RotoAuthority Unscripted: Prospect Paradise

Well, September has arrived, bringing with it new beginnings that are really endings: school begins for millions of children (mostly out on the West Coast); the carefree days of summer come to an end. In popular imagination, fall begins; the oppressive heat in my apartment comes to a blessed end (or not). The real pennant race steps up throughout baseball; the mad hopes of teams like the White Sox and Rays come to an end (or should).

But what does this have to do with your fantasy team? Well, September is the beginning of Major League rosters expanding: prospects will be promoted to the big leagues, ending…well, ending their minor league careers, I guess. Well, for now. Anyway, sometimes these prospects end up spending a lot of time on the bench learning little more than how to collect paychecks and how to form lifelong chewing tobacco habits from their baseball elders.

And sometimes they pop up and a superstar is born. Whether it’s a stud outfielder who shows up and rakes for a month or a future ace who pitches like one for six starts or so during your fantasy playoffs (or stretch drive), this is the time when rookies make the biggest impact.

So who’s coming up? And will they be any good? (‘Cause I can totally predict accurately a single month of baseball involving established big leaguers, let alone guys who just showed up….) 

Actually Promoted

Joc Pederson, OF, LAD

Joc just got the call and is already owned in 7% of Yahoo! leagues…and 33% of CBS leagues. I did my part to move that needle in Yahoo! formats, picking him up on three of my four teams from that provider. (I don’t think he’ll last to me in CBS this week.) This is a speculative investment: the Dodgers have a notoriously crowded outfield, and while Pederson might be one of their top three outfielders by talent, he certainly isn’t by paycheck; Los Angeles might feel compelled to let Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier “earn” their money.

But maybe not. Either the Dodgers will lose some games and start to feel the pressure to win in order to make the playoffs, in which case other considerations might matter less. Or they might get off to a great start in September and coast into a playoff berth (they’ve got just a two game lead on the Giants as I write). In that case, maybe they’ll want to really see what they have in the person of Pederson. It could happen. It might not, but Pederson’s minor league stats make me excited to take the risk: in case you didn’t click the link above yet, he batted .303/.435/.582 in the minors (hitters’ park and league, yes…still the best in the PCL, yes—he won the league MVP) with 33 homers and 30 stolen bases. Now that is some upside. 

Maikel Franco, 3B, PHI

News is that Franco is getting the call today for Philadelphia. Franco can’t lay claim to a monster season in the minors like Pederson can (seriously, his batting line is .257/.298/.427 with 16 homers, which is not excused by park or league effects) but he’s got some things going in his favor too. First of all, his hitting has picked up recently, batting .338 since June, so that’s good.

Perhaps more importantly, the hideously-bad-at-hitting Phillies have no reason whatsoever not to let Franco start all month and see what the 22-year-old can do. Their games don’t mean a thing (at 15 games back in September, even Ruben Amaro knows they aren’t winning the division) and I actually had to go to the Philadelphia depth chart to see who Franco’s competition is at third. Apparently, it’s Cody Asche. Franco is owned in just 3% of Yahoo! leagues and 26% of CBS leagues. 

Daniel Norris, P, TOR

Norris might be a top prospect, but that probably won’t stop him from pitching out of the Blue Jays’ bullpen this month. He’s certainly someone interesting to watch for next year, and keep an eye out for any suggestion that he’ll get starts in September. For now, though, he probably doesn’t have any fantasy value in redraft leagues.

Dalton Pompey, OF, TOR

Pompey (the Toronto outfielder, not the Roman general, relation unknown) was also called up and could eat into the playing time of Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus as the Blue Jays have fallen from contention. Still, it’s a crowded outfield and Pompey isn’t the only guy Toronto has called up. So keep his name in mind, but don’t rush to the waiver wire just yet.

Some More Guys to Watch:

Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC

Apparently, Bryant isn’t getting the call so that the Cubs can delay his service clock. After hitting 43 homers in the minors, you’d think there was no place to go but up…but I guess the Cubs are content to wait till next year….

Francisco Lindor, SS, CLE

I picked up Lindor in a keeper league with NA slots as soon as Asdrubal Cabrera was traded, but it’s starting to look like he won’t be making a splash this season any more than Bryant will. With the service clock looming, the whole “nothing to play for” narrative could be keeping Lindor down as long as Cleveland gets adequate play from Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez.

Noah Syndergaard, P, NYM

Word is that Syndergaard could get a call up…if the Mets can figure things out with their roster. So at least he’s more “maybe” than “no,” though that doesn’t tell us if he’d get starts and fantasy value, or scattered innings out of the bullpen. He’s one to keep a really close eye one, though, since he could have serious value for a Mets team that gets to pitch in friendly parks this month.

Archie Bradley, P, ARZ

Bradley—who I thought had been eliminated as a September call up candidate—still might make it to the Show this year after all. He will be playing in the Arizona Fall League, but I guess it’s still up in the air whether or not he pitches for the Diamondbacks. I’m inclined to think not, but I’ll still be keeping tabs on the top prospect.

Andrew Heaney, P, MIA

Heaney already came up this year, so it wouldn’t be a classic cup of coffee if he returned to the Majors for September. With the Marlins perhaps retaining a Quixotic hope in making up 5.5 games and slipping into a Wild Card berth, they might lean on Heaney to improve their staff. Or not. They’re not one of the most predictable organizations, so keep checking in on Heaney, I guess.

Stock Watch: Trade Your Prospects

Real-life Major League teams are getting more and more sensible these days, holding onto prospects like a miser with a bag of pennies. Sure, sometimes they still trade away next year's top shortstop for a mid-season rental, but those Jean Segura warning stories just seem to make most teams all the more protective of their best prospects. 

You, on the other hand, should do no such thing. There's no next year in fantasy (unless you play in a keeper league, in which case this advice has little to do with your situation), so deal away. Because it makes a much easier transition, let's shake things up and start off with some great prospects to trade away....

Trade Away (All Your Favorite Prospects)

I suggested nabbing Zack Wheeler last week--and I spent nearly half my yearly FAAB budget to get him on one team--so why am I telling you to deal him away now? I mean, he hasn't even gotten to pitch yet! The reason is that now could very well be the peak of his value. For every Shelby Miller, there are several Kevin Gausman's (Gausmen?). If Wheeler pitches poorly in his first start, his value drops by a lot, but right now he's still got that new-car smell, that untainted, sky's-the-limit, prospect essence. If you sell now for a proven commodity, there is a real chance that you undersell his value. And a real chance that you win the deal big. What you can get, though, is the safety of acquiring the kind of proven player that can't be found on the waiver wire. 

Like Wheeler, it would have been a safe (and usually advisable) play to deal Gerrit Cole before his first start: though Cole is a higher-level prospect, uncertainty still remains with any pitcher in their situation. Owners are obviously glad they didn't trade him, as his value has gone up. Now he's proven to be able to handle big league hitters. I bet there are plenty of leagues in which you can get a star caliber return for Cole right away. Most of you probably already know which owner to offer the trade to....

Yasiel Puig is another prospect like Cole, who might be able to fetch a serious return. His early success really might carry into continued great hitting...or it might not, or he might slump just in time to get squeezed out of the outfield when the better-paid Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford return from the DL. Sell him while you can!

Jurickson Profar is another sell-high candidate another prospect worth trading. I actually released him in one league the week before Ian Kinsler got injured. I'm not exactly kicking myself for that decision, though I certainly did at first. Profar may or may not be "ready" for the Majors, but he hasn't hit like it, and certainly not well enough to push Kinsler to the outfield. While Texas hasn't said what they'll do when their second baseman is back from the DL, don't be shocked if Profar wanders back to AAA. Fortunately, his name value alone might be enough for you to get a usable fringe starter in a trade.

I mentioned above that you don't want to make trades like these in keeper leagues, but you also shouldn't make them in another situation: last place. If you're at or near the top of your league, then it makes sense to deal upside for likelihood of usefulness. Even when you're in the thick of the pack, that strategy makes sense (though you might want to hold out for better return). But when you're at or near the bottom, you need upside. If you get offered one of these players, or most other prospects, in a deal (except Profar) try to swing a trade, and remember that teams higher in the standings can still benefit from low-upside returns.

Trade Away (BABIP Heroes)

Two players stuck out to me as BABIP-induced sell-high's. Sometimes when a player's high BABIP is inflating their numbers, you know that everyone knows it's a big fluke. Seriously, nobody's going to give you anything good for Jhonny Peralta. (But take it if they do!) Instead, high-expectation players with high-BABIP's look much better when dangled in trade. If I told you Joe Mauer would have a high batting average, and derive most of his value from it, would you be surprised? Of course not. But that doesn't mean you should expect him to keep the .410 BABIP that has led to his .332 AVG. Similarly, Freddie Freeman entered the year with high expectations. He's only hit six homers, but his .314 AVG mitigates the sting of lost power somewhat. Unfortunately, a .314 AVG isn't that high when you consider that Freeman's BABIP is .381. Deal both of these guys, while their averages make them look elite. 

Trade For

Troy Tulowitzki is making his annual trip to the DL, this time for 4-6 weeks with a broken rib. If you've got depth at short and Tulo's owner is reeling, regretting using a second-round pick on a player who's always getting hurt, try sneaking him onto your roster--even discounting the injured time, there's still every reason to think the slugger will remain the top at his position when the year is out. Another injured shortstop, Jose Reyes, is beginning his rehab. This seems like a good time to swing a deal for him--though be aware he may be slowed by his injury after his return.

Anthony Rizzo started the year slowly, then hit like crazy, and now he's been slumping again for a while. It's early in his career to call him "streaky," but if he is, a low point in the boom and bust cycle is the right time to make a move for him. Not only that, but a .269 BABIP is suppressing his numbers at least a little.

Manny Machado should be traded for if you play in a points league. Owners might be mystified why a player with a BABIP-inflated .316 AVG, and just five homers and five steals is among the league's best. They might anticipate a drop in his overall production. They might not know that he's got 30 doubles already. That's a crazy amount, putting him on pace for 72 two-sackers, breaking the all-time record, and netting you a ton of points. Even in standard leagues, it's a sign that his runs and RBI's are more solid than they first appear--though owners in these leagues will be hurt more by any drop in his BABIP.

Pick Up

Brandon Beachy is a pretty obvious add, as his rehab stint is nearly done and even the small chance that he can return immediately to his former glory is worth FAAB money, waiver claims, and whatever else it might take to get him on your team. Another obvious choice is Seattle catching prospect Mike Zunino. While Zunino might be with the big club for only a little while, expect him to stay if he hits at all well. If he's good enough for your fantasy team, he'll be good enough for the Mariners.

Josh Rutledge is the beneficiary of Tulowitzki's injury. Sent down after getting his shot earlier in the season, he's been slugging in AAA (which is sort of a given in Colorado Springs) and will have another month or more to prove himself against Major League pitching. Middle infielders with any chance for power are rare enough that he deserves immediate attention.

Remember Rick Porcello? Well, he's pitched rather well well in four games in a row, and six of the last seven, and is worth claiming for your team. If he's ever going to turn his talent into results, that time might be now. Hector Santiago was an add last month, then a drop, and now he's an add again. The strikeouts he generates are worth the lousy WHIP he'll probably give you. Finally, Erasmo Ramirez might be the next pitching prospect up to the big leagues with Seattle, and could be worth stashing. And maybe dealing when he does hit the Majors....

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