This week’s bunch of B-Siders share a common characteristic that is uncommon amongst most: they are all left-handed. While it is an interesting common characteristic, what should be more interesting to fantasy baseball gamers is that each of these three individuals will also likely share another characteristic: they will likely attract little or no interest come fantasy drafts for the 2010 season. In looking at the ADP of these three players on Mock Draft Central, not one is among the top 400 players listed. While it’s early in the off-season, the lack of interest to date indicates that the three players listed below are likely to come at quite a cheap price.
John Bowker, 1B/LF/RF, San Francisco Giants
John Bowker is a hitter who has not had much fanfare coming up in the Giants system, and has at best been viewed as a fringe top-10 prospect in the organization. Bowker appears to have successfully navigated his way through the minors and should receive an opportunity to play regularly for the Giants this season.
Bowker has a career triple slash line of .301/.369/.489 in 2,081 minor league ABs. He really began illustrating some offensive prowess in 2007 at the Double-A level as a member of the Connecticut Defenders, whose home ballpark, Dodd Stadium, is one that is quite favorable for pitchers. In spite of playing half his games in a pitcher’s park, Bowker was able to slug 22 HRs in 522 ABs while posting a triple slash line of .307/.363/.523. His walk to strikeout rate that year was 41:103, which was not spectacular, but at the least demonstrated he was willing to occasionally take a walk and that he was relatively good at making contact.
In 2008, Bowker spent his time between Triple-A and the Majors. His numbers were nothing spectacular, but offered some hope for future growth. Bowker received 326 at bats for the Giants that season. In those 326 ABs, he was able to slug 10 HRs, with a triple slash line of .255/.300/.408 while posting a slightly discouraging 19:74 walk to strikeout rate.
2009 saw Bowker spend much of the season in Triple-A playing for the Fresno Grizzlies while also receiving 67 at bats for the Giants. Bowker received 366 ABs in Triple-A, slugging 21 HRs as well as another 25 extra base hits, posting a triple slash line of .342/.451/.596, good for an OPS of 1.047. Perhaps more impressive than the preceding stats for Bowker was his improved patience: he posted a walk-to-strikeout rate of 74:64. Bowker’s 67 ABs for the Giants were certainly not as impressive, but given the sporadic playing time and the small sample size, there is certainly reason for optimism going into the 2010 season.
Bowker’s ability to play both corner outfield positions as well as first base should help him in his quest to earn a starting spot for the Giants this season. The Giants have yet to land a bat this off-season, and it remains to be seen who they sign and what position that player plays. The most likely scenario for the Giants puts at least one corner outfield position or first base up for grabs come spring training. The fact that Hensley Meulens, who was Bowker’s 2008 hitting coach in Fresno, has been named as the new hitting coach for the Giants, helps Bowker’s chances for more playing time and ABs. Assuming Bowker is able to get 500 ABs this coming season, it is very plausible that he could slug 20-25 HRs. His solid contact rate in the upper minors also suggests he is capable of hitting .300 once he adjusts to major-league pitching. Given the lack of exciting slugging options, and given his improved ability to reach base via the walk, it is conceivable that Bowker may be given the opportunity to hit in a favorable run-producing spot in the Giants lineup. If everything works out for Bowker this year, then a line of 80-25-85-.300 with 6-8 stolen bases would seem to be possible.
Marc Rzepczynski, Starting Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
Marc Rzepczynski entered 2009 as the ninth-ranked prospect in the Blue Jays organization, according to Baseball America, and this placed him behind two other pitchers who debuted for the Blue Jays in 2009, Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil. Of the three, Rzepczynski appears to be the most interesting in the short term and, perhaps, the long term as well. Rzepczynski is a left-handed pitcher who has shown, in his minor league career and in his limited Major League exposure, that he can rack up a ton of ground balls and a high number of strikeouts. However, the biggest concern for Rzepczynski is his walk rate.
In 254.2 career minor league innings pitched, Rzepcynski has compiled a 2.75 ERA (never posting an FIP above 2.81 at any stop) and a 1.25 WHIP while posting 3.5 BB/9 and 9.8 K/9. Thanks in large part to his ground ball-inducing ways, he allowed only five home runs in the minors. Rzepczynski has quickly moved through the Blue Jays system as he began his career in 2007, pitching in short-season Single-A directly after he finished his senior season of college baseball. In 2008, Rzepczynski spent the entire season in Single-A. Last year, Rzepczynski began the season in Double-A for 14 starts and then was promoted to Triple-A for two starts and ultimately finished the season with the Blue Jays for 11 more starts.
Looking at Rzepcynski’s numbers in Double-A this past season, it is clear he does have some issues with walking hitters, as he posted a 4.2 BB/9. However, it is also clear in looking at his K/9 in Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors, 10.3/12.7/8.8, respectively, that he has good strikeout capability. What may be equally impressive to his strikeout rate is his career minor league GB rate, which stands at 63.8% (according to Fangraphs). While Rzepcynski only threw 61.1 innings for the Blue Jays in 2009, he showed he has what it takes to be a major-league pitcher He posted a 3.67 ERA (4.14 FIP, 3.70 XFIP) with a 1.32 WHIP, while posting a 4.4 BB/9 and an 8.8 K/9. While the walk rate is a bit concerning, particularly in the rough and tumble AL East, it is something that may be corrected with work.
Starting pitchers who are able to induce a large number of ground balls and rack up strikeouts are amongst the best type to draft in fantasy baseball since they are most able to limit the damage of a few hitters by keeping the ball in the ballpark. For that reason, Rzepcynski is a player that fantasy baseball managers should want to include on their rosters in 2010. While pitching in the AL East is a daunting task for anyone, an extreme GB pitcher (51.2% in the Majors) with his K-rate has the arsenal to not only get by, but to succeed with regularity. Rzepcynski threw 149.1 innings between his three stops last year, so most likely he will have his innings monitored to some degree. A reasonable expectation is for him to reach 150-170 innings. If he’s able to reach that level, Rzepcynski could strike out 140-150 batters while maintaining a tolerable WHIP in the mid-1.30s and an ERA under 4.00. If he’s able to reduce his walk rate in 2010, he could be a guy who posts an ERA around 3.50 and a WHIP in the 1.28-1.32 range as opposed to the high 1.30s.
Gio Gonzalez, Starting Pitcher, Oakland Athletics
Most fantasy owners are aware of Gio Gonzalez. Those who have rostered him during stretches of his 132.2 innings pitched in the Majors are well aware of the strikeout ability (9.7 K/9) but wary of his career 6.24 ERA and 5.5 BB/9.
Gonzalez career minor-league numbers paint the picture of a pitcher who can at times be dominant but inconsistent. Gonzalez has pitched 676.1 innings in his minor league career. He has compiled a 3.54 career ERA, 1.26 WHIP and a BB/9 of 4.0 with a K/9 of 10.3. Gonzalez has bounced around organizations from the White Sox, to the Phillies, back to the White Sox and most recently, to the A’s. Gonzalez has spent the past two seasons splitting time between Triple-A and the Majors for the Oakland A’s.
In 2008, Gonzalez threw 123 innings in Sacramento for Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate and 34 innings in the Majors. In his 123 innings pitched in Triple-A, Gonzalez posted a 4.24 ERA (3.92 FIP), with a 1.36 WHIP and a BB/9 of 4.5 and K/9 of 9.4. By no means were his numbers staggering, but his FIP illustrated a pitcher who was a bit better than his ERA showed, and his K/9 showed him to be a promising strikeout artist. Gonzalez struggled in his 34 innings for the A’s, posting a 7.68 ERA (7.04 FIP), 1.68 WHIP, 6.6 BB/9 and 9.0 K/9.
Gonzalez began 2009 in Triple-A and showed some improvement. He only threw 61 innings before being recalled by the A’s, but was able to bump his K/9 up to 10.5 and lower his ERA and FIP to 2.51 and 3.76. After receiving the promotion, Gonzalez posted some ugly numbers that masked certain interesting underlying stats. In his 98.2 innings pitched, Gonzalez had a 46.1% GB rate while posting a 9.9 K/9 rate. If Gonzalez is able to carry over his GB-rate and K-rate to next season while reducing his walk-rate, he should be a pitcher of interest. As much as the walks hurt Gonzalez last year, an insanely high, and unsustainable .369 BABIP plagued him. Assuming a reduction in BABIP closer to .300 and improvements in control, Gonzalez could be a very cheap source of strikeouts.
Considering Gonzalez has thrown more than 150 innings in each of the past four years, it is likely that with good health and success he’ll likely be allowed to pitch around 170 innings. Keeping in mind his home ball park, he should be able to limit the number of home runs allowed, which in turn should help his ERA. At first blush, Gonzalez appears to be the AL’s bayside version of Jonathan Sanchez. Though Gonzalez pitches in a less friendly league for pitchers, it is possible he could post numbers that fall in between Sanchez 2008-2009 campaigns. While those aren’t staggering numbers, if he’s able to post 165-170 Ks, that may be enough to tolerate an ERA in the 4.35-4.45 range, with a WHIP in the 1.36-1.40 range. While not highly likely, it is possible for him to make large strides with his control this season, and if that’s the case, coupled with his favorable K/9 rate, Gonzalez could be a very good starter this year. Although it would be foolish to predict a massive leap in production, the thought of some progression with the possibility of a great deal of progression would seem to make him a speculative pick late in the draft(s).
Another week of searching for potential late-round targets who can yield positive output for the 2010 season will hopefully result in some success. Those compiling cheat sheets for their drafts for the 2010 season hopefully have some new names to keep in mind, or perhaps some names to bump up their rankings. Keep checking back as I continue my attempts to unearth some 2010 fantasy baseball gems in The B-Side.
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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