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By the Numbers: Rookie hitters worth keeping

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As we plunge into the final quarter of the season, it's time for Fantasy owners in the title hunt to hunker down and fine tune their teams for this year's final stretch.

This column is for all of the other Fantasy owners -- the ones who are out of the running this season.

Even if you're out of contention for a title this year, it's too early to tune out. Particularly for owners in keeper leagues, there is still much to consider. If you have a trade deadline still looming, you need to think about which players to keep for next year and which you can deal for potential keepers. While this column won't deal with most of the players you'd likely consider for your protection spots, it will cover an important subset of that group: this year's rookie crop.

I have identified the 14 rookie hitters most worthy of consideration as keepers. (I will address rookie pitchers in a separate column.) Not all of these players are relevant in every keeper format. Those at the top of the list are worth considering in leagues where you are allowed a relatively small number of keepers, while most of the others are better suited for dynasty leagues with long keeper lists. In ranking them, I've looked at both their rookie season performances as well as their minor league resumes. In many cases, a player who hasn't met expectations this year is still worthy of keeper consideration because of the skill set he has displayed in the minors. Also, some of the players made this list, not only because of the credentials they established when they were prospects, but also because behind some of the less inspiring Fantasy stats put up by this year's rookie class lie some encouraging skill indicators.

Note: All season-to-date stats are current for games played through Monday, Aug. 12.

1. Wil Myers, OF, Rays: Myers has come as advertised, and after a slow start power-wise he's delivering a high batting average and on-base percentage with extra-base hits. He is also 5 for 6 in stolen base attempts, so while Myers didn't have a history of high steals totals in the minors, he did have a 75 percent success rate (36 for 48). Rays manager Joe Maddon likes to have his players run, so in addition to helping with batting average, run production and home runs, Myers could also bring some moderate steals potential to the table. In other words, he is developing into an all-category threat and a must-keep outfielder.

2. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers: It's highly likely Puig will never have another season in which he hits .475 on balls in play, but even with some serious regression, he's shown that he can be counted on to help in most categories. Puig's speed could enable him to chip in with 20-plus steals over a full season, but it also means he can boost his average with infield hits. He already has 19 of them in just 232 at-bats, which gives him a rate that falls just shy of Jean Segura's (39 infield hits in 457 at-bats). Whether Puig will produce power like he did in June (.277 Isolated Power) or like he has since (.175) or at some level in between remains to be seen, but he's enough of all-around producer to be worth keeping in just about any format.

3. Jurickson Profar, 2B/3B/SS, Rangers: Profar has been atop many owners' keeper lists in dynasty leagues due to his performances in the minors. He showed the ability to make contact, hit for power (at least by shortstop standards), draw walks and steal bases, all at ages that were young for the levels he was playing. Those skills haven't transferred to the majors in his rookie season, as he's turned in a lackluster .245/.311/.344 slash line with no stolen bases. Maybe it's because Profar hasn't had a steady role, but given that he is still just 20, he simply may not have been ready for the majors. It's certainly too early in Profar's career to judge him by this season's numbers. He should find a regular role next season, and with a season's worth of growing pains behind him, Profar could take a big step forward in 2014.

4. Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals: Though Adams has had to scrounge for playing time, he's done exactly what his minor league record suggested he would: hit home runs and provide a decent batting average. Assuming the Cardinals don't re-sign Carlos Beltran, that would open up an outfield spot for Allen Craig, which in turn would leave first base open for Adams. With everyday at-bats, Adams could hit as many as 30 homers while replicating his .280s batting average.

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5. Nick Franklin, 2B/SS, Mariners: Franklin seemed to be on the road to becoming a points-league dream-come-true: a middle infielder with doubles and triples power who could make contact and get on base. So instead, he's become a whiff-happy power hitter, though so far in August, Franklin hasn't hit much of anything. His recent slump has taken a toll on his stats, but as recent as July 30, Franklin owned a .276/.338/.492 slash line. Whether Franklin continues to lean towards being a home run hitter or he reverts to his prior form, he will stack up well against much of the pool of second basemen next year and beyond.

6. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Nationals: With a limited minor league track record, it was hard to know what to expect from Rendon's rookie campaign. At best, owners could have expected a high batting average and on-base percentage with power, but none of that has panned out. Most disappointingly, Rendon has drawn walks in only 7 percent of his plate appearances and hit flyballs on 29 percent of his hit balls. Owners can find encouragement in Rendon's 30 percent line drive rate, and his 21 percent strikeout rate is right in line with his minor league norms. While Rendon hasn't provided as much value as Franklin has this season, there's time for the 23-year-old to match or surpass the Mariners' second baseman.

7. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies: Arenado's uneven power numbers as a prospect made it questionable to assume he would be a home run threat as a big leaguer, even with him getting to play home games at Coors Field. Sure enough, he's hit only nine home runs in his first 95 games in the majors, but with an elevated line drive rate, he's been able to amass 20 doubles to date. More homers could still come, and so could a high batting average, as Arenado has struck out in 13 percent of his at-bats. A .165 average on grounders has sunk his overall batting average, but that should improve. Arenado hasn't done enough to stand out among a crowd of talented, young third basemen, but the promise is still there to make him a worthwhile keeper in dynasty leagues.

8. Brad Miller, 2B/SS, Mariners: Miller came to the Mariners with a similar profile to that of Rendon, and he's wound up producing at a similar level to the Nationals' young infielder. He has drawn walks at a 10 percent rate and produced eight doubles and four triples in 152 at-bats through Monday, but a lack of home run power (his two homers on Tuesday notwithstanding) and a pedestrian .303 BABIP have left him well short of expectations produced by his minor league stats. While Miller was not a big-time flyball hitter as a prospect, he should improve on his current 25 percent flyball rate and .034 flyball BABIP. There are enough positive signs, despite some underwhelming surface stats, to make Miller a player to protect for the long-term future.

9. Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Twins: Arcia's 2013 stats might not look like anything special, but it helps to keep in mind that he's just 22. Though he's moved through the Twins' system quickly, Arcia has shown good power at all levels. He hasn't demonstrated great contact skills, but because he rarely pops out, Arcia has hit .300 or higher at each of his last three minor league stops. He's hit just .264 for Minnesota, but Arcia has struck out in nearly one-third of his at-bats, and he should be able to reduce that rate dramatically. Diminished expectations could mean that Arcia slips through the cracks in drafts next year, but he could make for a great late-round sleeper in redraft leagues.

10. Jedd Gyorko, 2B/3B, Padres: Which Gyorko is the real deal...the one who hit .281 with moderate power in two stints in Double-A or the one who tore up the Pacific Coast League last year? Prior to going on the disabled list with a groin injury back in June, he looked like he could develop into the elite hitter we saw in Triple-A. Since his activation in mid-July, Gyorko has hit .143 with three home runs and two doubles in 77 at-bats. He's been striking out at a rate that is out of character, but it's not clear if he's dealing with the aftermath of an injury or adjustments made by the pitchers who are facing him. Gyorko could very well pick up where he left off earlier this season, but with an uneven minor league record supporting him, it's not safe to assume that he's on the road to stardom.

11. Leonys Martin, OF, Rangers: As a minor leaguer, Martin showed signs of being able to produce steals, a high batting average and on-base percentage, and double-digit home run power. It appears he will not deliver on anything other than the stolen bases this year, but even with a .326 on-base percentage, he's on pace to swipe 37 bags. Because Martin's strikeout and walk rates in the minors were generally better than the what he's posted this year -- a 22 percent strikeout rate (per at-bat) and 6 percent walk rate (per plate appearance) -- there is reason to think that he could raise his batting average and on-base percentage next season. That would help Martin to add to his stolen base and run totals. Even if the extra-base power doesn't come, that's enough to make Martin worthy of consideration for a keeper spot.

12. Evan Gattis, C/OF, Braves: Gattis' production has slowed down markedly since the end of May, and even while seeing regular playing time in the outfield during B.J. Upton's recent disabled list stint, he hit just .244 with one extra-base hit in 11 starts. That could give the Braves a reason to bring the resurgent Brian McCann back on a new contract next season, relegating Gattis to another year as a backup. That's probably the worst-case scenario, while there is still a chance Gattis becomes a regular with 25-to-30 home run power. It would be tempting to pursue that upside, and in leagues that allow a large number of keepers, there may be little risk. However, in more limited keeper formats, Gattis' extended slump raises enough doubt to make him a risky keeper choice.

13. Darin Ruf, 1B/OF, Phillies: Finishing second-to-last on this list isn't a bad thing; Ruf still ranks ahead of Marcell Ozuna, Jose Iglesias and all the others who didn't even make the cut. I don't question Ruf's power, even though he only hit seven home runs in 83 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The Iron Pigs' home park is not that amenable to homers, but Ruf now has Citizens Bank Park as his home. While Ruf should be a reliable power source with regular playing time, he'll be fortunate to hit for a decent average like he's done this year. He simply strikes out too often and has been relying upon a 28 percent line drive rate and .400 batting average on grounders, neither of which looks sustainable. The strong potential for a low average and lack of upside due to his age (he turned 27 last month) keep me from ranking Ruf higher.

14. Yan Gomes, C/1B, Indians: Both in his minor league career and in a brief trial with the Blue Jays last season, Gomes showed he has pop in his bat, but his .310 batting average with the Indians has been a pleasant surprise. A 19 percent strikeout rate and .346 BABIP have made that mark possible, though it's not a given that he can sustain either level. Gomes has worked his way into more playing time, but as long as Carlos Santana is behind the plate, there is a limit to how many games he can start. Gomes' power makes him a tempting keeper at catcher, but the uncertainty around his role limits his value.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Hinch: Astros 'likely' to use seven-man bullpen in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Astros manager A.J. Hinch indicated that the team is likely to use a seven-man bullpen this season, leaving two spots open for competition this spring, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"Likely," Hinch said of a seven-man bullpen. "There’s always a chance that (changes) depending on how the schedule plays out, and there’s always a debate on how many pitchers to carry during interleague. Now interleague is pretty much year round, so I mean, in a perfect world with our roster, it’s likely to carry a seven-man ‘pen. If we feel like we need an extra pitcher or injury happens, there’s different ways to shape our roster, then we will, but likely 12."

The two open spots will likely be filled by a left-handed pitcher and a long reliever. The competition for the second lefty in the pen likely comes down to Kevin Chapman and nonroster invitees Joe Thatcher and Darin Downs. The long relief role has a broader list of candidates, including Alex White and Asher Wojciechowski, who will prepare both as starters and relievers.

"We’re going to stretch out a lot of our guys," Hinch said. "Some of them are because they’re competing in that fifth starter spot, some of them are bullpen guys. Will Harris is going to throw multiple innings. Obviously (Sam) Deduno has been a starter in the past, he’s in a competition for the fifth man spot. Wojo, White, those guys are going to need to, going to plan for the season on both fronts, whether it’s a starter or reliever. But we’re preaching multiple innings. It’s important if you have a seven-man bullpen that you have a couple of guys that can get four, five, six outs if needed and be a bridge to the rest of the bullpen."


Rangers' Tolleson: 'I'd like to be that bridge' between starters, closers
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Shawn Tolleson told reporters he would like to become the link between the starting rotation and back-end relievers Tanner Scheppers and Neftali Feliz this season, according to the Dallas Morning News.

"I would like to be that bridge," Tolleson said.

Tolleson led the club with 71 2/3 innings of relief last season. He pitched more than one inning 20 times and held left-handed hitters to a .282 on-base percentage.

"He's got the skill set to be one of those that we use in the latter portions of the game," manager Jeff Banister said. "He seems to love the competition."


Nationals faced with tough decision regarding Michael Taylor
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:10 pm ET) The Nationals are faced with a tough decision when it comes to outfield prospect Michael Taylor, who appears to be on the cusp of being ready for a regular role at the major-league level.

A major issue is playing time since the Nationals have a starting outfield of Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Denard Span. Taylor would be a solid fourth outfielder, but having him coming off the bench is not ideal for his development.

“It’s the same age-old decision that must be made regarding guys that are just on the cusp of being big-league ready and everyday players,” manager Matt Williams said, per NatsInsider.com. “And a question of depth on your team, too. … It’s a question of depth on your team, it’s a question of how much playing time they’re really going to get, and are they better served staying in the minor leagues and getting those at-bats until their opportunity arises. But Mike’s close. He’s really close.”


Nationals' Aaron Barrett: 'I'm ready for a full season'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:06 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Aaron Barrett worked on strengthening his shoulder and legs in the offseason to improve his longevity throughout the entire season. Barrett admitted he wasn't used to a full major-league schedule, which contributed to him feeling "tired" in the middle of his rookie season.

"I'm ready for a full season," Barrett said. "Last year was a long season for me. It was my first year up. I had a lot of appearances, a lot of warm-ups and stuff like that. I think that is part of the process of coming up and working on that. I did as much training as I possibly could for this year."


Daniel Descalso brings versatility, playoff experience to Rockies
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:06 pm ET) Rockies infielder Daniel Descalso is ready to fill the role of versatile veteran who can play second base, third base or shortstop as needed, the Denver Post reports.

"I'll be ready for whatever comes my way," Descalso said Monday. "It's been a while since I've played just one position for any length of time, so I've worked hard to reach a comfort level at all three spots. I have an idea of what it takes to stay sharp."

Another factor that piqued the interest of the Rockies this offseason was his postseason experience, as he has played in 44 postseason games and won one championship.

"All of that factored in quite a bit," manager Walt Weiss said. "I think we sometimes underestimate the value of that — guys that have played in big games, pennant races, and have won a World Series. Those types of players are valuable, and that's a big reason why we brought Danny in here."

Descalso has made 110 starts at second base, 91 at third base and 88 at shortstop in his five-year career, seeing at least 100 appearances at all three poitions. He hit .242/.333/.311 in 161 at-bats last year with the Cardinals.


Francona: Jason Kipnis likely to make spring debut this weekend
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:02 pm ET) Indians manager Terry Francona said Tuesday second baseman Jason Kipnis (hand) will likely make his spring debut this weekend, per MLB.com.

Cubs' Kyle Hendricks targeting 200 innings in 2015
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:01 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who was awarded the No. 4 spot in the starting rotation, told MLB.com that he's targeting 200 innings in 2015.

"That's one of the biggest goals I have for myself is consistency, No. 1, but then eating up innings," Hendricks said. "That's something I pride myself on is staying in ballgames and giving my team a chance to win. I think with the number I threw last year, 200 shouldn't be out of the question for me."

Hendricks put together a solid rookie campaign in 2014, registering a 2.46 ERA and 47:15 K:BB ratio over 80 1/3 innings with the Cubs. Overall, he totaled 183 innings between his time at Triple-A and the majors.


Francona: Indians' Raburn (knee) to make spring debut Wednesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) Indians manager Terry Francona said outfielder Ryan Raburn will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Reds, per MLB.com. Raburn underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee in mid-September.

Royals RP Ryan Madson (back) expects to play catch Tuesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:52 am ET) Royals reliever Ryan Madson, who injured his back doing squats over the weekend, expects to play catch Tuesday after being scratched from throwing Monday, per The Kansas City Star.

Nationals' Ian Stewart: I feel confident again in the batter's box
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:47 am ET) Ian Stewart is in camp with the Nationals this spring looking to land a spot on the team's bench. Stewart has a lot to prove since his career has been in decline since a 25-homer campaign in 2009 with the Rockies.

Stewart said his offensive struggles had a lot to do with wrist and hand injuries he sustained the last few years, per The Washington Post. He also feels the changes he made to his swing and hitting style to please other organizations also didn't help. 

However, he appears confident going back to his old routine will suit him well this spring.

“This offseason, I just tried to get back to my old ways of hitting and ways of working out in the past,” he said. “Really, just trying to be as comfortable as I can in the box. I’ve gotten into my own head a lot the last few years. Just struggling and letting that affect different parts of my game. … I’m at a point where I’m completely comfortable in the box. I feel like my head is clear because I really felt so good hitting this winter that I feel confident again in the box. I’m comfortable, I’m loose, I’m not in my own head.”


 
 
 
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