April 8, 2014
AL West U25 Lists
As trying as it is to work with Ben, the payoff seems more worthwhile. So it goes with dynasty leagues that require more investment, result in more frustration, and take up more time than you ever thought possible (all these apply to working with Ben as well). We know how much effort our subscribers put into their leagues because we do the same, and we wanted to provide our readers with the things we crave as well, which is how this project came to be.
For this exercise, we're each going to rank our top-30 U25 fantasy players by division before we collaborate on a top-150 list once this portion of the project is complete. For each division, we'll give you our individual rankings and then discuss any major discrepancies in our rankings, talk about some sleepers we wanted to rank higher and take cheap shots at each other along the way. It will be like the TINO podcast, but for your eyes, complete with an imaginary Bret Sayre breaking up our fights.
Just like with the preseason organizational top prospect lists, players will have to be born after April 1, 1988 to qualify, and just like with the preseason lists, there is of course an element of subjectivity that comes with these rankings. But unlike the preseason lists, these rankings are all about fantasy.
After kicking off this series with our look at the NL West last week, in this edition we give the junior circuit some love by examining the AL West.
Disagreement One: Derek Norris
Craig's Take: This is more about future projection than it is current value. He’s currently in a weird timeshare with John Jaso, but Norris has the tools to be a big factor in the fantasy catching game. He can hit for power, and more rarely, he can steal a base or three. He logged just 264 at-bats last year and if he ever gets out of a platoon and pushes that figure closer to 450, double digit steals seems like a reasonable total. He also hit nine home runs in those few at-bats, so something like 15 and 10 (with the ability to get on-base aiding his run totals) from the catcher position seems pretty valuable to me.
If you don’t think he gets out from behind the platoon going forward, this ranking is going to make no sense to you, but I figure we’re doing U25 rankings for those who look toward the future, so that’s what I’m trying to do here.
Ben’s Take: There’s plenty to like with Norris when it comes to “IRL” value, but I don’t love his odds of contributing meaningfully in standard 12-team 5x5 leagues. The platoon issues you mentioned above are quite real—he’s a .180/.280/.277 hitters against righties in his career—so there’s no reason for Oakland to push to give him playing time against same-side pitching. I love the approach and his willingness to take a walk, but I don’t ever see him hitting for particularly high averages, limiting his utility in most leagues. And the steals .. yes, he’s averaged about 10 per 250 PA, but color me unconvinced as to his ability to consistently nab double-digit bags a season.
What you’re left with his a player who mashes lefties and could hit for intriguing power with a bit of speed in 450 PA, but I’m not sure those 450 PA ever happen, or at least not for a while. I like Norris a lot in real life baseball, but it’s nothing more than a potential back-end-top-10 fantasy catcher profile for me.
Craig’s Take: I think most of that is fair, but would point out that Norris stole 13 bags in 334 at-bats in Double-A and 11 in 227 at-bats in short-season ball, so speed has mostly been a relevant part of his game. I agree we can’t consistently project it, but it’s not an unreasonable thought. Again, this isn’t a disagreement on what he is so much as how valuable it is. You mentioned his value in a 12-team 5x5 and while there are plenty of those dynasty leagues, I suppose I anticipated valuation in this space to be for deeper leagues. We can poo-poo the stolen bases since they won’t be massive, but if you can get 10 stolen bases from your catcher, it helps alleviate that need elsewhere. It boosted Lucroy’s value last year and used to be a major factor for Russell Martin as well.
When compared with the guys I listed behind him: Zunino, Odor, Paxton and Franklin, I don’t think what you describe is necessarily out of line. I think Zunino is also a back end top-10 fantasy catcher profile, Odor is a better “IRL” prospect and carries the risk of having not played above Double-A, Paxton has dominated in a small sample at the majors but showed plenty of control/command issues and is part of a deeper pool of pitchers, and Franklin can barely get on the field at the moment, and when he does he’s more of a back-end top-10 at his position as well. There’s certainly risk in the ranking, as I’m banking on both more and better performance against RHP, but I also am not really threatened by the names I put behind him.
Ben’s Take: I’ll concede the stolen-base point, but I think the latter half of your retort assumes that Norris is a back-end top-10 guy, whereas I said that’s his upside. I agree that Zunino’s upside is similar, but I like his odds of reaching that upside better. Same for Odor, who’s fairly safe as MI prospects come, and Paxton, who I think will be more valuable as a high-K, high-WHIP starter than Norris will be as a high-OBP catcher. Franklin can’t get on the field now, but he has 20-homer power potential from an MI slot and could easily be on the field by June. It’s not like Norris is dominating in the majors right now while these guys wait their turns.
Craig’s Take: EXCUSE YOU, BUT HIS .375/.444/.375 SLASH LINE BEGS TO DIFFER #domination
Disagreement Two: Neftali Feliz
Ben’s Take: Feliz is as high as he is on my list because I think he’ll be a closer again some day. It’s completely reasonable to disagree with that take, but he’s only in his age-26 season and I’m not going to write off his comeback just because he didn’t make the team out of Spring Training. I know that’s not what you’re doing, but it’s a common temptation. It’s easy to forget now, but Feliz was a dominant reliever when he was healthy, and I think if you agree with my ranking of Foltynewicz at 21, it’s odd that someone with a similar profile would be off the list all together. If there’s something that’s making you doubt he’ll fully recover, I’d understand this a lot more. Otherwise, I’ll take a guy who could be closing in the majors again in a few months over the long list of non-impact MLBers or prospects who are years away that follow Feliz on both of our lists.
Craig’s Take: The Feliz thing is tough, and I 100 percent understand ranking him where Ben has him, but as much as Norris was about future projection, I don’t care for that aspect when talking relievers. Sure, there’s a chance Feliz returns to his prior dominance and reclaims a closing job, but saves matter in the here-and-now for me, and not the future. If you’re a reliever and you don’t have a closing gig, you’re not making a U25 list for me. Rex Brothers wouldn’t have made my list last week if he were of age, and Feliz isn’t going to do it this week. It’s too volatile a proposition at too fungible a position.
You bring up Foltynewicz, but I put him where he is not because I like him but because I think if he starts, he’s something in the mold of Nate Eovaldi. It’s not especially useful but the bulk innings and mild strikeout rate will prove useful in deeper leagues. If I thought Foltynewicz was a relief-only prospect (a la Feliz at this point) he’d be off the list.
Ben’s Take: Okay, that’s fair re: Folty, but I’d put his odds of making it as a starter at—and I’m just spitballing here—exactly 18.56 percent. I can dig your logic if you just want to exclude closers all together, but I think both Folty and Feliz can be damned good ones, and at a certain point this becomes less about the players themselves than the players who follow. I really like Gallo, Mazara, Williams, Peterson, etc., but those guys are years and years away. At a certain point, I need to steer toward players who can help me now or at least in early 2015, even if that help comes in the form of saves and strikeouts. But for once, I think you’re only mildly wrong, and not very wrong.
Craig’s Take: We probably should have made this about Folty and not Feliz at this point, because while I agree he’s probably not a starter long term, he’s shown nothing thus far in his career to say that he can’t be, so my placement is giving him credit on that front.
As far as Feliz goes, I agree, he can be a damn good closer, but he can also be a damn fine middle reliever or someone who never gets their stuff back after shoulder issues, and neither of those is worth a damn in most league settings. As for the players I have in front of Feliz that you have behind, they’re certainly steeped in risk themselves, but I can almost always find a closer and would rather take a chance on one of those guys becoming a star. I’m all for finding players that can help you in 2014-15, but I’m not for that guy being maybe a closer.
Ben’s Take: Some day, you’re going to injure your shoulder while rolling down a rental car window, and I’m going to tell you your best days are behind you.
Ben’s One Player He Wanted to Rank Higher: Domingo Santana
Craig’s One Player He Wanted to Rank Higher: Jorge Alfaro
Craig, say something nice about Ben: He won’t admit it but he looks good in a polo.
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @bencarsley