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November 27, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Looking for 2014 Surprises

by Paul Sporer

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Every new season offers another batch of surprises on both ends of the spectrum. Some players will drastically underperform their draft-day cost or auction value while several others will exceed a previous baseline and help you patch over the aforementioned mistakes. Obviously finding the latter is more fun, but of course all of your leaguemates are out on the prowl for these guys so even when you think you have a bead on someone, he might be the apple of everyone else’s eye, too. Matt Carpenter seemed to be that guy for me last year.

I will pat myself on the back for having checked, starred, and highlighted him on my list, but I was never the only one, so I will take back the back-patting kudos because I continually balked at what I thought was too high a price. I was going dollar-for-dollar with the eventual winner in my NL-only league, but eventually shrugged and let him go for a $15 dollar price tag that I believed to be just a little too high. I honestly hoped to get him somewhere around $11 in our 11-team OBP league, but I didn’t mind going a few bucks higher to secure a favorite target. Turns out we were both several dollars off on the eventual fantasy star.

As we get ready to give thanks, I would like to share a group of potential 2014 surprises with all of you.

Who is the next…?

Jason Castro

[A former catcher prospect ready to take a big step after an uninspiring start to his career]

Devin Mesoraco was as high as 24 on his last BP Top 101 list (2012), but it hasn’t translated to much of anything in his first 589 PA as a major leaguer. The expectations of young catchers in the fantasy community are definitely far too high as a general rule and exceptions like Buster Posey and Carlos Santana reinforce those expectations while relative flops like Matt Wieters and Jesus Montero types don’t counterbalance the hype machine.

Mesoraco was over-drafted in 2012, but became an afterthought in 2013 drafts after a dud debut. He needs to learn to hit righties to have the surge as he has completely fallen apart against them in the majors. He had a .289/.365/.480 line against them in 342 PA as a minor leaguer, but that has fallen to an abysmal .199/.257/.324 in 452 PA with the Reds. He likely won’t get it all back in a year, but it won’t take much improvement to greatly increase his fantasy production.

Matt Carpenter

[A middle infielder who delivers huge value, but does so unconventionally—in other words, not via HR and SB]

This isn’t a 1-to-1 analog, as I’m not trying to identify a late-bloomer non-prospect who took the baseball world by storm. Instead, I’m saying that Jurickson Profar will have a big season in 2014, but neither of the flashy categories will be his driving force. He should deliver more than Carpenter’s three stolen bases, but I don’t expect a 20-plus season, either. Profar will be in a strong lineup which will allow him to parlay a strong AVG and OBP into tons of runs. He may not lead baseball in hits, runs, and doubles, but baseball’s no. 1 prospect from 2013 has the skills to be a major contributor in his second season.

Despite his status atop the prospect world, he likely won’t be egregiously priced in drafts even with his playing time more secure after the Ian Kinsler trade. There will be several managers in any draft who are targeting him so he will go for more than his 2013 numbers would normally merit, but don’t be afraid to go an extra buck or two to get your guy.

Josh Donaldson

[An off-the-radar late bloomer]

Donaldson put up an impressive .290 AVG and 844 OPS with eight home runs in the final two months of 2012. His final 194 PA of that season paced out to a .290-100-28-90-11 line over a full season so his huge breakout in 2013 wasn’t a surprise to everyone. Jason Collette was among those who were highest on the Oakland third baseman tabbing him as a cheap power source for his corner infield spot with a chance at more. I’d say he got more.

Ryan Flaherty from the Baltimore Orioles could be next. The 27-year old Rule Five pickup from the Cubs back in 2012 has managed to stick with the O’s and show some glimpses of upside in his 162 games over the last two seasons. He did next-to-nothing in his limited playing time during the first two months of 2013 with a .484 OPS, but from June 1 on he had an .820 OPS with eight home runs in 159 PA.

He still had to deal with sporadic playing time, but his work paced out to a .274-76-33-84-4 line in a full season. He always showed decent pop in the minors and while 33 homers is probably a stretch, 25 is reasonable in a full season of work. The second base job is open, but he can also play all over to accumulate his PA.

Jean Segura

[A big-time prospect who could unexpectedly end up as fantasy’s top SS]

This one isn’t perfect because my choice is a much bigger prospect than Segura, who fell in the 50-60 range on prospect lists at his peak, but it would still be a massive surprise if this guy claimed the top spot on ESPN’s Player Rater for shortstops as Segura did in 2013. Xander Bogaerts doesn’t have the carrying fantasy tool like Segura’s speed, but the top-15 prospect has an excellent pedigree. He didn’t do anything special in a 50 PA cup of coffee during the regular season, but he turned heads with an advanced approach in the playoffs that helped him net six walks in 34 PA (17.7 percent walk rate).

The 21-year old has mashed his through the minors and he is going to get thoroughly acquainted with the Green Monster this season pounding double and double off of it. Without the game-changing speed, it’ll be tougher for him to pace the field, but he has the tools to post a big average with 20-25 homers in year one. It’s a longshot, just as Segura’s instant success was, but he’s a lottery ticket worth trying out.

Next time I will offer up my guesses at the 2014 version of three breakout outfielders as well as a handful of pitchers who carried their teams to the promised land this past summer.

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

Related Content:  Matt Carpenter,  Fantasy,  Jean Segura,  Jason Castro

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Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Extrap... (11/26)
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