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Thursday 19th Jan 2017

Last week, I wrote about drafting in an extremely deep league, trying to balance reasonable expectation with speculation. 

The league and format discussed, Strat-O-Matic, is different by definition than DFS and regular season roto formats in that the game is H2H simulation, using the previous season's stats.

However, even though the format and manner of play of Strat is different than a lot of the set-ups for most players, I am a strong believer that whatever format you play will shine some light on play in other formats.

Well, one advantage to assessing players after the season--and a lot of times MLB debuts--is you have that first foray of high level competition to balance against age and experience in the Minors.

In the MidWest Strat League, we are just finishing our 37-player draft which allowed for the freezing of up to 29. There are no salaries in the league, but there are usage parms and penalties, meaning just about every selection and player must contribute at some time.

Since the league is just grabbing 37th round players, it is safe to say we are scouring through the dregs, as it were. Allen Craig, John Mayberry, Jr. and David Aardsma are among the hopefuls bubbling within the free agent pool and hoping to make the team.

However, there are some potential gems among the 75-odd players still available, so this time I want to look at a few for speculation maybe into 2016, but possibly even a little further out. Note that I have nabbed players like Carlos Marmol and Shane Victorino in the later rounds of said Strat draft, two players who became useful in any kind of fantasy ball, especially as cheap keeps on a freeze list.

So, let's take a bit of a look.

Keyvius Sampson (Reds, P, 25): Sampson was originally drafted by the Padres in 2009, then grabbed off waivers by the Reds just a year ago--and turned 25 just a month ago. He has 434 minor league strikeouts over 607 frames, logging a decent 3-6, 3.38 mark last year at Double-A and Triple-A before spending time with the young Cincy pitching staff. Sampson did get pounded to the tune of 2-6, 7.39 with a 1.77 WHIP, but the strikeouts (42 over 52.3 innings) were ok, and Sampson is sure to be dismissed all over the place. His bane are the walks (302) in the Minors, but for a younger pitcher, wither goest whiffs, goest walks. Sampson might start the season at Triple-A, but I would track him.

Severino Gonzalez (Phillies, P, 23): The Phillies have become the hometown for "who?" when a member of their squad, and in particular their bullpen, is mentioned, making Gonzalez one of many pitching in obscurity at the highest level. Signed as a free agent in 2011, the native of Panama is 26-29, 3.36 in the Minors with a 1.106 WHIP and 394 strikeouts over 485.3 innings with just 83 walks. He was 3-3, 7.92 with the big club, but there is definitely some talent lurking, and time as well, for when Gonzalez fills out from his 6'2", 155 pound frame, I am guessing the power numbers go up.

Mayckol Guaipe (Mariners, P, 25): Signed by Seattle in 2006, when he was just 15, Guaipe has 31 saves in the Minors, 22 of them since 2012 when he moved to the pen permanently. At Tacoma last year, he was 0-4, 2.87 with five saves over 47 innings before a promotion and an 0-3, 6.41 mark over 26.3 innings. It should be interesting to see if the 6'4", 235 pound right-hander can eventually find himself in the closer role.

Jose Pirela (Padres, IF, 26): Thought perhaps to be the next big thing in the Bronx, Pirela was .310-3-23 with 42 runs over 69 minor league games in addition to 37 with the Bombers, hitting .230-1-5. Pirela was rather unceremoniously dumped off to the Padres for Ronald Herrera at the end of last season. The Pads, though, hardly have much of anything set anywhere, so Pirela could emerge with a bench gig to start 2016, and maybe even parlay that into something else.

Ryan Rua (Rangers, OF, 25): Rua gets props to start for being an Amherst graduate, meaning he is smart to go with any physical skills on his DNA profile. After the outfielder hit .295-2-14 to close out some 2014 playing time, big things were thought for Rua, who then struggled with a .193-4-7 mark over 83 at-bats. The Rangers are a team that can find hitters and score runs, and Rua just seems like the kind of guy to contribute accordingly.

Daniel Muno (Mets, IF, 27): Muno turns 27 on Tuesday, and for full disclosure, was drafted in the eighth round in 2011 after attending Cal-State, Fresno. He was a shortstop at Triple-A Las Vegas last year, hitting .277-3-24 over 83 games before a call-up that featured the somewhat abysmal totals of .148-0-0 over 32 at-bats, but played second and third at Citi Field. The downside is the Mets are fairly set up the middle with starters and bench, but Muno, his defensive flexibility, and his .390 minor league OBP (280 strikeouts to 321 walks) all point to a Jim Gantner kind of career. That ain't bad.

Picking rookies and prospects is among the diciest, and yet most satisfying aspects of building an Ultra League Franchise. In fact, for me, tearing apart a team and trying to reconstruct, particularly in a deep format, is where it is at.

In some of my leagues, like the XFL, players are often snatched up years before they achieve any big league success. For example, Carlos Carrasco was identified by Lord Zola back in 2008, as was Yu Darvish by Trace Wood. Carrasco did debut in 2009, but as we know has yo-yo'd up and down, tantalizing since, while it was a full four years before Darvish saw any active daylight on Trace's roster.

Needless to say, because of the rules of the league, and the fact that Carrasco has bounced around since his debut, he has been a longshot up until this year. But, Darvish, now priced at just $13 in the league, is still residing on Trace's roster.

Of course, it is so hard to correctly predict the arrival and success of a player ahead of time, but how much easier is the task a year into the process?

Well, in the MidWest Strat-O-Matic League, we have the luxury of that hindsight, but apparently having a rear-view mirror doesn't always point to prolonged success.

For, in Strat-O-Matic, players do not get cards and ratings and use till the year following their debut in the Majors, and even then depending upon innings/at-bats earned.

In the MidWest League, we have 30 teams, and can freeze up to 29 players from year-to-year. There are no salaries, but strict penalties for over usage of a player, who is allotted 20% over the previous season's innings or at-bats.

So, I thought I would look at the past five seasons of MidWest drafts, and then add in this year's gambles as we are in the throes of that draft right now.

Note that in 2013, all the free agents were thrown into a common pool, but prior, we had split the draft into separate American and National League lotteries. So, for 2011-12, I listed the NL and AL top five picks, respectively.

Pick 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
1 Carlos Correa Jose Abreu Jose Fernandez Bryce Harper Freddie Freeman Jason Heyward
2 Kris Bryant Jorge Soler Xander Bogaerts Matt Harvey Yonder Alonso Buster Posey
3 Francisco Lindor Yordano Ventura Jurickson Profar Lucas Harrell Dee Gordon Starlin Castro
4 Corey Seager Joe Panik Yasiel Puig Mike Fiers Brandon Beachy Stephen Strasburg
5 Noah Syndergaard George Springer Shelby Miller Jean Segura Cory Luebke Giancarlo Stanton
6 Lance McCullers Jacob deGrom Jedd Gyorko Manny Machado Mike Trout Carlos Santana
7 Kyle Schwarber Nick Castellanos Wil Myers Yu Darvish Eric Hosmer Austin Jackson
8 Addison Russell Gregory Polanco Julio Teheran Will Middlebrooks Michael Pineda Jeremy Hellickson
9 Miguel Sano Rusney Castillo Hyun-jin Ryu Yoenis Cespedes Brett Lawrie Colby Lewis
10 Byron Buxton Marcus Stroman Gerrit Cole Jarrod Parker Mike Moustakas Carlos Carrasco

Obviously, Buster Posey, Bryce Harper and Jose Abreu have held their value well, but what of Colby Lewis, Will Middlebrooks, Mike Fiers and Rusney Castillo, all of whom seemed like impacting contributors now and several years on?

Conversely, though I have had my failures with first rounders like Ike Davis and Jhoulys Chacin, similarly, I have had great luck with later picks like Marcell Ozuna (second round) and Derek Norris (fourth round). This suggests that the most obvious is not always the best investment, and that looking at age and opportunity as much as anything can be that harbinger to future success.

So, as we enter the busy drafting season, remember that picking the perfect prospect can be as ephemeral as picking the right first rounder in your snake draft. Baseball is a funny game.

Follow me @lawrmichaels

This is a busy, albeit sometimes confusing time of the year. It is now that leagues--particularly public industry contests--draft teams. Additionally, this is the time for Mocks (in fact the @rotobuzzguy Howard Bender starts his #MockDraftArmy this week).

At present, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) draft is going on, as is the MLB.com Experts Mock, both of which have my attention. Meanwhile, both of my Strat-O-Matic leagues are in the throes of long drafts as well. This coming week, I have four more--a couple each of mocks and 2016 for real--but I am hardly complaining.

I do find the process of drafting--especially mocking--not only a lot of fun, but beyond revealing not just because it gives me a feel for the flow a draft, or how configurations of players in a league might value players. With every set of picks, one must keep an eye on both the forest and the trees, simultaneously.

I have found the last couple of years that with the proliferation of solid pitching, I could really stall on the position--at least in mocks--filling out with an assortment of hitters, then fleshing arms starting by round eight. Generally, I have been able to cobble decent rotations from there, and though the speculative rotations certainly lack an ace, generally the likes of Francisco Liriano, James Shields, Gio Gonzalez, Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago comprise a nice cross-section.

Mind you, such rotations need some wizardry to guide a team to a title, but surely all these guys can throw 200 innings and each can at least give 150 strikeouts. Further, in the real world, I cannot say I would not at least jump on a Sonny Gray or Gerrit Cole by the fifth round, but the idea of mock drafts is to try things, in my view. And, that means see how they shake out.

It is rhetorical that pitching depth is indeed common knowledge, but in thinking about waiting longer to assemble a staff, coupled with Todd and my discussions during our FSTA draft, I am changing my tune some. 

If you check the link above to the FSTA matrix, you will notice that Todd and I grabbed David Price as our first pick of round four (4.2), selecting in the 12 spot of a 13-team league.

Picking at the wheel, this became sort of a no-brainer, since we would have to wait 22 selections before a chance at a #1 guy with strikeouts. But, since Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, Jose Fernandez and Jake Arrieta were taken over the first three rounds, it became "Price or never."

When the picks returned to us, what surprised me was how readily Todd and I both settled on Carlos Carrasco as our sixth pick, largely subverting that "wait on pitching" schema.

In the MLB.com draft, where I picked first, the same basic path was followed, as with my third pick I took the third arm off the board, Madison Bumgarner, reasoning that were pitchers the Beatles, Kershaw and Scherzer can be Lennon and McCartney, the best two song-writers in the band. I will take #3 in George Harrison.

It is not that I don't understand the power of having a dominant starter, for virtually all of my successful teams certainly had an ace. However, most of the time that ace did not necessarily turn out to be the guy I thought it would. Bret Saberhagen (his second season, my first playing roto ball), C.C. Sabathia (as a rookie) and even Zack Greinke last year were all guys I liked, but I did not think they would carry my teams forth to any type of reward, and they all did.

What I am suggesting here is as surely as you need power--those home runs and RBI--to boost your offense, you also need strikeouts from your pitchers, and ideally dependable ones. For, generally, with strikeouts flow the other good pitching numbers, just as runs and RBI get caught in the slip stream of homers.

However, when to pounce, and how to assemble the pieces to a winning roto puzzle lives in those variations of when you pick, how many teams, what are the rules, and other logistics of the league constitution.

To succeed in your draft, mocking as much as you can to identify players, identify player flows, know where you can grab a player or let him slip is the best way to make that completed puzzle a winner.

Note: If you are reading this, that suggests more than a passing interest in fantasy games. Please do write to your local lawmakers and tell them of your love of playing and desire to keep on playing, while keeping the game fair--and regulated--for all. Visit the FSTA site for more information (and thanks).

It is not much of a secret that I have an unnatural fascination with the transactions page. I need not go into the details, other than I see all the drama of life in the moves made by teams and subsequently affected onto the players.

Similarly, I do try to remember what a hard game baseball really is. For, remember, it is a game where a hitter who fails 70% of the time is really good, and that a team winning 55% of their games (which is 88) is likely a serious playoff contender.

Anyway, as a public service I want to look at some names that appeared in the Transaction Line just over the past week. The thing about the players I selected is they were all thought to be the next big thing, at least for a week or so.

And, the thing to remember about such players is they do often mature late, or better, just get hot for 140 games, all of a sudden making them solid fantasy pickups. Chris Shelton. Rob Wilfong. Ron Bryant. All of these players were obscure and mediocre, and came out of nowhere, and while this is the exception, not the rule, the thing about players on the fantasy margins is to never rule a player out. For, you just never know.

Carlos Triunfel (25, SS, signed to a minor league deal by the Reds): After hitting .287-8-49 with 30 steals at High Desert in 2008, Triunfel was rated the #55 prospect by Baseball Prospectus. That was the high-water mark for the career of the then 18-year-old, who is searching for something, somewhere. Triunfel is still just 25, and he hit .282-5-31 for Tacoma over 100 games in 2013, so I guess there is hope, apparently with Cincy. Just not much.

Moises Sierra (27, OF, signed to a minor league deal by the Marlins): Not so much top-ranked as a prospect, but Sierra has bounced around in the Majors for a total of 415 at-bats with a .243-9-37 line for the Jays and White Sox to go with a .267-75-362 minor league numbers along with 92 steals and a reasonable .331 OBP (212 walks, 636 strikeouts). Again, I am not sure what is there. Is he better than Allen Craig at this point? 

Tommy Medica (27, 1B, designated for assignment by the Marlins): After posting a .330-19-87 mark over 93 California League games in 2012, Medica moved up and played 76 games at Double-A in 2013, hitting .296-18-57, and that prompted a September shot with the Padres, wherein he went .290-3-10 over 19 more games. But, all the first baseman/outfielder could muster in 2014 was a .233-9-27 line over 103 games. Medica had a fine .367 minor league OBP but, alas, he must sink or swim with the Fishes.

Alex Liddi (27, OF, signed to a minor league deal by the Orioles): In 2011, as a 22-year-old, Liddi smoked Tacoma to the tune of .259-30-104, and then performed well enough to open 2012 (.270-11-30) in Tacoma, and then be promoted, where he hit .224-3-10 at Safeco. He then went back down, and by 2013, Seattle sent Liddi to Baltimore for "cash considerations."

John Mayberry, Jr. (31, 1B, signed to a minor league deal by the Tigers): Wow, a #1 pick of the Rangers in 2005, I remember seeing Mayberry at the Fall League many years back, thinking he just looked like a ball player. On the other hand, he had a huge looping swing with some holes that have kind of offset the fact that he looked "bitching out there" (see famous Dick Stuart quote). As a Major Leaguer, Mayberry has a .235-56-180 line over 570 at-bats but just a .299 OBP. I would like to think there is some Chris Carter in Mayberry somewhere, but likely not.

Joe Wieland: (26, P, traded by the Dodgers to the Mariners): A fourth-round pick of the Rangers in 2008, Wieland was then traded to the Padres with Robbie Erlin (who also belongs on this list) for Mike Adams. In 2014, Wieland was swapped to the Dodgers as part of the Matt Kemp swap, but all he has managed as a big leaguer is a 1-5, 5.85 record over nine starts. In 2012, Baseball Prospectus said that Wieland was the #4 top rated prospect following his 13-4, 1.97 line split between A+ and Double-A, and Wieland has 536 strikeouts over 590.3 minor league innings with a 1.203 WHIP, so maybe he makes the best flier.? Maybe.

As promised last week, the Top 250 Prospect List is out, and downloadable in a basic form, and with complete comments and sleepers as part of our Platinum Package.

To recap, there are always familiar names on the list, but also players who pop up and thus merit tracking, especially in ultra formats since basic skills--ability to hit or throw with power and discipline--at the earliest age is the best harbinger I have found for identifying baseball talent as early as permits.

Before we dig in to some thoughts on players outside the Top 10, take advantage of the changes made to the availability of the list this year.

Basic Top 250: The basic list, in order, with the player and rating can be downloaded HERE.

Complete Top 250: This lists all Top 250 players, with a brief comment by me, basic stats, my sleepers identified, and a separate sheet that basically rates everyone for a total of 2,004 players and is available as part of our Platinum Package. Note we also have our DraftKings deal going where you can get our Platinum--which includes Todd's projections and special analysis--for $10 off the regular price. Click HERE for that.

So, last week I revealed the Top 10, but this week, I want to look at some of the names bubbling under who caught my eye, but maybe no one else's as a future fantasy target.

Gleyber Torres (19, SS, Cubs, #66): As an 18-year-old, over 119 games, the native Venezuelan hit .293-3-42 with 22 steals and a total of 32 extra-base hits. Torres needs refinement as witnessed by the 108 strikeouts and 14 caught stealing he earned, but give the kid a couple of years and look out.

Cody Bellinger (20, 1B, Dodgers, #92): Kind of your prototypical hunky left-handed hitting first sacker, Bellinger, who is 6'4" but just 180 pounds, was a fourth rounder of the Dodgers in 2013. He hit .264-30-103 at Rancho Cucamonga with ten steals, with a decent .336 OBP (52 walks to 150 strikeouts) relative to age/level/experience.

Lewis Brinson: (22, OF, Rangers, #120): Texas' first-round pick in 2012, Brinson played at three levels, starting with A+ (.337-13-42) to Double-A (.291-6-23) to Triple-A (.433-1-4), giving an aggregate .332-20-69 line with 18 steals and 31 doubles with 44 walks to 98 whiffs (.403 OBP). Almost there.

Akeel Morris (22, P, Mets, #149): Can you spell dominate? That is what Morris did between A+ St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, going 0-2, 2.05 with 13 saves along with 81 strikeouts over 61.3 innings, but just 28 hits allowed (0.781 WHIP) for the Virgin Islands import. Morris got a shot at Citi Field (five runs over two-thirds of an inning) but should get a chance to strut it next spring.

Brett Phillips: (21, OF, Brewers, #156): Houston's #6 selection in 2012 was good enough to be part of the Carlos Gomez compensation, based upon a .295-30-170 line over 340 minor league games. In 2015, Phillips went .309-16-77 with 17 steals over 120 games and 565 at-bats over two levels (he finished in Double-A).

Alex Verdugo (19, OF, Dodgers, #226): The Dodgers' #2 selection in 2014, Verdugo began last year at A-ball, and after going .295-5-42 at Great Lakes, finished at High-A with a .385-4-19 line over 23 more games. Verdugo has hit .322-12-104 with 47 doubles and 25 steals over 178 games since signing.

Trevor Story (23, SS, Rockies, #242): Two things struck me with Story. First, it is tough to crack the 250, and he deserves respect for that. But what really caught my eye was that Story, a first-round pick in 2011, hit .281-10-40 over 69 Double-A games at New Britain before being promoted to Albuquerque where he went .271-10-40 over 61 more games at Triple-A. Story's OBP did drop from .373 to .324, but all in all, the .279-20-80 totals with 22 steals and 40 doubles is pretty good.

Welcome to another year at Mastersball, one that marks my 25th year prepping for the coming season. To usher in the New Year properly, let's preview the 2016 Top 250 Prospect List.

Which means as in the past, we have that big list, which is primarily for use by deeper Ultra-style leagues that allow for stashing of future prospects, for our ratings are based upon age, control over the strike zone, and experience.

When I say "control over the strike zone," that means ability to both work a pitch as well as hit with power for hitters, while I look at both control (WHIP) and strikeouts for pitchers.

So, as we finish up some internal housekeeping that includes a site revamp, expanded daily coverage, new industry partnerships and our Platinum package, this week I will preview the Top 10 Prospects for the coming year. The completed list will be out within the next week, and available with comments and some special features as part of Platinum. But, we will also release the basic Top 250 numbered list for free, so keep an eye out for announcements regarding availability.

So, here they are, The Mastersball Top 10 Prospects for 2016.

1. Julio Urias (19, P, Dodgers): Not much of a surprise coming off his dominant 2-2, 2.36 season, but this time Urias went a total of 81 frames spread over four levels, notching 3-5, 3.81 totals with 88 strikeouts, and a 1.18 WHIP as an 18-year-old. Urias pitched as high as Triple-A Oklahoma City for 4.3 innings, and that is where Urias will start the year. But, don't expect him to stay there long.

2. Jose Berrios (20, P, Twins): A #1 pick of Minnesota in 2012, Berrios has a 36-20, 2.98 record with two shutouts and two saves over 440.3 innings. Berrios has 464 strikeouts and a 1.12 WHIP over those innings, and went 14-5, 2.87 over 166.3 innings split between Double and Triple-A last year. Berrios is ready to challenge for a slot come spring.

3. Francis Martes (20, P, Astros): Signed as a 17-year-old out of Puerto Rico in 2013 by the Fish, then swapped to Houston as part of the Jarred Cosart deal, the 225-pound righty went 8-3, 2.04 over 101.6 innings with 98 strikeouts and a 1.09 WHIP, earning both a shutout and a save. Martes finished his 2015 work at Double-A Corpus Christi (1-0, 4.91 over 14.6 innings), and that is where he will begin 2016.

4. Josh Hader (21, P, Brewers): Drafted first by the Orioles in 2012, then swapped to the Stros for Bud Norris, and then to the Brewers as part of the Carlos Gomez deal, Hader certainly seems like a sought after commodity. The lefty went 4-7, 3.03 over 104 Double-A innings last year that included 119 whiffs and a 1.17 WHIP. Hader will likely start 2016 at Triple-A.

5. J.P. Crawford (21, SS, Phillies): A first-rounder (16th overall) in 2013, Crawford hit .288-6-42 split between High-A and Double-A in 2015. Crawford swiped 12, and had a fine .380 OBP (63 walks to 54 whiffs) and is ready for Triple-A right now.

6. Spencer Adams (19, P, White Sox): A second-rounder in 2013, Adams did 129.3 innings last year, split at multiple levels, and delivered a 12-5, 2.99 mark with 96 whiffs to just 18 walks (1.23). Not overpowering, which is my concern, but good success thus far. Make or break at Double-A in 2016, and that will tell us a lot about Adams' future.

7. Alexander Reyes (21, P, Cardinals): How about 151 strikeouts over 101.3 innings over three levels as a comparison with Adams? That is what Reyes did last year, finishing with 34.6 frames at Double-A (3-2, 3.12 over eight starts), and that is likely where the right-hander will start 2016. 

8. Daniel Missaki (19, P, Mariners): A product of Brazil, Missaki has worked in slowly, tossing 34.3 innings last year at Clinton, following 58.6 rookie innings, assembling overall numbers of 7-6, 3.04 over 104 minor league innings with 111 strikeouts and a 1.17 WHIP. Expect time at High-A to start 2016, and slow advance, but like Adams, making it at Double-A will be the challenge.

9. Braxton Davidson (19, OF, Braves): #1 selection (32nd overall) in 2014, Davidson hit .242-10-44 over 124 games and 401 at-bats with 80 walks (though 135 strikeouts) and a .381 OBP. The flychaser, who banged 33% of his hits for extra bases last year, will begin 2016 at High-A.

10. Kodi Medeiros (19, P, Brewers): Drafted out of Waiakea High School in Hawaii #12 overall in 2014, the lefty was 4-5, 4.44 over 93.3 innings at the Midwest League last year wherein he struck out 94 while walking 40, allowing just 70 hits and no homers. Medeiros will start the year at High-A, and along with several of his mates on this list, will be worth a serious look when it is Double-A time.

As we wrap up 2015, there has been a lot written all over regarding 2015 post-season swaps. So this time, I want to look at six that struck me as interesting (or in a few cases, "huh?").

Perhaps my favorite swap thus far was Neil Walker to the Mets for Jon Niese. Certainly, the Bucs had an infielder to spare with Jung Ho Kang, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer on the roster along with the solid Walker. However, the swap for a good #3 starter just makes sense on the Pirates side.

With Daniel Murphy gone, the main question for the Mets is how healthy will David Wright be on a regular basis. Personally, I felt with Wilmer Flores on the roster and Dilson Herrera in the wings, adding a second sacker after signing Asdrubal Cabrera gives the Metropolitans more of a glut in the infield than the Pirates had before they unloaded Walker. But, where the Mets are weak is the outfield, so someone might get some time there. I suspect the Mets might regret losing Niese over the long haul over keeping him, but for the most part this is an even deal, with both sides certainly giving up something to get something. As far as roto goes, the values of both players are stable, with Walker being worth around $15 and Niese $12.

Yunel Escobar to the Angels: Escobar, who just turned 33, has trouble sticking with a team, but he can surely hit, and along with Andrelton Simmons constitutes a new left side on the infield for the Halos. Escobar had largely a career season last year, with his OBP jumping 50 points over his 2014 number of .324, and now he will start at third base in a fairly potent lineup. Escobar is generally a late-round buy, so if you can nab him for $7-$10 in an AL league, he should be good. In fact, if you nominate Escobar early, he may float past the owners who want to bid on "serious" players and fall to you on the cheap.

Charlie Morton for David Whitehead: This one makes me chuckle as the Pirates did well in exchanging Morton for Niese in their rotation, but I do have to wonder why the Phillies hope to rebuild with a guy who has a 4.58 career ERA and 1.449 WHIP? Not that Whitehead looks like the future of the Phils either, but this is like a roto "dreck for dreck" deal. At least Morton gives innings. Too bad they are not very good ones.

Adam Lind to the Mariners: Lind takes over at first base for Seattle with a good chance to provide some stability to a spot that has had virtually none the past handful of years. Coming off a nice .285-20-87 season, the left-handed hitter should help jell the Mariners infield which is pretty good, and chances are Lind slides into the four/five slot and that suggests some nice quiet run production on a team that is not sure of its path. Like closers, hitters put up numbers, and you need numbers, and ultimately it doesn't matter where they come from. In an AL-only, I'd spend around $15 for Lind.

Starlin Castro to the Yankees: What can I say? I like Castro. He can indeed hit, but I was really thinking Rob Refsnyder would get his chance. Guess not, and Castro--who qualifies at second and short--might be on a short leash, however, with an OBP of .296 last year. But like Seattle, I am not exactly sure what direction New York is pushing. I would trust Castro as no more than a middle infield gamble and not for more than $7.

Jedd Gyorko to the Cards, Jon Jay to the Padres: Not sure why the Padres gave up on Gyorko following his decent second half of .259-13-43, although like a lot of young sluggers, the infielder can hit for power but doesn't get on base enough (career .293 OBP). Since the Cards infield is pretty well set, Gyorko just becomes a utility bat, although I would not be surprised to see him get some time at first since the team might need a right-handed hitter in that slot from time-to-time. He is worth $5-$7 in an NL-only.

As for Jay and the Padres, again, "huh?" This is a team that has blown it with trades of late, and this one really makes me wonder why the team would think Yangervis Solarte and Alexi Amarista along with Jay would provide more offense than Gyorko could by himself. Jay is not even a reserve pick at this point.

My mate Zach Steinhorn covered some of the fun post-Winter Meetings Hot Stove action and implications in his Keeping Busy piece.

To a large degree, the big swaps and big name implications of those trades have hit cyberspace, so this time, let's go in the other direction and look at some lesser deals and some of the spoils of even the big trades.

Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, and Aaron Blair to the Braves:

The troika spoils for Shelby Miller was a real potential haul for the re-structuring Braves. I love Inciarte (.303-6-45 w/21 SB last year), who plugs right in as an outfielder and is a fine $10-range outfield gamble in most roto structures.

Blair was a first-round pick in 2013 who just went 7-2, 3.16 with 56 strikeouts over 77 innings to complement a 1.221 WHIP. The 6'5" righty will likely get a rotation shot in the spring, making him a fun reserve gamble in a deeper format.

Swanson, the top overall pick out of Vanderbilt last June, hit .289-1-11 over 29 Low-A games after signing. Swanson also walked and whiffed 14 times each (.394 OBP) and will be fast-tracked on this team. The soon to be 22-year-old shortstop will likely start at High-A, but he will be moved up aggressively with success, though we should not expect a serious impact until 2018 if he makes it. However, Swanson could make it to The Show for a taste late next year, and certainly sometime in 2017.

The Athletics, with the acquisition of Jed Lowrie and minor league presence of Chad Pinder, jettisoned Brett Lawrie for Zack Erwin and Jeffrey Wendelken.

Erwin was a fourth-round pick by the White Sox out of Clemson last June. A 6'5" Southpaw, Erwin went right to work with a 2-2, 1.34 mark over 40 innings and 15 games after being signed. The lefty whiffed 15 over 17 Sally League frames to close the season, and it is there I would expect Erwin begins 2016. Since it is Billy Beane, we never know where Erwin will find himself in two years, but it well could be the Coliseum.

Wendelken was a 13th round pick of the Red Sox in 2012, but was then swapped to the other Sox as part of the Jake Peavy deal a year later. He is a stocky (6'0", 235 lbs.) reliever who has whiffed 304 over 304.3 minor league innings with 19 saves. Wendelken has pretty good control (just 139 walks) but his pitches are too much around the middle of the zone (321 hits and a 1.34 WHIP). But, as witnessed by his Double-A Birmingham performance last year (6-2, 2.72 w/5 saves), the right-hander could be a help for a needy Oakland pen soon.

Jason Rogers traded to Pirates for Keon Broxton and Trey Supak

Pittsburgh gets Rogers, who can hit and can help stabilize first base. At 6'1", 255 pounds, Rogers' value is his stick which produced a pretty good .296-4-16 line with an .808 OPS over 86 games in the Majors last year. He should get a chance and at least put up James Loney-type numbers.

Broxton is a speed-burning gamble. Drafted by Arizona in 2009, then purchased by the Bucs in 2013, Broxton has 150 swipes over 826 games, but the outfielder has 967 whiffs over 826 games with a .333 OBP and .743 OPS, meaning not much else. At 25, things probably will not change much for Broxton in cheeseland.

Supak was a second-round pick out of high school in June of 2014, and is also a project with a 2-5, 5.85 record over 52.3 innings the last two seasons.

Todd Frazier to the White Sox, Micah Johnson, Frankie Montas and Trayce Thompson to the Dodgers, Brandon Dixon, Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler to the Reds.

Johnson could be a second baseman if he can get on base in the Majors. He had a shot last year with the White Sox but couldn't keep the gig.

Frankie Montas is a 22-year-old Dominican who throws hard, as 390 strikeouts over 388.3 innings suggests. He played in Birmingham last year (5-5, 2.97) and then at the new Comiskey (0-2, 4.80 but 20 whiffs over 15 innings).

Thompson was signed in 2009, and the now 24-year-old outfielder hit well enough with Charlotte (.260-13-39) and then went .295-5-16 with the big club. Thompson has a .241-101-395 line in the Minors with a .747 OPS over 734 minor league games.

Brandon Dixon was selected in the third round in 2013 out of the University of Arizona. The second sacker/outfielder has a .247-29-131 line over 247 games, with 40 steals, but with 51 walks to 312 strikeouts (.296 OBP). Another project, and one likely destined for the "utility" tag from here on out.

Jose Peraza (also 2B/OF) is a 21-year-old Venezuelan import with a .302-9-183 line over 461 games, with 210 steals and a .347 OBP. Peraza makes good contact (207 whiffs, 93 walks) but is likely not ready for the Majors, as witnessed by the .182-0-1 mark he posted over seven L.A. games last year.

Scott Schebler is an outfielder who was a 26th round pick in 2009, and another within the three-way deal who appeared in the Majors last year (.250-3-4 over 19 games). He is now 25, and hit .241-13-50 over 121 minor league games, with a reasonable 40 walks to 93 strikeouts (.322 OBP). All the Reds spoils could challenge for Major League time next year, making them all at least reserve-radar worthy.

Finally, within the Ken Giles swap, the reloading Phillies got prospects Mark Appel, Harold Arauz, and Thomas Eshelman while the Stros nabbed Jonathan Arauz.

Appel, in my view, is toast, ranking around 1000 overall in my minor league rankings.

Harold Arauz is a 20-year-old Panamanian who is pointed towards the pen with four saves and an 11-8 record over four years and 185.3 innings. He has 178 whiffs, a 1.225 WHIP, and will likely start next year at High-A.

Eshelman was a second-round pick last year by Houston. The 21-year-old pitcher has thrown just 10.3 innings over four games since being drafted. The right-hander was a monster at Cal-State Fullerton, having tossed 362.6 college innings and allowing just 17 walks. Apparently, the Astros were being light with his workload in deference to the heavy college frames pitched, but Eshelman should begin 2016 at High-A.

In one of the more obscure trade trivia notes ever (minor leaguers named Arauz swapped for one another), Jonathan is a 17-year-old middle infielder who hit .254-2-18 as a 16-year-old in the Gulf Coast League last year over 44 games. A future project as well, but one worth checking out.

Over the past month, I have been working around the diamond. Today, let's finish up with some backstops who are ideally a little below the antennae of your league.

In the end, unless you anticipate going Buster Posey high-end, or even mid range with Jonathan Lucroy or Brian McCann, the other path is the crapshoot catchers. Let's take a look at some of these potential bargains.

Let's start in Miami with J.T. Realmuto, perhaps the most obscure of the guys I like simply because he plays for the Fish and registered just a .290 OBP his first full season starting. Never mind that catchers are almost always slower than their position counterparts when it comes to developing as hitters, for Realmuto had a decent .335 OBP in the Minors, and as a backstop, he should have some improved zone judgement. But, a .259-10-47 line with eight swipes looks like a bargain catcher and I think Realmuto will improve accordingly.

Travis d'Arnaud is sort of the opposite of Realmuto, a guy we all know from the postseason who registered a .268-12-41 line over 202 fewer at-bats. d'Arnaud will cost you as a rising prospect, but his .290-76-332 minor league marks screams for attention. He has the brightest future of the bunch, in my opinion.

Tyler Flowers is probably on everyone's radar thanks to his two-year free agent deal with the Braves. But again, on-base numbers might well keep the backstop, who will be 30 on Opening Day, in the background. Flowers has 46 career homers, largely pulled over the last three seasons, but just a .289 (93 walks to 464 whiffs) OBP, something of concern. This number, however, is 100 points below the .391 OBP that Flowers posted in the Minors (324 BB to 519 K), and as an everyday free agent catcher, I expect Flowers to settle in as a vet and kick his totals up.

The Bucs' Francisco Cervelli has hardly been a secret, as his hitting line was always pretty good (.278-9-72 over 255 games) with the Yankees, but the catcher stepped nicely into a full-time role in Pittsburgh last year, hitting .295-7-43. Cervelli almost defines cheap catcher who will not really hurt you. The thing is, he could get better.

Back to the guys with an upward curve ahead, the Tigers will give James McCann a shot at starting in 2016, and he is yet another on this list with decent 2015 production (.264-7-41) but an anemic on-base line of .296 (16 walks to 90 strikeouts). McCann is a free swinger, but on the heavy hitting Detroit team, there is a good chance he gets better pitches to look at, and that points to improvement all around. Cheap, he will likely be, but likely effective.

Finally, the path is similarly clear for Cameron Rupp, who filled in behind Carlos Ruiz last year to the tune of .233-9-28 over 81 games. The Phils are indeed a work in progress which kind of diminishes Rupp's value along with his lack of experience. But, someone has to play, and actually Cameron's on-base total of .301 last year beats just about everyone on this list.

Happy Monday, as we push towards the holiday season with a very active Hot Stove.

There have been a lot of Major League machinations thus far, but since we have been looking at some under-the-radar players at various key spots, this week we will focus on corner infielders, finishing with backstops next week.

Corner infield is theoretically a low-rent version of your corner players, where in general looking for a .265-14-55 line in a deeper league, for $8 or so at auction time, or near round 18 or so in your draft is a pretty good baseline. But, corner is not so much a slot for the up-and-comers it seems, like outfield, or pitcher, or even middle infield. 

So, who are some of the guys I am thinking of as some cheaper sources of runs and power? Well, let's start with 32-year-old journeyman Chris Colabello, acquired by the Jays off waivers when the Twins let the first baseman/outfielder go. Colabello responded to his new environment with a .321-15-54 line, hitting a couple of my baselines pretty much on the nose, but exceeding the average line by 56 points. With 22 walks to 93 whiffs (.367 OBP), I would expect a correction in average, but with 375 or so at-bats (360 last year), Colabello should give you what you need. Be careful, though, not to overbid or be blinded by the .321 number.

Justin Bour, 27, was drafted by the Cubs in 2009, then plucked as a Rule 5 pick by the Fish in 2014 where he sat on the roster for the year with a somewhat ignominious .284-1-11 mark over 39 games. But, the chunky (6'4", 250 pounds) left-handed hitter is sort of the prototype big league slugger. And, if you have questions about this, his .263-23-73 numbers from last year sort of prove this point. Bour is good enough to make a roster, but probably not good enough to own the first base slot unless your league is deep beyond all belief. Like Colabello, the Achilles heel is 34 walks to 101 strikeouts.

I have written about the Yankees' Greg Bird already this off-season. The 23-year-old is clearly the baby here, and he has similarly the brightest future following his call-up and fine .261-11-31 numbers over 46 games last year. The issue for Bird, however, is where does he play with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez on board? I will confess I am not sure, but I do think barring a spring meltdown that Bird winds up with at least as many at-bats as one of the seniors he is trying to displace. Take advantage of the lower slot because I think Bird will be really good once he is a full-timer.

The Rangers' Mitch Moreland has hit the Saberhagen-metric path, going .232-23-60 in 2013, .246-2-23 in 2014 (though injury-filled), and then rebounding last year with a solid .278-23-85 line. Actually, Moreland's ups and downs predate 2013, but he clearly has 20-homer pop, and the 30-year-old, because his numbers and seasons can be erratic, tends to be dismissed. Don't let that make you afraid. Moreland is generally the kind of guy who won't hurt you too much.

I have been a big fan of the Tigers' Nick Castellanos, Detroit's first-rounder in 2010 who turns 24 just prior to Opening Day. Though the third sacker did improve his totals slightly (.255-15-73), Castellanos' second half line of .269-9-35 was a nice improvement over his 2015 first half. This is Castellanos' third full season, so though I am as always cautious of his strike zone judgment (his OBP at .302 is a little disconcerting), I am willing to take a chance as Nick goes into his third full season. That is usually make or break time.

Jake Lamb was drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2012, and then hit .321-37-195 over 247 minor league games befor being called up. Lamb is a little rough around the edges still, but his .263-6-34 mark over 107 games makes the third sacker a prime candidate to pick it up with the re-tooled Arizonans. With 131 minor league walks to 230 strikeouts (36 to 97 at Chase last year), Lamb might boast the best eye, and thus possibilities among this crowd.

Alas, we are in the throes of the industry mock season. That means those of us who write about baseball hither and yon in real and virtual print are multi-drafting; that is drafting in several mocks at the same time.

That tells me some players the insiders are looking to now in those mocks when the real bullet hits the draft bone in March. So, since we have already reviewed some starting pitchers, and outfielders, let's continue the trend and take a peek at the middle-infielders who have mock props (or in some instances, those who were overlooked).

Rob Refsnyder: I have been carrying the Yankees prospect on a couple of teams since 2013, when he posted a .293-6-57 mark with 23 swipes and a .413 OBP (84 walks to 82 strikeouts). As a minor leaguer Refsnyder logged a .290-33-198 line over 433 games, with 55 steals, 245 runs, and a .380 OBP. The second sacker then put together a .302-2-5 mark after a call-up, and looks to be the man at second in the Bronx.

Eduardo Escobar: I got Escobar as a trade throw-in in Strat-O-Matic three years ago, and I got a .275-6-37 line with the infielder playing all over the diamond. With Danny Santana, et al, Escobar was reduced to a utility role in 2015, but Santana's failure spelled opportunity, and Escobar came through with a .262-12-58 contribution over 127 games, playing 71 at short, 36 in the outfield, and five at third. For a 12-team mixed format, Escobar is at best a reserve pick at this point, but in an AL only format or deeper contest he is more than worth the minor anticipated investment.

Corey Seager: Last year the Dodgers had Joc Pederson, this year they have Seager, who went in the seventh round of the MLB.com mock curated by our mate Zach Steinhorn. Seager was the Dodgers #1 pick (18 overall) in 2012, and basically quieted any doubters with a .337-4-17 line after his call-up. He should be good, but, Seager will not be devalued like some others on this list.

Ketel Marte: Probable middle guy for the Mariners, Marte put in 51 games at short (plus a handful in the outfield and at second) debuting at Safeco as a 21-year old. Marte went a solid .283-2-17 with eight steals and a solid .351 OBP (24 walks to 43 whiffs) over 247 plate appearances. In the minors, Marte scored 284 runs and ran a .293 average with 100 swipes in the minors.

Rougned Odor: Who out there thought two years ago that Odor would shoot past Jurickson Profar? Well, the Venezuelian who turns 22 in February, certainly did, posting a .261-16-61 record for the Rangers last year. It would be nice if Odor showed an improved eye (40 walks to 150 strikeouts as a Major Leaguer) but, with 79 whiffs last year, he does make good enough contact. Either way, the best is likely ahead.

Dustin Pedroia: Taken in the ninth round of one mock, after Devon Travis and Odor, at 32, with diminishing totals and health issues the past couple of seasons, Dped seems to have lost a bit of luster as compared to the new new thing. Pedroia still hit .291-12-42 over 93 games, so he can clearly still hit his lasers, but, with the newer shiny players, the Red Sox keystone man could be undervalued. And, if the Sox give him 140 starts to keep him healthy, well, the numbers should be just fine.



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