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March 28, 2012

Preseason Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 3/28/12

by Michael Jong

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Digging through the last bits of pre-draft information to find the best bargain deals is difficult. A lot of the players we have listed on Value Picks may have simply been slightly undervalued or had a low price overall. But it takes some real digging to talk up the good points of a few players that PECOTA finds “valuable” only in the sense that they have some dollar value tied to a not-too-distant but far more appealing past. Still, at the end of many drafts, one can’t be too picky, and this is what we are going to try and avoid this week on Value Picks.

Ramon Hernandez | Colorado Rockies
Mixed: $4 | NL-only: $11 | PECOTA C Rank: 20 | C ADP: 21

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

468

.270

10

1

55

50

Do not be fooled by the nearly identical rankings between PECOTA and ADP; it turns out that Hernandez is ranked 218th among all players by PECOTA while ADP has him at 349th. Hernandez has shown for the past three seasons that he still has some offensive utility; over the past three years, he has hit an impressive .280/.348/.413 with 24 home runs in just over 1000 plate appearances. He no longer has the raw power he flashed in his earlier years in Oakland or Baltimore, but he will still launch one out from time to time (10.2 percent HR/FB rate since 2009). His batted ball profile may not allow him to take great advantage of Coors Field, as he hits a few too many ground balls, but it is not as if moving to Coors will be a step down offensively from where he previously was in Cincinnati, so that may not matter all that much. The above projection seems reasonable for an allotted playing time of 468 plate appearances.

The question of whether Hernandez will reach that PA mark is interesting. On the one hand, he is out of the shadow of the even-steven relationship he had with Ryan Hanigan under Dusty Baker's regime. On the other, in Colorado he has yet another catcher prospect breathing down his back in the form of Wilin Rosario. Rosario hit a somewhat disappointing .249/.284/.457 while repeating Double-A Tulsa, but he was still promoted to the big leagues late last season and hit three home runs in just 57 plate appearances. Still, the Rockies signed Hernandez to a two-year deal and will likely bank on him for at least one of those seasons while Rosario finishes seasoning in Triple-A. It is possible Rosario will steal some playing time later in the season, but right now PECOTA projects him for only 163 plate appearances. Hernandez has done a lot more with a lot fewer PA before, so this season is a good year to test him out as a second catcher option.

Mark Ellis | Los Angeles Dodgers
Mixed: $0 | NL-only: $11 | PECOTA 2B Rank: 20 | 2B ADP: –

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

581

.251

10

12

62

52

Ellis's projected line above is not all that far-fetched. PECOTA is not projecting much more than a .251/.307/.359 line that is a small amount better than his horrid .248/.288/.346 line from 2011. So why is it that Ellis is being projected to be a useful NL-only player in 2012? Playing time is playing a big role in this projection; only five players with more than 500 plate appearances are ranked below Ellis in the second base ranks. In addition, while it may be difficult to recall, Ellis hit .291 in 492 plate appearances as recently as 2010. The year before that, he continued a two-year stretch with more than 10 home runs and steals, a feat PECOTA is projecting him to repeat. Ellis has begun stealing more bases each of the last few years compared to his career prior to 2008, and expecting 12 swipes is not out of line. And while moving to Dodgers Stadium is not very friendly—especially when you consider that he spent half of his 2011 with Colorado—Dodger Stadium does suppress homers much less than Oakland does. Indeed, Ellis has managed to hit double-digit home runs in the past in larger parks than the one he’ll be playing in this year.

PECOTA's increased emphasis on older seasons is catching talent from 2008 and 2009 and outweighing his weaker 2011 season, and in the late rounds, that potential is worth a flier. His advantage in playing time is somewhat countered by the presence of equally mediocre bench options like Jerry Hairston Jr. and Adam Kennedy, so it is unlikely he will be unseated if he provides anything like his projected line.

Rod Barajas | Pittsburgh Pirates
Mixed: $4 | NL-only: $9 | PECOTA C Rank: 21 | C ADP: 27

PA

AVG

HR

SB

RBI

R

471

.239

16

0

51

56

Let us get one thing straight right from the get-go: Barajas is not a good hitter. Players with a lifetime .238/.284/.414 slash line often are not good hitters. Despite this, every season Bajaras manages to nab something akin to a starting job and somehow mashes double-digit home runs; he has hit double-digit bombs in every season with at least 300 plate appearances in his career, eclipsing both marks every year since 2008. In Pittsburgh, he is assured not only a starting gig but likely plenty of playing time; his only competition is Michael McKenry, who did not perform well last season (.222/.276/.322). Barajas was signed primarily to fill that gap, and he is likely to do so with his metronome-like .240 batting average and 15 home runs.

The only thing that may get in the way of this and push his value down is the fact that he will be moving to the toughest hitting environment that he has ever faced in PNC Park. The Pirates' home is one of the worst parks for right-handed power. Comparatively speaking, the hardest environment Barajas ever faced was with the Dodgers last season, and Dodgers Stadium's home run park factor was significantly better (92) than PNC Park's. In other words, there is a chance you will see a prorated version of Barajas's 2008 season with the Blue Jays rather than the power outburst you saw with the Dodgers last year. Since you are drafting him almost exclusively for home runs, be wary of the change and his early performance, but do not put him out of mind as your primary or secondary catcher in NL-only leagues or as a late-round second catcher flier in mixed leagues.

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

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Pre-Season Predictions (03/27)
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