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February 10, 2011

Fantasy Focus

AL Rookies to Watch

by Marc Normandin

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It's often the case that what separates your fantasy team from the rest of the pack isn't the player you picked in round one or round two. Instead, the players you picked late in the draft—your sleepers and your riskier picks—are the ones who either pay off or backfire, and in doing so determine the course of your season. Knowing which youngsters are worth a look late in your draft helps, so let's check out some rookie non-pitchers from the American League.

Dustin Ackley (2B, SEA): Ackley shot through the minors in 2010, starting his professional career at Double-A and then moving up to Triple-A for the last half of the season. The second overall pick from the 2009 draft finished with a .165 Isolated Power at Triple-A, which doesn't seem too impressive on the surface, but remember that this was his first pro season, and that he's all of 22 years old. PECOTA projects Ackley for a line of .245/.328/.347, which is partially due to his lack of pro experience, and partially attributable to the fact that Safeco isn't friendly to hitters from either side of the plate.

That seemingly anemic line translates to a True Average of .259, one point below the league average and noteworthy for someone with Ackley's light résumé. Unfortunately, your fantasy league doesn't use TAv, and a .245 batting average without much in the way of power, runs, or runs batted in is not going to help your team even considering the lack of depth at second. Ackley may be a bit better than his projection is giving him credit for—he destroyed the ball in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .424/.581/.758, though the normal caveats regarding sample size and the offensive nature of the AFL apply—but he may not be good enough to spend a draft pick or auction money on in single-season leagues.

Mike Moustakas (3B, KCA): It's no guarantee that Moustakas ends up in the majors early enough to contribute to your 2011 fantasy team, but if he does, he may prove useful at a position that tapers off after the first few heavyweights. The third baseman is projected to hit .262/.295/.462 by PECOTA—it's pretty clear he needs to work on his plate discipline (Moustakas walked in just 3.4 percent of his 236 Triple-A plate appearances in 2010), but if he can show that kind of pop in his swing, and you aren't playing in an on-base percentage league, you don't care if he's learned to draw walks.

That projection shouldn't be a shocker, given that Moustakas hit .347/.413/.687 at Double-A and then .293/.314/.564 at Triple-A, though there are some warning signs that he won't produce in the majors immediately. Jason Parks covered this last week, saying that Moustakas, "…has been able to make consistent contact despite being overly aggressive. This could present a problem against pitchers who can force Moustakas into contact with bad balls, suffocating his game power and preventing him from barreling the ball with authority." He has the swing to put up solid fantasy numbers even if he is getting beaten often by big-league pitching, just don't fall over yourself trying to acquire him, especially since it isn't a given that he'll spend a significant part of the year with the Royals. One of the only useful pieces currently with the big club is Mike Aviles, and while he certainly won't block Moustakas, his presence means that they don't need to rush one of the league's finest young players.

Chris Carter (OF/1B, OAK): You may remember Chris Carter from his eventful 2010 debut, as he began his major-league career with an 0-for-33 stretch immediately after I wrote some pleasant things about him. Thankfully for Carter and my self-esteem, he recovered before the year closed out, hitting .342/.422/.605 over his final 38 at-bats.  Neither of those bits of data is representative of Carter's capabilities—he's certainly not going to hit .342 in the majors, but he also isn't going to hit zero. PECOTA projects a line of .241/.333/.462 (.286 TAv) with 31 homers in 648 plate appearances, along with 82 runs and 87 RBI. Those statistics make Carter out to be a solid pick at first, but the problem is that he has nowhere to play right now in Oakland.

The A's signed Hideki Matsui to fill the designated hitter slot and traded for outfielders Josh Willingham and David DeJesus to occupy their outfield corners. With Daric Barton seemingly entrenched at first base for now, that leaves Carter back in Triple-A. Of course, injuries do occur, and if the A's fall out of it, they may very well deal one (or both) of the DeJesus and Willingham duo, since the pair will become free agents following the season. Any of those events could open a space for Carter, who should be available very late (or very cheap) in drafts thanks to his 2010 line and his 2011 playing time question marks.

Jesus Montero (C/DH, NYA): Montero is another player who will likely rely on injuries to crack a major-league lineup in 2011. Jorge Posada will be the Bombers' DH, but the Yanks signed Russell Martin to inherit his old starting catching job. With Francisco Cervelli the likely backup and Austin Romine also in the mix at catcher, Montero may never sit behind the plate this year. That's almost a given if his defense doesn't improve, though with a bat like his, maybe it doesn't have to: Montero will be 21 in 2011, but PECOTA is forecasting a line of .285/.331/.471 for him anyway.

Montero hit .289/.353/.517 in Triple-A (which included a .351/.396/.684 second half that changed the organization's collective mind about moving him in a trade) so there is a very good chance that he has the bat to be a successful DH (one with catcher eligibility in fantasy leagues) right now. A Jorge Posada injury may be the necessary catalyst for him to get that chance, but given that Posada is a 39-year-old with nearly 13,000 major-league innings behind the plate to his name (if not his credit), that's not a far-fetched scenario.

J.P. Arencibia (C, TOR): Arencibia does have a job, unlike everyone else in this article. The departure of John Buck and the trade of Mike Napoli opened up a spot behind the plate for him, and despite his youth and lack of big-league experience, something tells me the Jays won't let Jose Molina block him from picking up the majority of at-bats at the position. Arencibia hit .301/.359/.626 at Triple-A last season, and though he hit just .143 in the majors after his call-up, that lowly average came in all of 37 plate appearances. Kevin Goldstein wasn't fazed, rating him as a five-star prospect and setting a perfect-world projection of "20 home runs annually."

PECOTA expects a quality year from Arencibia, forecasting a .253/.290/.483 showing. That's a .265 TAv, which is well above the catcher average. Like Moustakas, Arencibia doesn't have the plate discipline to draw many walks in the majors just yet—breaking balls away are the most significant roadblock at present—but he has enough power in his swing to make you forget that in the short term. Don't neglect him on draft day, since there aren't many catchers to go around and this backstop should pick up plenty of at-bats.

Related Content:  Mike Moustakas,  The Who,  Triple-A

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Premium Article Prospects Will Break Y... (02/09)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Love Is... (02/09)
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