Digging for Diamonds: Finding Value in Last Year’s Draft Class, Part Two
If you missed last week’s introduction post, shame on you, but I’ll be nice and summarize what we’re trying to touch upon with this series of posts. There is a lot of value to be found this time of the year in reviewing the previous draft class as more data becomes available to peruse and explicate. If you can beat your fellow owners to the punch and identify some prospects that might generate buzz over the rest of the season and into the winter, you might be able to use a few roster spots to turn a profit as soon this offseason if you need to include a few prospects as tack on pieces to help close trades for bigger fish, or even find a few long-term pieces, if that’s what you’re aiming to accomplish.
Let’s take a look at a few prospects from the 2014 draft class that have seen their value rise this season and might not be owned in your league:
J.D. Davis, 3B, Houston Astros (Drafted: Third Round, 75th overall)
We first took a look at Davis in mid-May and he has just kept hitting home runs by the bushel since. The former Cal-State Fullerton product is up to 22 home runs (in 105 games) on the season, giving him a terrific .226 ISO mark and putting his league adjusted wRC+ number at 136, meaning that offensively he’s been thirty-six percent more productive than the league average for the California League. Many dynasty league owners make the mistake of thinking that every prospect they pick up needs to be somebody who will spend their entire ‘career’ with them, first working their way up from the low minors, and then producing for them at the major league level. Obviously that would be ideal, but it’s not a realistic expectation to have for every prospect. Davis may or may not be a long-term star, but what he brings to the table is that of a prospect who can put up nice, shiny power totals at the end of the year and work his way up various Astros prospect lists this winter, likely appearing in the top ten of most outlets. MLB.com currently has him at no. 13 on their list of Astros prospects.
(Video courtesy of MLB.com)
Davis’ 22 home runs put him tied for sixth in the California League — which in turn puts him tied for sixth among all leagues below Double-A. There are some obvious long-term red flags with Davis; namely his strikeout rate (28.2 percent), which is higher than you’d like to see for a 22-year old in High-A and the fact that he’s doing all of this while playing his home games in Lancaster, a notorious hitter’s haven. Keep in mind that this is a prospect who was rated ahead of his former teammate A.J. Reed before the season, and Reed himself would have similar questions about the authenticity of his numbers had he not been moved up to Double-A Corpus Christi, where he’s continued to mash. Davis likely would have already joined him in Corpus Christi, but he is currently blocked there by Colin Moran. Reed has appeared as high as no. 56 on Minor League Ball’s Top-75 midseason list and with continued production this season and a hot start at Double-A next season could put Davis in similar territory. Davis ranks tied for third in home runs among all levels of the minors for third basemen (behind Richie Shaffer and former Fullerton teammate Matt Chapman) and deserves to be owned in more leagues.
Mitch Keller, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Drafted: Second Round, 64th Overall)
(Video courtesy of Mike Farnham)
The Pirates have been understandably cautious in working Keller back into action this season after he was diagnosed with the dreaded “forearm strain” during the spring. Keller was a personal favorite target of mine from last year’s class during last offseason’s amateur drafts and our overlord Bret Sayre ranked him 30th among fantasy prospects in the 2014 draft class in January — ahead of fellow pitching prospects Sean Newcomb, Brent Honeywell and Michael Kopech, all of which have emerged this year as solid dynasty properties. This is not pointed out to pick on Bret for not having the foresight to see an injury coming, but to highlight the type of talent that Keller has and the company that he was keeping pre-injury. Many owners after hearing “forearm strain,” and then not seeing any action out of the 6-foot-3, 195 lb righty over the first half of the season sent Keller packing, and that’s why he could be available in your league. He’s back now and has made two starts this month for Bristol of the Rookie-level Appalachian League, striking out nine over seven innings of work. Keller won’t put up huge numbers this season, as the Pirates are handling their second-rounder from last season with kid gloves in an effort to avoid Tommy John, but that could lead to a chance to pick up a quality arm for pennies on the dollar. Baseball America had Keller (who’s just still 19), ranked ahead of Francis Marte in their top-20 rundown of last year’s Gulf Coast League prospects and if he proves to be healthy over the rest of the season, he could make a similar rise up the dynasty league rankings next year.
Justin Steele, LHP, Chicago Cubs (Drafted: Fifth Round, 139th overall)
The Cubs took high school pitchers in rounds four-through-six of last year’s draft and Steele was plucked (and given a $1 million bonus) as their second pick of the trio, coming from a Mississippi HS. Steele made four starts for the Cubs Arizona Complex League squad last season, working 18 1/3 innings, striking out 25 batters, walking eight, and giving up six runs, good for a 2.95 ERA (2.80 FIP).
(Video courtesy of the Baseball Prospectus Prospect Team)
Steele was assigned to short-season Eugene of the Northwest League this season, and has made seven starts, working 32 innings in total and has averaged a strikeout-per-inning but has also averaged over three walks per nine this season, while pitching to a 2.25 ERA, not far off from his 2.82 FIP mark. Steele suffered an (undisclosed?) injury during his July 20th start that kept him sidelined until August 13th, when he came back to pitch two innings. Steele doesn’t offer enormous upside, as his fastball works in the low-nineties and occasionally touches the mid-nineties, but he projects as a solid middle of the rotation arm, and that’s certainly of value in deeper leagues. With all of the high-profile graduates making their way out of the Cubs system, Steele could sneak into the back-half of top ten lists this winter.
J.J. Jansons is a contributor to The Dynasty Guru. Be one of the first to follow him (literally) on Twitter, where you can request future topics to be covered here at TDG. Follow @jansons_jj