This past weekend was practically the perfect storm for fantasy owners in keeper leagues. Not only did ballyhoo’d pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg make his encore appearance on Sunday against the Indians, but the top hitting prospect (Florida’s Mike Stanton) and the top catching prospect (Cleveland’s Carlos Santana) also enjoyed a productive first weekend in the big leagues.
Every few years or so, there seems to be a huge bumper crop in top-flight rookies. 2006 had a ridiculous year that included the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman and Justin Verlander (to name a few). There were a couple guys named Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki who topped eventual interlopers like CC Sabathia, Roy Oswalt, Jimmy Rollins and Adam Dunn in 2001. And with Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, Mike Leake, Justin Smoak and Neftali Feliz having major impacts in the game during their freshman campaigns, 2010 is looking to be very similar to ’06 and ’01.
For now, though, let’s take a look at how these three uber-prospects fared this past weekend. And just a word of warning: these three players have not been in the big leagues for very long, making for small and unreliable sample sizes. The numbers may eventually prove to be accurate, but there simply is not enough Major League data to make solid guesses/estimates. Proceed with caution!
As much as Indians fans may be missing Victor Martinez at the plate (though him behind it is another matter, altogether…), this kid isn’t too bad himself. While his debut wasn’t much to write home about (0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored on June 11 against the Nationals), he exploded in Game 2 by going 2-for-4 (first hit: double) with a home run, three RBIs and a run scored, then got a hit and a walk off Strasburg on Sunday. And one of the best parts about his first three games is that he has yet to strike out.
(Now watch him go on a horrid, Mark Reynolds-like stretch where he whiffs once every three at-bats.)
In all seriousness, though, one of Santana’s better qualities is his discerning eye. Starting in 2006, Santana’s walk rate in the Minor Leagues improved every season. His strikeout rates have been a little more mercurial, but have never topped 20 percent over a full season. This is good news for fantasy owners in leagues that value walks and/or on-base percentage because in an Indians lineup that has just Shin-Soo Choo as it’s lone legitimate threat, it would be safe to say that Santana will encounter his fair share of walks, since the 24-year-old backstop has clearly demonstrated he has power from both sides of the plate.
Now three games is an awfully small sample size to judge how Santana’s skills will translate at the big league-level (a hurdle all three of the featured players will encounter), but so far, the numbers Santana is providing don’t seem to be out of line with his skill set. He’s only swung at 29.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone (comp: Vlad Guerrero leads baseball by offering at 49.5 percent of pitches outside the zone), and when he does swing at pitches inside the zone–55 percent, BTW–he puts the bat on the ball 90.9 percent of the time, so it seems as if he’s making good decisions at the plate, so far.
Does this guy have rotten timing to make a debut or what? The same day he goes 3-for-5 with two runs scored and almost gets the go-ahead hit, the guy at the end of this list not only makes his MLB debut, but decides to strike out over half-a-dozen batters in less than 100 pitches. This past weekend wasn’t that bad, either: 4-for-10 with a triple, a double, four RBIs, three walks, four strikeouts, two steals and two runs scored in three games against a tough Tampa Bay pitching staff.
And keep in mind this: he won’t be able to buy a drink until just before this Thanksgiving. There is little debate about Stanton’s power. After clubbing 89 bombs in 323 Minor League games (13.4 HR/AB), people would have possibly started talking about his hitting exploits the same way they talk about Chuck Norris “facts.”
Stanton’s biggest flaw, though, is his propensity for strikeouts. Throughout his Minor League career, Stanton struck out 371 times in 1,392 plate appearances, which comes out to him striking out in 26.7 percent of his PAs. 2008 was especially harsh for the Marlins’ 2007 second-round draftee, when he collected 153 whiffs in 540 plate appearances (28.3 percent). Obviously, this is a big red flag because even though he will get his home runs (and they will come), all those missed swings will greatly hold back his batting average and, in turn, limit his batting average and RBI opportunities.
There is plenty of hope on the horizon, though. The majority of those strikeouts came while he was just a teenager and after initially struggling in his first go-around in Double-A Jacksonville last season, Stanton made the necessary adjustments to boost his batting average from .231 to .311 at the time of his call-up. His strikeout rate fell from 99/341 (29 percent) in 2009 to 53/238 (22.3 percent), while his walk rate bumped up from 31/341 (9.1 percent) to 44/238 (18.5 percent). He also is not only an outfielder–limiting the amount of wear and tear on his body–but he is also a highly-rated defensive outfielder, too.
Many scouts and analysts say that right now, Stanton projects to be a Ryan Howard-type player from the right side: a ton of power to go with a ton of strikeouts. But, if he continues to improve on his plate discipline and you add in the element of speed (he already has two steals and a triple, and is considered one of the best overall athletes in the game right now), keeper league Stanton owners may have one of the most valuable players not named Heyward.
C’mon, did you honestly think I’d make it to the end of June without looking into the kid. I mean, The Associated Press only compared him to Walter Johnson after his historic start last Tuesday. Thankfully, some of the hysteria has died down a little, especially after the more realistic outing he had yesterday against the Indians. Yes, his fastball hits 100 mph and “drops” to the upper-90s late in the game. Yes, his changeup can clock in at 91 mph (somewhere, Jamie Moyer just suddenly felt sad and doesn’t know why). And yes, his curveball would probably make Bert Blyleven jealous. But just for a moment, let’s go beyond that and see how Mr. Precedent gets things done.
In my hapkido (a Korean martial art) class, my master constantly preaches about how technique is “the ability to control your opponent.” Controlling his opponent is what Strasburg–and every other pitcher, for that matter–sets out to do in every at-bat, and that starts with throwing first-pitch strikes. Through two games, Strasburg pumps in a first-pitch strike 61.7 percent of the time, an astounding rate for a young power pitcher. Just to serve as frames of reference, only 30 eligible starters have higher FPS rates (Cliff Lee leads the Majors with a 71 percent mark) and names such as Sabathia, Adam Wainwright, Jered Weaver and David Price lag behind Strasburg’s mark.
All these strikeouts are great, for the fans, the TV ratings and fantasy owners of Strasburg, but we all know what happens when great young arms quickly pile up the whiffs. Probably no one knows this better than Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who, as skipper of the Cubs back in 1998, witnessed both the meteoric rise and fall of Kerry Wood within a span of 14 or so months. Riggleman told Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell that while the strikeouts are nice, “it’s better to get three outs on 12 pitches than three strikeouts on 18 pitches.” Of course, this was said prior to Strasburg’s first start, when he had his cake and ate it, too.
Of the 36 outs Strasburg has recorded in his big league career, 22 were via the strikeout, nine on groundouts and five on flyouts. It would be impossible to expect the San Diego State alumnus to routinely rack up double-digit strikeout games without breaking the 100-pitch barrier, so for this year and possibly next, fantasy Strasburg owners (especially keepers) should go against their nature and hope he doesn’t collect too many K’s. Simply put, Mr. Precedent won’t turn 22 until the end of July and his body isn’t yet conditioned to handle a Major League season yet. Fewer strikeouts mean fewer total pitches he uses and less stress he will put his arm under.
But then again, his stuff is just soooooooooo good that he doesn’t even have to try to get the strikeouts. They will just simple come.
Another new addition here at The Fact of the Matter. This will list 24 players (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, three OFs, DH/UTL, four SPs, two RPs, nine bench players) who I felt did the best between the previous Friday-Sunday period. I mean, this is Weekend Matters, right? But, as a caveat, I may not include players who had one really incredible day and were either mediocre or flat-out bad the other two days. If you feel anyone was egregiously left out, please, by all means, voice your concerns!
- C: Jorge Posada — 4-for-9, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K, 3 R
- 1B: Aubrey Huff — 5-for-11, 3 HR, 3B, 2B, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 0 K, 4 R
- 2B: Howard Kendrick — 7-for-14, HR, 3 2B, 4 RBI, 0 BB, K, CS, 2 R
- 3B: David Wright — 6-for-13, 2 HR, 2 2B, 7 RBI, 0 BB, K, CS, 2 R
- SS: Jose Reyes — 6-for-13, HR, 2B, RBI, 0 BB, 2 K, SB, 2 R
- OF: Chris Coghlan — 6-for-11, 0 HR, 3B, 3 2B, RBI, 4 BB, 4 K, 6 R
- OF: Josh Hamilton — 4-for-12, 2 HR, 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K, 3 R
- OF: Ryan Spilborghs — 7-for-12, 3 HR, 3B, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 2 K, 4 R
- UTL: Brandon Phillips — 5-for-8, HR, RBI, BB, 0 K, 2 SB, 4 R
- SP: Fausto Carmona — W, CG, QS, 9 IP, R, 3 H, 0 BB, HR, 7 K, 106/73 P/S
- SP: Zack Greinke — W, CG, QS, 9 IP, 3 R, 5 H, 0 BB, 2 HR, 12 K, 105/77 P/S
- SP: Colby Lewis — W, QS, 8 IP, 2 R, 3 H, BB, 2 HR, 10 K, 119/74 P/S
- SP: Francisco Liriano — W, QS, 8 IP, R, 5 H, 0 BB, 2 WP, 11 K, 105/7, 1 P/S
- RP: Mariano Rivera — 2 G, 1 SV, 2 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 4 K
- RP: Brian Wilson — 2 G, 2 SV (1 multi-inning), 2 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K, 5-0 IR-S
- Bench: Carlos Santana – C, Troy Glaus – CI, Erick Aybar, MI, Milton Bradley – OF, Garrett Jones – OF, Felix Hernandez – SP, Ted Lilly – SP, Joel Pineiro – SP, Brian Fuentes – RP
SP Rich Harden (strained gluteus muscle, 15-day DL; put on list on Saturday)
- 2B Orlando Hudson (wrist, 15-day DL; may return for June 15-17 series vs. Colorado)
- SS Jimmy Rollins (calf, 15-day DL; starts rehab assignment on June 15 … may return for June 18-20 series vs. Minnesota)
- RP Huston Street (shoulder, 15-day DL; continuing rehab assignment with Triple-A Colorado Springs)
- SP Edinson Volquez (right elbow, 60-day DL; begins rehab assignment on June 17 with Class A Dayton)
- 3B Chipper Jones (finger; doubtful for June 15-17 series vs. Tampa Bay … whispers of retirement after season?)
- 2B Brandon Phillips (tight right hamstring; missed Sunday’s game … questionable for June 17-19 series vs. LA Dodgers)
- 3B Alex Rodriguez (hip; claims to be unrelated to ’09 surgery, questionable for June 17-19 series vs. Philadelphia)
- SS Troy Tulowitzki (strained groin on Saturday; available to play on Tuesday)
- 1B Kevin Youkilis (back spasms, HBP near right elbow Saturday; missed Sunday’s game)
- C Miguel Montero returned from 15-day DL on Saturday.
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.