Differences in player evaluation are critical to baseball, baseball management, and as such, fantasy baseball.
Imagine a world in which we all valued players in the exact same way. Trading would be thrown out the window – why would anyone trade players who are more successful for those who aren’t in the here and now? Or conversely, why would anyone move potential for aging veterans if every player focused completely on youth and upside?
Furthermore – consider drafting.
The mystery and excitement are destroyed – it’s simply players being assigned based on either random chance or the previous year’s finish.
Fortunately, we all favor players differently for one reason, another, or a clumsily hob-globbing of rationales. No matter the reason, I’m glad we all value players differently, because this gives way to potential value – and those values are the key to winning leagues.
With the MLB Draft only hours away now, I’ve assembled a group of prospects who I am higher on than the consensus and plan to share the rationale behind their higher placement in my FYPD Rankings than other sources’.
A particular source I would love to amplify is the incredible work of Tieran Alexander, whose titanic Top Draft Prospects article is over 200,000 words of juicy analysis well worth your time. Great work, Tieran.
I feel like I’ve been sitting front row on the Kumar Rocker bandwagon for some time now, and those who have followed my Twitter are well aware I believe him to be a first-round talent. This is as good a time as any to take my belief a step further – Kumar Rocker is the best pitcher available in this year’s draft.
The elephant in the MLB front office draft rooms will likely be one that plagues fantasy managers, as well – just what was the rationale behind Rocker’s failure to sign with the New York Mets following his selection at 1.10? There’s still fog around the situation, but from my reading up on the matter, Rocker’s UCL was damaged, but not to the degree it may have been rumored, but a series of PRP injections hidden from the Mets pre-draft was the issue. News of a September 2021 shoulder surgery might worry others, but I feel refreshed knowing the issues he faced were hopefully resolved.
Obviously, there is injury history, and without proper recovery, Rocker’s right arm does have inherent risk – maybe even equal risk – baked into the tantalizing talent we saw at Vanderbilt (and across a series of measured starts for the independent Tri-City Valley Cats). The 22-year-old Rocker has one of the nastiest breaking balls in the entire class in his plus-plus slider, an absolute banger sitting in the mid-80s with biting arm-side movement. The best evidence of the nastiness of the pitch was his 2019 Super Regional no-hitter against the Duke Blue Devils, in which he tallied 19 punchouts, each by way of the slider. The effectiveness of his fastball is variant upon both the shape of the pitch and the fluctuant velocity at which it’s thrown. For what it’s worth, the pitch sat 94-96 over his summer starts for the Valley Cats.
Rocker’s got professionally-athletic bloodlines in a draft full of them, a big, physical frame capable of handling innings through his career, and a track record of success I would describe as undeniably stellar. I may be naïve to think his UCL health swings upwardly, but I trust the talent, the track record, and the quality of the pitches. With the guidance of a professional team, I like the odds of Rocker’s stuff improving, his health stabilizing, and the long-discussed and lofty upside being realized. He’ll come into my MLB Top Prospects rankings higher than former Vanderbilt teammate Jack Leiter, for what it’s worth.
Another player I pseudo-teased on Twitter is Jeric Curtis, an 18-year-old Texas Tech commit with 80-grade speed. Curtis first jumped out to me and off the screen during the MLB Combine, flashing his trademark speed in addition to a great level of maturity in his interactions with not only his peers but hosts and former major leaguers Harold Reynolds and Adam Jones.
As I described, Curtis is one of the quickest players available in the draft but is not without some power potential. A patient team with experience guiding young hitters towards their peak potential would be an idealistic landing spot for Curtis, as his final form could be the ever-elusive and beautiful blend of pop and his lightning-fast speed fantasy players adore.
Curtis’ bat speed is similarly quick, and his maturity shines through again in his efforts to improve at the plate over the last year. As is, Jeric Curtis seems a prototypical leadoff hitter, capable of bunting onto first and creating stolen-base opportunities for himself.
With his 6’0”, 165-pound frame and bat-speed in mind, Curtis seems a lock to grow into average (or greater?) power. His defense will be plus based upon his speed in centerfield, but defensively, he has good instincts and a fine arm for the position.
For the here and now, I can’t advocate taking Curtis in the first (or second) rounds of your First-Year Player Drafts, but the tools are certainly here for a third round or later selection in such drafts.
Had you asked me to name the few best college baseball pitchers within the first month of the NCAA season, one name I absolutely would have answered is Landon Sims. Actually, Sims probably had a grasp on his position within this hypothetically regarded group at the end of the 2021 season – recall that Sims dominated the field in Omaha as the Mississippi State Bulldogs’ closer. Regardless, though, Sims entered the ’22 campaign with a newly-secured spot in the weekend starters’ rotation for the defending champions.
Over the ‘21-’22 seasons, Sims posted a 1.38 ERA alongside eye-popping 46.7% strikeout and 6.3% walk rates. Most puzzlingly of all, Sims accomplished these incredible figures with two pitches and exceptional, perhaps even best-in-class command of his arsenal. Even still, Landon Sims is a two-pitch pitcher, and this is a specific sub-genre of pitcher I’ve panned previously (and will probably pan again in the future). The key difference between Sims and other pitchers with limited arsenals is the collaboration between his two plus pitches – locating the nasty, mid-90s fastball on the same side of the zone as his spin-centric, whiff-tastic slider from his unique release point induces called strikes against left-handed batters and whiffs opposite righties.
Playing up to Mississippi State’s mascot, Sims is a true bulldog on the mound and fills the zone with strikes. Alexander wisely asserts this could lead to a high contact rate (and even home run rate) in the major leagues based upon the level of world-class hit tools collected in the big leagues who could feast upon the pitches in the zone, and seems to be set that Sims won’t ever truly establish a third pitch. Even still, he and I indirectly agree Sims makes sense as a starting pitcher at the next level, but as I’ve said many times, his stuff is absolutely filthy and in the ‘worst-case scenario,’ would play a familiar role for Sims – a back-end bully who blazes by hitters as a top-notch closer.
The debate on which prospect available in the draft is the best is one not missed on me personally – Wesleyan centerfielder Druw Jones, covered in talent and ripe with major-league bloodlines is certainly the popular choice, though either the immaculate hit tool and projectible instincts of Termarr Johnson or what some may consider ‘boom or bust’ potential of Elijah Green may give him a run for his money.
Regardless of who your choice for ‘best’ is, there are certainly comparable tools to be had later in the draft and wise teams could end up with a similar profile at a considerable cost discount. Illinois State outfielder Ryan Cermak is one such player, equipped with four plus tools and a fifth (hit) which is still above average and has shown significant improvement in the 2022 season.
Cermak’s game is based on his plus raw power and plus-plus speed (he was clocked at 4.1 seconds to first), cementing him as another prospect with the toolsy 20-20 potential fantasy players dream of in a draft ripe with them near the top of the class. His hyper-kinesthetic approach to the game allows him not only to be a strong, fast player but one with a strong arm and matching strong instincts in center field, as well. Long-term, Cermak’s looking like a sure bet to remain in centerfield, as well, as he took MVC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2021 and 2022.
The tool with the least amount of shine is Cermak’s hit tool, which has improved over his 2022 season, but will still be the deciding factor in just how good of a piece he can be for fantasy teams in the future. While Cermak has mitigated a concern about the amount of swing-and-miss to his plate method, he’s tracking pitches better with a more relaxed approach this season. There’s a clear effort to Cermak’s swing, but chasing fewer pitches permits him to get to his plus power. This strength, combined with his bat speed and natural leverage allows Cermak to drive the ball off the bat in a pull-heavy way which will naturally incur strikeouts against the best collection of pitching in baseball.
My initial research on the 21-year-old was met with equal parts shock and revelation – this player could truly be impactful and may be available in the third round for MLB executives. Yet, Cermak set Illinois State records with four homers in four consecutive plate appearances, plus a 10-RBI game in April. The Redbirds have seen Paul DeJong (fourth round, 2015) and Owen Miller (third round, 2018) selected recently, but I prefer Cermak’s insanely stocked toolkit and think he’s a good bet to be the most productive big-leaguer of the trio.
I’m not opposed to Cermak as a second-round selection in FYPDs for the moment, and fully expect to be the high man in the industry on his talent and projection, which could be a 20 HR, 10 SB bat at a premium position. Should Cermak be drafted to an organization with a knack for developing these strong, multi-faceted athletes, however, all bets are off.