Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Our countdown continues today with a look at some guys that you may not see on National TV a lot this year. The good teams generally dominate the National TV scene and as a result, their players are the ones you see the most of. Today, Tanner Bell takes a look at some of the guys who play on teams that you won’t see as much.
Let’s start by breaking down the title of this article so you know what to expect and to give some context to the list that follows. I’ll start with who qualified as a “Bad Team”: Astros, Angels, Blue Jays, Brewers, Cubs, Mariners, Marlins, Mets, Padres, Phillies, Rockies, Royals, Twins, and White Sox.
And the camera cuts to a Royals fans screaming, “We’re not bad. We were 10 games over .500 last year”. To which I say the last two years the Royals were over .500 were 1993 and in 2003. Each was followed by 9 consecutive losing seasons. Notice any patterns emerging? All other teams on the list were under .500 last year, whether they just signed someone to a $240M albatross contract or not.
Next up, “unheralded”. If you look it up, the definition won’t blow you away, but I like the choice of synonyms: overlooked, unhyped, underrated, underestimated, disregarded. To help illustrate, examples of other things that I consider unheralded are Riesens, listening to podcasts on 2x speed, and Monica Potter.
Now that we’re on the same page, I bring you 11 unheralded fantasy baseball players from bad teams:
- Oswaldo Arcia (MIN, OF) – At the time of writing, Arcia has and average draft position of 270 in NFBC drafts, which means he’s barely even being drafted in a standard 12-team league. He’s now looking at a full season of playing time and he was able to hit 24 HR between AAA and the Majors last year (14 in 97 games for MIN). You can read a more detailed analysis of his power prospects here. On top of his skill level, he’s in for a more opportunities to produce in 2014. He spent the majority of his time batting 6th and 7th last season, and with Morneau and Doumit leaving town, he will slide up in the lineup. Should Josh Willingham decide to hit .208 again, you could be snagging a cleanup hitter in the last round of your draft. That’s the kind of calculated risk that can win a league.
- Jason Castro (HOU, C) – 20 HR from a catcher matters. After you make an adjustment for replacement level, 20 HR from a catcher means more than 20 HR from any other position. The question is if Castro’s 18 HR breakout in 2013 was for real (and does he have two more in him). As Mike Podhorzer notes, the batted ball distance suggests the power is legit. Independent of that, I see an opportunity for more plate appearances as well. For one, Castro hit the disabled list in mid-September, robbing him of 10-12 more games. When all was said and done he only played in 120 games. From all accounts the Astros are a cutting-edge and Sabermetric-driven organization. So they should be able to figure out they need to find ways to get their best hitter more time at the plate, right? There is room for power growth, room for improvement as Castro reaches his prime (26 years old), and room for an increase in playing time. Many will be skeptical of the breakout and scared away by team he plays for. Look for Castro to be one of those 20 HR Catchers in 2014.
- Kyle Seager (SEA, 3B) – He had a pretty large breakout in 2012, and the general consensus heading into 2013 was, “Let’s see if he can do it again”. He did. He followed up the .259-20HR-13SB effort with a .260-22HR-9SB ride in 2013. And not only do the end results come out consistent, the underlying skill measures are moving in a favorable direction. Seager is becoming more patient at the plate, demonstrated by the fact that he is swinging at less pitches, both inside and outside the zone (overall swing percentage drop from 48% in 2012 to 42% in 2013). Accordingly, his walk rate has increased from 6.5% in 2011 to 7.1% in 2012 and 9.8% in 2013. One possible knock on him is that his FB% is unsustainable (and therefore he’ll see a drop in HR). Among qualified batters, he ranked 7th in baseball with a 45% FB rate. And while that is an increase from 42.3% in 2012, it does coincide with that more patient approach at the plate, making it more believable. Additionally, his HR/FB rate is unchanged (9.8% in 2012 and 9.9% in 2013). He’s not flashy. But a seemingly safe 20 HR and 10 SB, along with a nice uptick from batting in front of the heart of the revamped SEA lineup make for a nice pick in rounds 8-10.
- Jose Quintana (CHW, SP) – When I set out to research Quintana’s 2013 season, it jumped out at me that he continues to throw his changeup more and more as time goes on. But here’s the weird thing… It’s his worst pitch (.355 BAA, .597 SLG, .242 ISO)! In addition, his fly ball percentage spiked from 31.1% in 2012 to 37.4% in 2013 (more fly balls = more home runs). So if Quintana can improve his changeup (or figure out he should throw it less frequently) and if his fly ball percentage regresses (thus lowering HRs allowed), he could offset an increase in BABIP that might occur (.283 last season). He’s not dominating from a strikeout perspective, but 164 in 200 IP last year is certainly respectable. And if he pushes over the 200 IP threshold this year, he could build on that raw total. Not to mention that the White Sox look to be much more competitive this year, which should allow him to build on those ugly 9 wins.
- Brian Dozier (MIN, 2B) – It’s not easy to find a player that can go 15 HR – 15 SB. Players like that don’t often go under the radar. But don’t be surprised to see Dozier’s draft position fall behind sexier youngsters like Kolten Wong and Anthony Rendon. Wong is a candidate to steal 15 bases. Rendon a candidate to hit 15 HR. Dozier is a candidate to do BOTH. The fact that he plays in MIN and carries a career .240 BA is going to scare some people off. But his HR/FB ratio is reasonable (9.9% in 2013) and there is room for the BA to rise some (he has BABIPs of .267 and .278 the last two seasons).
- Kole Calhoun (LAA, OF) – Mr. Calhoun is staring at a full season of at bats, and has the potential to chase 20-15 if he can reach 600 plate appearances. As we mentioned in the LA Angels team preview, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos are out of town, meaning the OF is open for Calhoun. Ancient Raul Ibanez is slotted as the team’s DH, meaning there could be some ABs there as well. His plate discipline isn’t really a concern (9.5 BB%, 18.5 K%). It’s a really small sample size, but he handled left-handed pitching last year. One more thing to ponder… Do you really think Erick Aybar with his 4.7% walk rate and .317 career OBP is going to hang onto the leadoff spot in the Angels lineup all year? Or could a youngster with nearly a 10% walk rate and .400+ OBP in the minors ease his way to the top of the lineup as the season wears on?
- Marco Estrada (MIL, SP) – Do you have any teams in your league that seem to forget WHIP is a category? I can’t stomach guys like Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, or Matt Moore that could hang me with a 1.30+ WHIP. I’m a sucker for guys like Estrada. I will concede that he is homer-prone (44.3 FB%, 11.9 HR/FB%). But his strikeouts are strong (23.1%) and he doesn’t walk many (only 5.7%). And unlike Quintana, Estrada’s changeup is his best pitch. And he dominates with it. One of the things holding Estrada back is an injury history. He’s missed time each of the last two years. But the good thing is that risk is now baked right into his projections. So what happens if he is able to play a full season?
- Brad Miller (SEA, SS) – Squint your eyes a little bit and you can see elements of a Ben Zobrist “light” here. Depending on where you look, you’ll see projections for 12-17 HR, 10-12 SB, and about 70-75 Runs and RBI. That should be accompanied by a solid .270-.274 batting average (I’m even more bullish there and see .280+ on the basis of very strong minor league BABIPs, even if they were in the PCL). That stat line is about what you got from Zobrist last year, and Miller can be had at a much cheaper price. It’s unclear exactly where he will bat in the lineup, but he did bat leadoff for 279 of his 306 ABs last season. If he lands the lead off job he’ll be on base in front of much more productive hitters than last year. On top of all this, he’s only 24 years old, so he also has room for growth in there.
- Sergio Santos (TOR, RP) – It’s hard to find someone “unheralded” on the Blue Jays. I thought about Adam Lind here. A cleanup hitter on a powerful offense looks appealing. But he doesn’t play full time, and that destroys his counting stats. After Dickey, the starting pitchers are the things nightmares are made of. And Casey Janssen has been a solid closer the last two seasons (ERAs in the 2.50s, striking out roughly a batter per inning). So this is a bit of a hunch and an ode to the growing fantasy baseball trend of using dominant middle relievers in place of below average starters. You may recall Santos was incredible in 2011 and has been injured much of the past two seasons. But when he’s healthy, he is dominating. Fangraphs’ Sabermetric library lists a 25% K-rate as “Excellent”. So what adjective describes Santos’ 31.1% in 2013 and 35.4% in 2011. Janssen hasn’t really done anything to lose the job. But Santos can rack up strikeouts in such quantities that he doesn’t need to be a closer to help your fantasy team.
- Jose Veras (CHC, RP) – The Cubs are going to be bad. A lot of people are afraid to draft closers on bad teams. But need I remind you that Kevin Gregg somehow closed out 33 games for the Cubbies last year? Veras will likely be one of the last closers taken in drafts, but he is a respectable player. He posts nearly a strikeout an inning and while that is a decrease from recent years, he was in the AL last season. He did improve his walk rate significantly in 2013 which likely contributed to the lowest ERA of his career. And there’s also an important factor on his side that should make the Cubs more likely to stick with him… He’s only signed for a one year contract (it has a club option for another year) and we know the Cubs are keen on acquiring talent. So he’ll be a tradeable commodity should he succeed in the role (keep this in mind as the season progresses, you may be wise to trade him before he’s dealt to a contender and loses his closer status).
- Omar Infante (KC, 2B) – After that whole introduction about the Royals’ losing history, I had to have one in the list. The whole reason I wanted to classify the K.C. as a bad team is so I could fit Infante into this article. I understand that he’s 32 years old, so the decline could be near. But let me state some facts. The Kansas City Royals attempted 185 stolen bases and were successful on 153 of those attempts in 2013. The Detroit Tigers attempted 55 stolen bases the ENTIRE SEASON. Infante split hit time batting 7th, 8th, and 9th in the Detroit lineup in 2013. Early indications are that he’ll bat second in the K.C. lineup. As good as the top of the DET lineup was last year, the bottom of that order was a black hole. It’s hard to be productive when you’re surrounded by the likes of Don Kelly, Alex Avila, Andy Dirks, and Jose Iglesias. Counting stats should not be and issue when being followed by Hosmer, Butler, Gordon, and Sal Perez. When everyone’s reaching to grab a name like Profar, just sit back and let Infante’s nice BA, R, and 10 HR-10 SB potential fall to you in the last round of your draft.