As we push through the final month of the 2014 season, let's close out looking at some hitters and pitchers I covet for 2015, and then the inverse: hitters and pitchers that I would drop for a higher value to finish up.
Joe Panik (Giants, 2B): Interestingly, the first of three keystone players I want to cover today, and Panik is a guy who really caught my eye at the AFL a couple of years back with a laser homer he hit.
A first rounder of the Giants in 2011, Panik has moved up a level a year since signing, but his stock dropped a bit in 2013 when the now 23-year-old logged a .257-4-57 line at Double-A Richmond, with a somewhat anemic .680 OPS.
Nevertheless, San Francisco pushed Panik to Fresno, and he responded nicely with a .321-5-45 mark before getting the big league call, but the thing I really like about Joe are the 171 walks to the 180 whiffs, good for a .365 OBP, and an indicator of an ability to judge the strike zone.
Panik only played in 15 first half games after the call-up, and he struggled, hitting .212-0-4 over 52 at-bats, but the second sacker showed that ability to rise to the occasion, hitting .350-1-10 since the break, with 14 walks to 23 whiffs and a .358 OBP over the course of the year.
I think of him as Dustin Pedroia lite--not the overall power and speed, but just a notch down, and the kind of guy who will hit .295 with 10 homers, 35-plus doubles and 85 runs hitting out of the #2 slot.
Tommy La Stella (Braves, 2B): Drafted the same year as Panik, albeit in the eighth round, LaStella has excelled all the way up the chain, posting a minor league .407 OBP (136 walks to just 102 whiffs) over 258 games, and contributing an ..881 OPS with a base of .322-21-167 with 150 runs scored.
La Stella steals a little better than Panik, but again, he just looks like a long-term #2 batter who will hit around .290, steal 15 bags, and clobber 35 or so two-baggers.
Jedd Gyorko (2B, Padres): OK, not a rookie, but, if you are thinking of dumping, first half, before he sat down for his injury, Gyorko hit .162-5-24 over 56 games, and since coming back, .254-4-24 over 35 contests. Give him a break. I think you will be glad.
Robbie Grossman (OF, Astros): Another guy who impressed during the AFL, Grossman is one of those guys who has tools, just not eye-popping ones, makes good plays and uses his skills and smarts to his advantage.
Drafted in the 6th round in 2008 by the Bucs, Grossman went to Houston as part of the Wandy Rodriguez deal in 2012.
Over six minor league seasons and 625 games, Grossman produced .278-38-231 totals, with a strong .383 OBP (396 walks to 625 strikeouts) to go along with 113 steals and 450 runs.
Grossman performed well enough over his first dip in the Bigs last year, hitting .268-4-21 over 63 games, with a .332 OBP, but this year he was beyond slow coming out of the box, earning a demotion back to Oklahoma City.
Now back, and somewhat ensconced in the outfield, Grosman is hitting just .211-6-33 over 84 games, but his OBP, at .322, is just ten points below last year despite the 57 point average differential. That is because Grossman has 47 walks to 83 strikeouts this year, as opposed to 23/70 last season.
Now, I admit to a fascination here with walks, but to be clear, a player who understands the strike zone is a player who is likely to continue both improving, and adjusting as a hitter, and in all the guys mentioned, there were improvements, with experience, noted.
Not that I want hitters to be passive, but I do like them to be selective. And, well, walks help OBP, and players can steal and score runs when they walk.
I do see Grossman improving to peaking with numbers a la Shane Victorino. I think he, and his Astro-mates, will be a lot better next year.
Marcell Ozuna (OF, Marlins): It is funny, for in my Strat-O-Matic League, Grossman was selected as a rookie pick last February, leaving me with Ozuna.
Ozuna has a .264-19-79 line as a 23-year-old doing his first full Major League season, and as much as I like Grossman, I like Ozuna even better. As in imagine what he can do as a 26-year-old with a few years of experience under his belt?
Well, Zunino only got 96 minor league games, and there he walks a much better 40 times to 99 strikeouts, to go with a .284-26-86 set of totals.
Pressed into the everyday role having just turned 23, with less than 100 professional games is not easy, and a young catcher's primary charge is calling the game, something Zunino has done very well.
Catchers usually mature into hitting a little later than their position-playing mates, so I am totally willing to give him some slack, and figure he will jump the average by 50 points next year, and the RBI by 20.
The 20 dingers will be just fine, as is.