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:

GB% FB% LD% IFFB% BB% K%
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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Yordano Ventura: Buy or Sell?

Fireballing Royals rookie Yordano Ventura was one of the main reasons Kansas City finished 2nd in their division, earned a Wild Card, won the Wild Card game (although he nearly blew that one), and won two playoff series versus the Angels and Orioles before eventually falling to the Giants in the World Series. Ventura finished the regular season with 14 wins, a 3.20 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP, 159 strikeouts and 69 walks in 183 innings. He added another 25.1 innings of that same 3.20 ERA in the post-season to cap off an excellent rookie year. His owners in dynasty leagues are thrilled not only with his 2014 production but also with his high trade value and the limitless possibilities for the youngster to become even better as he learns his craft and matures into a savvy veteran.

“Ace” Ventura is neither big nor tall, but he can really bring the heat with a fastball that averaged 98.3 mph on the season, which was the fastest of all starting pitchers in baseball this season and maybe ever. He reached 100 mph dozens of times. This is a bit worrisome because pitchers who throw that hard often carry a high risk of injury, especially slightly built pitchers like Ventura. Just how long can a 6’0″ 180 lb pitcher throw the ball that hard? Unfortunately not very long if history has anything to say about it. That makes Ventura a risky bet to own for the long term in dynasty leagues. Continue reading

Riding the Prospect Rankings: Three to Sell

Prospect Ranking season kicked off last week when Baseball America released their Top 10 Red Sox prospects and today when Baseball Prospectus released their Phillies Top 10.  With ranking season dynasty players everywhere now have an objective numbering system to use in their trades.  The key as always is to anticipate and navigate the rankings process to achieve that holy grail of fantasy, the perfect buy low and sell high.  To this point only a handful of team rankings have been released so it is the opportunity to sell stock of a player whose value is falling, but it is also time to stock up on some players who may see their stock soar in the next few months.

A year ago the top player to ride the rankings on was Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco.  He was coming off a year where he hit .320/.356/.569 across hi-A and AA, including 31 home runs.  He seemed like the perfect fantasy player with a high average, big time power, at a relatively weak position, and on a team with a gaping hole in the lineup.  Over the offseason his stock rose as fantasy players shook off the negatives because they related to his on base percentage and defense.  The hype reached an all-time high when Baseball America ranked him the #17 prospect in baseball.  With conventional wisdom saying that he was a better fantasy player than real life player some people believed he was one of the top fantasy prospects in the game and that he would arrive with impact in 2015.  It was the perfect time to move against the grain.  It turns out Franco wasn’t ready and he struggled in AAA as he worked through some of his approach and pitch recognition issues, before having an unspectacular major league debut in September.  The end result is that Franco is not a bad prospect set to fail, but rather the hype came too early and too strong based on ignoring the development still required.

The goal then is to find the next Franco, players whose hype is going to outpace reality.  Some keys we are looking for include red flags for adjustment periods both in the majors or at a new minor league level.  Here are three prospects who are very good prospects, but you may want to sell high this offseason if their hype reaches critical levels.

Michael Taylor – CF – Washington Nationals

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Dallas Keuchel: Can We Trust Him in 2015?

In a year full of surprising breakout pitchers, Dallas Keuchel was perhaps the biggest surprise of all. After all, Keuchel had thrown 239 major league innings prior to 2014 and his results were dismal — 5.20 ERA, 1.55 WHIP and a 9-18 career record. Nobody and I mean nobody predicted the 26 year old’s rapid climb up the charts. In hindsight, perhaps we should have noticed that he wasn’t as bad as he seemed. There were some subtle signs that being an average major league pitcher was within the realm of possibility. He had been quite unlucky in terms of BABIP (.340) and strand rate (68%). His 3.58 xFIP and 3.68 SIERA showed that he was actually pretty decent in 2013 and should have been on the radar of deep league team owners. He nearly doubled his strikeout rate from 2012 to 2013. His groundball rate was climbing. His walk rate was dropping. But even if we had noticed all that we still would not have predicted stardom for the former 7th round pick. His fastball velocity of 89 mph is only average and there was nothing in his southpaw repertoire that screamed future star. Continue reading

Scouting the Statline: AFL Progress Report

We’re rapidly approaching the halfway point of the Arizona Fall League schedule, which means most of your everyday players have managed to log 40 or 50 plate appearances at this point. There’s obviously nothing remotely representative about any of these samples, but it’s nonetheless worthwhile to check in on the league and see who’s been doing what so far. The AFL can certainly nudge the up/down/sideways indicator arrows next to a given prospect’s name, and that in turn affects dynasty league value heading into off-season trading time.

First, some league context. The AFL is notoriously known as a great hitting environment, though that hasn’t been entirely the case so far this fall. The three best hitting leagues in the minor leagues this year were the Rookie-level Pioneer League (.773 league-average OPS), the AAA Pacific Coast League (.771), and the High-A California League (.767). For comparison Major League hitters logged an even .700 cumulative OPS by way of a .251/.314/.386 composite line. AFL hitters to date have only been about .10 points of OPS better than that, at a combined .255/.328/.382 across about 3,300 plate appearances, during which they’ve generated exactly five runs a game. The average pitcher has produced a 4.42 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 7.97 strikeouts, and 4.1 walks per nine innings. So while pitchers have been walking a bunch of guys and giving up a ton of baserunners – a not entirely surprising development at the tail end of a long season – the league on the whole has produced runs at a rate that’s a far cry from some of the more extreme offensive environments of 2014.

Given all that, let’s check in on some of the more notable performances in the desert so far, good, bad, and ugly alike.

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Is Carlos Carrasco an Ace Now or Does He Still Suck?

27 year old Cleveland Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco has a lengthy history of mediocrity, but after an awful start to the season he broke out in a big way in 2014. So how does a guy who started only 14 games end the season ranked as the 22nd best starting pitcher in 5×5 roto leagues? He ended the season with a 2.55 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He struck out a very impressive 140 batters in 134 innings while walking only 29.

Carrasco began the season in the Indians’ rotation, but was swiftly sent to the bullpen after getting drilled in each of his 4 starts. Once in the bullpen he suddenly became a totally different pitcher. He was lights out for the rest of the season. After switching to the bullpen he began throwing solely from the stretch, even with the bases empty. He threw his fastball less and tripled his usage of his excellent slider and also increased the frequency of his nearly unhittable split-fingered changeup, which looks just like his fastball as he releases it but at the last moment dives down and to the right. Speaking of the fastball, Carrasco wields a true blazing fastball. His heater averaged 96.4 mph this season, which was the 6th fastest in baseball. His fastball is 3 mph faster now than it was prior to his 2012 Tommy John Surgery. Despite the great velocity Carrasco hasn’t gotten consistent results with the fastball. His out pitches are the slider and the changeup, both of which induce stellar whiff percentages. Continue reading

Danny Salazar is Still Sleeping

If you gave up on Danny Salazar it might be time to reconsider. He had a brutally bad start to the season but down the stretch he was just as good as he was during his breakout 2013 campaign. This might be your last chance to buy him at a discount.

Danny Salazar came out of nowhere late in the 2013 season, brandishing his blazing fastball to deadly effect. In 10 starts over 52 innings he struck out 65 batters while walking only 15. His 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP opened some eyes and suddenly the 23 year old rookie with the 97 mph heater was on the map as a popular sleeper pick heading into the 2014 season. Well… those predictions didn’t turn out too great. Salazar began this season by getting blown up at every opportunity. He put up a horrific 6.04 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in April and was well on his way to another terrible month in May when he got demoted to the minors after three more bad games. His mechanics were out of whack, his release point was too high and his velocity was down. It looked like his breakout 2013 was just a fluke. Continue reading