Change is coming. Will you be ready?
It's a long season. Players get traded. Some lose their positions to youngsters from the minor leagues. This is the first installment in a new column "The Replacements Are Coming", where we at Moxyball talk about future big league transactions that will have considerable fantasy baseball impact. Get ahead of your league mates by having this information before they've even thought about it.
Situation #1: Chicago Cubs, Second Base
Enter 22 year old Arismendy Alcantara. One of my favourite lesser-known prospects heading into the year, Alcantara is poised to make his debut and take over for the incumbent Barney. He’s having a strong year in AAA, batting .290 with 8 HR, 18 SB, 33 RBI and 51 Runs in 74 games. The one thing I’d like to see more from him is to increase his walk rate, as he’s only taken 20 free passes against 69 Ks so far this year. In 2013 he had a 62:125 K:BB ratio, which is respectable for a young hitter. This is usually a skill that develops over time, so we can expect him to work on this as he becomes more experienced at the MLB level. Simply put, it’s time for the Cubs to turn the keys over to Alcantara so he can get his feet wet at the major league level and show he belongs. Frankly, I’m surprised this hasn’t yet happened – but it’s only a matter of time he gets the call. He should be starting at 2B for the Cubs by the end of July at the absolute latest and has top 10 2B in fantasy once he arrives.
2014 rest of season projections: 65 GP, 6 HR, 9 SB, 32 RBI, 35 Runs, .258 AVG
2015 full season projections: 148 GP, 14 HR, 21 SB, 55 RBI, 72 Runs, .262 AVG
Situation #2: Chicago Cubs, Starting Rotation
Let’s stay with the Cubs but shift to the starting rotation. They have 2 players who are both having great years and don’t appear to be in the long term picture for Chicago. Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. Both pitchers have been mentioned in all kinds of trade rumours the last number of weeks, and it’s really just a matter of time before they both are toeing the rubber for new teams. Once they leave the Windy City, the Cubs will need to fill the void in the rotation. It remains to be seen what and who they will get back in any potential trade, but it’s safe to say they are more than likely to look within their own system for starters.
There are two names for deep leaguers to keep an eye on. One is a familiar pitcher who has been around for a number of years, Carols Villanueva. At this point in his career, we know what we can expect with him. He’ll change speeds, eat innings and be a steady option to roll out every fifth day. He’s not going to be must-add material in most leagues if the Cubs turn to him for a starter’s role, but in 14+ team formats and NL-only leagues, he will have value. He’s not having a great year out of the bullpen thus far (5.95 ERA) but his FIP of 3.57 (over 2 runs less!) tells us he’s due for a turnaround. Expect an ERA in the low 4s, with about a 6 K/9 and WHIP in the 1.25 range.
The second name is Kyle Hendricks (not to be confused with Kyle Kendrick), who more than likely is not someone you’re too familiar with. A 24 year old righty, he was drafted in 2011 in the 8th round by the Rangers before being dealt to the Cubs in 2012 as a part of the Ryan Dempster trade. He’s worked his way through the minors since coming over, and is on the cusp of a promotion to the majors later this year. He keeps walks in check (2.13 BB/9 in 2014) and is striking batters out at a solid clip (8.32 K/9). His ERA (3.55) this year is higher than his FIP (2.94) as a result of a high BABIP (.312) and low strand rate (63.8%). He profiles as more of a control pitcher and uses his feel for pitching to get hitters out. He averages about 90 mph with his fastball, but can dial it up to 94 when he needs to. He’s got a 5 pitch arsenal: 4 seam, 2 seam, cutter, curve and change (his best pitch). I’m a big fan of prospects that have a great feel for pitching and rely on this skill more than raw “stuff” – which is certainly the case for Hendricks. He’s not a high upside guy that many fantasy managers look for, but he’s a high-floor prospect that should have success at the major league level when he gets his shot. He could get a cup of coffee this year, but more than likely his time will come in mid-2015. He’s a nice target for deep keeper and dynasty leagues as a potential 12 game winner with a high 3s ERA, 6 K/9 and sub 1.25 WHIP.
Situation #3: Colorado Rockies, Closer & Set-Up Roles
I talked about the Rockies 9th inning situation in another article recently, but it’s worth coming back to in more detail. There really is no way Hawkins can continue to over-achieve (he’s not striking anyone out and is getting crazy amounts of luck from his .247 BABIP) let alone stay with the Rockies through the end of the year. He’s making a trade-friendly $2.5M this year and has a club option for 2015 for the same should whatever team he plays for at the time decide to exercise it. It’s a solid contract from a trade perspective and the Rockies shouldn’t have an issue moving him at the deadline to a team in need of some veteran bullpen help. It just won’t be to a team that needs a 9th inning shutdown closer.
Rex Brothers is having a down year in Colorado, but has the skills to close and will get the first crack to do so once Hawkins is no longer in town. Adam Ottavino and a couple other veterans are also in the picture, but this really should be Brothers’ job once the opportunity presents itself. My money is on him holding it once he gets his shot, but he could have a short leash considering his propensity for walking guys (career 4.86 BB/9). He has a great arm and a fantasy-friendly K rate (10.75 career K/9) so obviously fantasy managers are hoping he can run away with the closer’s role. He could be a 100 K, 35 save, sub 3.5 ERA guy – which would undoubtedly make him a top 10 fantasy closer. But he isn’t without his warts. So – who should you have your eye on in case he falters?
Current relievers on the Rockies that could be next in line are Ottavino (as mentioned above), Tommy Kahnle, Matt Belisle or maybe even Franklin Morales. Kahnle is probably the next best option right now, as he’s sporting a 1.0 WAR and 7 K/9 with solid ratios. But he doesn’t have the same pedigree as Chad Bettis, who I think is the perfect dark horse candidate to take over in the 9th as early as 2015. Bettis has a fantastic arm, with a 4 seam fastball that can reach up to 99 mph and a hard slider that averages 89 mph, to go along with a 90 mph changeup. He wasn’t able to stick as a starter, and has bounced back and forth between the majors and minors the last couple years as a bullpen arm. He’s starting to get his feet back under him in AAA with 23 Ks, and a 1.27 ERA in his last 21.1 innings. His arm is a huge asset for the Rockies and he is a great deep sleeper to keep your eye on once he gets back to the majors later this year and into 2015.
Sources: Brooksbaseball.net, Fangraphs.com, Baseballreference.com, Yahoo.com
Have anything to add? Want to speak your mind? Keep the conversation going by posting a comment below!