After the complete teardown that happened in Miami this winter, fantasy players might be forgiven for looking at the club as merely “Giancarlo Stanton and 24 guys who aren’t Giancarlo Stanton.” It’s not quite going to be Houston-level bad in South Florida as many expect, but it might be a tough team to watch — if, of course, anyone even shows up at the park to do so.
But we’ll get back to Stanton in a minute, because there’s actually some decent potential value alongside him in the Marlins outfield. At the plate, Juan Pierre‘s lone season in Philadelphia (.307/.351/.371, 99 wRC+) looked an awful lot like his first season in Miami back in 2003 (.305/.361/.373, 100 wRC+), with a three-win difference mostly fueled by defense that has fallen from “above-average in center field” to “poor in left field”. Pierre doesn’t steal as many bases as he used to — 37 last year and 27 the year before, after nine consecutive years of 40 or more — but he did so more effectively, getting caught fewer than 10 times for the first time in his career. The resulting +30 SB-CS was topped by only seven other players, which is important in those leagues that do take points away for times being caught.
Pierre, of course, is a total zero in both home runs and RBI, and there’s always concern about how long a speed-only player’s legs will hold up as he enters his age-35 season. But Pierre does have a nice set of circumstances in his favor, because not only is he expected to be the regular left fielder and leadoff hitter for the Marlins, he’ll have the benefit of hitting in front of Stanton. Considering that he’ll likely be available cheaply in most leagues, Pierre could be a good value as a source of steals, runs, & batting average.
In center field, Justin Ruggiano had a breakout half-season with the Marlins, shocking everyone by hitting .313/.374/.535 with 13 homers and 14 steals in just 261 plate appearances. Let’s be honest with ourselves here and understand that Ruggiano is never, ever going to keep up a .401 BABIP over an entire season of play. That makes any expectation of that batting average being repeated unlikely, and there’s not exactly a long track record of players who had their first good season at 30 sustaining their production. That said, there’s some hope for value here.
If healthy — and he’s been a little banged-up this spring — he’s likely to see the bulk of playing time in center, and the opportunity alone makes him relevant. Even if (okay, let’s say “when”) his batting average drops, that won’t kill him entirely because he’ll likely contribute in power and steals as well, having had four separate seasons in the minors where he’s had double digits in both homers and swipes. ZiPS expects his BABIP to drop down to a more reasonable .331 and to have a slash line of .260/.318/.422 with 13 longballs and 15 steals.
Mike Podhorzer looked into Ruggiano a little more deeply last month and came away convinced that he’s not just a flash in the pan:
But if he performs as well as I am projecting, then he should reach at least 550 at-bats assuming good health. That serves as further counting number upside in addition to the potential for a higher HR/FB rate given his batted ball distance. He represents the perfect sleeper, as the knee-jerk reaction is to believe last year’s small sample breakout was a complete fluke. It wasn’t.
Mike thinks a 20/20 season isn’t completely out of the question, but even if you split the difference between his projection and that of ZiPS, you’ll get a double-digit season in both numbers. That might not be immensely exciting, but it does make for a fantasy player with some usable value if it comes at the right price.
That brings us to Stanton in right field, and there’s little that I need to tell you about his power proclivity. The man destroys baseball, and that’s incredible value in any fantasy league on the planet. He’s hit 34 and 37 homers over the last two seasons, and ZiPS actually thinks that will go up to 41. It’s difficult to find that kind of power anywhere — and while it’s not really a fantasy stat, good lord, a .318 ISO just isn’t right — and so Stanton will deservedly go high in most drafts.
That said, Stanton doesn’t come without his drawbacks. Despite the massive power, he’s never topped 87 runs batted in, which says a lot about the strength of the hitters ahead of him. If Pierre can get on base and if Placido Polanco (the likely two-hole hitter) isn’t completely cooked, then maybe Stanton will have some better luck driving runners in, but those are two big ifs from older players. Stanton is also a very large man who has had some injury concerns, including missing a month last year to right knee surgery. He’s also had an oblique strain, left knee soreness, and hamstring problems in his short career, and while he’s still only 24, some consideration has to be made about whether he’ll miss time for your team. The massive power overcomes all these concerns and he’s an easy high pick, of course, just not one without any warts.
You may have noticed that we’ve made it this far without talking about any prospective backups, including Chris Coghlan, Gorkys Hernandez, Austin Kearns, Jake Marisnick, Bryan Petersen, & Rule 5 pick Alfredo Silverio. That’s partially because the Miami roster is so wide open that it’s difficult to see at this point who actually makes the team, especially with the presence of multipositional backup types like Greg Dobbs & Chone Figgins. Mostly, however, it’s because there’s not a ton of fantasy value here to worry about.
Hernandez, for example, is likely to make the team as a platoon partner for Pierre and center field insurance for Ruggiano. He also was atrocious in an admittedly small sample in the bigs in 2012 — .192/.267/.301 in 172 PA — and provides little other than some amount of speed on the bases. Coghlan’s 2009 Rookie of the Year looks further away than ever, as he’s been completely unable to either stay healthy or look like he belongs in the big leagues since; the less said about Dobbs, Figgins, Kearns, & Petersen, the better.
Any hope for value here would be in the younger players, though prospects Marisnick and Christian Yelich are likely still a year away. Silverio was once a rising star in the Dodgers organization, having hit .306/.340/.542 with 16 homers and 11 steals in 2011, but his career was completely sidetracked by a car accident and ensuing Tommy John surgery which cost him all of 2012. He sprained the elbow earlier this month and is all but certain to start the year on the disabled list, though his Rule 5 status means he should get at least some playing time with the big club later this year. The tools are there, but it’s difficult to count on a player who has never been above Double-A has been through what he has over the last year.
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