I’ve said it before, ottoneu leagues are great because there are so many strategies available to enterprising owners. You can play it straight if you’re the unimaginative sort (or maybe too nice to backstab), or you can deep dive into a rich meta-world of strategy. One of those areas is how to handle prospects.
Chad Young shared his thoughts last week. My own take on prospects in ottoneu varies subtly – mostly I’m more cynical about their role.
Generally, I target players who I think will help me in the current season. In a recent ottoneu draft, I kept Addison Russell ($4) and Marcus Stroman ($2). Both players could contribute in 2014 and Russell in particular has a bright future at an offensively challenged position. I drafted four more prospects – Jesse Biddle, Kyle Crick, Thomas La Stella, and Gavin Cecchini. Each of them cost a dollar.
I targeted Biddle because I think he’s a decent bet to return to form now that he’s recovered from whooping cough. The sudden bout of wildness that struck him last season was conveniently correlated with the illness. He’s nearly big league ready, and I expect an mid-season promotion to fill in for an injured player. Similarly, La Stella is big league ready and is a bad month of Dan Uggla away from starting. That bad month could conceivably be March. La Stella isn’t an awesome prospect, but I expect him to jump in with at least 50-100 Points Above Replacement (PAR). I’ll take that middle infield depth for $1.
Crick I won trying to get someone else to bid. Generally, owners were bidding what I consider ludicrous amounts on prospects. Apparently Crick isn’t as well know as I thought because he brought a couple “who’s that” comments. I got him for a $1 and he is a good prospect, so it’s fine. Cecchini was an accident. I meant to nominate Garin, not Gavin. Doh! Had I selected the correct Cecchini, he’s well-regarded and could fill in for an injured player this season.
I use these examples to point out two things. My first goal with prospects is to get near-immediate utility out of the player. My other goal is to acquire them for $1. I don’t see a direct advantage to purchase high priced prospects. They prevent me from adding more $30 players to my active roster. Byron Buxton and Gregory Polanco were drafted for $9. Mark Appel and Lucas Giolito went for $6. Most prospects don’t have a Mike Trout-like career trajectory. Prospects generally don’t put up more than $10 of value in their first season. If I’m going to wait over a year for a player to reach the majors, I want a very good shot at a double digit profit. That means drafting for $1 on all but the very creamiest of the crop.
That’s not to say that high priced prospects aren’t desirable. I was very open to spending around $10 on a Buxton type prospect heading into the draft. He was just nominated before I knew that I had that money available for non-mlb assets. The allure of these supposed can’t miss prospects is that everyone wants them. I drafted a team that I think is about 1,000 points away from being a contender. Essentially, I need to upgrade two spots from replacement level to elite production (and then hope for a lot of health). If I had a Buxton, I could probably get one of those elite players right now. As it stands, I’ll need to bide my time and maybe hope to find a Josh Donaldson breakout along the way.
I think the biggest issue that I observe with prospects is that owners become invested in them. Prospects are speculative assets, but many owners treat them like their children. They hold onto them too long, ask too much in return for them, and generally make sub-optimal decisions when it comes to using them. The flip side is that your rivals will sometimes pay a ridiculous amount to acquire your prospects. In that sense, prospects are an essential non-monetary cash. Demand is always high and the supply is continuously replenished so that you can always acquire more later. Trades in ottoneu are a matter of balancing two owners preferences as they relate to current value, future value, and budget. Having some future value available to offer can potentially make or break your ability to trade.
Perceived value is more important than actual value. La Stella probably projects to have more value to ottoneu teams over the next three seasons than Francisco Lindor, but nobody is paying more for La Stella than Lindor. As such, Lindor is the better trade asset even though La Stella is the better asset for accruing points in the near future. Hypothetically, I could trade Lindor for La Stella plus something else and in the process improve dramatically.
Another thing to keep in mind is that usually it’s best to keep prospects that are nearly at the majors. Until a prospect establishes himself, he’s usually relatively cheap. For example, I think $9 for Buxton is iffy, but if he establishes himself as a 40 home run plus steals player, I’ll be happy to pay $20+ for him. Up until that point, I’ll still be valuing him around $10, which means he holds very little excess value in my eyes. Waiting may substantially increase what I’m willing to pay. With many prospects, it might be ideal to sell right before they reach the majors. Returning to La Stella, once the rumors swirl that he’s going to be called up to replace Uggla, he’ll be in demand. I like him as a $1 player projected to be worth 50-100 PAR, but in that moment of promotion, I might find owners with substantially higher valuations. With luck, I’ll be able to take advantage of them.
As a parting thought, I absolutely hate the idea of entering the season as a rebuilding team. I see owners stockpiling prospects all the time in ottoneu. They forsake the current season by doing so. I always try to put together a winner. If it crumbles around me, I can start selling off assets in May-July. Mid-season is a better time to figure out which prospects are the best to target anyway. In the end, my personal view on prospects in ottoneu is that they are very necessary, but you should be wary about devoting a large share of your budget to them. You can always acquire more later.
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