StrategyDecember 14, 2009


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The B-Side: Fresh Fish

By Josh Shepardson

This week’s addition of The B-Side has a very “fishy” feel. In continuing to look for some diamonds in the rough we’ll take a look at a few Marlins who might make a positive impact this season. We’ll also take a look at a very patient Triple-A batter who may get the opportunity to break camp with his Major League team this year. With that, hopefully everyone is dressed accordingly, as we’ll begin our “dumpster dive”, looking for some useful parts to make a championship “fin”-ish this year.

Batter

Cameron Maybin, CF, Florida Marlins

While Cameron Maybin isn’t a fresh face to the fantasy community, he is one who may be undervalued going into this season’s draft. At this time last year, many fantasy owners were discussing his slick wheels, added muscle and the expectation of regular playing time at CF for the Florida Marlins. Unfortunately for those who took the bait and invested last year, Maybin only received 199 plate appearances and spent much of the 2009 season at Triple-A. Many may already be questioning whether Maybin will ever fulfill the lofty expectations heaped on him when he became the centerpiece (along with Andrew Miller) of the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis trade to Detroit. Maybin will be entering the 2010 campaign at the age of 23, so while it seems like he’s been around forever, it is a bit too early to write off his toolsy skillset.

Maybin began his professional playing career at the age of 19 with the Detroit Tigers’ Class-A affiliate, Western Michigan. He showed solid power that year, slugging .463 and posting an OPS of .853, as well as good speed, swiping 27 bags in 34 chances. He even posted a solid .308 batting average. Maybin’s main flaw as a 19-year-old in A-ball was a penchant for striking out, which is common for those his age in A-ball. He whiffed in 30% (115 times) of his 380 ABs. Cameron Maybin spent his 20-year-old season between four stops: two games played in Rookie ball, 83 games played in High-A ball, six games played in Double-A and 24 games in the Majors. Considering he wasn’t even of legal drinking age when he made his Major League debut, one could argue that Maybin had already achieved quite a lot reaching the Majors at the age of 20. That said, he was without question rushed along, and his high strikeout rate remained largely unchanged. He struck out 112 times (30%) in 372 ABs in the 2007 season. He continued to show good power and speed at all four levels, including one home run hit at the Major League level off Roger Clemens. In total, Maybin slapped 15 HRs and had 38 extra base hits in his 372 ABs during his 2007 campaign, while also compiling 30 stolen bases in 36 chances, including a perfect 5-0 at the Major League level.

In 2008, Cameron Maybin was traded to the Florida Marlins, where he spent almost all of the season at the Double-A level for Carolina. Once again, Maybin was able to demonstrate a solid combination of power and speed, slugging .456 with a .831 OPS, 13 HRs, 36 extra base hits and stealing 21 bases in 28 chances in 390 ABs. Maybin received a cup of coffee at the Major League level and proceeded to crush the ball. While he received only 32 ABs, his triple slash line was an eye-popping .500/.543/.563, good for a 1.106 OPS. This brief audition caused many fantasy owners to speculate that he was finally ready to put his blue chip skills to work at the Major League level. However, lost on some of those hoping to get on the Maybin bandwagon early was his disturbingly high 31.8% K-rate in Double-A that season. A strike out rate that high nearly always spells trouble at the Major League level.

As many speculated, Maybin opened the season on the Marlins roster as the starting CF. He struggled mightily, however, striking out 31 times in 84 at-bats in April and May. still at a K-rate well over 30%.   He hit a paltry .202 during that stretch and hit only one home run while stealing one base. The Marlins ultimately sent him down to Triple-A New Orleans to straighten things out. While in Triple-A, Maybin received 298 at bats. He only hit three HRs over the course of his time in Triple-A but he did record a total of 29 extra base hits and slugged a solid .463. He also didn’t run as much, only recording eight stolen bases in 10 chances. All that said, Maybin’s greatest accomplishment was reducing his ugly 31.8% K-rate in Double-A the season before to a much more respectable 19.5% at the Triple-A level. The adjustments made in Triple-A allowed Maybin to find some success concluding the 2009 season for Marlins. In 92 ABs for the Marlins to finish the season, Maybin posted a triple slash line of .293/.353/.500, good for an OPS of .853. He also drilled three HRs and stuck out 20 times in those 92 at-bats. While 20 strikeous in 92 at-bats isn’t a great K-rate (21.7%), it was a huge step up for Maybin. It was revealed toward the end of the season that Maybin played much of that season with a shoulder injury that required surgery at season’s end, which could help explain the lower home run totals when coupled with the jump in level of play. Early reports indicate that he’ll be ready by Spring Training.

Considering some owners were burned by jumping on the Maybin bandwagon last year, and his lower home-run and stolen-base totals in Triple-A last year, it’s likely his services will come quite cheap this year. Early mock drafts at Mock Draft Central have his ADP at 223 and his high point at 166. Pick 223 would put him at the tail end of the 18th round in 12-team leagues. I would argue that’s a little late for a player with Maybin’s raw skills and what appears once again to be a starting gig in CF. I’d say he should probably go two to three rounds earlier and provide a shot at out producing even that draft position. I’d be surprised if Maybin didn’t receive over 500 plate appearances for the Marlins this season, and if that’s the case I could see him hitting 15 HRs and stealing 20-25 bases. Couple that with his reduced strikeout rate and a batting average in the .275-.280 range seems reasonable, given his speed and ability to beat out ground balls for base hits.

Pitcher

Rick VandenHurk, SP, Florida Marlins

When discussing starting pitchers, as well as starting pitching prospects for the Marlins, it is unlikely that VandenHurk will be one of the first names to come to mind. Josh Johnson is the obvious ace of the staff, followed by Ricky Nolasco as the number two. That said, rotation spots three through five are likely up for grabs amongst Sean West, Chris Volstad, Anibal Sanchez and Rick VandenHurk, leaving one as the odd man out. My guess is Chris Volstad is almost a shoe-in for one of the three remaining spots, given his stellar start to the season and that his final totals look bad mainly due in part to an ugly August and September (a time he may have been tired from the rigors of his first full Major League season). That would leave two spots for three pitchers. Given the injury history of Anibal Sanchez and the ages of VandenHurk and Sean West, it is likely all will get opportunities to start in order to limit innings and injuries to each. All of the final three are interesting options, but VandenHurk stands out to me as being the most intriguing.

The first thing that stands out to me when looking at VandenHurk’s minor league stats is his juicy K/9 that stands at 9.2. His K/9 has remained high even while pitching in the Majors, where it stands at 8.8. As with many strikeout pitchers, his walk rate is a bit high. In the minors, his BB/9 was 3.7 and it jumped to 4.4 at the Major League level. Even with a 3.7 BB/9, VandenHurk was able to produce a reasonable 1.19 WHIP, which, unfortunately for him, did not carry over to the Major League level, where he’s posted a 1.62 WHIP to date. In 2009, VandenHurk appeared to trade off some strikeouts for better control, as his K/9 was 7.7 in Triple-A, at which time he limited his BB/9 to 2.4. He carried that approach to the Major League level last year with a K/9 of 7.5 and a BB/9 of 3.2. While the slight dip in Ks stinks, his improved control should be huge in helping VandenHurk succeed against big-league hitters. It is also entirely possible that as he becomes more comfortable at the Major League level his K/9 begins to work back up toward his higher career mark. It’s also important to note that VandenHurk’s O-swing percentage has risen in each year he’s received time at the Major League level. My biggest concern with VandenHurk is his high LD and FB percentages for balls put in play. His FB percentage is just above 50% and his GB percentage sits roughly at 27%. This could be a recipe for trouble, however, since pitching in Land Shark Stadium should help keep his FBs in the park more so than pitching in other ballparks. It is also possible that as he gets acclimated to the Majors he’ll be able to make some upward strides in inducing more GB contact.

VandenHurk won’t be a target for all league formats next year, but he is someone that should be on the radar screens of owners in 12-team leagues or greater and especially those in NL only leagues. My guess is that VandenHurk will receive 140-150 IP this year, and if that’s the case he seems entirely capable of striking out 130-140 batters. His ERA won’t likely be great, but low 4.00s, perhaps 4.10-4.20, also seems reasonable, and with his improving BB rate a WHIP of 1.20-1.25 also seems within reach. With that said, if he’s able to induce some more ground balls and maintain his high K/9 rate, he could even exceed those expectations, which would make for quite the useful fantasy starting pitcher.

High Minors

Kila Ka’aihue, 1B, Kansas City Royals

Kila Ka’aihue’s minor league career had been rather ho hum and uninspiring coming into the 2008 season. Up to that point, Kila had done little to distinguish himself as a prospect and potential future contributor to the Kansas City Royals ball club. Kila played in 103 games in 2006 at the Double-A level, and after struggling there, split his 2007 season between High-A and Double-A. His numbers improved from the 2006 season, but were still nothing spectacular as Kila’s batting average hovered around .250.  He was, however, able to post an OBP of .360 as a result of his willingness to take a walk (78 walks in 551 plate appearances). He also displayed modest power, hitting 21 HRs in 451 ABs (551 plate appearances). After two yawn-inducing seasons, Kila put it all together for a minor league Pujols-like 2008 statistical outburst. 2008 saw Kila split most of the season between Double-A and Triple-A while also receiving a September call-up for 12 games with the Royals. He began the season in Double-A where he posted a staggering 80:41 walk-to-strikeout rate and a jaw-dropping triple slash line of .314/.463/.624, good for a 1.086 OPS, all while smashing 26 HRs in just 287 ABs. He did not slow down after getting promoted to Triple-A Omaha. While in Omaha, his BB:K was 24:26 while his triple slash line was .316/.439/.640 and he hit 11 HRs in 114 ABs. His spectacular season spent in both Double-A and Triple-A earned Kila a call-up, but because the Royals were taking a look at Ryan Shealy as well, and inexplicably allowing Ross Gload to receive playing time as well, he only received 21 ABs. He did manage to slug one HR and draw two walks in his 23 plate appearances, while only striking out twice, but little inference could be drawn from such a small sample.

Most interested observers were very disappointed when just before the 2009 season began, the Royals shipped Leo Nunez to the Florida Marlins for Mike Jacobs. Jacobs, along with Ryan Shealy, offered road blocks to Kila Ka’aihue making the Opening Day roster. Kila got very little opportunity to showcase himself in the spring, and spent the entire 2009 season in Triple-A. Unfortunately for him, he also took a big step back in production.  Kila’s final season triple slash line was .252/.392/.433, a far cry from his breakout 2008 season. Also disappointing was his HR total dropping to 17 in 441 ABs. That said, Kila was able to still post high walk totals, 102 in 555 ABs, keeping his OBP in the .400 range (.392 to be exact). While his HR total dropped to 17, Kila slugged 45 extra base hits (of 111) in total, while continuing to limit his strikeouts, which checked in at 85 in all.

While there is no guarantee that Kila will be opening the season with the Royals next year, it at least appears slightly more likely. The Royals opted to release Mike Jacobs, instead of offering him arbitration. However, they also acquired Josh Fields and Chris Getz from the Chicago White Sox in return for Mark Teahen. Fields was at one time considered a major prospect with the White Sox, but did little after slugging 23 HRs for the White Sox in 2007.  He also is in a platoon split favoring slugging lefties (as noted here at Fangraphs), which possibly opens the door for a platoon DH role for Kila, who showed a platoon split this season favoring hitting righties. 

Josh Fields and Kila Ka’aihue may not be the only players vying for time at the DH spot, as the Royals may opt to use Jose Guillen there some this year, as well as whoever doesn’t earn starting gigs at SS and 2B (with Yuniesky Betancourt the favorite to start at SS, leaving 2B to be contested by Mike Aviles, Alberto Callaspo and Chris Getz). Of the bunch, Ka’aihue appears like the one with the skillset that would most likely allow him to earn the full time ABs at DH, which, coupled with his 2008 season in Double-A and Triple-A, makes him a person of interest in AL-only leagues and possibly 12-team or larger mixed leagues this season.

While it is unlikely that all three of these B-Siders will make positive contributions to fantasy owners in 2010, all three possess the skills necessary to take the leap from fantasy also-rans, to fantasy contributors this season. Being ahead of the curve is always important in capturing fantasy gold, so keep these three in mind when putting together your draft cheat sheets going into 2010.

I hope you enjoyed the article.  Keep checking back as I’ll continue to dumpster dive, looking for more potential contributors to your 2010 fantasy baseball roster(s).

 
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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