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March 20, 2014

Five to Watch

American League Post-Prospects

by Ben Carsley

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As a fantasy player, prospect junkie, and wannabe scout, nothing appeals to me more than evaluating young MLB talent and seeing how players’ skills translate into big-league results. This most often comes in the form of prospect evaluation, as we're always clamoring to find the next best thing, and to find that ultimate fantasy prospect whose flaws have not yet been exposed to the world.

Yet now that I've been doing this for a while, I find that it's often post-prospects—players who've recently lost their rookie eligibility—who yield the greatest rewards in fantasy leagues. Once a player struggles or is simply mortal in the majors, he tends to fall off of fantasy radars as we collectively look to the next best things. This is a mistake, and it ignores standard developmental curves, which is why post-prospects are such a great source of surplus fantasy value year after year.

With that in mind, let's take a look at five post-prospects in the AL who aren't receiving enough attention this preseason and who make better gambles than many of their prospect counterparts who still generate unrealistic expectations from owners in any league.

Also, these are just five players I've chosen to write about, and this is not a comprehensive list. If you un=ironically tell me in the comments that you're disappointed about an omission, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill your fantasy team.

Chris Archer, Rays
Archer is one of the more interesting post-prospect cases heading into 2013, as his 129-inning stint in the majors last year pretty much flies in the face of his scouting profile. Archer struck out just 101 batters during his time in the majors, yet he walked just 38 and posted a respectable WHIP of 1.13. That's not the Archer scouts and analysts thought we'd see in the majors, as historically Archer has struggled with command but fanned at least a batter per inning. That being said, whether Archer is a high-strikeout, high-WHIP guy or a low-strikeout, low-WHIP guy, he should have significant fantasy value next season. I'd still bank on him being the former, meaning you might take a slight hit in WHIP and ERA to roster him, but he'll make up for it through strikeouts and wins on what should be a very good Rays team. Matt Moore's struggles aside, this is an organization that knows how to develop pitching and I'd bet on Archer having a productive MLB career.

Oswaldo Arcia, Twins
It's possible that I've published by affection for Arcia on the Internet once or twice before, but I'm going to beat this dead horse until people listen. Lost amid the sea of high-profile prospects in the Twins system, few paid attention to Arcia's quietly productive rookie season in 2013. A .251/.304/.430 line isn't going to turn too many heads from an outfielder, but Arcia doesn't turn 23 until May and his 14 homers in 378 PA last season adequately demonstrate his power potential. Add in his strong minor-league track record of getting on base, and Arcia has the potential to serve as a four-category fantasy contributor for a long time. He might struggle against southpaws and he's going to strike out some, but a .265 average with 25 bombs is very much in reach here for 2014, and those numbers could both tick up over time. Arcia's aggregate ADP (courtesy FantasyPros.com) still sits at just 272.7, behind the likes of Marcell Ozuna, Ryan Ludwick, and Melky Cabrera. That's going to look foolish in a few months.

Leonys Martin, Rangers
Jurickson Profar received all of the hype and Martin Perez had the more notable prospect career, but it was Martin who had the most value of any Rangers rookie last season. The then-25-year-old hit .260/.313/.406 with 36 steals last season, scoring 66 runs in 508 PA. The bad news for Martin is the Rangers acquired both Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Choice in the offseason, meaning there's a chance the young Cuban sits against some left-handed pitchers. On the other hand, Martin will be playing in an even-more-stacked lineup than last season and could score a ton of runs even batting toward the bottom of a lineup. I'm not expecting a huge step forward from Martin but he has the raw tools to hit closer to .275 and hit closer to 15 homers, which would make him quite the fantasy asset when you also factor in his steals. Martin is going about 60 slots lower than Starling Marte in aggregate ADP, yet he's going to provide 80-90 percent of Marte's value. Just something to keep in mind as draft season winds down.

Jonathan Villar, Astros
Villar is a flawed prospect, and perhaps he's just keeping shortstop warm for Carlos Correa in Houston. But fantasy owners can capitalize on Villar's power/speed combo in the interim. Despite plus speed, Villar is never going to hit for a good average thanks to a high strikeout rate and below average contact rates. He does walk more than many other players with his profile, though, making him a quietly solid contributor in OBP leagues. Villar needs to improve his efficiency on the bases—he went just 18-for-26 in steals last season—but he reached that total in 241 PA. If Villar receives a full slate of 550 PA this season, we could be talking about a 10-homer, 40-steal shortstop with added value in increasingly popular on-base league formats. The average will hurt and Villar isn't going to drive in many runs, but he's an intriguing player nonetheless.

Mike Zunino, Mariners
In the precursor to this piece, "esteemed" colleague Craig "Cakepop" Goldstein included Randall Delgado as one post-prospect to avoid, cautioning against drafting the right-hander despite a sudden opening in Arizona's rotation. I was planning on taking a similar tact with Zunino here until I saw his aggregate ADP of 292, which places him behind the likes of John Buck, Ryan Doumit and J.P. Arencibia. This is a player who many thought was the best catching prospect in the game last season, now going behind John Buck, Ryan Doumit and J.P. Arencibia. This is what post-prospect fatigue is all about. Most catchers take several seasons to hit their offensive strides, and Zunino is likely no different. But John Buck, Ryan Doumit, and J.P. Arencibia? That's a clown ADP, bro. Expect a .250-.260 average with 15 homers from Zunino, draft him as a second catcher, and don't worry about him as a primary option for a few more seasons. But for the love of god, take him before John Buck, Ryan Doumit, or J.P. Arencibia.

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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Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Bea... (03/20)
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