This offseason, as transactions unfold and news breaks on the big league level, we’ll take a look at how the ripple effects shake out on the prospect side, focusing primarily on 2013 fantasy impact, with an eye toward the future, too.
This week: Baseball’s best first base prospect gets suspended, and two top young hot cornermen currently remain depth chart victims.
ACTION: Astros 1B Jonathan Singleton suspended 50 games by MLB for violating drug policy
This infringement was actually Singleton’s second, hence the 50-game ban. To clarify, the 21-year-old lefty slugger tested positive for marijuana. Don’t mistake this for making light of the situation or condoning recreational drug use, but the fact that the violation has to do with getting half baked as opposed to taking some kind of performance-enhancing drug makes this less problematic from a performance evaluation standpoint. To put it another way, there’s no concern that Singleton’s big numbers at Double-A (.284/.396/.497 with 21 homers) were potentially and/or partially the result of something he was putting in his body. That said, losing the first 50 games of 2013 certainly won’t help Singleton’s chances to make his big league debut for a team that not only considers him the first baseman of the future but also lacks a real answer there in the present.
FANTASY VALUE: The missed time won’t hurt Singleton much from a developmental standpoint — he’s already set to play at Triple-A at 21 — but it will push back his ETA, thus curtailing the limited fantasy value he had in re-draft leagues heading into 2013. It’s still possible Singleton returns to the field in late May or early June (May 26 is the earliest possible return date, going by the Oklahoma City RedHawks schedule), picks up where he left off and makes his debut in August or September, but he’s probably not going to make an impact next season outside of the final few weeks as a possible corner infielder in the deepest of AL-onlies. Singleton remains a top-notch dynasty and keeper option, though, and could very well enter 2014 as the Opening Day first baseman, provided he’s taken his last puff.
*Colleague Marc Hulet ranked Singleton No. 1 among the Houston Astros Top 15 Prospects earlier this offseason
ACTION: Nationals re-sign 1B Adam LaRoche
IMPACT: 3B Anthony Rendon, Nationals
With LaRoche back in the fold, that means Michael Morse will be relegated to a backup/utility role split between first base (primarily) and outfield (occasionally), if he’s not traded first. A Morse deal would help clear things up some, but the issue with regards to Rendon is that LaRoche will now be around at least through 2014, which means Ryan Zimmerman, who many speculate will eventually wind up at first, is locked into third base for just as long. If you’re doing the math at home, that in turn, means Rendon, the sixth overall pick in 2011, could end up waiting until — you guessed it — 2015 for his first real opportunity at the hot corner. Now, yes, the 22-year-old has seen some very limited action at second base and shortstop, but before every fantasy owner starts getting eligibility arousal, realize that was more of a spring training experiment than anything else. Would Rendon be capable of handling second base as a starter? Probably. But then the other big issue surrounding him comes into play: his propensity to get injured. Not only would he have to stay on the field enough in the minors to get the necessary reps to transform into a legitimate keystone option, but Rendon would also be moving to a position that is, by its very nature, a bigger injury risk. Bottom line: Something is likely to happen that fixes this “problem” so that Rendon can be a big league starter before he turns 25 — we just don’t know what that is yet.
FANTASY VALUE: Although he reached Double-A in 2012 despite playing in just 43 games due to fractured ankle, Rendon really needs at least a full season’s worth of games in the minors before he’s ready to contribute in fantasy, meaning 2013 is a longshot. Frankly, 2014 doesn’t look especially promising either, so buying into him as a one-year keeper also might not pay off. Eventually, though, Rendon’s plus hit tool and power, as well as his good approach and quality plate discipline, will make him a fantasy starter at third base, so he’s one to target if still available in dynasty formats.
*Hulet ranked Rendon No. 2 among the Washington Nationals Top 15 Prospects earlier this offseason
ACTION: Rangers sign 1B/DH Lance Berkman
IMPACT: 3B/1B Mike Olt, Rangers
The Rangers coaxing Berkman out of retirement did nothing good for Mike Olt in the short-term. In fact, the move pretty much sealed Olt’s fate to start 2013, as he’s now expected to begin the season at Triple-A. Prior to landing Lance, Texas could have used Olt, who’s already blocked at his natural third base by Adrian Beltre, as the right-handed hitting part of a first base platoon with Mitch Moreland, while also working him in at DH, where Berkman will spend most of his time and doesn’t hit lefties particularly well anymore. Alas, the 24-year-old who slugged .579 and mashed 28 homers at Double-A in 2012 will either have to wait for injury (Berkman?), ineffectiveness (Moreland?) or trade to get a shot at regular PT.
FANTASY VALUE: Olt is going to be a tricky player to measure for fantasy purposes next season. Without a clear path to a role in the majors, he’s undraftable in any single-season leagues, but he would at least remain a name to keep on the Watch List as an in-case-of-emergency-break-glass kind of way. Of course, if he’s traded, Olt’s outlook for 2013 would improve dramatically, even though he would be leaving one of the best hitter’s parks in the game. As a keeper, things are a little bit rosier, simply because either another mediocre season from Moreland or another injury-plagued campaign by Berkman would put Olt in line to earn a key role in 2014 and beyond. Ultimately, though, there’s a real possibility that Olt as a Ranger might never happen.
Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11