KEEPERS: The Changing Landscape—NL position players

Like their AL counterparts, NL clubs weren't relaxing this offseason as we worked through our Dynasty Reload series this winter. Plenty of off-season transactions, injuries and other news have both elevated and dampened the prospects of players we noted in these columns, as well as a few other consideration-worthy names who may have missed our 27-and-under filter. In particular, more than a few NL names have improved their outlooks with fine winter ball performances. For keeper league owners already buying, selling and adjusting their rosters for 2013 and beyond, this four-part series is for you.

Already benefiting a tad from Chipper Jones' retirement, suddenly Juan Francisco (3B, ATL) appears to be a huge winner in the ATL-ARI trade fallout. The departure of Martin Prado has opened up the AB vs RHP for the left-handed-hitting Francisco, who has notched a 140+ MLB PX over three of the last four seasons over a small sample. Francisco seems to be taking this new opportunity to heart if his Dominican Winter League numbers—.307/.369/.575—are any indication. Poor ct% and patience make it difficult to recommend Francisco as anything other than a placeholder. But given his age (25), offseason surge and immediate opportunity, there are worse flyers at this scarce position while you look for a longer-term solution.

Oscar Taveras (OF, STL) is a soaring stock who is now considered by many to be the best MLB-ready offensive prospect in baseball. After skipping A+, the 21-year-old Taveras won the Texas League (Double-A) batting crown. All he's done in the offseason is put up a .316/.379./507 line in the DWL over 152 AB. While STL doesn't appear to have a spot for him in April, Taveras is hinting that he can't be kept down for too long. An unusual combination of power and contact gives him a tremendous dynasty league future.

Jean Segura's (SS, MIL) .324 BA and 11/3 SB/CS over 148 AB in the DWL hasn't done anything to hurt his status as MIL's starting SS. His patience has room for growth and Segura is not yet hitting with the pop that some have projected, but he's making contact and showing no signs of being overmatched regardless of league or environment. He looks completely healthy, and has legit 40 SB upside with plus speed that should keep him profitable while the rest of his game develops.

Jordany Valdespin has shown a surprisingly disciplined plate approach—20/21 K/BB in 140 AB— during winter league play. And it's coming just in time following an up-and-down 2013 performance that  irritated both management and teammates alike, to the point where the talented but mercurial Valdespin was limited to six September starts. Solid athleticism—8 HR and 10 SB over 191 AB in his MLB debut—should earn Valdespin another look in an unresolved NYM OF, but his defense and temperament continue to work against him. He remains flyer-only material.

The announcement that Logan Forsythe is taking OF and SS reps in an audition for a utility role cracks a 2B door open for Jed Gyorko (3B/2B, SD) and Alexi Amarista (2B/OF, SD), both of whom received mentions in our 2B Reload column in November. After crushing PCL pitching (.324 BA, 24 HR) in 2012, Gyorko looks ready for his first MLB shot somewhere, although there are real doubts whether he can handle the defensive demands of 2B. His plate approach needs improving, but his opportunity along with the possibility that arbitration-eligible Chase Headley will be dealt out of SD make Gyorko a short-term hold for owners with deep reserves. Like Gyorko, Amarista needs better patience, as well a more refined running game to utilitze above-average contact and speed. At age 23, he's young enough to grow into something, and again like Gyorko, could be marginally profitable now qualifying at a scarce position. But both players are likely to have growing pains while learning on the job.

The trade of Justin Upton just solidifies Adam Eaton's (OF, ARI) role as an everyday player. He's not a world-beater in the power department, but a solid plate approach that includes plenty of walks and plus speed good for 20+ SB should fuel Eaton's value, particularly if he hits at the top of the Diamondbacks lineup. Handedness and good defense should help make him a solid fantasy asset for years to come. 

Didi Gregorius (SS, ARI) was a "missed the cut" casualty of our SS Reload piece, but trade to ARI significantly elevates his MLB PT chances at some point in 2013. Cliff Pennington isn't likely to hold Gregorius off forever, but the big questions is how far and fast can his offense develop, and what other options do you have? Chase Field isn't a bad place to hit, but we still view Gregorius as more of a watch than a hold.

Domonic Brown's (OF, PHI) outlook remains murkier than ever following PHI's signing of Delmon Young. At age 25, the one-time uber-prospect still has time for an MLB career, but he'll likely have to produce from the get-go in March—and his skills have shown little sign recently of pulling in the same positive direction. Another player who is watchable, but from a distance.

The immediate outlooks for prospects Matt Davidson (3B, ARI) and Cody Asche (3B, PHI)both mentioned in our 3B reload commentstook a hit with the the 3B acquisitions of their respective teams. But Martin Prado's versatility and Michael Young's fading skills suggest that owners needing 3B help should continue to watch these two names. Davidson's power+patience combo may give him more long-term upside. But the unheralded Asche surprised most observers in 2012 by hitting .324 between A+ and AA with 82% ct% and surprising popwhile making strides defensively. Good minor league performances could still land either of them in the majors sometime in 2013.

 

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