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April 3, 2012
First, Third, and DH for 4/3/12
If you need further confirmation of how difficult baseball is, compare its amateur draft to those of football or basketball, where first-round picks generally go onto success and top-pick busts like Sam Bowie or Ricky Williams make headlines. Baseball’s draft history, on the other hand, is littered with first-round failures and late-round successes. Some first-round picks eventually help their clubs but not always at the position where they were drafted. This week’s Value Picks looks at several Spring Training storylines surrounding former first-round draft picks and whether there’s any fantasy value to be found there.
After Colorado’s Hot Mess at the Hot Corner, which combined for a .222/.281/.348 line last season (only their pitchers hit worse), the Rockies signed the rickety Casey Blake to a minor-league deal to see if he could help. Last week, they decided he couldn’t and cut Blake loose, leaving the starting job to Nelson and Pacheco. They’re just placeholders until the eventual arrival of Nolan Arenado, but the Rockies’ top prospect (and second-round pick) will start the season in Double-A and won’t be up this season until late this year, if at all. In the meantime, Nelson and Pacheco each bring their own blend of potential fantasy value.
Nelson was drafted ninth overall in 2004 as a shortstop, but he’s slid down the spectrum since then, playing all three infield skill positions partly due to his glove and partly due to a $150 million Tulo-shaped roadblock at shortstop. Nelson picked up most of his Colorado playing time over the past two seasons at the keystone, combining to hit .254/.284/.376 in those cups of joe. While his 18.1 percent K% shows good contact—important for someone with his wheels—Nelson’s 3.7 percent BB% is a far cry from the 8.1 percent BB% he put up in the minors.
His combined 216 plate appearances over those two major-league seasons are too small to predict trends, but Nelson needs to return to his more patient ways—easy to do when hitting in the eighth spot, as he’s expected to do. He also needs to show that his minor-league power wasn’t a mirage. Injuries dampened his power at times, but Nelson still managed to slug .447 overall, bolstered by two seasons of .518 SLG at high elevation in Colorado Springs. PECOTA sees a .500 SLG only above Nelson’s 90th percentile, but he’d approach an adequate .452 SLG in his 70th percentile. Throw in a few swipes, and you have the makings of a decent fantasy option in NL-only leagues, especially given his second base qualification.
The majority of the hot-corner playing time, however, is expected to go to Pacheco, a ninth-round pick who played just seven games at third base in 2011 while also playing some first, second, and catcher. This versatility is as valuable as his bat, though he has a better idea of what he’s doing at the plate than Nelson. Pacheco’s .303/.377/.426 minor-league slash line doesn’t match Nelson’s pop (Pacheco’s SLG peaked at .492 in the Sally League), but the first two numbers in his triple-slash line reflect Pacheco’s superior plate approach. His 9.9 percent K% and 9.0 percent BB% in the minors are both very strong, and that strikeout rate dropped as he climbed the ladder before posting a still-great 11.7 percent K% at Triple-A last season.
In his trek up the minor-league ladder, Pacheco spent parts of four seasons in A-ball before blowing through Double-A and Triple-A, accumulating a combined 502 plate appearances at both levels. That still makes him a bit raw against advanced pitching, so he’d have to near his 90th percentile PECOTA to hit .300 or slug above .410. Depending on your league’s eligibility requirements, Pacheco should qualify at more valuable positions, but as a third baseman, he only has value in NL-only leagues.
Minnesota’s Opening Day roster has several unexpected names on it, including Parmelee, who will slide into the first-base role while Justin Morneau spends more time at designated hitter. Though drafted in the first round as a power prospect, Parmelee hasn’t shown much pop in the minors, which Baseball Prospectus 2012 ascribes to the Twins’ contact-hitting philosophy. Parmelee spent three seasons trying to escape the fearsome jaws of the Single-A Beloit Snappers (whose mascot looks more constipated than fearsome), but once he did, he cut his whiff rate almost in half at Double-A. He also posted an ISO of .149 at his Double-A stop (his best post-Beloit performance) before his call-up last season. That call-up led to an outstanding .355/.443/.592 in 88 plate appearances, something that’s liable to catch your fellow owners’ eyes.
As Baseball Prospectus 2012 also points out, though, plenty of players manage to be productive in short September bursts, and Parmelee’s past suggests we shouldn’t read too much into this. After three seasons in Beloit, he spent parts of two more seasons at each of the High-A and Double-A levels then skipped Triple-A to reach the majors. Despite that nice ISO in Double-A, Parmelee still never hit more than 16 jacks in any season, and jumping past the last rung of the minor-league ladder doesn’t seem like the wisest move for a player who’s developed so slowly.
PECOTA sees only 12 home runs and a .451 SLG in Parmelee’s 90th PECOTA percentile, where his .302 batting average and .376 OBP would bring most of his value. That’s true throughout his forecast, where he should keep the patience that enabled him to register an 11.8 percent BB% in the minors, but he’ll still strike out about a fifth of the time. Like Nelson and Pacheco, Parmelee will qualify at multiple positions, though Parmelee should qualify at more talent-rich spots in the outfield and designated hitter. The total package is a player who will help in AL-only leagues but won’t do much for mixed-league owners unless he continues hitting like he did last September.
Finally freed from Joey Votto’s shadow via offseason trade, Alonso went from a power-hitter’s heaven to PETCO, the place where fly balls (and bees) go to die. Fortunately for his defensive metrics, Alonso also shifted from outfield to first base. While potentially liberating for his career, these two factors have diluted his fantasy value significantly.
Drafted seventh overall in 2008, Alonso was expected to bring power and patience, but only the latter has shown itself so far in the minors. His 11.0 percent BB% and 15.1 percent K% in the minors are both beautiful numbers for a power-hitter, but his .173 ISO isn’t. His career best .497 SLG was achieved at High-A, and it took him two seasons and 854 plate appearances at Louisville to amass just 24 home runs and a .478 SLG. Another constant for Alonso has been same-side struggles against southpaws. His best line against lefties came in 2010 when he hit .269/.320/.429 (as compared to .309/.373/.491 against righties). Those struggles continued in last season’s call-up when his 98-plate appearance .330/.398/.454 line was undercut by an OPS deficit of 344 points against lefties.
In the run-smothering atmosphere of San Diego, Alonso at least has less competition for a starting job. Although PECOTA projects Jesus Guzman with a slightly better weighted mean than Alonso (.269/.328/.409, vs. .253/.322/.399), Guzman should protect Alonso in a platoon, not push him for playing time. Though that protection will keep Alonso’s ratios strong, it will eat into his counting numbers, leading to that rather disappointing $0 return in mixed leagues. While he’d have to push his 90th percentile (.298/.374/.471) to deliver anything close to top-notch first-base value, Alonso could put up a nice .271/.343/.428 line with 16 home runs in just his 70th percentile. Since he should also qualify at outfield in most leagues, NL owners can expect modest-to-good returns from Alonso; mixed-league owners, especially those in keeper leagues, can gamble a buck or two on his probable development.
Mark Trumbo ($-20/$3) has looked good at the hot corner for Anaheim, and hitting .340/.321/.681in the spring may help him get even more playing time there, which would be good for that lousy mixed-league dollar projection.
The demotion of Jimmy Paredes means that Chris Johnson (-$6/$8) has Houston’s third base all to himself. Johnson’s .333/.375/.745 in the spring may have helped; it’s certainly better than the .271/.308/.417 put up by fading prospect Brett Wallace (-$33/-$2) across the diamond.
Having leapt over Triple-A in a single bound in 2011, Paul Goldschmidt ($8/$15) looks ready to put his cape back on for Arizona after hitting .273/.403/.545 in the spring despite a 26 percent K%.
Many wonder which Justin Smoak (-$4/$8) we might see in 2012: the one who hit .284/.393/.527 in April or the one who hit .141/.211/.188 in July, reportedly due to thumb troubles. Smoak’s .393/.486/.500 line this spring suggests it might be the former.
Pedro Alvarez (-$7/$7) won the third base job in Pittsburgh, but his .174/.188/.304 spring-training performance makes that decision seem awfully suspect; with an option remaining, he could still see the minors again if those struggles continue.