There's a lot for fantasy baseball owners to consider as winter winds down and the Spring Training schedule heats up. One of the most critical questions to ponder centers around how one accurately assesses players with less than one year of experience in the big leagues.
It's not smart to overrate or underrate a player's Major League statistics based on a sample size of a few months. Fantasy owners must consider a number of factors, such as the player's track record in the Minors, what scouts are saying about his ceiling and what his projected role will be with the squad this year.
Anyone who owned ultra-prospects Mike Trout and Bryce Harper last year reaped significant benefits from employing players long on talent but short on experience. Even those who were disappointed with Matt Moore's inaugural campaign as a Major-League pitcher saw their patience rewarded when Moore posted a 3.01 ERA and struck out 79 batters in 77 2/3 innings after the All-Star Break.
But what about the lesser-known players who, like the aforementioned trio of budding superstars, shed their respective prospect labels and advanced to the Majors at some point during the 2012 campaign? There seems little doubt Trout, Harper and Moore will be universally-owned impact options in fantasy this season, but there are other second-year players who could prove useful as well.
Let's take a look at some unheralded sophomores primed to take a step forward in 2013:
Jean Segura, SS (Milwaukee) – The 22-year-old middle infielder was a key player in the trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels last summer – and for good reason. He's an ultra-athletic player with 15-homer/30-steal upside. While scouts have him pegged as a future second baseman, the Brewers will turn to him as their everyday shortstop in 2013. Fantasy owners can take solace in knowing Segura has a clear path to considerable playing time, but there is some question about what kind of numbers he can produce at the plate in his first full season in the Majors. The consensus is he can eventually be a .290 hitter who hits for decent power, but fantasy owners would be wise to expect a batting average between .260 and .270 with 5-10 homers. His above-average speed is his most useful tool right now for fantasy purposes, and he could swipe 25-30 bases over a full season right now. Owners who miss out on top-tier shortstops like Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez in deeper formats may be best served waiting to select someone like Segura later on in the draft. Armed with prospect pedigree, upside, a path to regular playing time and useful speed, Segura is a good bet to be a useful fantasy option in all but the most shallow of mixed leagues.
Analysis – Take Segura over the following shortstop-eligible players: Jed Lowrie, Dee Gordon and Jhonny Peralta.
Matt Harvey, SP (New York Mets) – Harvey's prodigious stuff and his success during a late-season audition in the majors has made him a universally-viable option in fantasy leagues heading into 2013. While owners shouldn't expect a repeat of the 2.73 ERA that Harvey provided during his 10 starts and 59 1/3 innings with the Mets last year, they should expect decent win totals, a solid ERA and a bevy of strikeouts. It's his ability to miss bats (112 strikeouts in 110 innings at Triple-A Buffalo and 70 strikeouts in just under 60 innings in the majors) that makes Harvey a good bet to eventually develop into a frontline starter, and it sets him apart from many of the middling pitchers who will be selected around the same time Harvey will be taken in drafts. It will also allow him to mitigate the damage created by his fly ball tendencies and still-developing command. Harvey offers the requisite size (6-4, 210 pounds), stuff (mid-90s fastball, hard slider and 12-6 curveball) and solid track record of success in the Minors. He may be inconsistent at times in 2013, but his final stat line will pay off for those astute fantasy owners who snag him in the middle rounds of one-year drafts.
Analysis – Take Harvey over the following starting pitchers: Homer Bailey, Jeff Samardzija and Jake Peavy.
Manny Machado, SS (Baltimore) – When it comes to investing a fantasy draft pick or auction dollars on a young player with little big-league experience, the better bets are those players with incredible physical tools that can allow them to overcome a lack of polish and advanced approach. Baltimore's budding young star has the speed and budding power to be a valuable infield option in all leagues in 2013, even if he's still developing and refining his skills. Only 11 infielders in all of baseball logged a 15-15 season last year, and just six were eligible at either shortstop or third base. Machado has a chance to hit both 15 homers and swipe 15 bases in 2013 – despite his age and with just 202 plate appearances at the big league level. Scouts believe the O's third baseman of the future will eventually develop into an above-average hitter, but right now it seems safer to project Machado as a .250-.260 hitter for this upcoming season. This makes him a slightly-less productive version of Hanley Ramirez. Armed with eligibility at shortstop AND third base in many leagues for 2013, Machado is a great target for those owners who fail to grab the proven producers at each position.
Analysis – Take Machado over the following shortstop-eligible players and third-base eligible players: Kevin Youkilis, Kyle Seager and Will Middlebrooks.