Written by: Ray Butler (@CoachRayButler)
Follow Prospects 365 on Twitter: @Prospects365
The inaugural Monday Mailbag last week was a huge success, so I’m excited to continue this weekly tradition. We’ve got some solid questions this week!
Answer: Rebuilding from the ground-up is probably the single most difficult thing to successfully accomplish in fantasy baseball. Maneuvering the choppy waters of the prospect world takes hours and hours of study time, determination, and (most importantly) a vast amount of patience. Once you tear it all down and are in the process of forming your rebuild ideology, there’s a few important questions you need to confidently answer before going much further: What do I want my team to look like? Do I want to attempt to build a high-power, low OBP offense? What about a high OBP, high SB, low HR offense? Do I want my pitching staff to eat innings but post mediocre strikeouts numbers, or do I want a guy whose ceiling is a high-strikeout #2 starter *IF* he learns how to command the ball? Do I have the patience to acquire teenagers and build a team meant to win five years down the road, or should I draft 21 and 22 year olds (who likely have less potential and a lower ceiling) but will be in the big leagues quicker? These answers will guide you to the type of prospects you proclaimed to want on your squad. Personally (and probably in general as well), smart rebuilders will form their future core with safe (if there is a such thing), high-floor prospects. Does Yoan Moncada have potential to be a better player than Andrew Benintendi? Absolutely. But Benintendi was rightfully ranked higher than Moncada by most industry websites this preseason because Benintendi’s super-high floor makes him a good bet to be useful on fantasy teams (and real life teams) even if he never reaches his ceiling. The same thing can’t quite be said about Moncada. Benintendi (who a lot of people think had a poor first half) currently sits at 12 HRs, 51 RBIs, 9 SBs, and has a .357 OBP. That’s everyday starter numbers for any fantasy league that’s not super shallow.
Once you form your core, feel free to go out on a limb and take some risks on some guys. That doesn’t mean ONLY take risks, but if you’ve truly formed a solid, “safe” floor, taking a risk on young, high-ceiling players could eventually be what bridges your team from being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs to winning your league’s championship. When researching young, high-risk, high-reward prospects, I can’t recommend Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections enough. If you’ve owned Ronald Acuna since last season or you grabbed him before the start of the 2017 regular season, there’s a good chance you looked at or heard about his PECOTA same-age comps and projections. Do your homework. Jump on YouTube and watch a batter’s swing. Is it quick and explosive or long and jumpy? Watch a pitcher’s delivery. Compact and repeatable or loose and cringe-worthy? Answering these types of questions will help you decide whether young, low-floor, high-ceiling prospects are worth taking a risk on.
Lastly, make sure your prospect rankings list research extends past one or two sites. Read what different sites and different evaluators have to say about prospects. Is there a general consensus on a player, or is a site or two higher/lower than others? If there’s variance, why? Form a composite opinion of a player based on as many resources as you can find.
Leave no stone left unturned.
I know that was long-winded, but goodness I love talking about rebuilding.
Answer: My preference of the two can be found in my midseason top 100 prospect rankings, but allow me to go into some more detail here. Brandon Woodruff was dominant last year in AA, posting a 2.49 FIP and striking out over a batter per inning while also posting a modest 2.38 BB/9. The Brewers promoted him to AAA to start this season, and he answered the call by posting a 4.38 FIP despite playing home games in Colorado Springs, which is probably the single-best hitting environment in the entire minor leagues (Colorado Springs is a team in the Pacific Coast League, which is probably the most hitter-friendly league in the minors). How do I know that the increase in FIP has quite a bit to do with the environment? Woodruff’s HR/FB has jumped from 4.1% last season to 11.1% (!!!!!) this season. More slightly-less-glaring evidence can be found in his opponents’ BABIP, which has jumped from .285 last season to .303 in 2017. The Brewers are extremely high on Wooodruff, and (as you probably know) he was called up to make his MLB debut in early June before pulling his right hamstring. I expect him to make his big league debut later this season, though there’s a chance that the injury pushes his ETA to 2018. I think Woodruff has a ceiling of a high-end #3 and a floor or a solid #4.
I actually had the opportunity to watch Luiz Gohara pitch in person in early June. Baseball Reference lists Gohara at 6’3, 210 lbs. I think he’s probably closer to 6’3, 230-250 lbs. Gohara is a gigantic dude with lots of potential. He narrowly missed my latest top 100, though I imagine there’s a good chance he’ll join the list by the end of the regular season. Gohara has struck out 80 batters in 72.2 IP this season, and he currently holds a 2.35 ERA (and his FIP and xFIP mostly support that stat). What makes those numbers even more impressive is considering that Gohara is currently a 20 year old (he turns 21 later this month) pitching in AA. There could be a little regression headed his way, though, as his current .275 BABIP in AA is much lower than his career average that sits around .340. Keep an eye on that stat for the remainder of the season. For me, Gohara has a ceiling of a low-end #2 but a floor of a solid #5. There’s an outside chance that he gets a cup of coffee late next season, but I think a realistic ETA in 2019.
In the end, for now, Woodruff’s higher floor makes him preferable to Gohara. I’ll reevaluate at the end of the regular season. Both should be above-average major league pitchers that remain starters instead of moving to the bullpen.
Answer: Another question that can be answered in my midseason top 100 prospect rankings (link above), but allow me to elaborate. My order is Acuna, Guerrero Jr., Maitan. I got to the Ronald Acuna party earlier than most (yes, I take great pride in it), and I think he’s going to be an absolute superstar. I watched him play in person earlier this year; the ball explodes off his bat, the power plays now in AA but will eventually be a big factor at the major league level as it continues to develop. He could steal 15-25 bases right now in the MLB (though he’s not a fully developed baserunner), and his glove and arm are both (at least) major league average today. Oh yeah, and he’s only 19 and dominating AA. He’s my favorite prospect and I truly think he has a chance to be a “face of the game” type of player. So does Vladimir Guerrero Jr., though he’s riskier than Acuna. He’s about to begin his stint in High-A Dunedin and he’s only 18 years old, so his ETA and path could very well be similar to Acuna’s, just a year later (at this rate, Acuna should be called up for good sometime in 2018. Guerrero Jr. could be a 2019 arrival). VGJ’s power is very much a work in progress (though not at all a reason to be concerned at this point), and there’s a very real chance that he someday has a hit tool grade of 70 (!). He’s not much of a threat to steal bases, and there’s at least a decent chance that he shifts from the hot corner over to 1B (so his fantasy value might decrease ever so slightly) but his bat will make him an extremely, extremely valuable commodity in fantasy baseball leagues. Kevin Maitan is even more risky than Guerrero Jr. He’s currently posting great numbers in the GCL, but he’s a 2020 ETA guy at the very earliest, so I’m not looking to acquire him with the thought of “I could build an entire team around this guy.” He could be that type of prospect one day, but he’s not there yet. I think he eventually finds a home at third base, so he’ll have to hit for power and get on base at a high-clip to be a cornerstone of a fantasy team. He has some great tools and the scouting reports are gawdy, but I’m going to be cautious and wait a year or so before comparing him to top 10 prospects. This doesn’t mean I’ll refuse to acquire Maitan, but I won’t sell the farm for him at this point.
Question sent via email: I’m in a season-long keeper league and we are allowed to sign minor league players for up to 2 years. I’m trying to decide between Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Cozens. First, when do you think each of them will get the call. Second, who do you think will have the greater fantasy impact over the next 2 years?
Answer: The answer is Tyler O’Neill. I’ve personally never been a fan of Dylan Cozens. Sure, the 40 bombs last season in Reading (though a hitter’s paradise) were impressive, but the peripherals (31.7 K% and .348 BABIP) screamed “Let’s wait another year before anointing this guy!” The power is still there this season (21 HR in 87 games), but his triple slash has dropped to .240/.315/.486 and he currently holds a 32.1 K%. He’s probably capable of hitting 30 HRs in a big league season, but he’s equally capable of striking out over 200 times in a full-season of at-bats. Power has become a dime a dozen in baseball, so there are plenty of active player and prospect options that will boost your team’s power without the gigantic risk. O’Neill is far from a finished product himself and he may not have the power potential of Cozens, but I think he’ll eventually be a much more valuable player. He was exposed at times during this year’s WBC (he hasn’t exactly mastered the art of hitting offspeed pitches) and the struggles carried over into the first half of the regular season in AAA. He’s been hotter than wildfire lately though, and his triple slash is up to .236/.323/.447. Those numbers aren’t amazing, but check them in a month. O’Neill made some swing tweaks around midseason and they’ve paid off handsomely so far. He’s currently dealing with a hamstring injury, but hopefully he’s back in AAA Tacoma’s lineup soon. I view his MLB top-end ceiling similarly to his 2016 statistics: 24 HRs, 102 RBIs, 150 Ks, .293/.374/.508. Cozens will probably get his chance in the show before O’Neill (the Phillies won’t protect his service clock once they feel he’s ready; he’s no J.P. Crawford or Rhys Hoskins), but I think O’Neill will eventually be a much better big leaguer.
Thanks for following along!
Credit for featured image goes to Tacoma Weekly