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May 3, 2005

Prospectus Today

My Guys

by Joe Sheehan

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In last Monday's chat session, I got a lot of questions about "my guys." Last spring, I wrote a column about ten players who I was high on for the '04 season. There was no real pattern to the group--some were established regulars, others wouldn't even get out of Double-A last year--but they all had something about them that had me in their corner. While I followed that up this March with a piece on the guys who I was down on--"Not My Guys"--I never did do the positive list.

A month into the season is an awkward time to put together a list like this from scratch, of course, because it's hard to not have been influenced by the events of the first four weeks. (Brian Roberts: Absoutely due for a breakout season. A sleeper MVP candidate whose age-27 power boost will have the Orioles atop the AL East for much of the year." "Vinny Castilla; Far too much is made of the effects of altitude on statistics. This professional hitter didn't lead the league in RBI just by chance. He'll keep the Nationals in the race.")

One way I can get around this is to restrict the list to players who showed up on my fantasy and/or Strat teams, demonstrating that I was willing to put my money where my mouth was. This skews the lists slightly--one of my teams, in Tout Wars, is AL-only--but it's a way of keeping me from having, say, the entire NL top ten in OPS listed below. So with that restriction in mind, here's the 2005 version of "my guys":

Jeremy Bonderman: Immediately, we throw out the rule book. I didn't manage to snag Bonderman in any of my three fantasy leagues or my one Strat league. I'm including him here regardless, because there was no player whose name I spoke more often in March. I compared him often to Ben Sheets, another right-hander who took a step forward in his third season. Bonderman, a high-school draftee, is younger than Sheets, but his career path has been comparable. He'll provide innings, and his improved command will lead to career-low ERA and career-best peripherals and sabermetric stats. He's a year away from stardom. So Far: 27/8 K/BB in 35 1/3 innings, 3.82 ERA. He's basically had one bad inning this year, a five-run disaster against the Indians.

Carl Crawford: I've been adamant that Crawford will be a better player than the more heralded Rocco Baldelli. One theory I haven't had time to test is that multi-sport players need more time to develop their baseball skills. Kenny Lofton was a late bloomer, as was Brian Jordan. Bo Jackson was just becoming a truly dangerous hitter at 27, right before his hip injury. Crawford showed a big leap in power last year, and a not insignificant improvement in his plate discipline, despite raw numbers that remained pretty lousy. I made him the highest-priced player in AL Tout Wars. So Far: .262/.309/.437, more or less last year's line less three singles. Can't the Rays convince Rickey Henderson to travel with the team for a year?

David DeJesus: DeJesus isn't the next Carlos Beltran, as he lacks Beltran's power upside and omniscience on the basepaths (8-for-19 stealing bags last year). He's a legitimate center fielder and .300 hitter who will walk 60 times and could pop that many extra-base hits. Think the guy who played center before Beltran, Johnny Damon, with fewer steals, and you'll be on the mark. So Far: .302/.375/.453 in 86 at-bats. He's been gunned down twice on the bases in three attempts.

Ken Griffey Jr.: Combined, Griffey hit 33 homers and 30 doubles in 466 at-bats across 2003 and 2004. Add in 71 walks, and you have a player who shows up on the outskirts of an MVP discussion. So if Griffey could just stay healthy--and my god, isn't he due?--he could have a season in line with his first in Cincinnati back in 2000, and finally be worth the money he's being paid. So Far: He's played in 22 games, but hit just .244/.319/.366.

D.J. Houlton: The list's 11th man, he's here because I didn't want to cut another pitcher. Houlton was the Dodgers' first-round pick in the Rule 5 draft last winter, and made the team in part because of Eric Gagne's injury. He's capable of providing bulk relief innings or taking over in the rotation when The Scott Erickson Experiment ends. As a flyball pitcher without great stuff, he's in a good park. So Far: 2.08 ERA, eight strikeouts, two walks and 14 hits allowed in 8 2/3 very low-leverage (no wins, losses, saves, save opportunities or holds) innings.

Kazuo Matsui: With his improved play right before a bad back truncated his '04 season, and the idea that he has more in common with Hideki Matsui than with Ichiro Suzuki, I think Matsui will have a strong second season. The transition to second base couldn't happen under a better tutor--Willie Randolph--and the additions of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez should keep the focus off of Matsui. So Far: It's not happening…just four walks and two extra-base hits so far this season. His numbers at second base are pretty lousy, too.

Trot Nixon: Nixon was actually fantastic when he played last year, but he missed most of the season with injuries to his back and his quadriceps. He's not the athletic player he once was, but he might be the second-best hitter in the Sox' lineup. So Far: He's not playing full time, although he's not quite being platooned, either. When in the lineup, he's been very good, hitting .281/.446/.474.

Miguel Olivo: Olivo has an odd skill set for a catcher: defense, power and some speed, but not much average or plate discipline. The defense--he's a terrific thrower--will help him keep his job even if he hits .230, and his power will make him an underrated contributor even if that is his BA. So Far: Awful. A .144 EqA on a line of .172/.213/.224. As good as his defense is, he won't hold his job much longer with that kind of offense.

Jeremy Reed: Yes, both players the Mariners acquired for Freddy Garcia are on my list. Reed has the higher upside of the two, and was actually BP's #2 prospect back in 2003. He could be Brett Butler or Steve Finley, although in the short term his power won't be there. So Far: After an extended 0-for to start the season, Reed has bounced up to .241/.341/.304. As with his teammate Ichiro Suzuki, his value is going to be tied up largely in his batting average.

Chris Reitsma: His peripherals just keep getting better with each season he spends in the bullpen. He had a 3-1 K/BB last season and just nine home runs allowed. He's on one of my teams largely because I expect him to be the closer once Danny Kolb loses the job. So Far: The numbers are good (0.73 ERA), helped by a very low BABIP in a dozen innings and no home runs allowed. Kolb has righted himself after some bumpy outings, so a transition isn't imminent.

Vernon Wells: Like a lot of Jays' players, Wells' GB/FB ratio spiked last season, so despite improved plate discipline, Wells lost a lot of batting average and hit into a ton of DPs. Still just 26, possessing Gold Glove defense and growth in a number of areas, Wells is a player I see as a legitimate MVP candidate in '05. So Far: Just like last year, decent power and walks, but little else. He's hitting .191/.255/.372, even though his GB/FB ratio has returned to its 2003 level.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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