Scouting the Minor League Leaderboard
My wife will tell you that I’m very quick to discard things. I think the most frightening show on television is Hoarders. Not The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones, or ESPN’s First Take. I’m more terrified of a cluttered home than the zombie apocalypse, or White Walkers, or being subjected to Skip Bayless’ opinions. So as I walk around the house, if I see something that hasn’t been used in two months, it’s gone. She really loves it when she goes looking for her label-maker that we use maybe once every couple of years, only to find out that it was a casualty of one of my spontaneous purges. As you might imagine, I’m a real joy to live with. But before you judge, consider that we can all be guilty of discarding things at the first sign they may no longer be useful.
This week, I took a look at the Triple-A leaderboard to identify players who may have been prematurely discarded by dynasty league owners. Some of these players were once heralded prospects who have since been relegated to the minors due to performance. Others were the victims of roster crunches at the end of spring training and were reassigned to the farm as a result. In each case, the player is widely available in CBS leagues, and their performance a month into the 2016 season should put them at the top of the queue for a call up to the majors when a need arises. They may yet prove to be useful in super-deep dynasty leagues, and if their production thus far on the farm is the result of growth as opposed to small sample sizes, they could provide significant contributions to your team. For context, CBS ownership percentages are displayed in parenthesis.
Mike Zunino (4%)
Zunino currently sits atop our Triple-A leaderboard with a ridiculous 1.230 OPS. He has 15 extra-base hits in only 78 at-bats, including seven round-trippers. He has regularly performed well in the minors, but owners who previously invested in Zunino have likely written off the once-promising young prospect after three straight subpar major league seasons. Before labeling him a quad-A player, consider that most catchers typically take more time to develop at the plate due to the numerous responsibilities of the position. Couple his age with the investment Seattle has made in him, and he will likely get at least a few more opportunities to contribute to the big league club. Based on his performance so far this year, that opportunity may come sooner rather than later. Chris Iannetta has filled in admirably to start the season, but he is beginning to fall back to Earth. His backup, Steve Clevenger, is a 30-year-old journeyman, and shouldn’t stand in the way of the former first-round pick. In deep leagues and two-catcher formats, he’s a solid stash for those with roster space.
Jesus Montero (3%)
Another player who has disappointed at the major league level, Montero was waived this offseason before being claimed by Toronto. He was assigned to Buffalo to begin the season, where he is currently the owner of a .322/.341/.460 triple slash line. While his surface stats in limited playing time with the Mariners last season weren’t anything to write home about, he demonstrated significant growth in his hard contact rate, which supported the best isolated power output since his days with the Yankees. His quick start this season may be an indication that he is turning the corner, and with the suspension of Chris Colabello, he could be an option to platoon with Justin Smoak at DH – provided he lays off the ice cream sandwiches, anyway.
Mikie Mahtook (1%)
Mahtook was on pace for a very pedestrian campaign in 2015 until a late season call up to the majors in which he hit .329/.380/.659 with seven homeruns and four steals over 92 plate appearances. He was mostly deployed against southpaws, but he more than held his own against right-handed pitching as well. He continued his solid production this spring, but didn’t do enough to make the big-league club. His ownership rate indicates that owners likely viewed the 26-year-old strictly as a fourth outfielder and a weak-side platoon player, but he got off to a .315 start with a homerun and 3 stolen bases in 58 plate appearances before a tweaked oblique sent him to the DL a week and a half ago. He swings and misses a lot, but when he makes contact he scorches the baseball. The Rays have a bit of a logjam in the outfield, but with the exception of Kevin Kiermaier I’m not confident that any of the players have a solid hold on the position. Steven Souza’s surface stats look great, but his swinging strike rate is a career-high 18.1 percent in the early going, and he’s only making contact on pitches in the zone 66.3 percent of the time. I expect the strike-out rate to balloon and the batting average to tank. Desmond Jennings hasn’t produced league-average offense in the past two seasons based on his wRC+ numbers, and his defense has regressed as he has aged. If either of their performances suffer, the Rays may be prompted to give Mahtook a call. Even if he ends up as a part-time player, his combination of speed and power will be useful in deeper leagues.
Matt Dominguez (1%)
Dominguez is another castoff picked up by the Blue Jays this offseason. Before his recall last week the 26-year-old former first-rounder hadn’t had a major league at-bat since 2014, when he hit .215 over 157 games for the Astros. Since that time, however, he has steadily improved at each minor league stop, and he posted a .311/.333/.475 line with a pair of homeruns in the early going at Buffalo this season. Another player who could benefit from the suspension of Colabello, Dominguez has historically fared better against southpaws. If he can get his pop-up and chase rates under control – something he has historically struggled with – he may still prove to be a useful bench piece in super deep mixed and AL-only leagues.
While it’s always good to take stock of the clutter around your house and on your dynasty team rosters, we can sometimes be too quick to pull the trigger on assets that could continue to provide value. Maybe you’ll never use that label maker, but it can still be incredibly useful as a re-gift. Similarly, former top prospects and call-ups may have lost their utility over the years, but at least some of them have demonstrated the potential to once again contribute to their respective major league teams. Scouting the minor league leaderboards can help you identify these players in advance of their promotions, and in turn save you a considerable amount of FAAB dollars by picking them up before the feeding frenzy begins.