Scouting the Statline: Early Season Movers
Periodically over the course of the season I’ll take the opportunity of this space to check in on how some notable fantasy prospects are performing down on the farm, and what that performance may or may not mean for your dynasty league. I’d like to kick off this series with a disclaimer that you should NEVER SCOUT MINOR LEAGUE STAT LINES. Listen to scouts and their firsthand reports on player progress and development, then make your decisions about how you value prospects according to those reports and your interpretation of how a given prospect appears to be developing.
Disclaimer acknowledged, stats do matter to the degree that they influence how other managers in your league (and, it’s okay to admit it, you) view prospects. So it’s important to have a handle on how players are performing as tradin’ time comes around. Here are a couple guys – one in the high minors, one down low – who’ve caught my eye as intriguing for one reason or another.
Courtney Hawkins, OF CHW
It seems weird to talk about a 20 year old in Hi-A ball as a “post-hype guy,” but if anyone fits the bill it’s Courtney Hawkins. Taken as the 13th overall pick of the 2012 draft out of high school, Hawkins acquitted himself well enough after signing that the White Sox planted the outfielder in the A+ Carolina League at the tender age of 19 for the 2013 season. And then…Hawkins bombed. He struck out in 38% of his plate appearances, ultimately compiling a .178/.249/.384 line to accompany his look-away-ugly 160:29 K:BB ratio in425 trips to the dish. Scouts commented repeatedly about how overmatched he looked at the dish, yet the White Sox stood firm in leaving him at the advanced level all year despite the raw numbers. Fast forward to 2014, and well, it’s early, but so far it looks like the organization might have had themselves a plan after all. Hawkins’ prodigious raw power – his carrying tool out of high school – has slowly been creeping into games, and he’s come out of the gate with an intriguing .260/.340/.537 line over his first 141 plate appearances. Perhaps most importantly, his K:BB currently sits at 36:15. For those scoring at home, that’s a decrease of almost 13% on the whiff rate to go along with a 3.5% gain in his walk rate.
Yes he’s repeating the level, but that’s exactly the kind of improvement you want to see from a player repeating a level. He’s still just 20 years old, making him about three years younger than his average leaguemate, and it’s really important to remember that when he was drafted he was regarded as one of the best power bats in his class. His longstanding bugaboo has been a big question mark about his aggressiveness and the swing-and-miss in his game, and after last year’s disaster of a season the narrative was pretty well confirmed. That may just be to the discerning dynasty leaguer’s advantage, as very quietly now Hawkins has shown strong improvement in both areas. Given the degree of last year’s collapse it’s entirely possible he’s available outright in your league, and even if he isn’t he’s still within the small sample size range of this season where he’ll be awfully cheap to acquire. Particularly if you’re interested in working on a larger deal with his owner Hawkins makes for a very strong add-on flyer.
Matt Wisler, RHP SDG
As a cold weather high school arm from northwest Ohio, Wisler was taken by the Padres with a fairly nondescript seventh round pick in 2011 and managed to fly a bit under the radar for his first couple seasons of pro ball. The tide started to turn last year after an early season domination of the California League prompted a step up to AA as a 20 year old. He finished the season with a sub-3.00 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, almost a whiff an inning, and four strikeouts for every walk across those two levels. And as a result he made his way onto the top half of several Top 100 lists this past off-season, including Baseball Prospectus (#47) and Keith Law (#39). He started his 2014 campaign with a return engagement in the Texas League, and destroyed everything in his path for six starts (35:6 K:BB in 30 innings, 26 hits allowed). The Padres bumped him up to the AAA Pacific Coast League, and he’s been greeted quite rudely. In his first two starts he’s given up 11 earned runs on 16 hits in six and a third innings (!), which is…not good.
I don’t think the longterm projection has changed at all for Wisler: he’s on a #3 starter track, and if he can develop his secondaries just a bit farther to give himself a legit MLB out pitch he can creep into #2 territory. For fantasy purposes I see him as a guy whose environment in SD will certainly help his topline numbers play up, and while he may be a bit hittable he should be able to provide a whiff rate north of seven-per-nine with decent consistency in ERA and WHIP production (think low-to-mid-threes and the 1.20 range). That’s a #3 starter in 14-16 team leagues and a #4 in 10-12ers.
The package is very interesting at this moment in time, because depending on your league he could play as both a buy and a sell right now. In shallower leagues you can point to the dominant AA performance at such a young age and impending arrival in Petco as reasons he’s a top-of-the-line arm worthy of Future Ace treatment as the center of a package for win-now pieces. Meanwhile, in deeper leagues you can monitor for another couple starts and, if the AAA struggles continue, point to how young he is, how he’s not ready for the big time yet, and how he’s unlikely to make an impact this year as reasons he shouldn’t cost THAT much. Then acquire him at will.