It’s Draft Day here at MLB, and though it isn’t nearly as hyped as it’s NFL and NBA counterparts, it probably has the greatest impact on a ballclub’s future, both short- and long-term. Two shining examples of that are the Tampa Bay Rays and–though I’m not a fan of kicking a dead horse–the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Thanks to atrocious records and astute selections, the Rays have gone from one of the worst teams in baseball back in 2007 to the best this season with players they drafted and nurtured through their system. Players like David Price (first overall, 2007), Evan Longoria (third overall, 2006), Jeff Niemann (fourth overall, 2004), Reid Brignac (second round, 2004), B.J. Upton (second overall, 2002), James Shields (16th round, 2000) and Carl Crawford (second round, 1999).
Meanwhile in the Steel City, the Pirates turned the act of poorly-picked drafts into an artform with selections like Daniel Moskos (fourth overall, 2007), Bryan Bullington (first overall, 2002) and John Van Benschoten (eighth overall, 2001), just to name a few. It has only been until recently that the club’s drafting strategy has shifted into a more progressive, more well-thought-out approach, and the results are showing with players like Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.
And just over this past weekend, other clubs around baseball either got significant contributions from or announced the upcoming MLB debuts for some of their recent draft picks. Some of these players haven’t exactly been flying under the radar, yet some of these players may not only have a major impact on their ballclubs this season, but will also figure in deciding many fantasy leagues, as well.
Now, everyone by now knows the deal with Stephen Strasburg while both Jason Heyward and Mike Leake have been with their respective ballclubs since the end of Spring Training. The players I want to focus on are the ones who have only recently been called up to the big leagues or are within earshot of their manager’s office phone in the Minor Leagues. (all players listed alphabetically)
Pedro Alvarez, 3B — Pittsburgh Pirates: Alvarez is the first true, bona fide slugger the Pirates have had in their system since probably Barry Bonds back in the mid-1980s. The first thing out of any scout’s mouth is the tremendous power Alvarez packs into his left-handed swing. The Vanderbilt product has shown a Mark Teixeira-like tendency for slow starts (.224/.298/.424 in April, Triple-A) before rounding into form (.315/.411/.583 in May-June). Speaking of which, a round form is the only major concern the Pirates have with Alvarez, as he sometimes appears more than his listed weight of 225 pounds. He’d make a great first baseman for many fantasy teams, but his value is far greater at the hot corner. And with only Andy LaRoche in front of him at third in Pittsburgh, it may not be long before Alvarez finds himself in big league lineup cards.
Domonic Brown, OF — Philadelphia Phillies: In his final Spring Training game this year, Brown faced the Detroit Tigers and not only did he homer off Justin Verlander, but the lefty-swinging outfielder also took fellow southpaw Phil Coke deep, as well. When young left-handed hitters do well against tough left-handed pitchers, that almost always catches anyone’s attention. The Phillies’ 20th-round selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft (FYPD) has carried that ability into this season with Double-A Reading, hitting Eastern League lefties at a .311/.373/.644 clip. Brown’s power was a question coming into 2010, but has 10 homers and 13 doubles in 50 games with the R-Phils. Though he is signed through 2011, Raul Ibanez has really shown his age this season and with Philadelphia scuffling offensively, there is a small chance that Brown may make the jump to the big leagues well before the rosters expand in September.
Andrew Cashner, SP — Chicago Cubs: For the past decade, the Cubs have been known as a having a pitching staff that racks up the strikeouts with plenty of power arms, and Cashner is no exception, armed with a high-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup that is anywhere between 10-12 mph slower than his heater. His slider is considered his best secondary pitch, usually coming in the mid- to high-80s. The eighth-overall pick in the 2008 FYPD, Cashner’s biggest bugaboo was control, but before he was called up, he had a 59/15 K/BB ratio through 57 innings in Double-A and Triple-A. Three pitches are definitely enough to have a solid Major League career, but if the Cubbies can turn someone thought to be useless like Carlos Silva into one of the best hurlers in the NL, then there are plenty of reasons to think Cashner could be a front-of-the-rotation starter in the future. For now, though, Chicago plans on keeping him in the bullpen so they can control his workload, so he won’t have too much fantasy value this season.
Jhoulys Chacin, SP – Colorado Rockies: Chacin had always been one of the better pitching prospects in the Rockies system for the last four years, but he really made a name for himself on Aug. 18, 2009 when he helped author a no-hitter for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in his Triple-A debut. Jhoulys (pronounced: YOU-lease) has a lively mid-90s fastball with some sinking action on it to go with a changeup and curveball, all thrown with the same arm action, so it’s more difficult for hitters to differentiate what kind of pitch is coming out of his hand, as was evident when he threw 15.1 scoreless innings to start his his 2010 Major League season. He does a good job in throwing first-pitch strikes for a young pitcher, doing so 54.1 percent of the time. Strangely enough, after never striking out more than a batter per inning during his minor league career, Chacin is fanning 9.42 batters per nine with Colorado so far.
Mike Stanton, OF — Florida Marlins: Well, it’s about time! It only took two months of total Minor League dominantion by Stanton and Major League disappointment by the current Florida OF trio of Chris Coghlan, Cameron Maybin and Cody Ross to get the most talked-about pure power hitting prospect up to The Show. Much has been made about all the long balls the 20-year-old, 2007 second-round pick has mashed. Through 52 games with the Double-A Jacksonville Suns in the Southern League, 35 of his 59 hits went for extra bases (12 doubles, two triples, 21 home runs), leading to a staggering 1.167 OPS. And when you look at his Minor League career, your eyes will grow only wider and your jaw will drop even further: 89 home runs, 65 doubles, 10 triples, 244 RBIs and a .938 OPS in 323 games. The only dent in his armor is his propensity for strikeouts (297 whiffs against 117 walks in 2008 & 2009, combined), but it seems as if he’s learning the strike zone better as he left the Minors with a 44/53 BB/K ratio. While Strasburg may steal all the headlines, don’t sleep on Stanton’s debut against the Phillies on Tuesday.
- Drew Storen, RP — Washington Nationals:
- Chris Tillman, SP — Baltimore Orioles:
- Brett Wallace, 3B/1B — Toronto Blue Jays:
- Buster Posey, C/1B — San Francisco Giants
- Tanner Scheppers, SP – Texas Rangers
- SP Brett Anderson (15-day DL; inflammation in left elbow)
- SP Doug Fister (15-day DL; shoulder fatigue)
- SP Kyle Lohse (transfered to 60-day DL; forearm issues)
- SP Oliver Perez (15-day DL; tendonitis in right patella)
- DH Mike Sweeney (15-day DL; back tightness)
- OF Nelson Cruz (15-day DL; hamstrings)
- OF Grady Sizemore (60-day DL; knee–out for remainder of season)
- 1B Justin Morneau (battling flu-like symptoms; probable for rest of week)
- 3B David Freese (out until further notice-OUFN-with sprained ankle)
- 3B Chipper Jones (OUFN with injured right ring finger)
- 3B Alex Rodriguez (left Sunday’s game with a sore groin; expected to play normally)
- OF Colby Rasmus (left Sunday’s game with a calf injury; status uncertain)
I’m not sure about everyone else, but it seems like every year, I draft at least one player that makes me feel like the smartest fantasy player ever. In relative terms, it’s a fantastic feeling. Every half-decent owner should experience this at least once a year, if for nothing else than to provide the illusion of brilliance and prop up what little self-confidence they may have after seeing their team crumble by Memorial Day.
This year, that player for me is Ubaldo Jimenez. I’m still astounded at the fact that I got him. My initial plan going into the draft was to take one of these three pitchers to be my staff anchor: Cole Hamels, Tommy Hanson and Jimenez. Somehow, I was able to draft all three of them in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. The results: after getting me 44 points last week (29 coming on his shutout alone), he leads The Men Who Laugh with 203.33 total points and keeping them within striking range of first place in my division.
One of the most perplexing things about baseball is how some players quickly emerge into the forefront without any prior warning or hype. The poster boy for this is, and probably forever will be, Albert Pujols, who burst into the big leagues in 2001 after being drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. The odds of that happening again are just a little bit more likely than Ronnie James Dio (a Yankees fan) going on the OzzFest tour this summer, but there usually are one or two players who put on a good show out of the blue.
Well, in this case, out of the Blue Jays. This year’s best out-of-nowhere (OON) player probably is Toronto 3B/OF Jose Bautista, who somehow has hit 14 home runs to tie Paul Konerko for the Major League-lead despite maxing out at 16 homers in 117 games in 2006 with the Pirates.
Bautista shares a common theme with most OON players (with Pujols being a major outlier) in that he’s closer to 30 (29, to be accurate) than he is to 20, much like Vinny Castilla (27), Luis Gonzalez (30), Jayson Werth (29) and Ben Zobrist (27)*. Not only that, but each of these players saw a decrease in their strikeout percentage (however small it was) in their breakout season as opposed to the season before. But this is where Bautista’s case takes a unique turn.
With all of the above-metioned players, their breakout seasons featured solid, respectable ISO’s (ISO – isolated power, helps measure a player’s raw power) with figures ranging from .208 (Gonzalez) to .246 (Zobrist). Bautista, on the other hand, flies well above this level as his ISO today stands at an incredible .327, third-highest in baseball behind Andre Ethier‘s .352 and Konerko’s .340. To give you a better idea, Pujols’ career ISO is .292, and every time Pujols’ ISO was higher than .300, he hit at least 43 home runs (four seasons total).
The next stat trend (BABIP) is a little more strange. During their breakout seasons, most of these batters–along with many other similar players–posted BABIPs (measures how well a batter hits when he makes contact,or, the efficiency of a defense turning batted balls into outs) north of .310, with the lone exception in our case being Gonzalez and his .262 BABIP. Bautista’s BABIP is an abysmally low .230, 47 points below his career average! Not only that, but his line drive-percentage has dropped (15.1 career to 13.4 in ’10) while his fly ball- and HR/FB percentages have spiked (43.6 – 52.0, and 11.5 to 21.2, respectively). Such rates are rarified air, usually traveled by players like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez.
The last thing that jumped out at me was his plate discipline. According to his player page on FanGraphs.com, Bautista is swinging at far more pitches outside the zone and making less contact on those swings. Conversely, he’s swinging at fewer pitches inside the zone, but connecting on those swings at a much higher rate.
So what gives? What can we make of these trends that seemingly pull us in different directions? This morning, I was looking through Buster Olney’s daily blog and saw he wrote about a possible explanation for Bautista’s emergence. Here’s a clip from that entry:
“In the midst of last season, Dwayne Murphy, the Jays’ first base coach at the time, talked with Bautista on the bench about starting his swing a little sooner. ‘There was something in the way he told me,” Bautista recalled. “He worded things differently, in a way I could understand.’
“So Bautista began working on starting his swing sooner. Until that point in his career, Bautista began his swing mechanics — the lift of his front foot, the cocking of his hands — as the opposing pitcher drew his pitching arm through his motion. What Bautista began to do is start his hitting mechanics just as the pitcher started: Bautista began lifting his front foot as the pitcher’s motion began, as if in sync.
“The benefit did not come immediately. The whole thing felt awkward, and Bautista struggled to feel comfortable. ‘I had some days when I felt even worse,’ Bautista said.
“…on Sept. 10, 2009, Bautista smashed a double and a homer and felt much better. Soon, he could not imagine how he had ever hit with his old swing.”
This revelation about a change in batting stance brings me back to Gonzalez in 1998. Before, Gonzo used to have a fairly normal batting stance that produced respectable, but not incredible results. It was during this time that he gradually opened his stance up so that his hips at the start of his stance were on an angle pretty much between the mound and the first base-foul line. From 1998 to 2005, Gonzalez was one of the best hitters in baseball, batting .295/.385/.523 with 247 home runs, 345 doubles and 845 RBIs in one season with the Tigers and eight with the Diamondbacks.
So am I saying Bautista is the next Gonzalez? Not quite, since after all, we’re not even though the first full year of the change and haven’t seen if pitchers have figured out how to exploit whatever weaknesses this approach may have. But, I will say this: the only other third base-eligible players putting up more points than Bautista are Kevin Youkilis and Evan Longoria. Only Ryan Braun is ahead of Bautista in production amongst outfielders. That doesn’t just make Bautista a must-own, he is a must-start-now.
* (note – These players were chosen at random and do not constitute an expected range of performance. They only serve as recent comparisons; points of reference rather than absolute gospel.)
This is a new section I’m going to put in all W.M.‘s from now on, letting people who weren’t able to follow games this weekend know who incurred any injuries between Friday and Sunday. The type of injury, if known, will be listed and anyone placed on the 15- or 60-day DL during this time span will be listed first and in bold. All listing will be in alphabetical order. And since this is a new section, it will probably have a couple tweaks here and there until it can be at its most useful format.
- Homer Bailey (tightness in right shoulder — 15-day DL)
- John Maine (right shoulder weakness — 15-day DL)
- Brad Penny (strained right latissimus dorsi — 15-day DL)
- Ivan Rodriguez (strained back — 15-day DL)
- Jimmy Rollins (strained right calf — 15-day DL)
- Carlos Gonzalez (strained left wrist)
- Denard Span (bruised right shoulder)
Bringing this article back full circle, I have a confession to make: I am a complete idiot, rock-head, dope and whatever else you can throw at me that’s fit to print. You know how I just spent the majority of this post espousing the hitting wonder that is Jose Bautista? You do?
Well, I had him and I released him a week and a half ago for Travis Snider.
Who went on the DL the very next day.
The fact that I won this past week is an absolute miracle, given I started an outfield of Carlos Gonzalez (ugh), Garrett Jones (meh) and Denard Span (yay…aw, crap) while Tommy Hanson laid a nice little stink bomb that cost me 11 points. And yet, somehow, I’m 4-3 despite having the fewest home runs and third-worst slugging percentage in my 12-team mixed league.
Just goes to show you that even the so-called “experts” can also double as those people you see trying to push a door open when it clearly reads “pull.”