The merits of drafting early in the draft season and later in the draft season are completely different. Fantasy baseball owners drafting two weeks ago carried an inherently higher injury risk (ask anyone that drafted Kris Medlen or Jarrod Parker) than those that draft this weekend or the next. Fantasy baseball owners drafting in the next couple of weeks will have to pay a premium for certain players that might have had received good news so far in Spring Training.
Paying a premium based on Spring Training news is just a fact of every fantasy baseball season. Two rookies that have received some good news in the last couple of days are Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura and Chicago White Sox third baseman Matt Davidson.
Signed as a free agent back in 2008, the 22-year-old Ventura has cut his teeth in the minor leagues. Over the last five seasons, Ventura has managed 415.1 innings and 81 starts going from rookie ball to Triple-A last year. He made it to Kansas City halfway through September last year and made three starts for the team.
The excitement over this rookie is about his power arm. Rising from Single-A to Triple-A between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Ventura had 285 strikeouts in 244 innings. His fastball can top 100 MPH when he wants to but is consistently in the high-90s. He throws a change-up and a curveball with it, but at times his secondary pitches aren’t as effective as they need to be. In a good scouting report from Mike Podhorzer over at FanGraphs, he explains that Ventura generated just a 5.9-percent SwingingStrike percentage on his curveball in those three starts. For reference, two guys with pretty good curveballs in Adam Wainwright and A.J. Burnett last year had SwStr-percentages of 15-percent and 20.9-percent respectively.
Ventura does have an absolutely electric arm, though. Even if he can get wild at times, a career BB/9 mark of 3.1 in the minor leagues isn’t a crushingly-high number. If he can limit the free passes, it could make those times when batters do square up a 99 MPH fastball a little bit easier to stomach.
What to do on draft day
With the news that he will be the fifth pitcher in the rotation coming out of camp, it’s pretty fair to say that the Average Draft Position (ADP) of Ventura is going to rise. The ADP tracker over at Fantasy Pros has Ventura going off as the 84th starting pitcher in drafts. This means he’s being drafted in most 15-team mixed leagues as it is, and probably taken as a flier on someone’s bench in 12-team leagues. With the news that he’s in the rotation, I have no doubt that in quite a few leagues, Ventura will go from “flier” in a 12-team league to an SP5 or an SP6 on someone’s roster. What Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez did last year is still fresh in people’s minds and fantasy sports are notorious for players trying to find the “next big thing.”
With the way pitchers are dropping, owners will almost be forced to take Ventura as an SP6 on their roster. Looking at the names about 20 spots ahead of him, there are guys like A.J. Griffin, Taijuan Walker, Scott Kazmir, and Jarrod Parker. All these guys are out for varying lengths of time so even without the news of Ventura starting in the Majors, his ADP was going to rise regardless.
If expectations can be reined in a bit – there’s very little chance he surpasses 160 innings this year, so his upside is truly limited – players could find themselves a nice little gem for the first half of the season. If fantasy owners are relying on Ventura to be a top four or five pitcher on their team though, it will make for a long fantasy season.
Davidson was originally a first round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009 and was acquired by the White Sox in the trade that saw closer Addison Reed head to the desert.
While the news isn’t officially “good” yet for Davidson, at this point, I’m taking the “no news is good news” approach with him. The White Sox play their first regular season game in 12 days and Davidson is still with the team. There’s no one really that notable that should stand in his way, as Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger seem like the only possible impediments.
Davidson has always profiled as a power hitter. Before the 2013 season, Baseball America had him as an error-prone third baseman with a power bat that can hit to all fields. Davidson will need to develop the ability to play well defensively to find consistent playing time at third base. With Paul Konerko and Dayan Viciedo in the lineup, it’ll be third base-or-nothing for Davidson. If he fumbles the ball on a regular basis, his playing time could be completely cut off.
With 20 home runs in 587 plate appearances between Triple-A and the Majors last year and 23 home runs in 575 plate appearances in Double-A the year before, there’s not much doubt that Davidson has anything left to prove in the minors. He’ll strike out a ton but he also takes enough walks that he could be a sneaky bench option in leagues that use On-Base Percentage instead of Batting Average.
What to do on draft day
Davidson is going virtually undrafted as he’s being drafted behind names like Emilio Bonifacio, Alberto Callaspo, and Maikel Franco. If the White Sox were to announce Davidson as the starting third baseman in the next few days (they haven’t said one way or the other yet), you will see his draft position rise. Right now, Davidson isn’t even being considered as a corner infield option in 15-team mixed leagues. That will change if the news is positive for him coming out of Spring Training.
How a player will translate to the Majors is always an educated guess at best. One thing I always like to see from a power prospect is his ability to take walks. Davidson (11.5-percent walk rate) was well above the Major League average (7.9-percent) in his limited 76 at-bat appearance last year. Players that strike out relentlessly and don’t walk will get yanked from the lineup; if Davidson can take his walks, he should be able to stay in the lineup even through slumps. That should help him get enough at bats to be fantasy relevant this year assuming he doesn’t play third base like live hand grenades are being thrown at him.
He might not start the year in the Majors but I can’t think they’ll leave him in Triple-A long if they do. In small 10-12 team leagues, it’s best to wait until he gets his call. In 15-team leagues or bigger, this could be a solid bench option. His price will fluctuate a lot depending on the news coming out of Spring Training, though. Just like it has for Yordano Ventura.