Since we’re deep in the thick of draft season right now I figured I’d use this space to focus solely on those non-sexy no-longer-prospect types who’ve shown some legitimate reasons for intrigue over the past twelve months. In case you’ve missed them, here are our previous articles in this series:
Mike Moustakas, 3B, KCR
This is what happens, right? You have a couple of bad years, everyone starts labeling you a bust, and then boom! You hit a couple well-timed dingers in the post-season, and you’re right back to being a post-hype sleeper type with upside remaining. But there may just be something here, if you’ll hear me out. First things first, that BABIP. Look, Mike Moustakas is not a fast guy. He’s a pretty slow guy, actually. And he hits a ton of pop-ups. So his well-below-average career BABIP isn’t likely a fluke. But last year’s .220 mark probably was, and it was unfortunate because all of the underlying components were very sneakily pointing in the right direction: he hit more line drives and ground balls, and he hit less fly balls. The line drive issue is particularly galling when you look into his pitch type splits. He hit .217 against fastballs last season despite a 25 percent line-drive rate (and a drop in his swing-and-miss rate against the hard stuff to a paltry six percent mark).
But wait, there’s more! He showed signs of life according to still more noteworthy metrics, specifically in logging modest improvement in his walk rate and significant improvement in his whiff rate. His chase rate has wandered south by a couple percentage points in each of the last two years, though before we get too excited it’s important to note an offsetting and dramatic increase in his contact rate on out-of-zone pitches during that stretch. While helpful in curtailing strikeouts, it’s also a telling sign that the increased contact isn’t necessarily the good kind.
Still, there was likely some pretty significant bad luck at play last year in hindering Moustakas’ production, and the poor topline numbers eclipsed what sure appear to have been some positive steps forward in his approach and execution. It’s worth remembering that he’s still just 26 years old, after all. That can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of this kind of post-hype player, but improvement—particularly improvement at the big league level—is not always a linear process. I wouldn’t go spending first division auction dollars on Moustakas in your 12-team mixed league draft, but he’s worth a look for potentially underappreciated value in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, HOU
In fairness to everyone writing off Jonathan Singleton, it’s awfully tough to put up numbers as terrible as Singleton did last year and expect fantasy baseball love to follow. Singleton’s rookie campaign…did not go well. We know this. Things were not going well through after three months, and then he went and bottomed out with 26 strikeouts in 54 September plate appearances to really put an exclamation point on things during head-to-head playoffs. When the dust settled he’d put up the 15th worst swinging-strike rate among all hitters with 350 plate appearances and the single worst in-zone contact rate.
Thing is, swinging and missing at strikes, particularly and oddly against opposite-handed pitching, was kind of the whole enchilada. I don’t mean to minimize things, because that’s pretty much the worst problem you can have as a left-handed slugger. But it doesn’t jive at all with his minor league performance He posted a .559 OPS (not a typo) with a nigh-on 38 percent strikeout rate against right-handed pitching last season. Minor league pitchers are very definitely not major league pitchers. But in over 1,100 career minor-league plate appearances against righties he’d put up a .291/.407/.511 line with a 23 percent whiff rate.
Beyond the (glaring) issue at the heart of his mess of a season, there actually were some legitimately positive developments for him to conceivably build on. His outstanding minor league walk rate translated pretty spectacularly, to the tune of a 13.8% debut effort. He hit a lot of fly balls—not a bad thing for a slugger—and he hit them pretty far, too. His 295 foot average distance checked in 35th and easily supported his mid-teens HR:FB rate.
For what it’s worth, and it might just be worth quite a bit for a player on the roster bubble after Evan Gattis’ acquisition, he impressed the Astros coaching staff early in Spring Training and has been ripping the ball around pretty well thus far in game play, with five doubles among his first eight hits. OBP leaguers should be all over him as a late round flyer and stash candidate if he fails to travel to Houston, while mixed leaguers should have the 23-year-old former top-25 prospect on watch lists far and wide.
Trevor Bauer, SP, CLE
Bauer’s inclusion here is pushing the envelope a bit, as the former third-overall pick certainly had his day in the sun as an uber-prospect once upon a time. But thanks in no small part to persistent tinkering and poor results the shine is long since off his star, which is kind of crazy to think about since he’s still all of 24 years old and last season was his first almost-full season in the big leagues.
That first full season last year was… okay. His 4.18 ERA was well-earned, according to FIP, FRA, and other underlying metrics, and despite some progress he still walked too many hitters for fantasy managers to be too comfortable sweating out any given start. But as our own mechanics guru Doug Thorburn recently discussed, Bauer’s greatest achievement last season probably lay in finally developing some signs of mechanical simplicity and consistency. The adjustments generated significantly better extension at his release point, adding about a mile and a half-per-hour in velocity and generating better movement across the board.
It’s not all sunshine and puppy dogs for Bauer, as he still needs to show he can maintain start-to-start consistency across a full season of major league starts. But he’s currently being drafted as the 84th starter off the board and 313th overall, around boring veterans like Peavy and Garza. I’m a pro-boring veterans guy in general when it comes to pitchers, but once we’re talking about sixth-starter territory he makes for an awfully enticing play at that price.
Dustin Ackley, OF, SEA
Ackley is another guy who finds himself a long way away from his halcyon days as a top prospect, and at 27 years young he’s the oldest guy in this article. That didn’t stop him from attempting to completely reinvent his approach at the plate mid-way through last season, however, and before an ankle injury (re-injury, really) derailed his September it looked like he might just have been on to something.
I’d encourage you to check out Nick Shlain’s write-up for the gory details, but the cliff’s notes version basically reads like this: Ackley became much more aggressive in his approach, both swinging and producing aerial contact much more frequently in the second half last season. His batted ball distance took a nice hop, skip, and jump forward with the new approach, and it translated to a HR/FB rate that more than doubled to 13.5 percent. Safeco obviously isn’t the awesomest of ballparks to maximize a sell-out-for-power approach, but honestly it’s the first tweak with which Ackley’s shown an ability to succeed over a sustained period in his three and a half years of semi-regular starting.
I’m far from convinced that the second half adjustments he appeared to make are going to hold and remain effective for an entire season. Pitchers already showed signs of adjustment with their fastball deployment last season, and oh by the way he does play in Safeco and have I mentioned that yet? But given his current ADP alongside the likes of Domonic Brown, Nori Aoki, and Allen Craig, he certainly doesn’t represent a terrible late-round OF5 flier given the pedigree and glimpses of successful adjustment he showed last season.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, DET
Sometimes boring is beautiful. And sometimes there’s a man. And… well, he’s the man, for his time and place. Castellanos never really set the fantasy prospect world on fire, despite consistent production and a strong real world pedigree. Then he went out and kind of did exactly what optimistic projections thought he might do last year. He posted a nominally below-average .254 TAv and moderate counting stats to go with it. The effort was worth a ho-hum seven bucks of mixed league value and he checked in 19th among third basemen. Entirely wholesome and inoffensive, but it didn’t really serve to break the fantasy mold. In an era of Mike Trout and Matt Harvey, the impressiveness of that kind of line for a 22 year old rookie in his first full season of Major League at-bats gets lost in the shuffle.
It shouldn’t, and yet here we are. He’s currently going as the 21st third baseman in NFBC drafts, which should raise an eyebrow or three. He cracked the BP101 four times during his steady, successful climb through the minors, and it’s odd to see so much skepticism about the prospects for even a small step forward.
As for his rookie campaign itself, upon initial inspection his line drive rate jumps right off the page. His 28.5 percent rate ranked second in all of baseball last season. Now, line drives don’t directly correlate with strong batting averages, particularly when a hitter strikes out more than his fair share like Castellanos. It’s generally a pretty strong indicator of batted ball success though, and given his additionally low pop-up rate he probably deserved a bit better fate on batted balls last season. His batted ball distance was solidly above-average as well, which serves as a nice baseline for power expectations going forward.
I’d go on about last year, but really the key takeaway with Castellanos is that he more than held his own as a young rookie, and that bodes well for his offensive profile. A repeat performance wouldn’t require more than a stagnation of his development, and given the consistent, incremental improvement at every stop so far that seems like an awfully safe floor, doesn’t it? For where he’s going right now he makes for a nice opportunity to generate strong return on investment if he does take the most modest of steps forward.
Thank you for reading
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