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Monday 24th Jul 2017

So off I flew early Saturday, to the Valley of the Sun, for the 2010 AL LABR auction sponsored by the USA Today and hosted by Steve Gardner.

As I have written, these auctions are a lot of fun, really no different than your home league in that we have all played with and against one another for so long that, well, it is like playing in your home league. Away from home, that is.

It was a whirlwind day as I landed, then beat it from the huge car rental facility at Sky Harbor to Phoenix Municipal Stadium where I hooked up with BBHQ’s Dave Adler and watched the bulk of the Angels/Athletics game that day.

It was a quiet affair, tied at 2-2 when I had to split in the late afternoon to check into my hotel and then make it to the draft by 5 PM.

Of note? Well, Jared Weaver threw hard, but was not so effective. Starting Angel center fielder Peter Bourjoius made a fielding error and looked horrible on a Dallas Braden whiff. Dallas McPherson made a nice barehanded grab on a bunt and promptly threw the ball right into the ground, a la Lonnie Smith in the 1981 World Series.

Coco Crisp, who was the DH, belted a nice double into the gap and was able to stretch it out nicely, and Athletics first base hopeful Chris Carter drilled a hard liner to center, grabbed this time by Bourjous, but well, Carter looked good.  And Eric Patterson could not get down on a grounder, and, when he tried to backhand it the second sacker wound up with a face full of hardball, and had to leave the game.

Somehow this spring, over the few games I have seen, errors see to be running amok. There were three—actually could have been four legitimately called—over the six innings I watched, and by the time I left, pretty much all the starters from both teams gave way to players with numbers is the 80’s, none of whom were announced.

Still, it was a day in the sun watching baseball.

Then I beat it off to The Arizona Republic where Mastersballer Perry Van Hook played the role of auctioneer as I drafted against Jason Grey, Greg Ambrosius, Nick Minnix and others.

I can tell you a few things about my team, though we are essentially sworn to secrecy about the results till they are published in the Opening Day issue of the Sports Weekly.

First, because I had such a hectic morning, I didn't log into the web to see any updates, so, I did not know that Joe Nathan had made an early exit earlier in the day, so I was a bit puzzled when I copped him early on for $17.

“Hurt his elbow,” said Jason, and I blanched, spending any free second before the first break trying to find out what I could about the injury. I want to believe the Twins manager, Ron Gardenhire, when he says it is no problem and Nathan is fine, but, just in case I also picked up Brian Fuentes for $14, giving me ideally two closers for $31, just a couple of bucks more than Jonathan Papelbon fetched all by himself.

Meaning I don’t need a full season of Nathan, and, should I get one, I will have some saves to swap.

What else? Ian Kinsler seemed a bargain at $27, at least as long as he stays healthy, and I think Randy Winn for $3 might be my best bargain. At least if he gets me 350-plus at-bats.

The following morning 12 of us reassembled for a straight snake draft which was as much fun. Between bagel bites and beer gulps (well, ok, green tea for me) we managed to work through 276 picks in a little over 75 minutes. A pretty good clip.

I picked first, and took Hanley, thinking I could get some pop at the corners down the road. Sure enough, with my wheel picks I took Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Zimmerman filling out the bulk of my infield.

I do think it is interesting that five of the top thirty picks were second basemen—Kinsler, D-Ped, Chase Utley, Robinson Cano, and Brandon Phillips.

In filling that spot I was able to wait a little later and grabbed Asdrubal Cabrera, and, I also waited on closers, taking Bobby Jenks, and Fuentes back-to-back as my 13th and 14th selections.

The one thing I do like about picking first/last is that ability to double up picks at a given position, and thus fill both slots/and try to start a scarcity run.

As noted, as much fun as it gets. And, the month is just beginning!

If you are a fantasy player of some long standing, you have probably heard the argument that “for every Frank Thomas there are a hundred Paul Konerkos.”

The basis for this is that is so easy to be enamored of a hot youngster riding a rocket to The Show. However, statistically, it is just likely that that prospect will struggle for a while ala Mr. Konerko, as opposed to being the next coming of Ted Williams from the first at-bat as Mr. Thomas was.

And, it is not that Konerko is a bad player, at all. Quite to the contrary. However, it took him time--and three teams--to adjust, and that is more the norm.

The thing is, fantasy players all want to win because, well, winning is fun. But, we also want to be smarter, being savvy enough to pick up just the right combination of solid vets and unheralded up-and-comers to grab a title. But, we also want to be the one who “discovers” the Hanleys and Lincecums and Longorias under the noses of our league mates.

Unfortunately, the “Thomas/Konerko Principle” tends to raise its head killing those best laid plans, as names like David Price and Matt Wieters will no doubt remind us all (especially those heavily invested in either, let alone both in 2009).

Still, players do come up, and they do succeed each year, and what we have done to deal with this over the past ten years is look unflinchingly at the minor leaguers of the past year, crunching their numbers and coming up with a Top 250 Prospect list.

To qualify for the Top 250, a player must retain rookie status, meaning less than 130 at-bats, or 50 innings pitched with the parent club, or more than 45 consecutive days on the major league 25-man roster (meaning September and call-up time does not count with respect to the days rule).

In order to make our list, a pitcher must have thrown a total of 70 minor league innings, or accumulated 200 at-bats, at any combination of levels from Low-A up through Triple-A. And that means no Stephen Strasburg.

Players are rated on specific skills, such as power and control (strikeouts to walks, and by inning) for pitchers, and walks to at-bats and extra base hit percentage for batters, but, players are also given credit for succeeding young.

Which means an 18-year-old who pitches 140 innings at Double-A and strikes out 157, despite an ERA of 5.09 and won-loss of 3-11, will likely score much higher than a 25 year old who has gone .319-26-87 at the same level.

That is because a 25-year-old should be able to more than compete at Double-A based upon experience, while an 18-year old is doing it primarily with raw tools. The idea, though, is that if the tools are indeed there, and showing themselves early, the chances for that skill set to be enhanced with experience suggests success at higher levels, at an earlier age.

As one might expect, a lot of the names who appear on the list are those familiar, but our analysis has revealed players of skill way before the curve (such as Carlos Zambrano as #1 in 2001, and Albert Pujols as #10 in 2000, Joba Chamberlain at #9 in 2008, and Jair Jurrjens at #25 in 2006 and #16 in ‘08). In other words, there are always some surprises. And, there are some players, like Buster Posey, who are clearly comers, but for one reason or another just miss.

Of course, most of these players are likely still a year away, so don’t bet the bank on them. But, if your format allows for minor leaguers, this is where to look for your stash. And, some will make it to the Bigs, and even earn considerable playing time in 2010, so you certainly want them all on your radar.

Below are the Top Ten:

  1. Neftali Feliz (21, P, Rangers): The hard throwing Ranger hurler scores a first, that being the first top finisher to ever have played in the majors. I actually witnessed Feliz’ debut on August 3, 2009, when he became the first MLB hurler to strike out the first four batters he faced since Pete Richert debuted in April of 1962. Rumor has it Feliz has been clocked at 109, and the gun hit 103 during that first appearance, but apocryphal or not, he has major gas. Better, the 31 strikeouts to eight walks (and just two taters) over 31 innings says everything. I am betting Feliz, a starter in the minors, will be the Rangers closer by end of season and for a while beyond.
  2. Juan Ramirez (19, P, Mariners): As a 19-year old, Ramirez more than held his own at High-A High Desert. He is also an example of the notion that power/control are better barometers of skill than won-lost or even ERA for young players. Ramirez was 8-10, 5.12 last year in the tough California League, but he whiffed 111 of those batters. His big problem is getting the ball up on crucial pitches (18 homers) but, if he conquers that there is a lot of ceiling.
  3. Michael Stanton (19, OF,Marlins): After going .294-12-39 over 210 Florida State League at-bats, Stanton was promoted to AA Jacksonville where he struggled some (.231-16-53) with his on-base totals, but still provided a solid resume entry. 129 of his career 268 minor league hits have gone for extra bases—that is almost half--and that is a very good sign.
  4. Deolis Guerra (20, P, Twins): Guerra has made this list three years running (Guerra was our #1 prospect in 2008), and, well, the Twins thought enough of the then 17-year old to insist upon his inclusion in the Johan Santana swap of 2007. Because he is young, again the ERA and control numbers have to be taken in context, so the things to focus on are holding his own at AA (6-3, 5.12 after being promoted) and the whiffs (312 over 457 innings). By the way, the 1.26 WHIP he posted at AA in 2009 suggests a lot of the earlier control struggles are behind him.
  5. Michael Montgomery (20, P, Royals): Kansas City’s first round selection of the 2008 draft, Montgomery has shinnied up the ladder, splitting an excellent 2009 at Wilmington (4-1, 2.25) and Burlington (2-3, 2.27). He struck out 98 over 110 innings with a fine strikeout-to-walk rate of 2.17, and he allowed just one home run over those innings, at both levels, over the whole of last year. Pretty remarkable.
  6. Jesus Montero (19, C ,Yankees): The heir-apparent to Jorge Posada, Montero rocked in 2009 with a combined .337-17-70 mark split between A and Double-A. The .950 OPS is particularly good, as is the minor league career .379 OBP. The Bombers tend to do as well developing players as do they buying them and Montero is both home grown and the real thing.
  7. Hector Rondon (21, P, Indians): One of the players on this list to watch most for 2010, Rondon went a combined 11-10, 3.38 split between AA Akron and AAA Columbus in 2009. He struck out an excellent 137 over 146.1 innings, walking a meager 29 for a WHIP of 1.175. The Tribe has been very good at developing prospects over the last 15 years, and Rondon simply looks like the next in line. Get your ticket now.
  8. Ruben Tejada (19, SS/2B , Mets): Were it not for the presence of Jose Reyes, Tejada would be the next big thing at short with the surname Tejada. At 19 he more than held his own, going .289-5-46 with 19 swipes. A good contact bat (37 walks to 59 whiffs last year), Tejada played 120 games at short last year, and 14 at second, and figures to play there more in 2010 as the Mets gear up to have one of the most exciting second base/shortstop combinations in the bigs.
  9. Jason Heyward (20, OF, Braves): Atlanta’s #1 pick in the 2007 draft, Heyward advanced right up through the minor league system in 2009, going .296-10-31 over 214 at-bats at Single-A Myrtle Beach, then .352-7-30 at Double-A Mississippi, finally sneaking 13 at-bats at AAA Gwinnett (.364-0-2). The aggregate was .323-17-60 totals, including a spectacular 51 each of walks and whiffs which equates to a .408 OBP and nearly half of his 117 hits (46, precisely) went for extra bases.
  10. Freddie Freeman (20, 1B , Braves): The Braves might have an embarrassment of riches from the 2007 draft just within this year’s Top 10, as Freeman was drafted right behind Heyward, in the second round. Playing at both A, then AA, along with Heyward, Freeman managed only eight homers in the aggregate (.282-8-58), but a year earlier, at Rome, Freeman went .316-18-95 with an .899 OPS. He has shown increasing discipline at the plate as well, walking 11 times to 19 strikeouts after landing in AA Mississippi last year.

 

The Mastersball Top 25 Prospects are listed below (note the entire Top 250 can be purchased in a sortable spreadsheet as part of either our Gold or Platinum subscription packages at www.mastersball.com):

 

It seems the tradition for me each off-season is to write about the Fall League, then what if the playoff teams were roto teams, and then who I think have made the most adept moves in the off-season, so far.

So, with the new year, it is an appropriate time to make that apparently annual assessment.  As usual, I picked the teams who looked the most interesting so far, and, well, as you shall see, we look in terms of off-season winning or losing moves (knowing there is still a lot movement out there).

Giants: Of course I have to start in my backyard where it looks like both bay area teams could be competitive in 2010. The Giants needed some help with pop, and suddenly adding Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa has fleshed out the team where Kung Fu Panda can migrate to first where he would be a fixture, or share corner time with Huf and DeRosa. But, DeRosa can also play in the outfield not to mention second and add some punch. The big question is if and when Buster Posey can be the every day backstop. The Giants defense will be the question, but with Juan Uribe in the infield mix questions about offense have been addressed. We all know about the pitching. Winners.

Athletics: I don't think the Athletics are going to win the AL title, though they might be closer to winning the AL West title than it seems, and way closer than in many of the past few season. Starting with the outfield or Raj Davis, Ryan Sweeney, and Coco Crisp (any of whom could be a center fielder) and looking at the infield with Kevin Kouzmanoff, and Cliff Pennington (a real sleeper) on the left side, Oakland has a strong young rotation, a deep pen, and after years of scoring their games knowing over the long haul things were futile, well, Billy Beane had a nice lineup going out every day. 2010 will still give some experience, but 2011 these guys will be ready to compete at the next level. Winners.

Red Sox: The thing with the Red Sox, and their New York rivals, is that it is unthinkable for them not to be competitive. And, they have completed a lot of attrition filling a pitching hole by grabbing John Lackey who makes a strong rotation even stronger. As does the addition of Marco Scutaro a player who turned himself into a good everyday guy when I did not think he could. Add in Adrian Beltre on the left side and the Sox infield seems pretty stable. They did lose Jason Bay in deference to Mike Cameron, and I am one who has avoided Cameron the last few years because I feared he had run out of gas. But, I think as much hinges on Big PapiVMart, and Kevin Youkilis coming through and also think the team will need to rebuild seriously in the next couple of years. Losers.

Yankees: Ah, New York, where championships are bought, fought for, and ultimately won. And, it is hard to argue with success. The Yanks made some moves, letting Godzilla escape, and trading Melky while getting Javier Vasquez (and a very deep rotation), Curtis Granderson (who should return to form on a deeper team) and Nick Johnson who could be a great DH option, and who can also spell Mark Teixeira at first from time to time. It is hard not to like what the Yankees have done. Winners.

Angels: Talk about core jettison, Vlady, Chone Figgins, Lackey, and Kelvim Escobar are all gone, and Hideki Matsui will likely be the DH. Which means the team will need a third sacker and hope that Juan Rivera can hold stead and Bobby Abreu can hold tight. I suspect these next few years will be transitionary for the Angels, but I also think they can stay competitive within the AL West during the process. Losers for 2010, then Winners again.

Rangers: This will be the year the Rangers and Ron Washington will be rewarded, possibly even with a Series spot, and I am guessing they will win the division. Vlady is a good fit on this team and Rich Harden can be deadly if he can give 20-25 starts. Of course that is always the issue with Harden. However, the big issue is whether Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler can stay healthy, and if Chris Davis can make better contact. They should score a ton of runs, however, and have good starters and a pretty nice pen. Winners.

Phillies: The defending National League champs have been active, adding 18 players while losing 11 so far. They did well, replacing Pedro Feliz with Placido Polanco and Cliff Lee with Roy Halladay. But, for the most part, Philadelphia made moves to strengthen their bench signing Brian Schneider, Ross Gload, and DeWayne Wise for the bench and Dennis Baez and a support cast of probables to help with the pen. Just the acquisition of Halladay has to be considered a heavyweight move, though. Winners.

Cubs: I would be remiss if I did not account for my home away from home, focusing first on the north side of the Second City and the Cubbies. They did well emotionally letting go of Milton Bradley in deference to Marlon Bird, but no matter how you slice it, 130 innings of Rich Harden is way better than any innings from Carlos Silva, no matter how you view innings eaters. But, Alfonso Soriano and Derek Lee are getting long in the tooth and sadly I don't think things will bode well at Wrigley this year. Losers.

White Sox: It is a one year crap shoot in Chicago, where some dreck (Josh Fields) along with an aging star (Jermaine Dye) in lieu of Andruw Jones, Daniel Cabrera, JJ Putz, Freddie Dolsi, and Juan Pierre. Pierre is a legit leadoff hitter, something the Sox have needed for years, but pretty much everyone behind him not named Ramirez or Beckham is on the down side. They do have Jake Peavy for a full season, though, and that is a good thing, but still, I see a long season on both sides of Chicago. Losers.

Cardinals: St. Louis boasts as good a one-two pitching punch with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, plus retaining Matt Holiday gives a troika of the left fielder, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Ludwick to generate the runs, plating Colby Rasmus and Skip Schumaker. On the left side, however, Brendan Ryan looks like the shortstop and David Freese, who has had off-season issues, where the problem lies. I think that needs to be addressed if the Cardinals want to hold the division at bay. Losers.

That will be it for now. I will be back in early February with the Top 250 Prospect preview.

 

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