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Fantasy Baseball Prospects: Oscar Taveras and Taijuan Walker

Michael Clifford looks at top fantasy baseball prospects Oscar Taveras and Taijuan Walker and what to do with them on draft day.

Oscar Taveras
Oscar Taveras

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The value of prospects at the draft table vary from draft to draft. Some fantasy baseball owners absolutely fall in love with the potential of prospects; while someone like George Springer would typically be about the 50th outfielder off the board, someone will undoubtedly take him 40th somewhere.

Like most fantasy baseball owners out there, I like to have a prospect or two on my bench (provided it’s deep enough to support such a move). How to nail down their value in drafts becomes problematic when injuries are introduced into the equation.

Two players that have injury concerns coming into the season are St. Louis outfielder Oscar Taveras and Seattle starting pitcher Taijuan Walker. The former from an ankle injury last year, the latter from shoulder issues that came up this year in Spring Training.

Oscar Taveras

Prospects are deemed as such because there is some sort of pedigree behind them. Oscar Taveras falls into the prospect category:

Just head to his wiki page for the full list of accomplishments. They are lengthy.

Taveras had 272 hits (31 home runs) in 202 games between Single-A and Double-A through 2011 and 2012. He had five home runs, five steals, and batted .306 over 186 plate appearances in Triple-A before season-ending ankle surgery in August. By all accounts, the hype is real surrounding Taveras and he would have likely been in the Bigs by September had it not been for his injury. He has the pedigree behind him and has performed at every level.

Taveras doesn’t walk very much but he also doesn’t strike out a whole lot either. His ability to put balls in play consistently with good contact should allow for a high batting average. Whenever he does get the call (I’ll get to that), his realistic floor is about a .290 hitter. Taveras doesn’t have a ton of power so stolen bases will be a necessity to sustain a high fantasy value.

What to do on draft day

With an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 270.46 per the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, Taveras is being drafted as a starter in 15-team, 5-OF leagues. For my liking, this is a bit too high to draft him: Allen Craig will see time in the outfield to get Matt Adams’ bat in the lineup at first base; Matt Holliday will play almost every day in left; Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos are also in the mix in the outfield. In short, there are four guys ahead of Taveras that could draw into the lineup on any given day. Short of absolutely mashing right out of the gate (which he has not so far in Spring Training), Taveras won’t be a regular on the big club unless an injury occurs.

Drafting Taveras as more than a bench option in most non-keeper leagues is a mistake. Undoubtedly, the talent is there for Taveras to be an All-Star in the future. Right now, there are too many players ahead of him on the depth chart for Taveras to have enough plate appearances to be fantasy-relevant unless the injuries start piling up.

Taijuan Walker

The Seattle Mariners have a lot of talented pitching prospects coming through the pipeline and among the best is Taijuan Walker. Drafted in the supplemental round of the 2010 Entry Draft out of high school, Walker went through Single-A in 2011, Double-A in 2012 and reached Triple-A in 2013 before getting a few starts with the big club. He was well on his way to being featured in the rotation out of Spring Training this year until shoulder inflammation sidelined Walker at the end of February. If he has been dealing with shoulder soreness all winter, as it was reported in that piece, these are major red flags going into this season.

There is a good scouting report on Walker from a couple of years ago on FanGraphs from Mike Newman. With a fastball that can touch the upper nineties, a change-up that’s about 8-10 MPH lower, and a curveball that has 12-6 bite, Walker certainly has the strike-out appeal that is coveted among fantasy baseball pitching prospects. The shoulder is an ongoing concern, though.

What to do on draft day

Walker’s latest ADP of SP55 is much too high but it has been falling since the news about his shoulder came out. His falling price gives fantasy baseball owners two distinct options on draft day:

  1. Completely avoid him at the draft table and take the “let him be someone else’s problem” mentality. With all the red flags surrounding a throwing shoulder, no one can be blamed for this course of action. Other young pitchers like Tyson Ross of San Diego or Corey Kluber of Cleveland are both going a round or two later, on average.
  2. Wait to see how far he falls and take a calculated risk. Maybe in your draft, Walker falls from SP55 to SP75 because of all the nervousness around his shoulder. At that point, perhaps fantasy baseball owners could take the chance on him as their seventh rostered starting pitcher and hope the shoulder issues don’t linger.

I’m of the mind to go with option 1, particularly for a pitcher. Even if he falls five rounds, there are still other pitchers like Brandon Morrow or Kevin Gausman who have about as much fantasy upside and can be had at the same time. Drafting Walker would force fantasy baseball owners to forgo the opportunity of drafting healthy and potentially very productive pitchers. That’s almost never the best course of action.

Both Taveras and Walker were very highly-touted prospects at this time last year and injuries at different times have skewed their outlook for 2014. In re-draft (one-year) leagues, they would have to be had at basement prices to truly provide value and neither are being drafted at that point yet.

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