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March 31, 2008

Fantasy Beat

Prospect Watch

by Marc Normandin

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Fantasy drafts are over, the real 25-man rosters have been announced, and we even have some baseball on record that didn't require an alarm clock to watch. Of course, this is the time of year where we lament the loss of sleeper picks who didn't make it out of spring training; the Reds alone demoted Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey, while the Marlins sent down top prospect Cameron Maybin. There are others, and some of them need the extra time in the minor leagues, but as a fantasy owner you want to know who is worth keeping on the roster, and who is just going to fall flat on their face and needs to be cut. That's what we will take a look at today, as I've picked a few players who I've received multiple questions about.

Cameron Maybin did not make the 25-man roster out of spring training, with the Marlins resisting the temptation to throw him against the wall and see if he sticks. Maybin spent most of his time last season at the High-A level, hitting an unspectacular-looking-at least until you remember he was just 20 years old-.304/.392/.486 in 296 at-bats. He'll turn 21 in just a few days, and it made no sense to force him on the roster with the Marlins competing for last place in the NL East.

With all of that good stuff being said, Maybin most likely will not help you out that much this season, not unless you're in a keeper league with minor league rosters. In limited duty last season he hit just .143/.208/.265 for the Tigers, and looked overmatched at the plate while striking out in nearly 43 percent of his plate appearances. Despite all of his upside, Maybin has holes in his swing and will need to iron out his issues before staying in the majors. Considering he struck out 30 percent of the time at Double-A last year, it will take some serious improvement in just a few months to make him worth your roster spot this season.

Even if the Marlins do bring him up after he improves his game, he will be on a team that isn't going to score very many runs, which will limit his value for many fantasy owners. Center is a deep position this year, and you can get by without wasting a space on Maybin until he's shown you he's worth it now.

If you are looking for help in center, Jay Bruce is where you want to look. The Reds farmed him out before the season began in favor of starting Corey Patterson instead, asserting that they needed a leadoff hitter who could man the outfield. With Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey flanking him, Patterson is going to earn his pay with the glove; whether his bat will hold up is another story. Patterson hit just .269/.304/.386 last year, but he managed a .276/.314/.443 line in 2006, and the NL is easier to hit in than the AL, especially with Patterson playing in the weakest division in baseball, and in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the game. Even with the low OBP, his ability to move on the basepaths-coupled with his defensive abilities-make him an attractive outfield option for the Reds, given their situation.

That might seem daunting if you want to count on on Bruce, but there are still three loopholes for Bruce getting to the majors early enough to help your squad though: first, Patterson might continue to disappoint at the plate, to the point where his defensive abilities don't guarantee him a job anymore. Second, Ken Griffey, Jr. is involved, so Bruce could end up with a spot on the roster anytime Griffey goes down with an injury. Lastly, Adam Dunn may very well be traded this summer, meaning Bruce will have a spot open up.

Regardless of how Bruce gets to the majors to stay, I'm thinking June 1 is when we'll see him up. If I had my pick between a guaranteed Maybin call-up versus a Bruce one, I'd go with Bruce, both on a talent level and due to the offenses (and home parks) surrounding the two players.

Bruce's teammate Homer Bailey is also in the minors to start the season, though he should end up as the third starter on the big league staff behind Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo once he proves himself in the minors. Bailey had problems finding the strike zone in his major league debut last year; though he only gave up 0.6 HR/9, allowed a .286 BABIP, and managed to finish with pretty normal batted-ball rates, he walked as many as he struck out, dishing out 5.6 per nine of both free passes and punchouts. His 67 1/3 innings in Triple-A were more impressive, as he posted a 3.07 ERA and 7.9 K/9, but he still walked 4.3 batters per nine there, and only succeeded because he held the opposition to a .256 BABIP over a short sample of innings.

However, all of this doesn't have Kevin Goldstein all that worried, as he ranks Bailey the ninth-best prospect on his top 100, and that's with good reason. Bailey has excellent stuff, and will be just 22 years old this May. There's plenty of time left to conquer Triple-A before moving on to the majors, and with the Reds building for the future, there's no need to keep his service clock going until they know he's ready to face major league hitters daily.

With that said, Bailey is a guy who may not put everything together until later in the summer. In non-keeper leagues, you might want to let him go or avoid picking him up for a bit, but follow his performance in the minors closely, and watch his peripherals. His K/BB should be an excellent indicator of his readiness, and the Reds will eventually bring him up if he's earned it.

Franklin Morales is another 22-year-old who may help your team this year, but as with the other players, there are a few questions that need answering. First, he is pitching at Coors for roughly half of his starts, which is an automatic red flag for many fantasy owners who worry about their rate categories. Secondly, though he pitched well during the stretch run, he showed his inexperience in the playoffs; is he ready to be a pitcher who can help both the Rockies and your fantasy team, right now?

His low K/BB worries me somewhat, as that is the sort of thing Coors can magnify. He struck out 6.0 hitters per nine last year while walking 14 batters in 39 1/3 innings. That was his most impressive walk rate of the year, with 4.2 and 6.9 BB/9 at Double and Triple-A before that. The .274 BABIP he allowed also worries me, as Coors' average BABIP is higher than the league-average BABIP, and .274 is around 20 points below that. The Rockies' defense is among the league's best, but a repeat of that .274 clip may be pushing your luck. PECOTA agrees, projecting a 5.80 ERA with a 1.76 WHIP for the young southpaw.

Taking a look at his PECOTA card suggests that Morales' range of outcomes is massive, with his 25th percentile forecast putting him around a 7.48 ERA with a 6.66 peripheral ERA, and his 75th percentile giving him a 4.71 ERA with a 4.72 PERA. If he were to hit that high mark, he may have some value, as he would rack up innings and strikeouts, and, depending on how well the Rockies do this year, add some extra wins for your team. Personally, I have higher hopes for what he does after 2008. Chances are good that unless I find myself in a desperate spot, I won't be picking up Morales this year; I advise you to do the same until he shows us differently.

Andrew Miller is another young starter with a wide range of outcomes: PECOTA has him down for a 6.06 ERA at his 25th percentile, but he's at an impressive 3.72 for his 75th. As expected, his weighted mean rests comfortably in between these two figures, with a 4.60 ERA. Of course, this includes the assist Miller will get from pitching half of his games in a pitcher's park, meaning that in head-to-head leagues, road starts will not be as kind to your scoring.

While Miller's upside is very high, he has yet to show himself off as a polished product. His walk rates remain high-despite a 1.5 BB/9 in 30 2/3 innings, he posted an ugly 5.5 BB/9 in the majors-and he gives up a few too many homers for his own good. His G/F rate also soured on him, dropping from 5.3 to 1.6; though his liner rate dipped from a poor 24 percent to 20, he saw his fly-ball rate more than make up the difference, jumping from 12 to 30 percent of his batted balls, while his grounder rate fell by 13 percent.

Granted, the 2006 numbers are from a 10-inning sample, but that's part of the point--Miller is still inexperienced at the higher levels, and he needs to refine his style and probably master a third pitch before he can consistently contribute to a major league team. With the awful defense he has behind him this year, I wouldn't bet on his posting the high-end PECOTA forecasts. If he gives up too many fly balls, he'll have problems with his homers allowed. Even if he masters getting grounders, he's got an infield that is more than ready to botch a defensive play. This is one pitcher who I wouldn't grab even if I was desperate to start the year: he has some poor projections with awful peripherals, he's on a team that can't field or hit well consistently, and he's going to be forced to learn on the job.

Related Content:  The Who,  Jay Bruce,  Rosters,  Year Of The Injury,  The Call-up

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