Ottoneu: The Value In Keeping Minor Leaguers

If you are rostering a player in the minor leagues who has yet to debut, how are justifying it? I don’t write that to be critical, I’m rostering a few myself and I ask myself the same question whenever I look over my roster. If your answer is something like, “They could be really good in the future!”, then you are also thinking like me and everyone else who is rostering young, yet-to-debut minor leaguers. Who are some of these players? Here are just a few hand-selected examples with high average salaries in Ottoneu FanGraphs points leagues:

Marco Luciano, $5.08
Anthony Volpe, $4.88
Jasson Domínguez, $4.37

Jack Leiter, $5.52
Grayson Rodriguez, $5.47
Eury Pérez, $4.29

A player like Grayson Rodriguez can be found on the auction calculator because he is expected to join the O’s rotation either out of camp or early in the season. Using Steamer projection and the auction calculator’s FanGraphs points pre-settings, Rodriguez projects as a $1 player. Technically, he’s not worth rostering with a projected value of $-13.4, but you can usually treat any player with negative value as a $1 player. Regardless, he’s not expected to be worth the $5 plus he’s averaging in Ottoneu leagues, but his rookie season is not the reason you would roster him. You would roster him in hopes that he will be worth much more than $1 in 2024, 2025, and on. If you’re paying $5 now, he’s worth $1 now, but you’ll be paying him $7 next year when he’s worth $10, and maybe you’re doing alright. That statement probably deserves a much deeper dive, but for now, I’ll stay out of that rabbit hole.

This is the fun part of rostering yet-to-debut minor-league players. It’s literally prospecting. It’s fun to do with Bowman autographed baseball cards and it’s fun to do in fantasy baseball leagues. This prospecting becomes more exciting as the player gets closer and closer to success. But, what about a pitcher like Jack Leiter? Technically he edges out Grayson Rodriguez ever-so-slightly in average salary, but here’s a bold prediction; Jack Leiter will not return $5.52 in FanGraphs points leagues this season. Ok, maybe not so bold. No one can predict the future, but this one seems like a gimme. Last year (2022), Corey Kluber returned $5.70. If Leiter were to do the same in 2023, he’d have to be around Kluber’s 2022 numbers:

Player Comparisons
Corey Kluber, 2022 Actuals 164 139 178 21 10 20 0 0
Jack Leiter, 2023 Projection 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
Jack Leiter, 2022 AA Actuals 92.2 109 88 56 8 11 0 0
Steamer Projections

First of all, Kluber only walked 21 batters in 2022!? That’s the lowest total among all starters with at least 160 innings pitched and seven less than second-place Kevin Gausman. That’s what you can or should get for around $5.00 in FanGraphs points leagues. Kluber’s current average Ottoneu salary sits at $6.66. Second, I included Leiter’s Steamer projection tongue in cheek, he basically has no projection. His player page does have a 2023 MLB ETA, but who knows? So, we can’t realistically project Leiter’s 2023 value. I suppose we could compare his minor-league stats. That’s also unfair but at least it gives us some semblance of what he can do. Luckily, Dan Szymborski does the good work of projecting player performance a few years ahead with ZIPS:

Jack Leiter, ZIPS 3-Year
2023 94.7 88 90 52 9 14 0 0
2024 98.0 92 90 49 8 13 0 0
2025 102.7 97 92 49 7 13 0 0

I tossed in the HBP projections myself, thinking that maybe Leiter will gain a little more control over time, and I projected no holds, the rest is provided by ZIPS. Before you start going crazy over this projection remember that volatility in projections for players who have never played in the major leagues is very high. So, let’s get even more volatile! Let’s imagine that ZIPS is being very conservative and that Leiter’s 2024 season looks more like a combination of 2023 and 2024. This is a big assumption, I know, but stick with me. Here’s where Leiter would be in 2024:

Experimental Mode, Sum of ZIPS (2023,2024)
2024 EXP 192.7 180 180 80 7 27 0

I tweaked the HBP and BB totals to reflect a more realistic total, but the other categories are the sum of 23′ and 24′ ZIPS. If this turned out to be true, what would his value be in 2024? In FanGraphs points leagues, this projection would be worth approximately 725 points (rPTS on the table below). Now, we have something to work with. The auction calculator has the following pitchers in that realm for the 2023 season:

Players Projected for ~725 rPTS (2023)
Name Team POS ADP IP rPTS PTS aPOS Dollars
Nestor Cortes NYY SP 113 167.0 732.46 -1.59 5.95 5.36
Joe Ryan MIN SP 142 169.6 723.98 -2.69 5.95 4.26
Martin Perez TEX SP 314 183.9 720.79 -3.10 5.95 3.85
**FanGraphs Points Leagues auction calculator

Remember my bold/not-very-bold prediction from earlier? I’m prepared to apply that to the 2024 season as well. Jack Leiter’s current average salary of $5.52 may not be what he’s worth until beyond 2024 even if he ends up being Nestor Cortes, which is a huge if. Up until this point, I have written nothing about arbitration, but it’s very possible that someone in your league could bump his salary up a few dollars and you would no longer be making smart decisions by rostering him. Could I be wrong about all of this? Yes! I have no doubt that Leiter will be a successful major league pitcher, but Ottoneu FanGraphs points fantasy leagues roster-able? Now? No. Why did I write all of this? Well, because I’m rostering a $6 Jack Leiter and had a theory about why that was a bad decision. Finally, just before the January 31st keeper deadline, I’m ready to let him go. Farewell my friend. I hope to pick you up for $1 in the draft and start this prospecting process all over again, but at a much more reasonable price.

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3 days ago

another reason to roster 1 or 2 prospects is to trade them away at the deadline