Fantasy baseball lessons: Drafting rookies

by Tim Heaney on February 1, 2010 @ 00:00:00 PDT


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Are the kids always all right? Sometimes you have to ask, Who are you? When picking out the rookies and big-time prospects who can help you the most during your fantasy baseball season, you have to be a seeker.

The 2009 campaign offered many hyped youngsters for Major League Baseball. Hype doesn't always translate to yearlong production, and you shouldn't pass on more stable options to take a risk on youth when building your team's core. Don't waste an important pick on someone who might not even suit up for half the season.

Remember: Not all rookies are created equal. In fact, last year's class was quite the cast of characters:

The Next Big Arm: Tampa Bay Rays SP David Price

Price teased all of us with his 2008 postseason performance but fell on his face for the most part last year. He wasn't rushed to the big club immediately and joined in May. He delivered just 10 wins and battled control problems, giving moderate returns for what he was being drafted as.

The Next Big Bat: Baltimore Orioles C Matt Wieters

Wieters commanded middle-round value in many single-year drafts for mixed leagues this past season but didn't hit the majors until late May. It pains us that many owners were comfortable sitting on him for two months while trying to account for other weak areas of their team. Sure, he found a groove late in the season, but not until after he went .259-3-10 before the All-Star break.

Now, in cavernous, two-catcher formats, you could've waited him out, but you're still setting yourself back if you enter the season relying on someone who may or may not come up.

On the cusp: Atlanta Braves SP Tommy Hanson and St. Louis Cardinals OF Colby Rasmus

Tampa Bay Rays SP David Price
The Price was wrong in '09

In this past year's Fantasy Sports Trade Association challenge (which I eventually won), Hanson (Atlanta Braves) entered KFFL's squad with the 295th pick. Note the high number. This was a 14-team, 29-player mixed league - not your normal format - and as a pitcher he wasn't taking up an everyday lineup spot.

In that same draft, Wieters went at the 147th overall pick. The investment in Hanson was far less taxing than taking Wieters as a first catcher.

Before 2009, Hanson had pitched two full seasons in the minors from Single-A to Double-A. The Braves gave him 11 starts at Triple-A before giving him the call. This pace was a bit accelerated, but the price was right for fantasy owners.

Rasmus often went for similar investment to Hanson's, often as a late-rounder. The lefty bat's .251-16-52 line wasn't much of a deterrent, and he saw ample playing time throughout the year in which he turned 23, in August.

Don't forget about us: Pittsburgh Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen and Tampa Bay Rays SP Jeff Niemann

He was handled with extreme care, spending nearly two seasons' worth of action at Triple-A between 2007 and 2009. Like Hanson, he came up at age 22 and turned into a Rookie of the Year candidate (.286-12-54 with 22 swipes). Lo and behold, I picked McCutchen off the waiver wire a little while before he was called up.

Niemann took a similarly slow path, spending two full seasons at Triple-A because of Tampa Bay's organizational pitching depth. As a 26-year-old rookie, he was polished enough to make a difference immediately.

Thrown into the fire: Detroit Tigers SP Rick Porcello and Texas Rangers SS Elvis Andrus

A 20-year-old Porcello altered his approach and took advantage of holes in Detroit's rotation to turn into a popular pickup. His K's took a hit because he wasn't throwing as much hard stuff anymore, but he learned efficiency and notched 14 wins.

Atlanta Braves SP Tommy Hanson
MMMBop: Hanson was a cheap hit

Andrus came into the year as Texas' starter also in his 20th year on this planet. He was put in a low-pressure situation in Arlington, mainly for his glove; they hit him ninth and considered whatever he gave them offensively a bonus. His draft price wasn't unreasonable, and those who stuck with him in deep leagues were rewarded with 33 thieveries and 72 runs scored - great return for his price.

If you chased rookies and came up empty, don't get fooled again. Here's how to handle rookies during draft season:

  • Place your target rookie into one of the above classifications and analyze the skills he has shown. Has he done it against solid competition? How big is the sample size? Look for any statistical patterns that could yield positive or negative outlooks.
  • Examine the team's current situation at the prospect's position; how they've brought the prospect along; and their plans for him that season. Will he be fast-tracked? Does the team have a need at the position? Are they rebuilding? Will they let the player learn on the job? Andrus was given a shot immediately, which made him worth taking a stab at as an MI in deep leagues. With Wieters and Price, you knew you'd have to wait to see ROI.
  • Heading into single-year formats, avoid spending anything more than a late-round pick or value bid on a rookie. There are so few Evan Longoria-types that make a huge impact immediately.
  • Expect more draft-day clamor over prospects and rookies in single-universe formats as opposed to mixed setups. In turn, expect their prices to climb.
  • Don't forget about rookies on the post-draft waiver wire, which last year often included the Florida Marlins' Chris Coghlan, the Colorado Rockies' Dexter Fowler, the Cleveland Indians' Matt LaPorta and the Milwaukee Brewers' Casey McGehee. Find the gems hidden beneath the hype.

For more news from and observations of offseason action, check out's fantasy baseball blogs and MLB Hot off the Wire!

Don't forget: More fantasy baseball lessons are on the way!

Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove, in which we give the rotisserie spin on notable MLB transactions, is coming soon!

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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