For Whom The Bell(inger) Tolls

With rankings season rapidly approaching, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane. As part of last year’s Top 500 coverage, I wrote this about Dodgers prospect Cody Bellinger, who checked in as the #49 ranked first baseman on the list:

“Bellinger spent all of 2015 in the hitter-friendly California League at the High-A level, putting up video game numbers in the process, hitting .264/.336/.538 with 30 home runs, 97 runs, 103 RBI and throwing in ten stolen bases for good measure. He also struck out a ton in posting a 27.6 percent strikeout rate. With a little more discipline, Bellinger could turn into a very, very interesting deeper league sleeper. If you’re digging this deep at first base in a dynasty league, this is the type of prospect you want to gamble on.”

I remember writing this, but I also remember not really being sold. Sure, I looked at Bellinger’s numbers before starting on the entry and I was impressed. That said, I wasn’t sure that he was too much more than a nice, young player that was feasting on lower level pitching. Or for a more generous interpretation, “a very, very interesting deeper league sleeper”.

Oh boy was I wrong.

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Big Willie Style: Calhoun’s Impressive Debut

Of the 1,215 players selected in the 2015 amateur draft, only 14 reached High-A (1.2 percent), and only a select three saw more than 50 plate appearances above A-ball. Second-overall pick, Alex Bregman; 132nd-overall pick, Willie Calhoun; and 852nd-overall pick, Kyle Garlick. We’ll get to the nearly-24 Garlick another day, but for now, we’ll focus on the prospect who went from playing at a community college to posting a .935 OPS in High-A in the course of three months, all at the age of 20.

Initially recruited by the University of Arizona, Calhoun transferred after one season of spotty playing time and uninspiring results. It was a year later at Yavapai Community College where Calhoun was downright Ruthian, hitting more home runs (31) than a majority of teams in the ACCAC (Arizona Community College Athletic Conference), and in turn, launching his name up draft boards. A word of warning, however: don’t let Calhoun’s dual-position distinction (2B/OF) fool you. It’s the result of limited range and an unpolished glove, which will likely relegate him to a corner-outfield role. The Dodgers were aware of his defensive deficits on draft day, and yet he’s exceeded even their expectations with the bat.

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Mike Bolsinger’s New Weapon

Best known for inciting a bench-clearing brawl between the Reno Aces and Albuquerque Isotopes last summer, the Los Angeles Dodgers could not have possibly anticipated that Mike Bolsinger would become a permanent fixture in their starting rotation this season. He was the quintessential “break glass in case of emergency” option when the powerhouse baseball operations duo of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi picked him up from the Arizona Diamondbacks for cash considerations last off season. After losing marquee free agent signee Brandon McCarthy to a torn UCL, which required Tommy John surgery last month, the Dodgers rotation suffered another crushing blow when news leaked out earlier this week that Hyun-Jin Ryu is opting to undergo season ending shoulder surgery. A perfect storm of devastating injuries and Bolsinger’s stellar early season performance (1.42 ERA with a 13.26 K% in 19 innings) at Triple-A have given him, along with Carlos Frias, an opportunity to stick in the rotation permanently.

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Who Is Adam Liberatore?

Despite a record-setting payroll, the Los Angeles Dodgers abysmal bullpen ultimately destroyed their playoff hopes last season. Among the myriad of moves the overhauled front office made, led by former small market masterminds Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, formerly of Tampa Bay and Oakland, respectively, the most critical centered around rebuilding a pen that was among the worst in baseball a season ago. The Dodgers biggest offseason acquisition was 39-year old veteran Joel Peralta, whom Friedman sniped from his former employer in a November trade. Peralta was a savvy pickup, but Friedman managed to grab another reliever in the deal as well, one who might end up ultimately having a far greater impact for the Dodgers, and fantasy owners as well, a guy pretty much nobody has ever heard of, outside of the Rays hipster prospect scene (if that’s even a thing), Adam Liberatore.

The 28-year old southpaw was arguably the top relief pitcher in the Triple-A International League last season when he posted a 1.66 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP and 86 strikeouts in 65 innings with the Durham Bulls. Liberatore checks all of the boxes when it comes to “the trifecta” of core statistics fantasy owners should look for in a pitching prospect. He strikes out well over a batter per inning (11.91 K/9), significantly cut his walk rate (2.08 BB/9) and gave up just one home run all of last season.

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Targeting Dan Haren, the Once and Future Ace

Dan Haren was the stalwart leader of many a championship fantasy pitching rotation for almost a decade. He has won 130 major league games and made three All Star teams and has even been a Cy Young contender in both leagues. He began his career back in the days of high-octane offenses during the steroid era and has thrown 200+ innings 8 times, providing tons of production for his fantasy owners. Haren’s career 4.09 K:BB and 1.87 BB/9 ratios are the best of all active pitchers, well ahead of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Adam Wainwright, King Felix, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw in the most important peripheral stats for pitchers. In fact, Haren ranks near the top in almost all of the career statistical categorys among active pitchers. That is a very impressive feat!

Given Haren’s remarkable track record of success, why is it that he was available for free in so many fantasy leagues last summer? He was actually unowned in 50-75% of Yahoo, CBS and ESPN leagues during June through July of last year. Why would a proven ace pitcher who had been so good for so long suddenly get dropped by so many fantasy owners? Well, after a stellar year in 2011 (16-10, 192 Ks, 3.17 ERA, 1.02 WHIP!) in which he was a Cy Young contender, Haren had a shaky and somewhat disappointing season in 2012. It was not bad enough to dump him, but then came a shockingly rude stretch of poor pitching in 2013. Most of his owners gave up on him way too quickly and allowed some patient, observant bystanders to snap him up with a few well-timed mouse clicks. Let’s take a closer look… Continue reading

What To Do About: Alexander Guerrero

As with most Cuban imports, there is a lot that we don’t know about Alexander Guerrero. With the unknown comes additional risk – which of course provides risk takers with the opportunity to make a ton on their investment. There’s no clearer example of this than those who were willing to go all-in on Dodgers’ outfield sensation Yasiel Puig. As much of a mystery as Puig was, he did have 23 games of minor league experience under his belt entering the 2012-13 offseason, giving prospective fantasy owners at least something tangible to base their dreams off of. There’s even less information out there on Guerrero, though to his benefit there is probably less misinformation too. Reports on Puig’s conditioning and attitude colored people’s opinions and while he certainly does have an attitude, it wasn’t the type to impede him from developing into a real-life and fantasy stud.

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Up the Middle: Corey Seager

We’re down to just four teams left in the 2013 playoffs, and sticking with the idea of highlighting players from playoff teams, we’ll take a look at one of the better shortstops in the Midwest League this year – Dodgers’ shortstop prospect Corey Seager. Big brother Kyle Seager has had success with the Mariners, but it could be Corey who ends up holding more fantasy value in the long run despite a quiet start to the Arizona Fall League season.

Seager was drafted 18th overall by the Dodgers back in 2012, the same year Carlos Correa was taken with the first overall pick. After struggling in the early part of this season, Seager actually ended up with 3 more homers than Correa in about 40 fewer Midwest League games. At 19 years old, he led all Midwest League shortstops with 12 homers.  He slashed .309/.389/.529 in 74 games. His 6-3, 190 lb. frame might not stick at shortstop and he could end up as a third baseman, but the Dodgers have plenty of time to decide on a position.

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The Waiting: Aces, Ceilings and Floors

I was really happy to see that Wilson had written about Zach Lee, because he had been on my mind lately and Wilson basically saved me 500 words to say much the same thing. I like Lee and I agree that boring can be beautiful.

What got me thinking about Lee was pouring over several mid-season rankings of prospects and finding him largely absent despite a good season at double-A Chattanooga. Sure, if the list went long enough he would be there, but generally he was not showing up in the top 50. There were several other pitchers who popped up ahead of him who, on the surface, are farther from contributing to their major league clubs (and in fantasy). This is not altogether surprising because lots of prospect evaluators are explicit about valuing long-term potential and ceiling when looking at prospects. One guy who ranked ahead of Lee on a few lists got me particularly intrigued and thinking about the floor/ceiling question: Lucas Giolito.

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