Monday, January 28, 2008

"Down on the Farm" with Steve Shoup

Welcome to the first edition of "Down on the Farm", an insight to all things Minor Leagues, and a look at what reinforcements are on their way to the Majors. We have all seen in recent years what finding the next Hanley Ramirez, Justin Verlander, or Ryan Braun can do for your fantasy team. Every Monday I will have a new post focusing on the next wave of top prospects that can hopefully give you an advantage come draft day.

Before we get to the post, I wanted to give you all a quick introduction about myself. My name is Steve Shoup and I’ve been a sports fanatic for as long as I can remember as well as a fantasy gamer for the last 10 years. When it comes to my approach with fantasy sports, I tend to focus heavily on looking for value in youth. While in the NFL and NBA we hear a lot about the Adrian Peterson’s and Kevin Durant’s, w rarely see that same focus on rookies in MLB. Just last year, Johnny Damon was considered a top 15 to top 20 fantasy outfielder while Astros outfielder Hunter Pence on the other hand wasn’t even drafted in most leagues. Yet, by the end of the season those owners who picked up Pence in May had the better centerfielder.

Every year as the baseball season ends we see rosters expand and teams take a look at what they might have for next season. A great example of this is Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. In June 2005, Zimmerman was drafted by the Nationals in the first round and by September he was playing third base in RFK. In just 20 games, Zimmerman went 23-58 for a .397 average. That off-season the Nationals traded veteran Vinny Castilla essentially handing the job to a player with less than three months of minor league experience. Zimmerman responded by hitting .287, with 20 home runs and 110 RBI’s to become a middle of the lineup hitter for Washington and a viable third base option for fantasy owners. The first article of Down on the Farm is going to focus on those late season call-ups last year that look to repeat Zimmerman’s success.


    1. Joey Votto (1B- Cincinnati Reds) While he doesn’t get the hype as his more heralded fellow Reds prospects, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey, Votto is the safe bet to produce big in 2008. During his Sept. call-up last year Votto produced a .321-4-17 line in 84 AB, following up a Triple-A performance of .294-22-92. During the off season the Reds cleared out Jeff Conine and Jorge Cantu. And while they still have Scott Hatteberg, Votto looks to be Dusty Bakers primary first baseman. Though Votto might not put up Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard numbers, he should quickly establish himself at the top of the second tier of first basemen. He will also have two factors to help his transition to the big leagues: (1) he will be surrounded by a potent lineup and (2) he will play half his games in one of the best parks for LH power hitters, especially in April when the wind blows out.
    2. Jacoby Ellsbury (CF- Boston Red Sox) Now Ellsbury is one of the most talked about prospects out there right now with his name being linked as possible trade bait for Johan Santana. No matter what jersey Ellisbury will be wearing come opening day, he should continue to remain on your fantasy radar. Ellsbury has hit everywhere he’s been, including hitting a combined .323 between AA and AAA, with 82 runs scored and 41 stolen bases. He then hit .353 with 9 steals and .394 on base percentage in September with the Sox, and adding .360, 2 SB and a .429 OBP during the playoffs. The bottom line is if your looking for power you won’t find it in Ellsbury, but he will give you a great batting average, a ton of runs scored and a good number of steals. If Ellsbury is batting lead-off for either of these two teams come April, then he should be in your starting lineup as well.
    3. Geovany Soto (C- Chicago Cubs) Soto came out of nowhere last September, hitting .389-3-8 in just 54 AB. Those numbers came on the heels of his breakout minor league season where he hit .353-26-109 with a .424 OBP. The Cubs responded by not attempting to resign Jason Kendall or any other veteran catchers. Soto will further benefit from a potent Cubs lineup that will give him plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. If Soto can produce anywhere near that as a rookie he will become a fantasy stud catcher.


    1. Franklin Morales (SP- Colorado Rockies) By the numbers alone Morales isn’t the most impressive pitching prospect when it comes to fantasy value, but in this case the numbers could be very deceiving. Morales went 5-4, with a 3.51 ERA and 93 K’s in 112 minor league innings between AA and AAA. He then went 3-2 with a 3.43 ERA, adding 26 K’s in 39 innings. His post-season wasn’t nearly as memorable as he gave up 11 runs in only 10 innings. Now by the numbers alone Morales shouldn’t be looked on much as a fantasy sleeper much less a fantasy stud. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Morales as he has a lot going for him as well. He just turned 22 in January and has thrown more than 150 innings in each of the last two seasons, making him a safer bet to still be going strong into August and September. Morales is known as one of the hardest throwers in the minors and left handed making him a good bet when it comes to strikeouts going forward. Though he will make a number of starts at Coors, which no fantasy owner likes to see in their pitcher, Morales has the talent and stuff to overcome that and the defense and offense around him to get him a number of wins.
    2. Clay Buchholz (SP- Boston Red Sox) It’s hard not to like a guy who throws a no-hitter during his September call up, and Buchholz did just that no-hitting the Baltimore Orioles in just his second career major league start. Buchholz finished his year by going 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA and averaging a strikeout an inning with the Sox. That came on the heels of his minor league season where he went 8-5 with a 2.44 ERA with 171 K’s in 125 innings. Buchholz is poised to join Josh Beckett atop the Red Sox rotation, but it may not be as soon as opening day. While he has the talent to be in the rotation two things are working against him. One he has yet to throw more than 150 innings as a professional and a sore shoulder shut him down for the playoffs last year, making him unlikely to be effective come September. The second thing working against Buchholz is the numbers game, with Beckett, Dice-K, Schilling, and Lester all virtual locks for the Red Sox rotation. Keep a close eye on Clay in spring training to see if he can win that fifth spot and eventually have a chance to be a fantasy starter by years end.
    3. Joba Chamberlain (SP- New York Yankees) Chamberlain experienced a meteoric rise in Yankees minor league system. One year and 88 innings of minor league was all it took to get him to the Yankees. Chamberlain came up in August to reinforce the bullpen, a role in which he took too extremely well posting a 2-0 record with one save, and a 0.38 ERA in 19 appearances. He also added a 34-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 24 innings allowing just one earned run. He then made two play off appearances but was not nearly effective giving up three runs in 3.2 innings. Chamberlain also dominated the minors in 2007, going 9-2 with a 2.45 ERA, with 135 K’s in 88 innings pitched. Chamberlain looks to return to a starting role for the Yankees when opening day rolls around. That being said Chamberlain has one major factor working against him and that’s his experience. He has yet to throw even 120 innings as either a pro or in college, and has battled some nagging injuries throughout his career. This makes Chamberlain a bit more of a risk than Buchholz for the ’08 season. Don’t let that stop you from taking a flier on Chamberlain as he could be this year’s Francisco Liriano.
Hope this gets you starting to think about the top sleepers for this year. Have a great week and I will see you all next week!

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Ed Fenster said...

This is great stuff. As a fantasy junkie, I don't want to get the same information I already know. This article is all about players I know, but not that well. Thanks.

P.S. If Joba is a set-up man for the Yankees, does he have any value?

Steve Shoup said...

RE: Just as a set-up man Joba doesn't have much value unless your league uses Holds as a category. It looks as though Joba will start the year in the bullpen and I do believe that the comparison to Liriano is still valid. As he will work his way into the rotation from the pen. It could be one month or even 6 weeks, but Joba is a starter and when he is in the rotation thats when he should be in your fantasy starting lineup. Hope this answers you question....