StrategyFebruary 12, 2004

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Rating Fantasy Prospects

By Brad Mahoney

As we all know, there can often be quite a contrast between the value of a ballplayer in fantasy baseball and his importance to his major league team. Hitters are more likely to have greater variance in these respective values because there are usually more variables that determine the contribution of everyday players than is the case for pitchers. There can be several reasons for the difference between fantasy value and a player’s worth to his major league team. Some of these include the player’s defensive ability, plate discipline, home field, major league supporting cast, and strikeout ratios (for pitchers).

Alfonso Soriano and Preston Wilson are examples of players whose fantasy significance exceeds their “real” baseball value, while Barry Bonds (in leagues that don’t count walks), Jim Edmonds, Kirk Rueter, and Jamie Moyer are some who are better on the field than in fantasy games.

Fantasy rankings for major league players are plentiful, but prospect lists based solely on fantasy value are few and far between. A couple of big-name minor leaguers who are better big league than fantasy prospects are Joe Mauer and Chin-Hui Tsao.

Minnesota’s Joe Mauer is widely regarded as the brightest future star in baseball. Much of Mauer’s praise stems from his cannon arm, excellent receiving skills, great batting eye, and leadership ability, none of which will probably help your fantasy team. So taking none of those factors into account, you are left with a player who plays a position where fantasy studs are scarce, can hit for a great average, and has above-average power potential. These skills still make Mauer a good fantasy prospect, but certainly not the best in baseball. In fact, Jeff Mathis of Anaheim may be just as good a fantasy option at catcher as Mauer, even though you will never see him ranked ahead of (or probably within 15 spots) Minnesota’s backstop of the future on any prospect list. This is due to the fact that although Mathis’ bat is certainly comparable to Mauer’s, his defense and plate discipline are not. More hitting prospects in the same boat as Mauer include Jeremy Reed, JJ Hardy, Chris Snelling, and Kevin Youkilis, while others like Mathis include Jayson Nix and Prince Fielder.

As stated earlier, there is usually not as much discrepancy between pitchers’ fantasy and “real” values. Because a pitcher’s defensive and hitting capabilities mean very little and because the great pitchers are also typically accomplished strikeout artists, there is seldom an elite pitching prospect who doesn’t also project as a great fantasy player. That being said it is, of course, wise to steer clear of Colorado Rockies pitchers such as Chin-Hui Tsao, one of the top ten pitching prospects in baseball. It could also be said that although Zack Greinke will be rated as the best young pitcher in the game on many lists, from a fantasy standpoint, you may want to rank him behind others such as Scott Kazmir, Greg Miller, and Edwin Jackson who have the ability to garner many more strikeouts. Other up-and-comers with great strikeout potential worth keeping an eye on for your fantasy team include Bobby Jenks and Clint Nageotte.

The key to gaining an edge on your competition is finding players who are great fantasy prospects, but may not rate quite as highly on prospect lists because they may not possess the other non-fantasy tools that the Mauers and Greinkes exhibit. It is also highly likely that you will be able to pick up these fantasy stars of the future later in the draft as many owners will be judging minor leaguers by lists based on overall baseball ability and not fantasy potential.

Brad Mahony, known as 2k4cubs in the forums, is a proud Cubs fan living in Central Illinois, where the population is probably split 50/50 between Cubs and Cardinals supporters, making for intense debates. Brad gives thanks often that the Cubs were bad enough in 2000 that they were able to draft Mark Prior in 2001. When Brad is not thinking about baseball, he is probably asleep.

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