Prospects in Ottoneu: Additional Thoughts

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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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, and The Fake Baseball. He's also the lead MLB editor for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

7 Responses to “Prospects in Ottoneu: Additional Thoughts”

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  1. Cap'n Scrappy says:

    Stop stealing my thoughts and writing them down – you’re gonna blow all my plans to get $1 prospects who are good hitters but aren’t listed in top 100s because they don’t have crazy upside or aren’t good defenders.

    Just cut it out right now, ok? Please confirm that mike trout changed everything and people should bid highly on Lindor and leave the $1 Tommy La Stellas to idiots like me. Thank you.

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  2. SurprMan says:

    I like this article and think it deserves more comments so I am adding a comment.

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  3. olerudshelmet says:

    Brad, I thought it was interesting that you laid out your concept of prospect keepers, but then ended up with three guys who probably won’t play this year (Russell, Crick, Cecchini). Good prices though, and could make decent trade chips (well, except for Cecchini). Not really a criticism, just made me chuckle.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I have the right Cecchini now and he could be useful either this season as a player or as a trade chip. I inherited this roster at the beginning of the offseason (it was terrible) and Russell was one of the players on it. I didn’t receive an offer that warranted trading a potentially plus offensive shortstop who should contribute a bunch in 2015.

      Crick was an accident. I didn’t want to win him, I just did. If he learns a bit of control then I’ll be happy. Or if they move him to the pen, he could be elite before too long. That said, I’ll be shocked if he reaches the majors on my roster.

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  4. jjdouglas says:

    I completely agree with the last paragraph! This is my third year playing ottoneu, always playing in 3 or more leagues – while continuously finishing in the top 2, and this is one of the most frustrating things about the format. When an owner takes over a team that they know will not be competitive and want to sell their stars – immediately post draft – for top prospects and nothing else. That said, it is next to impossible to police, and if top players are available for prospects, I will certainly try to acquire them, but I do not think it is healthy for a league (generally) to have teams who continuously buy players then try to flip them for top prospects immediately after acquiring them. Besides having owners who do not like this strategy, I do not see this problem as fixable. Any thoughts? I am strongly opposed to vetoing trades for what it’s worth as it is impossible for teams to ignore their own self interests.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I have a Yahoo keeper league that had this problem. I fixed it prior to last year by flattening the payout system. Maybe I’ll write about it today.

      The result is that giving up on just a mediocre roster could cost an owner $20 (and there’s always the chance for a pleasant surprise or a spring board off a John Buck April).

      The league in question has a much steeper keeper mechanism than ottoneu – draft price + $7 – so young players usually still aren’t keepers. The supply of keepers with double digit value is small, most of them end up being elite breakout types like Chris Davis who are impossible to trade due to their combo of roto and auction value. So we had a problem where over half the league was trying to sell top players for ANYTHING, which manifested in trades like Evan Longoria for $10 Chris Tillman (way before Tillman was worth $1). For about three years running, I traded an elite keeper (i.e. Stephen Strasburg $15) for 3-5 elite players.

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