Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 11 June 2009
Unless you are playing in a keeper league, try not to get too distracted by all the draft hype. After all there is enough of it at the Major League level right now, especially when it comes to rookies. And there are plenty of those to think about on the free agent lists throughout baseball. You’ll also see quite a few of them are also on the rosters of your opponents. Most of those you’ll note have had monstrous amounts of media hype, often by fantasy baseball columnists.
Emil Brown was once considered a five-tool prospect.
While there are plenty of ready for prime time rookies in the Majors today, only a fraction of them are really fantasy prime time ready. For every Evan Longoria or Rick Porcello there are twenty Emil Browns and Paul Wilsons: players who are hyped to death as the next big thing but just never manage to hold it together as top players at the Major League level.
There are players who do explode onto the scene, but picking out the winners from the losers is tough work. If you can do it, you have a huge advantage over your opponents as those Rookie of the Year candidates often contribute far more value than the average replacement player.
Here a few rules of thumb which might be helpful when wading though the hype to make those selections.
1) Most guys projected to be future superstars will do so in the FUTURE not right now.
Look at AA and AAA numbers to get some realistic expectations before you pick someone up. While some players match or even exceed their minor league numbers, it is more realistic to expect a decline of between 15-20% for guys coming from AAA and 25% from AA.
2) Hitters develop power as they get older, so look for average rather than power in most cases.
While there are tons of rookies capable of hitting 10-20 home runs from the day they step onto their first Major League field, most aren’t capable of surpassing those strata right away. Power tends to develop as a player fills out and matures. So with the exception of those cast in the mold of Ryan Howard or Ryan Braun, don’t expect huge home run totals. Look for high average and good OBP.
3) Pitchers who are at the top of their game in the minors are more likely to translate that success to the Majors right away.
Even the best pitchers coming into the Majors face a learning curve. That’s especially true today when pitchers are being thrown into the fire earlier as almost every organization needs more starting pitching. However, the guys who are at the top of their game at the minor league level are less likely to get smacked around as badly as the guy with great stuff who still has an ugly minor league ERA.
4) Speed is real.
Unlike hitting or pitching, speed is not a learned skill. Fast is fast and there are plenty of guys capable of coming up and stealing 20-30 bases. That means speed is one of the easiest categories to pick up a FA rookie in. Just remember you can’t steal first so if the OBP isn’t that good, look elsewhere.
5) Youngsters are streaky.
All rookies, not just pitchers, face a learning curve. Even the best hitters will have 0-for-15 or 0-for-20 streaks as they learn about pitchers and try to deal with stuff nastier than they faced in the minor leagues. The good ones will learn how to deal with it, but expect some struggles from everyone.
6) Early success might not last.
Just because a guy is creaming the ball or pitching lights out don’t count on it lasting. For some players it will, but as opposing pitchers or hitters begin to figure out the rookie they write the proverbial “book” on him. Those who can’t adjust will end up having a frustrating end of the season and often find themselves demoted despite the fact they had a great start.
7) Youngsters are used to a shorter season. That often leads to second half falloffs.
Players wear down, and minor league players -- especially pitchers -- have never faced seasons that are as long as they are in the majors. That applies even to the good ones. A perfect example would be the Angels pitcher Joe Saunders who in his rookie season last year had a 3.07 ERA before the All-Star Break but a 3.94 ERA after it. That’s a minor variation but plenty of players have much bigger ones like the A’s (now Rockies) Greg Smith did last year (3.43 ERA pre-break, 5.18 ERA post-break).
8) The MOST important rule of all is DON’T get swept away by all the hype. Most rookies don’t turn into fantasy studs. They are ALL gambles, some will pay, some won’t. Don’t go crazy chasing the next big thing, far too many of them turn into flops at least during their early days of their careers, just remember how many people drafted the Cameron Maybins (11-1-3-.202 and now at AAA) and Jeff Clements (still at AAA) based on what the experts said.
Rookies are still worth chasing, and hitting the good ones pay great rewards, often fantasy championships, but base your picks on research, not on hype. Don’t get carried away by the Emilio Bonifacios or Taylor Teagardens no matter how much press they get.