Despite the addition of a second wild card in each league, the playoff races aren’t exactly scintillating this year. For many teams, the season is over and it’s time to start evaluating talent. So it goes with fantasy. As we march on toward the end of August, there are many owners who are already looking toward 2014 and can use the remainder of this season to evaluate talent. One of the most important things an out-of-contention owner can do is correctly identify talent that could be undervalued heading into the offseason.
One reliable resource of undervalued talent that I’ve found is those players who are no longer prospects (and thus cannot be kept on a minor-league roster in keeper/dynasty leagues), but who have yet to establish themselves as full-time players or known quantities. In short, they’re post-hype prospects. Obviously, these types of players carry with them significant risk, hence the potential for undervaluing them. The flipside is the potentially huge payoff if they hit, with recent examples including Domonic Brown, Patrick Corbin, Josh Donaldson, and Starling Marte. All of these players flashed at some point or another, but not being able to stash them in a minor-league system hurt their keeper value and they were likely available for less than they should have been.
While today’s focus is on post-hype prospects, this mini-series will include looks at many different types of players, positions and categories.
Adam Eaton, OF, Diamondbacks
The 24-year-old Ohio native hit his entire way through the minors without getting much prospect love. This lack of attention was mainly because he’s listed at 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, never showed enough defense in center field to profile there, and wasn’t considered likely to hit enough to man a corner as an everyday player. That all changed in 2012, though, as he continued his climb through the upper levels and mashed his way to Arizona by putting up a .381/.456/.539 slash line, which was only slightly better than the slash line given up in the final MLB season by his tautonymic mound-dwelling counterpart.
Eaton put his 103 plate appearances in 2012 to good use, producing a slash line of .259/.382/.412, which might not seem spectacular but was good for a 118 wRC+ and a .296 TAv. Despite all of Kevin Towers’ machinations in the offseason, adding and subtracting outfielders at will, it appeared that Eaton was lineup up for a starting gig and a shot at fantasy stardom, with his ability to hit for average, moderate pop (in a good power environment) and steal some bags too. Entering 2014 things will likely be a bit different. He’s still part of a crowded Arizona outfield (Kubel, Parra, Pollock, Prado, Ross) but unless things take a dramatic shift in the next six weeks, his current .221/.302/.302 slash line will likely drive down his value.
Giving Eaton a mulligan on 2013 might not be the worst idea, though. He shouldn’t be a much different player from the one who gave everyone so much hope just a year ago. While his ability to throw might be impacted by his UCL injury, his ability to hit and get on base should not be. Add in the favorable hitting environment and his speed (40 stolen bases across two levels in 2012), and you’re looking at a starter in 14-team leagues or deeper and a bench option for 12- or 10-team leagues, depending on format, of course.
Avisail Garcia, OF, White Sox
Preferred by some to Detroit Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos (ranked no. 2 in the Detroit system behind Castellanos by BP, though), Garcia was one of the top young talents acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline. Actually the inspiration for this topic, Garcia epitomizes this no-man’s land that post-hype prospects can find themselves in. He’s received 160 at-bats (as of 8/16) thus far in his career and is still the same tools-over-skills guy he was as a prospect. Garcia hasn’t done anything to deserve rostering anything except in the deepest of formats thus far in his career, yet he’s appealing for a few reasons.
First and foremost, there are the tools. He’s got plus raw power potential along with plus potential in his hit tool. That alone should interest just about anyone. Add in that he’s likely to get enough time in center to gain eligibility in those leagues that break up the outfield positions and he could gain even more value. Perhaps the biggest thing that he has going in his favor, though, is playing time. With the White Sox sending Alex Rios to Texas for Leury Garcia, Avisail joins Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo as a starting outfielder for the remainder of the season. While it’s possible that the South Siders pursue an outfield bat in free agency with their recently found money, it would be surprising if Garcia doesn’t receive ample playing time next season even with an addition.
Another factor to keep in mind regarding Garcia is that all that playing time will come in one of baseball’s friendliest places to hit both overall and especially for home runs. For a guy whose future may ride on his ability to hit for power, there aren’t many better places. Garcia’s current production, or lack thereof, may scare off a more casual player. Their fear is your gain, as his combination of tools and opportunity should win out over the long haul.
Anthony Gose, OF, Blue Jays
The recently recalled Gose was nothing short of a disaster at the plate in an extended audition in 2012. Add in the fact that the Blue Jays outfield is likely set for 2014 with the likes of Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, and Jose Bautista from left to right, and it’s fair to ask why Gose merits inclusion in an article focused on fantasy players worth watching for next season. The answer is that he’s getting a second chance to make an impression, despite a down season in Triple-A, thanks to Rasmus’ strained abdominal muscle.
Offering seductive and elusive speed (even Michael Bourn is only at 17 stolen bases on the season), Gose could be an impact fantasy performer even while substantially below his ultimate ceiling. In 166 at-bats in 2012, Gose racked up an impressive 15 stolen bases, showing the type of havoc he could wreak given additional playing time. So where might that playing time come from? First off, Rasmus hasn’t exactly been a paragon of health in his career, picking up all sorts of nicks and bruises even if they haven’t resulted in DL stints. Secondly, 2013 is only the second quality season that Rasmus has put together in his career with WARPs of 0.2 and 0.1 in Toronto prior to this season’s 3.3, and he has terrible hair. Lastly, Gose is a plus defensive player, both in range and arm, and the Jays might let Bautista get some at-bats at DH to optimize their defense.
These are tenuous reasons, granted, but Gose shouldn’t cost much over an offseason as he hasn’t done much to warrant a keeper spot so far. For those looking for signs of life (as I am), we can point to his ability to draw walks (9.2% last year, 10% in a small sample this year) as well as a marked drop-off and massive correction in his strikeout rate from last year to this year (31% to 20%, respectively). Keep in mind that the correction I speak of has taken place in a mere 30 at-bats, so every SSS warning you can think of applies. Even with the strikeouts though, Gose’s defense and speed should make him appealing to a Toronto team that could conceivably unload a Melky or a Rasmus over the offseason.
For a guy that has shown patience at the plate and blazing speed on the base paths, Gose could be a very cheap speed option that pays off very well. Odds are that at the price he could be had for, cutting him won’t hurt much either. He’s a guy to keep an eye on for those in 16-team leagues and deeper.
Derek Norris, C, Athletics
If I told you about a player with a .228/.333/.391 slash line, would that be something you’re interested in? What if I told you he was only 24? And a catcher? Would it interest you then? It’s not a sexy slash line, that much is clear. But Norris does interest me. Always has, actually. He rarely hit for average in the minor leagues, but posted an on-base percentage north of .400 three times while socking 20-plus homers twice. He was less than impressive in his big league debut last season, producing a .201/.276/.349 slash line to go along with a .231 TAv. Yes, his slash line has improved marginally for 2013, but why is he a player to watch?
There are encouraging signs if you look below the surface. He’s upped his walk rate from 9% to 13% while cutting his strikeout rate an impressive five percentage points from 28% to 23%. Add to that an increased ISO and a BABIP that is still well below the league average, and he becomes more intriguing. While the BABIP may never reach league average due to Norris’ fly ball tendencies (44% in 2013) combined with playing half his games in the O.co Coliseum, an improvement wouldn’t be shocking.
Given the low bar set by catchers as a whole, a guy like Norris can be a real asset in deeper leagues or leagues that use OBP or OPS. Norris has shown progress from season to season, and had a strong pedigree as a prospect. He’s not without his flaws, but if others are concerned with his low batting average, there’s plenty of value to be had in Norris’ developing skillset.
Tyler Skaggs, SP, Diamondbacks
The top overall prospect in Arizona’s stacked system heading into 2013, per Jason Parks, Skaggs was acquired by the Diamondbacks as part of their haul for Dan Haren in 2010. Drafted as a lanky left-hander with projection for days, Skaggs filled out as hoped and continued to add velocity to supplement his dynamic curveball. He moved steadily through the minor leagues and broke through at the tail end of last season, making six mostly ugly starts.
Skaggs has been on the shuttle between Triple-A Reno and Phoenix this season, making seven starts in the big leagues and 14 in the minors. In making those seven starts, Skaggs has put himself at 68 total innings in the majors and cashed in his minor-league eligibility in most fantasy leagues. He’s currently holding a 5.56 career ERA with an equally disappointing 5.28 career FIP. The upside, though, is that he’s taken his K% from a below-average 16% in 2012 to an above-average 21% in 2013 while also paring his BB% down a full percentage point (10% to 9%). The biggest issue I foresee with Skaggs is a career 1.72 HR/9. That’s in a relatively small sample, but it shouldn’t be ignored, because of the environment he plays in and the lack of movement on his fastball. While it would be surprising if his HR/9 stayed that high, home runs will likely always be a thorn in Skaggs’ side. If he can continue to reduce his walk rate, though, the home runs he does allow will be less painful.
The Diamondbacks’ rotation is as full as their outfield with the likes of Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, and Randall Delgado in the majors and Chase Anderson, Charles Brewer, Andrew Chafin, and Archie Bradley all awaiting their turn in the minors along with Skaggs. So opportunity could be tough for Skaggs to come by. His big advantage over his minor-league competition is that, with the exception of Bradley, Skaggs is the most talented pitcher. He also brings higher upside to the table than a guy like Delgado. That doesn’t mean he’ll be in the rotation from the get-go in 2014, but even the specter of an incomplete season in the rotation should allow him to be had for a reduced price.
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