September 6, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
As September makes the waiver wire less important for the 2010 season, Value Picks looks at good keeper-league pickups for 2011, beginning with the NL. All but one is available in more than 99% of ESPN leagues, with the lone exception being former VP Pedro Alvarez.
Alvarez’s ownership, currently at 12%, has followed his up-and-down performance. After his mid-June promotion, Alvarez started 4 for 35, hit .321/.382/.630 over his next 89 PAs, then finished with a .208/.313/.323 line in 150 PAs, creating the tepid line on his Rotolympus card.
One constant amid this fluctuation has been lack of contact: he struck out in 26 of his first 28 games and owns a 38.2 K% overall, higher than his 28 K% in the minors, though neither is terribly inspiring. His 11.2 BB% (12.5 BB% minor-league) shows a more mature plate approach, which should turn those strikeouts into longballs. Kevin Goldstein’s 101 Top Prospects ranks Alvarez sixth overall; his upside is the best of this NL bunch.
Brett Wallace, another former VP, also has a guaranteed starting gig in 2011, despite his underwhelming overall line, 66% contact rate, and 5% walk rate. Drafted thirteenth overall in 2008, Wallace’s luster has dimmed due to repeated underperformance like this—BP 2010 called him “consistently overrated.”
Scouts praise his great batting eye, despite a 21% strikeout and 7% walk rate in the minors, and expect his power to develop past .487, his minor-league average. PECOTA’s top projection for him, though, comes in his age-29 season, where a .280 TAv gives him a SLG of just .463. Playing for three organizations in two seasons makes Wallace either a good egg or a bad penny, and Houston will give him a chance to show which one in 2011. Far from a sure thing, Wallace remains a nice gamble for his potential.
Another player with a clear path to a 2011 job is Freddie Freeman, who’d be touted as Atlanta’s best young player if not for some dude named Jason Heyward. Like Heyward, Freeman rocketed through Atlanta’s farm system, albeit more slowly, and offers less speed and power. But the latter should keep growing, and his excellent defense will help Scoresheet owners.
Freeman is too aggressive to flourish quickly, as evidenced by a 7.6 BB% in the minors, though that’s crept up each year, while his 84% contact rate points to a strong future batting average. Though Freeman’s real breakthrough might come in 2012, Atlanta doesn’t have any better 1B options, making him a sure starter, if not a consistent producer, in 2011.
Arizona acquired Brandon Allen last season to be their future first baseman before they signed Adam LaRoche. With the team holding a $7.5M 2011 mutual option on LaRoche, Allen started playing in left field this year. Wherever Allen ends up, however, he’s clearly a major part of Arizona’s plans and will have an excellent shot at a starting job.
Allen is already a good D-back, offering lots of power with lots of strikeouts. Along with 76 HRs in his first four minor-league seasons came 503 Ks in 1799 ABs, for a 28 K%. He reduced that to 19 K% in 2009, but slipped back to 26% this season. What has improved is his walk rate, which went from 8% in those first four years to 10% in 2009 and 18% in 2010. Without a strong platoon split (.816 OPS vs. LHP, .842 vs. RHP in the minors), it’s unlikely he’d fit a part-time role, making him a good pickup in most keeper leagues, especially those where he qualifies at both 1B and OF.
To understand how Milwaukee feels about Mat Gamel, think of the Swamp Castle guards in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who see Sir Lancelot repeatedly racing at them from afar without ever getting there. Touted as their Next Big Thing since his 2008 callup, Gamel flopped in a 2009 midseason promotion, sporting a 42% whiff rate that would frighten even the deadly Rabbit of Caerbannog. A bum shoulder derailed his chance for a roster spot in 2010, but a .309/.387/.511 rehabbing in Triple-A earned him a third callup, prelude to a chance to start in 2011.
Gamel’s skills are solid—a .302/.376/.489 minor-league line, bolstered by a 10% walk rate and a 77% contact rate—but the question is where he’ll play. His gloveless defense and Casey McGehee lock him out of third, so Gamel shifted to the outfield, where he's also blocked by Ryan Braun and Corey Hart. That leaves first base, which requires trading Prince Fielder, a more likely move than trading Gamel.
Grabbing Gamel now means betting that he’ll overcome his whifftastic tendencies and roster roadblocks to become more than a benchwarmer. PECOTA sees potential, with TAvs consistently in the .275 range from 2012 through 2018, but his relatively low power brings more value as a corner outfielder or third baseman than at first. All this makes him best for deeper NL-only leagues, though any roster spot risks what the Brewers decide to do during the offseason.