If only Major League Baseball treated prospects as a kid does new toys. Kids are so excited to get new toys they can hardly contain their excitement as an adult opens the package and cuts the 23 twisties that hold it down inside the packaging to both deter theft and hold the product at just the right angle for display purposes in the box. Once the toy is freed from its capture, the child takes the toy and runs out to play with it in sand, dirt, asphalt, or in the air like that toy is their most favorite thing in the world much like Andy in the movie Toy Story. Fantasy league general managers are no different. They left their 2010 drafts last year with Buster Posey, Chris Carter, Jeremy Hellickson, Justin Smoak, Michael Taylor, Michael Stanton, and Stephen Strasburg with hopes of them making early major league splashes and helping carry those fantasy owners to the money later in the season. Posey and Stanton certainly did that, but owners had to wait longer than expected and for Hellickson, they had to wait even longer. The others had to wait even long yet, either due to ineffectiveness, or worse yet, roadblocks.
As I said in an earlier article, MLB general managers do not care about your fantasy team. They care about player development and service time clocks. If they can sign a low-priced veteran to plug a gap until the Super-Two deadline passes and/or that low-risk vet pays off, it is a win for that club because they buy an extra year of player control with their younger player. Conversely, it frustrates fantasy owners to no end when they see a less talented player plugging up a roster spot that they believe their fantasy prospect should be occupying. This is not the case for Freddie Freeman who has already been handed the job at first base but some of his prospect peers are not as fortunate. Here are several such scenarios in the National League to keep in mind when acquiring certain prospects.
Brandon Belt blocked by Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff in San Francisco
One of the best hitting prospects in the minor leagues is blocked by a rash of re-signings. Had the Giants not won the World Series, it is uncertain that either Huff or Burrell would have come back, but Huff was re-signed to a two-year deal and Burrell came back at a bargain one-year deal at $1M. Those guys effectively block Belt from playing the two positions on the field he can realistically play so one has to hope for the Giants to go into a tailspin (unlikely) or for Burrell to hit the way he did with the Rays last season. This situation looks exactly like the Buster Posey situation from last season before his callup. What happens after that is up to Belt.
Kenley Jansen blocked by Guerrier and Kuo in Los Angeles
The first time I saw Jansen pitch was in the 2009 Arizona Fall League and I had flashbacks to watching Kelvim Escobar work for the Jays in spring training in Dunedin. Jonathan Broxton is starting to show some chinks in his armor but the oft-injured Hong-Chih Kuo has revitalized his career to become a dominant setup guy and the Dodgers also added veteran Matt Guerrier this offseason. If you are drafting Jansen in hopes that he is a sleeper source of saves this season, he has a few hurdles to jump over in order to grab that job. We do not yet know the managerial tendencies of Donnie Baseball, but putting a rookie reliever over three veterans to close would be quite surprising. That said, Jansen is still someone I want to leave the draft with because he will still have value in middle relief with his strikeout potential.
Jordan Lyles by Nelson Figueroa and Lance Pendleton in Houston
I still cannot get past the fact that Lyles was born five months after I graduated high school – I cannot be that old already. I also can't get past the fact that Lyles is very likely to make his major league debut at some point this season because retreads and Rule 5 picks are not much opposition to an organization's top prospect. He threw 159 innings last year between Double- and Triple-A as a 19-year-old and the Astros clearly have aggressive plans for him if they promoted him to Triple-A before his 20th birthday. That said, I will be stunned to see Lyles break camp with the team out of Kissimmee because working as the fifth starter would push him upwards of 180 innings as a 20-year-old and that development model has a very suspect track record.
Simon Castro by Wade LeBlanc in San Diego
Castro saw his clear path blocked by the addition of Aaron Harang to the roster and the Padres moving Tim Stauffer into a full-time starting role. With Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, and Wade LeBlanc in the fold, Castro is all but assured to head back to Triple-A to work on his secondary offerings. Which happens first – Castro gets a better handle on his off-speed offerings or LeBlanc figures out how to get out lefties? For his career, lefties have teed off on LeBlanc to the tune of a .297/.355/.530 slash line. It is not a good thing when you are a left-handed pitcher and you cannot get lefties out. If Castro wins the race to improvement, LeBlanc can easily be moved aside for the pitcher with the higher ceiling.
Scott Mathieson by Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson in Philadelphia
Mathieson has had three elbow surgeries – two of them involving ligament replacement – and yet here he still is in baseball when many a pitcher before him with a similar history had to call it a career. Rather than retire, Mathieson went out and won the organizational pitcher of the year award for the Phillies last year as a dominating closer in Triple-A. The big league club has the ever-volatile Brad Lidge, the elder statesman in Contreras, and Madson who has had a mixed bag of success as a closer in the past filling in when Lidge went down. Like Jansen, Mathieson has some value in NL-only leagues as a middle reliever. It is amazing a guy that has had his elbow repaired more often than a 1974 Pinto can still throw in the mid-90s but that's where Mathieson sits these days. If there was ever a situation for someone to slide in and become a sleeper source for saves, this is it.
Lance Lynn blocked by Kyle Lohse in St. Louis
In my best Seth Meyers voice, “Really? I mean, really?” The only thing that is keeping Lohse on this roster is the $23M due to him over the next two seasons which is money the club should have never spent in the first place and should have saved for their Pujols negotiations. They're now stuck with a pitcher who has been a combined 1.5 wins above replacement over the past two seasons while paying him a boatload of cash. There comes a point where cutting bait on sunk costs is the card best played and if the Cardinals do that, Lynn is next in line. He pitched in the PCL last year, and had a 4.77 ERA and gave up 21 home runs, but the 7.7 K/9IP and 2.3 K/BB are rather attractive and he has more upside than Lohse at this point. Given the status of the two studs at the front of the rotation, Jaime Garcia, and the latest Duncan reclamation project in Jake Westbrook, Lynn is stuck in Triple-A until the Cardinals come to their senses with Lohse.
Yonder Alonso blocked by Joey Votto and Jonny Gomes in Cincinnati
Let the Reds drafting of Alonso be a lesson to you keeper league players – drafting the best available player is not always the best play. The pick of Alonso was panned by pundits when it happened because he was a first baseman in an organization that already had one of the best up and coming first basemen in baseball in Joey Votto. Alonso could be made into a plodding left fielder but the fact the split-challenged and defensively-challenged Gomes is still entrenched out there shows you the kind of faith the Reds have in Alonso playing the outfield. He is, without a doubt, the most blocked prospect on this entire list because his bat has fantasy potential but there is simply nowhere for him to use it unless the Reds trade him to another organization. Despite his talented bat, Alonso is a prospect I would slide down keeper league draft charts, especially if you are in a NL-only league keeper league because he is a flight risk in a trade and a usable prospect only if someone gets hurt and I would rather use that roster spot on an asset that has some 2011 value.