LJ Rader

Draft Strategy

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AL-only Post-Hype Hitters

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Most baseball fans are wired to need instant gratification when it comes to their team's top prospects. It's hard not to; scouting reports that detail players as future Hall of Famers and franchise saviors make it impossible not to crave immediate results. The truth is, most prospects need at least one and usually two major league seasons under their belt before revealing their true talent. Some, such as Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria, succeed the minute they hit the show, but they are the exception, not the rule. If you look at top prospects that turned into great major leaguers, you'll find that many -- Adrian Gonzalez, Delmon Young, Carlos Gonzalez and Billy Butler just to name a few -- struggled before finding their major league groove. It becomes easy to write off a guy that does not have instant success, but if you can correctly identify a player that's finally ready to cash in on his talent, you have the chance to come away with some great value. Below are six "post-hype" hitters worth keeping an eye on.

C Matt Wieters, Orioles

Named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2008, Wieters hit .288/.340/.412 over 354 plate appearances at the major league level in 2009, an impressive slash line for a 23-year-old rookie catcher. His sophomore campaign was underwhelming at best, as he managed a slash of .249/.319/.377 with only 11 homeruns over 502 plate appearances.

2011 outlook: The stage is set for Wieters to finally break out. His .287 BABIP mark in 2010 was .069 points below his rookie year posting, a sign that some of his struggles can be chalked up to bad luck. Dig deeper and you'll see Wieters actually improved in his ability to hit sliders and curveballs but regressed substantially against fastballs. The struggles against the heater won't last and the improvement against the secondary pitches is reason for additional optimism. Wieters will provide great value now that most owners view him as a bust.

2B Gordon Beckham, White Sox

Gordo's sophomore season was marred by injuries and month-long slumps (.159/.258/.159 in May), ending with a final line of .252/.317/.378 and just 9 HRs and 4 SBs. It was a far cry from his rookie line of .270/.347/.460 with 14 HRs and 7 SBs, leading some to label Beckham as a bust at the age of just 23.

2011 outlook: There's plenty of reason for 2011 optimism. Manager Ozzie Guillen showed time and again his willingness to stick with Beckham despite the struggles, a stubbornness that bodes well for 2011. Guillen has already named Gordo the Sox's No. 2 hitter, meaning he'll hit behind Juan Pierre and ahead of some combination between Alex Rios, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Quentin. Though expectations should be tempered, it's not unreasonable to think Beckham can hit at least 15 HRs, steal 10 bases, rack up 80 runs, and post an OPS of at least .825.

SS/2B Reid Brignac, Rays

Three seasons of mediocrity across AAA and the majors make it easy to forget that Brignac was once ranked as BA's 17th best prospect in 2007 and 39th best in 2008. He slashed .256/.307/.385 over 326 plate appearances for the Rays in 2010, playing primarily at second base.

2011 outlook: Brignac is now Tampa's everyday shortstop after the team traded away Jason Bartlett during the offseason. While he's a long shot to ever post a solid on-base percentage, his 20-homer potential and decent batting average make him an intriguing late round option. The AL-only shortstop crop is less than inspiring, and Brignac has the potential to emerge as a great value pick in the final rounds of your draft, especially if he holds dual eligibility in your league.

OF Travis Snider, Blue Jays

Snider has worn the post-hype albatross each of the past two seasons and has not shown enough over 612 career at bats to shed the label. Ranked as BA's No. 6 overall prospect in 2009, Snider started 32 of the team's first 37 games in 2010 until a wrist injury forced him onto the disabled list. He's flashed elite pop in his brief MLB career, slugging 25 homeruns and 40 doubles, yet his .767 OPS falls far short of expectations.

2011 outlook: It's a make or break season for Snider. He's scheduled to be the team's opening day starter and could post monster numbers if he stays healthy and keeps his head screwed on straight. While both are big ifs, few players possess Snider's upside. Like teammate Adam Lind in 2009, Snider is primed to have a breakout season. If you're looking for a high-upside flier in the later rounds, Travis Snider is your man.

OF Michael Saunders, Mariners

Saunders was an 11th round draft pick of the Mariners in 2004. He emerged as a prospect in 2007, slugging 14 HRs and stealing 27 bases at High-A High Desert. The Mariners' lack of outfield depth led to a call-up in 2009 and Saunders struggled, failing to homer in 129 PAs. 2010 started off just as bad, as Saunders hit .138 with an awful .341 OPS for AAA Tacoma in April. Seattle's lack of depth again forced a premature call-up, this time in early May. However, the second time around wasn't nearly as bad. Saunders did strike out a ton (29.7 K%) but showed nice pop (10HRs) and posted a decent 10.7 BB% over 327 plate appearances.

2011 outlook: Saunders' value hinges heavily on the Mariners' handling of the Milton Bradley situation. As of now Saunders stands to serve as the M's 4th outfielder and may even start the season in the minors. Should the team cut Bradley -- a real possibility after his January arrest -- Saunders would assume left field responsibilities. It's a situation that should be monitored by AL-only leaguers, as Saunders could throw up 15 HRs and 15 SBs with a .250-.260 average if given a full slate of at bats.

OF Desmond Jennings, Rays

Jennings -- BA's No. 6 overall prospect heading into 2010 – is a career 299/.384/.441 hitter over five seasons in the minors. He has elite speed and plus base-running ability, including a 37-for-41 posting at AAA Durham prior to his September call-up to the big leagues. Jennings hit just .190/.292/.333 with 0 HRs and 2 SBs over 24 plate appearances at the major league level after earning the call-up, leading to his placement on this list. It's a miniscule sample size, but ugly enough to scare away fantasy players that don't pay attention, especially considering a large amount of time could pass before Jennings finds himself on Tampa's 25-man roster.

2011 outlook: VP of baseball Andrew Friedman indicated in early December that Tampa would not hand Jennings the vacant left field job, and after the team brought in both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, it would be a surprise if Jennings did not start the season in AAA. A lot can change during spring training, but right now Jennings is shaping up to be a nice midseason post-hype pickup for stolen bases. Keep his name stashed.



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