Digging for Diamonds: Post-Hype Corner Infielders
Welcome! Hope you are enjoying your New Year. Here are the previous links to the series:
Jan. 9: Breakout Middle-Infield Prospects
Jan. 1: Sleeper Middle Infielder Prospects
Dec. 23: Post-Hype Middle Infielders
Dec. 12: Breakout Catcher Prospects
Dec. 5: Sleeper Catcher Prospects
Nov. 28: Post-Hype Catchers
If you are new to the series, be sure to check out the other posts first for a more proper introduction and explanation. Here are the first and third basemen who can still provide fantasy teams a lot of value even though they may not have the same publicity and excitement attached to their names as they did in years past.
Richie Shaffer, 26, REDS: Still not a Reds fan, but they make yet another savvy move by picking up the former 25th overall pick in the 2012 draft in Richie Shaffer, claimed from the Phillies last month. He may not be a third basemen anymore like he was with the Rays, my mantra continues to be “invest in bats and worry about the glove later.” While he improved slightly from his disappointing 2015 MLB debut, Shaffer’s career 35.2 K% in 122 MLB at-bats is concerning. However, he struck out 10% less frequently in his minor league career (25.4%) and absolutely tore the cover off the ball in Triple-A in 2015, slashing .270/.355/.582 with 19 homers in just 244 ABs, good for a 166 wRC+. While the reasons for his struggles last year at the same level remain a mystery (my guess is an unreported injury), he still maintained his stellar walk rate, actually improving from the 11.0% he had in Triple-A in 2015 to an even more robust 13.1% last year. If he can find an opportunity to get at-bats in Great American Ballpark, I like his chances to put up above-average power and on-base numbers, although you’re going to want to find someone to help supplement his poor batting average. Perhaps someone like…
Dan Vogelbach, 24, Mariners: You have to go all the way back to Russell Branyan in 2009 to find the last Mariners first-basemen to slug above .750. However, there is a good chance that Vogelbach is next, perhaps as soon as 2017. His, um, curves? kept him from being drafted until the 68th pick in the 2011 draft and is what ultimately led to him being dealt from his N.L.-residing Cubs to an American League team in Seattle last year. Now that Vogelbach can DH, there is nothing standing in his way but the cold winds and large dimensions of Safeco field. However, I am a sucker for BB/K ratio as you may know, and there are few who top his 0.875 career ratio (14.9BB%/17.0K%). I think he can provide you with a .270-.290 batting average with 20-25 homer and a .380+ OBP, maybe as soon as this year. His dynasty owners may have soured on his new digs and lack of true power progression, so he may be a nice buy-low option this offseason. Perhaps all the coffee and bike-riding in the Pacific Northwest will speed up his metabolism and get him to the point where he can get the 20 games a year at first he needs to retain eligibility from year-to-year (sorry, the farthest west I have been is Arizona, and I watch too much Portlandia).
Tommy Joseph, 25, Phillies: If you don’t know the amazing story on Joseph’s comeback from concussions, it is worth the read. As we saw with Wilson Ramos last year, actually being able to see that white thing coming at you at 95 mph greatly improves your chance to hit said white thing, and effectively. Joseph is projected for 29 homers next year by Steamer after launching 27 in just over 400 ABs between AAA and the Majors. Now that former MVP Ryan Howard is out of town, Joseph has been handed the keys to the everyday job heading into next season. Along with another great post-hype candidate in Greg Bird, himself returning from a fairly significant injury, Joseph is one of three players FanGraphs sees that are built to hit 40 homers some day, and who knows, maybe that happens as soon as next season. Because he was out of baseball for so long, I am willing to be more patient on Joseph than I would with most sluggers. He has youth, opportunity, a great ballpark and an exciting young nucleus to bank on, just like…
Tyler Austin, 25, Yankees: Austin is another Yankee, like Bird, who fantasy owners may have soured on. A former Baseball America Top 100 Prospect back in 2013, Austin wound up falling off the prospect map almost completely after three injury-plagued seasons. He seemed to be over the power-sapping wrist injury to start 2015, getting promoted to Triple-A after hitting for a 128 wRC+ in 86 Double-A plate-attempts, but a hip injury caused him to hit .235/.309/.311 with a 27% strikeout rate there. Heading into last season, Austin was coming off three straight poor seasons. He started the year in Double-A once again and looked like the same player he was to start 2015, batting a respectable .260/.367/.395 in over 175 at-bats and earning another promotion to Triple-A in early June. For those 234 Triple-A plate-attempts, he was practically Barry Bonds, slashing.323/.415/.637 while also kicking in five steals. His wRC+ at Triple-A was an obscene 202, 35% higher than the next highest player in the league (Scott Schebler). While he did not carry over quite the same success in his brief MLB showing, he did have a hell of a debut and has the type of swing to do a lot of damage in that ballpark. Him and Bird look to be starting the year in a platoon at first or perhaps designated-hitter, but with the latter’s injury history as well as Aaron Judge’s lack of Major League experience, Austin could see a lot of at-bats in what will be a surprisingly potent lineup in New York.
A.J. Reed, 23, and Tyler White, 26, Astros: Boy, these two did not have the 2016’s their owners were hoping for, or even most pundits were expecting. Reed fell from an A- in 2016 according to Minorleagueball’s John Sickels all the way to a B-/C+ when grades got updated last month. Sickels still notes Reed’s upside, calling him “Anthony Rizzo if it all comes together.” However, after a putrid MLB debut and a minor league season in which he definitely did not hit 34 homers like he did in 2015, it is easy to see why everyone is down on him. Still, he posted a 142 wRC+ in AAA last year, and I have to believe he gets another shot in Houston in 2017. There is no denying his stock has dropped in the past year, I just think the hate has gone too far, even if people like Sickels were a little to high on him to begin with. White is also someone who wishes they could take back 2016. Not only did he too disappoint in the Majors, but he lost 69 (be mature) points from his wRC+ at the same level (AAA) as last year. White went from someone who walked more than he struck out to someone who strikes out almost three times as often as he walks, all in the span of one season. His 2015 was a little come-out-of-nowhere, so perhaps White is returning to the dust from which he came, but closer inspection of his career numbers reveals that he has hit pretty much everywhere including back in college, and it looks like he may have been making adjustments last year to try and tap into some more power. I am willing to give him another year before writing him off completely but it is hard to see where he fits in Houston’s long-term plans. May need a change of scenery like post-post-post-post-hyper Jon Singleton.
Rio Ruiz, 22, Braves: Finally, an actual third basemen! Ruiz fell to the first pick of the fourth round in the 2012 draft because he missed his entire senior season due to a blood clot in his neck, but he was viewed as a first-round talent and Houston felt they could sign him there. He has always been known for his solid strike-zone judgment, bat control, and defense, and while the power has not developed just yet, there is no doubt that R-R has been rushed to the Major Leagues, especially for someone who missed his entire age-18 season. This is former top-50 prospect who a lot of people are souring on because of his poor 2015 season in AA (.233/.333/.324). He just hit 18% better than league average in AAA as a 21 year-old last year, but perhaps more importantly, he only has Adonis Garcia in the way of substantial playing time in the Majors. He should have no problem staying at third for the majority of his career, and if he can keep making developmental improvements along the way, he has a chance to become an above-average regular for the Braves, and perhaps for you fantasy team as well. He’s already an above-average son.
Hunter Dozier, 25, and Cheslor Cuthbert, 24, Royals: The lesser of the two Doziers, Hunter was the 8th overall pick just three years ago, and while he was seen as an over-draft at the time, he has still largely been a disappointment until this past season. He had a .631 OPS in 2015 and his prospect-status was in question as a 24 year-old who could not hit Double-A pitching. However, he quickly proved doubters wrong, posting a .899 OPS across three levels to reach the Majors last season. Due to the presence of this human/animal hybrid, as well as Cheslor Cuthbert, Dozier’s future may be in the outfield if he or Moustakas are not traded soon. Cuthbert had the most hype way back in 2011, when he burst onto the scene in his first taste of full-season ball as an 18 year-old, patient, power-hitting shortstop prospect. The prognosticators back then who predicted a move off short were proved correct over the past few season, but I do not think anyone was predicting Cuthbert’s bat to disappoint the way it did starting immediately after his breakout 2011. He finally put things together last year as a 23 year-old in AAA, destroying pitchers there to a tune of .333/.402/.624(!!) in just over 100 PAs. He has been taking reps at second this winter, so he may not be long for this list, but he fits the post-hype definition to a ‘T’ and is exactly the type of person I’d be targeting this offseason, particularly if he can snag the everyday second base job in Spring Training.
Kennys Vargas, 26, and Byung-Ho Park, 30, Twins: I would be remissed if I did not mention the Twin sluggers Vargas and Park. Vargas is the 6’5″, 275-pound DH who was called up directly from Double-A in 2014 after five-and-a-half productive seasons in the minor leagues. He put up 13 homers and a .283/.414/.496-slash across Double-A and Triple-A in 2015 but was not as effective in the Majors that year. His most successful Major League campaign was last season where he hit 20% above league average, but he still strikes out too much to be successful. If he can rediscover the magic he showed in Double-A in 2014 (.191 ISO with a 16.8 K%), he may seize the full-time DH role in Minnesota due to his relative youth and switch-hitting ability. If Vargas cannot make the proper adjustments, perhaps Byung-Ho Park can. Signed to a relatively modest deal last offseason, at least considering his ridiculous stats in the KBO and a 2015 average FB/LD velocity second to only Giancarlo Stanton (see comments), Park’s strikeouts proved to be a fatal flaw, as his KBO stats did not translate as well as the experts like those at FanGraphs were projecting. He has reportedly recovered from offseason wrist surgery, and while those always sound scary for power hitters, it’s not a broken hamate bone, so I am expecting Park to be fully healthy heading into 2017 and am anxiously awaiting as many of these as possible.