Another month without any published material has come and gone. Meanwhile, Matt Shoemaker earned himself American League Pitcher of the Month and Rookie of the Month honors for August. Good thing I wrote my glowing endorsement for him on July 25. It will be interest to see how he’s ranked next year. Julio Teheran, Michael Wacha, Sonny Gray and Tony Cingrani were touted prospects and drafted Nos. 29, 32, 41 and 44 on average in ESPN live drafts this year after pretty amazing 2013s. So, what now for Shoemaker? He was never a touted prospect; most fans still probably don’t know who he is, similar to how I anticipate Corey Kluber will get robbed of Cy Young votes this year simply because he isn’t a name-brand ace.
Alas, there will be doubts about Shoemaker’s ability to repeat his performance — his swinging strike and contact rates have tailed off a bit since I wrote about him a month ago, and he doesn’t occupy the strike zone enough for me to think the walk rate is sustainable — which could make him a 2015 draft day bargain. Starting pitching is deeper than ever, so it would not surprise me whatsoever to see Shoemaker make a variety of “just missed” lists, right outside the Top 60 pitchers or so, with an average draft positions of maybe 45th for starting pitchers.
If I had to run a quick-‘n’-dirty projection for next year right now, it would look something like:
Bearish: 180 IP, 11 W, 3.15 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 160 K
Bullish: 200 IP, 13 W, 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 189 K
FYI, those are both pretty darn good projections, good for what will probably be Top-30 in my 2015 rankings.
Let’s get to what I really wanted to discuss: 2015 fantasy prospect sleepers. Many notable prospect lists are published prior to the start of each season, and a handful are updated as the season unfolds. Case in point, ESPN’s Keith Law published his updated Top 50 list about a month ago. Obviously, the list accounts for the triumphs — and tribulations — of current and now-former top prospects in whichever league(s) the player performed this season as of July 17.
Today’s scouting report has two faces: the qualitative, through which we award players a grade of 20 through 80 for their five tools; and the quantitative, through which we assess the progress of a player based on what he has actually accomplished.
It’s all good and well that prospect lists exist — especially updated ones. But, frankly, there isn’t room on the list for everyone, and the lists often span more than just players who are Major League-ready.
Thus, I occasionally look at Minor League leaderboards and try to find less-trendy fantasy prospects to scoop in the late rounds of a draft or spend a dollar on in the twilight of an auction. I create a list and periodically update it, tracking the player’s progress or lack thereof.
In alphabetical order, here are some players who, given playing time, could be impact players in 2015:
Steven Moya, DET OF | 40 Hit, 60 Power, 50 Run (MLB.com)
It wouldn’t surprise me if 99 percent of baseball fans outside of Michigan knew Moya was called up when the Tigers’ roster expanded. Absent from all major prospect lists, Moya belted 35 home run, swiped 16 bases and batted .276 in 133 games at Double-A Erie. Those are numbers that could get anyone all hot and bothered. It’s not a huge surprise to me why he wasn’t so highly touted: he combined for only 42 home runs and 16 stolen bases combined in his first four years in the minors. What’s overlooked, though, is he debuted when he was 17, and he has obviously made great strides as he fills out at the ripe age of 22. All that glimmers is not gold, however; Moya struck out in almost 30 percent of plate appearances while walking only 4 percent of the time. There’s a lot of potential for bust simply because he may never catch up to Major League pitching.
Looking forward: Moya is currently buried on the depth chart, as he was called up more for depth and reps than impact contributions. Still, right fielder Torii Hunter‘s contract expires this year, leaving Moya to compete with Rajai Davis, J.D. Martinez and Ezequiel Carrera (whom I actually like as a speedy, Leonys Martin-type of outfielder). Davis is underrated and Martinez has reestablished himself as a credible starter, although it remains to be seen if he sustains it, but I would not be the least bit surprised to see Moya win a starting role over Carrera — or all of them, really. His plate discipline is problematic, though; even notorious free-swinger Pedro Alvarez had better discipline before his call-up. Still, not all prospects with poor hit tools are doomed to bust, but given his relatively unknown prospect status — he’s buried at No. 7 in the Tigers’ organizational depth, according to MLB.com — he could be a low-risk, high-reward (and also high-volatility) player in 2015.
Steven Souza, WAS OF | 40 Hit, 50 Power, 50 Run (MLB.com)
Souza is perhaps the most talented and enigmatic of the three players listed here, based strictly on 2014 performance and MLB.com’s scouting grades. Like Moya, Souza didn’t make any preseason or midseason top-prospect lists, despite hitting 18 home runs, stealing 26 bases and batting a whopping .350 across 407 Triple-A plate appearances. (In there defense, Souza was really, really bad prior to 2012, and was busted for PEDs in 2010.)
Again, if you live outside of New England and knew Souza was recently called up when rosters expanded: congratulations! All of Souza’s numbers — his speed, his power and especially his hit tool — correlate very poorly with how MLB.com evaluated him above. Even if the power and speed do somehow project to be average, his plate discipline is very evidently better than below-average: he struck out in 18.4 percent of plate appearances and walked in 12.8 percent of them. And he achieved this in Triple-A, not Double-A, where Moya flailed away. Future Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor allegedly has a 70-hit tool, yet posted strikeout and walk rates of 19.5 and 5.2 percent — not at all elite. Trust the statistics.
Looking forward: The only things standing between Souza and a starting role in 2015 is Denard Span‘s 2015 team option (who has performed well enough to earn it and then some) and the next guy on this list. Thus, Souza may be doomed to a fourth-outfielder role next year until Bryce Harper inevitably injures himself, so Souza’s heyday may not truly come until 2016. If he somehow assumes the first baseman role, it would be hard to rely on a guy who hits 15 home runs, steals 10 bases, bats .275. But if he eventually moves to the outfield where he belongs, or gets traded, his potential /.280/.340/.380 would be serviceable in fantasy leagues.
Michael Taylor, WAS OF | 40 Hit, 50 Power, 60 Run (MLB.com)
Shoot. I kind of forgot that Taylor and Souza are on the same Triple-A team battling for the same potential center-field opening that will, realistically speaking, not be vacated by Span next year. Taylor got a brief look earlier in the year and promptly hit a home run — but also struck out eight times in 22 trips to the plate. It’s difficult to ignore his 22 home runs, 34 stolen bases and .313 average at Double-A Harrisburg, and the 51 steals at Single-A Potomac last year add a nice touch. Like Moya, the hit tool as graded by MLB.com is probably accurate: Taylor struck out 130 times in 441 plate appearances (25 percent), but at least he walked more than the league average.
Looking forward: Taylor and Souza are theoretically competing with each other, which could make either of them offseason trade bait. Taylor, however, spent the majority of this year in Double-A, only recently getting promoted, so he may have a year of development ahead of him, despite being ahead of Souza on MLB.com’s organizational depth for the Nationals (Nos. 5 and 7). It’s also worth noting that Souza is listed as third on the depth chart at first base, and Adam LaRoche is in the final year of his contract, so it’s possible that Taylor earns the fourth-outfielder role and Souza earns first base outright (or becomes the backup to Kevin Frandsen… yuck). Ultimately, it’s hard to ignore any potential 20/20 players, and he looks like another guy who could get there, albeit with a low batting average.
If I had to guess which of these three players will make the biggest impact in 2015, I would say Moya, who I think has the highest bust potential but also the highest ceiling. Souza is the safest and will make for an adequate, and perhaps enticing, replacement given the event of an injury in the Nationals’ outfield. Taylor has the same kind of boom-or-bust potential as Moya, albeit with a little less power and a little more speed.
I wrote about Rajai Davis as a legitimate must-draft fantasy option a couple of months ago. Now, with the news that Detroit Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks is ailing, Davis looks to have left field all to himself.
Davis has finished 100th and 112th on the ESPN player rater in 2012 and 2013, respectively, while going largely undrafted both years. He swiped 45 bags in 360 plate appearances last year. That’s insane. He has also seen his power spike the past two years, and he’s not a complete loss in the batting average department, making him more than a one-trick pony.
There’s still a possibility that the Tigers shop for a platoon partner for Davis for the 12 weeks of the season Dirks is expected to miss. But… why? It’s only 12 weeks. Tristan H. Cockcroft of ESPN stated the possibility is there because of Davis’ poor split against right-handed pitching. But it’s not that bad. Granted, he’d be much more effective hitting only lefties — to the tune of .294/.354/.425 for his career — but the extra at-bats against righties could maybe help the guy improve, if not at least bolster his counting stats to the detriment of his batting average.
Worst case scenario, Davis is still a platoon guy who gets 300 to 400 at-bats, aka 35-ish stolen bases and a neutral batting average. However, if he gets left field all to himself until June, the extra 100 at-bats he may earn make him all the more attractive.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles’ signing of the fallen Johan Santana has all but blocked rookie Kevin Gausman, who stumbled in his major league debut but caught himself after a move to the bullpen. The strikeouts are there and his control is excellent, but he’s now blocked by Wei-Yin Chen, Santana and Korean import Suk-min Yoon for the No. 5 starter spot. There’s an excellent chance that Bud Norris and Chen flail as the fourth and fifth starters as well as Santana never regaining form and reaching the majors, meaning perhaps a mid-season move to the rotation. But, for now, Gausman is buried, and it’s incredibly unfortunate to fantasy owners.
Stay tune for my preseason rankings as I list the top 15 catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops and closers for 2014. I will also return with more bold predictions before the season’s start.
Now go watch some spring training!