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Bringing Your AAA Game - Mookie Betts & Garin Cecchini

As this is my first post here at We Talk Fantasy Sports, I thought a brief introduction was in order. I have been playing fantasy sports for over 10 years now. I have discovered that fantasy baseball is my preferred game. It is right in my wheelhouse, like a hanging curveball.  I am a self-professed nerd--an engineer that loves numbers, data, and math.  Baseball is full of stats, compiling daily with thousands of pitches and hundreds of at bats every day for six months. Fantasy football doesn't have that.  With all that data comes lots of information we can use to evaluate players: no guessing required, or at least less guessing required.  I like to use sabermetrics, advanced stats, Pitch F/X data, heat maps, and other "data toys" to evaluate players and win my leagues. Alright, now that you are sufficiently bored with this intro and hearing about me, let's get to it.

I frequent the fantasy baseball subreddit and a common post I see every time a prospect gets the call to the show is “Who’s the next big prospect to get called up?” or “What other prospects are close to MLB?”  So, to answer those questions, I present to you, dear reader, the recurring post series henceforth known as “Bringing your AAA Game.”  In this series, I will highlight the next batch of prospects making their way to MLB in the coming weeks.  Remember, these are prospects that are at the AA or AAA levels, so I won’t be going into super-deep dynasty prospects here.  To kick things off, let’s look at two players from my favorite franchise, the Red Sox of Boston. 

Mookie Betts - PROMOTED!

  • Position: 2B/OF
  • Level: AAA
  • Likely position in MLB in 2014: OF
  • Stats: .321/.402/.457 with 2 HR, 9R, 13 RBI, 6 SB in 92 PA in AAA, 12% BB rate, 14.1% K rate, even better stats in AA
  • 2014 Fantasy Impact: 8/10
The Lowdown:
Flickr - BeGreen90
Mookie is one of the best names in all of baseball and he backs up his all-star caliber name with some of the best numbers of anyone in the minor leagues this year.  He is only 21 years old and was in A ball all of last year, but he has simply destroyed AA and AAA pitching.  Because of his tear through the minors, his expected call up date has moved from 2015 to this year.  Mookie’s call-up to Beantown is likely to happen in July or August at the latest.  John Farrell, Boston’s manager, brought up Mookie’s name without even being asked about him last weekend.  Boston’s outfield has been the worst in the AL this year in nearly all offensive categories.  They are looking for any way to help their struggling outfield, including converting their star 2B prospect, Betts, to an outfielder, a position he hasn’t played since high school.  Dustin Pedroia rules 2B in Boston, so conversion to the OF (both CF and RF have been mentioned by Boston) is good news for Betts.

Fantasy Impact:
Betts has all of the tools you want to see in a prospect that portend stardom and put him in a low bust-rate bin.  Above average walk and strikeout rates, like Betts has, are the best path to non-bustitude.  I will discuss bust rate bins in another post, but you will just have to trust me for now that he is low risk.  Mookie has 8 HR in 74 games in the minors this year and hit 15 HR in the minors last year.  It looks like he could easily put up 12-18 HR per year in MLB and maybe up to 20 as he continues to grow.

Those numbers alone aren’t exciting enough?  How about the 42! steals he put up in 2013?  He already has 28 this year, so 30-40 in a full MLB season is not a stretch.  Let’s throw in a batting average around .300 (maybe .280 his first year) due to his excellent contact skills and low strikeout rate and an OBP of .350-.375 thanks to his elite walk rate and a .450 slugging.  Does that sound like someone you want in your 2B or MI slot (assuming ESPN, Yahoo and CBS allow him to keep that)?  Even as just an OF, that puts him in the top 30 at the position.  I would have given him more than 8/10 for fantasy impact this year but he may not be called up until August, so you may only get a 6-8 weeks of production out of him, but I think mid-July is the most likely.

Parting shots:
Stash Mookie now if you can!  He is not available on ESPN right now, but I have been trying along with a bunch of fans on twitter to get him added there.  He is likely the best call-up for the rest of this season.  He has moved from a top 100 prospect in March to a top 5 prospect now.  One thing to note is that the Red Sox may be buyers at the trade deadline and Betts may be trade chip that the Sox could use to get just about any SP or OF help they need, so he may not stay in Boston.

Garin Cecchini

  • Position: 3B/OF
  • Level: AAA
  • Likely position in MLB in 2014: LF
  • Stats: .260/.339/.323 with 2 HR, 26 R, 24 RBI, 8 SB in 251 PA in AAA, 9.6% BB rate, 21.5% K rate
  • 2014 Fantasy Impact: 4/10

The Lowdown:
Flickr - BeGreen90
Cecchini is the best 3B prospect in the system and I am making an exception to include him in this list because he has technically been called up twice this season already and sent back down.  I am only interested in him being called up for good and he has a total of 2 MLB plate appearances, so he counts.  Boston has been using Xander Bogaerts at 3B and Stephen Drew at SS most days and Will Middlebrooks is recovering from injury, so 3B really isn’t open.  The good news is, say it with me, Boston’s outfield sucks!  As I mentioned earlier, Boston has an OF problem and they are looking for anyone with a pulse to play out there.  Thus, Cecchini is being moved to LF for the first time in his career to learn how to play out there.  He made his first start there on Sunday, so he’s got some learnin’ to do.  Since he has already been called up twice for very short stints, clearly Boston believes in him and he could be called up on a more permanent basis in July or August, once he feels comfortable in LF.

Fantasy Impact:
Cecchini displayed excellent batting average and on-base skills in 2013, compiling a .296/.420/.404 line in AA.  He has often been compared to a former Red Sox 3B prospect named Kevin Youkilis, the “Greek God of Walks.”  Like Youk, Cecchini’s best skill is his ability to take walks.  In AA, he had a 17.3% walk rate which is about double the MLB average, for comparison!  In AAA, unfortunately, his walk rate has fallen to a just above average 9.6% and his strikeout rate went from above average to slightly worse than average at 21.5%.  So, what do we have here?  He will be a very good contributor in OBP and AVG, but there is a chance he busts due to his strikeout rate.  If it climbs much higher at the MLB level, he will have trouble.

He will not contribute much in power, as his poor slugging percentages tell you.  He hit 7! homeruns in all of 2013, but he did steal 23 bases, so he could steal something like 15 bases in MLB.  At 23 years old, he has not reached his power peak yet (usually 25-27), so he could hit 15 HR at his peak.  He is not fast, but is a smart baserunner, similar to how Paul Goldschmidt gets his 15 steals a year.  He profiles as something like a 2-hole hitter in Boston and would likely score a good number of runs, but with Bogaerts, Betts, Victorino and Pedroia, he may have to start near the bottom of the order.  If we are lucky, he will have eligibility at 3B and OF, which would give him some nice flexibility.

Parting shots:
If you have space or a need for a 3B that will boost your AVG or OBP, you can stash him now and you probably won’t have to wait too long.  Otherwise, just keep an eye on him and pick him up after his call-up and see how it goes.  He’s obviously not on the same level as his AAA teammate above, so there’s no need to prioritize him right now.  The extreme lack of power from a 3B or corner outfield position is a problem and will limit his usability.  Think Tommy La Stella with a few more steals and at 3B/OF and you’ve got Cecchini.

Bringing Your AAA Game - Jimmy Nelson & Alex Meyer Next time, we’ll look at some pitchers that are next in line to MLB.  Until then, Tschüss! (a German expression for goodbye)

I am still dipping my toes into the Twitter waters, so I’m not active there, but you can find me as WisconsinsWestCoast on Reddit and the fantasy baseball subreddit.  I’m happy to help with your fantasy baseball queries and your feedback on my posts is welcome!

--Rob Parker