This is the second of two articles covering my top young fantasy players for dynasty leagues who are starting the season aged 25 or younger. In case you missed part one, which covered the players I ranked No. 1 thru 15, you can catch it by clicking here. Before breaking down players No. 15 through 30, a quick recap of my list is in order:
Rank Name 1 Justin Upton 2 Mike Stanton 3 Clayton Kershaw 4 Desmond Jennings 5 Felix Hernandez 6 Matt Moore 7 Stephen Strasburg 8 Carlos Santana 9 Andrew McCutchen 10 Jay Bruce 11 Jesus Montero 12 Mike Trout 13 Bryce Harper 14 Jason Heyward 15 Mat Latos 16 Michael Pineda 17 Yu Darvish 18 Buster Posey 19 Pablo Sandoval 20 Madison Bumgarner 21 Brett Lawrie 22 Eric Hosmer 23 Daniel Hudson 24 Logan Morrison 25 Tommy Hanson The next five 26 Starlin Castro 27 Matt Wieters 28 Yovanni Gallardo 29 Dee Gordon 30 Paul Goldschmidt And five more 31 Jason Kipnis 32 Jeremy Hellickson 33 Craig Kimbrell 34 Dustin Ackley 35 Cameron Maybin Plus two guys it pained me to cut 36 Anthony Rizzo 37 Brandon Belt
16. Michael Pineda: In my mind, Pineda has a slightly lower ceiling than Latos despite being a few years his junior. Like Latos, Pineda has a mid-90s fastball and power slider that he leans heavily upon (31.5 percent slider usage in 2011), resulting in a high strikeout rate (9.1 K/9). Pineda is an extreme flyball pitcher (36.3 percent groundball rate) with a potential platoon split. That’s not to knock on Pineda’s value, only to justify why he is ranked below Latos.
Pineda has been healthy for the past two seasons, but he had elbow issues that limited his workload in 2009. His heavy slider usage also has to be a red flag on any dynasty list. Some are questioning Pineda’s 2012 potential given his move from spacious Safeco to batter-friendly New Yankee Stadium. Do not count me as one of the skeptics. I do not consider it conclusive by any means, but a glance at Katron’s batted ball data for 2011 shows that Pineda’s batted balls at home last year would not have resulted in any additional home runs if produced at New Yankee Stadium. To the contrary, Pineda might have allowed one or two fewer home runs if he called New Yankee Stadium his home park last year.
That is not to say that the change of scenery will help Pineda, but it does say that that the “leaving Safeco argument” might be a bit overblown here, leading to some improper perceptions about Pineda’s 2012 potential. Surely, the AL East will likely be a greater challenge for Pineda than the AL West, but there is no reason he can’t repeat and improve upon his 2012 numbers. Oliver forecasts a 3.33 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and just under a strikeout per inning for Pineda this season, and wins should be plentiful for the new Yankees pitcher. Work the anti-hype to your advantage this offseason. If you can get Pineda even at his “market value” right now, you could easily end up with a hugely profitable asset over the next few seasons.
17. Yu Darvish: Japan’s top pitche is an enigma because it is hard to accurately forecast what a Japanese player is going to do in the majors leagues. For most, even the highly touted ones, the results have been pretty underwhelming. For every Hideki Matsui (who was supposed to be more powerful), there are 10 Kaz Matsuis. For every Ichiro Suzukis, there are many Tsuyoshi Nishiokas and Kosuke Fukudomes. And we all know how Daisuke Matsuzaka turned out for the Red Sox.
But then again, look at how Colby Lewis and Ryan Vogelsong‘s numbers played out when they returned stateside. Ditto on Takashi Saito (when healthy) and the early career of Hideo Nomo. My take on a player’s Japanese league numbers is that they should be viewed on par with the performance of a player either in Double-A or Triple-A.
Even in that context, though, Darvish’s numbers are undoubtedly elite. In the Nippon League, NPB, Darvish owns a career ERA just under two (1.99), with a sub-0.90 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning with less than two walks per inning. That’s not a great single season. That’s his friggin’ career.
Oliver, the projection system behind THT Forecasts, has a reputation as the best system at projecting players without previous major league playing time and has a major league equivalency chart that converts minor league and foreign league data in to “equivalent” major league production. In other words, Oliver gives us a decent sense of just how good a player’s non-major league numbers would have played out in the major leagues.
Oliver’s “worst” major league equivalency (MLE) calculation for Darvish was 2010. In 2010, Darvish’s MLE was “only” a 2.49 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 9.5 K/9 in a season where the major league average FIP and K/9 rates were 4.20 and 7.1, respectively. Oliver projects a +7.9 WAR campaign for him in 2012, the highest WAR it projects for any major league player next year—but even if you temper expectations, you have to expect something pretty elite, right?
Daisuke Matsuzaka’s career NPB numbers pale in comparison to Darvish’s (2.95 ERA, 8.9 ERA, 1.12 WHIP), he was not nearly as healthy in his career as Darvish, and even his “last season in the NPB” numbers did not stack up. Furthermore, Dice-K never had control anywhere near Darvish’s caliber. Despite all that, you’d have to call Dice-K’s first few major league seasons a relative success, right?
That’s not to say Darvish is any guarantee. Just that lofty expectations that might need to be tempered should not be over-tempered. A Tim Lincecum or Dan Haren-like season is totally in the cards. Darvish is not ranked accordingly only because you cannot rank players based merely on your best expectations or their upside. You need to consider their downside and risks as well, and Darvish has no major league track record and the NPB tends to produce numbers that do not always translate well in the majors.
18. Buster Posey: Sidelined by a freak injury last season, Posey was well on his way to disappointing his drafters before losing the rest of his season to surgery. After a Rookie of the Year-worthy season, Posey hit only .284 with four home runs and 21 RBI over 45 games. Some were severely disappointed by Posey’s power output last year (.105 ISO), but I did my best to temper his power expectations heading into 2011. As I discussed in the comment section of my 2010 dynasty rankings article:
“I do not buy into [Posey’s] 2010 power…I rarely judge baseball players with my eyes, but I expect a .300/20 line and view 2010 as above his talent level… His home run profile is very pedestrian….I’m not discounting room for improvement, just my tempered expectations.”
I pegged Posey’s ceiling at 20 then, and there’s no reason to bump that ceiling this year. Posey should certainly see an uptick in power from the .105 mark he posted last season, but I wouldn’t expect anything above .180. Something closer to .165 might be more reasonable.
Still, that slightly-above-average power comes with a good batting average and middle-of-the-order slotting, so a .290/17/80 season could be in order. For a catcher, those numbers are golden. I rarely pay a premium for catchers (every time I have, the strategy has backfired), but if you are going pay a premium for any catcher, Posey might be the best “bargain” among the elites after Carlos Santana is off the board.
19. Pablo Sandoval: I was a big believer in Sandoval last year, and was rewarded handsomely for my faith. I was lucky enough to nab Kung Fu Panda is roughly 75 percent of my leagues, paying no more than $16 in any single league (well, other than Ottoneu). Last year, I did not rank Sandoval, noting that I “love[d] the potential, but his body type will not age well and he needs to prove that 2010, not 2009, was the fluke.”
Sandoval did indeed show that 2010 was the fluke, and even lost a ton of weight in the offseason (don’t worry, Pedro Alvarez found it all). Although Panda gained a little extra bulk as the season wore on, there is no reason to feel he cannot be equally as productive in 2012 as he was in 2011. Expect a .300 batting average this season (in addition to the next few years, barring some BABIP luck going the wrong way) with 25 home run power and 90 RBI potential out of the middle of the Giants lineup. He might even steal a couple of bases, and with Posey back, Pablo should get driven in more often (unless he gets too winded on the way to the plate).
With third base getting shallower and more injury-riddled every season since Alex Rodriguez signed baseball’s most mammoth mistake of a contract, Sandoval is a solid source of above-average production where it counts. I would not be shocked to see the Panda off the board by the end of round five. And that’s about where he belongs.
20. Madison Bumgarner: After instilling Giants fans and fantasy owners with a healthy dose of skepticism after dead arm and velocity dips issue a couple of years ago, Bumgarner used 2011 to show everyone why he was a top 10 overall draft pick in 2007.
Over 204.2 innings of work, Bumgarner produced a 3.21 ERA (a 3.10 xFIP, 2.67 FIP, 3.18 SIERRA, 3.12 tERA) with 191 strikeouts to 46 walks (4.2 K/BB) and a 1.21 WHIP (.322 BABIP-against). Among qualified pitchers last year (94), Bumgarner’s ERA was merely “top 25.” However, his xFIP ranked seventh in the league, his xFIP ranked fourth, his tERA ranked seventh and his SIERRA ranked eighth.
Bumgarner’s numbers qualified him as a top 10 talent last season, which was leaps and bounds ahead of where I ranked him in the preseason (No. 31 overall among starting pitchers). Why the huge increase in value? A lot of it had to do with his vastly increased strikeout production. Bumgarner leaned hard on an electric slider (from 20.4 percent usage in 2010 to 32.4 percent usage in 2011) to induce a much higher number of whiffs (7.6 percent swinging strike rate in 2010, 9.2 percent in 2011), resulting in more strikeouts (22.6 percent, up from 18.2 percent the previous year). Bumgarner did this without sacrificing control—his walk rate remained constant, while his percentage of first strike pitches increased slightly.
Alas, sliders are a two-edged sword, and the very tool that has enabled Bumgarner to step into elite pitcher territory is the very thing that could make him a huge injury risk in subsequent seasons. Consider the following list of starting pitchers who have averaged a slider rate of or above the 25 percent threshold over the past 10 years (minimum 200 innings):
PLAYER SLIDER% Randy Johnson 38.6% Armando Galarraga 37.4% Bud Norris 35.1% Jon Lieber 34.3% Brett Anderson 33.7% Jorge Sosa 31.4% Matt Clement 30.9% Francisco Liriano 30.9% Ryan Dempster 30.9% Ervin Santana 30.9% John Smoltz 30.7% Brian Lawrence (who?) 30.2% Jeremy Bonderman 30.2% Tony Armas Jr. 29.1% Ramon Ortiz 28.4% Madison Bumgarner 28.2% Felipe Paulino 27.7% Ian Snell 27.1% Johnny Cueto 27.0% Byung-Hyun Kim 26.9% Tommy Hanson 26.7% Edwin Jackson 26.3% Hiroki Kuroda 26.1% Jason Jennings 26.0% Randy Wells 25.9% Josh Johnson 25.9% Doug Waechter 25.6% Chad Gaudin 25.5% Ross Ohlendorf 25.2%
Almost every one of them has either undergone Tommy John surgery, sustained a serious arm shoulder/elbow injury, or just plain stinks at pitching. The latest victim was Brett Anderson, who I had ranked one slot ahead of Bumgarner heading into the 2011 season. Bumgarner clearly has top 10 or so starting pitcher talent potential, but when you consider the Giants’ poor defense, the Giants’ lack of offense (Posey’s return should seriously enable that, as well as a consistent Brandon Belt presence), and a serious looming injury red flag (high slider usage), then you realize that that Bumgarner needs to be ranked lower than guys like Matt Moore. Upside + downside = cautiously optimistic.
21. Brett Lawrie: Lawrie was the Blue Jays’ big prize for trading away talented starting pitcher Shaun Marcum. Heading into 2011, Lawrie was ranked the No. 40 overall prospect in the minors. His 2009 and 2010 seasons in Single-A and Double-A ball had been solid (composite .777 OPS in 2009 and a .797 OPS in 2010), but nothing special. He projected as a major league capable player with a relatively modest, but appealing ceiling. Most scouts loved Lawrie for possessing enough bat speed to hit for average with the upside to develop decent pop over time.
Last season saw that power develop in a big way. After hitting a combined 21 home runs over 253 games split between Single-A and Double-A in 2009 and 2010, Lawrie blasted 18 home runs in Triple-A for the Jays over the first half of the season. That, plus his .347/.414/.647 triple slash line over 73 games, left many wondering just what the Blue Jays were waiting for before giving Lawrie a cal-lup (maybe we can blame how the team previously developed Travis Snider, or sheer service time greed).
Upon graduation to the majors, Lawrie continued to produce at a similar rate as his 2011 MLE indicated, hitting .293/.373/.580 with nine home runs. Those numbers are excellent for a third baseman. When you consider his 13.7 percent stolen base per time on base rate in the minors (68.9 percent success rate) and seven stolen bases over 43 games at the major league level, the whole picture of Lawrie’s production becomes elite.
So why is he ranked 21, behind fellow hot corner player Pablo Sandoval? The answer again lies in the risk. Lawrie’s 2011 power breakout could be legit, but how legit is it? After posting a .180 ISO in Single-A and .154 ISO in Double-A, you have to wonder how much of his .308 Triple-A ISO and .287 major league ISO Lawrie can repeat in 2012, especially given his two hand injuries last season. I am not saying that he is not healthy by now; I am just noting the things you need to be aware of.
Oliver projects a solid .180+ ISO from Lawrie this year, with 20 home run potential if he stays healthy enough to accumulate 600+ plate appearances. Oliver also forecasts a .280 batting average and 10-15 stolen bases. Those are undoubtedly strong numbers, and Lawrie, of course, has the potential to top them. I think Oliver’s forecast is pretty spot on, though I would project Lawrie for a slightly higher batting average. You find me another .285/20/15 capable third baseman for 2012 that is not named David Wright and I will call you a liar.
22. Eric Hosmer: Last year, I got some flak for leaving Hosmer and Mike Moustakas off my top 25 dynasty players list. I feel a little vindicated noting that only Ben Pritchett ranked Moustakas in his top 30 this year (Josh Shepardson ranked Moustakas No. 35 and Nick Fleder did not rank him at all), but Hosmer was clearly a mistake.
My logic on keeping Hosmer, like Harper, off the list is that I thought he was too far away from the majors. I did not expect to see Hosmer until 2012, and spending a few bucks to get in on the ground floor of a prospect like Hosmer, who might spend a year-plus in the minors before making his major league debut, seemed like a silly waste of resources, especially for leagues with escalating salary rules for players.
Well now, Hosmer is up and he needs to be recognized. His big knock is that he is a only a first baseman and positional relativity sets the bar high. The average AL first baseman hit .271/.340/.452 last year with 24 home runs and 89 RBI. Hosmer projects for similar production, but with a much more elite batting average. And the batting average for a slight power hitter is what separates him from the rest of the pack. With no real speed or elite power, Hosmer is likely not going to crack any top 30 fantasy player lists as a first baseman anytime soon—at least without some luck or a little breakout—but he should consistently rate within the top 60 or so.
23. Daniel Hudson: The White Sox gave up an ace-caliber arm to acquire Edwin Jackson for only a year. If you think that that sounds an awful lot like what they did with Gio Gonzalez and Nick Swisher, you are not crazy. There are few pitchers in the majors who throw a mid-90s fastball, hit first pitch strikes 60 percent of the time, and induce swings-and-misses 10 percent of the time. Say what you will about his sub-7.9 strikeouts per nine rate last season. I fully expect that figure to rise this year.
Oliver sees Hudson capable of at least an extra strikeout per nine innings for each of the next six years while keeping the walks just as low as they were last season. Oliver’s six year average forecast for Hudson is a 3.50 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP with 7.7 strikeouts per nine rate and a 3.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. How many pitchers can you say that about? Oh, and his groundball rate rose five percent last season. His home ballpark and the defense behind him are his only real knocks.
24. Logan Morrison: Just 24 years old this year, LoMo turned in a solid rookie campaign last season that was limited by a demotion for
tweeting too much “struggling in the majors.” If only you could call a .344 wOBA (115 wRC+) with a 10.3 percent walk rate, a .221 ISO and 23 home runs over 123 games “struggling.” Oh, okay. I suppose his defense was pretty awful, limiting his real life value to +1.0 WAR per Fangraphs.
But fantasy owners do not have to worry about a player’s defense (just Google Adam Dunn for proof). LoMo’s overall line was a solid .247/.330/.468 last year, but his BABIP (.265) was a bit lower than it should have been based on his peripherals. By xBABIP standards, a .270/.370/.500 line is entirely in the cards this season and in the near future.
For what it’s worth, Oliver seems to agree, projecting a .266/.360/.455 line over the next four seasons. LoMo is an All-Star in the making, and with foul-mouthed, filterless Ozzie Guillen replacing Jack “what is this new twitter-fangled-thing” McKeon as the Marlins’ manager, it’s much less likely LoMo, even if he does not throttle back on the twittering, gets demoted for
tweeting too much “struggling in the majors” this year.
25. Tommy Hanson: Enough has been written about Tommy Hanson that little needs to be added about his upside. I ranked him top 20 among all starting pitchers heading into the 2011 season, and before the shoulder injury, at least through the first half of the season, Hanson was poised to do that and more.
Of course that shoulder injury was severe enough to drop Hanson’s production off the map and end his season prematurely. Shoulder injuries scare me as much as elbow injuries, and are always something to be seriously concerned about. That is why Hanson is ranked so low here. If he is fully healed and healthy and can stay healthy, he’ll again be a top 10-20 overall starting pitcher barring bad luck. If not, he could be a total bust for fantasy owners. I think the former is more likely than the latter, and Hanson could make for a good “buy low” dynasty candidate if you have faith in his arm long term.
For what it’s worth, the Braves are going to be cautious with Hanson in 2012 and do not plan to rush him back to full arm strength, which could limit his 2012 value at “the expense” of a healthier 2013 and beyond. Invest accordingly.
26. Starlin Castro: Shortstop is a shallow position for offense these days, but I need to see more power and little more speed before I crown Castro an elite young player. Entering his age 22 season, Castro has plenty of time to meet those expectations and fill out some of his projectability. A lot of Castro’s real life value is based on his defense (at least if he stops making so many errors). Don’t call me a homer, don’t call me a hater. Castro is a guy I really like, but I need to see a little more before I rank him in my top 25.
27. Matt Wieters: 2011 was a big brea out year for Wieters, especially in the second half, but it was not long enough a performance to make me forget about 2009 and 2010. Wieters turns 26 this year and is far from old, but he is entering the peak years of his prime without much of a track record. Last season could have been a legitimate breakout, but I need to see a little more before I am a firm believer that he’s worth spending big on at the draft board.
28. Yovanni Gallardo: Tons of potential, but too wild for my taste. Gallardo has improved his control over the past few years, but last year was the first season where his walk rate was below the league average. Not many players have Gallardo’s strikeout potential, but Gallardo seems to be a fantasy player with more hype than substance. Maybe that’s just because I am living in Wisconsin right now, or maybe I am just over-thinking his declining strikeout numbers over the past few years. Regardless, I think people are a bit optimistic about what Gallardo can do.
Last season saw Gallardo post the best ERA of his career in any season in which he reached the 100 innings pitched mark, but even then his ERA was still a tad over the 3.50 threshold in a year where seemingly every pitcher had a sub-4.00 ERA. On the bright side, Gallardo’s xFIP has improved each of the past few years — from 3.71 in 2009 to 3.29 in 2010 to 3.19 in 2011. On the flip side of that coin, however, that improvement in raw numbers has actually been only a four percent improvement in xFIP relative to the league…, The point here is that Gallardo has too many question marks, at least in my estimation, to rank ahead of the guys I put ahead of him on this list.
29. Dee Gordon: Elite raw speed is always valuable, and Gordon has plenty of it. How much speed is elite raw speed? Try 73 stolen bases in Single-A ball in 2009, 55 stolen bases in Double-A in 2010, and 56 stolen bases between the majors and minors (combined 129 games) last season. Gordon does not strike out much, but he walks even less and hits for almost no power. On-base percentage is the key statistic for base stealers, and because he does not walk much, Gordon is going to need to post high batting averages to be truly valuable.
If hitting for a high batting average, he’ll be a super-elite shortstop. If not, he’ll be Everth Cabrera-like. Who? Exactly. Oliver projects a .270 batting average and .310 on-base for Gordon over the next few years, meaning luck might decide his ultimate value. Do you want to buy a young Juan Pierre-ian lottery ticket this season?
30. Paul Goldschmidt: Is he the next Adam Dunn or the next Rob Deer? Only time will tell. The only thing I can affirm is that his power is legit. Unless he cuts down that strikeout rate, though, his batting average risk may outweigh his home run and RBI upside…
LIGHTNING ROUND: Covering the “and five more” guys:
Jason Kipnis has position eligibility on his side with solid 15+/15+, possibly 20/20, potential as he enters his prime, but he’s going to have to prove he’s capable of hitting higher than .270 and cracking the 15/15 plateau before we start giving him serious consideration as one of baseball’s elite. Kipnis has plenty of potential, but there’s more “projection” and a lower ceiling than some of his above ranked peers, which slots him just outside the top 30. He is the most likely person on the outside looking in who can rocket up the rankings with a strong season in 2012.
Jeremy Hellickson could easily be the next David Price, and 2011 could have been his Price-ian sophomore season with less-than-exciting peripherals following plenty of minor league hype and a solid end-of-season debut for the Rays in 2010. Seeing a player’s strikeout rate fall by a third in the AL East while his walk rate nearly doubles and his groundball rate falls slightly (albeit while simultaneously producing elite pop-up numbers, which may or may not be a pitcher skill) raises too many red flags to safely slot him ahead of players like Gallardo, with a stronger track record and weaker competition, or Tommy Hanson, who is one of baseball’s top 10-20 starters when healthy. A strong peripheral bounce-back could make this ranking look silly.
I think relief pitchers, particularly closers, are overrated, but if any closer deserves recognition of value on his own merit, it’s Craig Kimbrell. Kimbrell posted super-Marmolian strikeout numbers with respectable control numbers (his 3.74 BB/9 last year was above the major league average walks per nine rate of 3.11 last year, but his 3.97 K/BB ratio was leaps and bounds ahead of the league rate of 2.30). As with any pitcher who logs under 80 innings, his value is too limited to warrant top 30 consideration. Sure, the strikeout numbers will likely be elite for a reliever, and the saves aplenty, but we’re still looking at a one-category player who will merely help in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. Stated otherwise, Kimbrell is a player who is more valuable rounding out a team than anchoring it. You can likely find 80 percent or so of Kimbrell’s non-saves value at a fraction of the cost in drafting elite non-closing relievers like Jonny Venters. Sorry Craig.
Is Dustin Ackley really the consolation prize for the Stephen Strasburg sweepstakes some thought he was a few years ago? My best comp in terms of expected production from a second baseman fantasy hitter, at least at this point in his career based on his professional league record, is the Braves’ vintage version of Kelly Johnson from back in the day. Take that as positively or pejoratively as you might.
Much of Cameron Maybin‘s value comes from real life stuff like defense and position. Even if his power never materializes, the Marlins will likely come to regret trading him for a middling reliever. If the power ever comes, Maybin will be as valuable as B.J. Upton. Based on his handedness, Petco is a better home park for his “touted” power than the Marlins’ own stadium ever was. If his power plateaus, however, Maybin will be just another waiver wire outfield speedster with limited batting average value and decent runs contributions. That may be useful, but it’s nothing you can call the cornerstone of a fantasy roster.
That leaves us with with two players from my list, the guys I ranked 36 and 37. I view both of them as lottery cards and strong late-round fliers for dynasty formats. Rizzo has top-tier left-handed power potential, and his move from Petco to Wrigley should do wonders for fantasy owners. Until he learns to hit both handed pitching, however, he’s just going to be a Seth Smith type. Brandon Belt, meanwhile, cannot be faulted for his unproductive major league numbers last year because he did not get consistent playing time or a real chance. I am a lot more bearish on Belt’s upside than most, but if given consistent a- bats he could be a Freddie Freeman type—a solid corner infield or fifth outfielder type.
PHEW! That was a lot. Are you still there? If so, give yourself a pat on the back. Heck, give me a pat on the back for finding the time to write all that. I would love to get your feedback on the rankings, individual player analysis, and your own lists below. Also, look out starting mid/late February for my preseason Top 20 players by position lists.