A Look At The Winter Leagues – NL East
The Arizona Fall League wrapped nearly a month ago. As always, it featured a who’s who of highly touted prospects – Buxton, Lindor, Russell, Bradley, Appel, and on and on. It is widely scouted and covered by sources familiar to dynasty league participants. I recommend Wilson Karaman’s coverage here if you haven’t read it already. Conversely, the Caribbean and Australian winter leagues are barely covered and the players are far less recognizable than the AFL for most fantasy leaguers. Video is scarce and I don’t know enough about the quality of competition or the parks to weigh winter results very heavily in the overall context of player evaluation, but there is some useful information to be found if you look hard enough.
Echoing the sentiment Wilson expressed in his AFL recap, the sample sizes are minute and I’m not looking to make any grand conclusions based on winter league stat lines. Small sample notwithstanding, players can gain momentum in these winter leagues and alter their perception in the prospect marketplace. For example, Gregory Polanco built on his strong 2013 minor league campaign by slashing .331/.428/.494 in the Dominican and created even more buzz heading in to 2014. Jesus Aguilar hit 18 bombs in Venezuela last winter and perhaps foreshadowed his strong AAA season. The winter leagues are also a popular destination for veterans in their mid-20s looking to make adjustments to their games. A virtually unknown 26 year old named Collin McHugh struck out 20 against 4 walks in 19.2 innings in Venezuela last winter.
I will cover players in each division in separate posts, beginning here with the NL East. Sorry Braves fans, I couldn’t find anyone interesting to talk about.
Rafael Montero – RHP – New York Mets
Rafael Montero has been praised throughout his minor league career for his plus command and control, and ability to keep hitters off balance despite the absence of overwhelming stuff. His potential fantasy value has always been about his floor rather than his ceiling, but his 2014 results call into question how high the floor really is. Montero pitched 80 innings in Las Vegas in 2014 and posted a 10.1% walk rate, easily the highest of his minor league career and a significant increase over the 6.9% BB rate in 88.2 innings at the same level in 2013. The control problems were even worse in 44.1 innings in Queens, where he walked 11.9% of the batters he faced. His Zone% was 41.9%, 12th worst of the 366 pitchers who threw 40 innings in 2014.
The Mets are allowing Montero to pitch in the Dominican Republic, presumably because he only logged 124.1 innings in 2014 thanks to a strained oblique in July. He has made four starts to date and has walked 7 over 22 innings (3.29 per nine). If he can’t rediscover the command and control from his prospect days, his fantasy value going forward will be limited. Despite the usable 8.53 K/9 with the Mets, Montero’s secondary pitches are not good enough to get batters out consistently if he does not get ahead in the count by throwing the fastball for early strikes. One other thing to note in Montero’s profile is an extreme fly ball tendency. He had a 44.4% fly ball rate in 2014 and 1.62 HR/9. With the fences coming in at Citi Field, I see enough red flags that I recommend selling Montero while he has some name value unless you have a deep pitching staff and can afford to take a wait-and-see approach.
Tyler Moore – 1B/OF – Washington Nationals
I admit that it is difficult to get excited about a 27 year old with 449 plate appearances over three seasons and a a 29.6% strikeout rate. On the other hand, Tyler Moore has 18 homers over those 449 PAs and a track record of power throughout his minor league career. Moore is playing in the Dominican this winter and has 6 big flies in less than 100 plate appearances.
Moore is exactly the type of player anyone in a deep league should seek to acquire in the offseason on the cheap. At the moment, it is hard to see a path to regular playing time in the major leagues because of Washington’s depth in the outfield. Harper, Werth, and Span are entrenched as everyday players and there is depth on the farm in Steven Souza, Michael Taylor, and Brian Goodwin. For reasons I can’t really explain, the Nationals signed up Kevin Frandsen for another tour as a bench player. Moore’s fantasy value today in Washington is negligible.
Dave Cameron wrote a piece on Moore at Fangraphs recently and drew an interesting comparison of sorts to Steve Pearce. Tyler Moore will never approach the .292 BA that Pearce achieved last year but hitting 15-20 homers is not out of the question if he finds a new home and some regular playing time. If it doesn’t shake out that way, you won’t be out any more than a late draft pick or low level prospect. If he clicks, you have a player who delivers an immense amount of excess value at a time when power is increasingly difficult to find.
Dylan Cozens – OF – Philadelphia Phillies
Dylan Cozens played his first year of full-season ball in 2014 and hit 17 homers while stealing 23 bases. On its face, that is probably enough to pique the interest of any dynasty league player with time to wait on Cozens’ development. Let me get the bad news out of the way first: those steals won’t follow Cozens down his development path. Now for the good: Cozens has legit light tower power.
It is no surprise that a guy listed at 6’6″/235 and recruited to play defensive end at the D-I level will rely on raw power as his carrying tool. It is also probably no surprise that someone with this body type has scouts unanimously complaining about the length of his swing and his pull heavy approach. Cozens has a huge amount a swing and miss in his game, striking out in a full quarter of his minor league plate appearances to date. He is showing off his primary strength and weakness in Australia this winter, with 4 homers and 20 strikeouts in 72 plate appearances. Cozens is young and raw and there is plenty of time for continued development of the hit tool. In the meantime, he’s a name for deep league players to remember and perhaps take a flier on if in need of power.
Matt Ramsey – RHP – Miami Marlins
Matt Ramsey was the Rays’ 19th round pick in the 2011 draft and was traded to the Marlins in 2014 for international bonus slots. Across the two organizations in 2014, he pitched 61.1 innings in AA and piled up 80 strikeouts (11.7 per nine), converting 14 of 15 save opportunities. Control has always been Ramsey’s weakness and the 17% walk rate he posted with the Montgomery Biscuits certainly contributed to the Rays’ willingness to move him. Ramsey improved dramatically in the Miami organization, cutting his walk rate to 6.4%. I’m not sure if that is sample size noise or if the Miami staff made changes to his delivery or approach after the trade that will allow him to keep those gains but it bears watching. Ramsey is currently closing for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican with positive results, limiting free passes in a 11.2 inning sample while earning 6 saves.
Ramsey has a back of the ‘pen profile, with a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve, and the ability to keep the ball on the ground (49%/64% GB% with MIA/TB) and in the park (0.29 HR/9 in 2014). Steve Cishek is arbitration eligible and will likely earn double his $3 million 2014 salary in 2015. Miami apparently wants to contend but if they fall back during the summer Cishek becomes an obvious trade candidate. Ramsey was recently added to the 40 man roster and could be in the mix to close if he pitches well in 2015 and Cishek is moved. He can be safely ignored for now in all but the deepest leagues, but if you’re chasing saves and have a bench long enough to stash him, this is a situation to monitor as the 2015 season progresses.