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August 21, 2013

Five to Watch

Good Prospects on Bad Teams

by Ben Carsley

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A good prospect is a terrible thing to waste, even if he plays for a bad team. This is a lesson sometimes lost on fantasy owners who will scramble to pick up the likes of Xander Bogaerts or Kolten Wong, but may overlook younger players who are stuck on squads mired near the bottom of the standings.

Yet, while you may need to pay a pretty penny or risk a high waiver claim on a flashy prospect from a first-place team, you can often find bargains by scouring your free agent pool for forgotten call-ups, rookies, or post-prospects on non-contenders. Maybe the casual baseball fan doesn’t care who’s hitting ninth for the Astros or holding down a rotation spot in Miami, but as a fantasy owner, you should. If used selectively, such players can provide significant boosts for owners in deeper leagues. With that in mind, here are five players most owners will have forgotten about who can help in select categories down the stretch.

While today’s focus is on good younger players on bad teams, this mini-series will include looks at many different types of players, positions, and categories.

Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Twins
Despite hitting .320/.388/.539 in 534 plate appearances last season between High-A and Double-A, Arcia didn’t receive the same type of fanfare he would’ve in some other systems. When you share an organization with talents like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Aaron Hicks, it’s natural for people to overlook you. Yet while Buxton, Sano ,and even Hicks still provide the promise of future stardom, none can impact your fantasy team down the stretch like the sneakily powerful Arcia.

Arcia’s overall MLB slash line of .261/.317/.444 isn’t terribly sexy, but he’s hit four of his 10 homers this month and power is primarily why fantasy owners should have interest in his services. Arcia has demonstrated the ability to hit for higher averages and reach base at a much higher clip in the minors, but even if power is the only tool that’s really clicking right now, that can be a boon for fantasy owners. We’re not talking about Giancarlo Stanton here, but if Arcia has a stretch of games away from home or against right-handed pitchers, he’s a good power play in AL-only or deeper mixed leagues.

Arcia has lost a bit of playing time since Josh Willingham returned from his injury, but some of those starts have come at the expense of one Wilkin Ramirez. It can be dangerous to put too much stock into lineups that “make sense” or “are good for development.” At the same time, you have to imagine Minnesota is more interested in seeing what a 22-year-old top post-prospect can do than a 27-year-old fifth outfielder, so we can be somewhat confident Arica will start at least 70 percent of his team’s games down the stretch. It will take some micromanaging to use him correctly, but Arcia can provide meaningful pop.

Nick Franklin, 2B, Mariners
If you’re starting to lose faith in Franklin at this point, I understand. If I may indulge in some arbitrary endpoints for a moment, here are Franklin’s batting averages presented over the last three months: .296 in June, .234 in July, and .115 in August. I’m not a statistician, but I don’t think that’s a positive trend.

Overall, Franklin’s slash line now sits at .236/.309/.417 but he does have 10 homers and five steals in 282 PA, which is pretty decent for a middle infielder. In some ways, Franklin’s stat line is fluky: he’s hitting almost 90 points better at home than on the road despite the poor offensive environment in Safeco, and his BABIP sits at .291, which is a smidge low for someone with his speed. Some of Franklin’s problems, though, are chronic: he’s hit just one of his homers from the left side of the plate, which meshes well with what we know about his switch-hitting difficulties as a prospect.

Despite the recent downward trend, the Mariners are persisting in batting Franklin second for the time being, ahead of a not terrible combination of Kyle Seager and Kendrys Morales. If you need average, Franklin is a poor choice, but if you’re really targeting just the counting stats, don’t overlook what he could provide in HR, RBI, and R while sprinkling in a few more steals as well.

Wily Peralta, SP, Brewers
I had originally intended to write about Tyler Thornburg in this space (which will leave some of my colleagues here thoroughly unsurprised), but recent news that the compact righty is headed back to the bullpen has caused me to switch gears. Turning to Thornburg’s teammate seemed natural, and I must admit to being surprised by how decent Peralta has been over the two-plus months. Perhaps that’s not a ringing endorsement, but still, there’s fantasy value to be had here for savvier owners.

Peralta’s overall 2013 numbers still aren’t very pretty. He owns a 4.60 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 148.7 innings, with a K/9 of just 7.1 and a BB/9 of 3.4. Those stats are being dragged down by a combination of bad luck and a poor start to the season, though, as Peralta’s FIP sits at 4.18 and he’s been much better from June on. In fact, Peralta has given up 36 earned runs over the past 10-plus weeks after giving up 40 in April and May alone. Peralta’s strikeout totals are also trending up, even if he’s still not fanning quite as many batters as we would’ve hoped.

Peralta comes with some serious risk if you start him, as we saw on Saturday when he gave up seven earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings. But there’s a significant reward to be had here if Peralta is used in favorable matchups, as his performance is clearly on the rise from where it was in early spring. Peralta won’t carry you to a title, but he’s fully capable of providing you with a few more quality starts this season.

Jacob Turner, SP, Marlins
Turner doesn’t quite fit the mold here, as he technically lost his prospect status before the season began, but let’s roll with it. After a very disappointing 2012 campaign in which Turner was rushed to the majors and failed to impress, the 22-year-old righty has taken steps toward becoming a solid mid-rotation arm. He’s far from a finished product and his stats this season don’t jump out at you, but used in the right games, Turner could be a boon to deep mixed and NL-only owners over the next six weeks.

Advanced statistics suggest that Turner’s been the beneficiary of good luck through his 87.1 innings this year, as his 2.89 ERA doesn’t quite mesh with his 3.87 FIP. Part of this is due to a .264 BABIP that’s unsustainable, but it’s also partially due to a 0.6 HR/9 mark that it may not be unreasonable to assume Turner can sustain. Aside from his trials by fire in the majors in 2011 and 2012, Turner has always done a good job keeping the ball in the park, and the effects of Marlins Park should help here as well.

The one area in which I’d really like to see Turner show improvement is his strikeout rate, which sits at just 6.18, but he never really posted big strikeout numbers in the minors. That being said, what we see with Turner may be what we get: a solid mid-rotation starter who won’t thrill fantasy owners, but who isn’t without his uses either. If you can use Turner at home against poor offensive squads down the stretch, he can contribute modestly in ERA and strikeouts, and he shouldn’t kill your WHIP. This probably goes without saying, but just make sure you don’t bank on Turner for wins.

Jonathan Villar, SS, Astros
Being the second-best middle infielder on the worst team in baseball is rarely a good thing. Yet fantasy owners with a need for speed could find the toolsy Villar quite helpful. In just 21 games with the Astros, Villar already has 11 swipes in 15 tries. That might not seem impressive, but it ties him for the 38th-best total in the majors and the 12th best among middle infielders. Again, this is in 23 games.

Though never considered one of the premier shortstop prospects in the game, Villar has impressed with his MiLB stolen base totals time and time again. In 2011, he went 34-for-46 in swipes between High-A and Double-A. Last season, Villar grabbed 39 bags in 47 tries while staying in Corpus Christi. And in just 91 Triple-A games this year, Villar managed to swipe 31 bags while being thrown out seven times. Jason Parks put a grade 7 on his speed before the season, and it’s not hard to see why.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but you need to be sure you’re targeting Villar for the right thing: speed and speed alone. He’s not going to see many runs come his way batting ninth in Houston’s lineup, and the .404 BABIP he’s posted to this point means his average is likely to fall a bit as well. But if you’re looking for a middle infielder who’s probably unowned (21.8 percent in ESPN leagues) and who could swipe 10-plus bases from here on out, Villar is your guy.

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

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