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New Value Assessments for Post Hype Prospects

Face it, we all overvalue prospects. Every single person reading this right now is guilty of this, myself included. Part of succeeding in this fantasy baseball realm is being ahead of the curve. That applies to prospects as well. But with prospects, often come unrealistic comparisons and expectations. Take Jasson Dominguez for example. Three player comparisons thrown on him recently were Mike Trout, Bo Jackson, and Mickey Freaking Mantle. Can we all take a step back and breath for a second? Damn! While the comparisons for these post hype prospects below weren’t quite that ridiculous, all of them were considered elite prospects at one point with bright futures ahead of them.

And as you can expect by the name of this article, their Major League careers haven’t exactly gone according to plan. It’s now gotten to the point where each is at the proverbial crossroads and we’re all sitting here trying to figure out how to value them and if we should even care anymore. We definitely should care. We just need to adjust our expectations to more reasonable levels and stop comparing what they are now to what we thought they could be years ago.

You’re going to see those words “adjust our expectations” frequently in this article. This is something we don’t do nearly enough. When it comes to these former top prospects that have struggled, we’d rather toss them aside since they didn’t live up to lofty expectations. Well, news flash, most prospects don’t. Some exceed, some meet, and a lot fall short. That’s just how it goes with prospects. Baseball is hard to be great at.

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Post Hype Prospects – New Assessments

Brendan Rodgers (2B – COL)

As a shortstop and #3 overall pick with plus hit and power projections, the hype around Brendan Rodgers was astronomical from 2016-2019 or so. He peaked as the #14 (2019) overall prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, #10 (2019) according to MLB, and #11 (2017) according to Baseball Prospectus. Now here we are entering the 2021 season and Rodgers has accumulated only 102 plate appearances over parts of two seasons with a paltry .196/.235/.227 slash line and is still searching for his first Major League home run. So, where did that plus hit tool and plus power go?

Frankly, I’m not sure they’ve totally disappeared. Is he still a .290/25+ threat? Probably not. But this is a bat I saw live back in his Double-A days and Rodgers impressed me with how he was consistently able to barrel pitches up and drive them all over the field. That hasn’t happened yet in the Majors, and his Savant page will make you vomit on yourself, but we need to remember that he’s only had 102 plate appearances. This is an extremely minute sample size.

Rodgers has succumbed to the infamous “Rock-Blocking” and hasn’t really been given a shot to play every day and find his footing in the Majors. Could that happen in 2021? It’s definitely possible following the Nolan Arenado trade. With the hot corner open, it makes sense to move Ryan McMahon back over there and give Rodgers or Garrett Hampson the 2nd base gig. That’s far from a certainty with Colorado, as we all unfortunately know, but don’t give up on Rodgers just yet. I’d throw a late-round flier on him in deeper leagues and/or a bottom of the barrel trade offer in dynasty leagues.

New Assessment: .270/18-22 HR – Potential Starting MI

Victor Robles (OF – WAS)

Here’s the big one. As recently as 2019, Victor Robles was considered nearly a universal top-5 prospect for both real-life and fantasy purposes alike. His minor league numbers fueled a solid chunk of that hype. In the four seasons leading up to his late-2017 debut, Robles hit no lower than .280 or posted an OBP lower than .376 in any season. On top of that, Robles swiped 129 bags in 384 games, good for a 150-game pace of 50 steals. But Robles was more than just a hit/speed prospect, there was some power projection as well. But that’s where we were very wrong.

When it comes to quality of contact, Robles has been a dud.

Everyone immediately will look at the single-digit percentiles for exit velocity and hard-hit% in each of the last two seasons, but it doesn’t stop there, as you can see. The best quality of contact metric for Robles so far was a 21st percentile xISO and barrel% in 2019. What has saved Robles and allowed him to post a 162-G power pace of 19.5 homers in his MLB career is the 17.2° launch angle. But banking on the high launch angle hitters is risky in itself and reports of MLB “Deadening” the baseball slightly in 2021 doesn’t help the launch angle heroes. So, I’m expecting Robles to be more of a 10-12 homer bat moving forward than a 20-homer threat.

His plate discipline has also taken a step back as well.

This was supposed to be one of the areas that Robles could be an asset in. But that simply hasn’t been the case with a .250 average through 241 games with the Nationals. In each of the last two seasons, Robles O-Swing, Contact%, Z-Contact%, and SwStr% have all consistently trended in the wrong direction. And since he’s never been a big walk guy (7.6% in MiLB, 5.3% in MLB), Robles relies on his contact skills to post respectable OBPs.

As someone that ranked Robles highly in his prospect days, I hate to write all this negativity, but the future outlook isn’t as rosy as it once was. But with that said, we need to remember that Robles is still only 23 years old and won’t turn 24 until mid-May. His defensive attributes in center field will also keep him in the lineup and give him time to try and figure things out. This is not the point where we write him off completely. We just need to adjust expectations.

New Assessment: .270, 10-15 HR, 20+ SB – #4 Fantasy Outfielder, OF3 in a good season

Alex Reyes (RHP – STL)

Alex Reyes is easily one of my favorite post hype prospects right now.

4 GS, 23.0 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 7 BB, 44 K (53.7 K%)

What is that, you ask? Those are Alex Reyes’ numbers from his rehab stint back in 2018. May I direct your eyes back to that 53.7% strikeout rate? Yes, this was just a small 4-game sample size, but it serves as another reminder of how talented and electric Reyes can be on the mound. It might feel a bit odd for me to include him in an article like this with a 2.48 career ERA. However, that has come over five years and parts of four Major League seasons. As impressive as Reyes has shown he can be at times, we’ve also had to deal with this:

That among other ailments, including Tommy John surgery in 2017, has shifted Reyes into a bullpen role of late. And frankly, with his inconsistent and below-average command and control, the pen is a better spot for him anyway. Reyes’ stuff is downright electric, but there have always been questions surrounding if he could turn over a lineup 2-3 times a game. Now a bullpen arm, I’m still excited about what Reyes can do thanks to his 97.5 mph fastball and two lethal breaking pitches.

Post Hype Prospects

Both his slider and curveball recorded impressive whiff rates last season, with the curve’s 57.9% whiff rate ranking 4th in baseball with a minimum of 50 thrown. Furthermore, Reyes’ curve had a 70% K rate which was tops in the Majors, along with a .118 xBA and .111 xwOBA. Here is that beautiful curveball in visual form.

Reyes’ curveball is one of the best in the game, combining elite verticle drop while mirroring his fastball incredibly well.

There’s a chance that Reyes could get some save opportunities in 2021, but this Cardinals bullpen is crowded in the back end with Giovany Gallegos, Andrew Miller, and Jordan Hicks in the mix as well. For now, Reyes makes for a high-upside late-round lottery ticket in redraft leagues (399 ADP on NFBC). But long-term, he has the stuff to flourish in the closer role and perform as a top-10 fantasy reliever.

New Assessment: Top-50 Fantasy Reliever with top-10 reliever upside if he inherits closer duties in St. Louis.

Dylan Cease (RHP – CHW)

While the chances of Alex Reyes turning into a viable fantasy starter might be gone, I’m not sure we can say the same about Dylan Cease. Up until this point, Cease has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball over the last two seasons. In his 26 starts, Cease has compiled a 5.00 ERA, 5.71 FIP, and 1.50 WHIP. Those are good for 107th best, 126th best, and 122nd best respectively out of the 127 pitchers with 130+ innings over this span. On top of that, Cease’s 11.9% walk rate is 2nd worst, only behind Robbie Ray, and his 9.6 K-BB% is 16th worst.

With Cease, we need to change the narrative. He’s not the same pitcher we all thought was going to blossom into a potential frontline starter. But with that said, I’m seeing some light at the end of this tunnel. Not a lot, but some. In each of his two seasons thus far, Cease has displayed a very good slider. The pitch has registered an xBA below .200, an xwOBA below .300, and an xSLG below .400 each season with the whiff rate rising to 39.5% in 2020. His changeup also had a solid 31.5% whiff rate which was mid-pack in 2020.

But while he’ll flash impressive secondaries, mainly that slider, Cease’s fastball hasn’t been effective, despite impressive velocity and spin rates. Cease’s averaged 96.5 mph (93rd percentile) with a spin rate of 2449 rpm (87th percentile) in 2019 and upped both of those in 2020 to 97.5 mph (97th percentile) and 2521 rpm (94th percentile) respectively. That’s all fine and dandy, but subpar fastball command has been Cease’s downfall. Cease himself even mentioned struggling to gain a feel for the fastball at times. His fastball also has some natural cutting action to it which has made it even more difficult to locate.

Luckily, Cease has the right people around him to turn this ship around. To start, current White Sox ace, Lucas Giolito, experienced similar issues to start his career before pulling a complete 180 into the top-10 fantasy starter that he is today. And who was one of the people that helped Giolito?  Ethan Katz. And guess who the White Sox hired as their new pitching coach this offseason? Yup, Ethan Katz.

The offseason reports on Cease have been positive and Katz has him using a core velocity belt, which Giolito also used. I’m not necessarily saying that Cease is going to turn into Lucas Giolito 2.0, but he’s showed how good he could be in the minors (3.02 ERA, 30.7 K%) and the pieces are falling into place for a rebound in 2021 and beyond.

New Assessment: Potential Top-50 Fantasy Starter, maybe top-40 if the command and control improve.

Media/Link Credit: Baseball Savant, Fangraphs, The Athletic, Rob Rains, Rob Friedman (Pitching Ninja), Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire

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