Mining the MLB Depth Charts: 4/16/14
Looking through the waiver wire haphazardly is a waste of time. As a fantasy manager you need to scour MLB depth charts to find the next hidden gem. This series will assist fantasy managers by identifying players completely off the radar that will produce fantasy gold at black-market prices.
Looking at MLB Depth Charts Strategically
Throughout this series we will look at three components that are essential for identifying players who have a legitimate shot at helping your fantasy team soon:
1. Opportunity – Either injury or lack of production at the MLB level is the key to getting playing time. Without it a player continues to ride the pine for your fantasy squad.
2. Talent – Some players buried on MLB depth charts (or down on the farm) have some baseline skill set that will add value to their current club, be it with the glove, bat, speed, or a combination of all three.
3. Organizational Precedent – What is the financial state of the club? Are there big contracts that need moving? Does the organization have a history of promoting guys cautiously or aggressively?
Let’s see who qualifies this week:
Tommy LaStella – 2B (AAA, Atlanta Braves)
Since the beginning of 2013 the Braves struck out the third most (only the Twins and the Astros were worse), posted the 2nd lowest contact percentage (76%), and the 2nd highest swinging strike rate (11.2%) in the league. Meanwhile Dan Uggla has posted the highest K-rate (31.5%), 3rd lowest OBP, and is the only second baseman to hit under the Mendoza line during that period (.180). His contact rates have decreased and his swinging strike rates have increased the past four seasons. Although he’s traditionally posted above-average walk rates in his career, he’s currently sporting a 12:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It would be an understatement to say that opportunity knocks in Atlanta.
Enter La Stella. Not on anyone’s top-100 prospect list, all he’s done is compile a .326/.411/.493 slash line and walk more times than strike out (115:91 to be exact) in his minor league career. While he earned an honorable mention from Spencer Schneier on our International League Preview, Mike Newman is skeptical about La Stella overtaking Uggla based on his stellar AFL performance last year. As far as MLB prospects go La Stella doesn’t offer much by way of power or speed, but certainly his high OBP and left-handed bat would play well at the bottom of the order.
So why isn’t La Stella already up? First, La Stella is not on the 40-man roster so the Braves would have to DFA another player to make room (or transfer an already injured player to the 60-day DL). Also there is the issue of Uggla’s contract. If the front office would be willing to eat a significant portion of the $26mm remaining on Uggla’s deal there could be some potential suitors (e.g., Giants, Marlins). Otherwise they have shown the willingness to promote young players who are ready to perform (e.g., Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward) in the past so a La Stella promotion is not out of the question.
VERDICT: The Braves can’t keep waiting on an Uggla resurgence. He’s an easy out in the 6-hole right now. La Stella is still relatively unknown and is a good buy-low target who won’t hurt in any one category at an offensively-starved position.
Christian Villanueva – 3B (AAA, Chicago Cubs)
It’s no secret that the Cubs are still in a rebuild mode. However as Theo Epstein and Co. enter year three of the reclamation project there is undoubtedly expectation for improvement. In other words don’t expect a long leash for Mike Olt and Luis Valbuena at the hot corner. Mike Olt hasn’t been productive since 2012 when he tore up Double-A ball to the tune of 28 home runs in 420 plate appearances, slashing .288/.398/.579. Even after recovering from vision problems last year, Olt has remained a shadow of his former self. Olt and Valbuena are currently slashing a combined .196/.283/.348. That’s not going to get it done, even for the lowly Cubs.
Before the 2012 season Christian Villanueva was rated by Baseball America as the #100 prospect. Although he’s never been a darling in prospect circles, Mike Newman has been impressed by his consistency and ability to advance a level each year in the minors. There have been no questions as to his defensive ability so a hot start in Triple-A could push management to take notice sooner rather than later. Furthermore, Newman sees Martin Prado-type value with more power, less on-base skills, although the speed has degraded since the South Atlantic League look.
The Cubs boast the 7th youngest roster in the Major League, and considering the lack of impact free-agent acquisitions this offseason it looks like the Cubs are going to give their young guys a chance to play. Villanueva is already on the 40-man roster so there’s no reason a fast start at Triple-A can’t force the Cubs’ hand. Olt still has options left so a Triple-A demotion is likely if he doesn’t produce. Valbuena is out of options but represents good depth at third base.
VERDICT: Olt’s stock has been down for awhile now and Valbuena is nothing more than a place holder. The best bet is to acquire Villanueva cheaply now (or snag him off the waiver wire if there is an open spot). He wouldn’t be more than a throw-in for most unassuming owners at this point which is why it is time to pounce. Villanueva also have Kris Bryant and Javier Baez to contend with, so a temporary starting nod is a showcase opportunity for other organization’s as well.
Kyle Blanks – 1B/OF (AAA, San Diego Padres)
In just over 1,000 plate appearances in San Diego Padres uniform, Yonder Alonso has hit a total of 15 home runs. 15! Although his strikeout rate has decreased the past three seasons his walk rate has followed suit. Since he just turned 27 there is little room for projection or optimism in his game at this point–at best he could go 15/10 assuming that PETCO continues to play as above-average to left-handers (109 park factor for lefty home runs). With a career .239/.299/.344 line against left-handed pitching he’s in need of a platoon partner at least, but there is a more attractive alternative.
Mike Newman insists Blanks could be an above-average regular. He flashes big power and can take a walk as well, but injuries and lack of consistent playing time have stunted his development. However with Alonso scuffling and Tommy Medica no more than a backup there’s reason for optimism here. He’s currently raking in AAA, posting a .320/.469/.760 line (SSS) with 3 home runs in 32 plate appearances. More importantly he’s walked 5 times to only 6 strikeouts. He is more than just a quad-A player.
Whether due to injury or to lack of patience by the Padres Blanks has never received more than 308 plate appearances in a season. He’s always going to strike out, but overall offensive production (career 102 wRC+) makes him worth a shot with the big club. Currently on the 40-man roster, the Padres hit the 8th fewest home runs since 2013 and have compiled a 92 wRC+ as a team in the same time period. With injuries to Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, and lack of production from Alonso there are multiple paths to playing time for Blanks that don’t involve a big investment by the Padres’ brass. While they could have traded him this off-season, or sooner, they decided to jettison Jesus Guzman instead, which makes him the prime call-up candidate.
VERDICT: Chances are he’s sitting on the waiver wire in your league. Invest in him as an OF flier or backup 1B. Most teams don’t typically have this type of potential sitting there and it comes with a bargain-basement price. If he keeps tearing the cover off the ball he’ll be up sooner rather than later.
Strategic thinking about MLB depth charts is difficult without a plan. However identifying positional black holes in the majors, depth chart talent, and organizational precedent is the key to catching the competition unaware and securing prime assets at reasonable prices.
16 Apr 2014 / Joseph Pytleski /
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