As per our last discussion, the 2013 fantasy season is dead to me. Blame me if you must, but that seems unnecessarily harsh in my time of mourning.
Today we’ll take a look at four National League players to target for next season. Next week, I’ll do the same with some American League targets, and then later next week (and beyond) recap all of my 2013 picks and tally up my success rate. With the interest of getting on with it, let’s dive right in.
Welington Castillo | Chicago Cubs| C |
YTD: .273/.349/.398 in 425 plate appearances
ZiPS updated: .272/.348/.398 in 453 plate appearances
It is rather fitting that I kick off my 2014 coverage with the player I most
obsessed over analyzed in 2013.
Castillo entered the year as one of my favorite sleepers, due mostly to the fact that he had an intriguing power profile at a thin position, it was clear the 2013 Cubs were not going anywhere, and without major competition elsewhere on the roster, it seemed likely the team would use this season to find out what it has in the 26-year-old backstop.
So, what do the Cubs have? Well, a lot of what it looked like they had while Castillo was climbing the minor league ranks. They have a plus defensive catcher (7.1 UZR this season) with a rocket arm who can hit for modest power (a career .138 ISO in the major leagues). They have a catcher under team control grading into his prime who strikes out a lot, but not crazily so (22.6 percent this year), and who walks a little, but not too little (8 percent this year).
They’ve got a pretty decent player, basically. Perhaps the best news from a fantasy standpoint is the 2014 Cubs do not appear (at this early juncture) to be much better than the current version. It seems unlikely that Theo Epstein and Co. will invest heavily in the free agent market, and therefore Castillo stands to see similar levels of playing time next year as well.
So what do I expect out of Castillo? A lot of what we saw this year, with perhaps power yet still in the bat. He scouted as a player with power potential in the minors, and his numbers there hint at a guy with a little more juice in the bat. He won’t be the top catcher off anyone’s board next spring, and he probably won’t be among the top 10, but he’ll be a solid investment, and one from which owners can bank a solid return. Castillo has the ninth highest in major league baseball, and I would be willing to bet one dollar that he won’t be among the top 10 catchers selected next season, judging by the fact that he is currently owned less than 27 other catchers.
Cody Asche| Philadelphia Phillies | 3B |
YTD: .269/.333/.448 in 147 plate appearances
ZiPS updated: N/A
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Semisonic
For Phillies fans, the 2013 season probably cannot end soon enough. A season in which they had playoff aspirations will end with a whimper. The end of those playoff hopes, and Michael Young‘s ineffectiveness led the team to turn to the 23-year-old Asche at third base. He’s performed admirably, if not at a star level, and it seems fair to expect that going forward.
Prior to this season, Baseball America wrote this about Asche:
He’s not a prototypical power-hitting, slick-fielding third baseman but Asche should hit enough to have a regular big league role. He could start 2013 in Triple A and be in line to take over for Michael Young when Young becomes a free agent after the season.
That timeline sped up somewhat because of the aforementioned struggles by both the major league team as a whole and Young individually.
How that factors into next season remains to be seen. A lot will depend on what the Phillies do over the offseason, whether they sign a veteran to man the hot corner, or whether the team feels comfortable rolling into the 2014 regular season with the inexperienced Asche at the helm. If Asche has a strong spring, and is in good health, it seems entirely probable he could get the nod. And if he does, it’s fair to expect more of what he provided this season.
That production includes solid walk and strikeout rates (8.8 percent and 21.1 percent, respectively) and modest, better-than-average power (.179 ISO). Since he calls a favorable hitter’s park home, he could be a sneaky value next spring if it appears as though he’ll earn the lion’s share of at-bats at third.
Logan Morrison | Miami Marlins | 1B |
YTD: .250/.339/.396 in 304 plate appearances
ZiPS updated: .251/.339/.399 in 333 plate appearances
Since he is known more for his unfortunate trips to the disabled list, and transgressions on Twitter, prospective LoMo owners need to be watching his health more than his actual production these days. The talent is certainly there to be a quality major league hitter. This is, after all, a player who posted a .283/.390/.447 triple slash in 287 major league plate appearances as a 22-year old, and followed that up with an even better .247/.330/.468 the following season in 525 full-season at-bats.
Morrison missed more time this year, but he returned June 9 and has managed to remain in the lineup since. He’s posted an excellent walk rate (11.2 percent) and has limited strikeouts 16.4 percent. His power is down modestly (.146 ISO vs. career .182). Of particular note is an apparent change in approach for Morrison.
Over the previous three seasons, Morrison swung at pitches in the strike zone at virtually identical rates—58.6, 58.5, and 58.2, respectively. This season, that number has jumped to 70.7 percent. He’s also swinging at more pitches outside of the zone (28.4 percent vs. a career average of 24.7 percent). It remains to be seen if this change is a purposeful one (instead of just the mirage of a small sample size) and it’s tough to say how this will affect Morrison’s ability, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
As is Morrison’s health again next spring. If his injury troubles are indeed behind him, the shine has worn off enough that Morrison can be a valuable late- round pickup. In keeper leagues he’s worth adding on the cheap now if you can stash him.
Pedro Strop | Chicago Cubs | RP |
YTD: 2-5, 4.75 ERA in 53 innings pitched
ZiPS updated: 2-5, 4.69 ERA in 57 innings pitched
Ending back with the Cubs for a moment, and with a totally unsubstantiated fact I am going to assume is accurate because, c’mon. Year over year, the position with the most fantasy turnover is at closer. They come, they go, we hardly remember most of them existed (even the good ones).
So with an eye toward next summer in this column, it’s always fun (and worthwhile?) to speculate on changes in the back end of the bullpen. The Cubs started the year with gas can Carlos Marmol taking the ball in the ninth, but he soon found himself out of favor with fans and ownership and was designated for assignment before being shipped to the Dodgers for similarly DFA’d Matt Guerrier. Kevin Gregg improbably found himself filling Marmol’s duties, and carried out that task more capably than most (everyone) thought he would.
But his contract has expired, and it’s unlikely they team will bring him back. So, who will it be? Obviously scouting reports and health and roster moves between now and next April will play immense factors in that outcome, but the money here is on Pedro Strop, who was acquired along with Jake Arrieta in the Scott Feldman deal a month before the trade deadline.
Strop had modest success as a setup man with the Orioles in 2011, but increased walk totals both last year and this season helped pave his way out of Baltimore.
You might think that Cubs’ brass would shy from another high wire act in the ninth inning given the palpitations Marmol induced over the years, but a funny thing happened when The Audacity (of Strop) landed in the Windy City. His walk totals decreased. Significantly. Over his 30.2 innings with the Cubs, Strop has fanned 27.8 percent of the batters he’s faced, while walking just 7.9 percent. His ERA (2.93), FIP (2.56), and xFIP (3.03) have all been stellar since his change of scenery.
It’s worth noting (as always) that these numbers are from a minuscule sample size, but those are the waters we tread with relievers, and Strop’s strong 2012 campaign gives … (wait for it) … Strop that he can continue his fine pitching in Cubbies blue into next season.
If you’re in a deep keeper league, and can afford to carry relief lottery tickets from year to year, Strop seems as good a bet as any to make a major leap forward on fantasy circles next summer. At least that’s our … Strop.
[I sincerely apologize for all the terrible Strop related puns in this section, I literally cannot help myself. Would if I could, people. Would if I could. Blame my pal Steve (hi Steve!) who planted these in my head after first hearing of Audacity over at Lone Star Ball.]