The Art of War: Mock Drafts

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I was a cynic when it came to the practice of mock drafts for preparation of a fantasy baseball season. Why spend 30 minutes picking players that will never help me win a championship, while putting up with trolls who thought it was a riot to pick Antonio Alfonseca with the 3rd Overall pick? The whole thing appeared to be an exercise in futility.

A couple of seasons ago I found myself often experiencing the all too familiar feeling of having the next player on my queue taken the pick before mine.  After wasting 30 of my 90-second clock cursing the manager who stole MY player, I often settled for taking a guy I was targeting in future rounds. This lead to a lot of terrible fantasy teams as well as a lot of soul searching for a better method of dealing with sudden changes to my plan.

Enter mock drafts.

I decided to overlook my general disdain for imaginary drafts in mid-February and sat down to try my hand at a mock draft. 45 minutes later I left the war room a believer. Maybe it was because I drafted an awful team and knew I wasn’t going to be stuck with that roster all season, or maybe it’s because the other 11 teams were on auto draft and I sat alone in a draft room for 45 minutes trying to make an emotional investment into something being operated entirely by computers. Either way, I came out of the mock draft doing something I rarely ever considered: thinking about the draft process. For the first time my fantasy baseball analysis went deeper than a player comparison. It became a study about a manager’s emotional mindset, their comfort in the draft room, and the ability to quickly recognize an opportunity to improve on the plan that was set heading into the draft. Since those 45 minutes spent in solitary cyber space, I have thought more and more about the value of mock drafts. Below are my top 10 reasons for conducting as many mock drafts as possible this pre-season:

1). Picking from every draft position

Where you pick in the draft has the obvious consequence of affecting the players you pick. Secondary ramifications that often go overlooked are the time in between picks and the ability to start or miss a run. It can be overwhelming how quickly it comes back to you after making a pick in an even-numbered round when you have the 3rd overall pick. A pick at the turn offers you the double-edged sword by giving you permission to start a run, but also threatening to miss an entire run by making you watch 22 picks go off the board before you select again. Understanding these nuances and having experience with the adversity is crucial for draft day success.

2). Be prepared for recurring decisions

Every mock draft I’ve been in, I find myself deciding between Desmond Jennings and Michael Bourn between the 6th and 7th Rounds. The decision between Eric Hosmer, Freddie Freeman, or Anthony Rizzo in the next 2 rounds always gives me fits. And I always seem to be debating between Lance Lynn and Jarrod Parker to bolster my rotation. I’m willing to bet every manager comes across similar decisions with different players, and it’s important to identify these prior to your real drafts so you can be best prepared.

3). See how late your guys might go

Some mock drafts I’ll make an effort to never pick a guy I’m interested in. My goal is to see how far the players I actually like will fall. I’m a big believer in a breakout season for Will Middlebrooks, so I will always grab him with my Round 12 or 13 pick in mock drafts. But what is the likelihood he drops to Round 14? I’ll never know unless I intentionally let him go in some drafts and see how far he drops. Every draft is different and there is no guarantee I will get Middlebrooks in Round 14 just because it happened once in a mock draft, but if he never once fell to Round 14 in my mock drafts I can be confident that I’m getting the best value possible when nabbing him in Round 13.

4). Understand positional tiers

There are plenty of articles ranking each position into tiers, so I won’t go in to much depth, but I will stress the importance of knowing how long to wait on picking a position once a certain tier has dried up. Once all of the second tier 2B are picked, how long until you crack that 3rd tier? Do you jump into it the very next round or is there enough of a difference between tiers that you can wait it out and get proper value later in the draft? These questions are crucial to have the answer to.

5). Anticipate positional runs

In over 50% of my mock drafts this season, 4+ RP’s have been taken in Round 13. Since 5-7 closers are already off the board by Round 13, I will make sure I definitely have a closer by the end of Round 13 in all my standard 5×5 roto leagues. The same fulcrum point can be determined for when the SB well dries up. Recognizing and anticipating these trends can make or break a draft.

6). Identify common sleepers

I have yet to participate in a mock draft where Billy Hamilton was not selected. I’ve also seen a lot more love for Leonys Martin than I had anticipated. To go with the often-hyped sleepers such as Marco Estrada and Michael Saunders, I can see how others react to the commonly identified “sleepers” and if their ADP has risen to the point that the sleeper label no longer applies.

7). Learn to let go

There is nothing worse than placing your next pick into the queue and spending the next 5 minutes looking for late round players, only to see your guy get picked before you’re up and now you’re caught with your pants down. This was a huge leak in my fantasy game, and I let it disrupt my emotions to the point where the rest of the draft became a lost cause. Learn to have a second, third, and fourth option for every pick and accept the fact that your number one preference will not always fall in to your lap.

8). The draft isn’t everything

Leagues can’t be won on draft day, but they can certainly be lost. There are an almost infinite number of combinations of players that will lead a manager to a championship. There are many different ways to win a league and all of them start with leaving the draft with confidence and an identity. Analyzing every roster you put together in mock drafts will help you quickly identify the strengths and weaknesses of your real drafts. This helps with making early season trades to fill the inevitable hole or two that will be left open in the draft.

9). Try different strategies

You want to see what it’s like to go SP, SP, SP, SP, RP, RP, SP, RP, followed by all offense? Go for it. Want to corner the SS market by going Tulo, Hanley, Reyes, and Castro? See how that works out for you. Trying random strategies can be extremely beneficial if you analyze your team’s strengths and weaknesses post-draft. Even if you decide to not use the strategy, you gain valuable insight in to knowing where certain categories really dry up.

10). Because it’s tradition

The first spring training games are a great milestone for marking the near return of Major League Baseball, but why not hit the milestone earlier with mock drafts? Enjoy them because it’s the first sign that baseball is back and we are only a few weeks away from writing another chapter in America’s storied pastime.

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Draft Day Showdown: Jennings vs. Bourn

Opening Arguments:

Every draft I take place in, I seem to find myself contemplating the same decision during the early-middle rounds. The proposition I always seem to be debating is whether or not I want to stake an early claim to the top spot of the Steals category, or would I rather wait around and make a late move on a pure-play guy. Sometimes I want to grab the last elite base stealer who can contribute in multiple categories, so that the remainder of my draft I can focus on adding overall team depth instead of trying to find a guy who can keep me competitive in the SB category. It’s important to me in my early mock drafts to understand when this decision needs to be made. So far in 2013, it’s looking like somewhere around picks 65-75.

I took place in a 12-team Yahoo mock draft today and was faced with an interesting decision in Round 8 when I was on the clock and wanted to pull the trigger on a top-flight SB contributor. The decision was between Desmond Jennings and Michael Bourn. Neither would likely be around for my next pick so I felt the need to grab one, but couldn’t make a compelling case for one over the other in the 90 seconds allotted for each pick.

Roster construction comes in to play a bit with this decision, because if you have yet to take a player who can contribute in the SB department, than Bourn is the obvious pick. But if you are lucky enough to grab a Trout, Braun, CarGo, Kemp, Reyes, Castro early on, than the decision is pretty wide open. I grabbed Bourn because the additional SBs he is likely to provide seemed move valuable given the construct of my current roster, but I felt as though a further comparison of the two players would prove wise if I were to face the same situation come March.

Case for Michael Bourn:

Bourn is a more proven commodity and a sure bet to swipe 40+ bags in 2013. 5 straight years of 40+ SBs, 90+ Rs in 3 of the last 4 years, and an AVG that plays up with the extra ABs Bourn receives as a leadoff hitter. Bourn’s future home is still up in the air, but for someone who doesn’t rely on power to provide value, where Bourn lands won’t have a significant impact on his fantasy value. Speed plays everywhere. I hope he lands in a situation playing for a manager willing to let him loose on the basepaths, but no matter what a 90, 5, 45, 40, .280 season should be the floor for a guy who has remained healthy for the last 4 seasons.

Bourn is the play if you are comfortable with his floor and not willing to risk it on Desmond Jennings who does not have the track record to project much of a floor or a ceiling. Bourn also hit a career-high 9 HRs in 2012, which was helped by an extreme HR/FB rate of 8.0% (his previous high was 5.2%). I do think the power is repeatable and depending on where he goes, Bourn could chip in 7-10 HR’s this year. 2013 projections for Bourn seem pretty consistent with SBs ranging from 40-49 and AVG from .273-.277. The additional value with Bourn, as mentioned above, is the flexibility he provides managers to not have to worry about chasing steals at the end of the draft as well as throughout the season.

Case for Desmond Jennings:

DJ is all about upside. He can easily double and might even triple Bourn’s Home Run total in 2013 while providing comparable numbers in steals and runs. Jennings falls a little short of Bourn in AVG but makes up for it with the additional RBIs that his power provides. The K/BB ratios are identical for both players, which leaves me optimistic on Jennings’ chances to improve his AVG to a respectable .270 level. If he can sustain that sort of production, I think Jennings steals 40+ bases and makes it a wash in that category in comparison to Bourn. If that’s the case, Jennings is the slam-dunk pick with the additional 10 HRs and 10-20 RBIs he will likely produce in 2013.

Desmond Jennings should also benefit from hitting atop an improved (or at least healthier) lineup in Tampa Bay. With a near full-season now under his belt, Jennings should only improve on his 2012 season and could end up providing 3rd or 4th Round value out of the 7th or 8th Round. DJ is also getting picked around 12 spots later than Michael Bourn according to I see this gap growing once Bourn signs a deal and fantasy owners see him penciled in at the top of a lineup.

The Verdict:

Deeper analysis between the two players leads me to believe that Desmond Jennings is the player to covet in 2013 drafts. I prefer Jennings to Bourn at any pick in the draft, but considering I should be able to wait an additional round to grab Jennings, I think scooping him up before the SBs dry up is a great move. Following the Bourn and Jennings picks in Round 8, the next selections of players expected to contribute heavily in steals were: Jose Altuve (Round 9), Shane Victorino (Round 10), and Ben Revere (Round 12). A terrible lineup, an aging veteran, and an awful OBP are all big flaws in this next tier of SB threats. I love the move of pulling the trigger on Jennings in Round 7 or 8 and using the rest of the draft to lock down a rotation and add all around depth on offense, instead of spending one or two picks on speculative SB players.

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2013 Rebound: Nick Markakis

             The Baltimore Orioles have been quiet all off-season following one of the more surprising runs in recent memory in 2013. While some regression is expected in Baltimore and with Toronto emerging as favorites, a repeat playoff appearance is difficult to project. However, I do believe the O’s will benefit from increased production from one player in the middle of their order, and this is a player I’ll be targeting in almost all of my drafts. It is the Orioles starting Right Fielder, and No. 3 hitter, Nick Markakis.

            Markakis will be entering his age-29 season and is still well within his prime, and as mentioned above he should be slotted into the 3 hole – a prime spot for accumulating counting stats. In almost all drafts, in all formats, Nick Markakis is going to be undervalued due to playing only 104 games in 2012. In a recent, 12-team CBS Sportsline early mock draft, Markakis went in the 10th round, making him the 116th player off the board. In 2011, another comparatively down year in Markakis’ career, he still ranked 99th in points using the SABR Points scale in Ottoneu leagues.

            The reason for my excitement, and this article, are the improvements in Markakis’ peripherals, which returned to his 2007-2009 levels where he averaged 99 Rs, 20 HRs, and 100 RBIs, to go with a slash line of .299/.372/.476. Markakis’ BABIP increased to .310 in 2012, which is still below his career average of .322 and if this trend continues in 2013 he should easily flirt with a .300 average. The second positive indicator was an increase in HR/FB%. Normally an indicator of luck, Markakis’ HR/FB% from 2007-2009 hovered around ~10% – a very sustainable number and by no means an outlier compared to the rest of the league. In 2010 and 2011, this number decreased 6.1% and 7.7% respectively and ultimately hurt his HR totals (only 27 HRs in this two year period). 2012 saw a return to his earlier success with a HR/FB% of 11.1% and helps explain why Markakis was able to still hit only 2 fewer HRs than in 2011 despite playing in 56 fewer games.

            Both the .310 BABIP and 11.1% HR/FB ratio are easily sustainable in 2013 and are on par with the rest of Markakis’ career averages, but these increases are being masked by the poor numbers he put up in 2012 due to an injury-riddled campaign. The injury appears to be an anomaly, as Markakis has never played in fewer than 147 games, while also having 5 straight seasons of 157+ games played. I expect Markakis to put up a solid line of around 85 R, 20 HR, 90 RBI, 5 SB, and a .295 AVG – a very solid return for a player taken after pick 100.

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Top 10 Fantasy Prospects: Second Base

Top 10 2B Prospects

My rankings for Second Basemen turned out quite different than I had originally anticipated.  The reason for this deviation is because 2B prospects are a dime a dozen, more specifically, many prospects appear to have the ceiling of an average 2B prospect who can hold down the position and be serviceable with the bat. In order to separate the seemingly endless list of “scrappy” second basemen, I had to find players with a particularly special tool or two that will provide additional fantasy value once promoted to the big leagues. With these criteria in mind, here are my 2013 top 2B prospects:

1.) Kolten Wong (St. Louis Cardinals) – Wong has only spent 1 full season in professional baseball, but has already established himself as the top 2B prospect. He possesses the ideal contact/plate discipline combo to be a fixture at the top of the St. Louis lineup for the foreseeable future. He should be a solid source of R, AVG, and OBP and if the bat can develop the double-digit power some expect he could be a Top-10 second basemen in the big-league level.

2.) Delino Deshields Jr. (Houston Astros) – Deshields’ prospect status has been a roller coaster ride in the last two years. He came into professional baseball as a high-ceiling athlete, but after his first full season in 2011 his prospect shine faded. Deshields than repeated A-ball in 2012 and his prospect stock has never been higher. He has the ability to carry a fantasy team in the SB category, especially if he continues to show improvement in his approach (raised his BB% by 4% in 2012 to a respectable 13.4%). He struggled at the end of 2012 in a 24-game stint at Hi-A so he will likely start there in 2013 and is another two years or so away from challenging Jose Altuve in Houston.

3.) Eddie Rosario (Minnesota Twins) – Eddie Rosario is a player who will likely be more useful in fantasy than he is on a big league roster. Rosario shows good pop and the ability to draw a walk, as well as decent, but declining speed (22 SBs in 51 games in Rookie Ball two years ago). The problem is that his defense is a huge question mark – a problem made worse when you play in Minnesota and Ron Gardenhire who values defense/fundamentals more than most. He saw 19 games in CF last year and I wonder if a move to the OF is in his future. The bat will definitely play at 2B, but he will lose a lot of value if he’s moved off the keystone.

4.) Nick Franklin (Seattle Mariners) – Franklin has arguably the highest floor on this list as he is rock steady both offensively and defensively. He will contribute across the board from a fantasy aspect, but he is by no means an impact talent. Safeco will likely sap a bit of his power potential, and his SB totals have dropped with every move up the organizational ladder. He’s probably only worth rostering in 16-team mixed leagues or deeper, but he’s young for his competition in AAA and looks like a guarantee to provide at least some sort of value in the Majors.

5.) Jonathan Schoop (Baltimore Orioles) – Similar to Franklin, Schoop has been pushed fast through the system. He played all of 2012 as a 20-year old in AA. The numbers aren’t entirely impressive (.245/.324/.386) however, Schoop started to show some of the power potential scouts believed was in his swing as he hit 14 HRs in 124 games. Schoop has the ability to play SS, which helps his ability to see playing time at the next level, but with Hardy and Machado still under contract 2B looks like it will be his home in Baltimore.

6.) Taylor Lindsey (Los Angeles Angels) – Lindsey is another one of those across-the-board contributors. He can swipe a few bases, he’s shown a bit of pop and a sufficient hit tool. Where Lindsey worries me is in his approach (4.9 BB% in 2012), which will always result in a low OBP.  He’s still young as 2013 will be his age 21 season and he may see some time at AA. If Lindsey can improve his OBP enough to be a viable option in the two-hole for the Halos, he has the opportunity to rake in massive amounts of runs hitting atop that lineup.

7.) Rougned Odor (Texas Rangers) – Odor is one of the more riskier prospects on this list, but the risk could one day be handsomely rewarded. He spent the entirety of 2012 in Low-A as an 18-year old and more than held his own. He shows developing power and the double digit steal potential. His risk comes with his inability to take a walk and the roadblocks in front of him in Texas. With Beltre, Olt, Andrus, Profar, and Kinsler the entire Texas infield appears to be set for a long, long time. Odor is still a ways away, but until one of Olt, Andrus, Profar, or Kinsler is traded I just don’t see where the playing time comes from. I’m not one to worry about the makeup of a big league roster and how it relates to a prospect’s value, but with Sardinas coming up the ranks as well, the Texas situation is a bit of a question mark.

8.) Scooter Gennett (Milwaukee Brewers) – A personal favorite of mine, Scooter Gennett has a pretty limited upside from a tools standpoint, but he puts up numbers everywhere he goes. You’re hoping for double-digit power and speed when he gets to Milwaukee, and I personally think there’s a good chance he gets there. Gennett is more of a target in deep mixed leagues and NL-only, but until he stops producing I won’t stop believing.

9.) Angelo Gumbs (New York Yankees) – Angelo Gumbs is the anti-Scooter. He’s all tools without any real production to show for it. Gumbs strikes out too much (21.6% K%) and can’t really take a walk (6.5 BB%) but has flashed the foot speed (26 SBs) and bat speed to make you think he’s capable of being an impact talent at the next level. There is a very good chance Angelo Gumbs shoots up these rankings by next year, but the possibility of him falling into prospect irrelevance is the reason for the current low ranking.

10.) Cory Spangenberg (San Diego Padres) – Spangenberg’s value comes from his ability to swipe a bag. He isn’t an elite guy like Deshields, but he projects to be above average relative to other 2B. There is no power to speak of here, but he does show the ability to get on base, which lets his speed play up a bit more. If he can continue to hit the way he has, he will likely see some time at the big league level in San Diego, and that is a worthy investment this far down the list.

Honorable Mentions – Tommy La Stella (Atlanta Braves) – The kid can rake, unfortunately he is 23 in Hi-A ball. Will need to see him challenged this year. Nolan Fontana (Houston Astros) – Crazy good walk rate, but needs to show more ability to hit the ball with authority in order for pitchers to respect him. Chris Bostick (Oakland A’s) – Another “all-around” player who looks to have a big league future.

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Top 10 Fantasy Prospects: First Base

Ranking first basemen is a bit of a practice in futility. The majority of first basemen on a Major League roster never played 1B while in the minors. A player will move to first base only after exhausting all options at other positions. The thought process is that the defensive ability required to play 1B is far less than at any other position so if a player can contribute with the glove at any other position, you would rather them play elsewhere and save 1B for a player who has a bat you need in the lineup and can’t handle the burden of any other defensive position. Prospects who are already designated as first basemen will have much more pressure on their bat to be at an advanced level, because not only do they need to compete with the other 1B within their organization, but they also have to compete with aging veterans who are shifting down the defensive spectrum as their career winds down. The first basemen you see listed below is not fully indicative of who will be playing the position in future years and it’s important to value these players strictly on how their bat will play at the upper levels. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 1B prospects that will likely make an impact on fantasy rosters in the next couple of years.

1.)  Jonathan Singleton (Houston Astros) – The undisputed #1 prospect at this position, Singleton looks to be a solid fantasy contributor at the 1B position. He currently doesn’t have the elite power customary to Major League first basemen, but he does have enough power to play at the position and a hit tool that will allow him to fully access his power potential. Singleton can take a walk (15.9 BB% in 2012) but frequently falls victim to the strikeout (23.6 K%). I believe his strength in the former will more than make up for his weakness in the latter. Houston has nobody blocking Singleton from a promotion, although he will likely start 2013 in AAA with a likely chance for a mid-season call up.

2.) C.J. Cron (Los Angeles Angels) – Cron hit 27 HRs in the California League in his first full-season assignment. He possesses enough power to leave me confident that he can stick at 1B and has a pretty low strikeout rate for a slugging first basemen. The biggest knocks on Cron are his inability to draw a walk, and the fact that he is blocked at the major league level by some guy who is pretty good at baseball. 2013 will be a big year for Cron’s fantasy value as he will be a 23-year old in AA – not terribly old, but his stock can go south in a hurry if things don’t go well. Lookout for the Angels to use Cron as a trade chip and let’s hope he lands in a more fortuitous situation.

3.) Dan Vogelbach (Chicago Cubs) – If Vogelbach’s numbers were produced by any other player, there would be legitimate reason to put him as the #1 1B prospect and one of the top hitting prospects in the minor leagues. Unfortunately these numbers are coming out of Vogelbach’s 6’0”, 250 lb. body that looks like it belongs in a beer-league softball game. A .322/.432/.608 slash line from a 19-year old in low-A paired with a 23/34 BB/K ratio in 37 games has the makings of a future fantasy stud, but the questions of how Vogelbach’s body will change as he ages are enormous concerns. Blocked by Rizzo at 1B and no DH available to the Cubs, I find it difficult to see where Vogelbach fits into the future plans on the North Side, but a trade would certainly boost his fantasy value. I think he is able to take control of his body and becomes a solid fantasy contributor with the upside of a Top-10 pick if everything maxes out. Yes, I said Top-10 fantasy player upside.

4.) Miles Head (Oakland A’s) – Although Head continues to see time at 3B; there isn’t much hope that he will be able to stick at the position. Head’s fantasy value will come from his tremendous power with the hope he can fix his plate approach (16:75 BB/K) and hit for a decent average. Playing in Oakland is a ding against his fantasy value as it will suppress his power a bit, but Brandon Moss and Chris Carter will not provide much of a roadblock for Head once he is ready. Head will likely go back to AA where he finished up 2012 with the potential of moving up to AAA mid-season and a possible consideration of playing in Oakland on Opening Day in 2014. Should be interesting to see the numbers he puts up now that he is out of the hitter-friendly Cal League.

5.) Travis Harrison (Minnesota Twins) – Harrison is another guy whose time at 3B is limited. A move across the diamond to 1B shouldn’t have too much impact on his fantasy value, as his bat will play pretty much anywhere. Scouting reports project power to develop in Harrison’s bat despite hitting only 5 HRs in 60 games during Rookie ball in 2012. Harrison is still a few years away, but expect him to shoot up prospect rankings in the next year if the power develops like it should.  The Twins could have an interesting situation if Sano and Harrison both prove incapable of playing any position other than 1B.

6.) Jose Osuna (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Jose Osuna isn’t going to excite you with outstanding tools, but his production in A-ball as a 19-year old leaves me very optimistic about his future. Hitting .280/.324/.454 with 16 bombs is very impressive and with the lack of 1B production at the big league level, Osuna’s path to the big leagues seems to be wide open. He is a few years away still, but if he sees time at AA in 2013 and continues to hold his own, I think his value could see a big jump.

7.) Matt Skole (Washington Nationals) – The numbers for Skole (.291/.426/.559 and 27 HRs) seem deserving of a higher ranking on this list, but consider the fact that he was 22 playing in Hi-A ball and will likely have to deal with a position change from 3B to 1B and I think Skole’s numbers will see some regression. Skole’s power does appear to be real, so he could still be a useful asset in deeper mixed leagues once he does debut in D.C. but don’t mistake the numbers for a future impact talent.

8.) Hunter Morris (Milwaukee Brewers) – Entering his age 24 season in 2013, we have a very good idea of the player Morris is. Morris will provide slightly below average power relative to other first basemen, and won’t kill you in batting average. He cannot take a walk, and thus hurts those in OBP leagues and strikes out a bit too much for those in points leagues. He’s close enough to the big leagues where he may be worth an add in deep NL-only leagues, but I don’t think he’s the Brewers long-term answer at the position. How the Brewers handle Corey Hart’s contract negotiations could go a long way in displaying the confidence the front office has in Hunter Morris.

9.) Jesus Aguilar (Cleveland Indians) – I’m not sure if it will all come together for Aguilar, but if it does he could be a solid fantasy contributor at 1B, and when you’re this far down the rankings you will take that type of ceiling all day. Aguilar has been in the Cleveland system for 5 seasons and has always seemed to hit well as he progressed slowly through the system. He ended 2012 with 20 games in AA hitting .292/.402/.500 in a small sample size, but didn’t appear outmatched by the competition. Aguilar suffers from an aggressive, pull-heavy approach that will likely get exploited as he continues to rise through the system, but the power potential is very real and he has played well at every stop along the way so until he proves otherwise, he appears to be headed towards the Indians’ 1B of the future.

10.) Jonathan Griffin (Arizona Diamondbacks) – I really don’t know what to make of Jonathan Griffin, but anyone who hits 28 HRs in his first dose of full season baseball deserves to be on this list. He doesn’t strikeout a ton for a slugger and has shown the ability to draw a walk. The big knocks on Griffin and what makes him such a question mark going forward, is his inability to play defense, the fact that he was 23 playing in Hi-A when he hit the majority of these HRs, and that this was only his first full season and hasn’t needed to make any adjustments like he will have to on a daily basis in the big leagues. Not sure he will ever see the same success, but the easy comp is to Paul Goldschmidt who hit 35 bombs as a 22-year old at Hi-A.

Honorable Mentions: Harold Riggins (Colorado Rockies) – any power hitter with the chance to play at Coors has some potential. D.J. Hicks (Minnesota Twins) – massive raw power, but no idea what kind of ceiling he has – in a good and bad way. Keon Barnum (Chicago White Sox) – 1st Round Pick in 2012 looks to be an upcoming slugger

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Top 10 Fantasy Prospects: Catchers

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get”. The words of the Oracle of Omaha are applicable to more than just investing advice. The business of prospect valuation, from a fantasy perspective, is all about balancing risk/reward and maximizing value. Our fantasy thrones allow us to make cold, calculated decisions regarding the future of prospects in our world because we do not have the all too real implications of family and personal relationships to manage. I find it most useful to treat all prospects like stocks. Buy low, sell high. I have a piece coming up that will expand on this topic, but I want to preface this list a bit by reminding you that these rankings are based on risk/reward scale and the likelihood of you maximizing value – not necessarily on all-around talent level. With that in mind, below is my list of Top 10 catching prospects in our fantasy kingdom.

1.  Travis d’Arnaud (Toronto Blue Jays) – d’Arnaud is the consensus top catching prospect in the minors and is very much deserved of this distinction. With that said, I believe the gap between him and Mike Zunino is not as wide as most think. Still recovering from a PCL tear in June, d’Arnaud will likely see some more time in AAA as the Blue Jays still have JP Arencibia and also re-signed Jeff Mathis to a two-year deal. The opportunity to hit in the middle of a lineup including Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion provides a boost to d’Arnaud’s already sky-high fantasy value.

2.  Mike Zunino (Seattle Mariners) – 2 years d’Arnaud’s junior, I love Zunino as a major league prospect. However, in our fantasy worlds, he has a few things going against him: John Jaso and especially Jesus Montero, although not long-term roadblocks, provide enough of a reason for the Mariner’s to take their time with Zunino. Reports on his bat speed and swing plane project for future power to go along with his already plus hit tool. Zunino also will be playing half his games at Safeco Field in the middle of a lineup lacking in qualified table-setters. The fences being moved in at Safeco, and his youth compared to other top prospects are pluses and there is no doubt Zunino will be a starting C in mixed leagues for years to come, but there’s enough things working against him going into 2013 to keep him from the top spot.

3.  Gary Sanchez (New York Yankees) – Sanchez has the power potential rarely seen at the C position (35 HRs in his last 198 games played). The power and the fact that he will likely see AA in 2013, as a 20-year old should put him on every fantasy player’s radar. There are questions about his ability to stick at C, and I think those are very real concerns, but his catch-and-throw skills are solid enough to give reason for optimism. His BABIP is peculiarly high (.346 last year) considering Sanchez is not one to beat out too many infield hits.

4.  Jorge Alfaro (Texas Rangers) – #TheLegend is a toolshed with a ceiling that is rarely seen from the C position (an across the board 5×5 contributor). Unfortunately, the depths of his floor are equally unknown. A few positive signs that Alfaro is starting to figure out how to access these tools is that he more than doubled his BB% in 2012 to a still incredibly low 5.6%, and he and dropped his K%, 5% to a still too high 26.7% (all in spite of playing Low-A ball as a 19-year old). If this progress continues in 2013 his floor should raise enough to be in consideration for the top prospect at the position. Alfaro did play 45 games at 1B/DH this season, but it’s unclear if this was due to injury or in preparation for a shift down the defensive spectrum. Something to definitely keep an eye on.

5.  Austin Hedges (San Diego Padres) – Hedges has the highest floor of all C prospects. His 80-grade defensive credentials insure that he will have a full career as a starting catcher in the MLB. What is keeping him out of the Top 3, especially from a fantasy perspective, are the questions regarding his bat. Hedges shows a decent ability to make contact (16.6 K%) and some reports are hopeful for some pop developing in his swing down the road. The guarantee of having a starting C is rare, especially one currently playing A ball, but questions about the bat and playing 82 games in Petco are what hurt his current value the most.

6.  Blake Swihart (Boston Red Sox) – Swihart appears to be an empty-average type of fantasy player and that will still play given the current state of the C position. Although still raw, he has shown enough defensive progress to project as big-league capable catcher. He is still 2-3 years away from the Bigs, but an offensive-minded catcher with a likelihood of sticking at the position is a very valuable asset. It’s a bit worrisome that a guy billed as an offensive-minded player put up a (.262/.307/.395) slash line as an age-appropriate player in A-ball.

7.  Clint Coulter  (Milwaukee Brewers)– A high school, first round pick in 2012, Coulter can rake. Coulter pairs his excellent hit tool with a great approach (37/40 BB/K in 49 games), and I’m confident his bat will play despite the probability of a future shift down the defensive spectrum. The knock on Coulter is that his future as a C will likely not last much longer. He will likely have fantasy value no matter where he moves, but because that remains to be seen, I have difficulty recommending using a roster spot on Coulter in leagues with a shallow farm system. His value as a prospect will see a huge jump or drop in 2013, so pay close attention to any reports on improvement in his defense or where he will likely land on the diamond.

8.  Gabriel Lino (Philadelphia Phillies) – I am big on Gabriel Lino and think he is a great add to any league with a relatively deep minor league system. Lino has big power and defensive skills that will likely allow him to stick at catcher. That combination of skills, this far down the list is extremely enticing because you won’t need to invest much for the potential of an above-average fantasy catcher. The floor is quite low on Lino as his hit tool lags significantly behind the rest of his tools, but he’s still under 20 years old and has always been young for his level as he played A-ball in 2012. Lino’s ETA is probably sometime in 2016 and with fellow C prospects Valle, and Tommy Joseph further along in the development process he could run into a positional logjam in the future.

9.  Stryker Trahan (Arizona Diamondbacks – First round pick in 2012, Trahan’s value is shaky, as his future at catcher is not set in stone. He has the athleticism to stick at the position, but the skills are very raw. His bat makes Trahan a worthy investment as it has the potential to play at any position. This is a kid to keep an eye on as his value is likely to change dramatically as we get a better look at his defensive capabilities.

10.  Wyatt Mathisen (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Another high-school draftee with an unclear picture on his ability to stick behind the plate, Mathisen’s offensive profile is a bit different than Trahan. Mathisen’s placement on this board is due to his great plate discipline (only 16 K’s in 45 games) that will allow him to better leverage his hit tool. Mathisen’s value is more closely tied to his ability to stick at the position, so keep an eye on where he plays as he DH’ed almost half of the time in 2012. Still only 18 with plenty room to grow, but Mathisen is another guy who could see a lot of variance in his ranks throughout this next season as we get a better idea of where he profiles on defense.

Honorable Mentions: Tommy Joseph (already prepping for a move to 1B), Christian Bethancourt (potential is enough to keep him on the radar), Will Swanner (kid can rake, but has no future at C).

Posted in Top 10 Fantasy Prospects | Leave a comment

The Art of War: Prospect Strategy

“Those skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform; they entice him with something he is certain to take, and with lures of ostensible profit they await him in strength.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

This post is the beginning of a new series that I will be calling: The Art of War. The idea behind this theory is to get the reader to think a little bit about their opponents and give some thought into basic Game Theory as it applies to fantasy baseball. Too many players focus on their own team’s strength and what they need, without consideration of how transactions will affect their opponents. Understanding the other managers in your league can provide a huge advantage when it comes to trade discussions and this series will help you understand the many different ways your opponents might approach a certain scenario.

The first installment of this series is how different managers approach building a farm team. You cannot ask a manager his opinion on every prospect you want to bring up in trade discussions, but if you can get an idea of how he approaches prospects in general you gain valuable insight into how to attack trade negotiations. I have 4 different strategies that an owner may take. Each strategy has a brief philosophy, followed by its strengths, weaknesses, and how to exploit a manager employing this approach.

Buy and Hold:

Philosophy: A “Buy and Hold” investor tries to load up on prospects, typically in an attempt to rebuild a struggling franchise. You see this in managers who are taking over an abandoned roster. They build up through the draft and by trading their veteran MLB players in the first few weeks they take over the team. What separates this strategy from others is that after a year or two of re-stocking the farm system, this strategy involves minimal trading of draft picks and prospects. The idea is to load up and get a solid base that will graduate to the major leagues in the next few years, and then supplement it through smaller trades and through the natural process of the draft.

Strengths: The strength of this strategy is that it is not over-reactive to the volatile nature of the prospect business. You load up for a year or two and then ride out that wave of players until they hit the big leagues. No matter if a prospect’s stock is up or down you are holding on to him until he hits the big leagues or falls into prospect irrelevance. This conservative model most closely resembles the approach of the majority of MLB clubs. It is safe and will likely produce a competitive team that will have a chance to compete for a title if a few things break the right way.

Weaknesses: You leave a lot on the table. The strength of your team is too dependent on the depth of the minor league system during the time frame in which you are stocking up on prospects. If you happen to be loading up on a draft class that will ultimately deliver very few MLB contributors, you will find yourself 3 years older and back at square one. This strategy is not dynamic enough and needs to be as fluid as the prospect industry in order to maximize your talent at both the major league and minor league level.

How to Exploit: There is no point in attempting to acquire any minor league players from a manager just beginning this strategy. They are looking to hoard any prospect that has ever received a positive scouting report. The best place to attack here is to get it on the fire sale that normally occurs the first few weeks this strategy is employed. As stated earlier, it will typically be from a new manager but I have seen a few managers who after loading up one year to make a run, find themselves with nothing the year after and decide to start from scratch. I like to pick off a few value players for middle of the road prospects. No prospect is guaranteed to make an impact at the major league level, so if you can flip a few prospects who MAY make an impact down the road, for a player or two already making an impact now, it’s a great move.

Dividend Investors:

Philosophy: I’ll admit, this fantasy strategy doesn’t correlate perfectly to the investment strategy, but let me see if I can make this work. Dividend investors, in fantasy terms, invest in prospects and quickly flip them for MLB Talent. They aren’t acquiring Top-10 caliber prospects, and they aren’t receiving Top-50 MLB players but they do insure themselves a constant supply of fantasy role players by trading prospects early (or even draft picks if allowed in some leagues). These teams are usually a few big FA Signings away from a banner year.

Strengths: The strength of this plan is that you flip prospects before they ever have a chance to have their flaws exposed. A guy like Josh Bell in Pittsburgh still has the projection of an above average big-league hitter. Even though he has struggled out of the gate, he still has the injury to cover any flaws that have been exposed. After seeing him for a full season next year, we will get a much better idea of what kind of hitter he is and that might not be a good thing for his future value. This also manifests itself with Catchers. You can deal them while there is still hope that they will be a Catcher in the MLB. Guys like Stryker Trahan, Clint Coulter, and Will Swanner are current examples and Wil Myers is a little bit older example – a few years ago, Myers was expected to be the hitter he is now but at the catcher position. That could’ve brought home a couple of nice MLB-ready pieces.

Weaknesses: A Dividend Investor will never grow a superstar. They must rely on acquiring one through Free Agency or through a blockbuster trade. Using this approach, you must concede the fact that you will never inherit a player that you can bolster with role players.  You won’t have the depth in your system to have a few players breakout to become Top-10 MLB fantasy contributors. Many dynasties are formed by having a few top prospects turn into top MLB contributors so that a manager’s focus is only on supporting those players with as much talent as possible.

How to Exploit: Deal from depth. If you have an extra OF who could start on most teams, but you’re loaded at that position….flip to a Dividend Investor for a few young prospects/draft picks. The players you will be acquiring are normally too risky to give up a cornerstone piece or to expose your Major League Roster to another weakness, so dealing from strength is the optimal way to go about this. Trading a player in his prime, for two or three lottery tickets isn’t a bad deal if you have other options available to cover what you are giving up.

Growth Investors:

Philosophy: Growth investors love potential. They love shiny new toys and get rid of them as soon as they lose their luster. Managers who employ the Growth Investor strategy have a ton of talent in their minor league roster but typically never keep it long enough to reap the rewards. They always seem to have the inside track on the hot new prospect and won’t give him up unless you give him a Top 5 MLB 1B and a Top 10 SP.

Strengths: The Growth Investor strategy does not work long-term. A manager stuck in this mindset will never realize enough talent to be competitive. It seems counter-intuitive that a manager would not stick with their top prospects after they graduate, but the fact is that many prospects fail early. Growth Investors do not have the patience to stick by their guys, so they typically flip them for the next hot prospect coming up. The strength of this approach is that it is an easy cure, and it is a cure with a quick remedy. If you are loaded with top prospects, all it takes is isolating the managers who need them most and poaching their top MLB-ready talent. You can take a team that employed a successful Growth Investor strategy and turn them into a winner in one off-season if played correctly. The problem is that the manager never realizes their own mistake and can’t get out of the vicious prospect cycle.

Weaknesses: The weakness is the inability to ever field a competitive team. Ever. It gets worse if you try to get out of the cycle by letting your players graduate and you begin to realize that the success rate of most prospects is not very promising. Very few Top-100 guys actually become impact fantasy players, so Growth Investors can typically find themselves with nothing after thinking they had a farm system that would generate a championship-caliber team for years to come.

How to Exploit: It’s tough to exploit these managers. All they want are top prospects and they have nothing much at the major league level to offer in return. The best way to exploit these players is to time the market. When there top prospects are graduating and hit early struggles in the big leagues (it happens to almost everyone), put out an offer for that player in exchange for one of your top prospects. Even Mike Trout hit .220 in his first 135 Plate Appearances. An initial struggle like that could open the door for an exchange for two or three top low-A prospects. It by no means works every time because the length of a player’s struggles varies drastically, but you can time it right and buy-low on a guy like Anthony Rizzo after he struggled in San Diego.

Value Investors:

Philosophy: A value investor is interested in pure profit. No prospect is ever off the trade block, so long as the opposing manager is willing to at least pay market value. A value investor understands that top prospects (especially those in low-A and rookie leagues) can be risky business and they aren’t afraid to flip a top prospect for some guaranteed value at the major league level. Value Investors are adaptable to any environment. If they see that a few managers are willing to part with minor league talent for dirt cheap, they will buy it and turn around and sell it to a manager who overvalues that same talent. They build their strength through a series of moves that slowly build value across the entire organization.

Strengths: This is where every manager wants to be. Unfortunately, you can only afford to be here once your team has reached a competitive position. If your team has no major league talent, and the cabinets are empty at the minor league level, you don’t have any assets to trade. The reason I mention this in the strength section is because there are very few chances to take advantage of a Value Investor. If the team is down and out, they understand the importance of building through the rookie draft and if they are in the midst of a championship season, they will deal a prospect or two to bolster the championship run but won’t have to mortgage their future to do so.

Weaknesses: There really are no weaknesses to this approach. The only word of warning I can give to someone who feels their team is in the appropriate place to become a Value Investor, is to make sure you balance your Major and Minor league talent appropriately. If you find a manager who is a Growth Investor (loves shiny new prospects), you can’t trade your entire farm team to him in exchange for major league talent even if you are getting great value for it. Most league settings make it difficult to rebuild a farm system in one year, so you must be sure you are keeping an adequate balance at both ends of the spectrum.

How to Exploit: You can only exploit a value investor if your current strategy is to load up on major or minor league talent. If you need MLB players for a championship push the value investor will be willing to part with his if you pay the appropriate price. The opposite goes if you are in rebuilding mode and want to stock the farm team. You will never exploit a Value Investor into speeding up the process of making your team competitive, however they can help facilitate you getting there and are always open to a trade if you make the right move.

To wrap this article up, I’d just like to stress the importance of finding a process and sticking with it. All 4 of the above strategies can be successful (with the exception of Growth Investors, but they can quickly be turned around), but they only work if you stick with it and are true to your strategy. Don’t trade because you want to “shake things up”. This isn’t a professional franchise and there is no chemistry amongst your players that you need to worry about. Only pull the trigger on a deal, if it is consistent with your overall approach.

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts in the comments section.

Brian Creagh

Posted in The Art of War | Leave a comment