Matthew St-Germain

Prospects

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2008 NL Central Prospects

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Homer Bailey, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
In the world of prospect projecting, a few bad circumstances sure can tarnish a player's outlook, despite all the gushing and fawning he received only months prior. Homer Bailey is the perfect example of this somewhat unfair devaluation. Less than a year ago I was reading comparisons to Nolan Ryan (how accurate this may be is certainly debatable), and now I'm seeing him valued lower than fellow Reds prospect Johnny Cueto on many expert's lists.

Bailey flashes a plus curveball that has the ability to absolutely embarrass hitters, mixed with deceptive drag-and-drop delivery and two above average fastballs. His ¾ arm slot and delivery both are extremely sustainable. He initially struggled at the major league level because he was attempting to incorporate his full arsenal, losing a bit of the bite on his fastball, and sacrificing his command. All he has to do is refine his command and control to become the true ace that he's been long projected to be. And despite the poor results last season, he's on the correct path.

Adding to Bailey's problems last year was the fact that he was injured for the majority of his call-up, straining his groin after his seven-inning, two-hit start against Oakland on June 19. He was shutdown shortly thereafter for two months, returning for three somewhat notable starts in September, winning two. The major knock on Bailey has always been his inefficiency; pitching deep into counts and tiring early, which clearly can be seen in his poor k/bb rates (both 13.7% in the majors).

Barring something miraculous, this is unlikely to change for 2008 (or unfortunately part of 2009). However, he's got a nice repeatable delivery and is a very good athlete, thus the injury tag should not be applied. Still, he's best to be avoided on draft day, as young pitchers usually take years to adjust to the major league level and his repertoire has already been exposed, not to mention pitching in Great American Ballpark. While there is a slight chance it will click for him this season, thus elevating the below numbers, neither he nor Cueto will likely provide substantial value, and staying away from Bailey for another year or so makes the most sense in redraft leagues. Those who own him in keeper leagues do not have much choice but to hold, and must continue to as the potential payoff still remains quite great.

130 IP, 7 W, 104 K, 87 BB, 4.65 ERA, 1.43 WHIP

J.R. Towles, C, Houston Astros
Despite limited high minor league experience, Justin Towles impressed upon his call-up to Houston last season, batting .375/.432/.575 over 45 plate appearances, hitting one home run while only striking out once. Towles has rocketed up many prospect lists due to his ability to steal bases, and reminded some of the next Russell Martin.

The problem is that the two catchers have very different bodies, with Martin four inches shorter and about 35 pounds heavier. Martin is simply much more powerful right now. And while Towles is fast, he was also caught 14 of the 28 times he ran last season, leading one to temper their expectations for his success rates in the big leagues – he did not even attempt one steal in 40 at bats in Houston.

What Towles does have going for him (and against him) is that he does everything well and nothing spectacular. His pitch recognition and plate presence are sound (as evidenced by an 84% contact rate at Double-A), he's adding strength, suggesting that he'll hit for moderate power and a decent average. His speed is above average for a catcher, but his instincts on the base paths need refining. He calls a good game and has soft hands, which is what will keep him up this season under the tutelage of Brad Ausmus. All of these traits do place him as an above average catcher, and definitely worthy of taking a flier on draft day in the final rounds.

What one needs to take pause with is that he has proven little in the high minors due to limited time there. And while his stats last year in the majors look nice on paper, he did it during mop up time and against the following pitchers: Matt Morris, Paul Maholm, Braden Looper (his 8 RBI game), Joel Pineiro, Brad Thompson, Homer Bailey, Kirk Saarloos, Matt Belisle (who he went hitless against) and Jo Jo Reyes. It's likely he needs more time polishing up his skills before he faces superior pitching, and prolonged slumps could be in order in the immediate future. But due to the amount of at bats he's destined to get, and a superior contact skill, he's more than likely to hit for average, suggesting you could do much worse at catcher on draft day. However, the Russell Martin steal totals are a dream right now, and his power still needs a full season to develop.

340 AB, .282 BA, 7 HR, 53 R, 43 RBI, 4 SB


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