Scouting the Statline: Three More Interesting Bats from the AFL

A couple weeks back I checked in on the Arizona Fall League to see how some of the more intriguing prospects toiling in the desert sun were performing. Since then the League has closed up shop for the year, and it’s on to the Caribbean and Latin American winter leagues. But while we wait for those leagues to produce sample sizes worthy of evaluation, let’s check in one last time on the AFL and talk about a few more bats that went unmentioned in my mid-season review.

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Searching for Value with Latin American Pitchers: An Overview

Everyone wants to know who the hot new sleepers are, which in the age of the internet is a bit funny because the minute someone becomes a sleeper their value normally starts to disappear.  But I still want to talk about sleepers and most of this series will be about naming names, but I do hope you walk away with how to apply this to more than the specific players mentioned.  The key with sleepers is value, the idea being that you are taking a player at a value you think they will become in the near future.  Most people think of this in terms of obscure or unknown players bursting onto the scene, but in many ways if a top player is going below their value that is just as valuable as an unknown sleeper, they just lack the unknown part of our definition.  But I am going to talk about those guys off the radar.

One of the most untapped markets for assets gaining sudden value in a dynasty league is Latin American pitching.  It is a strategy that loses some of its value the shallower the league because you lose the large talent pool to operate that allows for expansion to more risky prospects.  The idea being that you can find unknown players to acquire for practically nothing and then either stick with them to major league value or flip them at a higher value in trade.  It is not an easy strategy but one that allows you to churn through prospects because you know you can acquire their replacements for next to nothing.  This first post is going to talk general strategy and then subsequent posts will go division by division looking at specific players. Continue reading

Just How Good is Jorge Soler?

This past season, North Siders got their first glimpse of the remarkable confluence of talent that we analysts have been fawning over for years. First to arrive on the scene was Arismendy Alcantara, followed by the prodigious strikeout ability and Jurassic power of Javier Baez. The third player of the Cubs’ elite prospect crop that arrived last year was Jorge Soler, and he might be the guy we know the least about.

Soler defected from his native Cuba in 2011 and fled to the Dominican Republic where, after many months of negotiation, he finally signed with the Cubs in June of 2012. The terms of the deal were unique and almost unheard of, as the Cubs committed nine years and $30MM to a player who had just recently turned 20 and had yet to play in the minors or any foreign professional league. Prior to Soler signing his deal, Yoenis Cespedes was the only other Cuban position player to sign for big money, with his four-year, $36MM contract.

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Can A.J. Pollock Be A Big Fish?

At the core of every strategic approach to constructing a winning fantasy baseball roster is the goal of acquiring the most statistical value possible. Fishing to acquire undervalued assets who are poised for a breakout campaign is an essential off-season exercise for all dynasty owners. One of the top targets this off-season, Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollock, isn’t the biggest fish in the fantasy ocean, but he may be one of the most valuable this upcoming season.

Pollock is one of the most underrated players in fantasy baseball right now because he was barely on the field last season due to a freak injury and very few fantasy owners realized how well he was playing. The 26-year old was on the verge of a monster breakout, hitting .316/.366/.554 with six home runs and eight stolen bases in 192 plate appearances, before he was drilled by a Johnny Cueto 92-mph fastball that fractured his right hand in late May. The injury required surgery and he ended up missing 79 games before returning in September.

The Notre Dame product hit only .273/.326/.386 with one home run and six stolen bases in September after missing three months of action, but still finished the 2014 season with solid numbers overall: .302/.353/.498 with seven home runs and 14 stolen bases in 287 plate appearances. Pollock’s 134 wRC+ ranked 35th out of 349 hitters who received 200 plate appearances last season. Heading into 2015, the big question remaining for fantasy owners is: what does a full season of Pollock look like? In short, the projection is very enticing.

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To Catch an Undervalued Thief: Stolen Base Efficiency and Upside

We’re still a few weeks away from the dawn of rankings season and the cold winter winds do whip and howl, quelling once more the flames of baseball and leaving us with nothing more than the occasional Gammons #burn from which to draw warmth until spring rekindles our souls once more. Well maybe the off-season’s not that poetic for you, but there’s really nothing else going on right now, so we might as well get into it a little bit, right?

Last year around this time I wrote a couple pieces outlining some of the little quick and dirty stats I like to peak at as I start to move into off-season list-building mode, and one of my first annual checks in recent years has been for potential breakout speed guys. And as my BP colleague Mike Gianella pointed out in an excellent column on valuation the other day, stolen base volume has been trending pretty emphatically down across the league over the last few years, and the ripple effect of that trend in fantasy baseball value terms has been to significantly increase the potential for speed-only guys to return surplus draft value. Sometimes finding a couple bench guys who steal bases at a high percentage relative to their playing time can be a nice way to set yourself up strategically for a long roto season, and obviously the deeper your league the more this will ring true.

To this end one of my starting points involves taking a look at the PA/SB metric I discussed here. Now, standard disclaimer, this is NOT meant to be an exercise of scientific precision. The goal is not to get to the bottom of this article and triumphantly cheers to unlocking the secret speed sleepers for 2015. Rather, the goal here is to discover a couple guys that we might not otherwise have on our collective radar and track their situations through the winter and into spring training. Most of the names I’ll be able to take away from this exercise are part-time players, so a lot of their value heading into 2015 will be dependent on roster moves that will be made over the next couple of months. I’ve always liked PA/SB as a starting point for evaluating speed guys, though, because there’s a kind of built-in accounting for things like playing time opportunity and organizational philosophy that is valuable to recognize up front. Not all 15 stolen base guys are created equal, and figuring out which ones have a shot at increasing their totals with more playing time or a uniform change is a nice advantage to give yourself.

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Players to Watch For in the NPB-MLB All-Star Series

It’s been a week and a half since Salvador Perez popped out to Pablo Sandoval and brought us into the cold, miserable winter of no baseball. It’s time of year where we have to fill the baseball voids in our minds with stove league talk or other sports like football, basketball, and hockey.

But if you want to, you can still watch live baseball action such as the Arizona Fall League, the Caribbean Winter Leagues, or the recently kicked off Australian Baseball League. And yet another competition will soon be underway in the land of the Far East, as the NPB all-star team takes the field to show the MLB all-stars and the rest of the world their talent in the 5-game series. MLB “all-stars” is a bit of a misnomer, though. You can call some guy with an 81 ERA+ in 34.1 IP an “all-star” if you want to, but I’ll refrain.

As opposed to the ones from the USA, the NPB all-stars don’t fail to live up to their title. Aside from some injury resignations though, they’re the best, top tier players in the NPB. Some of them have MLB upsides, and will earn roster spots within the next few years. In this post, I’ll introduce these future big leaguers.

Starting Pitchers

NPB has already announced their starters in each of the 5 games, as follows:

Game 1: Kenta Maeda, RHP

The 26-year old righty could be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter in the MLB. He goes by “Maeken,” and features a low 90s fastball, slider, change up, curve, and above average command. In 2014, he  posted the 3rd best ERA (2.60), 2nd best FIP (2.91), best K/BB ratio (3.93) and BB/9 (1.97). Many thought he was going to be posted this winter, but after the Carp got defeated in the postseason for a second straight year, the chances are getting slimmer. We may have to wait another year to see Maeda pitch in the big leagues.

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Maikel Franco: Let’s Try This Again

So last week I talked about finding the next Maikel Franco, a player whose hype has outstripped his value.  Sometimes guys bust, other times they do exactly what a prospect is supposed to do, they make adjustments and improve.  That is what is happening with Maikel Franco right in front us.  There is still a lot of growth to go, which gives us a buying opportunity because his value is still depressed.

2014 Recap:

Lets start with that AAA line:

133 Games 556 PAs 16 HRs 3 SB .257/.299/.428 5.4% BB% 14.6% K % .276 BABIP

However after the AAA All-Star Game he hit .309/.326/551 over 46 Games with 10 HRs.  It wan’t just the triple slash line that improved, here is how his batted ball data changed:

April-June 48.6 22.9 15.8 12.7 7.0 15.5
July-August 44.6 25.0 22.3 8.2 3.1 13.3

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