Some of draft day’s best values can come from former elite prospects who take longer to develop than expected. I’m not entirely sure, but one belief I have is that it partially stems from bitter owners who were “burned” by said slow developing elite prospect. Other draft day values can come from players who have skills, but appear to be blocked, or haven’t had full-time at-bats to showcase their skills. A third type of player who can turn into a draft day value is a pitcher who pitches to their skillset, while adding a useful pitch to their repertoire. This week’s B-Siders fall into one of the three aforementioned categories.
Alex Gordon, 3B, Kansas City Royals
Just about any fantasy baseball owner who has played since at least 2006 is aware of Alex Gordon, who went into the 2007 season hyped similarly to Matt Wieters in 2009. Many fantasy gamers viewed Gordon as a can’t-miss prospect and some compared his skill-set and upside to that of David Wright. Needless to say, he has yet to reach that kind of success. As recently as last year, Gordon was discussed in various venues as a sleeper candidate. This off-season I’ve found little chatter about Gordon, which means he’ll likely come as cheap as ever. Mock Draft Central has Gordon’s current ADP as 232.84, with his highest selection at 126 and his lowest as undrafted. Clearly the 126 shows some still believe in Gordon, but the fact his ADP is 232.84 shows there are many less “Gordon believers,” than the owner or owners who selected him at 126. Rookies and Cream’s MDP thread paints a similar picture to Mock Draft Central’s report, as Gordon’s current MDP is 235.55.
To recap why owners went into the 2007 season with such high expectations for Alex Gordon, let’s take a look back at his pedigree and minor league statistics. Gordon was the second-overall selection in the 2005 Amateur Draft out of the University of Nebraska. Gordon began his professional playing career in 2006 at Double-A Wichita, his lone season in the minors. He received 486 at-bats and posted fantastic statistics, including 29 HRs, 39 doubles, 22 stolen bases in 25 chances, a 72:113 walk-to-strikeout (BB:K) ratio, and a triple slash line of .325/.427/.588. Coming off that campaign, it was easy to see why some projected Alex Gordon to post Wright-like numbers in the majors, and why it appeared he was a can’t-miss prospect.
Fast forward two-plus years and 1,200 Major League at-bats later, and many have forgotten just why exactly Gordon was such a highly sought fantasy commodity. Gordon jump from Double-A directly to the Majors out of Spring Training in 2007. Gordon received 543 at-bats, in which he slugged 36 doubles and 15 HRs, while swiping 14 bases in 18 tries, posting a BB:K rate of 41:137, and putting up a triple slash line of .247/.314/.411. Overall, it was a disappointment to those who drafted him for the most part.
Gordon did little to wash the taste of 2007 out of the mouths of fantasy owners the next year, but lost on those owners were some positive gains he made. Gordon received 493 ABs that season, hit 35 doubles with 16 HRs and nine stolen bases, had a BB:K rate of 66:120, and posted a triple slash line of .260/.351/.432. Overall, an improvement in a few key areas. The first (and largest) improvements were his walk and strikeout rates. In 2007, Gordon walked 7.0% of the time while striking out 25.2% of the time, and in 2008, Gordon walk rate climbed to 11.8% while he shaved his strikeout rate slightly, only striking out 24.3% of the time. His walk and strikeout rates weren’t the only areas Gordon improved in, he also saw his ISO climb from .164 to .172, his LD rate rise from 19.5% to 21.0%, his GB rate drop from 36.9% to 31.4%, his FB rate increase from 43.6% to 47.6% (a positive trend for a developing power hitter), and finally, his HR/FB percentage climb slightly from 8.5% to 8.9%. Couple his increased HR/FB rate with his increased FB percentage and Gordon will hit more HRs if that trend continues.
Unfortunately for Gordon, 2009 was a lost cause. Gordon only played in 49 games for the Royals in 2009, missing a large period of time due to a hip injury, and also was demoted to the minors for a period of time. All the jerking around and the missed time due to injury makes me want to give his 2009 a pass. For that reason, looking back at the improvements from 2007 to 2008 I see reason to buy into Gordon this season at a steep discount and possibly reap the benefits of a one-time, “can’t-miss prospect.” If Gordon continues to improve, I believe a .275 BA with 25 HRs and 10-15 stolen bases is attainable. His counting numbers will depend entirely on where he is slotted in the 2010 Royals lineup, but given his upside and potential, if he is able to perform he’ll have an opportunity to move into a favorable slot for creating runs in the Royals batting order.
Seth Smith, LF, Colorado Rockies
Seth Smith is a perfect example of a player who just needs an opportunity to get regular ABs in order to be of value to fantasy owners. Currently Smith is the fourth outfielder behind Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Brad Hawpe as it stands now. That said, Hawpe has been rumored to be on the block for some time, so it is possible he could get dealt. Also considering how bad a fielder Hawpe is, it is also possible if injury were to befall Todd Helton, he could see time at first base (that’s speculation on my part).
In scanning over Seth Smith’s biography, some may be surprised to find out he was a second-round selection (number 50 selection) in 2004. Though not a top-three selection like Gordon, he was selected relatively high in the Amateur Draft, thus he was considered at the least, by Rockies scouts, to be a reasonable prospect. Smith has twice been listed in Colorado’s top ten prospects by Baseball America: seventh in 2005, and eighth in 2009.
Smith has done nothing but rake in his minor league career. Over five seasons in the minors, Smith has received 2,016 at bats and posted a BB:K of 206:358 while also putting together a .313/.379/.506 triple slash line. Smith’s Major League stats are also quite impressive. He has received 451 ABs scattered over two-plus Major League seasons (eight ABs coming in 2007, the rest coming in 2008 and 2009). In his 451 ABs, Smith has sported a triple slash line of .290/.375/.499.
The bulk of Smith’s useful minor league stats (high minors stats) have come over the course of the 2006 season (spent in Double-A) and the 2007 and 2008 seasons (spent in Triple-A and split between Triple-A and the Majors respectively). In 2006, Smith spent the entire year in Double-A Tulsa where he received 451 ABs, hit 15 HRs and 46 doubles, and recorded a BB:K rate of 51:74 and a triple slash line of .294/.361/.483. Smith spent nearly the entire 2007 season in Triple-A, save for seven games in Colorado to finish the year. He recorded 451 ABs in Colorado Springs (a notoriously hitter friendly ballpark just for disclaimer) and drilled 17 HRs along with 32 doubles while maintaining a solid BB:K of 39:73 and posting a triple slash line of .317/.381/.528. We saw more of the same from Smith in 2008 as he hit .323/.426/.524, slugging 10 HRs and 16 doubles and improving his BB:K to a one-to-one rate of 46:46 in 248 ABs in Triple-A. His reward for performing so well in Triple-A in 2008 was a permanent promotion to the Rockies.
Smith finished his 2008 campaign in Colorado receiving 108 ABs, hitting four HRs with seven doubles, posting a nice BB:K of 15:23 all while compiling a triple slash line of .259/.350/.435. His batting average left something to be desired, but given his slugging and OBP, good things appeared to be on the horizon. Smith spent the entire 2009 season with the Rockies serving as a reserve outfielder. He racked up 335 ABs and performed quite admirably given his sporadic playing time. Smith saw an expected bump from his .259/.350/.435 line in 2008 to a 2009 line of .293/.378/.510. He also made the most of his 335 ABs by slugging 15 HRs and 20 doubles while posting a solid BB:K of 46:67. Regular at-bats in 2010 could lead to a very productive season for Seth Smith. If Smith is able to receive 500-plus plate appearances, 25 HRs seem to be quite attainable, as does a nice BA in the .290-.300 range. He doesn’t offer a great deal of SB upside, but 5-8 wouldn’t be out of the question given his on-base skills. Counting numbers, like with any other hitter, will be almost entirely related to where he bats in the order. Given his patient approach and solid pop, it appears likely that if Hawpe were to be dealt (or shifted to 1B in the event of a Helton injury), a spot in the 3-5 range in the order could be in the cards, making 170-plus runs and RBIs possible.
Luke Hochevar, Starting Pitcher, Kansas City Royals
Luke Hochevar is the last of the B-Siders this week, and the highest Amateur Draft selection of the bunch as a former number one overall pick in 2006. The Royals used their top selection that season to draft the college arm from Tennessee who also spent a year playing Independant League baseball, and the team has seen little in return from its investment to date.
Hochevar began his minor league career in 2006 tossing a highly productive 16.1 IP in Single-A. Given his level of competition, the stats aren’t of great importance. Hochevar spent the 2007 season making stops at Double-A and Triple-A as well as in the Majors, where his college and indie ball skills could trully be put to the test. His numbers for the season were not particularly impressive. He threw 94 innings in Double-A, posting a 4.69 ERA (more promising 4.02 FIP), striking out 94 (9.0 K/9) while walking 26 batters (2.49 BB/9) and putting up a 1.45 WHIP. In Triple-A, Hochevar’s numbers were even less impressive as he had a 5.12 ERA (5.39 FIP), struck out 44 in 58 innings pitched (6.83 K/9) and walked 21 batters (3.26 BB/9), which in part lead to a 1.28 WHIP. Surprisingly after posting those minor league stats in 2007, the Royals aggressively promoted him to the parent squad, where he threw 12.2 innings to complete the year. Perhaps more surprising than the aggressive promotion was the success in the small sample. Hochevar only struck out five batters but was able to post a 2.13 ERA (less impressive 5.13 FIP) and a WHIP of 1.18 while inducing 63.4% GBs.
Hochevar spent the 2008 season in Triple-A for 17.1 innings pitched, and ultimately the Majors for 129.0 more innings pitched. The aggressive promotion was a bit surprising, and Hochevar struggled, posting a 5.51 ERA (4.43 FIP) while only striking out 72 (5.02 K/9), walking 47 (3.28 BB/9) and earning a 1.47 WHIP. By no means was the season a world-beater announcement that Hochevar had “arrived,” so to speak, but he did make gains in his K/9 and FIP from the cup of coffee in 2007.
A bit surprisingly, Hochevar began his 2009 season in Triple-A. While in Triple-A to open the season, Hochevar was quite dominating. He threw 48.0 innings, tossed one shutout, and posted a 1.50 ERA (less kind but still impressive 2.99 FIP) while striking out 36 batters (6.75 K/9), walking 12 (2.25 BB/9) and compiling a 1.10 WHIP. After that scorching start, Hochevar was promoted to to the Royals, where he was promptly shelled by the A’s (2.0 IP, 8 ER and 1 K for a loss).
Many presumably wrote Hochevar off. He ultimately threw 143.0 innings for the Royals to the tune of an ugly 6.55 ERA (4.84 FIP, large gap), striking out 106 (6.67 K/9) and walking 46 (2.90 BB/9) while posting a 1.49 WHIP. Just glancing at his ERA and FIP, one might think he took a step back from his 2008 season, but I believe he actually took a promising baby step forward. Hochevar was able to improve his K/9 while reducing his BB/9; unfortunately, it appears he traded some GBs for his improvement in K/9 as his GB rate went from 51.8% to 46.6%. That said, the long ball hurt Hochevar significantly more in 2009 than it had in 2008, as his HR percentage jumped from 8.7% to 13.8%. Hochevar also posted a higher BABIP against in 2009, which jumped from .310 in 2008 to .326 in 2009. Taking a look at Hochevar’s xFIP, which normalizes HR rate, would aid my argument that Hochevar made baby steps in the right direction last season as his 2008 xFIP was 4.69 and his 2009 xFIP was 4.34.
The greatest reasons for my optimism surrounding Hochevar going into 2010 stem from his second half in 2009, pitch usage and swings against. Getting past Hochevar’s ugly second half ERA (7.35), one can see a huge improvement in his strikeout rate as he struck out 80 batters in 85.2 innings as opposed to 26 strikeouts in 57.1 pre-All-Star Break innings pitched. He also improved his walk rate, only walking 26 post-All-Star Break as opposed to 20 walks pre-All-Star Break. Ron Shandler suggests Hochevar developed a splitter which helped lead to his increased strikeout rate, which is possible, but Fangraphs only shows Hochevar using said splitter 1.1% of the time. Fangraphs shows Hochevar’s money pitch to be his slider, as illustrated by his 12.9 wins above average as opposed to the 0.4 wins above average his splitter was worth. Regardless, Hochevar has appeared to find a put-away pitch, resulting in more strikeouts. Need further evidence? Take a look at his O-swing (swings outside at pitches outside the strikezone) in 2008, which stood at 23.4%, and 2009’s 25.1%. He also saw a drop in his O-contact (contact on pitches outside the strikezone) rate from 63.2% in 2008 to 57.5% in 2009. Hochevar was also able to avoid contact more in 2009, seeing his zone contact rate drop from 92.0% in 2008 to 88.8% in 2009 and his overall contact rate drop from 84.8% in 2008 to 80.4% in 2009. Thinking a little bit more about these positive developing trends, one has to remember those numbers are for the full 2008 and 2009 seasons; looking at just his 2009 second half stats likely shows an even steeper improvement given his huge leap in strikeout rate.
After a few weeks hiatus, I’m glad to be back. As we creep closer and closer to the 2010 fantasy baseball season, now is the time to keep tabs on mock drafts (the Cafe just began two) and the ADPs and MDPs of players, as they will be very important to keep in mind going into your own drafts. As is the case in any previous additions of The B-Side the players mentioned this week all have low ADPs and MDPs, and little is likely to change that before this year’s drafts. For your sake, it may be worth bumping these guys up your draft board, as they provide a chance to find a diamond in the rough during the end game of drafts and auctions. I’ll conclude this week’s addition of The B-Side by wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a prosperous fantasy baseball season. Good luck all.
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. You can now also catch me over at The Hardball Times Fantasy where I'll be contributing to Buy On The Rumor.
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