In the original ottoneu league, the weeks following the amateur draft tend to be among the most active. As contracts are signed, draftees become roster-eligible and teams – particularly those that are out of the running for this year – begin the process of stocking their farm system with newly minted millionaires.
This year, Carlos Correa was already auctioned in that league, going for an impressive $6. Not only that, but half the league bid on him and four of the bids were for $5 or $6. All for a 17-year-old. The kid has a ton of potential, and may very well be the second coming of Alex Rodriguez. But I didn’t enter a bid.
And it isn’t because I couldn’t use a top prospect, particularly at MI. My minor league system has graduated a lot of talent recently, and is close to barren at the moment. I could easily drop a Mike Carp to make room for a future stud, but I find it’s best to be picky with the new class.
First of all, prospects are always risky, and guys who have never seen a pro arm (or in the case of arms, a pro bat) are even riskier. There are plenty of stories of top picks who have turned into valuable fantasy assets (I believe the Washington Nationals have a couple of those), but there are plenty of busts, as well.
But even more importantly, the path to the big leagues is often a long and arduous one. Let’s all acknowledge that the Bryce Harper‘s and Matt Bush’s of the world are what they are, and focus instead of the average top pick – a guy who moves at a typical pace through the minors, develops as anticipated, and becomes a useful Major Leaguer. Maybe even a very good one.
Let’s take Adrian Gonzalez.
Gonzalez went first overall in the 2000 draft, nabbed by the then Florida Marlins, who could probably use a stud 1B right about now. At age 18, in the Florida system, he played in both Rookie ball and Low-A (although with limited power) and in 2001 played a full year in Single-A before advancing to the high minors for 2002 (his age 22 season). After a decent year in Double-A, Gonzalez suffered a wrist injury, found himself in a trade to Texas, and struggled in his first look at Triple-A in 2003. 2004 and 2005 were a different story, as the big 1B pounded minor league pitching and earned a shot to go to the show, where he did basically nothing of note.
Then, in 2006, his age 24 season, Gonzalez moved from the hitters-haven that is Texas to run-sapping San Diego, and really blossomed, putting up a .304/.362/.500 line with 24 home runs for the Padres. The rest, as they say, is history.
So here is a guy who moved along, station-to-station, through the minors, and by 24 was establishing himself as an MLB star and a must-own fantasy player. But that was a SIX YEAR PROCESS! Let’s put the same timeline on a $6 Carlos Correa. Correa plays some Rookie ball this year, advances at a decent pace, and his owner pats $7 to hold him in Single-A in 2013. In 2014-2015, Correa keeps moving up but doesn’t see Houston, and now costs $9 as we enter 2016. In 2016 he gets a cup of coffee but provides limited value, if any, and costs $11 entering 2017, when (if we accelerate Gonzalez’s timeline a bit) he breaks out and becomes a star. Of course if the breakout is too big, instead of being a $13 SS in 2018, he is, instead, voted off your team and a guy you have to buy back for the next season.
Now, this is obviously only one scenario. Maybe he is A-Rod, or Justin Upton, or Bryce Harper, and we will see him tearing up the AL West in 2014, or sooner. And maybe he is Matt Bush and never has a real impact. The point is, the Gonzalez scenario is a good outcome. The Astros would be thrilled for a 23- or 24-year-old Correa to be a breakout star at SS. But if that happens? Not too helpful in ottoneu.
Because of this, I try to limit my draftee bidding to a couple scenarios: First, if I can nab a guy like Correa for $1, then why not? Sure, I might have to wait 4 or 5 years to use him, but at that point he will only cost $5 or $6 (and he will have taken up less than that each preceding year), instead of $11 or $12. Second, if I have good reason to believe a guy will be up much sooner than that. Trevor Bauer last year was a good example. Harper and Stephen Strasburg fall in that camp. This year, a guy like Mark Appel could be a case of a guy who is already closing in on his ceiling and could make a quick leap.
Some will disagree with me, and believe that grabbing a guy like Correa now, before the hype-machine really takes off, is the way to go. But roster spots and salary dollars are your two biggest assets in ottoneu. Tying up one of the former and a handful of the latter for the next few years doesn’t make sense to me.
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.