On The Rise: Jose Tabata and Dexter Fowler

There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being a top prospect. For every prospect that makes an immediate impact on his team, there are a number of others that struggle for years before finally fulfilling their projections. Owners that remain patient with players in the latter group can pick up premium talent in the last rounds of a draft. Jose Tabata and Dexter Fowler are two players that fit that category this season. While both have shown some ability in the majors, both have a legitimate chance to establish themselves as solid fantasy options this season. What should owners expect from these potential breakout players?

Many will argue that Jose Tabata arrived on the fantasy scene last season, posting a solid slash line of .299/.346/.400 in 102 games. Due to that performance, Tabata enters 2011 as the undisputed starter in Pittsburgh, and should improve with more playing time. Just 21 for most of last season (he turned 22 in August), Tabata played well enough to garner a third place vote for NL Rookie of the Year. While that vote has highly criticized, it speaks more to the incredible talent Tabata was up against last season and less about his actual performance. Due to some of that controversy, Tabata could slide down draft boards this season.

Tabata succeeded last season due to a high-contact approach which led to a lot of ground balls. Of all batters with at least 400 plate appearances, Tabata’s 59.4% ranked fifth. Due to that approach, his .339 BABIP may be somewhat sustainable going forward. Unfortunately, that approach severely hampers his potential to hit for power. He’s still just 22, however, so perhaps there’s more power coming (but don’t count on double-digit home runs in 2011). Instead, Tabata should once again be able to use his approach to steal a ton of bases. He’s been an effective stealer throughout his minor-league career, and managed to swipe 19 bases last season. Expect between 20-30 steals on the season, and rejoice if he reaches 37 (which is what Bill James’ projection suggests).

Unfortunately, Tabata’s skill aren’t exceptional for a fantasy outfielder. Due to that, he’s likely a third or fourth outfielder in mixed leagues. However, he has the potential to solidify himself as a starter if he can improve on his 2010 performance. In NL-only leagues, Tabata is a solid third outfielder. Don’t overdraft Tabata in either format, but he’s a solid bet to improve and should come at a small price.

Fowler more accurately sums up the description of a failed prospect still awaiting a breakout. Despite showing decent on-base skills in two partial seasons with the team, the Colorado Rockies haven’t fully committed to Fowler as a starter until this season. Fowler has the tools that scouts salivate over, but they haven’t fully translated to the majors yet. What Fowler has shown in the majors is a solid batting eye, and the ability to swipe bases (though he doesn’t own a great success rate). With full playing time, those abilities might be enough to make Fowler a useful contributor to fantasy teams.

If Fowler finally cashes in on his promise, however, he could be more than just a fringe starter in mixed leagues. As Paul Swydan outlined in his Rockies Team Preview article, Fowler enters his age 25 season with a higher career wOBA than Torii Hunter and Bernie Williams. Obviously, you shouldn’t count on Fowler magically turning into Hunter or Williams, but he still has the skill set to turn into a strong fantasy force. Like Tabata, Fowler should probably be a fourth outfielder in mixed leagues, with the potential to become something more. In NL-only leagues, Fowler could be a decent third outfielder.

Both outfielders still come with a lot of promise. They have been regarded as top prospects throughout their careers, shown competence at the major league level and enter the season as undisputed starters for the first time in their careers. They also fit the bill of former top prospects who have yet to live up to their full potential. In these situations, patience can pay off big for fantasy owners. In the later rounds of the draft, these are the guys to target. Don’t forget that on draft day.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Here’s a comparison I like:

Player A – .316, 87 R, 47 RBI, 7 HR, 30 SB
Player B – .294, 83 R, 52 RBI, 7 HR, 37 SB

Those are Bill James projections for two players in 2011. Player B is Jose Tabata. Player A is Ichiro Suzuki.

I don’t know what the current ADP difference is between Tabata and Ichiro, but I bet it is larger than those projections would indicate.

kick me in the GO NATS
kick me in the GO NATS

Is Ichiro a bit over rated going into this season or what?