AFL Potential Value Surgers – OF & C

Last year it was Josh Hader and Lewis Brinson: prospects whose stock made significant jumps during the regular season, each capping them off with outstanding performances in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). Hader was under the radar coming into 2015, but was fully on the map after a lights-out AFL. Brinson was a toolsy first-rounder with an impressive all-around profile, but was left off most industry top prospect lists going into 2015. After capping a breakout season with a glowing performance for the Surprise Saguaros, Brinson was considered a Top-50 guy across the board.

As a dynasty owner, it’s imperative to stay up to date with the player valuation landscape. Since the AFL is the only minor league baseball happening from October through November, each individual player can see their value swing drastically before the industry lists come out in the winter. In the middle of June, going three-for-four with two home runs can get swept under the rug, but that same performance is rewarded with Minor League Player of the Day during the Fall League. This sets the stage for legitimate jumps in perceived value, yet a poor performance in the AFL is often discounted for fatigue, inexperience, or injury (see: AJ Reed, 2015). Here are some outfielders and catchers who could see a bump in dynasty value with even a solid performance in the AFL:


Eloy Jimenez, OF, Chicago Cubs

With a truly electric fall, Jimenez could jump into the conversation for top prospect going into 2018. He’s already the Cher of minor league baseball, going simply by first name in many circles. He’s a consensus top-25 guy at this point and his stock should only continue to rise. The 6-foot-4, 19-year-old Dominican has tremendous power, and it should be fun to see what he can do in the thin desert air. He also has the cushion of the ‘aggressive assignment’, where a weak showing will be chalked up to his age. If he wasn’t already in your sights early this year, his mammoth home run and spectacular catch in the Futures Game likely caught your eye. He has a boost from being in the Cubs organization already baked into his value, but the 2016 Midwest League MVP has earned every bit of praise he’s received.

Anthony Alford, CF, Toronto Blue Jays

While Jimenez only looks like a football player, Alford actually was one — at Southern Mississippi and Ole Miss — during the first three years he spent in the Blue Jays organization after being selected in the third round of the 2012 MLB Draft. Listed at 6-foot-1, 215 lbs, Alford is obviously an elite athlete for the diamond. Since he’s always split time between two sports, he’s still slightly raw, but he has some of the easiest pure physical projection in the minor leagues. His stock skyrocketed last year after he hit nearly .300 across A-ball and High-A, displaying a hit tool more polished than anyone expected. He followed it up with a down year, missing most of April to a knee injury, and sitting out almost two weeks after a collision in the outfield in early June. He hit just .236/.344/.378 (with 9 HR and 18 SB in 92 games) this year, but still took walks at an impressive clip, despite his strikeout rate jumping back up to almost thirty percent. He’s already fallen out of the top-50 on midseason lists, but the Blue Jays organization has had success developing power, so many are still bullish on Alford going forward. A strong AFL would go a long way in regaining some of that preseason 2016 hype.

Christin Stewart, OF, Detroit Tigers

Power will always play in the Major Leagues, and Stewart has it in spades. Hitting a combined 30 dingers between Advanced-A and Double-A, Stewart showed off the tool that made him worthy of a first-round pick in 2015. The parks in the AFL are big, but the air is warm, the altitude is high, and the pitching is often pedestrian. Stewart’s probably not in Detroit’s plans for 2017, but he could be knocking on the door by next season’s end. He has some serious competition for playing time with J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton, but for a system that has had success finding and developing big league power, a loud AFL campaign could provide a healthy boost to Stewart’s already-rising stock. Most of his damage in 2016 was done in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, but he was slightly old for the level at 22. He’ll likely never hit .300 in a big league season, but it would be very interesting if Stewart shows signs of improved barrel control this fall.

Ramon Laureano, OF, Houston Astros

Laureano hit the same number of home runs as Yoan Moncada at the same levels this year (High-A and Double-A), and came two stolen bases short of tying the consensus number one overall prospect. The relatively unheard-of Laureano should be on just about everyone’s radar after his 15 home run, 43 stolen base season, and is worth a speculative add right now. With a big AFL — and perhaps a trade to a more opportune organization — Laureano could provide serious returns as early as next year.

Harrison Bader, CF, St. Louis Cardinals

After an incredibly loud start to the season at Double-A Springfield, the 2015 third-rounder looked to be the breakout prospect of the season. He was hitting .286/.350/.491 with 13 home runs and nine stolen bases (on 19 attempts) prior to earning a promotion to Triple-A. He hit just .231/.298/.354 in the Pacific Coast League before receiving a demotion back to Springfield, where he finished the regular season on a slightly better note. There might not be another prospect whose stock saw the same highs and lows as Bader’s did this year. The AFL is a huge opportunity for Bader to flash the tools that made him such an interesting name earlier this name. The strikeouts never got too out of hand, and the walk rate was steady around seven percent across levels, but the 50 percent success rate on stolen bases is worrisome. As of today, he projects as a potential solid Major League piece — think something between a Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk — but a huge AFL could change some opinions.

Jacob Nottingham, C, Milwaukee Brewers

After a stellar start to 2015 in the lower levels of Houston’s system, Nottingham was dealt to Oakland for Scott Kazmir. After arriving in the bay, he didn’t quite go as hyphy has some had hoped, but he hit a solid .299/.368/.409 in 43 games at High-A. One trade is good for a prospect’s value; a second trade can be worrisome. Oakland dealt him to Milwaukee just a few months later as part of the package that netted the A’s big league slugger Khris Davis. The Brewers were aggressive with Nottingham, assigning him to Double-A right after his 21st birthday. He responded with a .234/.295/.347 campaign which left a lot to be desired from dynasty owners. His strikeout-rate spiked to slightly over 30 percent and his walk rate plateaued around six percent. He displayed athleticism for a backstop, swiping nine bases while hitting 11 home runs in 456 PA, but his future projection is much murkier today than it was this time last year. On the bright side, the AFL provides an opportunity for Nottingham to point his stock in the right direction once again.

Taylor Ward, C, Los Angeles Angels

Ward already has some name value because he’s near the top of all Angels’ prospect lists for the same reason that we’re stuck with our current presidential candidates. There’s no telling how far the Angels’ catching prospect would fall if he was in the Dodgers system (seriously, it could easily be in the thirties), but while he’s still a member of the AAoLA, he’s a de-facto “top prospect”, and just a few weeks of high BABIP  away from being a sell-high candidate. The 22-year-old’s .249/.323/.337 triple-slash in the Cal League this summer was ghastly, but to his credit, Inland Empire is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the league. I wouldn’t hold my breath on Ward posting promising numbers for the Scottsdale Scorpions, but much crazier things have happened.
Zack Collins, C, Chicago White Sox

Collins is in an interesting situation, as he might be the only player in the AFL who was drafted in 2016. Considering plenty of new-player dynasty drafts are held off until the winter, this gives Collins a rare opportunity to increase his already-strong draft value. With an impressive AFL, Collins could prove enough to entice owner’s to draft him over the injured Kyle Lewis, or many of the high-upside arms available with a top-5 pick. He could also gain value out of sheer laziness from owners in your league due to recency bias and the bump in press he’ll receive. The White Sox have been notoriously aggressive with their recent draft picks, and the AFL could easily be the White Sox way of seeing if Collins is ready for an early-2017 call to the show.

Carson Kelly, C, St. Louis Cardinals

2016 was a huge season for Kelly. He entered the year coming off a very lackluster campaign in the Florida State League, and just nine months later, there’s reason to believe he’s the heir-apparent to Yadier Molina’s throne. Projected as an above-average defender, Kelly hit nearly .290 across Double-A and Triple-A before getting a September call-up to the big league club. There will likely never be too much power to his game, but he keeps his strikeouts in check, and has always shown at least a passable eye at the plate. While I don’t expect him make too much noise in the AFL, I feel the assignment alone is reason to believe the Cardinals want to see if he really is their next franchise backstop. Even a solid AFL would go a long way in cementing the jump in value his stock received this year.

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Offseason Prep: The Sell-High Candidates

With the 2016 fantasy baseball season drawing to a close, dynasty league owners will soon turn their attention to the 2017 season.  The offseason provides a unique opportunity for savvy owners to take advantage of their opponents’ propensity to value players solely using their seasonal stat lines, with little consideration given to the manner in which the player arrived at the outcome.  This week, we’re going to take a look at a few players whose final stat lines will be significantly skewed by a short-lived uncharacteristic performance.

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Forward Thinking: Final Week of the Season Edition

With just a week left in the season, dynasty owners in the championship race are doing whatever they can to get that extra little help to put them over the top. Most of these moves are designed to help in the short term, but savvy owners still may be able to pick up players to help in the last ten days, and contribute beyond 2016. Below are four players who may still be available in small to mid-size leagues who can contribute more than just this season.

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Combing the AFL Desert

As the various minor leagues wrap up their seasons, there is one more event for prospect seekers, the Arizona Fall League. This is a five-week baseball extravaganza that includes top prospects, injured prospects, and a mix-match of everything in between. While not all of the rosters are completely filled, a few names caught my eye as particularly interesting with regard to dynasty fantasy baseball. While not all standouts in this league will continue to see their prospect status rise – here’s looking at you, Adam Engel – some of these players will be future top prospects.

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Discount Hall of Famer: Xander Bogaerts

Xander Bogaerts is just 23 years old and yeah, I am saying he has a great shot to be in the hall of fame. 2016 will be his second straight season producing an fWAR of over 4.0 and has him on pace for a career of well over 40 fWAR should he play just until he is in his early 30’s.  At 23, we can also assume that there is a lot of room for him to get better.  This is a good thing because for the once highly touted prospect has yet to reach the high ceiling that his 65-70 grade power rating as a prospect once promised.

A lot has gone very well for Bogaerts during the 2016 campaign.  For one, he was named the starter for the American League at shortstop for the All-Star game in San Diego.  This came on the back of a first half where he slashed .329/.388/.475 while playing very good defense.  Things have begun to unravel in the second half where he has been struggling to a .249/.309/.402 mark and as Matt Collins notes, he has been struggling vs off-speed offerings.  I have also noticed that as this slide has occurred public opinion on him has started to slip.

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Deep(ish) League Early Off-Season Targets Part One

I doubt the title left much to the imagination. The good news: I don’t have to write anything here. If your league allows trading this late into the season, read the title as”Deep(ish) Late Season Targets for 2017″.

Jorge Polanco, SS, MIN – Polanco has been on the radar for a while now without making a Baseball Prospectus Top 100 list. Since Eduardo Nunez was traded to San Francisco, he has basically been the everyday short stop in Minnesota. He’s put 155 balls in play and only one has been classified as a popup. His absurd line drive rate of over 33 percent would lead the league by a mile over a full season and his plate discipline has been an even bigger and more pleasant surprise. He’s always had very quick hands and it looks like he’s added muscle to his wiry frame. The 11 home runs he’s hit in AAA and MLB combined are a career high and do not look accidental as he’s just stopped hitting ground balls. Combining a sub 2 percent pop up rate and a sub 35 percent ground ball rate over the course of a season is rare and difficult to do. Brandon Belt is the only batter to combine the two. It would not surprise me at all to see an Odubel Herrera type of break-out in 2017.

Wily Peralta, SP, MIL – Since returning from a well-earned demotion, Peralta has been a different pitcher. He’s not different in the sense that he’s still a fastball/slider guy, he’s just changed the amount he’s used the two pitches. He’s less predictable and it seems to be working. He’s managed at least 6 innings pitched in all but one of his eight post-demotion starts and he completed five innings in the other. His five percent decrease in fastball usage paired with his seven percent increase in slider usage has led to significant improvements in his contact and swinging strike rates. He’s nearly doubled his strikeout percentage while somehow lowering his walk percentage. He wasn’t a true talent 6.68 ERA guy before the demotion, but his ERA estimators suggested that he was pretty terrible. Very few starting pitchers throw their slider over 34 percent of the time because of the obvious risks, but the ones who do typically perform better for it. This season, only four qualified starting pitchers have thrown their slider as often as Peralta has after being promoted; Michael Pineda, Chris Archer, Ervin Santana and Jason Hammel. The new Wily Peralta looks an awful lot like 2016 Ervin Santana and I’d bet he’s on your league’s waiver wire or about to be. If you are the visual type, watch his 10 strikeouts from his August 30th start vs the mighty Cardinals. He’s only had one other double-digit strikeout performance and that came against a AA lineup rolled out by the Cubs on the next to the last day of the 2014 season. You know, the ones that just swing at everything so they can go play golf.

 

 

 

Scott Schebler, OF, CIN – Since the trade deadline, Schebler has been a full-time player and he’s hit .284/.356/.457 while earning his manager’s trust against same-handed pitching. What turned me on to Schebler was the fact that he doesn’t hit anything softly. When he makes contact, it screams. He’s a strong man, we know this. He hit 27 home runs in High-A in 2013 and 28 in AA in 2014. The issue was supposed to be his ability to make consistent contact. Well, that hasn’t been an issue and his strikeout and walk rates have remained consistent with his minor league numbers. Since settling in as a full-time player, he’s sitting on a roughly league average contact rate and out of the zone swing rate. He looks almost exactly like the outfielder he is replacing in Cincinnati, Jay Bruce. He’ll almost certainly get a full season’s worth of plate appearances in 2017 for a very bad Reds team.

Let’s Be Patient: Michael Conforto

There’s a difference between patience and stubbornness. They say patience is a virtue. Patience, grasshopper, good things come to those who wait. It’s easy to say that we should all be a little more patient. But when it comes to the decision-making process for dynasty leagues, it sometimes feels like moves are often made from stubbornness. We see tantalizing raw skills or small sample “breakouts” and those are the only things that we remember. Why look at a strikeout rate over 30 percent when we can think about that 470-foot homer we saw crushed to dead center that one time? Patience can give us Anthony Rizzo or Gregory Polanco. Stubbornness typically gives us Domonic Brown and Jesus Montero. Ok, that might be over simplifying it, but still. I did, however, want to write about a few guys who had down years in 2016 that I think could still be really good in the future, as long as we (and in some cases their managers) can show some patience. Let’s be patient. Let’s start with Michael Conforto.

Conforto made his debut for the Mets in late July 24, 2015, a mere five days before the craziness that was the “Wilmer Flores Trade” or the “Wilmer Flores Cry-gate”, whichever you would prefer. At the time, his callup was seen somewhat as a move to appease the fan base clamoring for more offense, and to make up for the organization’s inaction before the trade deadline. Once Conforto got the call, all hell broke loose, deals fell through, and when the dust settled Yoenis Cespedes was patrolling the outfield with the Mets’ rookie. Oh, and they got Addison Reed too.

Conforto didn’t disappoint in his first stint with the big club. In his first 194 plate appearances, he hit .270/.335/.506, slugging nine home runs and scoring 30 runs. His 2.1 WAR ranked 45th among all second half hitters (Conforto was up for only 56 games), matching the total of Buster Posey and Carlos Gonzalez (Sure, WAR isn’t a fantasy stat. I just wanted to throw it out there to show how good he was). He struggled during the Mets’ run in the postseason, but the two homers he smashed during game five of the World Series (one of which was hit off of lefty Danny Duffy…foreshadowing) only fanned the flames of excitement for Conforto’s future.

Entering the 2016 season, everyone was saying the right things about Conforto and his development. A big priority for him, as a left-handed hitter, was to get better against left-handed pitching. Everyone, including the Mets’ manager Terry Collins, said that he would get the plate appearances necessary to learn on the job and try to become a hitter that wasn’t in need of a platoon partner (he got only 15 plate appearances against LHP in 2015, and was 3-14 with a walk). Conforto started the year off with a bang. Through the first month of the season he hit .326/.404/.593, with a .267 ISO. Then the wheels started to come off. In the 144 plate appearances since his hot start, he hit .154 with a .545 OPS. That’s, um, super not good. If 144 plate appearances sounds like a strange sample size, you’re right, it is, but it was used because after those trips to the plate, Conforto was sent down to Triple A.

The rest of Conforto’s 2016 season has been spent bouncing from Triple A Las Vegas to Flushing, and thus far, he hasn’t regained the clout and promise that he showed on the big league team last year. Sure Vegas is fun, but less so in the summer. And probably less so after you’ve had a taste of the big leagues as a star prospect and conquering hero. So what happened? How did we not see this coming? If a guy is that inept at hitting against lefties, shouldn’t we have known about it?

After combing through Conforto’s minor league numbers, there’s a chance his “can’t hit lefties” tag was more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than a real issue. Sure, it’s very typical for lefties (or righties for that matter) to struggle against pitchers from their same side, it’s how we have platoons after all. For Conforto, however, there wasn’t much evidence to predict that he would struggle to quite this degree. In 2014, his first taste of pro ball at Low A Brooklyn, he slashed .331/.403/.448 overall (186 plate appearances), adding a line of .324/.444/.378 against left-handed pitching (45 plate appearances). The following season, Conforto hit .264/.350/.425 against lefties in 120 plate appearances spread across High A and Double A. This season his struggles have continued against big league lefties, um, a considerable amount. In his 51 plate appearances he has five hits, good for a .106 average. There’s no way to spin it, it’s really, really bad. Still, 51 plate appearances of 329 total can hardly be considered regular at-bats. The last time Conforto received regular at-bats, regardless of the pitcher, was during his stint this season in Triple A.  His time in Las Vegas yielded .422/.483/.727 in 144 trips to the plate. Of those 144 plate appearances, 47 were against left-handed pitchers. His line: .487/.553/.780.

Now, I don’t believe that Michael Conforto is a true talent 1.333 OPS guy against lefties. That said, I don’t really believe he’s the .324 OPS guy that he has been thus far in his major league career, either. Factor in the wrist injury he played through early in this season, and I might be willing to give Conforto a mulligan on 2016. He might never be an above average regular against left-handed pitching, but I’m also not sure we have enough information to know that (66 plate appearances against lefties for his career). It’s reasonable to imagine that he could do enough not to be phased out completely against all opposing lefty starters. For fantasy purposes, this is likely the lowest Conforto’s stock will ever get, which makes him a tasty option to target this offseason. With the opportunity, he should turn into the plus hit (.260-.280), plus power (20-25 homers) player that we expected heading into this season. With Alejandro De Aza coming off the books, Cespedes having the ability to opt-out at the end of the year, and with Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson only having one more year left on their respective deals, the Mets could toss the keys to Conforto  very soon. He is only 23 years old, after all. Let’s be patient.

Follow Mark Barry on Twitter @hoodieandtie

The Top 250 Dynasty Football Rankings 4.0 – Week 3 Refresh

As always, these #Dynasty250 rankings are designed for 2QB and superflex leagues, so if you play in single quarterback league, fade the QB’s. Next, ask your commissioner if you can change the league to be a 2Qb league.

Whether you play redraft or dynasty, if you’re new to ZeroRB, or maybe just generally skeptical after decades of drafting running backs in rounds one and two, take a moment to consider what has happened through two weeks this year. Had you followed my general strategy of buying the cheaper running back in each backfield, by ADP you would have Coleman, Ware, Sims, McKinnon, Riddick/Washington, DeAngelo, Crowell, C-Mike, Gio, Blount and Yeldon over the more-expensive nominal starters. With that in mind, maybe it’s time to sell high on a CJ Anderson for a 2017 1st (stacked draft class) and at talented backup running back (I like Alfred Morris). Maybe you can get even more than that.

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Dealing With Positional Scarcity

Today I want to talk about position scarcity again. I previously analyzed the stability of positional scarcity from year to year and found that there was more variation than I, and perhaps you, had expected. At the time, I used a “best guess” as to how many of each position would be used on a typical roster. I generally assumed that most utility and bench spots would be filled proportionally with first basemen, third basemen, and outfielders. I did not account for multiple position eligibility or calculate beyond my own speculation regarding which positions would account for the majority of unassigned slots. Having had a few months to think about how to make this process better, and the time to do so, I came up with the method that I’ll describe below. But first, a short description of the offensive setups in the leagues I studied – leagues that I play in, of course.

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