As this year’s MLB draft picks have signed their contracts and entered the ottoneu player universe, owners have been auctioning them off like crazy. Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman, and Brendan Rodgers in particular, have been flying off the shelves, and often at rather high prices.
Those three are all owned in more than a quarter of leagues with prices ranging as high as $15. So far, I have placed only one bid across all my leagues – $5 on Swanson in the original ottoneu league – mostly because I am not sure these players are worth the risk. But everyone else seems to think they are. So am I missing something? Or are you?
To evaluate this question, I looked at the top 5 players drafted and signed (leaving out Brady Aiken and adding in Alex Jackson in 2014) from 2011-2014 (so 20 total players). I looked at what they have done in their careers so far and where (if anywhere) they sit on some most recent top prospect lists (specifically, the mid-season fantasy prospects list from Bret Sayre at Baseball Prospectus and the mid-season top 50 from Keith Law at ESPN). I also looked at current ottoneu ownership and prices.
And then I divided the list into two groups:
- Guys I Wish I Bid On
- Guys I am Glad I Passed On
Guys I Wish I Bid On
To qualify for this list, a player needs to have been worth spending on in the months immediately following their draft selection, and still be worth holding today. The players on that list are:
- Gerrit Cole – Yeah, he has been good. If you paid up for him in late summer 2011 and still have him today, you are very happy.
- Byron Buxton – His trade value alone has been worth owning. The injuries might turn this into a “Glad I Passed” by next year, but for now, this is a win.
- Carlos Correa – You had to pay up in 2012, and then pay increases in 2013, 2014, and 2015. But the returns look awfully good.
- Jon Gray – This is debatable. You probably paid $4 or so for him, so he now costs $6 and still hasn’t seen the bigs. He may come up as a RP, and he will definitely come up in Coors. But he’s a top 50 prospect, so I’ll count him.
- Kris Bryant – No debate.
- Mark Appel – Like Gray, you are still waiting, but the potential is still there.
- Kyle Schwarber – Still early, but things are looking good. You don’t regret this yet, and it looks like you never will.
- Carlos Rodon – I am torn on this one. He’s been pretty good considering his inexperience, but not great. His average price is nearly $7 and I am not sure he has proven he is worth $9 next year. There is still time, though, and at the very least he is still an elite prospect.
Guys I am Glad I Passed On
To qualify for this list, a player needs to have been a pretty clear cut at some point since he was drafted, even if he later turned it around.
- Trevor Bauer – He is producing in the bigs, but it was an up and down ride to get there. He was cut at least once in all of my leagues.
- Danny Hultzen – Has not produced at all.
- Kyle Zimmer – Like Hultzen, has been hurt and has provided no returns.
- Kevin Gausman – Maybe the jury is still out, but if Bauer is on this list, so is Gausman. He’s been a pretty clear cut in the past. No one who cut him really regrets it.
- Mike Zunino – Ugh.
- Clint Frazier – He could still be something special, but you’ve owned him for two years and he is still at least 2-3 more years away.
- Kohl Stewart – Like Frazier, but a pitcher. By the time he comes around, you’ll have wasted too much time on him.
- Alex Jackson – He’s getting cut in my leagues to make room for the newest class of draftees. Not showing much and not really a significant prospect.
- Nick Gordon – I wanted him to a “jury’s still out” guy, but the prospect folks are not raving. If you are that far away, they need to be raving.
- Tyler Kolek – anyone before 2014, we have enough data on, and the rest of his classmates are either in the Majors or not producing.
So, that is 8 out of 20 who have proven worth the bids they received right after they were drafted. Not great odds, but not a lot worse than other prospects. But there are some interesting patterns.
Out of the 20, there are 11 SP and 9 position players. Of the 8 worth bidding on, the split is an even 4-and-4. I would have expected SP to be far riskier, instead they are only slightly riskier.
Out of the 20, there are 11 college players and 9 high school players. Of the 8 worth bidding on, 6 were college players. So 6/11 vs. 2/9. That is an interesting, if unsurprising pattern. The high school kids are just too far away, in general.
Crossing those two samples, you get 8 college SP and 3 high school SP. The four SP who were worth bids (Rodon, Appel, Gray, Cole) were all college starters. The high school SP (Bundy, Stewart, Kolek) were all too far away when they were drafted. The four college SP who didn’t make my list were either hurt (Gausman, Zimmer, Hultzen) or Bauer.
Among the position players, you have 6 high schoolers and 3 college players. The college guys went 2-for-3 (with Bryant and Schwarber succeeding and Zunino not succeeding), while the high school kids went 2-for-5 (with Correa and Buxton the success stories).
This year’s top-five includes two college position players, two high school position players and one college SP. What are the lessons here? I am passing on Brendan Rodgers and Kyle Tucker. Rodgers has big upside, but 18 year olds are still 18 year olds and the past shows us there is more risk. I’d maybe takea $1 flyer, but in general, I’ll hold off.
College pitchers have been relatively successful, which makes Dillon Tate interesting, though I am still going to be more cautious with pitchers than bats.
Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman, though, are where the opportunity lives. Polished college players with a potentially quick path to the majors. This is what you should be looking for.
But there is one more key take-away – and that is a willingness to act quickly. If you look at the eight players who made my “wish I bid” list, none really hit any speed bumps. Maybe Appel. And Buxton, while he had injury issues, has also been a top 5 prospect since the day he was drafted. The guys who fell out – Starling had a rough debut and never recovered, Bundy has been hurt, Bauer had some tough times in Arizona, Hultzen got hurt, Zimmer got hurt, Gausman got hurt, Zunino struggled badly in his first taste of MLB, and so on.
The lesson I take from this – have a quick trigger on cutting or trading these guys. If Swanson and Bregman take off, great. But if they struggle or have any hiccups, sell them before they lose their value. Sure, they could bounce back, but you are already making a risky bet – if the risk grows, let someone else deal with it.
Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.