April 15, 2014
NL Central U25 Lists
To read the earlier U25 editions in this series, click below:
For this exercise, we're each going to rank our top-30 U25 fantasy players by division before we collaborate on a top-150 list once this portion of the project is complete. For each division, we'll give you our individual rankings and then discuss any major discrepancies in our rankings, talk about some sleepers we wanted to rank higher and take cheap shots at each other along the way. It will be like the TINO podcast, but for your eyes, complete with an imaginary Bret Sayre breaking up our fights.
Just like with the preseason organizational top prospect lists, players will have to be born after April 1, 1988 to qualify, and just like with the preseason lists, there is of course an element of subjectivity that comes with these rankings. But unlike the preseason lists, these rankings are all about fantasy.
This week, we'll take a look at one of the most prospect-rich divisions in baseball, the NL Central.
DISAGREEMENT ONE: Austin Meadows
Craig's Take: We’ve had this discussion in person, so why not take it to print? This is tough to gauge since it’s largely about opinions on a guy neither of us have seen, but instead an interpretation of what we’ve both read about how his skillset will manifest itself at the highest level. To that end though, while I agree that Meadows is not a future superstar, I think he can be something closer to Shin-Soo Choo with less OBP than Alex Gordon (that one year excepted).
He’s light-years away, but I think 25/25, or some variation therein, isn’t out of range for him, and while his arm might limit him defensively (left field is almost assured if he can’t stay in center) that’s a little less relevant in the fantasy world. I am by no means saying he’s a future 25/25 guy, but I think it’s within the realm of possibility, at the upper percentiles of his production. That ceiling led to his placement on my list, with complete knowledge that he’s likely to be something less than that. Even so, outfield is scarce now and might not be fixed by the time he arrives, so I don’t think the positional value is necessarily working against him either.
Ben’s Take: I think usually when we have these disagreements they’re more philosophical than based in evaluation, but when it comes to Meadows, we just don’t see the same thing. In Jason Parks’ Pirates top 10 list before the season, he put a 6+ on Meadows’ run, a 5+ on his power, and a 5+ on his hit, and then went on to talk about how the hit tool is far from a sure thing. To me, that’s not someone who necessarily has 25/25 upside, and I certainly think comparing him to Choo is pie-in-the-sky-type stuff.
I know there are other sources who are higher on Meadows than many of the BP evaluators, and I respect that. Even so, I can’t reconcile having a guy who I think has no. 3 outfielder upside ahead of usable pieces now, like Wong, Olt, Peralta, and Mesoraco, and higher upside guys like Glasnow and Soler. I’ll gladly adjust my Meadows evaluation if he proves the hit tool is better than we think, but until then, he’s somewhere near the back-end of my Top 100 fantasy prospects list. Honestly, I considered Stephen Piscotty over him.
Craig’s Take: Well, you certainly do love the white-bread types. 6+ on the run makes me think 25-plus stolen bases are well within reach, if not more. 5+ on the power makes 25 home runs an obvious stretch, but as you said, there are other evaluators who like Meadows a bit more for his pop. If I see him as a 6 power guy, a 25-home-run season would be within the normal variance for a plus-power hitter. I don’t think 25/25 is a stretch under those circumstances as a peak type season. I’m not at all predicting that type of production with regularity, but again, it’s still worthwhile. Even if they were 20 HR/30 SB seasons, I think that justifies his ranking.
Ben’s Take: Fine. I still think his odds of getting there are, like, 10 percent, and it’s clear you think they are a number that is higher than 10 percent, which is why we rank him differently. Give me the less exciting guys who can contribute now. And don’t you dare talk about white bread—Austin Meadows is the whitest name this side of Chad Billingsley.
Craig’s Take: That’s fine, enjoy their contributions as you mull who to pick up off the wire to replace them.
Ben’s Take: And you enjoy eating up a roster spot for a replaceable player for four-plus years!
Imaginary Bret: If two of the whitest guys on earth talking about white people can be racist, this is getting close to being racist. Move on.
DISAGREEMENT TWO: Billy Hamilton
Ben’s Take: I actually don’t have a problem with Craig’s ranking of Hamilton. I just think mine is better. I’ve thrown the Jay Bruce comp on Kris Bryant a bunch now, and I’ll keep going with it here, from a fantasy POV. I like Wacha a lot and am coming around on him being more of a no. 2 starter than the mid-rotation guy I thought he was as a prospect. And Polanco... man, I really love Polanco, and I was shocked that you placed him higher than I did. If I didn’t have a compulsive need to write about Tyler Thornburg, Polanco is the guy I would’ve droned on about below.
If I may briefly recreate a TINO rant here... I hate the need we have to compare Billy Hamilton to everyone fast who’s ever played. He’s no more Rickey Henderson than he is Vince Coleman than he is Dee Gordon. He’s his own player—arguably faster than anyone I just listed—and he’s going to have his ups and downs. I don’t think he’s a future .300 hitter, but I also wholeheartedly disagree with the assertion (not that you’ve made, but that I see elsewhere) that .250 is some sort of ceiling for him. It’s not. He can be an above-average MLB player. I think we agree on what Hamilton can ultimately be, so this is probably less about Hamilton and more about the guys you put in front of him.
Craig’s Take: Great, now you’ve pissed off all three TINO listeners who had to hear and read that rant from you, anyway, this is indeed about the guys I put in front of Hamilton. My stance against Wacha is softening with every great start he makes. I held to my initial judgments against a great small-sample performance because I think that’s the right way to go, but at this point the sample keeps getting bigger without diluting the performance. Bryant is a future 35-plus-home-run bat for me, plus I think the average can sit in the .260 range, and I think that impacts more categories than Hamilton, even if that impact isn’t felt as strongly in those categories. Polanco might be the sketchiest one to put on top, but he’s got plenty of speed himself and should be able to positively contribute to the other categories more than Hamilton can.
I’m not jumping off the Hamilton bandwagon just yet. We saw his otherworldly speed stretch a single into a double already this season, and while he hasn’t looked the part just yet, plenty of rookies struggle in their first go at the big league level. The thing to me about Hamilton is that if you have him, you need him to hit, and then you need to make sure your team is built around him being good enough to hit/steal 85-plus bases, because he’s going to be a negative contributor in RBI, HR, and possibly average.
Ben’s Take: Where we disagree is with this idea that Hamilton “hurts you” in RBI or HR. You know up front that you’re not going to get any production out of him there, and that’s easy to plan around. You wouldn’t say Miguel Cabrera “hurts” you in SB, would you? This is getting philosophical, but I digress... I think Hamilton is a lock to steal 65 bases, can easily steal 85 bases, and could challenge for 100-plus at his peak. That’s a transcendent fantasy player, and that upside is too good to drop any lower for me.
Craig’s Take: Yes, you and I have had the whole “negatively impacts” conversation before. I think there is a baseline in each category that certain players can fall below. It’s extremely low for first baseman, so I do think Miggy can “hurt” you there, it’s just hardly felt because of how the position pans out. On top of that, Hamilton stealing 100-plus bases is a realistic scenario (which is insane, really), but I do think that, unless your team is built to leverage those 100-plus steals, you’re reaching a point of diminishing returns. Essentially, you have to create a team devoid of steals in almost every other area to avoid creating excess value from steals for Hamilton or one of your other players. Obviously the flip side is that it allows you to gain additional value from other players who you otherwise might dock some because they don’t provide any speed, but then there’s the added risk that all your speed eggs are in one basket. If Hamilton gets hurt or doesn’t perform, your whole category is down the drain.
Anyway, that’s less about Hamilton’s skill than it is the potential issues with owning him, but suffice it to say that I think that the damage caused if he doesn’t perform is more extensive than the normal player/prospect because of how people will count on him for the singular impact he provides. In that sense he carries more risk than the standard prospect, but admittedly, more reward as well.
Ben’s Take: Drafting Billy Hamilton rids you of the need to reach for lesser players who have speed for the rest of your draft, much in the same way that expelling an evening’s worth of contents inside a rental car rids you of the need to indulge in a greasy breakfast and bottle of Gatorade the next morning. Drafting Hamilton is like a 2 a.m. purge in a moving vehicle in Arizona that does not belong to you, but in the best way possible.
Craig’s Take: And when he fails to hit enough, he’s the smell left behind by that 2 a.m. purge.
Imaginary Bret: This is... what have I done?
Ben’s One Player He Wanted to Rank Higher: Tyler Thornburg
Craig’s One Player He Wanted to Rank Higher: Reese McGuire
Craig, say something nice about Ben: He really, really, really likes Tyler Thornburg. Haikus suck, but he’s good at them.
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @bencarsley