup over early on in the season, and had to use all his pitches early, which could show why he had a 928 OPS against on pitches 76-100. Not only was he gassed, but he had shown them everything he had. While the career-high innings total is nice, it also probably contributed to him running out of steam towards the end of the season. He finished the year with an ERA over 4.00, which for as impressive as his season was, is really pretty bad given the state of offense in baseball right now.

Part of the reason for his significant home/road split is that Odorizzi has a massive fly-ball tendency, and the Trop is a perfect place to be that kind of pitcher. Put him in Baltimore and you’re asking for trouble.

The Recommendation: I’m way, way in on Odorizzi. I know the final tally wasn’t ideal, but he’s also someone you can plan around, which has its benefits. Start him at home or in good pitcher’s parks and you’ll be fine. Also, while the strikeout bump may seem too good to be true, it’s the benefit of Odorizzi picking up a split-fingered fastball from Alex Cobb. While he previously lacked a strikeout pitch, the split has worked wonders. I’m anticipating an ERA in the mid-3s that can be mitigating by sitting him in smaller ballparks in fantasy, and a ton of strikeouts come next season. He shouldn’t fade as much come September, nor should he have the same early season issues in turning over the lineup. I’m holding him in 120-plus-player keeper leagues, and I’d be aggressive on him come draft time if people are scared off by the ERA.

Michael Choice - OF - Rangers

The Good: He almost hit 10 homers. Almost. He walked right around league average. Alex Rios is elsewhere, meaning Texas has plenty of corner outfield time to go around.

The Bad: Mercy. Just, everything. Strikeout rate, he hit .182, he OPSed 570, he did this all while playing in Texas, he lost playing time to Jim Adduci, he posted a -2.1 WAR. He was basically the Manos: The Hands of Fate of baseball players.

The Recommendation: This is going to be similar to Schoop, but the point here is patience. Choice was never going to be elite (a la Schoop), but he had never shown this type of downside early. It’s easy for a rookie with a part-time gig to press early and lose their confidence. He was a significantly different player at Triple-A, and miraculously, he never really lost his approach. He swung at fewer pitches outside the zone than the league average, and his in-zone contact rates were within a reasonable distance of league average. He was four percentage points off the league average in swing percentage, meaning a bit of a more aggressive approach might help him avoid falling behind in counts, and being subject to pitchers’ pitches. Choice is too talented to be as bad as he was, and while we’ve seen that his floor is lower than anticipated, his ceiling doesn’t just disappear, either. If you liked Choice before this season as a platoon option in 20-plus-team leagues, there’s no reason not to like him this year. As with Schoop, there’s no sense wasting a roster spot on Choice, but he’s worth a look-see at the end of drafts as a moderate batting average/power source. If he’s bad again, he’s easy to cut.

Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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