The Hot Seat: hits and misses

The All-Star break is officially upon us, so it’s time for me to take a look back at the players I’ve recommended so far this season to see how they’ve done. I also will discuss my outlook on each for the rest of this season.

With a column as speculative as The Hot Seat, I’m bound to go down swinging sometimes, but I’m not afraid to revisit my recommendations with an objective mindset. Without any further delay, let’s see how I’ve done and what these guys can do for your team down the stretch.

The Hits

Yasiel Puig

I was very high on Puig, and as you may expect, I’m feeling pretty darn good about this one. Obviously, I didn’t expect him to hit .391/.422/.616 with eight homers and five steals in 161 plate appearances, but he’s not doing anything I didn’t expect. He’s just doing more of all of those things than anyone could have projected.

I probably don’t have too much to say about the 22-year-old Cuban import that hasn’t been discussed to death already in the countless narratives surrounding his stratospheric rise to stardom. It’s obvious that he’s not going to keep up this level of production all year, but I think we all know a stud when we see one.

Rest-of-season outlook: Even projecting some regression, it’s hard not to view Puig as a Top-15 fantasy outfielder. He should continue to contribute in all five roto categories, which makes him an invaluable commodity.

I expect him to finish with 20 homers and 15 steals in just over 100 games, which is totally awesome. That said, there is very rarely a bigger sell-high than Puig is right now. See what you can get for him on the trade market, but only take the deal if it blows you away.

Nick Franklin

Here’s another one I managed to get the barrel of my journalistic bat on. I predicted “a solid batting average with low-double digit homers and steals,” and that is exactly what Franklin has provided. Through 42 games, the 22-year-old has hit .268/.337/.451 with six homers and five steals.

With their middle infield failing to provide any offensive production, the Mariners badly needed Franklin to be the solution to that problem, and he’s done nothing but prove that he’s the guy. He’s striking out a bit too much for my tastes (21.3-percent whiff rate), but that’s splitting hairs when you’re getting this kind of steady production from a middle infielder.

Rest-of-season outlook: Worth owning in 12-team mixed leagues. His dual-position eligibility and across-the-board production make him a useful fantasy weapon.

Gerrit Cole

The main doubts I expressed with Cole were his control problems and lack of strikeouts at Triple-A. Through his seven big-league starts, Cole has been exceptional on the control front, issuing just 1.94 free passes per nine innings. The strikeouts still aren’t there, at 5.40 per nine, but everything else is looking great.

Cole’s 3.89 ERA is nothing to scoff at, but his 3.28 FIP looks very nice. He holds a 1.25 WHIP and, as he did in the minors, has proven to be very stingy with the homers, giving up just two of them in his first 41.2 innings. Now if he could just start striking more guys out…

Rest-of-season outlook: Hey, look at this! Cole is striking more guys out! After managing just 4.07 per nine in his four June starts, he’s ratcheted his strikeout rate up to 7.27 in his three July outings. Combine that with the spacious home ballpark and the efficient Pittsburgh defense behind him, and Cole should be a viable mixed-league starter for the rest of 2013.

Oswaldo Arcia

When I first wrote about him, I said that “I wouldn’t be surprised if Arcia hits .260 with 15 homers this season.” Through 224 plate appearances, Arcia is hitting .257/.317/.408 and is on pace for about a dozen homers. That sound you hear is me giving myself a hearty pat on the back.

Much of the concern at the time about the 22-year-old was that it was uncertain whether he would stick in the majors all season. I gambled that Arcia would stick, and he has, outside of a brief return stint to Triple-A in late May due to a minor injury. Unfortunately, my back-patting came to a grinding halt on Sunday when the Twins optioned him back to Triple-A.

I’m guessing that this is much like his previous trip back to the minors, as he is once again plagued by nagging injuries. In the last couple weeks, he has been hit on the hand with a pitch, tweaked his knee running the bases and, yes, somehow got hit in the face trying to catch a fly ball.

Rest-of-season outlook: Arcia has struggled lately, going just 7-for-44 in his last eleven games, which could very well be a product of the fact that he’s pretty dinged up right now. I wouldn’t expect him to be down in the minors for long, and this may even just be a way for the Twins to keep getting him regular at-bats during the All-Star break.

Once he comes back, there’s no reason to expect anything other than the production he’s shown so far this year, especially when he’s been performing exactly the way I thought he would. Still a solid AL-only option.

The Check-Swings

Zack Wheeler

I have no choice but to stick Wheeler in this category. Through five starts, he has been wildly inconsistent, although it is nice to see that his best start of the season was his most recent one, albeit against his offense-starved former organization in San Francisco.

The 23-year-old reportedly was tipping his pitches in his first few starts, so it’s hard to know what his numbers would look like if hitters hadn’t known what was coming. However, that in no way excuses his horrific 5.14 walks-per-nine rate.

Wheeler has also gotten quite a bit of luck to get to his 3.54 ERA, as his .247 BABIP, 79.1-percent strand rate and 5.24 FIP all indicate. If he can find a way to get the walks down, he’ll be able to survive once those rates stabilize a bit. If not, he could be in for a rough rookie season.

Rest-of-season outlook: He’s way too talented for me to jump ship on him yet. His last outing was promising, and if he can keep progressing and harness his control, he’ll still hold value in deep mixed leagues.

Jarred Cosart

The Astros took their time with Cosart, finally giving him the call for a spot start on Friday against Tampa. The 23-year-old responded brilliantly, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finishing with eight innings of two-hit shutout ball.

While he was sent back down to Triple-A immediately after his debut, the move was made to allow him to continue pitching on regular rest, and he is expected to rejoin the big-league rotation on July 23.

My reservations with Cosart remain, including his questionable command and somewhat-limited arsenal. You have to love the 3.19 ERA and the fact that he struck out a batter an inning in Triple-A this year, but you don’t have to love his 4.84 walks per nine innings.

Rest-of-season outlook: I still view Cosart as a solid gamble in AL-only leagues. He is capable of performing like he did in his debut every time out, but he’s also capable of giving up seven runs with five walks in two innings on any given day. He likely will be highly inconsistent, but there should be enough good to go with the bad to make him relevant in AL-only formats.

Kyle Gibson

I considered grading my Gibson recommendation as a miss, but I’m going to keep him here for now. As with Cosart, the Twins waited longer than I expected to bring Gibson up to the majors, and he was spectacular in his debut. Unfortunately, Gibson has turned in three straight sub-par outings and currently has an ugly 6.45 ERA with alarming strikeout and walk rates, at 4.43 K/9 and 3.63 BB/9. So why am I not putting the 25-year-old into the “misses” category?

I’m trusting his excellent 15-start Triple-A sample to start the season more than I’m trusting the four-start major-league sample. I can’t see him keeping up a strikeout-to-walk ratio anywhere near this poor considering his career rate in the minors is 3.29. Furthermore, he’s been bitten hard by the bad luck bug, with an extremely low 57.5-percent strand rate and an inflated .354 BABIP, as reflected by his respectable 3.69 FIP.

Rest-of-season outlook: I’m sticking by Gibson in AL-only leagues. Keep in mind that this is a former unanimous top-50 prospect with a track record of minor-league success. I would be surprised if he doesn’t right the ship soon.

Michael Wacha

Wacha made three starts for the Cardinals with pretty good results before losing his rotation spot in favor of Tyler Lyons when Jake Westbrook returned from the disabled list. It was a very puzzling decision at the time; Wacha’s 4.58 ERA wasn’t great, but his 3.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio was encouraging, as was his 3.63 FIP. Also, the 22-year-old has excelled at every level of the minors, whereas Lyons is nothing more than a replacement-level stopgap.

However, just a week after his demotion, we found out why. The Cardinals were giving him a mid-season break to preserve his arm for the stretch run. Wacha took two weeks off in Triple-A and could rejoin the Cardinals’ rotation in the near future.

Rest-of-season outlook: Holding steady. I still think there is a very good chance that he contributes to fantasy teams this season. Remember, this is the same way the Cards handled Shelby Miller last year.

The Misses

Adam Morgan

Morgan struggled mightily in his next two Triple-A starts after I recommended him as a speculative stash. As it turned out, he had been pitching through a shoulder injury and was eventually shut down for two months. The 23-year-old finally returned to action on Friday at the rookie level in the Gulf Coast League and was far from sharp.

Rest-of-season outlook: Morgan still needs to prove he’s healthy enough to get back to Triple-A. Due to the shoulder injury, he will likely have to wait until 2014 for his call-up.

Jurickson Profar

This one pains me. Maybe Profar wasn’t quite ready for the bigs. Maybe it’s a product of his inconsistent playing time and the fact that Ron Washington is asking him to play darn near every position outside of pitching and catching. (Profar has played five different positions over his last eight starts.)

My personal opinion is that the latter is more of the problem; it is incredibly difficult for a 20-year-old rookie to develop any consistently when his usage is so incredibly inconsistent. Regardless, my recommendation was off the mark, and Profar has failed to live up to the hype.

Rest-of-season outlook: With a talent like Profar, there’s always the chance that he could figure it out at any time and blossom into the star I still fully expect him to be. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see that coming this year. He’s hitting just .235/.309/.346 with three homers in 155 plate appearances, and he’s somehow failed to steal a base in three attempts.

The good thing about all of this is that, due to his underwhelming performance, Profar is already a huge sleeper candidate for next year’s fantasy drafts.

Mike Zunino

While I was certainly correct about Jesus Montero losing his job, I struck out swinging on Zunino. Through his first 24 games in the majors, Zunino has struggled to a paltry .230/.277/.299 slash line with a 22-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

He wasn’t particularly good in Triple-A before getting the call, either, squandering a hot start to end up with a .238/.303/.503 line. The average and on-base percentage were ugly, but at least the power was there. He hasn’t even had that in the majors.

Rest-of-season outlook: I still like Zunino as a prospect, but he’s not helping any fantasy teams in 2013. This is probably my worst call of the year.

Too Early To Call

Seeing as this is a weekly column, there are players I’ve recommended recently that just haven’t had the time to prove me right or wrong yet. My opinion hasn’t changed on Jordy Mercer as a stop-gap fantasy shortstop option, and I still like Blake Parker’s chances at eventually getting some saves for the Cubs.

Meanwhile, on the crusty old veteran side of things, Roy Oswalt’s numbers in his four starts for the Rockies are so wacky that I can’t put any stock into them. You can try to predict future performance from a guy that pitched to a 7.64 ERA with a 2.27 FIP in 17.2 innings if you’d like, but I’m not going there. Plus he’s hurt right now, so the jury’s still out.

I recommended Manny Ramirez last week as a speculative stash for only the very deepest of AL-only leagues, and while I can’t complain about his .280/.357/.520 slash line in seven Triple-A games, it’s a miniscule sample, and I still have plenty of reservations about his potential impact this season.

What we’ve all learned here is something most fantasy players already know: Mining for gold in deep leagues isn’t easy. For every Puig, there’s a Profar.

However, it has also proven that there is plenty of reason to speculate on players and jump on them before they have a chance to build up a major-league track record. If you landed Puig, Franklin, Cole or even Arcia at a bargain price before the hype machines got going, you got tremendous value for your roster.

I’d like to thank you all for reading my work this first half of the season, and I’m looking forward to a great stretch run!

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Comments

  1. Scott Strandberg said...

    Yeah, Puig definitely has some holes in his swing and it’s likely only a matter of time before they’re exploited somewhat, but that power-speed combo still plays for me even with regression factored in. Also, I’m not too worried about Crawford/Kemp/Ethier because A) How often are they all going to be healthy at the same time and B) Ethier was already losing playing time to Scott Van Slyke earlier this season. I think Puig still gets plenty of playing time ROS. Your points are quite valid though, and that’s part of the reason I’m pitching him as the ultimate sell-high. Thanks Brad!

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