Keep on Keepin' On:
In case you missed the Monday and Tuesday editions, this week's theme is NL Keeper picks, and Mikes Street and Jong covered their positions like Gold Glovers already. Okay, that's about as much discussion of defense as is needed in a fantasy column, so which NL outfielders are going to hit? And which are good to get now, with an eye on saving a draft pick next year, when they are presumably the Next Big Thing in spring training
With keepers, there's a balance to be found. How good a player will eventually become is important, but so is how quickly he'll get there and how highly he'll be regarded on Draft Day 2011 is another. In 2009, yours truly passed on Starlin Castro in the August Scoresheet draft, taking highly regarded catching prospect Derek Norris instead. Norris broke his leg and was limited to 399 PA in high-A ball this year, splitting time between catcher and DH and hitting .235, though his OBP still makes him a very good prospect. Starlin, of course, hit about .400 in the AFL, created a buzz in spring training, and was drafted in the first round of the 2010 preseason draft (14th round for Scoresheet players). While it's easy to look back at the folly of this move, none of the other 11 owners in the NL-only league picked him up in August, either. It was just a case of a guy doing things between the end of the minor-league season and the start of the next MLB season to skyrocket his stock.
With that in mind, things such as AFL invites will be considered. That's one more avenue for a player to improve his 2011 outlook. While most AFL players are tagged for another year in the minors, if you're playing in a keeper league, these are some guys to keep an eye on.
Domonic Brown was mentioned at mid-season and did indeed get the predicted promotion after proving to be too much for minor-league pitchers. In short, he's stunk in the majors. If he's already owned, leverage that bad smell to try to trade for him at sub-retail prices. He's going to be a force, both in real life and in fantasy scoring, and this is the chance to buy low (or pick him up if he's available).
Logan Morrison is the other candidate for best NL outfield keeper available in many leagues. When he was called up, it was noted that his assets don't mesh with the usual fantasy categories very well, as walking is a core skill and most of his extra-base hits are doubles at this juncture. Now, despite his .318 batting average, he may still be someone who could be grabbed or acquired cheaply in a trade due to his total of one (1) home run to date. And it might be worth considering. The Marlins, leveraging his already-mature on-base skills, are batting him second in the order, and he's scoring about a run per game. He hit 55 extra-base hits between AA and AAA in the 516 AB he had at those levels between 2009-2010 (or one every 9.4 AB, compared to corner players in MLB, who average an extra-base hit every 10.3 AB in 2010). Before the season, Kevin Goldstein tabbed him as a 5-Star Prospect. He addressed the question of whether his power will develop with, “There is plenty of debate over Morrision's ultimate power ceiling, as while he's massive physically, his swing mechanics generate little loft or backspin.” Sounds a lot like the concerns surrounding Kevin Youkilis years ago, and he has slugged .548 or higher three years running now.
Readers of this column will find many words already on Tyler Colvin, and all the things that made him a good play in 2010 make him an even better keeper. He has great power potential, playing in a park which magnifies it. While he's a better defender than Alfonso Soriano, he's more likely to end up at first base if an outfielder shifts in 2011, which would quickly give him multi-position eligibility. His .249 ISO in 2010 trails only 15 qualifying hitters. Sure, comparing him to Albert Pujols or even Josh Hamilton is ridiculous, but suggesting he might – aided by Wrigley – hit like a left-handed Corey Hart might not be, as Hart also got his first full season in the majors at age 25 and has a .208 career ISO.
Lorenzo Cain was recently discussed. His loss of playing time to the other CF options in Milwaukee shouldn't scare off owners considering keeping him in 2011. He still has the speed skills to be a good keeper, though it obviously has to be weighed against where he might go in a draft next year. He should be a better 2011 fantasy player than, for example, Jon Jay, however – despite Jay's obviously better stat line which will undoubtedly make him a higher draft pick in 2011.
Second Half Help: Not that it's impossible for Brett Jackson to win a spot on the Cubs out of spring training, but that outfield is already full of good players and big contracts, so it would take some breaks. But if Jackson plays half of 2011, he could still be worth the roster spot. He was compared to J.D. Drew on draft day, and may actually have more speed than the 5-tool Drew. His seasonal age was 21 (he turned 22 in August), and after mashing in high-A, he played the second half in AA ball, hitting .276/.366/.461. It's key to remember that he was just drafted in 2009, and received only 440 PA of full-season ball (plus 121 PA of short-season ball in 2009) before making it to AA – so he has very limited pro experience in addition to being young. Between high-A and AA this year, he rapped out 57 extra-base hits and stole 30 bases. And while his 126 strikeouts suggest limitations on his batting average, that total is lower than was expected entering 2010, and – as with Drew – he draws a goodly number of walks (73 in 2010) to temper batting-average limitations with good on-base skills. Those walks may not help most fantasy owners, but the power and speed are definitely real. Especially in longer-term keeper contexts, this is a guy to watch closely. He's been sent to the AFL, so he's in the high-risk category for getting hyped this offseason.