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.

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Digging for Diamonds: Breakout Middle-Infield Prospects

Here are the previous parts to the series:

Jan. 1: Sleeper Middle Infield 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 here, be sure to check those out first for a more proper introduction. I am here to discuss some middle-infield prospects who I think have a chance to breakout next year and shoot up prospect lists, reach the Majors, and even help your fantasy teams, and soon. 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

Digging for Diamonds: 2016-17 Sleepers Middle Infield Prospects

Here are the previous parts to the series:

Dec. 23: Post-Hype Middle Infielders
Dec. 12: Breakout Catcher Prospects
Dec. 5: Sleeper Catcher Prospects
Nov. 28: Post-Hype Catchers

I do not want to spend too much time on a long intro since there are several sleeper middle infield prospects to discuss, so let’s get to it!

Jorge Polanco, 23, Twins: I wrestled with where to place Polanco, as I am not sure he was ever really ‘hyped’ enough to be considered post-hype, but he is also much older than everyone else on my ‘breakout’ list. He has already been named the leading candidate to open Spring Training as the Twins’ starting shortstop, and if he can start hitting less fly balls, he could end up being the next surprise shortstop to help your fantasy team, similar to a “poor man’s Lindor” or “a version of Elvis Andrus who has traded off some steals for batting average points,” and the writer even goes on to suggest he could have a surprise 20-homer season some year similar to Didi Gregorius’s 2016. Polanco doesn’t have the name-value that other young shortstops around the league carry, but he may end up out-producing many shortstops drafted ahead of him. All he needs to do is to realize he isn’t Alex Rodriguez and will never be a 40-homer hitter. If he can level out his swing and start smacking line drives, look out. 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.
Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Dynasty Sleeper-Stud: Chance Sisco

Buster Posey, Willson Contreras, and the already seemingly-immortal Gary Sanchez – all of them are alright to own at catcher in a dynasty league, to say the least. Of course, if you do not happen to own stock in one of these commodities, where else can you look? Sure there are plenty of other good fantasy catchers, but there are more mediocre ones. Maybe when you grew up in a small town, when the rain would fall down, you’d just stare out your window dreaming of the day you could draft the next Pudge in your dynasty league. Well purveyors of the fantasy baseball biosphere, I present to you Chance Sisco.

Chance Sisco is a 21-year-old catcher in the Baltimore Orioles system from Corona, California. He was drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft and he now ranks as the second best prospect in the Orioles organization (top position player) according to mlb.com. He also ranks fifth amongst all catchers behind Jorge Alfaro, Zach Collins, Francisco Mejia, and Reese McGuire. I suppose his high rankings might have you questioning his sleeper-status, but I’d call him a sleeper because I believe he can be one of the better fantasy catchers in the league as soon as 2017.

Many other rankings have Sisco as the Orioles’ top prospect overall and I think that his number five ranking amongst catchers might not quite correlate to fantasy value either. Sisco is a bat-first catcher. He even played shortstop for most of high school before switching to catcher his senior year just to fill a need on their roster. The catchers that rank ahead of him on MLB are great prospects, but someone like Reese McGuire stands out more for his defensive prowess than his bat (which does not bode as well for fantasy). Mejia is an interesting switch-hitter that has a fantasy outlook fairly similar to Sisco. Alfaro has great power and Collins looks pretty great all-around. These guys deserve to be ranked highly, but if others are biting on these names, I think you can get just as much potential value out of a guy like Sisco and maybe hold out a touch longer to grab him in a draft.

Sisco has not shown an overwhelming amount of power thus far, but he might be able to develop it as he progresses (still, don’t expect Gary Sanchez in the HR category). What Sisco does best is get hits and get on base. He has made adjustments and proved himself at every level so far. In 2016 Sisco played almost exclusively in Double-A before playing four games in the Triple-A playoffs. He had a slash line of .317/.406/.430 over 116 games. He only had six home runs and two stolen bases, but he sure ought to help in nearly every other category you might use.

The future of Sisco might also be coming sooner rather than later. With Matt Wieters as a free agent, the Orioles’ future at catcher is wide open for Sisco. While the recent signing of Welington Castillo may muddle things for the time being, it’s only a one-year deal and talent always finds a way to gain playing time. While Castillo may keep Sisco to Triple-A a bit longer than expected, the Orioles have no reason to play Welington, merely a temporary acquisition, over their top prospect. It’s all coming together sooner or later, and there’s plenty reason to be excited. If you have a new dynasty draft coming up, I implore you, take a Chance. Make a change. And breakaway.