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September 9, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

The Other Guys, Part One

by Mike Gianella

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Three years ago, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg charmed America in the buddy/cop comedy “The Other Guys.” Ferrell’s fish-out-of-water routine combined with Wahlberg’s exasperated tough-guy act was something that had never been seen before in the annals of cinema, and the on-screen result of the unlikely pairing was cinematic gold.

In fantasy baseball, and particularly in keeper leagues, analysts always take a look at the hot prospects down on the farm that are getting called up for the first time in September. This is useful from a knowledge perspective, but from a decision making standpoint often isn’t very helpful. Xander Bogaerts is a keep at $10 next year if he makes the Red Sox out of camp; even if he’s on the bench, it’s likely he’ll be kept for the anticipated rewards down the road.

Today, I thought I’d look at some of baseball’s “other guys”. These are players who can fit a lot of descriptions, but often are afterthoughts this time of year. In keeper leagues with reserve lists, many of these players have to be activated or cut before the season is over, so it is definitely worth taking a look at this less-scrutinized pool of players. More than a few might have value, even if they aren’t as high profile as Bogaerts.

These recommendations are primarily geared toward AL-only and NL-only fantasy players. This week, I’ll look at the American League. Next Monday, I’ll examine the National League.

Brett Anderson
I hate the term sleeper for a variety of reasons that are too long to get into here. However, Anderson fits the bill. His injury this year wasn’t arm related, giving him the benefit of rest without having to recover from something that would directly impact his throwing. I will be skeptical about Anderson’s health until he puts up back-to-back 200-inning seasons, but there is no questioning Anderson’s talent or his stuff. Even in a mixer, I’d stash Anderson if I were out of the running and hope that he can put up 150-plus innings in 2014. At the very least, he makes for a decent trade chip if he’s healthy in March.

Engel Beltre
If the Rangers let David Murphy walk, perhaps there is a chance for Beltre to slot into the Rangers outfield next year. It’s more likely that Beltre is a fourth outfielder. The light power/heavy speed combination is intriguing for fantasy, though, and all players like this need sometimes is an opportunity. If Beltre does claim a share of a job, a 10 HR, 20 SB season isn’t out of the realm of possibility. While Beltre’s numbers have been up and down and his MLB numbers have been disappointing, keep in mind that Beltre is 23 years old. There are some holes in his game, but it’s also possible that Beltre hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.

Lance Berkman
We all get old (apologies to my younger readers who were born when Bill Clinton was president). The Rangers gambled on Berkman and it didn’t work out. Injuries played a factor somewhat, but even when Berkman was on the field the power simply wasn’t what it used to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are no takers for Berkman after the free agent carousel stops spinning this winter.

Dellin Betances
The Yankees moved Betances to the bullpen in the minors this year, and despite some control issues, the overall results were impressive. David Robertson is the team’s likely closer in 2014, but situations can change and long term Betances is definitely worth monitoring. Given the team’s myriad issues in the pen down the stretch this year, it isn’t difficult to envision Betances snagging a significant role with a good spring. Owners in hold leagues take note.

Lorenzo Cain
Is Cain a post-hype sleeper or was he overrated entering 2012 based on one strong minor league season? I suspect the latter is the case. The power he showed in Triple-A in 2011 hasn’t materialized in the Majors and disappeared almost entirely this year. The biggest disappointment with Cain has been a lack of significant stolen base totals. Twelve steals isn’t bad, but it isn’t the 25-30 bags that some were expecting. Even discounting for time missed due to injury, this is less than an optimal outcome. Perhaps a bounce back is in the offing, but for those who were expecting $20 value from Cain, now is the time to scale back your future expectations.

Chris Colabello
If you’re not rooting for Chris Colabello, it’s not a question of whether or not you’re dead inside but a question of how dead inside you actually are. Colabello went undrafted out of Assumption College so went to Worchester in the independent Canadian-American Association. After seven seasons there, the Twins signed the then-28-year-old Colabello and sent him to Double-A. Some independent league players slip against more advanced competition, but Colabello seemed to get even better, finally earning a promotion to the big club this year. The holes in his game are more evident in the bigs, but Colabello can turn on a fastball and drive it a long way. He also misses a lot, and doesn’t walk quite enough to project as a viable three-true-outcomes guy. It’s more likely that Colabello won’t work out as a starter, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a shot at the job next spring. If that happens, a 15-20 HR campaign with a bad batting average is a definite possibility. Don’t sleep on Colabello.

Steve Delabar
Delabar throws hard, hard, hard, and his fastball/slider/splitter combination is enough to keep hitters swinging and missing. Since the Jays have an affordable option on closer Casey Janssen though, Delabar will return as a set-up next year. I like him as a $1-2 stash; this year’s steady closer can easily turn into next year’s flameout, and despite the iffy walk rates, Delabar is a logical candidate should Janssen falter.

Chris Dickerson
Dickerson’s HR/SB in limited MLB plate appearances might suggest a 15 HR/15 SB combination, but Dickerson is a 31-year-old journeyman. He might latch on somewhere as a fourth outfielder and maybe he’ll put up one of those funky, great half-seasons (for fantasy) like Dewayne Wise did in 2012, but just remember what happened to Dewayne Wise in 2013.

Johnny Giavotella
I know that Giavotella still hasn’t received a legitimate chance for the Royals, and I know that the team continues running Chris Getz out there, but the love for Giavotella is maddening at times. I suppose he could be an okay regular if he got 500 AB, but given his uninspiring minor league numbers, that’s far from a given. The ceiling right now looks like a .270 BA, 10-12 HR and 8-10 SB. That’s rosterable, but we’re talking about a palatable third middle-infield option, not anything more.

Jeremy Hellickson
Hellickson warrants an entirely separate piece, but I’ll include him here since keeper owners have to be wondering what the price point is. A strong outing against the Angels last week gave his owners hope, but a 9.00 ERA and a 2.12 WHIP in his six starts before that simply cannot be ignored. For years Hellickson had a far superior ERA to his FIP, but in 2013 this turned on its head, and Hellickson put up the lowest FIP of his career. Predictably, Hellickson’s strand rate has eroded, dropping from 82% or better in 2011-2012 to 67.9 percent this year. A number of reasons have been given for Hellickson’s erosion this year, with poorer mechanics out of the stretch and a lack of working all parts of the strike zone among them, but BABIP luck and regression to the mean can’t entirely be dismissed. I believe Hellickson is better than his 5.04 ERA, but the 2.95 ERA he put up in 2011 and the 3.10 ERA he put up in 2012 do seem like outliers as well. Hellickson is probably a borderline starter in standard mixed leagues and a no. 3 guy in AL-only. Think about a 3.60 ERA with a 1.28 WHIP as your 2014 baseline and pay close attention next spring to see if the Rays make any adjustments. The organization’s positive history with young pitching cannot be ignored. Conversely, if Hellickson is traded this winter, be wary.

Derek Jeter
How much does Derek Jeter have left in the tank? His small-sample 2013 isn’t enough to look at, but this is also part of the problem. Jeter has looked gimpy and it is uncertain how well the 39-year-old will recover next year. He has a $8 million player option he will likely exercise, and the Yankees will surely try him again next year at shortstop. Counting Derek Jeter out is foolish, but everyone eventually succumbs to the ravages of time. It sounds crazy, but Jeter might not be worth more than a single-digit bid in AL-only next year.

Luis Jimenez
If I were writing this back in March with the foreknowledge that the Angels were going to trade away Alberto Callaspo, I would have assumed that Jimenez would be a useful placeholder in 2014 until Kaleb Cowart was ready (have fun diagramming that sentence). But Cowart was a big flop in Double-A this year, so there is a chance that Jimenez gets an opportunity to start at third in 2014. Chris Nelson is cheap as well, so if the Angels don’t make a trade this is the likely spring training competition for the job. Jimenez isn’t doing himself any favors so far. The power he showed in the minors has disappeared entirely along with the speed. What’s left is a not horrible batting average and a fairly solid defensive profile. Jimenez is worth monitoring (a starter is a starter), but Nelson is the better commodity from a fantasy perspective, at least based on what Jimenez has done to date.

Munenori Kawasaki
Kawasaki started for a little while during Jose Reyes’ absence, but Kawasaki is a back-up option all the way. He doesn’t provide enough steals to be more than an emergency injury fill-in.

Marc Krauss
Krauss was one of those guys where you’d look at the minor league numbers and wonder why he wasn’t regarded more highly as a prospect. The sample size is limited, but his 2013 Major League numbers to date provide a resounding “oh, hmmm, I see” answer to this question. Besides the power, one of Krauss’ best assets was his batting eye, but so far this has disappeared almost entirely. The power tool is solid, but it might not be enough to make up for a lack of much else, especially if the batting eye doesn’t return. Maybe Krauss is a starter next year, but with George Springer banging on the door and some other talented names in the pipeline getting closer, it’s more likely that Krauss becomes an afterthought.

Josh Lueke
Lueke throws hard and picks up a significant amount of strikeouts per inning, but that’s about all he does. The command is a significant issue, and he leaves too many pitches up in the zone. He looks like a fringe guy, and with all of the baggage he carries, it seems unlikely that the Rays or any other organization will waste a lot of time trying to fix all that ails Lueke.

Darin Mastroianni
Mastroianni was a cheap speed play in deeper formats that didn’t pan out, as an ankle injury kept him out of commission for most of the year. He is what he was at the beginning of the season: steals speculation and a fifth outfielder. Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia are eventually going to break through and make this a very crowded outfield, but the 2013 versions of Hicks/Arcia are exhibits that sure things aren’t always so sure. I still like Mastroianni as a $1-2 flyer. He doesn’t get as much publicity as some of the other cheap rabbits, but the guy can fly.

Tommy Milone
I have never been a big Tommy Milone fan, and this year somewhat justified my concerns. The risky HR/9 went up even more, and while the home/road splits made Milone appear like a decent streamer in Oakland, his FIP at home was actually over 5.00, and he allowed more HR/9 at home than on the road. Milone still has youth on his side, but he’s a bottom-of-the-rotation guy in fantasy as long as he’s surrendering so many bombs.

Derek Norris
On the surface, Norris looks like a great post-hype sleeper candidate for 2014. Eight home runs in 225-plus at-bats suggest that a 15 HR season is possible and despite the bad batting average, that kind of power from a catcher makes the BA palatable. However, Norris has been completely overmatched against right-handed pitching this year, to the tune of a .137 BA and a .167 slugging percentage. There is likely some bad BABIP luck in here, but high whiff rates combined with small sample sizes make it difficult to simply assume luck and move on. Assuming John Jaso returns next year, the good news is that Norris won’t face righties quite as much, but the bad news is that he’s still on the wrong side of a platoon. Norris has value, but until he figures out righties, forget about the sleeper tag.

Alexi Ogando
It has been a (mostly) lost season for Ogando. The Rangers hurler has made three trips to the DL, twice for shoulder inflammation and once with biceps tendinitis. Texas General Manager Jon Daniels has said that Ogando’s role remains a “topic of conversation” for 2014. The Rangers have what now amounts to a $9 million mutual option with closer Joe Nathan (it was a club option, but Nathan hit a games finished target allowing him to void it if he chooses), so it’s possible Nathan doesn’t return. Ogando has had more success in the past as a reliever than a starter. Texas has a deep bullpen and there might be a few pitchers ahead of him in the pecking order, but Ogando makes for an interesting stash.

Carlos Pena
The power has dropped every year since Pena’s ridiculous 2009. The batting eye doesn’t make up for the deteriorating contact skills and the lack of big time home run power. Pena could get lucky and put up one of those crazy seasons like Russell Branyan did a few years back, but it’s more likely that this is the end of the line for him.

Hernan Perez
Perez’s major-league numbers look abysmal but he shouldn’t be completely written off just yet. He is still very young and has made adjustments at the plate at every level. The biggest problem for Perez is that his value was primarily in his defense and it seems unlikely the team would want two defensive minded middle infielders in Perez and Jose Iglesias up the middle. The biggest disappointment about Perez from a fantasy standpoint is the lack of stolen bases in the bigs. That’s the likely source of his value. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the Tigers send Perez back to Triple-A and bring back Omar Infante or bring in another free agent import. I’d still track Perez in AL-only. 20-25 steals from a middle infielder has some value.

Ricky Romero
I include Romero here in case you dumped in June, haven’t been paying attention, saw Romero’s name in the free agent pool and said, “hmmmm”. Romero put up a 5.78 ERA at Triple-A this year and the Blue Jays are likely to remove him from the 40-man roster this winter. Pitcher career trajectories are difficult to predict, but Romero appears a long shot to contribute to a team’s staff anytime soon.

David Ross
A concussion knocked Ross out of commission for a good portion of 2013. He is a sneaky $1 catcher because of the pop he has in his bat; five to seven home runs from your second catcher is an asset, and he is under contract with Boston for another year.

Brandon Snyder
Snyder would be more intriguing as a middle infielder. As a corner, he doesn’t have enough of a bat to start. He can play third, so he’ll always be on the periphery of a major-league roster, but he is a $1 endgame play at best.

Henry Urrutia
The Cuban import garnered some attention earlier this year due to some glossy minor league batting averages, but didn’t do much in a limited Major League opportunity. He is certainly worth watching, but Urrutia will be 27 years old next year and seems more like a fourth outfielder or a platoon option than a viable regular. All that being said, the Orioles are platooning Danny Valencia and Wilson Betemit at the DH spot right now. He’s in the right organization to usurp a starting role next year if the O’s don’t bring in a big free agent import.

Tom Wilhelmsen
Can Wilhelmsen bounce back next year? Maybe, but at the moment Danny Farquhar looks like the real deal, and the Mariners are unlikely to make a change simply because Wilhelmsen is owed something. Monitor Wilhelmsen if you’re in holds leagues, but I see no need to hang onto him if roster spots are an issue.

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

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