Rookies


Mike Minor To Get The Call

Word last night from Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was that the Braves might call up lefty Mike Minor in the wake of Kris Medlen's strained elbow ligament.  Minor is not yet available in Yahoo leagues, but should you prepare to pounce?

Minor, 22, was drafted seventh overall by the Braves last year.  Baseball America ranked him fourth among Braves prospects before the season, writing that his pitching savvy should make him at least a mid-rotation starter in the bigs.  However, they cautioned that his repertoire most resembled that of Jeremy Sowers.  But things have changed since BA wrote that description.  Check out what Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein wrote a week ago:

Minor's stuff this year has far exceeded all expectations: he's gone from a highly polished pitcher with average stuff to one with the velocity to blow it by hitters when necessary.

Just before that Goldstein wrote that Minor "continues to flash an extra 2-4 ticks on his fastball from his college days, while retaining his command and secondary offerings."  Clearly, Minor is no longer seen as just a "safe" pick. 

Statistically, Minor posted an 11.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in an 87-inning Double A stint and a 9.9 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in a 31.6-inning Triple A stint.  I worry that he'll walk too many guys as a rookie, as his big league rate might exceed his Double A one.  However, sometimes a rookie lefty can just be tough to hit at first; anecdotally I'm thinking of Jaime Garcia.  In fact Garcia's rates - 7.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 with less than a hit per inning - seem like something Minor might approximate.  That means a WHIP that's just OK, but overall numbers worthy of deep mixed leagues.

Of course, trying to predict what Minor might do over less than ten big league starts might be futile.  In the short term, Minor could step in to take Medlen's place Monday at Houston.  I know the Astros had a couple offensive outbursts this week, but it's still not an imposing lineup.  At the least Minor is a reasonable spot-start in most leagues.  He's certainly worth targeting in keeper leagues, as he's more polished than most rookies.  If you're wondering if you should drop a certain starter for Minor, leave a comment and we'll try to figure it out.


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Mat Latos To Debut Sunday?

Top Padres pitching prospect Mat Latos is likely to get the call this Sunday, according to MLB.com's Corey Brock.  Fantasy implications?

First, the details on the 21 year-old righty.  He dominated at Low A last year and early this year, and then handled the jump to Double A with aplomb (a 1.91 ERA in nine starts there).  Peripherals were excellent across the board, especially his pinpoint control.  Now Latos will try to skip another level by entering the Padres rotation, possibly Sunday at home against Colorado.

Baseball America questioned the kid's maturity and health, but praised his raw stuff as "ridiculously good."  Excellent fastball and slider, decent changeup.  BA really worries about his attitude, and had him pegged for just Double A this year.

Another factor to consider is that Padres GM Kevin Towers suggested in the above-linked article that Latos will be shut down after about 55 more innings.  So you're probably getting 10-11 starts.

I see the kid is not yet listed in Yahoo leagues.  Based on his numbers, scouting report, and home park, I'd pounce when he does appear.  We often see young players struggle with control, but that might not be an issue with Latos.


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Tommy Hanson To Debut Saturday

Of the three big-name recent callups - Tommy Hanson, Andrew McCutchen, and Gordon Beckham - Hanson is the one to go after in fantasy baseball this year.

Hanson, a 22 year-old righty, debuts Saturday against the Brewers.  There's a good chance he's already owned in your league, but we'll praise him anyway.  In 11 Triple A starts, Hanson whiffed 90 in 66.3 innings.  His control was superb, too.

From Hanson I expect an ERA under 4.00, a WHIP under 1.30, and plenty of Ks.  Sure, there will be bumps along the road.  Maybe he'll toss a few stinkers and get dropped in your league.  But from here on out I expect a solid fantasy  contribution from Hanson.  A good comp might be Tim Lincecum's rookie year - 4.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 150 Ks in 146.3 innings.


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A Look At Gordon Beckham

The White Sox called up top prospect Gordon Beckham; he's playing third base and batting eighth today against the A's in his debut.  He will play regularly for the Sox, and could see time at second base, shortstop, and the hot corner.  Fantasy leaguers, of course, hope he gets middle infield eligibility.  Ozzie Guillen seems willing to stick with Chris Getz at second base though.

It was a short stay in the minors for Beckham, who was drafted just a year ago.  He's played only 44 games in the high minors, displaying good doubles power.  He's only attempted three steals in 58 games in his minor league career, so I wouldn't look for SBs.

Beckham's minor league work this year translates to .276/.314/.448 in the bigs.  Scouting reports praise his power, but those doubles will have to start clearing the wall for it to translate to fantasy baseball power.  Like Andrew McCutchen, I can't say I expect big things from Beckham in fantasy as a rookie.  Both players seem like guys who won't kill you but won't be much different from other waiver wire fodder.


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Andrew McCutchen Gets The Call

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen made his big league debut today, as a direct result of the Nate McLouth trade.  McCutchen figures to get every chance to stick as a regular.  In his debut today, he went 2 for 4 with a walk, an RBI, three runs scored, and a stolen base.  A fantasy baseball bonanza.  Let's take a closer look.

McCutchen, 22, hit .303/.361/.493 in 201 Triple A at-bats this year with 4 HR and 10 SB.  He's a right-handed hitter, and this year he's raked against lefties while holding his own against righties.  The Major League Equivalent of McCutchen's work this year is .259/.306/.405.  McCutchen spent all of last year in Triple A, as well as a short stint in '07.  He didn't show a ton of power in 2007-08.  Even if McCutchen isn't amazing as a rookie hitter, he could post a decent run total atop the Pirates' lineup.

Sometimes with stud prospects you have to look past the stats to see the breakout potential.  Hanley Ramirez didn't impress in Double A, but he had a huge fantasy rookie season the following year.  McCutchen's been young for his levels.  But using the information we have available, he isn't a power hitter yet.  He's also not a high-percentage basestealer.  I'm keeping my mixed league expectations low for 2009.


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Jay Bruce To Debut Tomorrow

According to Baseball Digest Daily, the Reds will promote top prospect Jay Bruce and he'll debut tomorrow.  Wouldn't be surprising to see Corey Patterson designated for assignment.

Bruce should be owned in all leagues; he's that good.  Will he mash from Day 1?  No idea.  Could be the next Alex Gordon, could be the next Ryan Braun.  The 21 year-old is hitting .364/.393/.630 in 184 Triple A at-bats (10 HR, 8 SB).  What more do you need to know?  Bruce has been available in Yahoo leagues for some time, so there shouldn't be a waiver period.


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Clayton Kershaw Time?

Looks like phenom Clayton Kershaw may debut in Chicago on Tuesday.  The 20 year-old has these numbers in Double A:

43.3 IP
9 starts
2.28 ERA
1.08 WHIP

9.76 K/9
3.12 BB/9
3.13 K/BB
6.65 H/9
.291 BABIP
0.00 HR/9

In an early Kerry Wood sort of way, it's likely that Kershaw will have a strong WHIP even if control is worse than average.  That's because he'll be very tough to hit.  He has ace stuff.

I can't tell you what kind of adjustment period Kershaw will need.  Try to look at the bigger picture if he struggles at first.  He's skipping Triple A by design, but he's still missing out on that experience.  I would use a #1 waiver priority on him, if only for the strikeout potential alone.


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Greg Smith Fifth In AL ERA Race

I could've never predicted the current AL ERA leaderboard:

  1. Cliff Lee - 0.96
  2. Zack Greinke - 1.47
  3. Ervin Santana - 2.02
  4. Daisuke Matsuzaka - 2.43
  5. Greg Smith - 2.54

Today, let's take a look at 24 year-old Oakland southpaw Greg Smith.

Heading into the season, Baseball America projected Smith as a back-of-the-rotation starter.  He's more about polish and smarts, using command of his four pitches to retire hitters.

Here are his numbers so far:

6 starts
39 IP
6.5 IP/start
2.54 ERA
1.03 WHIP

7.15 K/9
3.00 BB/9
2.38 K/BB
0.92 HR/9
11.5% HR/flyball
6.23 H/9
.228 BABIP
37.5% groundball rate

As a team, the A's have a low .279 BABIP.  Adjusting Smith's BABIP more toward his team's, I get something near a 3.80 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.  So, what we're seeing is not a complete fluke if the strikeout and walk rates are legit.  I expect the K rate to come down a bit, closer to 6.0.  Only thing that scares me about Smith is his 10.5 hits per nine in 52 Triple A innings last year.  If a hit explosion of that nature occurs, his ERA might just be a hair under 5.00 moving forward.

Even adjusting for BABIP Smith has been tough to hit this year.  He will need to continue allowing fewer than a hit per inning if he is to keep his ERA under 4.00.  36 starters did that last year, including lefties with less than amazing repertoires like Wandy Rodriguez, Barry Zito, Ted Lilly, and Rich Hill.  I can't definitively say Smith will fall into this group but he's a fine pickup in the short term.  Note that Zito, Lilly, and Hill have all struggled in '08 with prolonged league exposure.  The same fate is likely for Smith since he is not a dominating type of pitcher.


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Thoughts on Scherzer

We wrote about Max Scherzer ten days ago, and spoke very highly of him.  He's been called up to the bigs, but will be used as a reliever for now.  Scherzer available in Yahoo at this moment, so there might be a waiver wire battle for his services (especially in keeper leagues).

Here is a look at Arizona's rotation:

  1. Brandon Webb - healthy ace.
  2. Dan Haren - healthy co-ace.
  3. Micah Owings - sprained ankle on Saturday; doesn't seem major.
  4. Randy Johnson - always shaky, but healthy currently.
  5. Edgar Gonzalez - easily replaced or moved to pen if need be.
  6. Doug Davis - hopes to return May 9th following thyroid cancer surgery.

So Scherzer doesn't have the obvious path to the bigs Johnny Cueto did.  But the last three starters listed all have concerns (of course, we wish Davis well). 

Do you use a #1 waiver claim on Scherzer?  I lean toward no, with thoughts of saving it for Clayton Kershaw.  Kershaw has a similar situation though - he'd have to get past Esteban Loaiza (not a problem), Hong-Chih Kuo (often injured), and Jason Schmidt (shakier than Randy Johnson but equally well-compensated).  Neither Kershaw nor Scherzer is a lock to get the rotation gig.  Without it, they don't have much value in non-keeper mixed roto leagues.  I wouldn't value them highly as relievers (unless Scherzer found himself closing). 

I'd save the claim for Kershaw as I see his path as slightly clearer.  And keep in mind that other dark horses could emerge like Nick Adenhart or Adam Miller.  That said, I wouldn't argue with you much if you did go for Scherzer.      


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Kosuke Fukudome's Hot Start

Josh Kalk has been doing great work studying PITCHf/x data.  Check out his blog here and Hardball Times contributions here.  Josh decided to examine Kosuke Fukudome's hot start in a guest post for RotoAuthority.com.  His post follows.

Kosuke Fukudome has taken the league by storm starting off hitting .328/.444/.463.  He was billed as a combination of Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui and he has lived up to that so far.  But Jason Kendall has also started off batting .345/.400/.483 so the question for fantasy owners remains, should you sell high on Fukudome or hold to him?

The first thing to look at is Fukudome's BABIP, which is a lofty .396 right now.  While I expect him to end up with a BABIP that is above league average his is almost certainly at least a little over his head right now.  Still, even with a small correction down he would be a solid addition to any fantasy roster.  The main question is will the league catch up to him as the year goes on?  This is where his PITCHf/x data really comes in handy.  Here is a look at every tracked fastball Fukudome has faced:

Kosuke_fukudome0_2 

The first thing to notice on this plot is that Fukudome rarely swings and missed at a pitch.  One the other hand look at how many pitches he is fouling off.  Many of those fouled pitches came with two strikes as Fukudome was protecting the plate.  This is where the Ichiro comparisons come from.  Unlike Ichiro look at home many balls Fukudome takes for a strike.  Early in the count Fukudome is generally content to wait for his pitch.  I have overlaid the MLB defined strike zone but as you can see here, the umpires tend to give the pitcher a few more inches on corners.  This patience has allowed Fukudome to walk 14 times compared to just 13 strikeouts.  This is an excellent sign and I fully expect this to continue thought the year.  How does Fukudome handle off speed pitches?  Here is all the change ups thrown to Fukudome:

Kosuke_fukudome4

Again Fukudome rarely swings at pitches outside the strike zone.  For a full breakdown you can look at his player card here.  The standard approach to a left handed batter is hard stuff up and in with soft stuff down and away.  But if you don't throw those pitches for strikes Fukudome just isn't swinging at them.  So how should pitchers go about pitching to him?

In my opinion the way to attack Fukudome is get ahead early.  While Fukudome will jump on a get me over curve if you make a quality pitch in the strike zone early in the count he will more than likely lay off.  Once ahead, instead of trying to get him to chase pitches away I would bust him in with fastballs.  While most left handers love pitches low and in Fukudome seems to prefer the ball middle away.  In fact, with two strikes he will very often try to go the other way even with a ball inside.  So bust him in with those fastballs when you get two strikes.  If you absolutely need a strikeout then a ball down will probably be more effective than a ball outside.

All signs point to a very good year by Fukudome.  The first key to success to hitting is swinging at strikes and Fukudome clearly has that down.  Because of his patience Fukudome is seeing a huge amount of pitches which greatly increases the chances of a pitcher making a mistake.  When he gets that mistake Fukudome isn't swinging and missing either.  It would take a huge offer to pry Fukudome from my roster if I am a fantasy owner.


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