Waiver Wire Offseason: NLby Michael Street
December 18, 2009
We continue with the mini-browser from Graphical Player 2010 to give you excellent insight into each of the players below. Rob McQuown (my AL Waiver Wire counterpart) and I are Associate Editors under John Burnson for this year's GP. Check out the end of the column for info on downloading a free sample or ordering the book for yourself.
Alcides Escobar | Milwaukee | SS
2009 Final Stats: .304/.333/.368
The Brewers have been waiting for the right time to bring the speedy Escobar up to the bigs, and they found that opportunity when J.J. Hardy plunged from .283/.343/.478 in 2008 to .229/.302/.357 this past season. Enter Escobar, and exit Hardy, first to Triple-A, then to the Twinkies in the offseason.
This move was coming eventually; Hardy's rapid decline only accelerated the timetable and reduced the potential return on the trade for Milwaukee (though the Crew helped pump up his value by demoting Hardy in time to delay his free agency for another year). Milwaukee's had its eye on Escobar ever since signing the speedy, slick-fielding Venezuelan in 2003. As desperate as the Brewers have been for pitching, they consistently refused to give up Esco in a trade, no matter how sweet the return.
Escobar's not a five-tool player, but he is a solid four-tooler—power's the only missing part of the package, but when the other tools are this good, why quibble? On top of slick defense, he brings blazing speed and excellent contact skills. In the minors, he racked up 176 swipes in six seasons, with both his frequency and selectivity increasing as he rose in the ranks—in the past two seasons at Double-A and Triple-A, he stole 76 bags and was caught just 18 times.
His .84 contact rate in the minors has stayed remarkably steady, while his plate discipline (.34 BB/K overall) has risen as Escobar has—after a .38 BB/K in 2008 Double-A, he logged a .49 in 2009 Triple-A. Both—plus his speed—are excellent indicators that the .300+ BA he logged in 134 PAs this year is for real; the OBP will always be a bit low with his plate judgment, but it should improve from .333 once he adjusts to this level. The .273/.307 BA/OBP you see predicted on his mini-browser seems fair; if anything, he should exceed that.
With Hardy now totally out of the way, the path is clear for Escobar to prove himself. He didn't hit much leadoff this season, but that's clearly where he should be in the lineup, assuming he can boost that OBP into the .350 range. Rickie Weeks has been the leadoff hitter in the past, and he might start at the No. 1 spot in 2010, but he's always lacked the OBP skills to lead off; hitting him second behind Esco will be the most likely solution and will give the Brewers a fantastic 1-2 punch in front of their big boppers.
Once Esco does ascend to leadoff, his speed and those big bats behind him will bring plenty of runs. In the meantime, you can count on those SBs—he didn't run too much this time around, and he may take a while to really cut loose on the basepaths. Speed is a skill that's instantly available, but the knowledge of opposing pitchers' moves and catchers' arms may take a little longer. The 10 SBs you see predicted on his mini-browser seem low, but they reflect these rookie handicaps, as well as his likely position lower in the lineup.
All this makes Escobar an excellent keeper candidate, but other owners may have to be patient. I'm targeting 2011 as the first season that he really comes into his own and starts to show his talent, so don't be surprised to see him struggle a bit at the plate at first. How Ken Macha elects to use him in the batting order and on the basepaths will affect that somewhat, but the kid's for real, and he won't hold him back for long.
As rare a commodity as speed can be, don't be tempted to go the extra dollar on Escobar this year in your redraft league. He's a much better bet to return your investment in 2011.
Ian Stewart | Colorado | 3B
2009 Final Stats: .228/.322/.464
There was some question as to whom the Rockies wanted at the hot corner in 2010, and they answered that this week when they non-tendered Garret Atkins, leaving the door wide open for Ian Stewart, their first-round pick in 2003.
Stewart has been a masher at every level, hitting .293/.374/.524 in the minors, including a 41-double season as a 21-year-old at Double-A Tulsa in 2006 and a .280/.372/.607 line in the rarefied air of Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2008. That shows you the kind of hitter he could become, but it does make some aspects of 2009 a bit of a head-scratcher.
For one thing, Stewart whiffed 138 times, an awful 28.1% of all his PAs, a far cry from the 20% he averaged in the minors. Surprisingly, however, that's an improvement over his last two years of MLB stats; he struck out 37% of the time in 2007 (in just 46 PAs) and 31% in 2008. And while his BB/K ratio of .41 is also distressing, it's also better than 2008's .32 and 2007's .06 (no, that's not a typo—1 BB and 17 Ks in 46 PAs).
Unsurprisingly, this led to a .68 contact rate that was still better than the .65 he put up in 2008. Both are far below the .76 he established in the minors, but even that's a tad low. True to form, his mini-browser shows you shouldn't expect BA from him; .254 feels just about right for Stewart.
This is a guy who's going to swing and miss, but when he makes contact, it should go a long way. And Stewart performs no matter the venue. He hit better away from home than he did at Coors in 2009, though the .237/.301 home/away BABIP split has a bit to do with that.
For the doubters who point to the offensive boost he got from playing at Colorado Springs, his .52 BB/K and .74 contact rate there in 2008 had nothing to do with the thin air at home. In another reversal of expectations, he slugged .573 at Colorado Springs in 2008—and .611 away from it.
So don't listen to those who say that he's a Coors product, or that he's going to keep that breeze going into the Rockpile with even more Ks next year. Stewart's just 24 years old and has shown improvement at each level in the minors and majors. Don't expect him to help your batting average, but he shouldn't continue to hit in the low .200s as he develops; leagues that count OBP will also like how he helps them as his walk rate (another area where he's shown steady improvement) continues to climb. Stewart also hasn't played a full season in the majors, and knowing that the job is his for the taking should help his confidence and consistency.
The mini-browser tells you everything you need to know: third basemen with an. 800+ OPS and the ability to score and knock in nearly 80 runs don't grow on trees. Depending on your league, he might even qualify at 2B in 2010, where his value would really skyrocket. Just remember his BA when you're bidding—he's not the next coming of Chipper Jones, but on a good day, you might mistake him for Vinny Castilla.
Madison Bumgarner | San Francisco | SP
2009 Final Stats: 9.0 K/9, 3.3 K/BB, 1.80 ERA
Before you get too freaky over those freshman MLB stats, realize that they represent just 10 IP of work—but the fact is, Bumgarner is this good and more. The mini-browser shows you his minor-league stats in 2009; he started his career as the Sally League Pitcher of the Year in 2008, with a 10.4 K/9, 7.8 K/BB, and a 1.46 ERA in 141.2 IP.
That's right: he's put up those numbers in only his second year in the league—the kid's just 19, and he's got tools. He's a tall lefty who chucks a fastball in the mid-90s with late movement, complementing it with a sweet changeup in the low 80s and a still-developing slider. I have yet to read a scouting report that says anything bad about him: He's got a great attitude, he's eager to learn, and shows tons of poise on the mound.
The tangibles and intangibles all line up for Bumgarner, but let's not forget that what may be his greatest upside is definitely his greatest downside. The kid's just 19, and has less than 300 professional innings under his belt. The Giants don't want to rush him, and have two guys named Lincecum and Cain who are happily installed at the top of their rotation. If they need anything next year, it's more offense, not young pitching.
That doesn't mean Bumgarner won't be in the bigs, and maybe in the rotation, by the end of 2010. With a great spring training and injuries to guys ahead of him, he might even start the season with the club. I'm betting, however, that he starts the season in the minors so he can work on his craft a bit more. Giants fans would like to see him ASAP, but discretion should prove to be the better part of valor here.
All these explain the pessimistic mini-browser numbers you see for 2010. He's going to rack up Ks at a good rate, but should be expected to struggle and adjust, and shouldn't be pitching a full season with the big boys. He's unlikely to return much value as a result—one of the great things about GP's mini-browser is the reality check it delivers on future talent like Bumgarner: He should be really, really good. Just not yet.
Redraft leagues will want to monitor Bumgarner through spring training and into the season, depending on where he starts the year. Keeper leagues better have him on their radars (if not their rosters) already; depending on your league's depth and keeper rules, as well as your own strategy, however, he might not even be worth a spot in 2010.
This is the guy that should supplant Cain, if not Lincecum, atop the pitching rotation, but that won't happen until 2011 at the earliest. He's an incredible talent, but there's lots that can still go wrong in a guy this young.
Next week, it's an OF fest, with Dexter Fowler, Jordan Schafer and Andrew McCutchen, as well as some of the talent tossed around in the recent trade market.
Want to see someone else? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.
And don't forget you can still download a 16-page sample of Graphical Player 2010 or order the book directly from ACTA Sports.
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