Fantasy Baseball Debate: Rookie Love or Proven Talent?

by Howard Bender on June 6, 2013

puigOne of the timeless debates in fantasy baseball — rookie upside and potential or proven veteran talent. Which way do you go? The recent arrival of Yasiel Puig and his subsequent explosion at the plate through his first two games as a major league ballplayer has sparked the debate once again as numerous emails have come in asking which player should be dropped in order to pick up the latest rookie du jour. The hype, the excitement, the bragging rights of being the proud owner of the next big thing are all easy to get caught up in, but is it really worth it? In the case of players as rare as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, yes, but these boys are the exception, not the rule. If you’re looking for consistency, predictability and an easier way to manage your roster in a re-draft league (we’ll hit keeper and dynasty leagues at the end), stick with the proven talent. You can mix in a rookie here or there, but relying on them is a sure-fire way to land yourself at the bottom of your standings.

Take a look at some of the most heavily-hyped rookies this season:

Yasiel Puig, OF LAD — Currently a starting outfielder for the Dodgers with three whole games above the Double-A level under his belt. His future this season remains murky though as the Dodgers will be getting both Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp within a few weeks.

Aaron Hicks, OF MIN — Batted .370 with four home runs, 18 RBI and three stolen bases this spring and was on everyone’s hot-list come draft day. Batted .113 with no homers in April and then hit six home runs in May but batted just .202 for the month. If I’m going to sacrifice average like that, at least give me Drew Stubbs who has a track record for hitting home runs and stealing bases.

Nolan Arenado, 3B COL — He smacked four homers and had 12 RBI during the spring and everyone wanted him to open the season in the majors. The Rockies sent him down to start but have since brought him back to the majors where he is their starting third baseman. There have been rumblings of “for how long” as he is batting just .221 with just four home runs. Late pick-ups such as Kevin Youkilis or Michael Young would have suited all your needs and then some.

Michael Wacha, SP STL — We were told to be on the lookout for this guy after he threw 11.2 scoreless innings with a 15:1 K:BB during the spring. He finally got the call in late May, dazzled in his first outing (seven innings of one-run ball), and followed it up with six earned in 4.2 innings against Arizona five days later. You may have been better off sticking with Jeff Locke from your waiver wire.

Kevin Gausman, SP BAL — From strictly a stuff standpoint, Gausman has all the tools to be a major success on the big league level. But he got rocked in his first two starts (11 ER in 9 IP) and despite throwing six innings of one-run ball against the Tigers this past weekend, the Orioles are said to be in the market for a veteran starter so that he can go back to the minors and hone his skills. Not to mention the exceedingly high pitch counts and potential for a late-season shut-down. The answer is no. I would not have dropped a struggling Jarrod Parker for him.

Dylan Bundy, SP BAL — People were using late-round picks to grab and stash this phenom with the hopes of a second half showing in the bigs. What they got was a dead roster spot as elbow problems shut him down for a while. His arrival in the latter part of 2013 is highly doubtful. Imagine if you used that late-round pick on Patrick Corbin who went undrafted in numerous leagues.

Nick Franklin, 2B SEA — So far, I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Franklin as his strong plate discipline from the minors has stayed with him through his first eight games. He’s posting a good average, he’s drawn walks, he’s hit for a bit of power, nothing to complain about here. Would I have dropped Rickie Weeks to obtain him? Yes I would have. Martin Prado? No.

Mike Zunino, C SEA — High on everyone’s list to open the season, but with absolutely no clear path to the majors even with Jesus Montero demoted. He’s struggled for most of his time at Triple-A Tacoma and was passed up for a promotion in favor of his back-up, Jesus Sucre. He was another late-round grab and stash when you would have been better off with Welington Castillo.

Jurickson Profar, 2B/SS — The original plan was for Profar to play second base and head back to the minors once Ian Kinsler returned from the DL. But he’s hitting .300 with a pair of home runs and a .341 OBP and now there’s some talk about keeping him up. Personally, I don’t see it, unless you’re talking about pushing Mitch Moreland into a DH platoon with Lance Berkman, but even so, Kinsler doesn’t want to move and you don’t need/want dissension like they had with Michael Young. A week ago, I would have just let my competition have him in a re-draft league. The possibility of him staying, as remote as I think it is, would make me think a little more on that.

archerChris Archer, SP TB — He didn’t look good in his first start and he looked average at best last year when he made four starts (six appearances) and posted a 4.64 ERA over 29.1 innings. Not to mention this mugshot that CBS uses for him —>  I mean, I’m not against the use of marijuana, but do i want some guy puffing and then pitching for me fantasy team? I don’t think so. I’d rather hold onto Travis Wood and his suspect peripherals than to take the chance here.

Tyler Skaggs, SP ARI — So I actually like Skaggs. I don’t think he’s the be-all, end-all, but I think he can hold an ERA below 4.00 and post a decent strikeout rate if given the opportunity. But that’s the problem — opportunity. He’s the first one in when there’s an injury, but once Brandon McCarthy and Daniel Hudson are each ready to come back, we’re likely to see Skaggs back down on the farm. I would try to stream him in for the short run, but am I dropping anyone Jason Vargas-ish or better? Probably not.

Adam Eaton, OF ARI — Eaton was all the rage this spring as he became one of those trendy picks that saw massive increases in their ADP, killing off his sleeper value. He went from being a 20th or 21st round pick to being a 14th or 15th rounder in some leagues which was just way too high for an unproven rookie outfielder. Now I can’t really dog the guy for hurting his elbow, but I will say this: if/when he does come back, don’t just assume that he’s going to start immediately, play every day and steal you a ton of bases. With the overcrowding the Diamondbacks already have in their outfield, they are in no rush to throw him into the lineup full-time before he’s ready and should he struggle at the plate, they have ample replacements.

Didi Gregorius, SS ARI — Another middle infielder I’m a fan of here but one you also need to hedge some of your expectations. He’s always been touted as a glove man so while we can appreciate what he’s done with the bat thus far, I don’t think it’s wise to expect much more. Still though, he’s done enough for us to say goodbye to Cliff Pennington once Aaron Hill comes back.

Kyuji Fujikawa, RP CHC — A rookie in MLB’s eyes, but certainly a veteran of the game. Not that it matters though as Tommy John surgery puts him on the shelf for the rest of the season and partially into next. He was a handcuff coming into the season but a highly touted one at that, and in some drafts, even went higher than Carlos Marmol. And yet, it’s Kevin Gregg doing the closing.

Jose Fernandez, SP MIA — He was on people’s radar in dynasty leagues, but in simple re-draft leagues he wasn’t even considered. If you did have the foresight to draft him late, then kudos for the knowledge. There are few vets I would have taken over him in the late rounds anyway if I thought he was going to be up so soon.

Zack Wheeler, SP NYM — He makes his debut next week so we’ll see what happens. He’s a popular guy, for sure, but without really knowing how long he’ll last in the majors and the shoulder red flag from earlier this season, there aren’t a whole lot of pitchers currently on rosters that I would drop to take the chance. If I’m using a spot for streaming and I have the likes of Scott Kazmir or Tyler Chatwood, then yes, I’ll drop them for Wheeler, but similarly to Skaggs, I’m not dropping anything over Jason Vargas’ level.

Jedd Gyorko, 2B SD — He actually stayed a sleeper this spring as the job wasn’t fully handed to him until the very end of spring training. With what he’s doing right now, offensively, I would roster him in a heartbeat if he’s available and you need help at the keystone. Yes, I would drop Rickie Weeks. Yes I would drop Michael Young. Howie Kendrick? Not so much.

Billy Hamilton, SS CIN — I put Hamilton’s position designation in the infield because if you’re drafting based on last season’s playing time, then shortstop is really where you want to grab him. Even though if/when he comes up he’ll be playing center field. But there’s the ‘if’. Should the Reds be in contention for the playoffs/division title, are they even going to trade Shin-Soo Choo? If they do, then great. You just have to hope he’s got the ability to do more than say…Dee Gordon. If they don’t, then there’s no room for Hamilton save for maybe some September pinch-running. If I’m competing in a re-draft league, I’m definitely getting my stolen bases elsewhere.

So not only should that catch you up on the rookies, but it should also give you an idea of what you should expect to have on your roster in a standard 12-team re-draft league. Obviously the deeper the league the more loose you can get, but in a standard-sized league, based on the talent and depth of the player pool, you’re better off going with the proven talent in most cases. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but they are definitely a rarity. You may hear great things and they might be tearing it up in the minor leagues, but if you’re competing for a championship this year, playing it safe, for the most part, is the way to go. As I said before, taking some risk every now and again is fine and a rookie here or there is fun to take a gamble on, but you don’t need to run out and grab every newbie player who comes across your waiver wire.

Now of course, the values are different if you play in a keeper or dynasty league. All of the above players, because of their talent levels and expected production rates get a slight bump in value whether you’re trading one away or gathering several as you prepare for next year and beyond. In my eyes, the hitting prospects get a larger increase than the pitchers do though, based on injury risk, innings caps, etc. The pitchers may have a better chance for the immediate call-up but their position is also much deeper and unless they’re some crazy, lights-out phenom, their overall impact is much less.

So there you have it, my two cents on all this rookie hype. Re-draft league owners can get much further if they stick to the proven talent. You’ll have a much easier time picking up quality talent if you let your fellow owners fight over the flavor of the week. Stick to the guys who you know will produce and adjust your strategy from there. Keeper league owners, glom away. Grab them all if you like. If you are in contention for a title you can trade them away for helpful parts now and if you’re planning for the future, well, you’ve got ‘em in your hands.

Good luck and I’ll see you all in the money this year!

 

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave Randolph June 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Nice summary, Howard. What do you think of Derek Dietrich long term? I got Utley pretty late in the draft and was obviously very happy with his production until his (inevitable) DL stint.

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2 Howard Bender June 6, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Given Dietrich’s eventual competition for the 2nd base job in Miami — Solano and Valaika — he stands a pretty good chance to stay in the lineup regularly, but I’m not expecting much out of him. Mediocre power, not a good base stealer (12-for-24 in the minors) but could do just enough to stick.

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