Back before the days of MP3 players and CDs, some of us older cafe visitors, like myself, listened to cassettes. For some, I’m stating the obvious, and likely bringing back some memories; for others, consider this a history lesson. Cassettes featured musical tracks on an A-side, and a B-Side. The A-side typically featured a band’s or artist’s singles and other popular tracks, and the B-side typically contained a mix of lesser-known material, some good, some average, and some downright awful tracks. I always greatly enjoyed listening to the B-sides of cassettes in the hopes of finding a hidden gem or two. Much like finding a hidden gem on the B-side of a cassette, I take a great deal of joy in finding a hidden gem in the late round of fantasy baseball drafts and off the scrap heap of free agents throughout the season.
So without further ado, here are a few players who fall under the title of B-siders.
Brandon Wood, 3B/SS, LA Angels of Anaheim
Wood was the 23rd overall selection in the 2003 Amateur Draft by the Angels. He was once viewed as a superstar in the making at SS, namely after hitting 43 HRs in 2005 for the Angels’ High-A affiliate Rancho Cugamunga. Wood features a minor-league triple slash line of .286/.354/.541 and he has hit 160 HRs in 2,944 ABs that span seven seasons. His power numbers are jaw dropping from a middle infielder — however, so are his strikeout totals. Wood has struck out 767 times, or roughly 26% of the time he’s batted. Another knock on Wood is the fact that he’s only had 224 at bats at the Major League level, and in those 224 ABs he’s struck out a whopping 74 times while doing little else (.192 batting average and 7 home runs). Also, Wood is making a transition from SS to 3B, which only further hurts his fantasy value. So at this point I’m sure you are wondering why I’d feature a player with so many knocks against him?
Well for starters, Brandon Wood was considered the best prospect in the Angels system for a few years, and his power is without question a plus tool. Wood is also greatly helped this year by Chone Figgins being a free agent, and the fact he is now out of minor league options. It would appear the stars are finally lining up for Wood to get a real opportunity at full-time Major League at-bats. Another fact working in Wood’s favor is that he has begun to reduce his strikeout rate in Triple-A this past season. In 2008, Wood struck out in 26.3% of his at bats. In 2009, Wood shaved 5.6% off his strikeout rate and struck out a much more respectable 20.7% of the time. His HR totals did fall from 31 in 2008 to 22 in 2009, but he still was able to maintain an OPS of over .900 and has already displayed that his power is real and not just batting-practice myth.
The total package of the good and the bad with Brandon Wood likely means that in standard 12-team 5×5 leagues Wood will likely be drafted very late or not drafted at all. For owners looking to take an end-game flyer, Wood is a great target. After shuttling back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors the last two years, Wood will almost certainly receive an opportunity to start for the Angels or elsewhere in 2010. The Angels would be foolish to keep him on the big league roster as a reserve and further tarnish the trade value he still has. If Wood were to receive 500+ ABs this season, 30 HRs would not be out of the question. Wood’s batting average would likely be below average and sit somewhere around .250, but given his strides at making contact this past season, it’s not out of the question he could exceed my projection of a batting average around .250. Regardless, most owners would sign up for 30 HRs from a SS they could draft with one of their last selections.
Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Like Brandon Wood, Homer Bailey is a former first-round selection. When drafted, many baseball scouts and spectators viewed Bailey as the next in a long line of Texas-born flame-throwers. Bailey began his professional career with Dayton, the Reds Single-A affiliate, at the age of 19 in 2005. At the age of 20, Bailey finished his second season in DOuble-A by posting a fantastic 1.59 ERA and a 10.2 K/9 with a solid 1.15 WHIP. By age 21, Homer Bailey was able to reach the Major Leagues and throw 45.1 innings despite only two-plus seasons of minor-league experience directly out of high school. In the 45.1 innings Bailey pitched at the Major League level he posted an ugly 5.76 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, as well as a low 5.6 K/9 and a disturbing 5.6 BB/9. A 1:1 K:BB pitcher is a recipe for disaster at any level, especially the big league level. Bailey split his 2008 campaign between Triple-A and the Majors and posted a disappointing 4.77 ERA and 1.47 WHIP eclipsed only by his more disappointing 7.93 ERA and 2.09 WHIP in the Majors. At this point many fantasy owners began labeling him as a bust and overrated. Various articles on the web pointed to his “straight as an arrow,” fastball and lack of a quality off speed offering as being his biggest problems. Some suggested they were problems that would prevent him from being the star many initially thought he’d be.
Fast forward to last season. Bailey pitched fantastically in spring training, and the talk was that he may have a shot to land the fifth-starter spot or a long relief gig with the Reds to open the season. Many in the organization talked about an increased level of maturity from Bailey and credited that as well as his hard work as being the reasons behind his strong spring. Ultimately Bailey opened the season in Triple-A, but he was back on the radars of many fantasy owners. While in Triple-A, Bailey maintained a positive attitude and continued to work on revamping his game. The biggest change Bailey made in Triple-A was ditching his well below average changeup in favor of a split fingered fastball. Shortly after reports surfaced about Bailey’s change to his pitching repertoire, the quality starts began piling up. While in Triple-A, Bailey sported a sterling 2.71 ERA (3.86 FIP) with a BB/9 rate of 2.71 and a K/9 rate of 8.23. Homer Bailey received a spot start in the middle of his Triple-A season on May 23, and promptly walked 6 hitters and allowed 6 ER in 4 1/3 IP. This poor start may have prompted some owners to consider Bailey a potential Quadruple-A player, one who is better than Triple-A competition but not up to the task to pitching effectively in the Majors. Bailey was demoted to Triple-A following the May 27th start but was promoted once again on June 27th for the remainder of the season.
After the promotion for his June 27th start, Bailey’s starts would be of the roller coaster variety ranging from the very good (July 3: 7.1 IP, 3 hits, 2 ERs, 2 BBs, 5 Ks against the Cardinals) to the very bad (July 21: 2.2 IP, 8 hits, 9 Rs, 6 ERs, 2 BBs, 0 Ks against the Dodgers). The good news for those looking to invest in Homer Bailey this year, or those that own him in deep keeper or dynasty leagues, is that he finished the season respectably. In Bailey’s final nine starts that spanned 58.1 innings, he went 6-1 with 53 Ks
while recording a 1.70 ERA and only allowing 2 HRs. While those are very nice numbers, it is also important to note he did walk 24 batters in that 58.1-inning span, which comes out to a BB/9 of 3.7, a little higher then most owners would like to see.
While the final totals for Bailey aren’t terribly enticing to most fantasy owners going into the 2010 season, I will be investing in him in most drafts. I am a sucker for his pedigree. As well as being intrigued by his raw skills, I am also excited by the fact he was able to limit the HR damage to conclude the 2009 season. Bailey’s ground ball rate for 2009 was 42.5%, which is an important stat for me when trying to determine whether a pitcher is capable of keeping his HR totals in check, thus limiting the damage of the base-runners he allows. It is especially important for Bailey to keep inducing ground balls, as his home ballpark is not friendly to keeping fly balls in the ballpark. An added benefit of inducing ground balls for Bailey is that he’ll possibly be able to limit the damage of his walks by getting hitters to ground into double plays. Finally, the fact that Bailey is going to pitch almost all of 2010 as a 23-year-old (born May 3, 1986) with 195 innings of Major League experience points to better days ahead for young Homer.
Eric Patterson, 2B/OF, Oakland A’s
It has been a few years since Patterson was considered a top-10 prospect in the Cubs organization. Now Patterson looks more like a potential Major League contributor then a potential future star. That shouldn’t limit the interests of fantasy owners looking for speed at the end of their drafts or off the free agent list in 2010. Patterson boasts a career .303 batting average in 2,264 minor-league at-bats, and that includes a .307 BA in 466 ABs in Triple-A for Sacramento this past season. The real intrigue with Patterson is his ability to swipe bags. He has 174 SBs in 216 attempts in his minor-league career, including 43 in 49 chances last year. Rewarding the strong efforts of Patterson, the A’s promoted him at the end of July. He received 94 ABs and hit .287 while posting a .373 OBP and stealing six bases in seven chances. The biggest knock against Patterson is that he doesn’t offer much in terms of power and he isn’t a lock for playing time in 2010. It is unlikely Patterson will play much 2B if any at all; therefore, his long term future lies in the OF. The A’s current OFs include Travis Buck, Aaron Cunningham, Rajai Davis, Scott Hairston and Ryan Sweeney as well as DH and part-time OF Jack Cust. That is a lot of competition for playing time. On draft day, I tend to worry more about talent then opportunity as talent seems to eventually earn playing time. Also, given Patterson ability to play 2B and OF, it is possible he could play a super-utility role similar to Ryan Freel in his prime, meaning that even if he doesn’t have a designated “starting spot,” that he’ll get starter-type playing time.
I hope everyone enjoyed my first edition of what will hopefully be many of The B-Side. I will attempt to write an article featuring under the radar B-siders weekly or bi-weekly during the MLB off-season and leading up to Spring Training 2010, time-permitting.
Josh is a recent college graduate from SUNY Cortland where he majored in Sport Management. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad.
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