September 16, 2013
The Other Guys, Part Two
Last week, I took a look at some of baseball’s “other guys.” These are players who can fit a lot of descriptions, but often are afterthoughts at 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. Last week I looked at the American League. Today, I tackle the National League.
With only two starts under his belt, it is going to be difficult if not impossible to gauge Baker’s value going into next season. The Cubs gambled and lost on a one-year contract last winter, and there’s a good chance that Baker has to sign another make-good deal again this winter. At the moment, he is a deep-league play only. Do not speculate in mixed leagues.
If Baxter was ever going to break out of his Quad-A mold, it was going to be this year, when the Mets decided that Outfielder Potpourri was a sustainable strategy. But Baxter’s power didn’t show up this year, and there’s a good chance that he never sees the majors again, even if the Mets don’t make a big splash in the free-agent market.
Bloomquist is somehow hitting around .350 this year, mostly due to a really strong BABIP. His claim to fame used to be stealing bases, though, and without this he’s not worth it even in NL-only.
Huston Street’s Padres contract runs out in 2014, so if the Padres aren’t in contention, maybe next year is finally the year Street gets dealt. If that happens, Boxberger is a possible candidate to replace him. Boxberger generates a lot of swings and misses but still needs to work on his control. He’s a dark-horse guy for 2014 saves; we need to see what happens this offseason as far as trades are concerned.
The outlook for Brantly as a long-term mainstay behind the plate looked better at the onset of the 2013 season than it does now. There is a good lesson here in not getting swept away by small sample sizes, a lesson you’d think we all would have learned by now, instead of shrieking “why does this keep happening to us?” like Bruce Willis’ wife repeatedly does in Die Hard 2 (HINT: it’s because unlike in the first movie, where your husband was trapped in the building and had no choice in the matter, in the second movie he could have just called the FBI and made it home in plenty of time for dinner). Brantly has youth on his side, but the deterioration in his numbers combined with Jeff Mathis’ pitch-calling utility makes Brantly a potential back-up in 2014 and fantasy kryptonite, even in two catcher leagues.
Caminero is an under-the-radar reliever who throws serious heat. His 68 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings at Triple-A pop off of the page, and as the Marlins showed with Steve Cishek this year, they are completely willing to slot a guy in as closer based on merit. Control was a serious problem for Caminero, but he mostly fixed that this year. How his secondary stuff plays in the Majors is the big question for Caminero. He’ll be 27 next year, but age isn’t quite as important for pitching prospects as it is for hitting prospects. I like Caminero as a middle-relief sleeper for 2014.
Can Chatwood make the (fantasy) transition next year from road streamer to a reliable mixed league starter? The jury is still out for me. The HR rate seems too low, but Chatwood’s ground-ball rate has been 56 percent or higher in both 2012 and 2013. I don’t love the strikeout and walk percentages, but if Chatwood can keep the ball on the ground, he’ll be successful in any venue. Chatwood isn’t an NL-only sleeper, but he might be one of those pitchers who costs $3-7 and earns $10-15 if everything breaks right.
Cloyd fits the definition of a pitcher who “knows how to pitch” but might not have enough stuff to make it in the big leagues for any appreciable amount of time. His fastball clocks in at a pedestrian 86-87 MPH. Cloyd’s feel for his secondary stuff has kept hitters off balance in the minors but has not quite resulted in the same positive results for the Phillies. He might be a fifth starter for Philadelphia next year, but even if he stays with the club all year, he is a streamer at best, and I would be wary of starting the year with Cloyd on the roster.
I wrote about Coghlan recently but thought I’d check in again. He has been getting the at bats but hasn’t been getting the job done at the plate. Even if the Marlins decided to try him at second base next year, the odds are looking poor that Coghlan is going to be a legitimate contributor for the Fish or any other team in the future. Feel free to cross him off of your lists for next year.
A good walk rate is the only positive thing to come out of Davidson’s cup of coffee for the Diamondbacks. He’s striking out at a prodigious rate, and given that his power tool isn’t Mark Reynolds-like, Davidson is going to need to make more contact than this to survive as a starter. I see Chris Mellen’s scouting projection as a somewhat optimistic ceiling. Davidson has youth on his side, but will need more polish if he’s going to stick as a starter.
When promising players like Erlin put up unimpressive numbers in a brief Major League stint, it can be a sign to stay away but can also signify a buying opportunity. In Erlin’s case, I suspect the latter. Erlin’s poor numbers overall are due to some absolutely awful road results that speak more to small sample size noise than anything else. Erlin’s deceptive delivery and strong assortment of pitches remain intact, and at the very least he is going to be a strong streamer next year at home. I like Erlin’s upside in 2014, and would try to grab him at $5 or so in NL-only if he cracks the rotation.
Fife has long been projected as a middle reliever by many scouts and fantasy experts alike, but his results as a starter for the Dodgers this year were impressive, even if the ERA is somewhat fluky. Fife might be in the position yet again next year where is on the outside looking in, so he is merely a guy to monitor for now. Despite the lack of pedigree, at some point the results begin to matter. I see Fife as nothing more than a fifth starter, but this is a case where I could be very wrong if everything breaks right.
Francisco is a free agent at the end of this year and will almost definitely have to sign a one-year make good deal this winter. Of course, all it takes is one overzealous General Manager to give someone like Francisco too much money and/or too many years. He is a $1 only league play at best until his situation is clearer. There are better speculative adds to be made in keeper leagues.
Gordon strikes me as a player who needs a change of scenery. Hanley Ramirez is signed through 2014, and as long as Ramirez is on the team and wants to play shortstop there isn’t an ideal place for Gordon to play. Of course, this presupposes that Gordon is worth starting in the first place. His OBP jumped in Triple-A this year and while the improvements in his batting eye stuck for the Dodgers, a 307 OBP isn’t going to cut it for a player who offers little on offensive except speed. Gordon’s a stash type player in leagues with deep reserve lists or dynasty formats, but he’ll be 26 next season. The clock is ticking loudly for Mr. Gordon.
I went to my bookshelf, thumbed through the last five years of Baseball Prospectus annuals, and couldn’t find Halton. He is Sir Not Appearing In This Series of Player Annuals. Despite being a non-prospect his entire career, Halton has put up above average numbers at every level of the minors, sacrificing some batting average for some power the last year and a half at Triple-A. Predictably, this has came due to a more free-swinging approach, and the power isn’t quite as impressive yet in the majors. Halton’s story is nice, but he strikes me as a Quad-A type, who will probably need to catch a significant break to start somewhere. His corner-outfield utility could land him on the Brewers bench next year.
Kobernus isn’t as well known as Gordon, but he is a demon on the base paths, with 162 minor league stolen bases in 1,687 plate appearances. The Nationals moved him to the outfield in the minor leagues this year, so that’s probably where Kobernus’ future lies. His near-term path to the Majors is as a back-up, so if Kobernus does make the squad next year, it will be as a back-up. Keep an eye on him; a sneaky 15-25 stolen bases are a possibility if he sticks.
Forget about Lambo if you’re playing for this year, but going forward, he reminds me of a poor man’s Darin Ruf. Lambo smashed 32 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A this year. While his high strikeout rate raises questions about his ability to make contact in the Majors, Lambo could become a 25-30 home run guy in the Majors with a subpar batting average if everything broke right. Like Ruf, there are questions about Lambo’s defense but since Justin Morneau is only a rental, the obstacles at first aren’t as surmountable as they were in Philadelphia for Ruf. The drug (non-PED) suspensions that derailed Lambo a few years ago are in the rear view mirror, and it’s possible that he establishes himself as a starter in Pittsburgh if he’s given the opportunity.
Lutz’s on-base skills are terrific, but he doesn’t bring enough of anything else to the table to inspire confidence in his abilities. He is likely going to yo-yo between Triple-A and the major-league level for the rest of his career.
Things would be better for Oswalt if he were pitching in San Francisco or a similarly pitcher-friendly park. However, despite his 0-4 record and gaudy ERA, Oswalt’s velocity and his 3.10 FRA suggest that he is far from finished. One drawback for Oswalt is that he is starting late every year and his first month in the Majors the last two years has looked like Spring Training. I would like Oswalt more as a sleeper in 2014 if he signs with a club early. He is only 36 years old and has not dealt with any significant arm injuries in his career. There is a fourth or fifth starter lurking here if Oswalt is willing to start pitching in late February next year… and if a team is willing to take a shot on him to do so.
I included a couple of deep mixed league worthy players here for my readers who play in that format. A hamstring strain ruined Pagan’s season and may have tamped down his value in shallower formats. The decline in stolen bases across the league this year puts more of a premium on pure speed guys like Pagan than it typically does in mixers. He offers enough power that he isn’t a Juan Pierre type who is marginal in standard mixed. At 32, Pagan isn’t old and could have 2-3 more years of some solid SB totals ahead of him.
Three years ago, Peguero stole 40 bases in High-A ball. He has probably been overrated as a fantasy commodity since then, because there are still some touts excited about his potential. Peguero might be able to hold down a major-league job because he can play center field capably, but even if he can bring that batting average up to .280 or so, he would be an extremely boring regular. Boring is okay in -only leagues, but without the steals, I’d rather gamble on someone with more upside.
Like Kobernus, Perez is a Nationals burner who is up this month for a little bench depth. Unlike Kobernus, Perez flashed a little power in Triple-A this year for the first time. It’s unlikely that both Kobernus and Perez would break camp with the club next spring. Perez has a slightly higher ceiling but is younger, so if I had to guess Perez will be the one who goes back to Triple-A for additional seasoning.
A late bloomer, Perez came out of nowhere to earn a promotion to the Giants with a solid Triple-A line. Perez’s best asset is his defense. He has been superb with the glove and is likely to stick as a back up if he can provide even something marginal with the bat. Perez had an okay power/speed combination in the minors, so it will be interesting to see how much of that holds up in the majors. If the Giants don’t re-sign Hunter Pence, there is a chance Perez is at least part of a platoon in 2014.
On the surface, it looks like another lost year for Pomeranz. However, his stuff is still legitimate and at some point there’s a chance he takes a step forward. The curve is major-league quality, but Pomeranz needs to throw a more varied pitch assortment and simply get some big-league reps under his belt. Pomeranz should be a solid mid-tier option in the rotation down the road.
Smith has an impressive fastball but the secondary stuff is adequate on good nights, not quite there on the bad ones. This has led to the usual starter/reliever discussion among scouts. I dig the home venue, but suspect that Smith will be in the Padres pen at some point. As with Boxberger, Smith cannot be ruled out as a future closer in 2015 or later. All that being said, Smith’s outing yesterday showed how good he can be as a starter when everything is clicking.
Quick, how old do you think Travis Snider is? No checking. If you guessed 25, give yourself a star. Snider is one of those players who has seemingly been around forever, yet, because he came up so young, there is still a little time left for him to develop into something better. The problem is that Snider hasn’t had a decent chunk of MLB time since 2010 and strikes out way too much for a hitter who isn’t a prodigious home run machine. Maybe the Pirates find a way to get Snider into the line-up, but it is more likely he is a fourth outfielder next year.
Soto has mostly played first base in the minors. His power is weak for the position, but the larger problem is that Joey Votto is entrenched in front of him. Soto needs a trade, but the reality is that Soto is likely an organizational soldier, not a future regular.
For years, Sweeney has been known as a solid defensive outfielder with decent contact skills but very little pop. The Athletics were willing to use him as a platoon/part-time outfielder for a few years until the price tag got too high. Sweeney was signed by the Cubs this year to provide similar utility, but then a rib injury wiped out most of his season. A funny thing happened on the way to ordinary, though: Sweeney suddenly started flashing some power. He has 12 home runs in 250 plate appearances between Triple-A and the Cubs. This could definitely be nothing more than a sample size gremlin, but it’s also possible that a late 20s/early 30s power spike is coming. It’s more likely than not that nothing comes of this, but in an only league next year watch Sweeney carefully. A 10-15 home run season isn’t as unlikely as it might seem.
How much does batting average destroy fantasy value? You have to play Uggla in an NL-only and hope for the best, right? Perhaps. His .180/21/59/2/53 line this year would have been good for $6 in earnings in my NL-only valuation formula from last year. That’s useful, but in a competitive league with dump trades, you probably can’t get that kind of production from your second baseman all year. The batting average really hurts because not only does it siphon value from a fantasy squad, but it also takes away runs/RBI opportunities that otherwise might have come. The Braves are on the hook for two more seasons, so Uggla will likely play, but he shouldn’t be on your fantasy team unless he is steeply discounted for the bad batting average.
Valbuena showed a little pop with the Indians way back in 2009 with a .296 batting average but couldn’t sustain that success again in the majors… until this year. Yes, the batting average is low, but the Cubs are more likely looking at Valbuena’s OBP, which is acceptable. Valbuena’s power seems legit, and if he got a full time shot, 15-20 home runs wouldn’t be a surprise. It’s more likely that Valbuena winds up on a bench somewhere or as part of a platoon. Nevertheless, the high walk rate makes him somewhat more viable—if marginally so—than he could be without the strong batting eye.
As a starter, Withrow stalled out at Double-A, primarily due to command issues. The Dodgers moved him to relief and after some initial struggles the results have been phenomenal. Withrow throws hard and thus far has been very difficult to hit. The hitters will adjust, but he’s throwing in the mid-90s with the fastball and has harnessed his cut slider with great success. Withrow isn’t supplanting Kenley Jansen, but could move up the pecking order quickly in Los Angeles.
Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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