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Fantasy Baseball Team Preview For 1970

I belong to a fantasy baseball league that replays baseball seasons of the past.  We are about to get underway for the 1970 baseball season.  Kevin Graham, who writes a fine baseball blog, is our league President.  As part of our managerial requirements, we are asked to submit an annual team write-up, a kind of team preview for the consumption of the other league owners.  I thought I’d share mine with you.  My team, by the way, is called the Reservoir Dogs.  

The Reservoir Dogs are looking forward with great optimism to the 1970 season in their new home, Riverfront Stadium. Old Crosley Field was condemned after a sinkhole swallowed up last season’s reserve left-fielder, Tommie Reynolds.

After three consecutive years of increases in the win column, including last season’s new high of 84 victories, General Manger Bill Miller and the boys believe that the Dogs are now primed for a serious run at a playoff spot. When Miller first inherited what had been a flatulent, feckless franchise prior to the ’67 season, the Dogs were the worst team in the league. Now, however, with manager Jimmy Piersall back on his meds, and Bonds, Bench and Bando just entering their prime years, the Dogs have a chance to finally make it to the top of the standings for the first time since the Vietnam War was just a twinkle in General William Westmoreland’s gimlet eye.

Here’s a position-by-position overview of this year’s roster:

Catcher:  Johnny Bench – No finer receiver exists in the league. Bench, now 22-years old, is primed for what could be an MVP-caliber season as he learns how to handle a pitching staff, and to shave.

Backup Catcher: Gene Tenace – His parents call him Gino, he makes a mean chicken primavera, and he will be Bench’s backup this season. He is capable of starting for most other teams, as well as cooking their dinner.

First Base: Wes Parker is the switch-hitting, slick-fielding, underrated first-sacker who will play against right-handed pitching, and is probably on his way to earning another Gold Glove this season. He spent the off-season preparing for the 1970 season playing billiards and drinking lots of herbal tea.

Other First-Baseman: Bob “Rippin’” Robertson offers his power-stroke against left-handed pitchers, and does a stunning impersonation of Richard Nixon bombing Cambodia.

Second Basemen: With Dick Green exiting the club due to maternity leave, Ted Sizemore and Wayne Garrett, both obtained in off-season trades, are the Nureyev and Baryshnikov of second-sackers. Or is that Laurel and Hardy? Either way, Sizemore will swing away vs. Lefties, and Garrett will be penciled in vs. Righties.

Shortstop: Mark Belanger has never met a bat he could easily lift, but for every futile at-bat he throws away, he’ll save an equal number of runs in the field. “The Glove,” as his teammates call him, likes to distract opposing pitchers using duck calls and mime.

Third Base: Will once again be in the able hands of Salvatore Bando, Gino Tenace’s younger cousin. When not stabbing low-line drives at the hot-corner, or slugging three-run bombs off of harried hurlers, Bando spends his time in the kitchen with Gino, mincing garlic until it melts over low heat in a nice, buttery garlic sauce. It’s to die for.

Right-Field: 24-year old Bobby Bonds has a chance to be the first player in baseball history to have a 30-30-30 season: that’s 30 homers, 30 steals, and 30 speeding tickets. Bonds doesn’t like to play by the rules, and will frustrate his manager from time-to-time, but we’d rather have him with us than against us. And when he hits the ball, it stays hit.

Center-Field: Taking over in Center this season will be young Cito Gaston. Cito doesn’t say much, and it’s possible that he and Bonds won’t say a word to each other all season. But they could lead the league in outfield assists and in looks-that-kill. Gaston adds a power-bat to a lineup that should be extra-lethal vs. left-handed pitchers.

Left-Field: Another platoon here will feature the left-handed bat of rookie “Barnstorming” Bernie Carbo and righty-batting, returning sophomore Merv “The Reckoning” Rettenmund. Merv and Bernie will also be competing for the National Sunflower Seed Spitting contest this Fall in Cranky Corner, Louisiana (there really is such a place.)

Primary Pinch-hitters: Mack Jones and Vic Davalillo enjoy long walks on the beach, while Leroy Stanton and Tom Grieve will bide their time in the minors developing their interest in pine-tar and batting donuts. Leron Lee adds ballast.

Pitchers: We have lots of them. Some of them, like returning staff ace Steve Carlton, Danny Coombs, Jim Rooker, Tom Burgmeier and Joe Hoerner, are lefties, while rookie Bert Blyleven, Don Wilson, Joe Coleman, Barry Lersch and Danny Frisella are right-handed. One of manager Piersall’s biggest challenges this season (aside from bailing Bobby Bonds out of jail) will be to mold this diverse group of talented young arms into a pitching staff where everyone’s role is defined, and no one leaves the toilet seat up when the lady journalists are around.

Other Pitchers: Joe Grzenda and Bill Gogolowski sound like a couple of unionized, Polish Pennsylvania miners, and, in fact, they were up until this spring. They will attempt to blow the coal-dust out of their lungs through wind-sprints and long-toss in the outfield while they await the call to the bullpen, probably in 1971.

Still Other Pitchers: Wayne “Twitchie” Twitchell is young and has a live arm, but is so new to the game that he can’t find the pitcher’s mound without a Sherpa. It could be two or three years until he’s useful, but here in Cincinnati, we’ve got nothing but time.

That’s the latest from here in Cinci, where the wheat flows right behind the grain, or the wind blows right behind the rain, or the Miller High Life is poured right down the drain, or the Cubs finish right behind the Phillies, or some damned thing.

Baseball’s Top 40 Players, Age 25 Or Under

You can’t help but notice all the young talent on baseball rosters these days.  There has certainly been a changing of the guard, especially among pitchers, over the past few seasons.  Just try to name a dozen active pitchers age 32 or over that are still experiencing success in the Majors.  I think you’ll find it challenging.

I decided, for my own benefit, to draw up a list of the best players currently on MLB rosters who are no older than 25.  I want to make it clear that this is not a list of baseball’s top prospects.  Mets fans won’t, for example, find either Zach Wheeler or Travis D’Arnoud on this list, nor will Cardinals fans spot Oscar Taveras’s name.  This is a list of players who are actually active and contributing (to varying degrees) on MLB rosters.  I think you’ll be familiar with many of these names, though most are far from being household names at this early point in their respective careers.

I listed the players by position, and also included their current age, and the team they play for.  None of these players will turn 26-years old until at least this August at the earliest.  Several of them are much younger than 25, as you will see.  As you scan the list of 40 names, see how many of these players you recognize.

1B  Freddie Freeman – Braves, age 23

1B  Eric Hosmer – Royals, age 23

1B  Anthony Rizzo – Cubs, age 23

1B  Matt Adams – Cardinals, age 24

1B  Paul Goldschmidt – Diamondbacks, age 25

2B  Jose Altuve – Astros, age 23

3B  Manny Machado – Orioles, age 20

3B  Brett Lawrie – Blue Jays, age 23

3B  Will Middlebrooks – Red Sox, age 24

3B  Kyle Seager – Mariners, age 24

SS  Starlin Castro – Cubs, age 23

SS  Andrelton Simmons – Braves, age 23

SS  Elvis Andrus – Rangers, age 24

C   Salvador Perez – Royals, age 23

C   Wil Rosario – Rockies, age 24

OF  Bryce Harper – Nationals, age 20

OF  Mike Trout – Angels, age 21

OF  Jason Heyward – Braves, age 23

OF  Giancarlo Stanton – Marlins, age 23

OF  Starling Marte – Pirates, age 24

OF  Travis Snider – Pirates, age 25

OF  Justin Upton – Braves, age 25

SP  Jose Fernandez – Marlins, age 20

SP  Shelby Miller – Cardinals, age 22

SP  Madison Bumgarner  – Giants, age 23

SP  Chris Sale – White Sox, age 24

SP  Matt Moore – Rays, age 24

SP  Matt Harvey – Mets, age 24

SP  Jose Quintana – White Sox, age 24

SP  Neftali Feliz – Rangers, age 24

SP  Steven Strasburg – Nationals, age 24

SP  Jhoulys Chacin – Rockies, age 25

SP  Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers, age 25

SP  Matt Latos – Reds, age 25

SP  Mike Minor – Braves, age 25

RP  Addison Reed – White Sox, age 24

RP  Kenley Jansen – Dodgers, age 25

RP  Craig Kimbrel – Braves, age 25

RP  Bryan Shaw – Indians, age 25

RP  Drew Storen – Nationals, age 25

What an amazing list of names.  The quality of pitchers and outfielders is especially impressive.  How many of these players will go on to enjoy Hall of Fame careers?  Certainly, several of these players will appear in more than a couple of All-Star games.  Some will see their careers shortened, or derailed altogether, by injuries.  Others will simply flame out after a few good seasons.  But they, along with the other prospects that baseball keeps churning out, are baseball’s future.  And seldom in baseball’s long history has that future looked brighter.

Ten Tips for Enjoying Fantasy Baseball

Here are ten tips to help you enjoy your fantasy baseball season, regardless of whether this is your first time, or if you’ve been doing this for a while:

 1.  Know your league’s scoring system inside out. If you are in a points-based league, make sure you know how many points a blown-save is worth.  Is a strikeout by a hitter a negative half a point, a full point, or does it not count against a hitter?  Information like that will make a difference when trying to decide when, or if, to draft a player like Nationals’ infielder Danny Espinosa (a league-leading 189 strikeouts in 2012. )

2.  Stay away from personal prejudices.  If you are a Red Sox fan and you hate the Yankees, you have to remember that as an owner of a fantasy team, your job is to try to win your league, not simply stock up on all of your favorite Red Sox players.  If you begin by excluding one or more franchises that could supply top-tier talent to your team, you are simply reducing the chances of enjoying a championship season.

3.  Never be vindictive towards another owner. There are practical, as well as ethical reasons for not doing so.  Fantasy Baseball can be highly competitive, and everyone wants to win, but if you take this hobby too seriously and lash-out at another owner, or attempt collusion against someone who irritates you, look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself why your life is so small that this should be so important to you.

Also, from a practical standpoint, that owner that you have decided is your enemy might just have the one player on his team that you would like to trade for to help put your team “over the top”.  Good luck doing that if you’ve been acting like a jerk.

4.  Don’t overrate your own players. This is a common mistake in fantasy baseball, especially with less experienced owners.  Most people involved in fantasy baseball have a pretty good working knowledge of the relative value of every player on someone else roster.  If you start with the premise that all of your players are future Hall of Famers, you’ll never be able to engage in any potentially helpful trades, and you’ll just sound like an ass.

5.  Don’t propose insulting trade offers. An extremely common, and annoying, strategy is to offer anywhere from two to five of your own average players for another team’s superstar.  Considering that there is usually enough talent available on the waiver wire, why should someone take on your mediocre players?

Moreover, with limited roster space, the person you are making the offer to would have to drop one or two players just to consummate the deal, and those players might be better than or equal to the players you are offering.

6.  Don’t ignore trade offers. Even if someone does offer you a stupid, ridiculous trade, just politely respond with a “No thanks for now,” response.  No use offending anyone that could potentially help you down the road.

7.  Don’t whine or complain about bad luck. No one wants to hear about it.  Conversely, don’t denigrate another fantasy owner’s success by writing it off as nothing more than good luck.  Success, as someone once said, is the residue of preparation.  Every team experiences injuries.  A successful fantasy team adapts to changing conditions throughout the season.  If you think you are done actually managing your roster on draft day, you’ve got another thing coming.

8.  Try to stay engaged in an ongoing dialogue regarding your league, and baseball in general, throughout the season.  In almost every league I’ve ever been in, we end up with “hidden” owners we know exist only because they submit weekly line-ups, but they are virtually absent as actual humans participating in a hobby that’s meant to be interactive.  That’s like joining a book-group and just sitting there reading, never engaging in a conversation about the book you’re reading with anyone else.

9.  Don’t let fantasy baseball take over your life. If you find yourself still awake in front of your computer at 2:15 a.m. trying to locate the box-score of some west coast game, turn off the damned computer and go to bed.  You’ll feel better in the morning, and you can always turn on Sports Center when you wake up.

10.  Don’t forget that you love real baseball first, fantasy baseball second.  Therefore, when you are watching a fantastic pitcher’s duel featuring two young aces, and the only player you have in that game on your fantasy roster just went 0-5 with four strikeouts, you didn’t just watch a crummy, disappointing game.  You may have “missed” (even though you just sat through it) one of the best games of the season.

Fantasy Baseball: Five Potential Busts for 2013

If I was drafting a fantasy baseball team this year (and I haven’t yet ruled out the possibility), these are five players I would likely stay away from.  While they may retain a certain amount of value this year, it is probable that each of them will be overpriced, or will be drafted too high, on Draft Day.

Here, then, are your potential “busts” for 2013:

Matt Harrison

Matt Harrison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Matt Harrison:  A few years ago, Rangers’ pitcher Scott Feldman won 17 games despite a relatively low strikeout rate.  He also, of course, pitched his home games in one of the best hitter’s parks in the A.L., the same park that Matt Harrison calls home.  I predicted he would be a bust going into 2010.  It turns out that Feldman has won just 15 games total over the past three seasons.  Matt Harrison has a similar profile to Scott Feldman.

Harrison has enjoyed back-to-back successful seasons with the Rangers, and he is a better pitcher than Feldman, but Harrison averaged just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings last year.  He also doesn’t walk a lot of hitters, but what that does mean is that he puts a lot of balls in play.  It’s much more likely than not that an 18-game winner with a nice 3.29 ERA pitching for a good team who is still just 27-years old will generate a lot of interest on Draft Day.

But keep in mind that most of his value has come on relatively good luck on balls in play, and that when, not if, more of those balls find gaps, that ERA will rise proportionately.  It also means that win total will decrease by perhaps as much as a third.  Draft the player Harrison is likely to be in 2013, not the player he was in 2012.

2) B.J. Upton:  Cue Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” because Upton does like to run, but also because it’s what you should do when his name comes up in your Draft.  You can point to his sexy 28 homers and 31 steals, and the fact that he might be more motivated playing in the same Braves outfield as his brother.  You might also point out that he is still just 28-years old.

I would point out that his plate discipline has all but disappeared, and that he is one of baseball’s most prolific out-machines.  Last year, he batted .246 with a pathetic .298 on-base percentage.  In fact, he hasn’t batted above .250 in any of the past four years.  Moreover, in 2008 (his career year), he drew 97 bases on balls.  Last year, he was down to just 45 walks in nearly the same number of plate appearances.  It also remains to be seen what effect playing on the somewhat slower infield surface in Atlanta will do to his game.

B.J. Upton might get off to a quick start, but at some point during the season, his lack of plate discipline will catch up to him, and his bat could disappear for an entire month.  So don’t draft the player who slugged 28 homers and stole 31 bases.  Draft, if you must, the player who reached base less than 30% of the time, and who scored fewer runs last year than the .220-hitting, slow-footed Dan Uggla.  Ouch.

Kevin Youkilis at bat against the Tampa Bay De...

Kevin Youkilis is about to hurt himself.

3)  Kevin Youkilis:  Though the Yankees will be leaning heavily on his bat this year, they better not lean too hard, or it, along with its owner, will make be making a trip to the D.L.  Youk has never played as many as 148 games in any season in his career.  He hasn’t played as many as 136 games since ’09.  More to the point, his quality of play has severely diminished over the past few years.  Although he still has a bit of home run pop, he managed just 15 doubles last year, about half the number he used to produce in a typical season.  Youk is now 34-years old, going on 40.

Certainly, there will be some people out there who believe a return to form is quite possible.  The Greek God of Walks will return to demolish the naysayers and the heretics.  But those who pick up Youkilis should expect him to miss around 40-50 games, and produce no more than a mid-range batting average with medium power.  In other words, when he plays, he’ll be an average third baseman, but he won’t play enough to waste a draft pick on him.

Kyle Lohse

Kyle Lohse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4)  Kyle Lohse:  This 34-year old control freak has gone 30-11 over the past two seasons with a nifty 3.11 ERA over his last 400 innings.  Now the bad news:  Lohse is a 34-year old pitcher with average stuff who was a career 88-98 pitcher up until two years ago.  Lohse has benefited from a low .265 batting average of balls in play which is likely unsustainable.  In other words, he’s been more lucky than good, though he’s not a bad pitcher.

Lohse led the N.L. in win-loss percentage last season (.842) by losing just three of 33 starts.  You want to bet the farm that this veteran pitcher can do that again?  His relatively low K rate, his fly-ball tendencies, his low BABIP and his career history point to a correction in the offing.  Don’t be the last man standing when the music stops on this song.

5) Brandon Phillips:  Because second basemen don’t tend to age very well.  Now 32-years old, Phillips’ decline is already in progress.  He was once a 30 homer, 30 steal player.  Then he was a 20-20 guy.  This year, expect a 15-15 guy.  That’s not bad, but some people will be paying for the Brandon Phillips they remember from five years ago.

Philips also doesn’t draw walks, so his on-base percentage is entirely based on his batting average, which hovers around .275 most years.  But declining speed and power could precipitate a sudden and serious overall decline in production.  While I don’t expect this season to be the year Phillips falls entirely off the radar screen, don’t panic into paying top dollar for someone whose best seasons are clearly behind him.

Eight Break-Out Players to Watch in 2013

If you play fantasy baseball, or even if you just like to read about which ball-players are likely to come through big in the upcoming baseball season, this is the time of year when most baseball fans begin to research the players and teams that interest them.

My goal, then, for this post is to alert you to eight players who aren’t necessarily household names, but who I believe will enjoy significantly productive seasons.  There are, of course, many other players that I could have chosen to write about, but these are the ones who’ve caught my attention thus far.

1)  Jordan Zimmerman:  Nationals – The forgotten man in a rotation that includes, Strasburg, Gonzalez and Haren, Zimmerman produced the fifth best ERA+ (134) in 195 innings last season.  He averaged over 3 1/2 K’s per walk, and is entering his age 27 season.  Likely to receive plenty of run support, while probably reaching the 200 inning pitched level for the first time in his career, Zimmerman could be primed for a very impressive season.  He won 12 games last year, but could win half a dozen more this time around.

English: Ike Davis

English: Ike Davis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  Ike Davis:  Mets – Among all first basemen, Davis is one of the likeliest to be overlooked going into the 2013 season.  His low .227 batting average and equally poor .308 on-base percentage tarnish his otherwise impressive power numbers (32 homers and 90 RBI.)  But given his track record, Davis is likely to increase his batting average by around 25 points, and has stated that his goal is to draw a hundred walks.

Even if he draws around 80 walks, coupled with a .260 batting average, his natural power should allow him to at least match, and perhaps exceed, last season’s power numbers.  In an era where 35 homers once again represents a significant total, Davis, now just entering his age-26 season, will be a player that should not be ignored.

3)  Michael Morse:  Mariners –  After a big 2011 season, Morse played just 102 games last year for the Nationals, swatting 18 homers with 62 RBI.  He has since moved on to the Mariners, where under normal conditions, it is often wise to allow someone in his situation to fall completely off your radar screen.  But Morse, still in his power-prime years (he turns 31 later this month), slugged 31 homers, drove in 95 runs, and batted .303 just a couple of years ago.

Also, the Mariners have brought in the outfield fences this year, especially in the power-alley in left-center field (favorable to right-handed batters sluggers like Morse.)  Hitting in the middle of what could turn out to be the most productive Mariners’ offense in several years, Morse should provide a nice boost to any fantasy squad this season, even if he doesn’t quite reach a .300 batting average again.

4)  Brett Anderson:  A’s – Just a couple of years ago, Brett Anderson was considered the future of the A’s rotation.  Then he blew his arm out.  But the big 6’4″, 235 pound lefty out of Midland, TX looked good upon his late-season return to the A’s rotation last year.  In six starts, covering 35 innings, he struck out 25 batters while walking just seven, good for a 1.029 WHIP.  His ERA+ was a very impressive 156.

Then, in his one post-season start, he shutout the Tigers through six innings, fanning six, while surrendering just two hits and no walks for his first post-season win.  Anderson, still just 25-years old, is not only capable, but likely to recover the form that made him a huge prospect a few years ago.  Pitching for an A’s team that won their division last year, Anderson is likely to conclude the year as one of the top young starting pitchers in the A.L.

Peter Bourjos

Peter Bourjos (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

5)  Peter Bourjos:  Angels – A couple of years ago, the speedy Bourjos, in his first full season as an Angels’ outfielder, led the A.L. in triples, displayed reasonable power (12 homers) and posted an OPS+ of 116 while playing excellent defense.  Last year, the Angels played the remains of Bobby Abreu, along with Torii Hunter and eventually Mike Trout leaving Bourjos as the odd-man out.  As a result, Bourjos ended up scuffling through 192 uninspiring plate appearances.

He appears to have a starting gig again this season, and on a super-loaded Angel’s offense, he should be expected to score lots of runs, steal bases, and hit the occasional homer, regardless of where he hits in the lineup.  His glove alone should keep him in the field.  Entering his age-26 season, there is a lot of potential here now that his opportunity to play seems to be secure.

6)  Eric Hosmer:  Royals – There’s just no other way to say it, but first baseman Eric Hosmer sucked last season.  Suffering through a terrible sophomore slump, Hosmer batted just .232, 61 points lower than in his rookie season.  His power numbers suffered as well; he hit five fewer homers (14 total) in 12 more at bats.  But Hosmer, now just 23-years old, batted over .400 in his final one-hundred Triple-A at bats, and, though it’s a small sample size, he’s looked great this spring with eight hits — four for extra bases — and seven RBI in his first 20 at bats.  Hosmer should be one of the young Royals hitters that will impress people this season.  Also useful on the basepaths, Hosmer swiped 16 bags in 17 attempts last year.

Jay Bruce before his MLB Debut in May of 2008

Jay Bruce before his MLB Debut in May of 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7)  Jay Bruce:  Reds – After five seasons in the Majors, outfielder Jay Bruce of the Cincinnati Reds seems to have settled in as a 30 homer, 90 RBI guy who will hit around .260 with 150 strikeouts.  A good player, but not a great one.

That could change this season.  Bruce, who will turn 26-years old in April, has increased his homer production for five straight seasons: 21, 22, 25, 32, 34.  Similarly, his doubles have also generally increased as well: 17, 15, 23, 27, 35.  Though his OPS+ held steady at 118 for the second consecutive year, he did set career highs in runs scored (89), RBI (99) and slugging percentage (.514.)

Now just fully entering his power prime, and with no significant injury history to speak of, the addition of high on-base player Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the Reds lineup will provide Bruce with the opportunity to become one of the top run-producers in the Majors this year.  A 40 homer, 120 RBI season with a hundred runs scored is not out of the question.

8)  Paul Goldschmidt:  Diamondbacks – The 25-year old Goldshmidt started slowly last season, but hit 18 homers over the last four months of the season, including five homers in a seven-game span.  The right-handed batting first-baseman actually led the Majors in line-drive rate last year.  If just a few of his 43 doubles turn into home runs this year, Goldschmidt could be on his way to 30+ homers, along with about a .280 batting average.

A fly-ball hitter (Goldschmidt led the league in Sac. Flies last year) who plays his home games in one of the best hitter’s parks in the league, is off to a fine start in spring training posting a .429 average to date.  Also, he’s not merely a slugger, but an athlete who stole 18 bases in 21 attempts last year.  Goldschmidt is one of this generation’s most promising young baseball talents.  He could become a right-handed swinging Jim Thome.

Others to follow closely:  Jason Kipnis of the Indians; Matt Harvey of the Mets, Adam Eaton of the Diamondbacks, Brandon Morrow of Toronto (yes, him again), Matt Adams of the Cardinals, Salvador Perez of the Royals (there will be many All-Star Game appearances in his future), and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs.

Six months from now, I hope you are celebrating a championship season, and that at least one of the players on this list was a key contributor to your team’s success.

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, 2012: The Hitters

A few posts ago, I wrote about sleeper fantasy baseball pitchers you should keep in mind come Draft Day.  This post will focus on ten hitters that should also provide above average value relative to their expected Draft Day ranking.  I have listed them in no particular order.

1)  Ike Davis – First Baseman Ike Davis was enjoying a very productive first six weeks of the season for the Mets before a bone-bruise to his ankle shelved him for the year.  Six weeks are a small sample-size, but Davis was on his way to 28 homer, 100 RBI season with about a .290-.300 batting average when he went down.  While that pace may have been a bit more than he would have sustained over the course of an entire season, he was also hitting in a more pitcher-friendly park last year than he will be this year.

Considering that first basemen Mark Trumbo and Paul Goldschmidt will probably be drafted a bit higher than Davis, you should be able to get better or equal stats at a cheaper price / lower round.

Matt Wieters

Image via Wikipedia

2)  Matt Wieters –  A few years back, Wieters made the cover of Sports Illustrated as baseball’s next great catcher.  The conventional wisdom is that Wieters, the fifth overall pick by the Orioles in the 2007 draft, has been something of a bust.

The conventional wisdom is wrong.  Catchers often take a bit longer than other position players to fully develop their craft, and besides, Wieters, a big kid at 6’5″, 225 pounds, won’t turn 26-years old ’till May.  Last year, he won his first Gold Glove and made his first All-Star team.  He slugged 50 extra base hits, including 22 homers, 68 RBI, and 72 runs scored.

Fifteen of those homers came in the second half of last season, so it is not out of the question that Wieters  could approach 25-30 homers, 80-90 RBI, and a .275 batting average.  Other catchers will be drafted higher, but Wieters should provide better overall value.

3)  Dexter Fowler –  Fowler, a fleet-footed Rockies outfielder, will, like Matt Wieters, turn 26-years old this season.  And like Wieters, his track-record to this point has been a bit underwhelming.

But again, like Wieters, there is reason to believe that Fowler’s best days are ahead of him.  Although he still strikes out a bit too often (130 last year), he did set career highs in doubles (35), triples (15), runs scored (84), and OPS (.796).  It has been reported that Fowler has been working out with Matt Kemp this past off-season, and has gained some muscle.

With the decline in offensive production throughout the Majors, Fowler doesn’t have to improve a lot more to become a serious force among MLB outfielders.  And with Coors Field as his home park, you should bet on further improvement.

Desmond Jennings

Image via Wikipedia

4)  Desmond Jennings – Jennings, another young outfielder, has already made Rays fans forget about Carl Crawford.  In his first 63 games in the Majors, Jennings has already produced 64 hits, scored 44 runs, stolen 20 bases, and hit ten home runs.  Even with a slump in September, Jennings projects as a top 20-25 outfielder this year, with potentially a much higher ranking next year.  If you are in a keeper-league, Jennings is a must-own.

5)  Carlos Santana –  How much value does a catcher who hit just .239 last season have?  If that catcher is Carlos Santana, the answer is, quite a lot.

In his first full season last year, Santana drew 97 walks, slugged 27 homers, added 35 doubles and scored 84 runs.  Even with the low batting average, his OPS was a nice .808.  Look for significant improvement in that batting average as Santana vaults to the front ranks of the catcher position in this, his age-26 season.

You may never again have an opportunity to draft a .239-hitting catcher with this much obvious talent.

6)  Jose Tabata –  Things to like about Jose Tabata:  1) Because he plays for the Pirates, no one will even notice him.  2)  He is only 23-years old. 3) He has excellent speed and the ability to steal at least 30 bases this year.  4)  He hit .290 as a lead-off hitter last year.  5)  He could still develop moderate power.

Sometimes, players with Tabata’s skill-set just don’t quite pan out.  But sometimes, growth happens more quickly than people expect.  Use a late-round pick on this young player with upside while others waste their picks on old-timers on their way out like Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez, or Vernon Wells.

7)  Michael Morse –  Morse is probably the best-hitting 1B / OF in the N.L. that few people outside of Washington, D.C. have ever heard of.  But Morse, already 30-years old, is one of those players who once given a chance, provides far more value than anyone expects.

Morse should, at the very least, with an improved Nationals team on the field, come close to equaling last years 31 homers, 95 RBI, .303 batting average.  He also posted an excellent OPS of .910.  Some fantasy owners in your league will be betting against Morse reaching that same level of production again this year.  Most magazines list Carl Crawford, for example, significantly higher than Morse going into 2012.  And that’s fine.  That’s how you land a very good player in a lower round while others draft a slightly better player (if they’re lucky) in a much higher round.

Brett Lawrie

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8)  Brett Lawrie – Several fantasy baseball magazines already have Lawrie rated as the 10th-12th best overall third baseman in the Majors.  By this time next year, he will be rated in the top five at his position.  So don’t wait until next year to discover Lawrie.  Draft a top-five player at his position the year before everyone else realizes how good he is.  A 20-homer, 20-steal season with a .300 batting average and 90 runs scored is not out of the question for Lawrie in what will be his first full season.

Lawrie, still just 22-years old, will make many All-Star teams in years to come.

9)  Mike Trout – Many years ago, back in 1993, in my first season of fantasy league baseball, I drafted a rookie outfielder on the Angels named Tim Salmon.  Salmon went on to win A.L. Rookie of the Year honors, and the lesson I learned that year was never be afraid to gamble on solid young talent, if they are given the opportunity to play everyday.

The only caveat, then, I offer regarding Trout (an even more highly rated prospect now than Salmon was back then) is to keep in mind that as of this writing, the Angels outfield is a bit crowded.  If their manager is wise, however, he will put his best players on the field.  Trout is already better than either the remnants of Bobby Abreu or Vernon Wells.

If  20-year old Mike Trout gets to play everyday, he has the talent to hit 20+ homers, drive in some runs, and even steal some bases.  Watch the situation carefully in Spring Training, and draft accordingly.  Who knows, you may have the next Tim Salmon on your hands, and, unlike Salmon, Trout doesn’t even have the added burden of having to swim upstream.

10)  Lucas Duda – In about half a season’s worth of at bats last year, the Mets’ Lucas Duda hit 10 homers, 21 doubles, drove in 50 runs, hit at least .300 in each of the last three months, posted an impressive .370 on-base percentage, and slugged nearly .500.  Already 26-years old, he’s probably not a superstar in the making, but late bloomers are not unheard of, and Duda will benefit (as will all Mets) from the cozier dimensions at Citi Field in 2012.

Expecting a line of .290 / .365 / .490 with 20+ homers, 80-90 RBI, and 30-40 doubles over the course of a full season from a player who also qualifies at two positions (first base and outfield) makes Duda a nice later-round pick in your draft.

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, 2012: The Pitchers

Here are ten pitchers you should consider putting on your radar for Draft Day, if you haven’t already.

By “sleeper,” I am referring to those pitchers whom I believe will significantly outperform their draft rank / dollar cost on Draft Day.  This does not mean that these pitchers will all have huge seasons, just that they should each produce more bang for your buck than your competitors might expect.

Also, some of these pitchers have already enjoyed very successful seasons, but are perceived to have had a “down” year last year (some of whom actually did.)  There is no reason to believe, however, that any of these pitchers won’t improve at least modestly, if not significantly, in 2012.

In no particular order, then, here they are:

English: Beachy, ready to pounce

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1)  Brandon Beachy:  By this time next year, Beachy could realistically be the #2 starter in the Braves rotation.  Beachy struck out 169 batters in just 141 innings last season, while walking just 46.  He will probably be pushed up around 190 innings, resulting in a little over 200 K’s, an ERA probably in the 3.50 range, a nice WHIP, and double-digit wins.  A solid mid-round pick.

2)  Madison Bumgarner:  A terrible April resulted in Bumgarner being dropped in several fantasy leagues last year, but those who scooped him up in May enjoyed a fine final five months from this young stud.  Still just 22-years old, he gives the Giants three young aces that rival the Phillies rotation.

Bumgarner’s ERA, K’s and WHIP might not trend further down in 2012, but his relatively low win total (13) last year and the deep pool of pitchers available could cause Bumgarmer to be overlooked in some leagues.  Oh, and those 13 wins? Consider that number to be his floor, not his ceiling.

3)  Jordan Zimmerman:  Rotation mate Stephen Strasburg will garner all the attention in 2012 (which is why he is does not appear on this list of sleepers), but Zimmerman’s performance will be key to the National’s overall improvement as a team this year.  And there is little reason to expect to be disappointed by what Zimmerman has to offer.

Just 25-years old, Zimmerman posted an impressive ERA of 3.18 last season, with a WHIP of just 1.15, in 161 innings last season, which was his first full season following Tommy John surgery.  It often takes about two years for a pitcher to completely come back from this surgery, so look for Zimmerman’s strikeout rate to improve a bit this year as well;  he averaged a K per inning in 2009.  Also, he should make around 30 starts or so, which means he should just about double his win total (8) from last season.

English: Derek Holland

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4)  Derek Holland:  After a mediocre first half in which he posted an ERA over 4.00 and a WHIP over 1.40, Holland really matured in the second half last year, posting a 3.21 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP after the All-Star break.  Holland will be no lower than the Rangers’ second best starter this year, and may become their de facto ace.

While his win total (16) might not improve significantly, his strikeout totals should rise while his peripherals should look more like the second-half of last season than the first half.

5)  Jonathon Niese:  Depending on if you utilize an N.L. only or a mixed-league format, this 25-year old Met’s pitcher might not even be drafted on Draft Day in your league.  His high ERA (4.40), and WHIP (1.41) and, of course, the team he pitches for will scare off many potential bidders.

But Niese averaged nearly 8 K’s per nine innings, and three K’s per walk.  Even with the fences being moved in over at Citi Field, Niese’s peripherals point to a declining ERA and WHIP in ’12, and perhaps, with luck, a few more wins.

You could do worse in the late rounds, and some people will.

6)  Neftali Feliz:  Because he is transitioning into the Ranger’s rotation this year after being their closer the past two seasons, many owners will be skeptical that Feliz will be able to make the transition smoothly.

But Feliz has now pitched a combined 162 innings in the Majors over the past three years, nearly the total of many full-time starters.  Turning just 24-years old this May, Feliz should be young enough and healthy enough to be stretched out to an equivalent amount of innings this year.

While you shouldn’t expect many complete games (if any), you are looking at a pitcher who has averaged just 5.4 hits / 9 innings in his career while averaging a strikeout an inning.

More to the point, there is precedent for a closer transitioning successfully back to the starting rotation. In 2001, Derek Lowe saved 24 games for the Red Sox.  The following season, he posted a 21-8 won-loss record, the best of his career.  In 2004, John Smoltz, in his third year as the Braves’ closer, Smoltz saved 44 games.  Transitioning back to the rotation, he posted a 44-24 record over the next three seasons.

Feliz may actually see a drop in his Draft Day status from a year ago because, no longer a known commodity as an elite closer, the uncertainty some owners will feel about his new role will provide savvy owners like yourself the opportunity to acquire him on the cheap.

Max Scherzer

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7)  Max Scherzer:  Scherzer has the stuff to some day approach 200 K’s in a season.  At age 27, that could happen as early as this year.  Although he posted a reasonable number of wins in 2011 (15), his ERA 4.43 and WHIP (1.35) are higher than one would expect, given his background and potential.

His high strikeout rate ( 8 / 9 innings) and relatively low walk rate (2.6 / 9 innings) point to a pitcher who was somewhat unlucky (despite 15 wins) last year.

Look for his ERA to drop under 4.00 this year, and for his WHIP to drop back under 1.30.  He may not win more than 15 games again this year for the Tigers, but his improvement in his other peripherals should help your team with what some owners will view as a surprisingly successful performance out of Scherzer.

8)  John Danks:  After a dismal 2011: 8-12, 4.33, 1.34, lots of owners will be avoiding John Danks (not to mention many other White Sox players.)  But there is no reason to believe that the soon to be 27-year old Danks won’t bounce back to his performance of the previous two seasons, characterized by an ERA around 3.70, 210 innings pitched, 150-160 K’s, and double-digit wins.

Folks, we’re not looking at a staff ace here, but slotted into the number four or five spot in your rotation, you should do just fine.

9)  Brandon Morrow:  Weren’t we here last year?  Yes, many writers, including yours truly, predicted Morrow would have a breakout year in 2011.  The only thing that got broken, however, by those who owned him last year, though, were many fantasy owners team ERA’s and WHIP’s.

Still, Morrow struck out 203 batters last year in just 179 innings, averaging a league-best 10.2 K’s / 9 innings.  Clearly, the stuff is there for Morrow to take the next step up to being a fantasy baseball stud.  And after last season’s debacle (11 wins, 4.72 ERA), many owners will be spooked away from him.  Let him drop as far as you reasonably can, but don’t be afraid to grab him if it becomes clear the other owners are avoiding him like the plague.

David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays doing first ...

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10)  David Price:  How does David Price make it onto a sleepers list?  Didn’t he finish 2nd in Cy Young voting in 2010?  Yes, and that’s exactly why he earns the number #10 spot on this list.  The 2011 model of David Price finished the year with a dismal 12-13 record (down from 19-6 in ’10) while pitching for a very good team.  His ERA rose from 2.72 to a more pedestrian 3.49.

Now the good news.  Price actually improved his walk ratio last year from 3.4 down to 2.5 / 9 innings, and his K rate rose slightly from 8.1 to 8.7 / 9 innings as well.  Price should finish the year as one of the top ten pitchers in the Majors, but he might not be drafted as such.  Therefore, if you play your cards right, you could land a #1 level pitcher in a round typically associated with #2 starting pitchers.

Next up in this series, Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, 2012:  The Hitters

Fantasy Baseball: Ten Tips for an Enjoyable Season

During the month of February, I will alternate my normal fare with posts about fantasy baseball.  I’ve been participating in various fantasy baseball leagues since 1993, so I decided to share some of my experience (I hesitate to call it “wisdom”) with those of you who play as well.

Here are ten tips to help you enjoy your fantasy baseball season, regardless of whether this is your first time, or if you are an aging veteran like me.

Fantasy Baseball

Image by StuffEyeSee via Flickr

1.  Know your league’s scoring system inside out. If you are in a points-based league, make sure you know how many points a blown-save is worth.  Is a strikeout by a hitter a negative half a point, a full point, or does it not count against a hitter?  Information like that will make a difference when trying to decide when, or if, to draft a player like Drew Stubbs (205 strikeouts in 2011.)

2.  Stay away from personal prejudices.  If you are a Red Sox fan and you hate the Yankees, you have to remember that as an owner of a fantasy team, your job is to try to win your league, not simply stock up on all of your favorite Red Sox players.  If you begin by excluding one or more franchises that could supply top-tier talent to your team, you are simply reducing the chances of enjoying a championship season.

3.  Never be vindictive towards another owner. There are practical, as well as ethical reasons for not doing so.  Fantasy Baseball can be highly competitive, and everyone wants to win, but if you take this hobby too seriously and lash-out at another owner, or attempt to collude against someone who irritates you, look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself why your life is so small that this should be so important to you.

Also, from a practical standpoint, that owner that you have decided is your enemy might just have the one player on his team that you would like to trade for to help put your team “over the top”.  Good luck doing that if you’ve been acting like a jerk.

4.  Don’t overrate your own players. This is a common mistake in fantasy baseball, especially with less experienced owners.  Most people involved in fantasy baseball have a pretty good working knowledge of the relative value of every player on someone else roster.  If you start with the premise that all of your players are future Hall of Famers, you’ll never be able to engage in any potentially helpful trades, and you’ll just sound like an ass.

5.  Don’t propose insulting trade offers. An extremely common, and annoying, strategy is to offer anywhere from two to five of your own average players for another team’s superstar.  Considering that there is usually enough talent available on the waiver wire, why should someone take on your mediocre players?

Moreover, with limited roster space, the person you are making the offer to would have to drop one or two players just to consummate the deal, and those players might be better than or equal to the players you are offering.

6.  Don’t ignore trade offers. Even if someone does offer you a stupid, ridiculous trade, just politely respond with a “No thanks for now,” response.  No use offending anyone that could potentially help you down the road.

7.  Don’t whine or complain about bad luck. No one wants to hear about it.  Conversely, don’t denigrate another fantasy owner’s success by writing it off as nothing more than good luck.  Success, as someone once said, is the residue of preparation.  Every team experiences injuries.  A successful fantasy team adapts to changing conditions throughout the season.  If you think you are done actually managing your roster on draft day, you’ve got another thing coming.

8.  Try to stay engaged in an ongoing dialogue regarding your league, and baseball in general, throughout the season.  In almost every league I’ve ever been in, we end up with “hidden” owners we know exist only because they submit weekly line-ups, but they are virtually absent as actual humans participating in a hobby that’s meant to be interactive.  That’s like joining a book-group and just sitting there reading, never engaging in a conversation about the book you’re reading with anyone else.

9.  Don’t let fantasy baseball take over your life. If you find yourself still awake in front of your computer at 2:15 a.m. trying to locate the box-score of some west coast game, turn off the damned computer and go to bed.  You’ll feel better in the morning, and you can always turn on Sports Center when you wake up.

10.  Don’t forget that you love real baseball first, fantasy baseball second.  Therefore, when you are watching a fantastic pitcher’s duel featuring two young aces, and the only player you have in that game on your fantasy roster just went 0-5 with four strikeouts, you didn’t just watch a crummy, disappointing game.  You may have “missed” (even though you just sat through it) one of the best games of the season.

In a follow-up post, I will write more specifically about strategies and tactics that have met with success in fantasy baseball throughout the years.

Related articles

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2011: The Hitters

Colby Rasmus

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Today and this Wednesday, I will be featuring a brief two-part series on Fantasy Baseball.

Today in Part 1, I will focus on the hitters.  On Wednesday, I will post an article on the pitchers.

The following players qualify as sleepers because I believe their actual value in 2011 will surpass their perceived value on Fantasy / Roto Draft Day.

 

 

Catcher – Mike Napoli – Recently traded from the Angels to the Blue Jays, and then on to the Rangers, Napoli will be playing in one of baseball’s best hitter’s parks.  Moreover, because he is likely to play as much 1B / DH as C, Napoli will receive fewer days off than most regular catchers.  Napoli is at an age when many catchers truly find their power-stroke.  And on Draft Day, he will be available in the later rounds.

 

First Base – Mitch Moreland – Two things I always keep in mind on Draft Day: 1) Draft the Ballpark and 2) Look for the players who will finally receive an opportunity.  Moreland, like Napoli, will be playing half his games in a great hitting environment, with good hitters around him.  On top of that, the first base job is his to lose this year, as Chris Davis seems to have played himself out of the competition.

 

Second Base – Gordon BeckhamBeckham suffered through a mostly miserable season last year for various reasons.  One underappreciated reason is likely his difficult transition to a new defensive position, second base.  People seem to underrate how difficult it can be for a young player to master a new position, especially in the middle infield.  Beckham is simply too talented to play anywhere near as poorly as he did last year.  Finally, the White Sox play in a friendly hitting environment, not to mention the other obvious advantage of facing Cleveland and Kansas City pitching staffsseveral times per year.

 

Third Base – Pedro Alvarez – This young Pirates slugger strikes out a lot, but he wields a very lethal bat.  There will be some growing pains again this year as he enters his first full season, but because he is a Pirate, he should slip down far enough in your draft to produce at least moderate value for you this year.  And, if you are in a keeper league, his future value may be enormous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shortstop – Yunel EscobarEscobar wore out his welcome in Atlanta despite his obvious defensive talent and hitting abilities.  Although at 28-years old he is not young enough to qualify as a prospect anymore, Toronto’s hitting environment, and a perhaps looser atmosphere in which to play, could very well provide the opportunity for Yunel to suddenly blossom.  Some in your league will be put off by his allegedly bad attitude.  Just remember that good attitudes don’t win Fantasy Championships, good statistics do.

 

Outfield – Justin Upton Upton experienced the proverbial sophomore slump last year.  But at age 23, this will be your last chance to get him at a discount.  Remember that he was the number #1 overall pick of the 2005 amateur draft.  Consider, too, that he has already slugged 60 career home runs to go along with his 84 doubles and 41 steals.  Also, he plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark.  Draft him as a #2 outfielder, and watch him produce like a #1 outfielder.

Outfield – Colby Rasmus – Manager Tony LaRussa just never seemed to warm up to Rasmus last year.  Whenever Rasmus got hot, LaRussa would find an excuse to play someone else in the outfield for a day or two, never allowing Rasmus to get into a rhythm and sustain it.  Rasmus scored 85 runs last year and swatted 23 home runs in just 464 at bats.  At age 24, he is just beginning to discover his real potential.  Only LaRussa stands in the way of Rasmus reaching stardom in the next year or two.

Outfield – Travis Snider – Finally displayed a modicum of his serious power potential last season, hitting twenty doubles and fourteen homers in what amounted to about half a seasons worth of playing time.  Snider turns 23-years old on February 2nd, so his development as a future star is right about where it should be.  A 25-home run, 35 double, 12 stolen base-seasons is within reach this year, with bigger numbers down the road as his plate discipline improves.

Designated Hitters – Since most leagues allow any position player to fill the role of DH, there just isn’t any reason to search for sleepers at this “position.”  But if you find yourself desperately trying to fill this hole, focus on available first basemen and outfielders.  Those are the positions where you will find the most available sleepers.

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Baseball’s Prospects: Mickey Mantle, or Mr. Hype?

An image of Major League Baseball pitcher Clin...

An image of Major League Baseball pitcher Clint Hartung. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I first published this article on 19 January 2011, but realized that it is as relevant today as it was then, so I decided to re-post it.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the latest young prospects arriving in the Majors.  Hopes are high that these young men will go on to become the stars of the future, if not the present.

It got me to thinking about all of the young phenoms over the years who had long, successful careers ahead of them, or so we thought.  These prospects capture our imagination because of what they might become.  Perhaps the next Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, or Stan Musial is in our midst, and we just have to look a little harder to recognize him.

Or, just as likely, the youthful apparitions gracing the baseball landscape will turn out to be the next Clint Hurdle, Joe Charboneau, or Sam Horn.

So I’ve compiled a list (because that’s what I do) of several of baseball’s biggest busts that were once highly touted prospects.  Actually, some of these players were relative busts, meaning they may have had perfectly acceptable careers, but they never soared to the Olympian heights that had been predicted for them.

Let’s begin with…

Catcher – Sandy Alomar, Jr.

The Hype: From the same gene-pool that produced both his dad (Sandy, Sr.) and his brother (Roberto).  A can’t-miss prospect with raw athletic ability behind the plate and a an idea of how to handle the bat.

The Promise: Alomar hit .290 in 1990 while playing in the All-Star Game, winning a Gold Glove, and being named A.L. Rookie of the Year.

Fast Forward: Alomar finished his twenty-year career with an OPS+ of 86, a career WAR of 13.2, and, although he played in a few more All-Star games, he never won another Gold Glove.

First Base: Bob “Home Run” Hamelin.

The Hype: A powerful man who will hit tons of home runs in the Major Leagues.

The Promise: Won the A.L. Rookie of the Year award for the Royals in 1994, swatting 24 homers in just 374 plate appearances.

Fast Forward: Hamelin lasted just four more seasons in the Majors, finishing his career with a career total of 67 home runs.

First Base:  Nick Esasky

The Hype: First Round pick by the Reds in 1978.  Would become the next Tony Perez, only with more power.

The Promise: Hit 43 homers over three partial seasons through 1985.

Fast Forward: Retired in 1990 at age 30 after compiling a .250 career batting average and 122 home runs.

Second Base:  Bump Wills

The Hype: As with Sandy Alomar, Jr., Wills was supposedly a top-notch prospect due to his lineage; his father, Maury, stole a bunch of bases back in the 1960’s, leading some people to mistake him for a Hall-of-Fame deserving candidate.

The Promise: In his rookie year with Texas, 1977, he hit .287 and stole 28 bases.  Finished third in Rookie-of-the Year balloting.

Fast Forward: Bump did not carry the Wills name to new heights, scoring just 472 runs in his brief, six-year career.  Career batting average:  .266

Third Base:  Chris Sabo

The Hype: Out in Cincy, many prognosticators had already acclaimed Sabo the next Pete Rose, for his slashing hitting style and his aggressive style of play.

The Promise: Sabo was named N.L. Rookie of the Year for 1988, hitting 40 doubles while stealing 46 bases.

Fast Forward: Sabo finished his nine-year career with 898 hits and a .268 batting average.  He had a decent career, but turned out to be more  Kelly Gruber than Pete Rose.

Shortstop:  Tony Kubek

The Hype: Well, dammit, he was a Yankee, wasn’t he?  Heir apparent to Phil Rizzuto.

The Promise: 1957 A.L. Rookie of the Year (notice a trend here?)  As a 21-year old, played steady defense and nearly hit .300.

Fast Forward: Actually finished with an even lower career OPS+ (85)  than Rizzuto (93).  Rule of thumb: an OPS+ under 100 =  NOT GOOD.

Outfield:  Clint Hurdle

The Hype: The following paragraph comes directly from the March 20, 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated:

“The very mention of Hurdle’s name causes heads to bow and heartbeats to quicken. General Manager Joe Burke calls him “one of the top prospects I’ve seen in the 17 years I’ve been in the major leagues.” John Schuerholz, the director of scouting and player development, says, “I bubble inside when I think about his potential.”

Hurdle’s picture graced the cover next to the words, “This Year’s Phenom.”

The Promise: In a brief trip up to The Show as a 19-year old in 1977, Hurdle impressed virtually everyone.  In 28 plate appearances, he batted .308 and recorded an OPS of nearly .900.  His OPS+ was 139.

Fast Forward: This can’t-miss prospect missed badly.  He produced only 360 hits in his entire Major League career, eventually calling it quits in 1987 at the age of 29.

Pitcher / Outfielder:  Clint Hartung

The Hype: Preceding Clint Hurdle by a generation, Hartung was so over-hyped that baseball writers, executives and fans at the time referred to The “Hondo Hurricane” as an entire ball club in one man.  The question wasn’t whether he would make it into the Hall of Fame, it was simply a question of when.  “He was considered Shoeless Joe Jackson, Babe Ruth and Bob Feller all rolled up into one,” (Bill Gallo, New York Daily News.) 

The Promise: As a rookie in 1947 for the New York Giants,  Hartung made 20 starts, won nine of them, and hurled eight complete games.  He also played nine games in the outfield, batting .309 in 97 plate appearance.  (Remember, he had at-bats as a pitcher, too.)

Fast Forward: Like Clint Hurdle a generation later, Hartung was out of Major League baseball by age 29.  He hit just 13 home runs in his career.  As a pitcher, he finished with a career record of 29-29 and a 5.02 ERA.

Outfield:  Joe Charboneau

The Hype: “Super Joe” Charboneau took the media by storm in the summer of 1980 with his enthusiastic play and goofy behavior.  He would drink beer through his nose and insisted that he did his own dental work.  Handsome in a wild kind of way, men wanted to be him, and girls wanted to date him.

The Promise: Won the A.L. Rookie of the Year award as a 25-year old playing for the Cleveland Indians in 1980.  He hit 23 homers, drove in 87 runs, and batted .289.

Fast Forward: Charboneau played so poorly the following season that he became the only ROY winner to be sent back down to the Minor Leagues.  He batted .210 in ’81 and .214 in ’82, and that was it.  After his rookie year, he slugged only six more home runs in his entire career.  He was out of baseball before he turned 28-years old.

There are, of course, many other failed prospects littering the annals of baseball history.  You could include Sam Horn of the Red Sox, Mike Vail of the New York Mets, Ron Kittle of the White Sox, Greg “Toe” Nash of Tampa Bay, and on and on.

Consider this, then, a cautionary tale.  The odds are greater that this year’s over-hyped baseball phenom will turn out to be more like Clint Hurdle rather than Mickey Mantle.

But hope springs eternal, especially as  Spring Training approaches.

Dream, then, of the slender young man in his clean uniform against the brown backdrop of the baseball diamond.  A world of limitless possibility awaits him, and we long to be part of it.

After all, that’s what baseball is for.


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