Draft Sleeper: Matt Andriese

Back-of-the-rotation starters who have always been back-of-the-rotation starters don’t often have the look of exciting fantasy sleepers, especially ones who have no prospect pedigree to speak of and a lack of big league success. Despite this, Matt Andriese may be a special case, carrying hidden upside that most fantasy owners haven’t yet recognized.

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Finding value in part-time players

In fantasy baseball, we’re always looking for the market inefficiencies; the overlooked players who could provide value from an unexpected source. One of the many places where we can find this type of player is, surprisingly, on the big league bench. Yes, these part-time players who are blocked from receiving the lion’s share of at bats can actually be useful to us fantasy league owners. Often written off by many because of their lack of playing time, this type of hitter can still produce in limited sample sizes, or, if you’re lucky, be season-changers if they find their way into a full-time role. Here are a few of these part-timers to keep an eye on, who may have more to offer than what meets the eye. Continue reading

Fantastic Four: Prospect Sleepers

Before you know it, first-year player drafts will be here. Although most normal dynasty leagues (if there is such a thing) will draft closer to Opening Day, us rabid dynasty baseball fans will be itching to draft as soon as the calendar flips to the new year. With that in mind, it’s time to look at some of the best draft values you’ll be able to find: the pre-helium players on the verge of a breakout. While not all of these prospects are first-year players, they’re unlikely to be owned in your league and may be smart late-round pickups now, before their stocks rise. Continue reading

Small Sample Size or Foreshadowing?

This week, we will be taking an in-depth look at a rookie pitcher who turned some heads in his organization, earning him a showcase as a starter.  This happened partially out of necessity as his major league club dealt with both injuries and mediocre performance from their pitchers.  This player made only a single start across 4 minor league seasons before he was awarded with a handful of rotation turns down the stretch.  Many have pegged him as a bullpen piece, but that may be his new floor.  The one-time late round pick out of college is now poised to enter the spring as a legitimate rotation contender after his stuff has seemingly taken a step forward.  This player is one of my MLB sleeper picks for 2017. Continue reading

The Unheralded Scott Schebler

This week, let’s take a look at a 2016 rookie whose climbed the minor league ladder from a late round draft pick to a starting outfielder on a major league team. While, like many, the player in question has some warts, he also possesses a number of key pluses, including an unusual part of his profile that is not often discussed in fantasy circles.
The 802nd player taken in the 2010 draft, Scott Schebler was an unheralded member of the great 2016 rookie class.  A multi-sport athlete in high school, Schebler is blessed with above average power and speed.  As many players before him, the former Dodger caught the eye of fantasy owners after a 2013 breakout season in the hitters paradise that is the California League (High-A) by slashing a powerful .296/.360/.581.  For good measure, he also chipped in 16 stolen bases and showed a knack for reaching base by any means necessary, as he was plunked 15 times.
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Double Take

Major leaguers lacking in either draft or minor league pedigree can be hard to gauge from a fantasy perspective.  When these types of players pop up, they are often widely ignored or disregarded as fluky.  They are also not discussed as often in analytical circles.  Today we will look at a September stalwart and an unlikely top-5 Rookie of the Year finisher to see if they can make the leap into fantasy relevance.

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Profit Report

In 2016 I played in 8 fantasy baseball leagues. League types included, but were not limited to, dynasty keep-all, roto, auction, -ONLY and H2H.  My leagues also resided on many different platforms, but mainly ESPN, CBS, and Yahoo.  One common thread of the first and second place finishers in all these leagues was an abundance of popup and breakout players these owners snagged.  Players that fell into the breakout bucket included Brad Miller, Jose Ramirez, Jonathan Villar, and Aledmys Diaz to name just a few.  These players consistently found their way onto the top teams in my leagues.  In many cases, they were snagged for nothing but a waiver claim or an add/drop.  A no cost transaction can lead to amazing surplus value.  Oftentimes, these players are discounted or completely discarded because owners felt they were familiar enough with said player to pass on investing.  Today we will examine two players I feel are in line for a huge step forward.

Contestant number one is CJ Cron, who will be entering his age 27 season next spring.  2016 was the 3rd season in a row he increased his number of plate appearances, as he moved towards earning a full-time job.  He also moved away from his managers yo-yo treatment of the previous 2 seasons.  CJ upped his walk rate for the third year in a row, which is tremendous progress for a notoriously impatient hitter like Cron.  Over that stretch, his BB% has gone from 4.0%, then 4.2%, and finally 5.4%.  More interestingly, his K% has also dropped the last 3 years as follows:  24.1%, 20.3%, 16.9%.  He also swung at fewer pitches out of the zone when compared to the previous two seasons.

Prior to this season, Cron’s numbers versus righties and lefties were virtually indistinguishable.  Starting in 2014, his slash splits were .258/.289/.462 (LHP) against .255/.288/.453 (RHP).  This year he struggled mightily against left-handers, hitting only .234 and slugging .383.  Examining his minor league stats, this struggle was out of character for CJ.  In rookie ball his SLG% versus lefties was .585.  That increased slightly to .588 in HiA, and settled in at .526 in AA.  His 51 at-bat AAA debut may have foreshadowed his lefty problems, as he slugged only .333 before his MLB promotion, though it was in a small sample size.  Addressing this issue next season and returning to form will be paramount to maximizing his value.

I feel that CJ would have broken out in 2016 if not for his untimely hand injury.  However, the statistical suppression from the injury creates a prime buying opportunity.  Cron has legit 30 hr power.  To approach that number he needs to stay healthy and return to his lefty crushing ways.  2017 should be the first season he exceeds 600 plate appearances, and become the primary 1B for the first time in his young career.  While not fleet of foot, he has worked hard on his defense and would have finished 3rd among all 1B in UZR/150 had he played enough to qualify.  Albert Pujols also logged 123 games as a DH last year, a number I do not expect to rise following his recent foot surgery.  Next year could be the year CJ makes good on his 1st round draft pedigree, and hit the ceiling projected in his minor league scouting reports.

Mike Foltynewicz has long been a favorite of mine since his days as an Astros’ prospect.  Going back to his amateur days, the scouting report on Folty has remained fairly consistent across different websites.  Armed with a double plus fastball, a potential plus curve, a developing change that flashes league average, the only thing he’s missing is consistent command/control.  Unfortunately, that glaring weakness has many analysts worrying he could end up in the bullpen. Still, there’s enough raw stuff there that Folty could succeed as a starter.

A first round pick in 2010, Folty will begin his 4th major league season next spring.  In 2016 he logged 150.1 innings between the majors and AAA.  During his first three years in the bigs, his K/9 has increased as follows, 6.8, 8.0, 8.1.  Conversely, his WHIP has saw a dramatic decrease over his first two years as you can see, 1.607, 1.627, 1.297.  His BB/9 also dropped with each progressing season, 3.4, 3.0, 2.6.  The increase in Ks combined with a dip in free passes adds up to a pitcher who may be figuring things out.

When examining the reason for Folty’s improvement, the answer may be found while evaluating his pitch mix.  Consider how his pitch frequency has changed over the years in the table below:

Season    FB%    SL%    CB%    CH%

2014        73.0%  5.8%   10.4%  10.7%

2015        71.0%  14.8% 10.5%    3.6%

2016        62.6%  19.2% 10.3%    7.9%

Foltynewicz is now less reliant on his fastball and is more trusting of his developing slider.  This may also explain his newfound ability to keep left-handed hitters in check.  During his first 2 years in the league, Folty was killed by lefties yielding a wOBA over .400, and a slugging percentage of approximately 600.  In a dramatic turnaround, his 2016 slash line vs lefties was 247/320/456, which included a wOBA of .329.  These numbers nearly mirrored his 2016 rates vs same handed hitters, 268/319/431 and a wOBA of 322.

One variable we cannot predict is how park factors could influence the final stat line Foltynewicz may produce next season, since the Braves are moving into their new stadium in the spring. In reviewing the dimensions, the biggest difference is in right field, which will be 15 feet closer than Turner’s configuration. Partially alleviating concerns from that is a 16 foot fence that will surround right field.  The closer distance is also somewhat mitigated by Folty’s success vs lefties this year.  The similar dimensions should allow their new stadium to play closer to Turner Field as opposed to the launching pad that was Fulton County Stadium.  Still, the fear of the unknown here could help keep his price down.  The final factor suppressing Folty’s price tag is the DL stint he endured in June for bone spurs in his elbow.  Any time an elbow injury occurs, fantasy owners hold their collective breath.  However, this aliment is a common occurrence with pitchers. and is one that can be managed for long periods of time without surgical intervention.  Following his return from the DL, Folty spun quality starts at the White Sox, at SF, at STL, and at WAS down the stretch.

All of these signs point to a developing pitcher on the upswing who is about to begin his age 25 season.  Another point in his favor is that he seems to have the trust of an organization willing to let him work through his struggles at the big league level.  Folty could very well end up as a #2 starter that his prospect reports once predicted.  Realistically, he may settle in as a mid rotation starter with the upside for big games against weaker offenses.  Either way, Foltynewicz has shown enough growth in my estimation to reasonably expect success in the future.

Both Cron and Folty can help all teams, whether you are going for the title or in the middle of a rebuild.  The opportunity for profit is there regardless of how you plan to use the player in the future.  Buying players in this manner before a breakout occurs is how leagues are won or lost.  I practice what I preach and am actively trying to acquire these players as well.  Buying early in the off-season can be risky, as trades and free agent signings can ruin the promise of playing time.  However, Cron and Folty seemed locked into their roles, and that projection is unlikely to change unless they are traded form their current teams.

Risky Business: Pitching Prospects

Pitching prospects are a strange bunch.  Even ones that dominate the minors can make you want to pull your hair out during their first handful of starts at the big league level.  Many will experience a spike in homers allowed, walks, and runs that puts a huge wet blanket on projections that formerly contained all kinds of promise and optimism.  If the adjustment takes too long, then a buying opportunity arises.  Others can fly under the radar even when they are developing at a perfectly normal pace.  Here are a few names that fit the bill.

Jeff Hoffman, Rockies
At this point, Jeff Hoffman’s amateur pedigree and injury history are well documented so we’ll skip that stuff.  In my opinion, a TJ stigma, combined with his lack of bat missing ability thus far has dramatically reduced his price in fantasy circles.  The elephant is the room is also the proposition of calling Coors home.  I understand all of those concerns, but I’m not all that worried.  JHoff is dripping with talent, and talent typically wins out.  Hoffman’s scouting reports continue to glow with the promise of multiple plus pitches in his arsenal.  Per MLB Statcast, he has above average spin rate on all his pitches, with the rates on his offspeed pitches approaching plus territory.  Hoffman’s HR rate more than doubled during his time in the bigs when compared to his minor league career.  I’m chalking that up to nerves from a young player pitching against the toughest competition of his life, and should change as he adjusts to facing big league hitters. I am intrigued to say the least, and would not be surprised to see him make a Jon Gray-like jump in his 2nd season.
Robert Stephenson, Reds
Another owner of a pair of plus pitches, to say Robert Stephenson has struggled recently would be an understatement.  Still, the Reds have every reason to keep developing him as a starter, and he should figure it out in time.  He reminds me a lot of Ryan Dempster, another live armed, high walk pitcher that took several years to find his way in the majors.  If Cinci can be patient with him, the rewards could be tremendous.  On a rebuilding Reds team, he should get several chances to stick in the rotation. And on the off chance he’s moved to the bullpen, Stephenson could make one heck of a relief ace one day.  At that point, he could ditch the change and go FB/CB.  Although dealing him for an owner willing to pay top-100 value isn’t unwise, the talent is too tantalizing to sell for anything short of that.
Luis Ortiz, Brewers
One player yet to debut in the majors, Luis Ortiz has often found himself underrated in dynasty league circles..  I won’t often talk about my fantasy teams here without being asked, but I was able to nab him for a 5th round pick in next year’s first year player draft in one league.  That was before he swapped teams, which seems to have lowered his perceived value even further.  At 6’3″, Ortiz has ideal size for a workhorse starter provided he can keep his weight under control and stay on the field.  He has struggled at times to stay healthy and logged a mere 90.2 innings in 2016, on the heels of a 50 IP 2015. With health, though, Ortiz could be ready to help the big club as early as next season. That said, he’ll likely have innings limits in place for the next couple seasons, so it’s best to temper expectations on his big league impact for a bit. But once (if?) he’s up to full strength, Ortiz could be a good one. Right now, I’m buying him in fantasy, as he’s one of the more unheralded pitching prospects around.

Prospect 5-Pack

Prospects hounds can be a fickle bunch.  On Opening Day they’re gushing over a player they think can take a huge leap forward, but by the end of the year they’re looking to sell the same guy after a season of less than 500 at bats.  In all the commotion, sometimes players fall through the cracks.  All it takes is a couple of less-than-positive reviews for prospects to be cast aside and forgotten.  This week, I am looking at five possibly underrated or forgotten prospects that should be viewed owned in leagues where 150+ minor leaguers are rostered.
OF Derek Fisher, Astros
Derek Fisher has star potential, but with it comes with a perceived bust factor that keeps him low on many prospect lists.  Armed with all 5 tools at his disposal, he is one of the most under-appreciated potential stars around.  His defensive profile is also clouding his value, which isn’t a concern for fantasy purposes. Fish slashed .255/.367/.448 in 2016, a solid representation of his entire minor league career: solid approach, good slugging, and middling average.  There are concerns such as his strikeout rate jumping nearly 5 percentage points to 28.6% in 448 AA plate appearances, though it could have been a result of him adjusting to a new level. Fisher isn’t too far away either, and could reach the big leagues at some point late next season. He could be blocked from major playing time due to Houston’s recent signing of Josh Reddick, but if Fisher continues to produce in Triple-A next season, he should force the Astros’ hand.
OF Jorge Bonifacio, Royals
After 7 years and over 3000 at bats in the minors, Jorge Bonifacio is finally on the cusp of the major leagues, and with this rise through the minor league ranks has come an increase in his stock. Over the last couple years, Bonifacio’s plus raw power has begun to manifest itself in games, and if he can make enough contact, there’s a starting right fielder in this profile. Should the Royals struggle out of the gate next season, they could find themselves retooling and allowing youth, such as Bonifacio, to play.
3B Jeimer Candelario, Cubs
Not overly flashy or tooled up, Jeimer Candelario can be a high 2nd division 3B in time.  For now, he is buried on the Cubs depth chart and may need a trade to get a chance at playing time. Luckily for Candelario, there’s a good chance he’s traded, given his status as prime trade bait in a Cubs organization looking to win as much as they can right now. The calling card with Candelario is his eye at the pate, which has allowed for an impressive 12.5% walk rate and 16.3% strikeout rate since reaching AA.  Even though he does not have prototypical power, he can still impact a teams offense by reaching base so frequently. Candelario will need some more minor league seasoning, though, with only 735 upper level plate appearances, but could be a full-time regular in due time.
OF Aristides Aquino, Reds
Recently added to the Reds 40-man roster, Aristides Aquino had a mini breakout in 2016 on the strength of 23 HRs and a .519 SLG in the pitcher friendly Florida State League.  He had 61 XBH on the year and only struck out 19.8% of the time.  He was also recently anointed the FSL player of the year, an honor bestowed upon him by the FSL powers that be.  Plus raw power, plus running ability, and a plus throwing arm is enough to keep him on fantasy radars even if his probability of success is not entirely high at the moment.  Aquino’s ceiling is so high that even a marginal improvement in contact rate would go a long way in him becoming an above average regular.  While his average is never likely to top the .260 range, he could settle in as a 5 hole hitter in the majors with 20/20 upside while supplying solid right field defense to help keep his bat in the lineup.  On a Reds team reluctantly rebuilding, he is exactly the type of exiting young talent the team should be looking to develop.
OF Mitch Haniger, Mariners
This next one is cheating a little bit because of the Thanksgiving trade, but Mitch Haniger has been on my radar for some time now and it’s good to see him with a clearer path to playing time now that he is in Seattle.  The deal also gives me an excuse to talk about him.  Haniger was praised by his new GM as “high-ceiling prospect who projects to join our outfield as soon as next season.”  All GMs will speak highly of their own, especially ones acquired for the previous top player in their farm system, but in this case I agree wholeheartedly.  Once a supplemental first round pick of the Brewers, Haniger’s value has yet to catch up with the tools he flashes. With the lack of production in Seattle’s OF, he could play a big role from the start on a team in need of outfield help.  Haniger himself credits his production to a change in his swing mechanics which led to a .670 slugging percentage and 1.098 OPS in Triple A Reno.  Just as intriguing for me is his career minor league slash of .290/.370/.490.  His MLB debut was a mixed bag which included five homers and a .229 AVG.  At age 25 he is in his physical prime and poised to see a significant number of at bats in 2017.  I am buying in the hopes he can play CF when Leonys Martin sits versus tough lefties, and earn the lions share of a corner OF spot.

Tier Jumpers

One of my favorite things about dynasty leagues is nabbing that little publicized hitter before he goes crazy and dominates the arms at his level.  Once that happens, the premium to acquire a Victor Robles, for example, can border on the absurd.  Today we will look at a few players poised to see an increase in value, and have had relatively little fanfare to this point.  We won’t be looking at any 2016 draftees or J2’s, and, with one exception, none of these players are likely to find their way onto top 100 lists.  Today we have something for everyone: from risky rookie ball players to unheralded AAA sluggers looking to crack a big league squad.

OF Jesus Sanchez, Tampa Bay Rays

First up we have Jesus Sanchez.  He is my pick as the next player to experience an Eloy-esque jump in value.  Ok, that sounds like clickbait, but he is my favorite player on this list and probably belongs in an article of players residing in a higher tier.  His results speak for themselves, as the 2014 J2 signee slugged .549 this season with an ISO of .220 to go along with a very manageable 19% K rate.  All this before celebrating his 19th birthday in the fall.  He also did not have any concerns with his splits, hitting over .300 against both lefties and righties.  He has 5 average or better tools, but he will make his mark with the bat.  Exactly how much speed he possesses is also the subject of debate, but that does little to dampen my enthusiasm.  While he’s still far away, snagging Sanchez off the waiver wire now may be a good idea.

1B Lewin Diaz, Minnesota Twins

Lewin Diaz and his monster raw power is also on my radar for 2017. The power, which borders on elite, is a carrying tool which could help him reach the high offensive expectations that come with being a first baseman. Diaz is years away however, having just completed his third crack at rookie ball, which puts his MLB debut somewhere in the 2020 season at the earliest.  Still, there’s plenty to be excited about. Diaz, despite huge, only has a 18.5% career strikeout rate to date, and has the potential to hit 30 bombs a year with a decent average.  He also took strides versus lefties, slashing .305/.339/.576 against them this season, albeit in a small sample size of only 59 at bats.  His bat must do all the heavy lifting to keep him in the lineup, and while I don’t typically roster 1B-only prospects, Diaz is the type that warrants an exception.  Buy now and watch his value climb.

OF Seuly Matias, Kansas City Royals

For those looking to continue the ceiling over certainty theme, Seuly Matias is your guy.  His season stats look pedestrian, which will depress his current price, and it will still take some time for Matias to turn his talent into production on the field.  For this type of pickup, it may depend on where you are in the win cycle, given his ETA.  A high profile J2 signing in 2015, Matias brings an above average to plus skill set across the board. He is likely a RF in the long term, even though his shaky fielding this season was a hair better in center than the other OF spots.  What makes him interesting for us, though, is the potential plus power in his bat.  When you combine that with his reported average speed and a likely average-to-above bat, Matias has the potential to be an above average regular.  The Royals coaching staff has shown an affinity for teaching patience in the past, giving hope the raw Matias can learn to take walks and become a complete offensive threat.  Every minor league roster should have at least one lottery ticket like Matias in the fold, even if it will be a century or two before they reach the big leagues.

OF/1B Jordan Patterson, Colorado Rockies

Shifting gears to players closer to the show, Jordan Patterson could be an everyday player in Coors Field.  For many of us, that is more than enough to have him on the radar.  While he doesn’t have a standout tool, he can do a bit of everything at the plate and in the field.  Patterson plays 1B, LF, and RF and has a great opportunity to log 400+ at bats next season.  Mark Reynolds is a free agent, and for all the talk of a potential move to 1B for Cargo, he has yet to play there in a game.  2017 is also his walk year, and while you never know what the Rockies are going to do, I think it is telling that they only have two financial commitments beyond 2017 that aren’t related to arbitration…Parra and Ottavino.  Their long needed youth movement may finally happen.  This fact alone is enough for me to buy shares of Rockies minor leaguers.  With Patterson, I am buying the potential opportunity and Coors field.  Even if he doesn’t fix his troubles with lefties, he would still be on the strong side of a platoon.

OF Steven Duggar, San Francisco Giants

I have big plans for Steven Duggar, and I think he will cooperate.  A 6th round pick of the Giants in 2015, he made it to AA after only 578 plate appearances.  Interestingly, mlb.com had him as their 123rd ranked player in their list of draft eligible prospects for that year, reinforcing the type of highly regarded pedigree I covet.  His minor league triple slash checks in at .299/.389/.423, which is enough to intrigue anyone.  With at least plus speed and a plus arm which will help keep him on the field while his hitting develops, Duggar has the looks of a solid leadoff hitter. While it’s unclear whether he ends up at CF or RF, he could stick in center with improvement. His reads and jumps on steals are another aspect of his game he’ll need to improve, though, after a season where he was only successful on 55% of his stolen base attempts.  With coaching, he can correct those flaws in his game and develop into something close to a healthy version of Dexter Fowler.

If all these guys are already owned in your league, kudos to you for playing in an awesomely deep league.  Maybe this is a good time to target some of these players in trade and send feeler offers.  If offseason trading isn’t your thing or if the depth of your leagues goes well beyond this short list, I’d be happy to dive further into prospect waters next time around.