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Fantasy Baseball Prospects: George Springer and Byron Buxton

Michael Clifford looks at fantasy baseball prospects George Springer and Byron Buxton and what owners can expect from the highly touted outfielders in 2014.

Byron Buxton
Byron Buxton

Twins prospect Byron Buxton. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The perspective that is given to some baseball prospects of late has been skewed by the success of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Yasiel Puig, and others. It’s really thrown the expectations for rookies in the fantasy baseball game out of whack. Consider this: There have been two rookies to hit 20 home runs and bat .280 over the last four years: Mike Trout and Yoenis Cespedes. There have been three rookies to have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title and hit .300 or more: Mike Trout, Jordan Pacheco and Starlin Castro. Trout is the only rookie to go 20/20 over the last four years. Even though big things are expected of Minnesota’s Byron Buxton and Houston’s George Springer, perspective is needed here.

All that is to say that literally other than Mike Trout, elite fantasy seasons for rookies just don’t happen. Ken Griffey Jr. hit .264 in his rookie year (1989) and failed to reach 20 home runs that year for the only time (in a full season) until 2008. In short, reign in expectations and stop trying to find “The Next Mike Trout” because they just don’t happen.

If the mindset is to find players that can impact your team later in the season, the value has to be adjusted for what they can realistically bring to your team. Keep this in mind: The only player to be a top-50 hitter on Yahoo! last year that had under 440 at-bats was Carlos Gonzalez.

With that preface done, here’s what to expect and what to do with Byron Buxton and George Springer.

Byron Buxton (OF) – Minnesota Twins

Buxton was the second overall pick back in the 2012 MLB Entry Draft coming out of high school. And the accolades have racked up for him:

That last line is especially important to remember for this year: Buxton didn’t even reach Double-A. Even with expectations that he will be in the Twins lineup this year, I would be shocked if it was before June. That would cut his at-bats to 400 as his ceiling. Remember what I said earlier about top-50 hitters and at-bats: the playing time is needed to really have a significant impact on the fantasy season.

What to expect from Buxton when he does get here is a lot of speed and great bat control. From Jeff Passan of Yahoo!:

Buxton balances tremendous bat-to-ball ability with keen plate discipline, burgeoning power, an elite arm, game-changing speed, and strong route running.

Being able to make good contact and be patient at the plate isn’t something a lot of prospects are gifted with. With his elite speed, he might be able to endure struggles better than most players because of his abilities to take his walks and make contact.

What to do on draft day:

If the ceiling for Buxton is 400 at-bats, his realistic upside is a top-100 hitter in fantasy. And that top-100 status would be is if everything broke right for him. That would put his ceiling, at the absolute earliest, in the 17th round in a 12-team league.

The hype train isn’t off the rails for Buxton yet as he’s going much, much later than the 17th round of a 12-team draft. He’s essentially going at half that value with an ADP at 436, or round 36 of a 12-teamer. If anything, I think he’s being undervalued; his ADP puts him after Drew Stubbs, Corey Dickerson, and Alex Presley. Unless the player is needed to play at the start of the season (like an AL-Only league), Buxton should be taken over all of these players. Even 350 at-bats should net Buxton 20 steals with an average that won’t be an anchor. If there’s a bench spot available, he should be a reserve round target for 16-team mixed leagues.

George Springer (OF) – Houston Astros

Of the two players mentioned in this article, Springer is the one that is most fantasy-relevant to start the season. With an ADP of 201.5, Springer is being drafted as a high-end OF4 in 15-team, 5OF leagues.

A quick word on roster construction.

Springer’s position as a top-50 outfielder presents exactly the risk/reward scenario I outlined above: He doesn’t necessarily have an everyday playing job yet. The Astros signed Dexter Fowler in the offseason and he’ll play every day that he’s healthy. Houston also has L.J. Hoes, a prospect acquired in the Bud Norris trade, and Robbie Grossman. It’s not necessarily that he won’t get a chance to play, but the options are there if he struggles at the plate. Not that the options are elite but other players on the roster who are developing need at-bats too. I’ll get into what this means in a second.

Springer is truly one of the elite talents coming up this year. As a power/speed threat, Springer had 65 home runs and 82 stolen bases over two seasons from Rookie Ball to 266 plate appearances in Triple-A last year. He’s going to strike out a lot but he has shown the ability to take a lot of walks as well.

Scott Strandberg over at FanGraphs discussed Springer’s ability to make consistent, hard contact because of his power and bat speed. He might strike out a lot but if he can take his walks and make enough hard contact, I see Springer as more of a .250-.255 hitter than a .230-.235 hitter.

What to do on draft day

With the ADP being just over 200, Springer will be drafted in the majority of fantasy leagues. The question is, who will reach the highest for him?

With a player that strikes out as much as Springer does, prolonged streaks of around .150 hitting are a distinct possibility. As I mentioned, there will be other options; Hoes is a year younger than Springer and Grossmann is the same age. With Fowler nearly an everyday player, there will be times he is the odd-man out. The question is how often that happens and that’s completely in his hands with his performance at the plate.

In smaller 3-outfield leagues, I would be more than happy to take him as a fourth (even a fifth) outfielder to leave on the bench. In 5-outfield leagues, it would entirely depend on who I have ahead of him. Are my outfield options safe, like Bryce Harper, Jay Bruce, and Alex Gordon? Or do I have a lot of risk in guys like Yasiel Puig, Jose Bautista, and Josh Hamilton? In the first scenario, I would probably risk Springer. In the second one, I would go with a safer option like Norichika Aoki or Nick Markakis.

Both of these guys are worth putting on a watch list in different league depths. I wouldn’t dismiss Buxton when he does get the call-up, his speed and defense is elite enough to where he can keep himself in the lineup even through struggles. These guys are both elite talents though and neither should be overlooked on draft day. It’s just a matter of how much risk the fantasy roster they’re drafted to can withstand.

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