March 2, 2011
Value Picks in the Outfield
"He's got everything it takes," Manuel said. "I think he's going to be good, real good." Domonic Brown has everyone excited, as John Perrotto notes in discussing the optimism in Phillies camp this spring. And while Jimmy Rollins calling the team a lock for 100 wins seems hyperbolic, it does seem quite likely that the Phillies will find a way to surpass PECOTA's estimate of 91 wins in 2011. And that's good news for Dom Brown fantasy owners–sort of. However one analyzes the Phillies, it's apparent to all that they are pragmatic about winning, and everyone from the ownership group to the batboy knows that will be easier if Brown is contributing in the second half and into the postseason. Since he's presumably learned all the lessons Triple-A can teach, that's likely to mean a lot of playing time, even if he's struggling early.
In an ideal world, Brown would limit struggles in the first half to hitting like Ben Francisco, and attempts to impress his manager would involve aggression on the basepaths resulting in a stolen base rate something like the 31 he stole per 650 minor-league plate appearances (89 in 1818 PA). Then, he'd grow as the season went on, adjusting faster than the pitchers as Jason Heyward did in 2010. But, before the Heyward comparisons get too much traction, it's important to remember that Heyward is a very precocious talent, making his mark on Major League pitching at age 20. Brown will be 23 in 2011, and also has a nice left-handed power stroke. And he's completely deserving of the #4 ranking on Kevin Goldstein's Top 101 Prospects for 2011. With his speed, ballpark, and teammates, he could actually surpass Heyward in fantasy value some years. But he's still a work in progress. As Goldstein notes:
The Bad: While Brown has developed a more patient approach, he still has a tendency to expand his strike zone when behind in the count; he can be especially susceptible to chasing breaking balls in the dirt...
Somewhere betwixt “Ideal” and “Bad” is where Brown is likely to be in 2011. He's an immensely talented player, on a team which should score a lot of runs, in a park which won't hinder his batting stats. He won't have the pressure of being expected to be a star right away, and has a very good chance of performing well enough to avoid being replaced during the expected pennant push. Coming on the heels of Heyward's great debut, it's likely that Brown will be overbid or overdrafted in many leagues. Some shrewd owners are likely to draft players much more economically and then trade for Brown if he begins the season with more pedestrian statistics than hoped.
Back in 2009, Chris Heisey hit left-handed pitching in Double-A (.366/.466/.577 in 71 AB), Triple-A (.346/.424/.558 in 52 AB), and even the Arizona Fall League (.294/.478/.647 in 17 AB). So, how is it that he was held to .188/.316/.375 against Southpaws in Triple-A in 2010 (just 16 AB) and .169/.242/.303in 89 AB for Cincinnati? It's not as though he had any difficulty hammering the more prevalent right-handed pitchers in 2010 (.321/.389/.536 in 112 AB). The long answer would involve various adjustments to his approach and tampering with his swing, etc. The short answer is that looking at statistics in small sample sizes can be more misleading than not having any statistics at all.
With Jonny Gomes and Fred Lewis platooning in left field, Bruce and Stubbs entrenched in right field and center field, respectively, Heisey will be scavenging for scraps in the Cincy outfield, if the team keeps him on the active roster. While not proving anything, his 2010 platoon splits suggest he can hold his own against right-handed pitching, and he'll probably get his starts in center field when Stubbs needs a day off, or in right field when Bruce is rested against an occasional hard lefty. It would be very surprising if he equaled his games started total of 42 from 2010 without a trade. He does have power and speed (he stole 32 bases in 2008, though he's not built like a speed merchant), so if the news indicates that he is in line for more playing time somehow, he'd be a good low-cost fantasy option.
As a sub-par defensive third baseman who has worn an outfielder's glove for a few years now, Allen Craig is best suited to play first base. But there are two problems with that: “Albert” and “Pujols”. Well, that and he projects to hit more like a third baseman than a major-league first baseman (.263 Tav projected for 2011). Frankly, though, it's an odd case of his minor-league stats translating poorly, because they haven't been lacking. His career rate stats in the minors are .308/.370/.518, and he's never hit less than .304 in a season since short-season ball back in 2006. Nor has he posted under a .367 on-base percentage or a .494 slugging percentage. In fact, his minor-league batting stats look rather similar to those of Garrett Atkins, without the benefit of playing in Colorado Springs. Alas, that's more of a commentary on what the Cardinals think about his ability to defend at the hot corner, though. And if the team which plays Skip Schumaker at second base and signs Lance Berkman to play right field thinks you can't play defense, it's a judgment which won't win on the appeal.
For fantasy purposes, David Freese might flop, or fail to recover fully from his injuries, but for now, it appears more likely that Nick Punto (once healthy) or Daniel Descalso or someone would pick up the slack if that happened. Crais should be assured of getting many plate appearances against left-handed pitching, as Berkman and Colby Rasmus have shown vulnerabilities there, and Tony La Russa is willing to bench anybody, anytime (except for “Albert” and “Pujols”). If Craig does somehow find playing time, he could hit for a plus batting average and pop a few homers.