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Draft Round Battles: Starlin Castro Vs. Jose Reyes

"Mark, is this seriously your matchup?"

Yep.

"Geez, this column will be pretty short.  It's Jose Reyes, man!  All-Star staple, centerpiece of the offseason's biggest trade, playing in a stacked lineup in Toronto...heck, if Troy Tulowitzki struggles coming back from injury or Hanley Ramirez's career continues to stall, Reyes is probably the best shortstop in the game.  This one is a no-brainer!"

Or is it, imaginary straw man character I invented for the purposes of this post?

"Wait, I'm imaginary?"

Well, yes, but... 

"AHHH, I'M FICTIONAL!  OH, THE UNIMAGINABLE SORROW OF LEARNING THAT ONE'S EXISTENCE IS A LIE!"

Huh.  Who would've thought that a fantasy baseball column would contain such existential pathos?  Then again, for all the Cubs fans reading this, you're used to questioning the meaning of life, right?  #1908 #BillyGoat #Cheapshot 

Anyway, let's end this little skit and get down to business.  (Plus, as a Maple Leafs fan, I have no right to mock another team's championship drought.)  This is a matchup that, as noted, seems pretty clear on paper.  Reyes has been a good-to-superb fantasy option for a decade while Starlin Castro has had a very good start to his Major League career but, in the words of Roto Authority's own Alex Steers McCrum, is "a little bit overrated" in terms of what he brings to the table, fantasy-wise.

So, it may surprise you to learn that Castro and Reyes are neck-and-neck on Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position reports.  Castro has a 36.57 ADP, making him the third shortstop and 35th player taken overall.  Reyes is literally right behind, as the 36th player taken overall and the owner of a 36.91 ADP. What gives?  Is this a case of fans continuing to "overrate" Castro or thinking Reyes is going downhill since he didn't duplicate his all-world 2011 season?

It might not be that stark but rather simply a case of fantasy managers drafting for the future rather than the past.  In picking Castro over Reyes, you're picking a shortstop who has put up a .297/.336/.425 line over his first three Major League seasons, with 162-game averages of 10 homers, 67 RBI, 81 runs and 21 steals. Castro doesn't even turn 23 until later this month, so it's possible he's only just scratched the surface of his potential. 

Castro does indeed get a lot of hype as the Cubs' next great hope and star of the future, so fantasy owners who draft him on that basis tend to be let down since they're expecting the second coming of Derek Jeter.  Yet, as noted, Castro has been pretty good; this isn't an Alex Gordon or Eric Hosmer case, when you have a guy that's dead weight in your fantasy lineup while you're waiting for the breakout to happen. Castro has helped many a fantasy squad and could become a cornerstone player if he makes the leap in 2013.

And even if the leap doesn't happen quite yet, there's a certain stability in Castro since you know what he'll bring to the table.  He might not get significantly better but I highly doubt he'll get worse --- at a minimum, he'll repeat his .753 OPS, 14 HR, 78 RBI, 25 SB season from 2012.  Castro still has Wrigley Field to work with, he has the security of a long-term extension and he'll have a full season of Anthony Rizzo hitting behind him, even if the Cubs lineup isn't so hot overall.

Compare this stability to Reyes' situation heading into 2013.  I should note that, despite my forthcoming devil's advocate arguments, I still expect Reyes to have a very good season; it's just that more things could go wrong for Reyes this year.  His move to Toronto indeed puts him atop a deep batting order so there's plenty of room for run-scoring opportunities, but it's also a move to a brand new league and an artificial surface, so Reyes could have trouble adjusting.  While Reyes has spent his career hitting in pitcher-friendly ballparks in Queens and Miami, he'll be moving to a good hitters' park in Toronto but it's worth noting that Reyes' game (based around gap power and speed) was very well suited to his past stadia and he has only a career .748 OPS in away games.

Perhaps the most worrisome number associated with Reyes, however, is the fact that he'll turn 30 years old in June.  It's a red flag age for any player but particularly a player like Reyes whose game is so reliant on his legs.  According to Fangraphs, Reyes had the lowest full-season speed score (7.1) of his career in 2012.  Reyes' base-stealing is his biggest edge over Castro (40 SB to Castro's 25 last season) but if that gap continues to narrow, then they're basically the same offensive player, with Reyes holding an edge in runs but Castro ahead in the power numbers.  And of course, Castro's power numbers are likely to only go up, while it's not like Reyes will suddenly get faster as he ages.

As I said, I still think Reyes will be a good player in 2013.  While I hate to dabble in intangibles, he could be energized by playing for a Jays squad that should be in the playoff hunt all season long.  If both he and Castro are on the board when you're picking at the end of the third/start of the fourth round, however, I might bite the bullet and draft Castro just for pure ceiling reasons.  I submit that Reyes is unlikely to revert to his .877 OPS form from 2011 and will probably resemble the player he was last year with the Marlins.  Castro, on the other hand, already came close to matching Reyes' numbers and has nowhere to go but up.

"WAIT, SO NOT ONLY WAS MY REALITY SHATTERED BY MY DISCOVERY THAT I'M A FICTIONAL CONSTRUCT, BUT I PICKED THE WRONG SHORTSTOP FOR MY FANTASY TEAM?!?!"

Well, not the 'wrong' shortstop, just maybe the slightly riskier....

"AAAAHHHHHHHH!" 




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