Every week, Baseball Prospectus’ own Bret Sayre puts together The Stash List. This list is an invaluable resource. I often use it not only to ascertain who might be close to making an impact in my deep leagues but also to get a feel for what the market value might be for a player. In leagues where I can bid on minor leaguers, this gives me a feel for when I might need to bid; in leagues where I can’t bid on minor leaguers, this tells me what I might need to bid.
However, in some of the deeper leagues I play in, Bret’s list isn’t of much use. Two of the expert leagues I’m in allow owners to stash minor leaguers, and the reserve lists are deep enough that even in non-keeper formats the top prospects that might make it up in 2013 are long gone. Speculation also runs rampant in these types of cutthroat leagues. If you think you’re going to be the lucky soul that snags Christian Yelich a week before his call-up, forget about it. Yelich is already owned in Tout Wars and in most deep leagues with any appreciable reserve depth.
It is close to a fool’s errand to try to identify the best non-elite rookies that will come up and provide value during the regular season. However, in a deep league, I understand the imperative to attempt to grab players who might provide even the tiniest amount of value. So, if you are going to go this route, below you’ll find the best approach for doing so.
Look at the Organization, Not the Player
While you obviously don’t want to completely ignore the statistical contributions of the player in the minors, it doesn’t matter if a 32-year-old organizational soldier is destroying Triple-A pitching. You’re looking for a player that will contribute to your team, not someone who won’t get called up unless there is a series of injuries.
Teams that are out of contention are good resources for players who might get a call in the second half of the season or earlier. In 2012, Josh Rutledge (earned $11), Kirk Nieuwenhuis ($8), Jordany Valdespin ($8), D.J. LeMahieu ($7), and Mike Baxter ($6) all contributed a fair amount of value in NL-only leagues. None of these players seemed like particularly strong options coming into the season, but weak lineups allowed these players to become contributors in deeper formats. If you’re looking for an unlikely contributor, picking players off from the Braves’ minor-league system isn’t your best bet. Looking at the Mets’ minor leaguers, on the other hand, isn’t a bad idea.
When in doubt, you are better off trying to grab a speed demon than a big-time minor-league power hitter. Minor-league sluggers are often organizational fillers that aren’t going to get called up to the big leagues unless they are so prodigious that they force the organization’s hand. Even so, Darin Ruf only received a cup of coffee in 2012 and still has not seen the majors in 2013. Meanwhile, Jarrod Dyson, Quintin Berry, and Darin Mastroianni all provided significant stolen-base contributions in 2012. Scan the minor-league stat lines for significant stolen-base contributors. It’s easier for a minor-league steal king to translate his stats to the big-league level than it is for a minor-league slugger.
Former Prospects Aren’t The Best Bets
With the exception of Chris Carter ($8), former prospects that have since faded did not populate the list of successful, non-prospect rookies last season. Just because a faded prospect bounces back in Triple-A doesn’t mean he has finally figured it out and is a good bet for success.
Don’t Ignore Quality Relievers
Tom Wilhelmsen and Ryan Cook both come out of nowhere and wound up with the closer job for their teams at some point during the regular season. While this certainly isn’t representative of what might happen, a number of quality relievers are there for the taking, even in deep leagues. In 2012, Kelvim Herrera ($13), Nate Jones ($11), Robbie Ross ($10), and Steve Delabar ($10) were all worth owning in deeper formats. In the NL, Dale Thayer ($7), Tony Watson ($7), and Jared Hughes ($7) led the charge for the middle-relief crowd. I understand the urge to splurge on free-agent starting pitching, but you are more likely to add a contributor in the bullpen through your free-agent budget—and you will spend far less money than you will on a potential starting pitcher.
As I said above, this is an exercise in futility more often than not, and it is next to impossible to recommend specific players who might or might not succeed. In a deep league, you should be looking for complementary players via this route and not superstars. If you can be patient and look for role players as opposed to impact players, you are more likely to have a successful experience targeting minor leaguers than if you swing for the fences.