Impact prospects and outsiders 2011

I remember when I was eight. Life was simple, girls were simple. Would you believe I actually ran for fun back then? This may creep out some of my readers. Please bear with me as I reminisce.

Growing up, I lived in a house that backed up to a pet cemetery. That pet graveyard was actually located in the back of a human cemetery. Basically, I can thank Steven King for my lack of sleepovers and overflow of nightmares until I was ten.

Moving on, my buddies and I would play baseball in the large field adjacent to the statue of Jesus. The pet cemetery was actually a quiet, flat place with built-in headstones for bases. Don’t judge me, and we didn’t use the headstones as bases. That’s sick.

My goal as we ran through the knee-high grasses was to be the catcher version of Terry Pendleton. My love for baseball was born out of that cemetery, but those days and dreams have long since faded. My love for baseball remains. Prospects make me feel nostalgic about those times and, thus, have a special place in my heart.

One of my favorite parts of the rookie transition that differs baseball from the other two major sports is in the way this revealing takes place.

In basketball, rookies are signed out of college, courted by every shoe company, and ushered to the starting five. In football, rookies are drafted with every intention of winning playing time from the very beginning.

In contrast, the prospects of baseball are mostly refined over several years. Their breakouts tend to come mid-season. Pomp and circumstance surround their rumored call-up, which then parlays into arrival celebrations no matter what the standing of the team. It’s all about hope, I guess. This is my tribute to hope.

There are always a ton of “hot prospects” every year in the fantasy game. Undoubtedly, the names of Mike Moustakas, Jeremy Hellickson, Domonic Brown, Desmond Jennings, Mike Montgomery, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Jesus Montero, etc. are on the lips of every expert and the pages of every website. If you’re looking for those names you won’t find them here.

I want to dive into prospects that can impact 2011 that not every expert in the world is hammering into your head. Impact Prospects and Outsiders (or IPO) is what we’ll call them. Like an IPO is for a company, the chance to play is everything in the making or breaking of these outlier prospects.

Some IPOs for 2010 that found success were Neil Walker, Colby Lewis, Jaime Garcia, Chris Johnson, and Danny Valencia. Their formula for success was a combination of playing time and relative anonymity. I choose five for different reasons. Here they are in no particular order:

Hank Conger C ANA: I am proud that I get to be one of the first to proclaim 2011 the beginning of the Conger dynasty in Anaheim. After the Mike Napoli/Juan Rivera-for-Vernon Wellsdeal came together earlier this week, I realized it’s time to join the “Conger Line.”

Conger is no stranger to top prospect lists, but his value is extremely low to date. Napoli had a strong hold of the everyday catching duties, and this led to Conger’s disappearing prospect status. Upon Napoli’s departure, the opportunity for Conger to realize his potential is now. He profiles as an offense-first catcher with a plus batting eye. Picture Mike Piazza with less power.

Double-digit home runs and a .290+ BA are very possible given an increase in at-bats. It’s not quite time to throw him in the same breath as Buster Posey, Carlos Santana, and even Jesus Montero, but the ceiling for this Futures game MVP is high enough that he should be considered in mixed leagues.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka SS MIN: To see a great YouTube video of Nishioka, click here. Tsuyoshi is a three-time Japanese Gold Glove winner, including 2010. He is a two-time stolen base king, and he is the reigning batting champion with a .346 BA last season.

Is he the second coming of Ichiro? No, but does he have a chance to be a top-10 shortstop? Yes, he does. Then again you would be doing a disservice to yourself if you didn’t place Japanese stats in their place. Exhibit A is Matt Murton setting the all-time hits record this past season.

With all that said, our Oliver forcasting engine sees a line like seven HR and 30+ SB with a .300+ BA. That would certainly place him in the top 10 of fantasy shortstops in 2011. Nishioka is worth a look.

Jason Kipnis 2B CLE: Kipnis is the prototype “scrappy” middle infielder. Normally, I despise these kind of stereotypes on hard working infielders who lack elite speed and power. In Kipnis’ case, it is actually very appropriate.

Never considered an upper-class prospect by many outside of Ohio, he has fought his way into the starting second base job discussion in Cleveland. His competition is less than impressive in Luis Valbuena and Jason Donald.

Kipnis looks to be a future 20 HR/.300 BA second baseman. For 2011, I’d reduce the homers down to 14 and the batting average to .280. If those numbers hold true, he could still be the perfect MI play for all leagues.

That being said, his lack of Triple-A experience could cause him to be on hold in Columbus through the first couple of months even though he was integral piece of the Clippers championship run. He hit .389 in 18 postseason AB with the club.

Kipnis was Cleveland’s Minor League Player of the Year last season, and my advice would be not to let anybody know more about him than you. Hopefully, this helped.

Jake McGee SP/CL TB: McGee may be my favorite name on this list. His mid-90s fastball has good late movement. He once was as touted a prospect in the Rays system as Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson, but injuries and failure of his secondary pitches have clouded his future with the club. Is he a starter or future closer?

Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey still sees McGee as a “starter” for Tampa very soon.. McGee, age 24, handled his duties as a reliever quite amazingly in 2010. It’ll be interesting to see how Maddon handles McGee going forward.

My opinion is that he’s got a chance to be an impact closer. His secondary stuff, including a decent slider, lead to the inevitability of a relief role. Plus, his minor league track record as a starter isn’t stunning (he had an elbow injury). As a reliever, he’s been money, and J.P. Howell isn’t that great.

Yunesky Maya SP WAS: Mays was the 2010 Domincan Winter League Picher of the Year. He used that impeccable control that was whispered about before he ever defected from his native Cuba (42:9 K/BB in 41 innings) to recapture the hearts of the D.C. brass. Look for him to gain the fourth or fifth rotation spot for the Nationals and show a very different pitcher than what we saw in his brief call-up in 2010.

Maya has potential to be a Colby Lewis-like find for the Nats in 2011. At only 29, all reports are the improvements he made in the Dominican are real. I think Lewis is a fair comparison, although I would discount the strikeouts a bit, and his control still needs to be seen. He’s an NL-only must draft and a sleeper in mixed leagues. In the deepest leagues, I really like his IPO value.

My final thought is more like a disclaimer. There was a handful of players I eliminated from this list. In fact, I started with an entire starting line-up even down to a full four-man rotation. The more I looked at the list, the red X’s began to fly all over my scratch piece of paper until there were only five. These five represent an even greater group of players that are to be had. Finding them first will still be up to you. I, along with other THT Fantasy guys, are here to guide your path.

Ben Pritchett loves his prospects, and he loves being asked questions about them. Shoot some comments, or you can reach him at
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Comments

  1. Braves Fan said...

    While Tsuyoshi Nishioka played SS in Japan, he might be starting the year at 2B. I’m not sure if that’ll affect his SS eligibility in fantasy leagues.

    Assuming he’s eligible at SS, would you rather have Nishioka or Andrus?

  2. Chris said...

    I’m about as high as a kite on Kipnis, but I doubt he gets to see more than half a season of work in Cleveland. He’s got Phelps to contend with too and he’s a solid ‘scrappy’ type as well, going .308/.367/.457 with 8 HR and 28 2B in 442 AB last year between Akron and Columbus. Phelps also got the chance to play 3B in the AFL this year, which to me says that Cleveland thinks that he’s ready for a chance in the majors, so he may end up in Cleveland should he prove defensively capable at 3B.

    If not though, there’s always the chance that Donald starts the season as the everyday 3B, and Phelps or Kipnis (but I’m leaning heavily towards Phelps) could end up at 2B. If you were Cleveland, would you want Valbuena starting every day?

  3. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Braves Fan- I hadn’t heard that he could be moved to second base. Who are they looking at to start at shortstop in his place?

    Assuming Nishioka is the starting shortstop, my initial response is that I’d much rather have Elvis. After looking at it a little deeper, I see the dilemma you are seeing. Andrus will give more value in the speed and runs department obviously, but his complete lack of power and roller coaster batting average would force you to give the advantage on those to Nishioka. So it’ll depend on what kind of production you are looking at getting from your shortstop.

    One other point, if Andrus can improve his OBP, those 30+ steals could turn to 50+ steals very fast. So the upside play might still be in favor of Elvis. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the safer play may be the unproven Tsuyoshi (assuming his market value remains so low).

    Personally, I’d buy Nishioka in the late, late rounds over Elvis Andrus in the sixth to seventh.

  4. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Chris- Truthfully, I didn’t know much about Cord Phelps. So Chris since you forced me to do research on Mr. Phelps. The more pertinent question is if you were Cleveland, would you want Jayson Nix as your starting third baseman? Here’s a good article perhaps detailing the Indians’ plans http://www.ohio.com/sports/114469659.html.

    My opinion on the matter is that Cord Phelps will win the opening day third base job, Luis Valbuena or Jason Donald or both will hold down the second base job until Kipnis has spent his one to two months “maturing” in the minor leagues.

    Of course, this is all assuming Kipnis doesn’t rake in the Spring and force the Indians to give him his shot.

  5. Brad Johnson said...

    One note on Maya. He’ll be competing with Livan, Gorzelanny, Marquis, Zimmermann, Lannan, Wang (who apparently is looking good again), and Detwiler. I have to imagine that all seven are ahead of Maya on the depth chart.

    That’s certainly not an imposing cast of characters ahead of him, but for a pitcher with pedestrian stuff like Maya, it might prove difficult for him to impress enough people to crack the top 5.

    The Nats also carry a plethora of similarly equipped swingmen like Atilano, Martis, Mock, and Stammen.

  6. chris said...

    Ben:

    Yeah, it really looks like it’ll be a crap shoot as to who gets the starting 3B job. Nix has awful defense there, and while Phelps was flawed in the AFL, he also made some serious strides by the end of the season and he’s had experience there in college.

    But everyone, and I mean EVERYONE in the Indians system keeps thinking that Donald has a real shot to be the everyday 3B, which I suppose I can see as it’s not as range intensive as SS or 2B, which seems to have been his major flaw defensively last year, but I also thought that his arm was a tad weak, but, having not seen him play and UZR not listing an arm value for IF’s I can’t say for sure if that was true or I just inferred it by mistake.

    So if Phelps does well at 2B and Donald does well at 3B he could make it up as a 2B, or Donald could stick and Phelps will be the stopgap between Peralta/Nix and Chisenhall. Many guys that deal with the Indians in depth seem to think that Nix will end up being a bench bat and utility type with Valbuena being the utility MI

    While I agree with your analysis on a more long term basis, I just can’t imagine myself taking a flier on Kipnis early on as if he doesn’t make the team in ST, he’s more than likely waiting till June or the ASB to come up. And who knows? Maybe Donald gets pushed to the utility MI role and Valbuena gets DFA’d thus having both Kipnis and Phelps up in Cleveland next year. That whole roster outside of Choo, Cabrera and Carmona is just too fluid right now to predict with Sizemore and Santana’s injuries, Valbuena not hitting his weight, Nix’s defensive inabilities and LaPorta’s no-show bat. The only thing you can predict is the team desperately trying to time the arbitration clock.

    Oh, and if you ever want to know anything about the Indians’ farm system this is an amazing site: http://www.indiansprospectinsider.com/

  7. Steve said...

    I’ve been watching Nishioka for a while now and he’s pretty impressive. 

    Batting from the left side – he seems really polished.  Hits very well to all fields.  Gap and slap hitter with power on the pull. 

    Batting from the right side – not as much material but seems to be more of a pull hitter.

    On the field – very fluid and quick.  Lacks elite arm strength on his throws.  Good decisions with runners on.

    On the bases – quick but not an elite speedster.  Will probably take some time to get to know the catchers/pitchers in the US.  Also will have to get used to the different pitching approaches between Japan/US.  The stretch position is similar but there are a some technical differences that Japanese pitchers have that US pitchers usually dont.

  8. Doug said...

    Concerning your comment…“Napoli had a strong hold of the everyday catching duties”

    When was that?  I’d say part time at best as Scioscia seemed to hate playing him.

  9. Ben Pritchett said...

    Doug,

    I need some new describtive words. He had the most ABs of a catcher in Anaheim. Thanks for keeping me on my toes, Doug.

    I’ve got over 200 ABs on Conger. I don’t see any reason why Mathis would steal any playing time other than like an every third or fourth day, definitely not a platoon. I’ll give him 400+ ABs.

  10. Ben Pritchett said...

    But then again Doug, like you stated. Scioscia doesn’t run a fantasy team. He actually cares about defense. How dare he?! So you’re right. There will still be uncertainty of Conger’s ABs. The more I read, the more I worry about how many ABs Conger will be able to get.

  11. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Brad Johnson- I’m going to go against you on this one, Brad. That list of players made me chuckle a little bit especially with Wang and Detwiler. Did you reference Maya’s pedestrian stuff and then place the names John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, and Chien Ming Wang ahead of him. I would argue that those guys have far more pedestrian stuff. I don’t care what people are saying about Wang; he’s done.

    On my count, it’s Livan Hernandez, Tom Gorzelanny,  Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis, then We’re looking at Yunesky Maya. We’ll see. I do agree that this is all speculation. Spring training will show us more about what’s what.

  12. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Mark F- Thanks. I guess I could see them doing that. I don’t know why they would want to do that, but Gardenhire knows alot more about defense than I could ever hope to have.

  13. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Chris- Well said. I will defer all further Indians questions to you. Seriously though, the more I researched Kipnis, the more I liked him. So I hope the Indians give him a shot soon, but you’re right their line-up is a mess.

  14. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Steve- That’s a scouter’s eye. The only thing that worries me about Nishioka is that his swing reminds me more of Fukudome that Ichiro, and sometimes that slap approach doesn’t translate well. Ichiro’s the exception, not the norm. It will be fun to watch how he adjusts to major league pitching.

  15. Brad Johnson said...

    I’m not saying it’s a talented unit of guys, but these are all guys who have a variety of advantages over Maya in the organization.

    Detwiler’s a guy with better stuff and a higher ceiling but worse results. Out of the seven I listed ahead of Maya, he’s probably the one most likely to get relegated to pen duties.

    Lannan’s earning the paycheck of a major leaguer so they’ll at least try to pump up his value so that they can trade him. I happen to agree that Maya is probably better than him, but I have a personal vendetta against Lannan. From the people I’ve talked to (prior to the Gorz trade), he has a rotation job.

    Wang’s obviously a crap shoot. Either he’s rehabbed from that shoulder injury or he’s not an ML pitcher. If he has successfully rehabbed, he’s as good as any pitcher they have. The Nats scouting department is pretty well run and it appears they think there’s a decent chance he can recapture past glory. Dismissing him as done is premature.

    At the very best, Maya enters spring training tied 6th on the depth chart with Wang and Detwiler. Of those 3, I get the feeling Maya is least in control of his destiny. He needs other guys to get hurt or struggle.

  16. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Doug- I should have said that Napoli had the lion’s share of the catching duties. I know that he’s not been Scioscia’s favorite catcher option, but he put together 510 ABs and 26 HRs in 2010. That’s enough of a stranglehold for me to relegate Conger to a mere backup with value if traded. With the Napoli deal, he’s now a top 10 catcher.

  17. Ben Pritchett said...

    Brad,

    I think Maya is legit. You may know more than I about the Nats rotation plans. I believe Maya shows something in the Spring and forces the hand of management. They have done some wacky moves bringing so many tweener and starters to camp. It might just be a big battle royale, and whoever is still standing makes the rotation.

  18. Dave Chenok said...

    For the record, I never understood why the Cubs didn’t give Murton 500 at bats and see what happens.  I actually thought he was pretty good.

  19. Ben Pritchett said...

    Brad,

    Hate to show my dorkiness to the world, but you should watch a Maya pitching performance in the DWL. Go to ESPN3.com click on baseball over the last 30 days. The click the Leones vs. Gigantes game on Dec. 29th. Watch him use that low 70s 12:6 curveball with his good low 80s change to set up his decent 91 mph fastball that he paints the corner with. He pitches his way out of trouble in the fifth showing some poise.

    Maybe I’m biased, but he has my vote as the five in Washington.

  20. Ben Pritchett said...

    C’mon Dave. Side note, I voted your draft as my number 3 behind Shepardson and Brett from Fantasy Phenoms.

    Murton got 500 ABs in 2006 and performed well. 2008 killed him though. It didn’t seem like he got any respect after that.

  21. Doug said...

    I was probably nit-picking but Scioscia is the last manager you want if you are an offense first catcher.  As you said, Napoli hit 26 homers but Mathis, despite being a terrible hitter had over 200 AB’s at C in 2010 and Wilson had over 100.  I think Conger will have to get off to a hot start to get 1/2 the AB’s at catcher in 2011.  He had 452 AB’s in the PCL last year and hit 11 homers…so he better get full time AB’s to hit double figure HR’s in 2011 in the majors.  I’ll go with under 200 Ab’s and will return to eat crow if necessary.  Now that Napoli is out of jail, I do really like him for this year.

  22. Doug said...

    I don’t think Napoli had the lions share of the catchers duties either wink  He might have had 510 AB’s but I’d bet less than 1/2 came as a catcher.
    Over/under on Conger AB’s at 200?

  23. joeymitch said...

    @Chris

    What are your thoughts about Jared Goedert? His ISO is pretty solid and although he is 25 at this point, is there any chance at making an impact this year?

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