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“Tranquilo” – Reflecting on Defense and MiLB Shortstops

The fantasy baseball community has always been a numbers oriented crowd, and the analytic approach has been further cemented in the wake of the sabermetric revolution. In the words of Jay-Z, “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t,” and the value of metrics is a universally accepted within baseball. But with prospects numbers carry limited to no value. 

What MLB evaluators are looking for is players with projectable tools on the diamond. The five tools that scouts evaluate are: hit for average, hit for power, running, fielding, and arm strength. Very rarely does a player come around that can do it all and those are the guys that everyone is looking for.

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Found this in the dictionary next to “Five-Tool Player”

Fantasy owners have a different outlook than professional scouts because we are focused exclusively on the offensive side of the baseball. Fantasy owners are collecting statistics and the only way to do that is by getting at-bats.It doesn’t matter to fantasy owners if a player is a good defender but it should.

 

MLB teams are looking to win baseball games and defense is an important part of the game.  Fantasy owners are collecting statistics and the only way to do that is by getting at-bats. For prospects, playing quality defense is a great way they earn those opportunities. 

There are very few guys that hit major league pitching from day one. Almost everyone has a learning curve as they find a way carve out their roster spot. There are exceptions but usually, it doesn’t happen overnight. A player that hits consistently will find his way into the lineup, but when he’s in a slump it is his glove that will keep getting him the at-bats he needs to prove himself.

 Yes, player’s offensive tools are why we invest in prospects as fantasy owners. We’re hunting for the next young guy that will carry our team to a championship, and that potential is rooted in a player’s hit, run, and power tools. But defense matters. When was the last time you heard of a DH prospect? 

One example to consider is Xander Bogaerts. 19076931-mmmainWhen he first was called up he played third base. It was what the Red Sox needed at the time and his defense earned him at-bats. Since then, he’s, of course, moved back home to shortstop, but it was his defensive ability and versatility that gave him the first opportunity to prove himself. Bogaerts’ story isn’t the first time it’s happened and it surely won’t be the last. 

So if defense is a necessary consideration when deciding who to select in the MiLB draft, what types of players should we target?

The best place to invest your prospect capital is in bat-first shortstops. Why? Well because there are positional options to fall back on if those players don’t live up to defensive expectations of an MLB shortstop.

As a failed shortstop prospect, the most common options are to move to either second base or the hot corner. This all depends on the player’s physical abilities and body type. Smaller framed players with less power or a weaker throwing arm usually move to the keystone while the less agile, power-oriented hitters will shift over to third base.

There is also another route that was paved by Montgomery Biscuits v Pensacola Blue WahoosBilly Hamilton and followed by Roman Quinn. Both these speedsters were drafted as shortstops but moved off of the position to centerfield to maximize the defensive utility of their elite speed. Jorge Mateo (NYY) and Franklin Barreto (OAK) are two current prospects that may be next in line to take this path.

What fantasy owners need to beware of is defense-only shortstops. They are highly valued by MLB front offices but useless for fantasy owners. This is the Jose Iglesias model: a plus, plus defender that can’t hit for average or power. But, his defense keeps him in the lineup on a daily basis.

There are always shortstop prospects that fit this mold. mlbf_953552283_th_45One current example is Alfredo Rodriguez (CIN) who the Reds signed out of Cuba last January. He earned a huge signing bonus because of his plus defensive ability but he’s an extremely raw hitter. Rodriguez is highly regarded and the Reds see him as a future MLB shortstop, but his lack of offense renders him irrelevant to the fantasy community.  

It is important to identify these players before blindly selecting shortstops on draft day. Loading your MiLB roster with shortstops is a strong move but can’t just look at a Top 100 prospect list and draft away. Research and consideration of the player’s full set of tools are absolutely necessary.

A peculiar case in the prospect pipeline right now is JP Crawford.Crawford_0nux92xb_lelxfddf Crawford is highly ranked in all of the baseball industries Top 100 prospect lists and viewed as a potential franchise cornerstone for the Phillies. However, his fantasy value doesn’t reflect that ranking.  A blind fantasy owner may look down the Top 100 list on draft day, see JP Crawford available, and draft him on that.

Crawford’s defense is recognized as one of the stronger aspects of his game. He has the offensive tools to shine but hasn’t put it all together yet. The profile makes him a lower risk, lower reward prospect investment. He’ll likely need some time before he is comfortable against MLB pitching, but his glove will get him those at-bats for the Phillies even if the bat struggles at first.

JP Crawford differs from guys like Jose Iglesias and Alfredo Rodriguez because he possesses offensive potential. He is, however, still a work in progress and defense is his carrying tool at this point in his career. He’s a much better investment than someone like Alfredo Rodriguez but pales in comparison to bat-first studs like Amed Rosario (NYM) or Brendan Rodgers (COL).

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A player’s defensive ability is a necessary consideration for fantasy owners when evaluating prospects. As we should, we always focus on the offensive tools first because they are what drives a prospect’s fantasy value. But defense is essential to a player’s ability carve out a job in the big leagues. 

The best MiLB targets are bat-first shortstops. A bat that projects future fantasy value is always a top priority and, if he’s a current shortstop, he’ll have the athletic ability to move to another position if necessary.  Drafting a corner infielder or outfield isn’t the end of the world, but it puts a lot more pressure on that player’s bat if his defense fails.

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(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday April 16th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #83 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will be previewing the coming week’s key matchups and discussing key fantasy information.

Our guests this week are Lenny Melnick and Kyle Klinker. Kyle is an MLFB champion and a veteran of MLFS leagues. Lenny is an FSWA Hall of Famer, the co-host of the Sunday morning fantasy sports show from 7-10am EST with Craig Mish on Sirius, and the owner of lennymelnickfantasysports.com. Check his shows out on his site every morning through out the week at 9am EST.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

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(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday April 23rd, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #84 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will be previewing the coming week’s key matchups and discussing key fantasy information.

Our guests this week are Andy Macuga and Ron Shandler. Andy is the head football and baseball coach for Borrego Springs H.S. in southern California. Ron is a FSTA Hall of Famer and a fantasy baseball pioneer.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

Native Mainer. Ski the East. I enjoy dynasty league formats and am partial to Latin American prospects. Currently living in the Dominican Republic.

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