Early Pre-Season Peak Value: Hitters
It’s a new year. Your league’s keeper deadline is not far away. Top prospect lists are being shared and debated. Mock drafts are upon us. Everyone else in your league is finally done with fantasy football. All of these factors combine to mean the dynasty hot stove season is in full swing.
For this series I’m going to look at a couple players at each position whose trade value has peaked this offseason. In some cases, it’s possible– even likely– that the player could see his trade value continue to climb. In other cases, this may be the most valuable the player will ever be. In either case, I am focusing on players who should be able to return more to you in a trade during this offseason than they are likely to provide on a roster spot for 2016. For each player, I’ll be looking at the June 2015 midseason TDG Top 500 as a window into where the player’s value was 6 months ago, what they’ve done to improve their value since then, and what I’m calling their ‘Volatility Factor.’ The volatility factor tries to measure how stable of an investment this player is right now– is he likely to lose value, hold it, or continue to improve?
June 2015 TDG Top 500 rank: 341
How He Improved: After losing a lot of his prospect luster after spending what felt like forever in the Yankees farm system, Sanchez saw his value tumble over the past 2 years as prospect hounds started questioning the makeup and the ability to stick at his position. When he started 2015 in AA again for the third time in as many years, many owners were ready to give up. A midseason promotion to AAA and a stellar performance in the Arizona Fall League have brought back the shine. Enough experts are now confident that he’ll stick at catcher, and the power remains alluring. The questions around Sanchez were always whether he could put it together enough to fulfill his promise. Those questions seem to have been answered, and Sanchez is likely to start 2015 as the Yankees’ backup catcher behind Brian McCann.
Value Volatility: Stable
Now that Sanchez has built back up his value from its lowest point at the start of the 2015 season, he is likely to return to the middle of top prospect lists for 2016 heading into his rookie campaign. Then, he’ll settle in as a backup catcher behind Brian McCann, who is signed through 2018. The best case scenario is that Sanchez finds semi-regular at-bats in the DH spot or as an injury replacement to McCann or in the outfield, in which case his value could climb. Otherwise, he’ll be stuck contributing a little but not a lot, showing promises of upside but never getting the opportunity to deliver until at least the 2017 season, when the Yankees will lose Texiera and Beltran and open up room in the lineup at DH. While Sanchez’s value isn’t likely to take a steep fall again, this may be the highest it will be until he secures an everyday role, and that could be one or two years away.
June 2015 TDG Top 500 rank: Not ranked
How He Improved: To say that Greg Bird broke out in 2015 is an understatement. While Bird had an appealing profile, he never showed the type of power that gets dynasty owners drooling over the upper echelon of first base prospects. As a testament to the surprising depth at the top of the Yankees farm system, Bird was never really that close to the top prospect in the organization. Then, filling in for 46 games in the second half, Bird launched a thousand bad “…is the word” headlines, hitting 11 homers and slashing .261/.343/.529. He’s pecked his way into the conversation and will likely nest comfortably in dynasty drafts as one of the top 15 1B taken off the board, likely ahead of other prospects with more power and more risk. If you have a Yankees fan in your league that probably bumps Bird’s price up even higher.
Value Volatility: High
There are plenty of avenues to playing time for Bird, who is blocked at first base by Mark Texiera (whose contract expires at the end of 2016) and at designated hitter by whoever is currently healthy between A-Rod, Carlos Beltran, and possibly Gary Sanchez or Brian McCann. None of those guys are such good hitters that they would completely block a hot-hitting Bird. Expecting more than a half season in 2016, though, is likely being too aggressive. And once 2017 rolls around and the first base job is Bird’s alone, expecting the power he showed in his limited 2015 sample to pro-rate to much more than 20 home runs might be wishful thinking. A full season of Bird is still going to be a top 15 first baseman, but unless he makes adjustments we haven’t seen yet, he projects be the Brandon Belt/Adam LaRoche type of first baseman who will be productive but never make you the happiest. If that projection holds, this could end up being the peak of Bird’s value if you find someone who thinks the flash of talent we saw in 2015 means regular playing time and top tier production.
June 2015 TDG Top 500 rank: 279
How He Improved: Last season DJ saved more than one fantasy teams’ life. Anyone who owned him heading into 2015 probably settled for him instead of Scooter Gennett or Joe Panik, hoping for a handful of steals and a bat that wouldn’t hurt them. Even more likely, LeMahieu was sitting on waivers in your league through the first few weeks of April, before ending that month with a .406 average. Over the full season, LeMahieu hit .301 with 23 stolen bases, which combined to make him the 4th best second baseman according to the ESPN player rater. That kind of profile in Coors field at the sinkhole that is second base has dynasty owners making Matt Carpenter comps.
Value Volatility: High
The thing is unless you already traded for him at the all star break last year, LeMahieu likely cost owners nothing to acquire. He’s now primed to enter 2016 in the conversation as a top 10 all-around second baseman. Digging deeper, LeMahieu didn’t really change a lot about his profile before hitting .267 in 2014 to that luscious, luscious .301. His groundball rate in 2015 was right in line with his career 55.6%. He did cut down swinging outside the zone, which you could dream on. But his BABIP was 12th in the majors among qualified hitters in 2015. There is enough of a profile to suggest LeMahieu is worth starting in any given league, but counting on the guy who hit .311 in the first half to continue to live up to that is asking for a lot. There’s a high chance that LeMahieu’s peak is already behind him.
June 2015 TDG Top 500 rank: Not Ranked
How He Improved: All that stuff about LeMahieu up there? Imagine that plus 12 home runs. Duffy made legitimate changes to his approach to add power, and went from being blocked by Casey McGehee to finishing the season more productive than Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, and Kyle Seager. The changes in approach are legitimate enough to warrant a reconsideration of Duffy’s longterm profile, although the power maxed out after a strong first half.
Value Volatility: Low
While Duffy pushed his way into the conversation of top 15 dynasty third basemen, and the Giants are heading into an even year, the fact is that Duffy is the kind of player the average dynasty owner never goes crazy over. He didn’t have the prospect pedigree that comes with long term ownership and the associated biases that lead owners to overvalue young players. Unless there are people in your league incredibly high on him, it’s likely Duffy will produce equivalent value to what he will cost. That said, there may be points in the future where Duffy’s value will decline, and it’s less likely that he’ll make significant enough improvements to increase his value to the next tier.
June 2015 TDG Top 500 rank: 492
How He Improved: Remember how many high tier prospects got promoted to the majors in 2015? All of ‘em. And remember how the Braves traded Andrelton Simmons? Yeah that happened too. And remember how one of the big narratives out of the 2015 fantasy season was that speed is down across the board, and steals are more valuable than they’ve been in years? Good memory. All these factors combine to make Albies the top true prospect in the Braves’ system, and one of the best shortstop prospects in the game with a shot at a September callup and a path to becoming the shortstop of the future in Atlanta.
Value Volatility: Moderate
Or… the shortstop of the future could be Dansby Swanson. Or someone else. Who knows? Albies is still a few years from the majors. He should continue to rise up the ranks, and a strong season at AA could continue to inflate his value. Rebuilding teams can dream on Albies, and contending teams can see him as a hope on their farm. He’s pushed his value up considerably and it’s possible it could continue to improve. It’s also possible he could regress, and the price you pay for him today won’t return that value for a long while, if ever. Albies’ value trajectory is similar to many prospects on the outside of the elite tier, and as discussed with Sanchez above, it doesn’t take much more than a down year or repeated level for a prospect’s star to fade. Albies may not necessarily be at his peak right now, but he could be close.
Jackie Bradley, Jr
June 2015 TDG Top 500 rank: Not Ranked
How He Improved: Most of the names on this list pushed their value up during the course of the 2015 season based on steady breakout performance. For Bradley, that value was squeezed into one month at the end of the season. After a brutal 2014 sent the once interesting prospect’s value down into the cellar, Bradley had all of 46 plate appearances in the first half of 2015 and did nothing to win back the hearts and minds of his (likely by now former) owners. He was demoted to the minors, did some work, and came back changed to the tune of 10 home runs, a .285 average, and 40 runs and RBI over August and September. He is slotted in to open 2016 as the everyday center fielder for the Red Sox, and there’s chatter that all the hype around his seasoned hit tool as a prospect may finally bear fruit.
Value Volatility: High
There’s a strong likelihood that dynasty owners will need to see Bradley prove his strong final 2 months were real before they pay for Bradley, but he should enter 2016 as a popular sleeper pick. Buying him as a fourth outfielder and hoping for third or second outfielder production would be reasonable. Buying him as a third outfielder would be indulgent. Paying any more than that might be crazy. Caution may keep other teams from wanting to invest too much in Bradley, but if his bat is alive in spring training his value should continue to shoot up. Look back to Brett Lawrie, Dustin Ackley, or Brad Miller to see other former-top prospects who put together a great couple months at the end of the season, and then remember what people were willing to pay for them on draft day the following Spring. If you own Bradley and can find someone who is buying the hype, you might be able to milk them for quite a bit. If you’re looking to buy Bradley, beware that he’s not a secret and plenty of people will know he’s a trendy pick.
Next week we’ll look at pitchers whose value in dynasty is at its peak as the pre-season heats up. In the meantime, who did I miss? Let me know in the comments