In the preseason we looked at a lot of the overhyped rookies and cautioned that burning a high draft pick to secure their services is a low percentage play. Yes, you will hit the occasional Yahtzee, but more often you’ll end up scratching your head as you watch young bucks struggle as the league adjusts to them. Let’s take a look at some of the youngsters and what they’ve produced for fantasy owners through the first 16 weeks.
“Yu Darvish is not Daisuke Matsuzaka, so don’t even go there.” That was the mantra I heard from more than half of the touts backing the latest Japanese sensation this spring. Maybe not, but there sure are a lot of similarities. Let’s look at how these two each performed through their first 18 games in the states: Daisuke (3.84/10/123/1.23), Yu (3.88/11/132/1.37). Matsuzaka issued 38 free passes, Darvish has handed out 61, good enough for the 5th highest total in baseball. With Darvish you get a couple of extra K’s, a lot more walks, and a higher WHIP. The hype machine drove the rookie’s price tag into the 5th round on Draft day in Las Vegas, a heavy cost for someone who had yet to throw a single pitch in the Major Leagues. He was taken ahead of pitchers such as Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Brandon Beachy.
Matt Moore was another heavily hyped rookie taken in the 5th round, ahead of proven veteran Matt Cain. The Devil Ray had just 9 innings on the Ranger rookie, but the results so far aren’t any better (4.39/6/99/1.46). Investing so much is in unproven youngsters is high risk-low reward proposition.
Desmond Jennings (.238/39/6/28/17) was drafted in the 4th, Brett Lawrie (.278/52/8/37/7) in the 3rd, and Eric Hosmer (.226/39/9/40/9) in the 2nd round. Jennings and Lawrie might live up to their draft position, but that is their upside. Par is the best-case scenario. In short, if you load up with too many puppies TOO EARLY on draft day, you’re loading up on downside. The return on investments Jesus Montero (.257/29/9/36/0) in the 8th, Dustin Ackley in the 9th (.226/52/6/27/9) has also been less than expected.
As a counterpoint, those who grabbed Jason Kipnis (.271/55/11/53/20) in the 11th, Yoenis Cespedes (.306/27/13/45/7) in the 12th, or Mike Moustakas (.269/46/16/50/3) in the 15th were rewarded for their faith in youth and the price was a little more reasonable in the double digit rounds. However, the mines still populate the youth field throughout the draft. Brandon Belt (.237/21/4/31/6), a 14th round selection, has been virtually unplayable most of the season. Mat Gamel didn’t show much in his 69 at-bats (.246/.293/.348) before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and Lorenzo Cain only made it through five games before a groin strain and various other maladies sidelined him until after the All Star break.
The bulk of youth booty came in the second half of the draft: Bryce Harper (.270/49/8/26/12) in the 17th, Jose Altuve (.289/51/5/27/16) in the 18th, Mike Trout (.354/69/15/47/31) in the 20th, Wilin Rosario (.254/33/15/39/3) in the 22nd, Lance Lynn (3.27/11/115/1.21) in the 23rd, Tommy Milone (3.34/9/86/1.19) in the 26th, Jarrod Parker (3.00/7/76/1.22) in the 27th, and Trevor Plouffe (.259/44/19/38/0) also in the 27th.
I have taken my lumps in this area over the years, but I have learned that the shiny new toy frequently loses its luster quickly. A successful draft strategy properly balances certainty and upside. Build a foundation with as many rock solid performers as you can, THEN throw your darts in the later rounds when it won’t hurt so much if you swing and miss. There are exceptions to every rule, but this general principle has served me well.