Waiver Wire Offseason: NL

Dexter Fowler | Colorado | OF
2009 Final Stats: .266/.363/.406

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I wrote about Colorado’s crowded OF situation in an earlier Offseason Waiver Wire, and little has changed since that assessment. Colorado still needs to figure out if they’re keeping Seth Smith, Ryan Spilborghs or Brad Hawpe, or if they can find a good trade partner for any of them.

Regardless of what happens, Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez are going to stick with the Rockies, though there’s some question about where. Either could lead off or play center field, but Tracy leaned towards Fowler in center and Gonzalez at leadoff, with Fowler batting second. If that’s how they play in 2010, it will affect Fowler only in his RBI and R totals, and perhaps his SBs. But is that the best spot for both?

Compared to CarGo, Fowler shows slightly better plate discipline and superior speed, so they could swap places. Fowler showed a 12.9 BB% and .58 BB/K in 2009, while CarGo turned in a 8.8 BB% and .40 BB/K. Despite those skills, CarGo outperformed Fowler in the leadoff spot, hitting .300/.379/.573 at the top of the order, with a whopping .391/.481/.913 as the first batter of the game, and .333/.409/.654 leading off the inning. Fowler, on the other hand, hit .255/.354/.394 as the leadoff hitter, including .183/.272/.317 as the first batter of the game, and .222/.326/.365 leading off an inning.

That could indicate Gonzalez can handle the leadoff pressure, or that these are statistical anomalies that will flatten out over time. Either way, it looks like Fowler should open up as Tracy’s #2 hitter in 2010, but it might not stick. Gonzalez has had much more time at the AAA and big-league level, while Fowler has been rushed, so he could develop a bit more.

Fowler’s shown the ability to adjust, improving his core skills at each minor-league level, with a BB/K that rose steadily from .37 in 2005 to .73 in 2008, and a walk rate that peaked at 15% in single-A Modesto, but was consistently over 10. Similarly, his contact skills got better, going from a 67% to a 79% in the same span.

So Fowler is likely to improve from the .58 BB/K and 73% contact rate he exhibited in 2009. Because he skipped AAA, he may take longer to develop than other players, however. 2010 could see him struggle more, with a potential demotion to AAA if the struggles become severe, particularly if the Rockies don’t unload Smith, Hawpe or Spilborghs. Regardless, however, CF in Coors will be his, barring injury or blockbuster trade.

Where he should continue to provide value, no matter how long his hitting may take to develop, is with his speed—he reached base about 180 times in 2009, and attempted 37 steals, getting caught 10 times, for a success rate of 73%. This builds on a minor league trajectory where he also improved his stealing ability, ending with a 71% in 2008. Look for him to keep swiping bags, with his counting numbers rising as he learns to reach base more. I’d bet on him exceeding that 19 SB projection, assuming good health and PT.

The package makes Fowler absolutely keeper-worthy, particularly as he’s begun to add power to his repertoire. Like other prospects, he may hit some bumps in 2010, which is why his OPS projection is fairly modest, but he’ll definitely help you in SBs without killing you in other areas. If he can put it all together in 2010, of course, he’s liable to help you in virtually every scoring category. I don’t see him hitting his peak for another season or two, but he’s going to provide value well into the future, and will probably be worth the extra buck or two in redraft leagues. Just remember how young he is and don’t go more than that extra dollar.

Jordan Schafer | Atlanta | OF
2009 Final Stats: .204/.313/.287

Schafer has been one of Atlanta’s top outfield prospects, but a variety of recent setbacks have really hurt his development. The first came in 2008 when he sat for 50 games after testing positive for HGH, but he began 2009 in the Braves’ big-league starting lineup anyway. He looked like a winner at first, hitting two homers in his first three games, but hurt his wrist in their very first home series against Washington, a bone bruise that would derail this promising start.

From that point onwards, he would hit .181/.296/.222 in 44 games, earning a demotion to AAA in June as the wrist continued to bother him. Several days later, he reported hearing a pop in his wrist, and he was put on the DL for what became a season-long stint. After trying non-invasive procedures to heal it, Atlanta opted to put him under the knife for a surgery that would stabilize his wrist by stringing a wire between two bones. At last report, he was healing fine and only recently came out of his cast.

The Braves are now expecting him to report to spring training fully recovered, but the picture has become much muddier. The trade for Nate McLouth came soon after Schafer’s demotion, and the recent swap for Melky Cabrera puts two substantial roadblocks in his road back to CF. Matt Diaz nailed down a corner spot with a strong platoon-free 2009 and 19-year old prospect Jason Heyward, considered much more of an offensive threat than Schafer, is chomping at the bit after a .323/.408/.555 season at three levels in 2009.

Right now, the Braves have said that Schafer should begin the season in AAA, unsurprising because of his health and performance issues, as well as the simple arithmetic of playing time. The drug suspension and last year’s wrist problems mean that he’s only accumulated 582 PAs in the past two seasons, with just 233 of them above AA. Add that to the rehab of a surgically repaired wrist, and you can see Schafer’s far from a sure bet and is unlikely to provide much value for your team in 2010.

He’s going to need plenty more seasoning before he comes back to the bigs for good, and when he does, McLouth (signed through 2012) is in his way, barring another trade. Cabrera is more of a fourth outfielder than a real impediment to Schafer or any other young prospect, and Matt Diaz isn’t a huge roadblock, either. But it does mean that Schafer will have to recover much of his old skills to crack the big-league lineup.

When he does, you can expect a well-rounded player with a 75% contact rate in the minors, a 9% walk rate, a .41 batting eye, 66 SBs (in 102 attempts) and a .269/.337/.446 batting line. None of those are particularly eye-popping, so while scouts love the package he offers and he’ll eventually help in most categories, he’s not a top-shelf fantasy stud.

With the setbacks he’s endured, and the rocky path to a full-time role, Schafer can probably be ignored on Draft Day, except by the deepest of keeper leagues. Watch him in Spring Training to see how his wrist has healed and (obviously) whether he starts the year with the Braves in Atlanta or the Braves in Gwinnett County.

Martin Gandy, the GP Atlanta Braves expert, didn’t believe that Schafer would get any significant PAs at all, which is why there’s no GP mini-browser for him. But anything can happen, so he’s worth monitor throughout the season, but he’s really not worth a fantasy roster spot unless he’s got a starting spot—even then, his ceiling is nowhere near Fowler’s.

Andrew McCutchen | Pittsburgh | OF
2009 Final Stats: .286/.365/.471

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And then there are the players who surprise you. Everyone knew McCutchen had skills, but we analysts focused on his great speed and batting ability, not his power. After all, the guy had a .286/.362/.423 minor-league line, with 43 HRs spread over 5 seasons; the 96 doubles, like the 22 triples, we ascribed to his fleet feet. We clucked our tongues at the .233 OPS platoon differential, and wrung our hands about applying those skills atop the pitiful Pittsburgh Pirates’ batting order.

Then Pittsburgh promoted McCutchen on June 4, and he somehow shut our mouths while simultaneously making our jaws drop. He reached base three times in his first game, scoring each time, swiping one bag and driving in a run for good measure. He hit .400/.423/.600 over his first five games, and .330/.371/.516 over his first twenty, including a 13-game hit streak (he only had three hitless games in those first twenty games), 5 triples, 14 runs and 18 RBI.

When he went 1-20 over his next five games, we analysts patted ourselves on our backs and spoke wisely on small sample spaces and regressions to the mean. But McCutchen responded by hitting .302/.364/.538 over the next month (including a 3 HR performance on August 1) and .265/.379/.490 the month after that, in effect telling us prognosticators what we could do with our prognostications. He finished the year with that very nice slash line above, which included 26 2Bs, 9 3Bs, 12 HRs, 74 R, 22 SBs, 54 RBI, and fourth place in RoY voting.

Though his .327 BABIP was perhaps a bit high, even for a speedster, there was plenty to like in McCutchen’s secondary stats. His .81 contact rate was consistent with his .82 rate in the minors, and his .65 BB/K was in line with his .64 minor-league ratio. His 11% walk rate is a tad better than his 10% in the minors, while the 9.4% HR/FB shows he wasn’t particularly lucky in those longballs, too. As impressive was his improvement to a .110 OPS platoon differential, proof that he’d taken a solid skill base and added to it. The kid had really arrived.

Unfortunately, he’d arrived to the same old Pirates, whose offense proved to be as bad as everyone imagined, scoring the fewest runs in the NL. Still, McCutchen scored nearly 11% and knocked in 8.5% of their 636 R scored, a figure that’s even more impressive when you consider he missed the first two months of the MLB season.

In 2010, the Pirates offense should get better, with Aki Iwamura hitting behind McCutchen, and Doumit and Jones in the run-producing slots, so McCutchen should continue to rack up the runs and the SBs. But playing with Pittsburgh does cap his potential somewhat from a counting stat perspective.

With his solid secondary indicators, his BA and OBP should stay strong, while that surprising power should also continue. As his GP projection shows, you shouldn’t expect him to crack .500 SLG, but he should reach 450+ sooner rather than later. If there’s a lesson to be learned from those of us who discounted McCutchen, it’s that a talented athlete can develop in unexpected ways, especially when he’s still young.

Next week, we’ll look at Stephen Drew, the enigmatic Garrett Jones and Randy Wells. Please add whatever other players you’d like to read about in the comments field, as we’re quickly approaching the time when I’ll shift into counting down the top 2009 fantasy producers to see how they’ll do in 2010.

May your Christmas presents all be as surprising as Andrew McCutchen‘s power surge, your family gatherings less painful than Schafer’s wrist injury, and your travels as swift and smooth as Dexter Fowler gliding into second base!

And don’t forget—The Graphical Player 2010 is available from ACTA Sports, making the perfect last-minute gift for the fantasy player in your life. Happy Holidays!

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Comments

  1. Gary Yeend said...

    I would be interested in your thoughts on what Drew Stubbs 2010 season will be like. I’ve also been following Drew Storen. With Capps signing a 1 year, i see Storen as the Nats 2011 closer. How do you see it?

  2. James said...

    Great article. I’d like to hear your thoughts on Lance Berkman and Andre Ethier. Can Berkman bounce back from a somewhat subpar season? Was 2009 Either’s career year or can he continue this level of production? Thanks

  3. Adam said...

    I’m loving these projections.  Is it too early to take a look at the overall closer situation next year?  I was thinking J.P. Howell was borderline droppable after Soriano’s signing, but Cockcroft has him ranked at 195… any thoughts on Howell for next year?

  4. Michael Street said...

    Gary—

    I’ll add Stubbs to my list and see what I can find out about the Capps/Storen situation.

    James—

    Thanks for the compliment! Berkman and Ethier should be part of my countdown of top roto producers (I don’t have my list on hand as I’m on vacation). If not, I’ll add them in!

    Adam—

    The projections come courtesy of Graphical Player 2010, so be sure and grab a copy via the link in the article if you want to read more of them. I’ll put Howell in a future list too.

    Thanks for reading, y’all!

    Mike

  5. Michael Street said...

    Adam—

    I must have been sleeping off the Xmas eggnog when I replied to your request. I’ll pass J.P. Howell along to Rob McQuown on the AL side for him to cover and comment on.

    Thanks!

    Mike

  6. Rob McQuown said...

    Howell is up on the AL article today. 

    Mike wrote a feature for today, but technical difficulties have made it so it’s not showing up yet. :(

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