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July 7, 2011

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Positional Primacy: Third Basemen

by Jason Parks

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Leader of the Pack (Present): Anthony Rendon (Nationals)
The case for: Even though he has yet to play a professional game, Rendon’s combination of tools and polish make him the face of the position. At the plate, the native Texan (another plus attribute) is able to generate tremendous bat speed; his hands and hips work at near elite levels, and his raw strength is above average. Rendon’s hit tool projects to be plus-plus (70 grade)—which should allow him to become a perennial .300 hitter—with the overall approach to work counts, set up favorable hitting counts, and reach base at a high clip. His power potential ranges from average to plus, with a swing that some believe is better suited for gap-to-gap power, rather than a swing with the necessary loft and backspin to produce 25-plus homers per season without selling out his approach.

In the field, Rendon projects as an above-average defender at third, with both the leather and arm grading out as plus tools, and the instincts necessary to bring the physical package together. Speed isn’t a part of Rendon’s game, but his feet aren’t heavy, and he shows good first-step quickness and reactions. Despite not being a physical force, Rendon has all the attributes necessary to become an All-Star talent at the hot corner, with the ability to hit for average, reach base, hit for some power, and play above-average defense. It remains to be seen if Rendon ends up at third base for the Nationals, but that’s a byproduct of organizational depth, not a developmental deficiency in Rendon’s skill set.

The case against: The injury elephant. If you assume health, Rendon was arguably the top player available in the 2011 draft, a polished dual threat on the fast track to the majors. But the medicals obviously scared some teams off, and the health component [read: the ability to stay on the field] will be a concern until it isn’t. That’s as reductive as you can get, but it’s really that simple. A healthy Rendon has the potential to be a well above-average major leaguer, but he’s not going to stay on the top of any tier if his body isn’t ready for the physical challenge.  

Leader of the Pack (Future) Miguel Sano (Twins)
The case for: Sano has a ridiculously high ceiling, with the offensive projections to hit in the middle of a championship-level lineup. His raw power is just stupid, and he has all the necessary components to develop into a premier power threat; his hands and hips work well, and he is able to generate tremendous leverage in his swing. His immature approach shows that Sano’s hit tool has a long way to go, but it projects to be another above-average tool, and should allow the power to transfer at the very least.

In the field, Sano’s arm is borderline elite and his glove is sound, but his body is gaining mass by the hour, and his fringy speed isn’t doing his range any favors. Sano is only 18 years old, but his tools create an ultimate projection that is unmatched on this list. At his developmental peak, Sano could hit 40 homers without selling out for the power, which would make him one of the premiere offensive forces in the game. He has quite a journey in front of him, and it might take a few steps back before we get to see a big step forward, but the dream is more than just a fantasy. Sano could be special.

The case against: Sano just turned 18, and as I mentioned, his body is quickly transitioning from lean teenager with room for physical development to muscular man that can be classified as an abnormally large human. Originally signed as a shortstop, Sano has already shifted to third (obviously, right?), and whispers that his final destination is right field are starting. As with any young prospect, the Alan Thicke-approved growing pains can take the shine off a prospect, and traditional prospect rankings take into account production as well as promise. But for this exercise, I’m ignoring his short-season stats and looking at the big picture. Sano might hit a few bumps during the developmental process, but as long as progress is being made (whether it’s quantifiable or not), the tools are impressive enough to keep him in the mix for Leader of the Pack (Future), regardless of where he ends up on the diamond.

Midriff

High-Ceiling Division
Nick Castellanos (Tigers)
TCF: Castellanos entered professional baseball with $3.45 million worth of expectations attached to his promise, but the promise is already transitioning to production. With two plus-potential tools in his offensive skill set, Castellanos could hit in the middle of a major-league lineup. With a quick stroke from the right side, he gets into the zone faster than his long arms would suggest; his trigger and path are fluid and efficient, allowing him to generate bat speed and reach extension upon impact. The hit tool itself could produce a .300-hitter at his peak, but Castellanos will most likely develop into a consistent 55/60 hitter, though some contact may be sacrificed as his power takes over his game. Because of his bat speed, swing plane, and raw strength, Castellanos could end up with plus in-game power, with 20-plus home runs a season and 30-plus doubles. The glove and arm will be fine at third, but his body could always push him off the position, as he will no doubt end up as an abnormally large human at physical maturity.  

Caleb Cowart (Angels)
TCF: Cowart is a fascinating player, as many still view him as a legit prospect on the mound and at the hot corner. As a third baseman, Cowart has all the offensive projections necessary to become a first-division starter, with plus-plus power potential and a hit tool that shows promise from both sides of the plate. Though he’s nothing special in the field, Cowart does possess a very strong arm and shows enough with the glove to stick at third base. After years of playing both positions, Cowart is intensely focused on developing as a position player, and his ceiling is higher as a switch-hitting power threat at third base.

Cheslor Cuthbert (Royals)
TCF: One of my breakout candidates coming into the season (if you don’t believe me, you can read about it here), Cuthbert has so far proved that my eyes (and other scouts’) weren’t duped into love by his 60-plus grade name alone. Cuthbert has exceptional hands at the plate, and could pull a ball thrown behind him. More physically developed than most 18-year-olds, he uses his strong body well, showing an all-field approach and present pop that should develop into plus power down the line. Cuthbert shows a knack for contact and some of the best barrel awareness I’ve seen in a teenager. His defense is average, as his overall athleticism is average, but his actions are sound and his arm is strong enough to make all the throws from third. At his peak, Cuthbert could develop into a plus hit/power hitter with the chops to stick at third and the intangibles to exceed his physical limitations. The kid is a gamer.

Edward Salcedo (Braves)
TCF: Salcedo is another large-bodied teenaged shortstop that has already been pushed to the hot corner, but he has the offensive tools to develop into a first-division starter at the major-league level. His hit tool has solid-average to plus projections, with an aggressive approach but sound swing mechanics and a good feel for hard contact. The power potential could be Salcedo’s ticket to the top; his impressive bat speed (well above-average raw strength/torque) and backspin ability have already started producing some in-game power. At his peak, the 19-year-old Dominican could hit for some average and produce 25-plus homers per season. He’s not going to develop into a top-tier defensive force at third, but his arm is strong and the glove will be more than adequate.

Lacks the Ultimate Ceiling of the “High-Ceiling” Division but Still Packs a Serious Prospect Punch Division
Matt Dominguez (Marlins)
TCF: This is almost cheap, as Dominguez is only a few offensive steps away from being the top player on this list; that alone should warrant his inclusion in the former tier, right? While it’s true that Dominguez is the finest defensive third baseman in the minors, and his all-around defensive skills at that position will put his name on a short list once he reaches the big stage, I don’t believe Dominguez will even reach his modest offensive projections at the level. With the glove, Dominguez is a borderline 80-grade defender, with the pure actions and instincts only possessed by a chosen few. His glove is so good, in fact, that he is going to be a very valuable major leaguer even if he hits .250 with some doubles power. I think those offensive benchmarks are possible. However, if Dominguez could become a solid-average hit/power offensive force, a player that could hit .270 with 15-20 bombs, he could be a star. I don’t see that happening. The glove might be special, but the bat’s high-water mark is average, and even that looks like a lofty projection. It should be noted that scouts I spoke with still believe in the 50/50 hit/power dream. They also believe pleated khakis are flattering, so believe what you want.

Mike Olt (Rangers)
TCF: Olt, a supplementary first-round pick in 2010, was considered a vanilla pick by most casual fans. It’s a good thing draft hype isn’t a prerequisite for a successful transition into professional ball; Olt is one of the top positional prospects in a very deep Rangers system, and before a season-halting injury, was in the running to be one of the game’s top 100 prospects. At the plate, Olt has great hands and a leveraged stroke, sending ropes to all fields and projecting to hit for plus power at the major-league level. His hit tool isn’t above average and his taste for fastballs leaves him susceptible to quality off-speed stuff, but his overall approach allows him to reach base, and he could develop into a .270/.350/.475 type of hitter at maturity. His glove is above average, and his actions at third are shortstop-like. His arm is plenty strong, and he projects to be a 60-grade all-around defensive player at the hot corner. However, Olt is blocked at the position in Texas, and a shift to left field is possible, though it would be instigated by the logistics of organizational depth rather than deficiency in Olt’s skill set. He’s not a star, but will be a solid-average major leaguer at third, with a chance for a first-division future if his hit tool allows for more average and more in-game power transfer.

Jedd Gyorko (Padres)
TCF: Gyorko is a mature all-around offense-first prospect, with a good hit tool, good approach, and good power potential. Gyorko did things to the Cal League that only SVU detectives are qualified to detail, with 55 extra-base hits in only 81 games. (Yes, I understand it was the Cal League. It’s still impressive. A total of 124 hits in 340 at-bats? That impresses me.) Gyorko isn’t the best third baseman in the world (defensively speaking), because he’s not really athletic and his body leaves a lot to be desired. (Not exactly the model for blue jean sales.) But Gyorko has instincts with the bat, which should allow him to develop into a solid-average all-around hitter, although not a player with an enormous ceiling.

Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox)
TCF: There is lots to like with this prospect, starting with his being a native Texan and followed by his solid-average offensive skills and above-average defense at third. At the plate, he has huge strength, but his swing has some miss in it, and his aggressive approach doesn’t put him in many favorable hitting counts. His raw power is above average, but some scouts question the overall utility of the tool, envisioning more doubles than homers. Middlebrooks isn’t going to hit in the middle of a major-league lineup or make the fantasy players fantasize about his value, but I can see a .270 hitter with doubles power and the potential to hit 15-20 home runs per year at his peak. In the field, his glove is very smooth and his actions are fluid, despite being an abnormally large human, and his arm is very strong, giving him all the necessary components to develop into a solid-average to above-average defensive third baseman. Special talent he is not, but Middlebrooks has solid-average regular written all over his skill set.

In the Shadows: Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox)
TCF: This paragraph was easy to write, as most of the reports I received on Bogaerts were glowing; scouts rave about his hands, especially at the plate, where his crazy natural strength prompted some say his power has plus-plus potential. On defense, he has all the tools to develop into a quality defender, but his body [read: the physical development of the body] should eventually push the 18-year-old off third. It’s not all sunshine with Bogaerts, as he is still a young, unrefined talent, with some miss in his swing and an immature plate approach. But the offensive potential is legit, and a move off third won’t present a problem in terms of positional value or defensive requirements. Keep an eye on this prospect.

In the Dark: Renato Nunez  (Athletics)
TCF: Prospects who receive $2.2 million as amateurs aren’t normally classified as “in the dark.” However, Venezuelan third baseman Renato Nunez is barely more than 100 at-bats into his professional career, has yet to make his stateside debut for the less-than-global Oakland A’s, and did I mention he was born in 1994? That’s why he’s in the dark. Nunez is a dream, but the dream has a happy ending, as the 17-year-old’s offensive ceiling is exceptionally high; both his hit and power tools project to be plus attributes, with some in the industry throwing 70s on his future power. Nunez isn’t especially toolsy on defense, but he has a chance to stay at third if his body cooperates, as his glove and arm are of positional quality. He’s a lifetime away, but his ceiling is worthy of the present attention.

I Just Don’t Get it: Zach Cox (Cardinals)
TCF: The next scout I talk to that loves Zach Cox and sees a frontline starting third baseman at the major-league level will be the first. The $3.2 million major-league deal sets the bar high to begin with, not to mention the accelerated timetable and subsequent pressure the specifics of such a deal must put on the organization and Cox himself, but let’s not sugarcoat this because of the expectations involved. Scouts continuously pointed out that Cox doesn’t look like a big-league hitter. Academically speaking, he could be a plus-plus hitter with some pop and enough athleticism to handle the defensive rigors of third base. However, at present, Cox looks like a fringe hitter with limited pop and shaky athleticism. He’s a mess right now, but Cox isn’t this bad, and he still has plenty of time to find his place in the baseball world. (Remember: Cox is only 22 years old and failure is a part of the process.) Let’s see how he adjusts before digging the grave, but here are some shovels. I picked out a nice plot of land, and I prepared some words, and I look sharp in black… you know, just in case he doesn’t develop as the Cardinals envisioned.   

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

45 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Benjamin Harris

I suppose I'll be the one to do it:

Can you comment on Wilmer Flores and Nolan Arenado?

Jul 07, 2011 04:55 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I'm not a big fan of Flores and I think his body will eventually push him all the way to 1B (where I don't think the bat will hold a ton of value).

Jul 07, 2011 09:07 AM
 
philly

And I'll be another one...

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Josh Bell, in particular his plate discipline. He went from somone with a 50/70 BB/K ratio in AA in 2009 to going 23/78 and 21/85 the next two years in AAA. How does a player seem to lose his plate discipline like that? I would understand better if he lost it going from A to AA and he was just taking advantage of lousy A ball command.

And also curious about a player with the opposite problem - Matt Carpenter. I know he's 25, but his career minor league line is 296/407/438. Any chance he can be a Bill Mueller type high OBB/low SGL regular 3B for a few years?

Jul 07, 2011 05:16 AM
rating: 0
 
mattcollins

Huh. And I would have thought the obvious person left out was Brett Lawrie. Are you just considering him an outfielder at this point?

Jul 07, 2011 05:40 AM
rating: 0
 
josephras

In 52 games at AAA Lawrie has 15 HR 11/1 SB/CS .354/.415/.677 for an 1.092 OPS while being the youngest player in the PCL. I think it's a miss.

Jul 07, 2011 08:49 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I consider Lawrie to be a major leaguer at this point. Didn't want to profile a player that (if healthy) has progressed to the highest level and is unlikely to require more development in the minors.

Jul 07, 2011 08:50 AM
 
Pat Folz

Your writeup of Sano gave me a Joel Guzman vibe -- big and getting bigger, sliding down the defensive spectrum, and an iffy approach undermining massive raw power. Are their any differences in Sano's game at this age that might keep him off that same path?

Jul 07, 2011 05:44 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Sano's big, but he's not Guzmanian. They are different players, of course, so the path will be different, but Sano could certainly fall into the same trap, selling out for power without refining the overall approach.

Jul 07, 2011 09:44 AM
 
Bodhizefa

Dare I ask your opinion on Kyle Seager, Jason?

Jul 07, 2011 06:28 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Of course. I profiled Seager in my 2B article.

Kyle Seager (Mariners)
Requirements: 5-foot-10
TCF: Seager has a plus hit tool with pitch recognition skills and a sound approach. He shows some gap power, but doesn’t project to clear many fences at the major-league level. He’s a fundamental player in the field, with average tools but good instincts and a knack for making plays. He lacks a sexy ceiling, but could develop into second-division starter with good batting average, on-base ability, and some doubles power.

Jul 07, 2011 09:04 AM
 
Peter7899

C'mon meow. Josh Vitters deserves to be on this list. He may swing at everything, but he's a legit prospect.

Jul 07, 2011 06:32 AM
rating: 0
 
JDLloyd10

Saw him in action last night vs. Montgomery. Matt Moore made him look silly. In his defense, so did every one else for Tennessee.

Jul 07, 2011 07:32 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Vitters is a "legit" prospect, but I can't profile every player at the position and he isn't legit enough to find a home in this specific article. Lots to love with his swing and lots to hate about his approach.

Jul 07, 2011 08:53 AM
 
Slingerland65

I'm curious where Lonnie Chisenhall would have fit into this list if he hadn't been called up last week...

Jul 07, 2011 06:45 AM
rating: 1
 
timber

Not just Chisenhall, but Moustakas too...

Jul 07, 2011 08:12 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

If eligible (for my list), I would rank Moose number one, and Chisenhall not too far behind him. Both were excellent prospects and both will develop into very solid major leaguers, with Moose holding the higher ultimate ceiling.

Jul 07, 2011 09:54 AM
 
CRP13

Has Michael Kvasnicka already gone from first-rounder to never-will-be? His numbers aren't very impressive, but surely there's something there to warrant his draft position...

Jul 07, 2011 07:08 AM
rating: 0
 
RangerDANGER

"Let’s see how he adjusts before digging the grave, but here are some shovels. I picked out a nice plot of land, and I prepared some words, and I look sharp in black"

still can't stop laughing... awesome work

Jul 07, 2011 07:45 AM
rating: 4
 
rskelley9

What about Nolan Arenado? He's playing a solid third base this year while hitting .300 and avoiding strikeouts. He has a .307 career average and a .830 OPS up to A+ as a 20 year old.

He's seriously not better than Cheslor Cuthbert? Xander Bogarts? Middlebrooks? Ridiculous.

Jul 07, 2011 08:51 AM
rating: -3
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Well, I don't think he has the ceiling that Cuthbert has, and Bogaerts is one of my sleeper selections. Didn't get great reports on his bat, despite the good numbers. I don't think it's ridiculous to rank Middlebrooks ahead of him at this time. Arenado's exclusion from this list isn't personal. I just didn't get glowing reviews and the depth at the position requires some tough choices.

Jul 07, 2011 08:59 AM
 
JDLloyd10

I don't understand the general pessimism surrounding Cox. His numbers at High A look like a fair adjustment from SEC ball to High A. He's been atrocious in AA, but I'm curious as to what you see in his bat that leads you to think he won't achieve expectations the Cardinals had, at least with respect to his bat? Do you (or maybe more accurately, did you) think his college numbers, particularly 2010's numbers, were not accurate indications of what kind of hitter he is/could be?

Thanks for another great write-up.

Jul 07, 2011 10:11 AM
rating: 0
 
Jeff Reese

If you're looking at his college numbers to determine what kind of player he is, you're doing it wrong. The knock on Cox coming out of the draft was that he looked suspect defensively at third base (arm strength being his only real defensive tool), and his bat looked suspect given his defensive value.

He sold out for power during his Freshman season and then adjusted to a more contact oriented approach during his Sophomore season which didn't utilize his raw power. Some believed he could find a middle ground (Callis has been the biggest supporter), and others thought he'd have to choose one or the other (neither being good options). He's still a prospect, but I can't say I'm much of a fan.

Jul 07, 2011 11:25 AM
rating: -1
 
gandriole

I wonder what Cox's college numbers would have been like with the new bats. He probably would have hit (or lack thereof) his way out of the first round.

Jul 07, 2011 12:00 PM
rating: 0
 
stuckinLF

Hey.

I like pleated khakis. Why the hate?

Jul 07, 2011 10:14 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Because pleated khakis aren't very flattering on the human form, unless you happen to have super narrow hips and skinny legs, and even then it's questionable. I'm just not a fan.

Jul 07, 2011 23:22 PM
 
alangreene

James Darnell? An outfielder? Or too old?

Jul 07, 2011 10:48 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Not too old, and was in the running for the list. I had him pegged in the middle-tier (Not High Ceiling Division), but placed him just under Middlebrooks. Lots of quality depth at the position. It was a tough position to rank.

Jul 07, 2011 10:56 AM
 
preams

I was going to ask about Darnell as well. Really tore up the Texas League this year (in his second go-around).

Jul 07, 2011 10:57 AM
rating: 0
 
Jimbly19

Can you comment on Francisco Martinez? OPS of just under .800 while playing in AA as a 20 year old.

Jul 07, 2011 11:05 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Very torn on Martinez. Received great reports, and wanted to stick him in the high ceiling division, but couldn't justify ranking him ahead of the other names. If this were a straight-up prospect ranking, rather than a cute little tiered whatever it is, Martinez would be on the list. Lots of offensive potential.

Jul 07, 2011 11:16 AM
 
Jimbly19

Thanks Jason. It'll be intersting to see what the Tigers do if both him and Nick continue to progress through the minors.

Jul 07, 2011 14:00 PM
rating: 0
 
pobothecat

Excluding Dominguez, Jason, which of these would you guess we'll see first at the major league level? Or, to put it another way, M.D. aside, do any project for 2012?

Jul 07, 2011 11:21 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Middlebrooks could be ready by 2012, but not sure if his future is with the Sox. Cox and his major league deal could accelerate his timetable as well, assuming, of course, he starts hitting.

Jul 07, 2011 11:23 AM
 
RedsManRick

Is Juan Fransisco not considered a legit prospect any more? Not saying he is... seems like a 3B Wily Mo Pena to me. But he is just 24 and has hit .300/.334/.553 over a combined full season in AAA.

Jul 07, 2011 11:22 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I didn't consider him for this list. Too many major league ABs

Jul 07, 2011 11:25 AM
 
jamiedodd7

Brett Lawrie?

Jul 07, 2011 14:12 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

While technically eligible for inclusion, I didn't think profiling a major leaguer would add much to the discussion. Lawrie is clearly a badass offensive force, and would be playing in the majors if he didn't suffer the freak injury.

Again, these aren't your typical prospect rankings, where you take the eligible players at the position (based on ml service time) and rank them in order, 1-10, etc. I wanted to take a different approach in order to highlight the high ceiling talent (even if they aren't refined prospects at the present), some of the prospects that lack the crazy ceilings but still have value, to highlight a few players that are under-the-radar, and finally to profile players that I find to be overrated. It's not your standard fare, but then again, if everybody produced the same thing over and over again, what fun would that be? Prospects are anything but black and white entities, so I didn't want to rank them in a black and white manner.

Jul 07, 2011 14:29 PM
 
jamiedodd7

Fair enough, thanks for the reply!

Jul 07, 2011 14:41 PM
rating: 0
 
mrdannyg

I like 'em better this way! There are enough prospect rankings, nice to see one done with some creativity.

p.s. Kevin Goldstein, if you are reading this, don't even THINK about changing what you do. Don't you dare.

Jul 07, 2011 18:31 PM
rating: 2
 
R.A.Wagman

Jason - was disappointed not to read about Lawrie, but get it. My real question is about Kevin Ahrens. I know he is no longer really seen as a prospect, but what the hell went so wrong? I don't think injuries were involved - could anyone have seen this coming?

Jul 07, 2011 18:44 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Serious hit tool deficiencies; just can't make consistent contact. Some had questions about his bat when he entered professional ball, but I don't think anyone could have predicted how poorly the bat developed (or failed to develop). As a Texan, I'm disappointed.

Jul 07, 2011 23:17 PM
 
Cromulent

Late to the game, but did you get any reports on Garin Cecchini? Was he a factor for the list or not close?

Jul 07, 2011 19:04 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

He was in the mix based on tools alone, but not enough data to support the physical projections. Definitely a player to keep a close eye on.

Jul 07, 2011 23:13 PM
 
drawbb

Jason, what--if anything--do you hear on Luis Jimenez?

Jul 08, 2011 09:11 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Good, not great hitter that takes proper advantage of hitter friendly environments. Good prospect, but hard to crack this list.

Jul 08, 2011 10:32 AM
 
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