Drafting Prospects: Buyer Beware

They are so tempting. As a right of passage into each new season, rookie prospects are hyped by MLB clubs, eliciting a Pavlovian response from fantasy baseball general managers. But in six seasons of the San Francisco Road Runners Association Fantasy Baseball League, the landscape is littered with rookie roadkill. Still, there are enough success stories to keep us risking valuable draft choices on these unproven talents.

How Do We Measure a Prospect’s Success?

For our purposes, a player is considered a rookie if he appears on Baseball America’s Top 100 Rookies list in the season he is drafted in our league. In six seasons, a total of 73 players have met this criteria. Here’s a breakdown by season.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 2.45.21 PMIn our league, a rookie’s success is measured using the Z-score method which provides a way to compare the value of every player in the league. On average, rookies drafted in the SFRRC Fantasy Baseball League have finished ranked 469th. The league has a total of 416 active players, so, on average, drafted rookies haven’t reached replacement level.

Teams have invested draft choices on an average of 12.16 rookies per season. There was a drop off last season as Yahoo! provided an NA designation for players who are not active on a major league team’s roster. Each team in our league has three NA roster slots and they are primarily used for prospects.

The NA roster slots provided fantasy general managers a new strategy for adding prospects. They could be added after the draft with minimal investment. Still, some GMs preferred to invest draft picks on prospects to guarantee they would be on the team’s roster. Expect both strategies to be used again.

The Cautionary Tale of Jesus Montero

Jesus  Montero

Catcher Jesus Montero not only appeared on Baseball America’s Top 100 Rookies list in 2011 and 2012 but he was considered a “Can’t Miss” prospect. He was the No. 3 prospect in 2011 and No. 6 in 2012. Montero was traded from the Yankees to the Mariners prior to 2012 for starting pitcher Michael Pineda in a highly-publicized deal.

Carla Baughman-King and the Cys selected Montero with the team’s ninth pick in the 2011 Regular Season Draft, 218th overall. He appeared in just 18 games with the Yankees that season and finished the season ranked 784th overall. Teams expect the ninth pick in the Regular Season Draft to become a starter. Montero was released by the Cys on March 31 before the first pitch of the new MLB season had even been thrown.

In 2012, the Lower Haighters made a bigger investment in Montero, taking him with their fifth pick in the Regular Season Draft, 160th overall. He played in 135 games in Seattle, hitting .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBI but Montero had an anemic .685 OPS. He finished the season ranked 596th, far below replacement level.

Montero isn’t the only prospect to disappoint. A-Rod’s Mirrors spent the 165th pick in 2014 on Xander Bogaerts, Baseball America’s No. 2 prospect. He finished the season ranked 1,046th. Last year, High Cheese spent the 130th selection on Rusney Castillo, a Top 25 prospect, who ranked 936th as season’s end.

Mike Trout: Hooking a Big Fish

Mike  TroutTrout is the reason we keep coming back for more when it comes to investing draft choices in rookies, despite the many failed prospects. Bacon at Mile 11 hooked Trout with the 362nd pick in the 2012 draft and he finished the season as the league’s top-ranked player. It was arguably the best draft pick in league history.

But Trout isn’t alone when it comes to rookies who provided value for fantasy league GMs. Home Run 101 GM Bailey Penzotti selected Jose Abreu with her first pick in the 2014 Regular Season Draft and he finished the season with 36 homers and 107 RBI and ranked 25th. In 2011, A-Rod’s Mirrors GM Sean McKenna chose reliever Craig Kimbrel with the 234th pick and he finished with a league-high 46 saves and ranked 33rd. Kimbrel, Neftali Feliz and Trevor Rosenthal all delivered Top 50 finishes for fantasy GMs as rookies.

Prospects: A Risky Fantasy Baseball Investment

Thirty-nine of the 73 rookies drafted in the SFRRC Fantasy Baseball League over the past six seasons have finished the season at, or above, replacement level. Only seven have returned Keeper Level value.

It’s tempting for GMs to draft prospects and add them to the NA roster slots after the draft to guarantee they’ll have them on the roster. The question is, how soon do you pull the trigger? Eight rookies have been picked in the first five rounds of the Regular Season Draft, finishing the season with an average ranking of 394. Another 12 rookies have been drafted between the 5th and 10th rounds of the Regular Season Draft, finishing with an average ranking of 375th.

When the bell rings to start the draft on March 21, you’ll have to decide how much to invest in prospects. You can use a precious draft pick to possibly build for the future or you can wait and add prospects as free agents. Both strategies are a risky proposition.

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