ottoneu Prospecting for Non-Scouts

To paraphrase (horribly butcher?) A Tale of Two Cities, prospects are the best of times and the worst of times for ottoneu owners. At least based on the number of questions I get about them.

The joy of ottoneu is you can sign that Double-A SS with the big bat and hope he develops into a star. The problem is how to find the right prospect. For every Mike Trout, there is an Andy Marte. Actually, for every Trout, there are about a billion Marte’s. And the chances are you, like me, are not a prospect evaluator, which makes it awfully hard to tell the difference.

There are really two challenges ottoneu owners face with regards to prospect – how many should you roster and how do you identify the right ones. I’ll admit that what I am about to lay out for you is not scientific, but this is how I look at prospects in ottoneu.

As for how many to roster, this is a question of where you are in the building process. If you are trying to compete, you don’t want 0 prospects. You want to maintain some hope for the future. Besides, you may well need those prospects as trade chips to put yourself over the top. I try to hold 3-5 spots for prospects. Sometimes I fill those spots with guys who are not actually prospects, but are young, talented and yet to break out. This year, I’d put Nick Franklin in that camp – you can’t count on him to play, he is no longer a prospect, but if you treated him as if he were, that would be fine for our purposes.

If you are building for the future, you don’t want 18 prospects (the most you can have once you account for a full lineup (12 positions, 5 SP and 5 RP). You want room to acquire prospects in-season. You also want to build with players who are ready to produce soon and that usually means a decent set of cheap, young MLB talent. If you have a stacked set of 18 prospects, all likely to arrive late this year, I would venture to guess your team won’t be all that good next year. Lot’s of those guys will bust, few will reach their potential, and many won’t get called up when you expect. If you had 7-10 prospects, along with some young players you think can grow into key players, that would work well.

Filling those slots is a bit harder. Since I am not a scout, I rely on others to tell me which prospects are worth rostering. I use a variety of sources I trust. One of the first things I do is combine a small set of Top 100 lists, usually including Keith Law, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com and, of course, FanGraphs. This gives me a great balance of approaches – scouting, stats-based, combined – including some who focus on first-hand looks and others who gather feedback from contacts.

So far this year, I have combined Baseball Prospectus, Law and MLB.com, and some interesting things happen. First, there is wide-spread disagreement. Only 73 prospects appear on all three lists and 32 players appear on only one of the three. Law’s #37 prospect (Dominic Smith, a 1B in the Mets organization) does not make either of the other Top 100s.

At the top, there are seven consensus top 10 prospects (Byron Buxton, Xander Bogaerts, Oscar Taveras, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, and Archie Bradley).

About 60 prospects will be rostered in most ottoneu leagues, and that means the top 100s are more than enough. Without the ability to discern between prospects myself, one thing I look for is where there is agreement. If a guy is ranked 19, 20, and 21 (like George Springer is), it tells me a lot about him. When another player 32, 38 and 69 (Kyle Crick), it tells you something else – mainly that there is probably more risk.

This also helps you understand where your competition is looking. Anyone who grabs Dominic Smith this year is likely a fan of Law, and knowing that will help you understand who that owner values (or undervalues). If I know you prefer Law, I can offer to take Noah Syndergaard (24th on Law’s list, 11th on the other two) or Alex Meyer (62nd on Law’s, 32nd and 28th on the others) off your hands and assume you value those players less than I do.

Next, I review write ups on players. In addition to the sources above, I now add another – Rotoscouting.com, a relatively new site but one of the few dedicated to prospects for fantasy purposes. I look for “better in fantasy” or “better in real life” articles, like the ones FanGraphs has run in the past.

I want to identify players who stand out for defense (useless in fantasy), hitters with doubles power (only really useful in leagues that give credit for non-HR XBH), or pitchers without strike out potential. The other thing I want to find is players who have supposed red flags that aren’t. A SS destined to move off the position but with a bat that will play anywhere is extremely attractive to me. His ranking falls due to the defensive concerns and other owners see negative comments where I see a future 2B, 3B or OF with a solid bat.

A few final notes:

  • Pitchers are riskier, yes, but don’t ignore them because of that. They pay off just as big when they pay off.
  • Avoid players more than 2-3 years away. I do my best to stick to players who will be ready within 18 months or so.
  • Don’t worry about balance – having Baez, Lindor and Russell is better than having Baez, Nick Castellanos, and Albert Almora, even though they all play the same position. If you are lucky and they all pan out, I assure you, you’ll have no problem finding buyers.



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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.


14 Responses to “ottoneu Prospecting for Non-Scouts”

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  1. LarryA says:

    How would you handle Giolito? A top prospect, but so much can go wrong between now and 2016/17 when he finally comes up, and besides that, his cost may be somewhat higher by then. Do you just let someone else take him?

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    • Chad Young says:

      He falls under bullet point #2 at the bottom. Just too far away. Let’s assume you got him for $2 this year. You use a roster spot and $2 this year, a roster spot and $3 next year, a roster spot and $4 in 2016, and then probably get value for $6 in 2017. But let’s assume, instead, that you waited until next years auction, or even the year after? What would you pay for him then? $7 in 2016? Maybe $9? So by buying him now you save maybe $5 or $6 in his first legit season, which isn’t nothing, but is it worth 2-3 years of roster spots and cap dollars? Nah, not interested. TAlk to me after this season. If my team is cratering and I can trade for a $1 Giolito in august following a great minor league season, you might convince me. But otherwise, I’ll let someone else take the risk for a minimal payout.

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  2. Chike says:

    Instead of filling your prospect slots with young and talented players who have yet to break out, have you considered trying old and talented players who have already broken out?

    There’s a hole in the market for those types of players. Rather than banking on Nick Franklin putting it together and becoming something, I rather put $1 on Marlon Byrd or A.J. Pierzynski. It’s essentially the same idea: gather a bunch of older veterans in good situations and see which one can give you one more year of production. Torii Hunter didn’t cost any more than $1 in 2013. He put up $31 of ottoneu value last year. Three years ago, it was David Ortiz. There’s Raul Ibanez. Michael Cuddyer. Alfonso Soriano. The list goes on.

    Ottoneu is a dynasty league, so players are more inclined to think long-term on value. There’s naturally more interest in younger players. It’s a sound (though linear) way of thinking, but it has flaws. Arismendy Alcantara could sit on your team doing nothing for a year or half a season. I rather have Marco Scutaro. I know what I’m getting in Scutaro, he can be used to fill a platoon split and I have the added bonus of owning him should he return to form.

    Prospects aren’t the only players with upside. Why rack your brain comparing prospect lists when dollar veterans are an equally sound investments? While the rest of my league is dreaming on a $9 Anthony Rizzo, I’ll gladly take a $1 Paul Konerko or Mike Morse then sit back and wait.

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    • Chad Young says:

      Somewhere in my past, I have written about old players as a market inefficiency in dynasty leagues like ottoneu. I think the example I used was Paul Konerko, who I used to great effect for a long time. This year I have Victor Martinez, who was great in the second half, and David Ortiz, who was just plain great, on my roster.

      But I see those as a different set than prospects. I want youth to build for the future, not just to get breakout production this year. I see Byrd or Cuddyer or Soriano as guys I am signing to fill out a lineup spot, not as replacements for my prospects. Nick Franklin is not there to create value now, he is there to be my future MI, if he can put it together. If I sign Byrd, it will be to hopefully hold down my 4th or 5th OF slot right now.

      There is nothing wrong with using older players and their relatively cheap production for now, but Alcantara vs. Scutaro is an odd choice – if I have the MI depth I want, and I am looking to add some peices for the future, Alcantara is immensely more valuable than Scutaro and it isn’t close. If I am short on MI depth right now, Scutaro is infinitely more valuable than Alcantara. It’s just not a 1-to-1 comparison.

      That said, I am not putting $1 on Konerko (or likely Mike Morse) this year. No way.

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      • Chike says:

        I’m against the idea of building for the future in Ottoneu. That was the point of my post. The specific players were only meant to be examples to prove a point.

        Is it even possible to build a core for the future? I’ve seen it done successfully only once, and the guy that did it writes about prospects for a living.

        There’s the idea that it’s possible to get a group of young players together and have this imaginary core of cheap players that will come up through your system and turn you into a contender – much like how real MLB teams do. That line of thinking will keep you dreaming in the basement forever.

        Getting younger as a team doesn’t mean a thing. Prospects are only good for selling to those owners looking to build their imaginary cores. I’ll take veterans over prospects all day. Don’t worry about the future. Only think about the present.

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      • Chad Young says:

        I have done this very thing myself and, as noted multiple times in this article, I am no scout. Back when the original ottoneu started, I spent year one acquiring prospects and unproven young players, and ended up with a lineup including Pedroia, Hanley, Zimmerman, Carlos Quentin, Prince Fielder, and a handful of others. In the ottoneu experts league, I won going away this year with a Gyorko, Hosmer, Marte, Rizzo, Rosario, Tillman, Masterson, Teheran, Arenado, Corbin all playing key roles on my team. In the fangraphs staff league I play in, I won with Goldschmidt (acquired cheap, Gyorko, Arcia, Belt, Donaldson, Marte, Brad Miller, Minor, Griffin, Rosenthal all playing key roles.

        That early original league team won 3 titles in 4 years. The staff league team won two straight years and is in a good position for a third. The experts league team goes into 2014 with a lineup of Roasrio, Hosmer, Profar, Villar, Arenado, Gomez, Rizzo, Gyorko, Teheran, Masterson, Corbin, and a handful of guys not acquired young (Hanley, Cuddyer, Sale, Latos, Nathan) and money to spend.

        The key is not to try to build an entire lineup of prospects – the key is to use your prospects wisely, end each season with 1-2 more spots filled by young players who are providing value extremely cheap, and then fill in the rest of your roster with the stars you need. And honestly, I have never seen a team win ottoneu without having at least a few cheap, young stars that provide under-priced value so that they can afford the big ticket auction pieces needed to push over the top.

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      • Chike says:

        As you said, rhe general way to win in Ottoneu is to find players that outperform what you’ve paid to get them. Cheaply acquired prospects have the chance to do this, but that comes with plenty of risk.

        There was a Fangraphs article on the bust rate of top 100 prospects about a year or so ago. We’re not talking about sure things here. Aging veterans aren’t sure things either, but I will say that when factoring in platoons and probabilities, an Ottoneu roster made of 40 major leaguers has a better chance to boom, content and produce cheap value than one of 33 or 32.

        I’d be interested to hear how many prospects you’ve gone through before you assembled some of those teams.

        Here is what happens when 12 guys go for the same 10% of players:
        A) All the teams value the same players and the price goes up
        B) Some teams try to find value outside of that 10% and cycle through busts or players that are far away
        C) Some teams give up on prospects entirely

        We may be saying the same thing here, but I’m more inclined to take chances on experienced major leaguers instead of prospects for all the reasons previously mentioned. You can win by reaping value from a collection of cheap veterans easier than you can by searching for the right collection of prospects.

        The last sentence you wrote is absolutely true. Just take out the word young.

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      • Chad Young says:

        I don’t agree that “an Ottoneu roster made of 40 major leaguers has a better chance to boom, content and produce cheap value than one of 33 or 32.” I suppose it depends how you define Major Leaguers, but Nick Franklin, Oscar Taveras, and James Paxton are far more likely to “boom” this year than Marco Scutaro, Ichiro Suzuki, or Paul Maholm.

        You need about 25 MLB players to fill out a daily roster. 10 more is plenty for platoons reserves, and veteran flyers. that still leaves 5 slots for prospects, and as a contender, I want to have 3-5. Those 5 are more likely to boom (and bust, admittedly) than the older players and, if they do boom, they are more likely to continue contributing as under priced players next year, allowing you to move them into that top 25 or 35 while taking up less cap space than they produce.

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  3. Chickensoup says:

    Thanks for the post. I generally stay away from prospecting because I just don’t follow minor league ball as much as most others do and generally rate unproven players way lower than others do. It’s not uncommon to see the better prospects, even if they are not going to play in a given year, go for $5 or more in my league on name value alone so i never understood the obsession with getting them. Heck Buston is being kept for $9 in my Otto league this year and theres basically no chance he plays at all.

    This does give me a good foundation for which to get prospects though. I guess I kind of never considered getting guys outside the top 15 or 20 before because even the top guys are no guarentee.

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    • Chad Young says:

      Buxton at $9 makes sense to me. He may well play late this yera and he’ll quite likely be in the lineup on opening day next year and if that is the case, he’ll be worth the $10 or $11 he costs that owner. It’s bout as high as I would go, but it isn’t crazy.

      But if you don’t want to spend like that on risky assets (and that is a totally valid decision), I’d definitely look for guys outside the top 20 who are liekly to be called up this year (or making opening day rosters next year) who have upside. You can always find guys who have the potential to shoot up prospect lists and if you grab them now, you can end up with a top 20 prospect next year (or later this year) for a bargain price. And if not, that doesn’t mean they won’t provide value.

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  4. Brad Johnson says:

    As the other writer who regularly covers ottoneu, I’m tempted to throw together a post with my own thoughts. While I ponder that, I would suggest this: too many owners treat their prospects like their children. Prospects are currency, pure and simple. Spend them when it makes sense.

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    • Chad Young says:

      “too many owners treat their prospects like their children. Prospects are currency, pure and simple. Spend them when it makes sense.”

      This. Do not get attached. Buxton or Russell or Baez or Sano are not fantasy assets that you should get attached to. They have a value and that value is the greater of a) their future potential and b) what someone else will give you for them. If b>a, trade them.

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  5. SurprMan says:

    I inadvertently became intent on owning Javier Baez before a recent draft and now own him for $14. It makes me feel better that you think $9 for Buxton ain’t so bad since (a) Baez is probably more likely to get significant playing time this year and (b) he’s a SS; but, still, this is pretty crazy, right?

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    • Chad Young says:

      I typically don’t go as crazy on prospect spending as some. Buxton for $9 seems reasonable to me, but in the one league I am in where he is a free agent, I bet he goes for more than that. Baez at $14 is high, but I am not surprised he cost that much.

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