Martin Prado: Sleeper Candidate?

Headed into 2011, Martin Prado was ranked around 9th or 10th on most third base fantasy rankings, and in many, he was ahead of such gentlemen as Pablo Sandoval and Michael Young. Whoops.

At the time, there was a fair amount of debate about what exactly made Prado so special. He was essentially a two-category player (in traditional 5×5 leagues) being a plus at batting average and runs, and not much of a total drag at home runs and RBI. Prado was simply a guy that was hard to really get excited about and yet he generated a pretty good deal of fanfare among fantasy prognosticators.

And then of course, Prado went on to have a very disappointing season, producing a .260/.302/.385 line with 13 home runs and just 66 runs scored highlighted by a staph infection in his leg that put him on the shelf for most of June.

This year, Prado, 28,  has an ADP of about 150 in Yahoo leagues and 190 at mock draft central. The question is whether this precipitous drop in value is an opportunity or not.

Over 2009 and 2010, Prado demonstrated pretty terrific contact rates, with a line drive rate around 20% and a swinging strike rate around 4%. He was squaring the ball up great and rarely getting fooled, which contributed to his BABIP over .330 in both seasons and his .307 batting average in each of those campaigns.

It’s important to remember that in 2011, Prado didn’t hit like garbage all season. When he ultimately returned from the disabled list, he hit just .244/.283/.339 with little power, and overall his wRC+ hovered around 60 for August and September. He was clearly affected by the injury, and in the off-season there were more than just whispers of him being on the move. But before he went on the disabled list, he was hitting .277/.324/.438 with eight home runs and 36 runs scored over 61 games played before the leg injury. While he wasn’t necessarily raking, he was certainly a much closer approximation of the Prado people expected than the one that returned from the disabled list.

Prado was hamstrung by an unusually low BABIP of .266, and after his DL stint it was just .250. He was hitting fewer line drives, and when he did hit line drives he was getting rather unlucky, having a BABIP about .100 points below National League average. But his plate discipline changed very little from the player that we saw in the previous two seasons, having a very good eye, swinging and missing hardly at all, and demonstrating impressive contact skills.

So there are two questions that jump out at me as I think about Martin Prado. What’s more likely, that he will perform at 2011 levels or that he’ll revert back to his All-Star ways of 2010 when he even received a good deal of MVP votes. If you think he’s the 2011 version, he’s waiver wire fodder or a weak middle infield stopgap. But if you do think he can return to the Prado of old, where does that put him in your own personal third base rankings? Because perhaps he does still fit around 150 even assuming a rebound.

What I tend to think is that Martin Prado still has all the skills to be the guy that was (over) hyped headed into 2011. At his very best, he’s a guy that could score 100 runs and easily hit over .300. He’s not likely to hit more than 15 home runs, but that’s not necessarily chump change, and he shouldn’t be a black hole in RBI either. I am pretty willing to chalk much of what we saw in 2011 up to an ugly injury and some good old fashioned rotten luck. I also see a guy who spent the winter motivated by trade rumors, and he has apparently gone to great lengths to be in top shape this Spring (which, yeah, best-shapers and all, but at least it’s better than coming in sullen and flabby, right?).

But he’s still probably around 15th or 16th on my third base ranking. Depending on what my team needs at this point in the draft (power, speed, runs, etc.), he’s probably sitting behind Mark Reynolds but ahead of guys like Ryan Roberts and David Freese (full rankings should be out next week). If I’m dying for runs and batting average, it’s possible I’d reach for him though.

If you were among the Martin Prado cheer squad entering into 2011, know that you can probably have him on the cheap this year. But the rest of you have to decide who you think is going to show up.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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Michael Procton

Prado did nothing more than validate who I think he is as a player. His body and his mind simply cannot hold up to the grind of playing 162 games as an everyday player. That’s two years in a row where he fell apart down the stretch due to injury and underperformance, and that’s not likely a coincidence.