Lets start here ... there isn't too much about baseball I don't love.
But there is nothing better than spending time in a minor league park, minutes from the B&M Baked Beans factory in Portland Maine, or the Brewery Exchange in Lowell, Massachusetts, or the Rusty Scupper in Providence, Rhode Island or Rudy's in Round Rock, Texas, unwrapping the gifts that the game gives us in the young prospects.
There is also a lot of fun in watching the numbers pile up next to the names of kids you've never even seen play, trying to figure out from their career's bearing and speed, where, when, and even if their path will intersect with The Show. Some of those players are about to make their entrances on the big stage. We are about to crack the novel that is the 2008 MLB season and this year, as always, there will be new characters in the story line.
We will deal with many kids as we go forward together this summer, but let us start with the prospects seemingly ready to take on significant roles this year. A motor needs fuel, spark and compression to run. Those are the basics of a combustion engine. The basic evaluation triangle of a viable current-year fantasy prospect consists of skills, experience, and opportunity. Here are some of the kids who may have some impact at your league’s draft table this year ... in no particular order...
(Please note that 2008 projections for these prospects, updated as playing time situations, injuries, and reports out of camp dictate, can be found on our site and in our Draft Advisory Software).
Daric Barton, 1B, Oakland
Daric excels at getting a good pitch to hit. His zone command and contact skills are outstanding (120 walks/106 Ks in his last 735 AB over the last two seasons). The problem is that he looks too much like Sean Casey … without the power.
His career high SLG% above AA was .438 before he hit the majors last season where he posted 4 homers and 9 doubles in 72 ABs. His 4 HRs were nearly half of the number he hit (9) in 516 AAA last year. He is not going to SLG .639 over a full season but that was a welcome flash of power.
Daric is also struggling a bit with LHP but he has a skill set that will allow him to make gains there. If he cannot make power gains however, his value will be cramped and he plays in a position that demands power production. Despite what we saw in his short tour with the A’s last season, in the long run, it is unlikely he will develop enough power to be competitive in a starting 1B slot.
However, in the context of 2008 rookies, he will be productive, and overall he may be useful in a CI or UT slot, or off your bench, and he will hold some trade value with some opponents until they figure out his lack of power undermines his value.
Clay Buchholz, RHP, Boston
Clay, like rookie teammate Jacoby Ellsbury is simply a special player, and a dream pitching prospect by most any standards. He brings a mid-nineties fastball when he needs it, a hard slider, a plus-plus vertical curve and it is all set up by a change up that is probably the best pitch of the bunch.
He was ludicrous in AA last year (7-2, 1.77, 116 Ks/22 BBs in 86.2 IP) and posted 193Ks/ 45 walks in 148+ IP between there, AAA, and Boston.
What I most wanted to see from him was a little physical maturity and he gained that over the winter. His build is stockier (relatively), and he has added some muscle to his hips. That should give him an extra foot on the fastball, but it is going to help with stamina as well, and possibly protect his arm.
The Red Sox will limit his innings again this year, to probably something around 180. That will dampen his statistical potential and probably cause him to miss some starts as the Sox aim him at September and beyond, but Clay is a top-of-the-rotation prospect with multiple All-Star games and possibly a Cy in his future.
Joba Chamberlain, RHP, NY Yankees
Like Clay Buchholz, the Yankees will work very hard to limit Joba Chamberlains innings this year, and their target number for Joba is a low 140 IP. Instead of last year’s “Joba Rules”, the Yanks will pitch Joba in relief to start the year with the intention of moving him to starter’s role in the summer.
I am not a big fan of this approach because transitioning from the bullpen to the rotation is a very difficult thing to do in mid season and I think it creates more potential physical problems than asking him for 30 or 40 more IP.
The good news is that his starting in the bullpen will suppress his value in most leagues on draft day and you may be able to get a bargain on this high-level prospect. The bad news is that this may very well postpone his ascension to a top-half-of-the-rotation starter for a year.
Joba rose three levels last season starting one game in AAA. His seven starts in AA yielded a 4-2 record with a 3.37 ERA, allowing just 32 hits on 40.1 IP with just 15 walks against 66 Ks. Overall he had 135 Ks and 27 walks over 88.1 ML IP. Ya … that’s pretty good and those AA IP came at 22 years old. I like this kid very nearly as much as I like Buchholz. He has #1 starter potential.
This final season of nursing will mean that he will not be as big a fantasy producer in 2008 as he will be down the road. If your league’s market doesn’t recognize that and you are asked to pay #1 starter level assets to get him this year, you may want to let someone else foot the bill. But if you get him at a non-closing relievers price, he will turn out to be a great value, perhaps even by August 1st.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston
The “other” Red Sox prospect would be a once-in-a-GM’s-lifetime prospect in most organizations.
After ripping up the AA Eastern League to the tune of a .452 AVG. over 73 ABs, Jacoby went to Pawtucket where he hit “just” .298 in 363 ABs as a part of a brutally bad offense. Then in Boston Jacoby hit .353 in 116 ABs.
His numbers with the Red Sox had some quirks. He fanned 15 times and walked 6, which is a different zone command animal from his 38 walks and 54 K in 436 ABs between AA and AAA. On the other hand, he hit 3 HRs in Boston, which is more than he hit all season in the minors, and he slugged .509 in the majors.
I watched him all year in the minors and I do not know what happened. He was not unlucky with power in the minors, he simply did not have any, and even in the majors he only got the ball in the air 28.7% of the time.
I do not see him repeating that level of power production this season but that is not why you should be seeking Ellsbury. He will hit for average and score runs in a potent offense, especially if he can hang in the lead off position. He will also steal bases, quite probably 30 or more this year.
Do not let his slow start this spring dissuade you too much, he is the centerfielder of choice among the Red Sox brass. Jacoby is 24 years old so it is hard to project a lot more physical growth, but he may have a little growth left in his power game. That being said he will forever be an AVG., Runs, SB guy, and not much more.
His spectacular finish to last year and his performance in the World Series will pump his price and there will be someone in your league who will believe he’s realistically capable of 15 HRs and 70 Rbi … That’s unlikely, in 2008 or frankly, beyond, so don’t pay for it.
Ellsbury is going to be one of those players who are more valuable to his MLB team than his fantasy owner. It will be easy to overpay, so stay calm.
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