Last year, Oscar Taveras was one of the hottest prospects in baseball. He had already reached the Triple-A level, and appeared to be just a strong couple of months away from joining the Cardinals. He got off to a tepid start at Memphis, however, and was slowed by an ankle injury. Meanwhile, the Cardinals hit up and down their order, and ended up with a surplus of outfielders. The team had no reason to rush Taveras' promotion, and he didn't force the issue with his play, either. If you drafted him in a redraft league, all he did was clog a spot on your roster until ultimately, the writing on the wall became clear.
This little history lesson illustrates why prospects can be so confounding for owners in redraft leagues. It's fun to take a chance on a new, exciting player; prospects often come cheap, and when they hit, they can do so in grand fashion. We all remember what Mike Trout did after the Angels called him up early in the 2012 season.
On the other hand, they could just as easily go the way of Taveras last season. Teams have every incentive to keep a player buried in the minors for the first two months of the season to delay his arbitration eligibility, so the impact a prospect can have in one-year leagues is already curbed. They might be worth the risk, but prospects can often give the owners nothing but false hope.
With spring training wrapping up, two big-time prospects appear to be close to the majors. The Cubs' Javier Baez and Astros' George Springer will both start the year with their respective Triple-A affiliates, but it's hard to imagine either of them spending too much time in the minors in 2014. In the final installment of our Burning Questions series, we look at how owners in redraft leagues should value these two supremely talented youngsters.
Baez is the No. 7 prospect in baseball according to MLB.com and right at the center of the Cubs rebuilding plan. The 21-year-old shortstop belted 37 homers and drove in 111 runs while hitting .282/.341/.578 at High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last year. He has had a huge spring, hitting five homers with a .308 batting average, .769 slugging percentage, and several moonshots like this one and this one. Starlin Castro blocks Baez at shortstop, but the Cubs have already been experimenting with ways to get him on the field alongside the incumbent. He has been taking grounders at both second and third this spring, and has played a few games at second. His bat already translates to the majors thanks to freakish bat speed that many have likened to Gary Sheffield. He profiles as a 60-grade hitter with 70 power, and he objectively has all the tools to develop into a superstar in the majors.
The biggest question surrounding Baez is how much motivation does the front office have to bring him to the show? We can safely bet that the Cubs will keep him at Triple-A Iowa until enough time elapses this year to keep him under team control for an extra season. Even then, the Cubs could choose to keep him in the minors for an extended period, given that they almost certainly will not be competing for a playoff spot this season. With Castro locked into shortstop, Darwin Barney manning second and the forever intriguing-yet-maddening Mike Olt at least forming a platoon with Luis Valbuena at third, the team may not want to force Baez into the lineup, preferring to let him get that extra bit of seasoning in the minors. Barney's name has been bandied about in trade rumors, and moving him would open up an everyday spot for Baez. Of course, the latter has yet to play above Double-A, and if he experiences struggles at Iowa, his whole trajectory, which has him arriving at Wrigley Field sometime this summer could be thrown off course.
Fantasy owners must be cautious if they decide to draft Baez, but his upside is tremendous -- his power is legitimate, and he brings shortstop eligibility to the table immediately. If and when he makes it to the majors, he'll likely slot in at second as Castro's double-play partner, giving him eligibility at two of fantasy baseball's shallowest positions. Given the impact he can have and the roster flexibility he provides, Baez should be selected in all redraft leagues. There is only one Mike Trout, but Baez can have a similar effect for his owners this year that Trout did two years ago.
Springer, meanwhile, had an even better year than Baez in 2013. Splitting his time evenly between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City, MLB.com's No. 21 prospect hit .303/.411/.600 with 37 homers, 108 RBI and 45 steals. Many thought he would start the year with the Astros, but the team optioned him to the minors late last week. That has created a grievance, and the player's union might step in on Springer's behalf to take action regarding lost service time. He was offered a seven-year, $23-million contract last December that he rejected. Had he assented to the deal, he would likely be starting the year with the Astros. Holding a player in the minors to prolong team control is standard practice at this point, but no team has done it after offering a guy a long-term deal.
Like Baez, the worry here is that the team keeps Springer at Oklahoma City for a large portion of the season. If he remains in Triple-A until July, his arbitration eligibility would be delayed a full season. Also like Baez, Springer would be one of the best players on his team the second he puts on a major league uniform. Outfield is much deeper than shortstop and second base, but Springer is similarly worth the risk of sacrificing a roster spot in redraft leagues. His power and speed both translate to the majors, and while he's not the overall hitter that Baez is, he should be a fantasy asset when the Astros promote him. Springer should be targeted in all mixed leagues. Keep him on your radar for your draft's endgame. The risk here is minimal, and the upside is enormous.
MORE BURNING QUESTIONS:
• Part I: Can Starlin Castro bounce back in 2014?
• Part II: Is Masahiro Tanaka a worthwhile risk for owners?
• Part III: Should Doug Fister be considered a top pitcher?
• Part IV: Is Eric Hosmer a top-10 first baseman?
• Part V: How will Chris Davis follow up his successful 2013?
• Part VI: Will Brandon Phillips rack up 100+ RBI again?
• Part VII: What can owners expect from Josh Donaldson?
• Part VIII: Is Hanley Ramirez worth the risk of injury?
• Part IX: Can Josh Hamilton rediscover his power stroke?
• Part X: How should owners value Javier Baez, George Springer?