Despite not being a prospect guy like Marc Hulet, I find myself drawn to younger players in fantasy. In keeper, it’s easy to explain away: Sign a couple top talents to cheap contracts when they’re young and you’ve got the foundation for a dynasty — provided of course you can manage the rest of the year-to-year budgeting properly. In redraft, there isn’t the same incentive to capitalize on grabbing a player who isn’t quite in his prime yet. Deep leagues necessitate a little creativity, and so there’s motivation there, but grabbing Mike Trout the instant he was called up last year was probably a mistake for most players. Grabbing a slightly riper Trout this year…that could be another matter entirely.
The flipside of the opportunity presented by prospects in the fantasy context is the chance that they will disappoint and leave you without much in the way of value for your trouble. Sitting for a full year on players like Brian Matusz or Brett Wallace can not only be galling in short term, but can sour owners on players going forward. (For more information on this phenomenon, see Vazquez, Javy.) Sometimes skepticism based on bad experiences is warranted, sometimes it’s sour grapes, and determining which can be the difference between letting a good sleeper pass and just another of many fantasy stories about the one who got away.
One such player who hits close to home is Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez had a good, if not great, 95 game call up in 2010, hitting 16 home runs with a livable .256/.326/.461 slash line. At the age of 23, that’s a pretty appealing line, and one that had people projecting a big 2011 season for the second overall pick from the 2008 draft. If you owned Alvarez, you know what happened next. For everyone else, the short version is that the bottom fell out on Alvarez. When he was healthy and in the majors, which wasn’t often, he was tremendously ineffective. His line in his 75 games was a paltry .191/.272/.289 with just 4 HR and nearly four times as many strikeouts (80) as walks (24).
His minor league numbers are good, but oddly small. Over three seasons, Alvarez has fewer than 1000 PAs and his relatively high BABIP in the minors hasn’t translated up to the major leagues at all. When a player can crush in the minors — and not in an Ian Stewart, plays-in-a-launching-pad way — but can’t seem to get going once he gets the call up, offspeed pitches are a great place to look when trying to diagnose the cause of his struggles. That’s exactly the case with Alvarez. While he hit opponent’s fastballs pretty well, he put up negative values on sliders, changeups, and curveballs. Some guys learn how to adjust, some don’t, but it’s not always an easy fix; it is something he’ll need to consciously address during spring training if he hasn’t done so already this offseason. Unfortunately, Alvarez declined the option to play winter ball, despite the team’s desire for him to do so; if he had, then there would at least be some new data to look at. As it is, any improvements he has made won’t be known until he gets into spring games six weeks from now.
If Alvarez can take the angst of a terrible 2011 and turn it into drive this offseason, then the lost season won’t be all for naught. The Pirates still believe that Alvarez is part of their future, but the addition of Casey McGehee this offseason at the very least means that Alvarez’s margin for error in 2012 is smaller than it was in 2011, which adds an element of risk to his profile. The Pirates might not dump Alvarez back in Triple-A for a bad week, but if he looks like he’s really swooning, they have an alternative to replace him that didn’t really have last year.
The best thing Alvarez has going for him right now is his pedigree, but plenty of high draft picks flame out, so that doesn’t mean much. Keeper players will face a decision that will likely depend on exactly how contracts and keepers work. I wouldn’t cut him if you have him under contract, but if your league is a simple “keep X players off your roster, lose one draft pick per keeper” you can get better value out there. Redraft players should stay away until he shows he can hit something besides a fastball. There’s too much risk associated with him and too little upside when pitchers know that all they need to do is bury a slider in the dirt to get him out. If you’re still enticed by the power potential he clearly has, there are worse late-round gambles out there, but have a starter and safety in place in case he finds himself back down in Indianapolis with McGehee manning third base.
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