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January 26, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, Designated Hitter, and Outfield

by Rob McQuown

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Tons of requests, thank you all!

First, the outfielders traded for each other between Toronto and Los Angeles. Non-subscribers got to enjoy the entire (deserved) juicy skewering Christina Kahrl gave the Vernon Wells trade, and it's hard to add much on to it for fantasy purposes. One paragraph as a reminder, though, lest anyone start to be too tempted by Wells:

In the context of what looks like his reliably unreliable offensive and defensive performances, it is critical to note that 2010 was his first fairly healthy season since 2006, which was none-too-coincidentally his last really good season. It's upon those that fact that rests the argument that, if healthy, he's a good regular in center. But, as a player now in his 30s with a history for recurring hamstring issues, does it really make sense to bet on his continued good health? Hell no.

Juan Rivera's moving to a better home-run park (especially for righties) and entering the last year of a contract, as noted in the same trade review by Kahrl:

There's less cause to be excited about what this means for the outfield, where the Jays are obviously taking a hit, just not quite as major as it might seem at first blush. Rajai Davis slots in at center, where his bat is more position-appropriate than either corner. Rivera ought to step into the lineup in whatever corner Travis Snider isn't in, but already 32 years old, he has withered into an occasionally healthy placeholder. Although the park should help him rally in time for his walk year before joining next winter's free-agent field, the last season when he produced better-than-average numbers for a corner outfielder was 2006--his age-27 season, none too coincidentally. Getting the still-available Scott Podsednik to share time with Rivera might even make sense, although the Jays may feel they have that base covered since they count Corey Patterson among their NRI guys.

Fantasy owners can shrug off the defensive shortcomings for the most part, but with numerous DH candidates, Rivera's unlikely to pick up at-bats when he's not in the field.

For Chicago White Sox third baseman Brent Morel, another Baseball Prospectus expert will be cited, Kevin Goldstein, from his Top-11 White Sox prospects:

Year in Review:The organization's top third-base prospect accelerated his development by hitting at both Double- and Triple-A, eventually reaching the big leagues.

The Good:Scouts adore Morel as a makeup player who gets the most out of his tools. That said, he's a truly good hitter who has outstanding wrists and hand-eye coordination, with the ability to make hard contact to all fields with gap power. His defensive fundamentals are top-notch, to the point where he can play shortstop in a pinch, and his arm is a tick above average. Few players in the minors get higher grades for their makeup, as Morel is a hard worker who loves playing the game.

The Bad:Morel's line-drive swing is not conducive to power, and he projects for just 12-15 home runs per year, well below the average expectation for third basemen. He's a good athlete for his size, but he's still a bit slow. Many scouts see him as an is-what-he-is prospect without much room for growth.

Perfect World Projection:He could be a solid-but-unspectacular everyday third baseman.

Fantasy Impact: He will be usable, but he won't be an early pick.

Now, the White Sox are claiming that Mark Teahen is the third baseman, but Ozzie Guillen loves his flashy defense, so don't be surprised if Morel takes the position as soon as spring training, though an arbitration-delaying two months in the minors is a possibility. With his park aiding his power, and the lack of walks not hurting much in most fantasy formats, Morel could provide a great “value pick” in 2011 AL-only leagues (or extra-large mixed leagues).

Everyone thought it was time for Desmond Jennings, as Kevin Goldstein suggested last month:

Carl Crawford is now with the Red Sox. It's time for Jennings. He was merely good at Triple-A last year when greatness was expected, although wrist problems provided a mitigating factor. With his size and athleticism, he generated some Crawford comparisons during his minor league time, but those aren't bandied about nearly as much as they used to be, as Jennings projects for most as a good leadoff hitter as opposed to a dynamic all-around talent. He'll help fill the void, but the swap of Crawford for Jennings is hardly a zero-sum game.

At the very least, it appeared that the Rays would shove Sam Fuld out there in left field to keep a seat warm. But, instead, they brought in Johnny Damon. And Manny Ramirez. These signings are nothing short of catastrophic to Jennings' fantasy outlook in 2011. The only glimmer of silver lining is that far-looking fantasy owners should now be able to scoop him up for pennies on the proverbial dollar. And he's still a very good prospect. For those still wondering exactly what would have to happen for Jennings to play regularly, the easiest route would be for something to happen to B.J. Upton – either critically bad performance, a trade, or an injury. Theoretically, Jennings could out-play both Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce in spring training and get the right field job, but it's much more likely that he plays full-time in AAA.

Nyjer Morgan has a career batting line of .301/.361/.387 against right-handed pitching, with 79 steals in 1069 PA. If manager Jim Riggleman follows through with his plans to platoon him strictly (he's discussed using Jayson Werth in center field against lefty starters), Morgan could rebound significantly from his 2010 season, in terms of rate stats. His defense and speed are still very much intact, and with a guy like this in fantasy, your only real concern is him getting at-bats against pitchers he has a chance to get on-base against. He's going to hurt homer and RBI totals, of course, but could be a mild asset in average and runs while piling on in the precious “steals” category. Of course, he's also had his share of problems, and isn't a good enough player that the team is likely to tolerate much more, so there's that risk to keep in mind, as well. And the Nats signed Rick Ankiel, so that they have at least one other “true” center fielder in the fold, if things go awry with Morgan.

Nolan Reimold's 2010 season was a train wreck. After posting a promising .279/.365/.466 batting line in 411 plate appearances as a 25-year-old rookie in 2009 (after putting up must-be-seen-to-be-believed AAA stats to earn the call up), he underwent reconstructive surgery to his Achilles, and didn't hit pitching at either level in 2010. He did steal 9 bases in 401 PA in AAA, allaying somewhat the concerns that he'd never be able to move as well again. At press time, he's in a platoon situation with Felix Pie, though both players have shown remarkably limited platoon splits for their careers so far. And the O's are still one of the many teams rumored to be a landing place for Vlad Guerrero, whose signing would bump Luke Scott to left field and Reimold to the bench. All in all, there's no reason to be very optimistic, yet it's important to not let guys like Reimold fall too far out of consideration... he has a nice power stroke, and Felix Pie isn't exactly Barry Bonds blocking him in left field. His upside is still above the respectable rookie stats he posted, though that's now more of a hope than an expectation.

Andres Torres spent a lot of time on the “Value Picks” lists in 2010, as he was consistently under-owned in most leagues, compared to the value he would have been providing. He was featured in the list of players who out-performed expectations, as of September 29, and it's very likely he's going to be undervalued in almost every fantasy draft or auction heading into 2011. This preview from BP 2011 gives an indication of why such optimism can be held for such a late bloomer:

A high-school sprinter in his native Puerto Rico, Torres didn’t play baseball until his senior year, was drafted by the Tigers after just three scholastic seasons, and, because of his speed, was tutored to be a slap-hitting leadoff man. It wasn’t until he returned to the Tigers organization nearly 10 years later that he changed his approach, doing so after finally taking the attention-deficit disorder medication prescribed for him five years earlier. Adopting a heavier bat and patterning his swing after Albert Pujols’, Torres completely revamped his approach. A career .257/.352/.321 hitter in the majors and minors combined over the previous nine seasons, Torres has hit .285/.361/.489 in 1,831 plate appearance since.

He's not going to be Jim Edmonds, much less Albert Pujols, but he should be quite good, with either or both of his defense and speed helping his value in various formats.

While it's impolite to say, “I told you so”, yours truly will risk the faux pas, reminding readers of the Brett Gardner writeup from last March:

In the past decade, there have been 27 seasons where a player has had more than 1 steal per 4 times on base with 250 or more plate appearances (thanks to baseball-reference.com P-I tool). 17 players accounted for all 27 seasons, and Brett Gardner's 2009 was one such player-season. By both scouting reports and advanced stats, his range in the outfield is very good in center field and outstanding in left field. Assuming that the Yankees lineup can support his light offensive contributions, he could easily find himself amassing a full complement of 600+ plate appearances and stealing 50 bases. With his great speed, groundball tendencies (49% so far in his career), and the advantage of batting from the left side, he should improve on his .311 BABIP from 2009. He will need this higher BABIP to keep his batting average from being swallowed up by his low contact percentage - 80% in his minor-league career, which wouldn't be noteworthy if he had anything resembling power.

He just missed 600 and 50, but there's really no reason to change much of this review, other than to admit that calling his offensive contributions “light” doesn't apply if he's getting on base 38% of the time (he really improved his patience in 2010, both walking and striking out much more than 2009 as he took more pitches – 4.62 pitches/PA, up from 4.05 in 2009). Still, Gardner is what he is... expect a slight dip in batting average, as perhaps a .340 BABIP is a bit too much, where .311 was low in 2009, and maybe he's just not cut out for 600+ PA, but otherwise, expect another round of the same.

Still in the queue:

Considering reviews, depending upon additional news on their potential roles:

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

Related Content:  A's,  The Who,  Andres Torres

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Premium Article Expanded Horizons: No ... (01/26)

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