Today’s Chatter topics feature a reaction to some potentially huge news out of the Orient from yesterday and a quick take on a pair of National League first base prospects.
1) Yu Darvish — Posting?
There was some scuttlebutt (yes, I’m using that word) yesterday that Japanese pitching phenom-slash-sensation Yu Darvish was going to ask to be posted this offseason. Then, of course, there was the inevitable follow-up denial by Darvish, reported a mere few hours later. But really, this seems less like a flat-out denial and more like a temporary stall tactic. After all, his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, is in the postseason and, given what we know about the culture and tradition of Japanese baseball, it would be surprising to see an individual Japanese player steal some of the spotlight away from his team at such a crucial time.
Regardless, the expected Darvish posting following the Nippon Professional Baseball playoffs (which begin October 29) is likely to be one of baseball’s biggest stories over the coming weeks, and for good reason. There will be plenty of suitors — the Yankees, Rangers and Blue Jays, among others, have all been mentioned — for the right-hander’s services, considering Darvish is a 25-year-old with a solid 6’5″ frame and no major injury history who sports a mid-90s fastball among his crazy arsenal of pitches, has had success on the international level (leading all pitchers in strikeouts during the 2009 WBC) and has kept his ERA under 2.00 for five straight seasons. And his peripherals — like the 0.91 WHIP, 9.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 — more than support his rep as Japan’s top hurler.
No doubt, whenever he’s posted and wherever he lands, Darvish will become a — perhaps even the — top target in fantasy leagues in which owners can select prospects, recent draftees or other rookie-eligible players to fill out their minor-league reserve squad. In this case, you’d essentially be getting a ready-made big league starting pitcher who has the stuff to be a potential SP3 in fantasy immediately. Given the bad taste that remains from the Daisuke Matsuzaka letdown, I think it’s fair to temper expectations a bit. But Matsuzaka, who was 26 when he came over, was rated as the top prospect in baseball by Baseball America, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Darvish get a similar ranking, probably somewhere in the Top 10.
As I tweeted yesterday, I would put Darvish ahead of the Ray’s Matt Moore atop my 2012 Impact Rookie Starting Pitchers list, but it’s close. The primary reason is that Darvish would be a definite starter from day one, whereas the Rays could decide to keep Moore in the minors for a month or two to hold back his service time. If we knew for sure that Moore would be in Tampa’s rotation on Opening Day, I might give the lefty the edge for fantasy impact next year — and especially beyond.
And for one related, non-fantasy thought: There’s a lot resting on Darvish’s right arm, because if he fails to be at least a strong real-life No. 3 starter (think: Ervin Santana), then I imagine this would be the end of the big-money Japanese postings, at least for the near future, as MLB teams would start to realize, if they haven’t already, that it’s simply not worth spending tens of millions just to negotiate with a player — let alone the millions more to sign him — whose fellow countrymen don’t exactly have an immaculate history of success in the majors.
2) Of Rizzo and Rizzotti
If there’s one prospect this season who proved to be a disappointment, my vote would go to the Padres’ Anthony Rizzo. To be clear, the 22-year-old had an outstanding year in the minors, slashing .331/.404/.652 with 26 HRs and 101 RBIs at Triple-A Tucson. Yes, the production came in a hitter-friendly league, but Rizzo also did all that in just 356 ABs, which is kind of incredible. So why the disappointment then? Well, dude managed just 18 hits in 128 ABs (.141 BA) while whiffing 30% of the time in his big-league debut. That’s the sort of performance that makes fantasy owners go from seeing future superstar to, well, seeing stars.
But there’s hope for Rizzo yet. For one, he retained his 2012 rookieness — by a mere 3 ABs — which means any owner who isn’t forced to make a roster decision on a player who is still rookie-eligible for next season should, in a way, be grateful that Rizzo was actually so bad as to not see enough action to surpass the 130-AB minimum. For another, Rizzo’s BABIP was just .210, which is just stupid low, while his xBABIP was a much-nicer .314; a disparity that big almost assuredly won’t happen again. There are obviously concerns about the lefty masher, including his tough home park, the weak Padres lineup, that awful strikeout rate and whether or not he breaks camp with San Diego. But if you happen to own him in a keeper or dynasty league, I certainly wouldn’t write him off based on his initial showing in the bigs. It’s good to see he’s hitting well in the Dominican Winter League, too.
As for another big left-handed slugging first base prospect with a similar last name, I’ve read some chatter about the Phillies’ Matt Rizzotti recently, primarily in the wake of Ryan Howard‘s ruptured Achilles tendon that may keep him out for the first part of 2012. FanGraphs’ own Wendy Thurm looked at the possible ways Philly could address filling in for Howard early next year, and some of the comments hit on Rizzotti as another option to consider.
For what it’s worth, Rizzotti is more of a fringe prospect who might get a few chances at the big-league level over the course of his career given that he’s shown he can do some damage in the minors. But there’s not a whole lot of upside here, considering he’s already going to be 26 entering next spring and has all of 52 PAs above Double-A. Still, his slash line over nearly two full seasons at Reading is .318/.412/.554, and he’s shown a nice 13% BB rate. As one Philly sports site put it: “By no means is Rizzotti a long-term fix at first base, but Howard is going to be back eventually, so [GM Ruben] Amaro Jr. has no reason to sign a new first baseman.” While there’s always the hope that this turns into another Mark Trumbo-replacing-an-injured-Kendrys Morales situation, my feeling is that Rizzotti might — stress might — get a chance if he looks good in camp and Howard is out for longer than expected. But frankly, this smells more like a Ryan Shealy/Kila Ka’aihue scenario than anything else.