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February 11, 2013

The Keeper Reaper

Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop for 2/11/13

by Josh Shepardson

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Travis d'Arnaud | Mets

Shallow (30 Keepers): No
Medium (60 Keepers): No
Deep (90 Keepers): No
NL-Only (60 Keepers): Yes
Super Deep (200 Keepers): Yes

The minor-league staff, led by Jason Parks, ranked d'Arnaud as the second-best prospect in the Mets' farm system earlier this winter, after he came over in the R.A. Dickey trade with the Blue Jays. D’Arnaud is nearly big-league-ready, and he probably would have reached the majors as a member of the Blue Jays last year had he not suffered a torn PCL in his left knee in late June. The injury didn't require surgery, so he'll be ready to compete for the Mets’ primary-catcher job in spring training.

The Mets aren't expected to contend this year, and with that in mind, keeping d’Arnaud in the minors to delay his service-time clock at the beginning of the season would be a prudent financial decision. Not so fast, though: Back in the middle of January, the New York Daily News quoted general manager Sandy Alderson as saying he wouldn't rule out d'Arnaud breaking camp with the Mets. The most likely scenario is that John Buck plays well enough to fend him off, and d'Arnaud opens the year playing for the Mets' new Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas (which, incidentally, was previously the Blue Jays' affiliate). Catchers with above-average offensive potential are a rare breed, and while a number of other young backstops with potent sticks have emerged in recent seasons, they are still the exception to the rule.

During his peak years, d'Arnaud has a chance to hit for a helpful average—north of .275—and add 20-plus homers; but expecting him to play at that level in his rookie season is probably too ambitious. Nonetheless, with a prospect like d'Arnaud, you have to race the masses, and that means grabbing him before he establishes himself as one of the best offensive catchers in the game. He is a keeper option that should help teams a bit this year, but he's being kept more for his long-term value, and instant gratification may not be in the offing.   

Jedd Gyorko | Padres

Shallow (30 Keepers): No
Medium (60 Keepers): No
Deep (90 Keepers): No
NL-Only (60 Keepers): Fringe
Super Deep (200 Keepers): Yes

This one comes by way of R.J. White, who gets a hat tip for bringing to my attention that Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Sunday that the Padres would like Gyorko to win the second-base job in spring training. Gyorko logged a robust .311/.373/.547 triple-slash line with 30 homers and a stellar 51-to-95 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 557 plate appearances last year, while splitting the campaign between Double-A and Triple-A. There is little doubt that the bat is ready for a major-league trial, but as Center wrote in the column linked above, Gyorko is still making the transition defensively from third base to second, and he'll need to prove that he can handle the more challenging assignment.

In Gyorko's write-up as part of the Padres Top 10, Parks referred to his range at second base as “fringe at best.” If the Padres decide that's good enough to allow him to break camp with the team, the bat should help pick up the slack, and from a fantasy perspective that's what matters. As Gyorko's 17.1 percent strikeout rate in the minors last year suggests, he's adept at putting wood on the ball. He has a plus hit tool that will play well in Petco Park, and he combines it with average power—and the advantage of being a right-handed hitter, which makes him less susceptible to Petco’s home-run suppression. (According to Stat Corner, Petco’s park factor for right-handed homers is 93 over the last three seasons.) Gyorko future fantasy ceiling is not on the same level as that of d'Arnaud, but if he beats him to the majors this year, the West Virginia University product has a chance to provide more value in 2013.

Josh Rutledge | Rockies

Shallow (30 Keepers): No
Medium (60 Keepers): No
Deep (90 Keepers): No
NL-Only (60 Keepers): Yes
Super Deep (200 Keepers): Yes

Rutledge received fewer than 400 plate appearances in Double-A before the Rockies challenged him with a promotion to the majors, but he rose to the occasion, putting together a solid rookie season in spite of the limited experience against advanced competition. He flashed power (eight homers) and speed (7-for-7 on stolen base attempts), to go with a passable .274 batting average in 291 big-league plate appearances. Extrapolating that total over a full-season worth of plate appearances would make him a 20/20 threat as a middle infielder. That’s tantalizing, to be sure, but a few factors cast significant doubt on Rutledge’s ability to hit those totals in 2013.

With Troy Tulowitzki healthy, Rutledge is expected to slide over to second base, a shift that actually may boost his value in larger mixed leagues and NL-only leagues by giving him additional flexibility at two positions where the player pools are thin. Unfortunately, it also means that he'll have to share playing time with Jonathan Herrera and D.J. LeMahieu. BP's depth charts have Rutledge projected to receive 75 percent playing time, split between second base (70 percent) and shortstop (five percent). The lack of a full-time role eats into Rutledge’s 20/20 potential, and his approach also leaves something to be desired.

Rutledge was a free-swinger last year, as evidenced by his minuscule 3.1 percent walk rate. He chased more than one-third of the pitches that missed the strike zone, and his empty swings on those pitches helped contribute to a swinging-strike rate of 22.1 percent. Rutledge needs to tone down his free-swinging ways, or big-league pitchers will eventually exploit his overly aggressive approach, and his minor-league track record is a source of both hope and caution. Although he walked more in the lower minors, he also swung a ton during his brief stint in Double-A, and it’s unclear if the former skill will translate against more advanced pitching.

Aggressive players can make their approach work, but Rutledge is toeing the line between taking advantage of early mistakes and slumping because he digs himself into unfavorable counts—a pitfall that often catches up to hack-happy hitters. With more experience against advanced competition, he should get a better idea of which pitches to attack, but it would be wise to expect some growing pains this year. Rutledge doesn't have a particularly high ceiling, and he failed to crack the Rockies' Top 10 list of 25-and-under talents, compiled by Nick Faleris. He will have value this year, and that makes him useful in leagues of all sizes, but don't go overboard in projecting Rutledge to be keeper-league gold.

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