Trust Fall: Fallback Options For Top Prospects
Jarrett Seidler of Baseball Prospectus wrote a great article explaining the nuances of prospect outcomes. You should read the piece yourself, but something he touches on is the “fallback role,” which is the role a prospect should be able to fill if he does not hit his likely outcome. I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight a few players whose fallback roles can impact how you value them.
A player’s fallback role can affect fantasy owners in a multitude of ways and can depend on many factors: age, polish, defensive profile, and the shape the talent fills. For example, a shortstop could be more likely to have a worthwhile fallback role because if he doesn’t have the chops to stick at short he can slide down the defensive spectrum and play an easier defensive position (assuming, of course, his bat plays). Some pitchers have a fallback role that just moves them down in the rotation- perhaps you get an ERA closer to four than to two, and strikeouts closer to 150 than 200. For those whose fallback role takes them out of the rotation, the analysis is a little trickier. Predicting how a pitcher’s stuff will play in the bullpen can vary in difficulty depending on the talent, but there is a certain profile that lends itself to an obvious fallback in the bullpen. An example of this would be high-effort mechanics, a screaming fastball, and a good breaking ball. I’m going to run down some of the most notable prospects and compare and contrast their downside roles.
Michael Kopech, SP, Chicago White Sox
Fallback Role: Closer
Kopech has had a future reliever tag placed on him for a long time, and with good reason. The delivery was unconventional coming out of high school, he’s struggled mightily with command at times, and the dude throws straight gas. The command isn’t so bad that you can’t run him out as a starter, and there are good odds he’ll even stick, so he’ll get his shot. However, if he can’t wrangle in the control issues enough to work turn over a lineup three times, Kopech has the potential to be a lights-out closer, guaranteeing fantasy contributions in all league formats.
Keston Hiura, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Fallback Role: Corner Outfielder/DH
An advanced college hitter, Hiura has a chance to buzz through the minors and force his way into a lineup rather quickly. The issue with Hiura is his ultimate defensive home. An elbow injury forced Hiura into a DH role for most of last season (between college and the minors). He could eventually be pushed to left field, thereby placing more pressure on his bat. Such a move, however, has a lesser impact on his fantasy future than it does on his actual future on the field. Hiura is a relatively low-risk prospect because of the bat, making his offensive downside more palatable than other prospects. Even if the power never actualizes, he could be a serviceable outfielder in larger leagues.
Brendan McKay, SP/1B, Tampa Bay Rays
Fallback Role: Quad-A 1B/#5 Starting Pitcher
McKay is an odd egg. He’s difficult to project because he’s attempting to come up as a two-way player despite not having an outstanding profile as an offensive first baseman (read: lack of power). Consensus pegs him as a better prospect on the mound, where he is an advanced lefty with fastball command and feel for a breaking ball. Him trying to do both at the same time only complicates things. Does he struggle to learn how to hit upper-level pitching, and if so, does it halt or detract from his development as a starter? There’s more nuance to McKay’s case than a simple grade can give.
Adrian Morejon, SP, San Diego Padres
Fallback Role: Bust
Adrian Morejon made his debut in the Midwest league last season as an 18-year-old. He shows promise, but he is a 19-year-old pitcher. You could place virtually any 18 or 19-year-old player in this spot and I’d be able to make the same point: there’s significant downside risk with teenagers in the low minors. The upside could eventually be worth it in fantasy circles, but Morejon, albeit a player who is advanced, is a high-risk player.