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The Prospector


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The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 00:00

Keeper lists are all about value. What is the ratio of cost to projected value? On draft day, the focus shifts from value to stats. How are you going to fill that speed, power, or saves void? Well, long-term obviously through your league's minor league draft.

Generally, one focuses on the best overall prospect available. However, it still pays to keep in mind the categories you're drafting, particularly if the focus is strictly on who can help the quickest. With that in mind, let’s focus on sources of power.

Texas’ Joey Gallo was the recent hero of the Futures Game, hitting the game-winning homer, and is far from a sleeper. At just 20 years of age, the lefty is more than holding his own and has in fact dominated A+ ball while continuing to slug the ball with authority in Double-A. Encouragingly, while in A+ ball, Gallo kept his strikeout rates in check at a 26% clip while walking an astonishing 21% of the time and producing an overall .323/.463/.735 line. Double-A Frisco is one of the better hitter’s parks around and Gallo has hit 10 more homers for 31 total on the season while continuing to walk and post an OBP nearly 100 points higher than his batting average. Unfortunately, the alarmingly high strikeout rates of his previous campaigns have returned (42%). Gallo is expected to move off of third base long-term and could be limited to first base duties. Gallo is the epitome of high-risk/high-reward with a possible 80 score on the power scouting scale, but with strikeout rates that could make him the next Dallas McPherson. Most hitters his age would still be receiving their first taste of full-season A-ball and that is an encouraging thought. He showed improvement earlier this season and has plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments.

Former first-round pick Kris Bryant comes with many of the same caveats as Joey Gallo. Like Gallo, Bryant has 31 homers on the season and has shown an all or nothing approach with high walk rates and 26 to 30% strikeout rates at the two levels he’s played. The differences between the players are age. Bryant is a college veteran, and his glove and range gives him more defensive options long-term. Bryant’s strikeout rates are more typically lower than he has shown in his brief stay in Triple-A and while he has hit over .300 at every minor league level, he’s probably more of a .260s to .280s hitter in the Majors. Keep in mind that Bryant is not fool-proof. As a right-handed hitter who strikes out as often as he does, the slide to becoming a wrong side of the platoon split player can be a sharp one.

If one talks about Kris Bryant, one cannot leave out Javier Baez, who many, if not all, rated as the better long-term prospect earlier in the season. As big a high-risk/high-reward play Gallo is, Baez tops it. The righty drove 34 balls over the fence last season and has followed up with another 14 so far in Triple-A. Like Gallo, Baez is about two years younger than where one would normally find him at this stage in his career. The 21-year-old is holding his own, but far from dominating with a .240/.305/.449 line. While he may have even greater power potential than either Gallo or Bryant and even greater bat speed, Baez is by far the least refined at the plate and though he may have the skills to stay at shortstop, he can be raw and has shown his lack of polish there too. Baez’s 8% walk rate this year marks a career high measured against a career high 32% strikeout rate. The 2011 first-rounder should be up for a cup of coffee in September but would probably be best suited for spending at least half of 2015 in Triple-A too.

The Mariners selected D.J. Peterson in the first round of the 2013 draft as the consensus top college hitting prospect in the draft. The 22-year-old had an impressive debut in short-season ball and has gone from A+ to Double-A in his first full season of professional ball. Peterson’s approach has been a bit more aggressive than originally expected, but he has started to make better adjustments in terms of making contact while still hitting for power. Through the All-Star break, Peterson had hit 21 homers and projects as a possible 25-plus home run threat in the Majors. He’ll probably close out 2014 in Double-A with an outside shot at a September call-up followed by spending at least half of 2015 in the Minors before challenging for a starting job. The righty, if he keeps making good hard contact, is a possible .280 to .290 hitter to go along with his power.

Steven Souza received a brief call-up earlier this season while the Nationals were battling injuries but was sent down after only nine plate appearances. The 25-year-old does not rank as highly as some of the bats I’ve already mentioned, but I mention him as someone who may not have been drafted in your local league and as a player with both legitimate 20-plus HR power and some advanced skills that might make him a slightly lesser risk than his above compatriots. Souza moved off third to right field where he has the range and arm to handle the position, not to mention pretty good speed that has allowed him to steal 20-plus bags in multiple minor league seasons. The former third-round pick has a fairly advanced approach, walking frequently and this season cutting down on his strikeouts significantly, though that may be an anomaly compared against the context of his career. His .371/.449/.615 slash and 20-20 potential make him hard to ignore.

Next week, we look at the minor league speed merchants.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 July 2014 08:15
 
Young Guns for 2015 PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 00:00

This week, we conclude our look at the 2014 amateur draft with a scan of some of the starting pitchers you should consider as targets for your 2015 minor league drafts.

The College Ranks
If you are looking for a pitcher who may be up in the Majors by late 2015 or 2016, this is where you should be looking. While college pitchers come with the caveat of generally having lower ceilings than some of their high school brethren and a heavier workload placed on their arm which puts them at high risk for injury, you are generally getting a more polished product with a greater likelihood of even reaching the Majors.

Probably the pitcher who best emulates what I’ve discussed is seventh overall pick Aaron Nola. The LSU ace is an extremely polished product with above average command of three pitches, including a plus fastball, plus change and improving slider. Barring injury, the righty should cruise through the Phillies system.

Getting back to upside, the White Sox selected Carlos Rodon out of NC State with the third overall pick. He’s a three-pitch guy with a plus fastball, plus-plus slider and average changeup. Rodon is a big lefty who can pitch in the mid-nineties and reach the upper nineties and looks like a potential #2 starter. While he has upside, he’s shown some inconsistencies with his command during his college career. The White Sox had yet to sign him as of the writing of this article, so that could put him on a slightly slower path to the Majors than some of the quicker signings.

Like Nola, Kyle Freeland is probably more of a #3 than a #2 starter, but the lefty is a pitcher with tremendous command of a quality sinking fastball which he has added mph to over the past year and plus slider which both have been swing and miss pitches for him in college. At the very least, Freeland could be a very effective left-handed specialist reliever at the MLB level. To the Rockies credit, they did go after someone with some ability to keep the ball on the ground.

Jeff Hoffman will be one of the exceptions to the rule of being quick to the Majors as a college pitcher. It is possible that the righty could have been the first college pitcher drafted, but he suffered a torn elbow ligament and underwent TJS back in May and probably will not make his pro debut until sometime in mid to late 2015, essentially landing him a year behind his draft class. When healthy, Hoffman is an extremely hard thrower with three potential plus pitches that could make him a #2 starter if all goes well. He’s probably more of a 2016 minor league draft target than a 2015 one for most fantasy players.

Nick Howard is a name to note as someone likely to move quickly. The 19th overall draft pick by the Reds has been both a starter and a reliever during his college career. Technically, Howard is a four-pitch pitcher, but when in relief he adds quite a bit of horsepower to his fastball, and with that, his slider makes him an impact weapon out of the pen. Potential setup man or better in the right circumstance.

Prep Picks
Heading back to high school, we come to number one overall selection Brady Aiken. The Astros drafted the left-hander, who gets high grades not only because of his stuff, but because of his excellent pitchability. Aiken already has at least two average, if not close to plus pitches in his arsenal and most importantly for any pitcher his age, actually has a changeup with average or better potential. The 6’4” pitcher will begin his career in short season ball, and at just 17 years of age, he likely has an ETA of 2019 at the very earliest.

Tyler Kolek was selected right behind Aiken by the Marlins with the number two overall pick. Kolek is rather huge and imposing at 6’5” and 260 pounds. Not surprisingly, the 18-year-old, given that frame, hits the upper nineties with regularity, but he is not simply a hard thrower, already having a good curve. It is easy to see Kolek as a potential top end of the rotation candidate given a good frame for pitches, but it will depend on the development of his change and his ability to throw his great stuff for strikes. The righty also fits the mold of late-inning reliever too if starting does not work out for him.

The 12th overall pick, by the Brewers, was Kodi Medeiros. The lefty has some of the most intriguing stuff as a high school pitcher, armed already with two to three potential plus pitches including his stuff. The reason that he slipped lower than his prep brethren, however, is his polish of said stuff. Medeiros now needs to learn how to command and throw those pitches for strikes.

So this has been just a small sampling of the pitchers taken in the 2014 amateur draft. It is likely some of the names mentioned will get injured while others from later rounds will emerge as possibly better prospects. As you can see, it will be very tempting to select the likes of Aiken and Kolek, but it will be your own patience and your league’s style of play that will determine whether or not pitchers with such long ETA times are viable options, particularly since many keeper leagues operate on a one-year on/off again go for broke/rebuild rotation.

Next week, back to the prospects who are closer to helping us out in 2014!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 07:47
 
Shortstops and Outfielders PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 01 July 2014 00:00

Last week, I discussed the importance of determining the top targets for minor league drafts in 2015 by looking at some of the hitters selected in this year’s amateur draft and taking that information to determine where one needs to finish in their league to ensure landing a targeted player. This season’s amateur draft crop, particularly in the middle infield and the college ranks, is not all that deep, so to even consider getting one of the few impact hitting talents available, you’ll have to get one of the first picks to acquire them.

This week, we follow up by examining the rest of the amateur draft’s hitting crop.

Shortstops
Two Gordon’s have made it to the Majors, so why not Nick? Nick Gordon has an interesting pedigree with Tom Gordon and Dee Gordon as father and brother respectively that warrants your attention, especially now that older brother Dee was able to translate his minor league skills to the Majors and fulfill his potential as a solid shortstop and serious speed threat. Nick is a larger version of his brother at 6’2” compared to 5’11”, but he still has above average speed (though not as good as Dee and how big a SB threat he’ll be is up in the air) and the glove to stay at shortstop. Like his brother, Nick is a good contact hitter and has good bat speed, but he provides a bit more punch at the plate. From a fantasy perspective, given Dee’s speed, the older of the siblings is likely to be the more valuable long-term, but Nick could be a .280-plus, 15 HR/15 SB threat in his own right. Given the long time that it will take him to make the Majors, Nick Gordon may be a more viable second round or later pick in many AL-only leagues. The key here I think is the development of his speed game. The more he leans towards being like Dee in that area, the more first round worthy he’ll be for fantasy players.

A more likely first round pick for fantasy leaguers will be the Padres’ Trea Turner. The NC State star is already a potential 40-plus stolen base threat and has good enough power that like many speedsters, he won’t simply have the bat knocked out of his hands when he’s at the plate. The knock on Turner all around seems to be a desire to tap into his low to mid-teens power and try to knock the tar out of the ball rather than concentrate more on having a quicker to the plate, line-drive or more ground-ball oriented swing to take advantage of his near 80-scale speed. Turner plays good enough defense to stay at short and actually has fairly good enough plate discipline to the point where some consider him leadoff material, but that depends highly on the improvement of his swing.

I’m skipping a few of the prep players here to talk about Alex Blandino. The Stanford product is a steady defender, but he's best suited to second base where his mid-teens power potential best fits. Blandino also earns pretty good marks as a disciplined hitter who may be able to hit towards the upper part of the batting order. The righty has no standout tool that makes him a first round pick, but he is someone to watch in the later rounds of your NL-only draft.

For those who like raw tools, I’ll go back to the Pirates' first round selection of Cole Tucker. The righty is a legitimate shortstop with 30-plus stolen base potential and a very quick bat that should allow him to hit for average too. His likely ETA, however, is 2019 or 2020.

Outfielders
Let’s start with the college guys. The Mets selected Michael Conforto with the 10th pick overall. Conforto was the consensus top college hitter in the draft and that alone will make him a first round pick in most NL-only keeper leagues. Conforto projects as a power hitter with 25-plus home run potential but that is really his only standout tool. Otherwise, the lefty is more of a DH type, limited to left field. As a power hitter, Conforto has a history of fairly high strikeout rates and an all or nothing approach, which limits his upside for standard 5x5 leaguers in the batting average department but may be more attractive to OBP leaguers. The lefty should move through the Mets system fairly quickly, but as of right now, he is sounding rather comparable to former seventh round pick Lucas Duda.

While Conforto has a single standout tool, Bradley Zimmer has none, but the 21st overall pick is a far better athlete, though not quite good enough to perhaps be an everyday starter in centerfield. This is a shame as Zimmer’s bat would play well there as a mid-teens home run threat with 20-plus stolen base potential and a line-drive oriented approach. In order to play him in right field, the Indians would have to find power elsewhere in their lineup. Again, he’ll probably be a first round pick in many AL-only leagues, but his profile is not necessarily the one of an impact player long term.

The Mariners selected Alex Jackson with the first pick overall and as the top outfielder selected in the draft, and despite whatever the wait time will be, Jackson warrants careful consideration. He offers a polished approach and at least a 70, if not an 80 on the projectable power scale and excellent bat speed to catch up to just about any fastball. Jackson was actually a catcher in high school, but given his offensive ceiling and an arm suited for right field, that is where the Mariners have already placed him.

Next week, we turn our focus to pitching.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 July 2014 08:28
 
For Your Consideration PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 24 June 2014 00:00

It’s June. Too early to start talking about 2015? Of course not. Even if you are involved in a rare league that has a mid-season draft to allow for the selection of 2014 amateur draft picks, dynasty and keeper leaguers still need to start paying attention. After all, there are only a finite number of players, especially if your keeper league is an AL or NL-only league, that are being targeted in the upcoming draft. And therefore, whether your league bases its minor league draft picks on final standings, reverse final standings or an alternative format whereby the highest ranking team not to receive a monetary prize gets first pick and so on and so forth, owners need to start thinking about where they want to end up in the standings and determine where they need to finish to at least have a crack at this finite pool of talent.

So, who is out there that is truly worth targeting?

Catcher

Kyle Schwarber was the highest selected catcher at fourth overall by the Cubs, but it is pretty much universally questioned whether or not he can actually stay there given a sub-par glove and his size (240 pounds), which doesn’t scream stay behind the plate. What also is not questioned is a well-disciplined approach with plus-power potential that given a move to first base, makes the lefty an interesting target for NL-only leaguers, which makes him a legitimate top pick for dynasty leaguers.

If you are looking for a catcher who has a better chance to stay behind the plate, Max Pentecost might be the guy for you. Pentecost does not have Schwarber’s power, but he is a better all-around athlete who has a more contact/line-drive oriented theme that projects to low to mid-teens power with a strong average. Catchers, given their general overall snail-like foot speed, often fail to hit for average despite the tools to do so (see Matt Wieters, etc.), but Schwarber actually is at least an average, if not above average runner and might be a .280s or better hitter at the MLB level. That all said, he’s probably not a first-round pick in most minor league drafts as he projects to be more of a solid starter than a star player. The Blue Jays, having dealt away Travis D’Arnaud, have a thin system at catcher, and Pentecost has a chance to move up the ranks quickly as a result.

First Base

The Rays selected Casey Gillaspie 20th overall as their first baseman of the future. The Rays have used a mix of stop-gap type players at the position over the years, so as with Pentecost, Gillaspie is someone who could be promoted quickly depending on how quickly he acclimates to pro ball. The younger brother of Conor Gillaspie, the switch-hitting Casey has retained the familial trait of good plate discipline. As an aside, when drafted highly by the Giants in the first round of the 2008 draft, I thought Conor had a legitimate chance to be the next Bill Mueller. It seems Conor, like Mueller, is something of a late bloomer and hitting that stride, though the power has evaporated. Getting back to Casey, he is larger than his older brother and has more typical first baseman’s raw power, projecting to be at least a 20-HR, if not 25-HR per season threat. Starting next year in Double-A is not out of the question.

A.J. Reed is an interesting selection. The second first baseman taken in the draft has 25-plus homer potential and has a good approach, though not the bat speed of Gillaspie. As a second round pick, he’ll probably drop past the first round in most keeper league drafts, but as a fairly polished college hitter, he should move quickly through the Astros system, where his most likely destination is DH given his rather significant defensive limitations and the presence of Jon Singleton at first.

Ordinarily, I might instantly dismiss right-handed hitting first basemen from consideration, but Sam Travis defies that axiom as a highly disciplined hitter who walks more often than he strikes out and possesses high-teens to low-twenties home run power, a combination that could potentially be more valuable than the more highly drafted Reed.

Second Base
Second base is rarely a spot to find premium fantasy picks, as the best second basemen are typically shortstops that didn’t have the arm or range to stay there, so we’ll pass on the position for this draft.

Third Base
The A’s used their first-round pick to take the first third baseman in the draft at 25th overall in Cal State-Fullerton’s Matt Chapman. Off the top of my head, this is the first draft in recent memory where the top college hitter was not a third baseman or at the very least one was not selected among the first ten picks. That said, Chapman profiles well as a defender for the position given a good range and a true plus-fastball that also saw him used as a reliever in college. Chapman profiles as a mid to high-teens hitter for power and has the requisite plate discipline that one in the past would often see from an Oakland draft pick. He is more for consideration in the mid to late rounds of your minor league draft and does not project as a true impact talent.

Taylor Sparks, a second-round pick, compares well to Chapman and may be a plus defender in his own right. Sparks may have greater raw power than Chapman, but he has a more suspect approach and higher strikeout rates that could catch up to him in the Minors.

Next week, we will have more 2014 amateur draft targets for your consideration in 2015.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 01:17
 
Eastern League Update, Part III PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 17 June 2014 00:00

This week, we continue our focus on the Eastern League with a look at the Orioles' Bowie Baysox and the Nationals' Harrisburg Senators.

Bowie Baysox (Orioles)
The Baysox have a fairly interesting collection of hitting and pitching prospects to sift through starting with lefty Eduardo Rodriguez. The 21-year-old still has mid-to-upper end of the rotation potential but has struggled in his second stay in Double-A with his strikeout rates dropping over a full point and posting an ERA approaching 6.00 despite showing adequate control and strikeout skills. A knee injury that had him out for much of the early season may be to blame, as much of the damage occured earlier in the season before he went on the disabled list, but he has been up and down since his return with three solid starts alongside two poor outings. Patience is necessary, but the lefty is doing no favors for his trade value at the moment. The one saving grace is a .333 BABIP and 57% left-on-base rate that both suggest things can only get better, at least from the regression and skills displayed department.

Rotation-mate Tim Berry has fared quite a bit better and has done well to translate his skills from A+ to Double-A, showing very similar strikeout and control skills as he did at the lower level. The biggest question for Berry is how his stuff – a low nineties fastball, plus curve and average change-up, will work at the upper levels and whether or not he will continue to get swings and misses. Berry is still worthy of note to fantasy players, but it is hard to foresee him beyond a fourth starter type at the moment.

21-year-old Zach Davies came into the season as something of a sleeper, but the results have been both intriguing and frustrating. Intriguing on the basis of a 10.5 K/9 and frustrating on the part of collapsed command, significant trouble with the long-ball and generally being hit hard enough to post a 6.26 ERA. Given that Davies is not a hard thrower and has always been someone who has to rely upon having pinpoint command to succeed, his struggles are not good news.

I was hoping for big things from Michael Ohlman this season, particularly with Matt Wieters in his walk year. Now, Wieters is out for the season and Ohlman has done little to push his way up the minor league ladder, batting .236/.321/.330. Ohlman, at 6’5”, has always been a bat-first catcher who would eventually need to move out from behind the plate. Last year, he displayed good power, hit for average and showed on-base skills, and given his age, it would not have been surprising to see him split the year between Double-A and Triple-A. Unfortunately, that no longer seems to be the case and barring a turnaround, Ohlman could find himself relegated to organizational player status.

One of the bright spots for Bowie has been Christian Walker, who has produced a .306/.365/.543 line with 17 homers and really has little left to prove at this level. The main knock on Walker has been the lack of punch in his bat, making him a fringe starting first base option with mid to high-teens power potential, albeit with fair on base skills and a good ability to make consistent contact. Well, thus far, Walker is answering those critics strongly and it will be worth tracking him as he heads up the Minors to see if he can maintain these new gains. It should be noted, however, that the power output has cost him some of his contact making skills as Walker has posted his highest strikeout rate of the year, so carrying the .300 batting average beyond Double-A may no longer be possible. Keep an eye on him to see if the righty can somehow keep hitting for power and regain his previous contact making skills.

Harrisburg Senators (Nationals)
A.J. Cole leads an impressive pack of prospects in the Harrisburg rotation. After 12 starts, Cole has a 7.1 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 to go along with a 2.56 ERA. While a concern, the two-plus point drop-off in K/9 is not a great surprise as Cole’s change-up and curve have some potential but are far from finished offerings, particularly the curve, which is more of a slurve. Cole’s command of his dominant fastball remains elite, and that along with his change-up will be enough to get him to the Majors on the path as a potential middle of the rotation candidate, at the very least.

It is nice to see Matt Skole still at third base. In the pre-season, it was thought he would have to move to first base given the depth in the organization at the position, but the former Yellow Jacket has stayed at the hot corner for now, but given a lack of speed despite having the arm and hands, he will still ultimately move over to first base. Skole’s value lies in his bat, and unfortunately, the hitter from 2012 who hit 27 homers and walked 21% of the time has yet to show up. Things have started to turn around with back-to-back games with homers last week and three multi-hit games, so he may be finally adjusting to the higher level of the Minors.

Michael Taylor is producing at an exciting level with 16 homers, 17 steals and a .331/.416/.595 line all while walking 12% of the time. The righty is a five-tool player with 20-30 or better home run potential, but his strikeout rate is a huge red flag as he has swung and missed over 30% of the time and has posted a .451 batting average on balls in play to accomplish that impressive stat line. The speed will continue to help him hit for average, but it is difficult to see him as much more than a .260 to 270s hitter at the MLB level barring an adjustment to his swing and selectivity.

Sammy Solis made three starts at three different levels only to find himself on the disabled list with elbow discomfort. Solis has previously undergone Tommy John surgery, so the Nationals will be very cautious with the lefty. Given a fastball that reaches the upper nineties and a solid change, health permitting, Solis has a shot at a big league career as a middle reliever.

Next week: A break from the Eastern League and a look at the amateur draft crop for keeper and dynasty leaguers.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 June 2014 09:11
 
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