This offseason, as transactions on the big league level unfold, we’ll take a look at how the ripple effects shake out on the prospect side, focusing primarily on 2013 fantasy impact, with an eye toward the future, too.
This week: The Cardinals keep things open for their second baseman of the future, while the Giants and Rays will no longer have to fill holes by rushing their top prospects.
ACTION: Giants sign 2B Marco Scutaro
PROSPECT IMPACT: 2B Kolten Wong, Cardinals
This is a case of a prospect benefiting from a move his team didn’t make — specifically, the Cardinals non-signing of Scutaro to be their second baseman. St. Louis has gone with a makeshift approach at the keystone in recent years (Skip Schumaker, Daniel Descalso et al.), and while Scutaro isn’t a long-term answer himself, bringing him in for multiple years would have at least shored things up for the Cards. And yet, such a move also would have blocked the path of Wong, a 2011 first-rounder who is not only one of baseball’s better second base prospects but also nearly ready for the majors. Just 22, the Hawaiian-born Wong spent all of 2012 at Double-A and was the definition of solid across the board, slashing .287/.348/.405 with 23 doubles, nine homers, 21 steals and 79 runs. He might not have a true plus tool, but his belt is fully stocked with all the necessary ones, and he’s read the instruction manuals.
FANTASY VALUE: Wong’s going to be a good player to own on the cheap because he plays an in-demand position and should post solid fantasy numbers in two or three categories (average, steals and runs), especially in a strong lineup. He won’t likely ever be more than a back-of-the-Top-10 fantasy second baseman, so his value in keeper and dynasty leagues will be determined by how many years you can own him at or below market value. Many within the NL’s crop of top second basemen are nearing the end of their primes, so Wong is an even better target in single-league style. Look for him to get the call around the All-Star break, perhaps sooner if the Cards second base sitch stays mishmashy into the season.
*See Marc Hulet’s write-up on Wong (No. 5) in his Cardinals Top 15 Prospects
ACTION: Giants sign OF Angel Pagan
PROSPECT IMPACT: OF Gary Brown, Giants
The speedy Brown burst onto the scene with a ridiculous 2011 in which he hit .336 with 53 steals, while also racking up 61 extra-base hits, including 14 homers and 13 triples. Everyone got excited over the unexpected pop he showed, but there was a caveat: these stats came in the offense-heavy Cal League. So some of the sheen wore off Brown in 2012 when he hit just .279 with only seven homers and two triples at Double-A. He did, however, recover well after a brutal first few months and still smoked 32 doubles and swiped a respectable 33 bases (albeit in 51 attempts). The takeaway here is that even though he’s already 24, Brown has a few things to clean up before he’s really ready to hit the ground running in the bigs, namely he needs to be more consistent, more patient and more efficient with his plus speed on the bases. Bringing back Pagan allows the Giants to let Brown spend much of 2013 working and developing at Triple-A, and once things click for him, he could be a dynamic leadoff hitter and centerfielder for years, with Pagan shifting to a corner. Pagan won’t block Brown, rather he’s keeping Brown’s spot warm.
FANTASY VALUE: Even with Pagan back in the fold, Brown could factor into the Giants outfield in 2013, but now he’ll have to hit his way there, as opposed to San Fran pushing him just to cover a hole. Once he’s up — probably later in the second half — Brown can be a nice pick-up for fantasy owners looking to make some headway in stolen bases. Longer-term, he could become a dependable third or fourth outfielder in fantasy, especially if he can acquit himself as a leadoff man, thanks to runs and steals totals that will stand out and enough extra-base-ability to at least not be dead weight in the power categories.
ACTION: Rays trade for SS Yunel Escobar
PROSPECT IMPACT: SS Hak-Ju Lee, Rays
The circumstances surrounding Lee are rather similar to what Brown has been going through. The 22-year-old Korean also got out of the gate poorly in Double-A — he hit .233 while slugging sub-.300 through May — but Lee turned his season around in June and July, posting a .311 average with a slugging percentage near .450 and compiling 24 of his career-high 37 steals, before his 2012 was cut short by an oblique injury. The Rays are known for not rushing their prospects, so it was unlikely that Lee would have entered 2013 with a shot to break camp with the club — even with the lowly options the club has employed recently — but now that Escobar has been brought in, that possibility is all but eliminated. And that should be a good sign for Lee, who has the defensive chops to handle the job now, but he still needs time to let his offense catch up.
FANTASY VALUE: Lee now looks like more of a play for 2014, as Escobar takes over shortstop at least for next season. Besides, Lee struggled enough at Double-A that the Rays could return him there to begin 2013 and make him earn his way up the ladder. There’s still something to like here as a keeper, because he’ll stick at shortstop and could provide a solid average and good steals totals at a position that basically requires fantasy owners to grab SBs. Potentially a starting shortstop in AL-only leagues and a middle infielder in mixed formats, with upside to be better if he shows further development.