I'm not sure if many fantasy baseball aficionados ever get the chance to enjoy the anticipation that accompanies a Minor League Draft. Going into my sixth season of an AL-only, fantasy keeper league, even the most jaded of my league's veterans still clamor as the draft approaches like adolescent girls at the sight of Derek Jeter.
And who can blame us for getting so feverish at the thought of adding a player like Rick Porcello, Matt Wieters or Mike Moustakas to our rosters?
Prospecting for minor leaguers gives us the chance to separate the proverbial Billy Butler's from the Hee Seop Choi's. It's the time of the fantasy off-season where you can claim for sure that you know more baseball than the next guy, and years down the road still brag about how it was you who had the judgement to pass up Rocco Baldelli in favor of Hanley Ramírez.
So for those of you who consider a fantasy draft the equivalent of joy riding through Mudville with Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, I plan to chronicle and profile the first round of selections for my league's 2008 draft in Part 2 of this series as well as highlight some sleepers selected in later rounds in the final installment.
For now, I offer descriptions of four players I consider marginalized top prospects. These players may or may not be drafted. In Part 3, we'll explore the trends and schools of thought that may dictate their fates on draft day.
For the sake of clairty, I present these following players as exhibits so as not to confuse the list with a ranking.
A) Tyler Robertson, Starting Pitcher (Minnesota Twins)
Of the four players listed here, Robertson perceivably has the brightest future. At the tender age of 19, he breezed through hitters at single-A Beloit of the Midwest League in 2007. Showing exceptional control for a pitcher his age, he improved in every statistical category, posted a 3.72 K-to-BB ratio and only surrendered three home runs in more than 102 innings pitched. So why doesn't Tyler appear on Baseball Prospectus' Top 100 list and why is he only considered the Twins' fourth-best prospect by Baseball America? Is the Twins' system that good? Eh, I think not.
Questions are raised by the pundits about Robertsons' throwing motion and the velocity on his fastball. Many believe that a sloppy/deceptive delivery is to credit for his success last year. At the same time, such a delivery, they argue, may heighten his chances of a severe arm injury. As for his fastball, some scouts have noted it actually has lost velocity since he was scouted in high school while others report it is consistently around 89-92 mph.
Fantasy teams are wont to shy away from young arms to begin with. Will that mentality combined with the doubts that surround Robertson prevent his talents from being heralded in this year's draft? We'll find out...
B) John Jaso, Catcher (Tampa Bay Rays)
John Jaso is the least known of the prospects in this article, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't pay him some attention. Jaso has a career .300 average and .836 OPS in nearly 1,500 at-bats throughout the minors. In each of his seasons, his K-to-BB ratio has improved coming in at 1.16 for his career and a staggering 0.83 in 2007. With plate discipline like this, you might think his power numbers would suffer. Although not overwhelming, he averaged 12 home runs and 24 doubles the past three years. For all that, the only accolade awarded him by Baseball America in their annual breakdown of Tampa Bays' prospects: Best Strike Zone Discipline.
There are few things that keep John Jaso from getting noticed. One, he is buried deep within Tampa Bays' farm system, which is arguably the best in all of baseball. Two, he is a catcher, which should help his fantasy baseball value, but which rather brands him with the purgatorial question: Will this catcher remain a catcher? He doesn't win awards for his defense, which at some point, may warrant a change of position. Then, his average power becomes an issue if, like most catchers, he moves 90 feet down the line to play first base. And three, he is an older prospect. By the end of this year he will be 25 years old, and to say that Minor League analysts aren't ageist is like saying Billy Beane isn't a sabermetric.
Some of these categorizations shouldn't hurt Jaso's chances of being drafted, but they still do.
C) Josh Rodríguez, Shortstop (Cleveland Indians)
A product of perennial college powerhouse, Rice University, the 23-year-old Rodríguez spent the past two seasons in A-ball honing his hitting approach while leaving his mark with above average athletic ability. In 493 at-bats last season, Josh managed 20 doubles, nine triples and 20 homeruns. He also stole 21 bases in 29 attempts. Given his athleticism, their is talk of moving Rodríguez to second base, third base or the outfield—changes that may eventually lead to better and more opportunities in the big leagues
The knocks on Rodríguez have been his long, pull-heavy swing, which he and his coaches have worked extensively on the past two years. As he made adjustments, his batting average has wallowed out around .263, down from his consistent mid-.300s batting average in college. Injury concerns have also kept him from reaching the top prospect limelight although that issue seems to have dissipated being that he has demonstrated a clean bill of health during the past two Minor League seasons.
Optimistically, Josh has the potential to be a Craig Biggio / Brian Roberts-type player, but he'll have to show he can hit for more average in AA during 2008. His 1.39 K-to-BB ratio along with a second half batting average of .287 would suggest he is moving in the right direction. He is one of the more coveted late-round players on my Minor League draft board.
D) Nick Hagadone, Pitcher (Boston Red Sox)
This 6'5" 230-pound lefty who was lights out last year in 10 starts for the Lowell Spinners of the NY-Penn League, has perhaps the worst designation for a pitching prospect on draft day. He's a "tweener". The Red Sox are unsure if Hagadone projects better as a starter or reliever.
Hagadone spent his career at the University of Washington closing games, but since he had developed three plus pitches (fastball >94, slider, changeup) the Red Sox gave him a chance at starting. He baffled short-season A-ball hitters, so one is inclined to believe the Red Sox will start Hagadone out in Greenville of the Sally League or even Lancaster of the advanced-A California League to see if he can keep up his pace from 2007.
History has shown that fantasy drafts are not the place to find your team's future closer. Unheralded relievers come out of the woodwork in the Major Leagues more often than a Manny Ramírez trade request. Keeper league owners tend to shy away from tweeners like Hagadone until their role is solidifed. However, the fact that Baseball America ranks Hagadone as the number eight prospect in a Red Sox system oozing with talent speaks tremendously to his upside. Right now, if his remains on the track of a starting pitcher, I believe he projects out as John Maine quality. It will be interesting to see if one team takes their chances with that.