Opportunity Seeker: Tommy Pham

As we begin another exciting offseason, every dynasty league owner has the same questions on their mind: Who will be next season’s big-time fantasy sleeper? If you want someone no one is talking about right now, in the same way there was silence surrounding surprise breakout players Jonathan Villar and Adam Duvall last season, look no further than Tommy Pham of their division rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.

It’s hard to believe that Pham will only be 29 years old when the 2017 season starts, as he has yet to even surpass 200 at-bats in any season in his brief Major League career. Most 29 year-olds with only 358 career at bats may get written off as ‘Quad-A’ players who serve as organizational depth, but a closer look at Pham reveals some positive indicators that he may in fact be a major sleeper who could be poised for a breakout, and soon.

Pham started his professional career off slowly, but he was an age-appropriate, league-average A-ball hitter in 2008 and 2009. His 2010 season was when he really started to take off, that is until a broken wrist ended his season prematurely. He started to get some helium in dynasty leagues heading into the 2011 season, but as fate would have it, he tore a ligament in his thumb trying to rob a home run. In early 2012, Pham noticed a pop in his shoulder after diving head-first for a fly ball, but doctors told him to play through it. After further examination, it was revealed to be a torn labrum. Heading into 2013, Pham needed to make up for lost developmental time, but instead, he tore his other labrum, once again ending his season. Finally healthy going into 2014, Pham put up a 132 weighted runs created (wRC+) mark in 390 AAA at-bats with 10 homers and 20 steals. He earned a Major League call-up in September 2014 and found his way to semi-regular at-bats after tearing the cover off the ball in AAA to start off 2015. Pham did not disappoint, hitting .268 with a 125 wRC+ and .209 isolated power in 173 at bats.

Fast forward to today where we have over 350 Major League at-bats to evaluate, and despite his oblique injury to start off the 2016 season, there is a lot to like about Pham heading into 2017. Through 358 at-bats, Pham is hitting .245/.333/.455 with 14 homers, and 4 steals, making him good for a 113 wRC+. While his 32 percent K% is atrocious, he hasn’t had any trouble making contact at any level since 2008, so I’m expecting that to regress closer to the 23 K% he showed in AAA. His 11 percent BB% through the last two seasons would place him 52nd among all qualified hitters, and that number has improved since he graduated. Finally, Pham’s 93.4 mpg average exit velocity places him 26th among all qualified batters. For context, this places him in between Miguel Sano and Christian Yelich, and scouting reports have always noted his ability to hit the ball hard with lots of loud contact.

Sleepers like Villar and Duvall that have awoken in past seasons have mostly followed a pretty simple recipe: talent + opportunity + adjustments = breakout. With Brandon Moss (and Matt Holiday) probably out the door in St. Louis, Pham has the perfect opportunity to take advantage of his talented bat and strong arm in the Cardinals 2017 Opening Day outfield. His inflated strikeout rate is the result of adjustments to his plate approach, and if he can keep making improvements to his pitch selection while remaining elite with his hard-hit rate (12th among all batters with 180 PAs or less), he should be able to seize a starting outfield job this spring.  If he can do that, and stay healthy of course, he may end up being one of the steals on Draft Day for re-draft leagues, and if you are in a dynasty league (like you should be!), the window of opportunity to acquire Pham’s services may be closing fast, so time to move now before your league-mates realize the potential and upside he offers owners, both for 2017 and beyond.

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Prospect Spotlight: Nick Tropeano. Possible 2015 AL Rookie of the Year?

Nick Tropeano does not get mentioned as an elite prospect. In fact he rarely gets mentioned at all. He didn’t make any of the top 100 prospects lists that have been released this Spring. He doesn’t have a blazing fastball. Nor does he have a picture-perfect windup and delivery. He didn’t play at a major college. He didn’t get drafted until the 5th round. He didn’t get his first cup of coffee in the major leagues until he was 24.

What he does have is some striking similarities with several other unheralded pitchers who achieved unexpected success last year. What do the likes of Jacob deGrom, Matt Shoemaker, Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, James Paxton and Yusmeiro Petit have in common? A few things actually:

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Breakout or Fakeout: Evaluating July’s Surprisingly Hot Hitters

The month of July has seen some surprising names rise to the top of the Hot Hitter Charts. Over the last month these 5 hitters have really opened some eyes with their sticks. Can they keep it up? Most of these guys have been around for awhile. Have they truly arrived as star players or are they just mediocre hitters on a hot streak? Let’s separate the true breakouts from the fakeouts…

Kole Calhoun — Outfielder, Los Angeles Angels

Calhoun came into the season as a trendy sleeper pick. He was coming off a nice 2013 where he put up a .282/.347/.462 slash line for an .808 OPS in 195 major league ABs, but his .354/.431/.617 megastats in the minors that year was what really got the pundits excited. Going into 2014 he was expected to be an everyday player Continue reading

The Prospector’s Nightmare: The Jesus Montero Story

It was Friday the 13th every day for Jesus Montero in 2013:

Has an elite young player ever had a season as awful as Jesus Montero did in 2013? Is it even possible for it to be worse? He was terrible at the plate, he was terrible behind the plate, he got demoted to the minor leagues, the Mariners moved him from the top to the bottom of the defensive spectrum (catcher to 1st base), he then played poorly in the minors, he tore the meniscus in his knee, then he got suspended for performance-enhancing drug usage, then he suffered a hand injury while playing winter ball. Good grief! Montero’s season was an absolute soul-crushing nightmare of epic proportions.

Should we write him off as a total bust? Should we expect him to bounce back and become a useful fantasy baseball player again? Perhaps even a star?

Let’s take a look at his history. What made everyone believe he was a star in the making? Then we can discuss the reasons that he might never be good, then dig up some reasons that may lead us to believe that 2013 was merely a (major) bump on his road to future stardom.

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What To Do With Justin Verlander

In 2013 Justin Verlander had his worst year since becoming an elite SP about five years ago. Verlander’s BB/9 ballooned from 2.27 to 3.09, his fastball averaged an entire MPH slower than in 2012 and his ERA jumped up to 3.46, which was pretty well in line with his FIP/xFIP.

During the year many talking heads postulated that Verlander was hurt and the years of throwing massive amounts of pitches and innings had finally taken a toll on his arm. To the naked eye you can see that Verlander has in fact been a true workhorse and the potential from overuse could be very real. At 30, Verlander has thrown 1772 regular season innings, has consistently gone well over 200 innings per year, will have pitched in the postseason three times and averages 109 pitches/game well over the MLB average of 95.

So what’s going on with Verlander and what should dynasty league owners be thinking as we move into 2014?

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Current Events: Happy Xander Bogaerts Day

I tried to resist. I was going to write about Kyle Seager. I was going to write about the Cubs’ third base logjam. I was going to write about what we can learn from Chris Tillman.

But I am weak-willed, and so I must indulge.

Today (as I write this … yesterday as you read it) is Xander Bogaerts day. And it is a good day indeed.

Those of you who follow me here or around the web (read: those of you who’ve ever read, like, one of my columns) know that I’ve been high on Bogaerts for quite a while. During the 2011 season, when Fangraphs’ Mike Newman began urging everyone to pay attention to the studly Aruban, I was quick to listen. When I finally put my own eyes on Bogaerts in Portland last season, I came away with a lasting impression: he is, quite simply, the best prospect I’ve ever seen in my limited time analyzing the minor leagues.

Now, at the age of 20, Bogaerts is in the big leagues, and he could be there to stay. Continue reading

Opportunity Seeker: Grant Green

Phrases that will not appear in this article:

The Grass Is Greener
Find The Green
On The Green
Green Means Go
Green Machine
Greener Pastures
Going Green
Green With Envy
Green Thumb
Green Horn
The Green Light

I can’t offer you much, but the solace of mind that I won’t drop some godawful pun on you should get me somewhere, right? When discussing opportunity seeker’s such as Green, there are some basic questions that need answering, so let’s get to those.

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Opportunity Seeker: Ian Kennedy

To say that the majority of baseball fans are down on Ian Kennedy would be an understatement. When I mentioned that I was going to be writing about Kennedy, a colleague of mine at another site said “Good luck finding something something to write about that s**tbag”. I completely understand that sentiment based on the unhealthy 8.6% walk rate rate Kennedy has compiled this season on his way to a 5.23 ERA (4.59 FIP).

That being said, I believe dynasty league owners in need of a starting pitcher have an opportunity to take advantage of Ian Kennedy’s fall from grace. There aren’t any signs he’s injured, he hasn’t lost any velocity, and his pitch variety is consistent with the 2010-2012 seasons in which he found success.

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Christian Yelich Vs. Jake Marisnick

Mired in the middle of an intense playoff race and hoping to add some youthful spark to a team full of aging veterans, the Miami Marlins purchased the contracts of outfielders Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick today.

Nah.

The Marlins are just really bad – especially offensively – and decided to try and be a little less terrible offensively now that the potential for Super-Two status is well in the rear-view mirror.

That being said, now that Yelich and Marisnick are joining Jose Fernandez, Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, Adeiny Hechavarria and, of course, Giancarlo Stanton in the majors, we’re finally starting to see the framework of what should be the Next Competitive Marlins Team two or three seasons down the line.

But if you’re a dynasty, keeper or redraft league owner, you don’t care about that right now. You just want to know what Yelich and Marisnick can do now, and what they’re likely to do in the future.

The good news: they’re both likely to be Fantasy assets for a long time to come. The bad news: neither is likely to help you much in 2013. And yet despite those similarities, Yelich and Marisnick are very different players. Continue reading

Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About Nick Castellanos?

Nick Castellanos is having the best season of his career, and he’s doing it as 21-year-old in Triple-A.

He’s a big-time offensive prospect in the system of one of the best teams in baseball. He’s well known to even casual prospect fans, as he’s been the best player in Detroit’s system forever. And as a player performing in the minor leagues’ highest level, he’s close to an MLB call-up.

So why isn’t anyone talking about him?

I’m not sure, but it’s time to start.

Through 373 PA in Tripe-A, Castellanos boasts a .301/.378/.488 line with a .333 BABIP, making him good for a wRC+ of 134. He has 11 homeruns and 26 doubles, and he’s gone 3-for-4 in stolen bases to boot.

But those numbers don’t represent what excites me most about Castellanos. What has my prospect sense tingling is “Casty’s” newfound patience and approach at the plate, as the outfielder is posting his highest BB% and lowest K% since Rookie ball in 2010. Continue reading