With fantasy baseball drafts on the horizon, Michael Beller will answer a series of burning questions leading up to the start of the MLB season.
One under-exploited feature of shallow positions is the surprise starter. At a position like second base, there are few established players who are going to finish the season in the top 10, without a doubt. Not only does that mean fantasy owners can wait to fill the position once the top players are off the board, it also increases the likelihood of a player far down draft boards in March ending up as one of the most profitable by September.
Fantasy owners can’t hunt for that player at every shallow position. The chances of any one person hitting on a very deep second baseman, shortstop and catcher who ends up in the top 10 at their respective positions are slim to none. Instead, it makes more sense to try to zero in on one guy who can pull off that feat, and then target that guy late in your drafts.
Moving into the top 10 at a shallow position is all about opportunity—both the opportunity of having a thin crop of fantasy competitors and the real-life opportunity to get the plate appearances necessary to be an impactful fantasy player. In this week’s installment of our Burning Questions series, we ask and answer who, among players with an average draft position of 200 or lower, could end up as a top-10 second baseman, shortstop or catcher?
The answer is on the North Side of Chicago, but it isn’t one of the youngsters who’s always in the headlines. Instead, it’s Arismendy Alcantara, the super-utility man who is about to be Joe Maddon’s new favorite toy.
There are few things Maddon likes more in a player than versatility. Zobrist became an undervalued fantasy commodity from 2008 through '13 due in large part to his swiss-army knife capabilities. Maddon used Zobrist all over the field, and that helped him rack up 599 or more plate appearances for six years straight. Alcantara will be just that player for Maddon in Chicago, making him a rather valuable fantasy player in 2015.
Alcantara was never going to steal the spotlight away from Javier Baez, Jorge Soler or Kris Bryant, but he put together a great minor league career across four levels between the ages of 18 and 22. Here's a look at the last two, the ones that put him on the fast track to the majors.
Remember, Alcantara was the first of the Cubs prized group of prospects to make it to the majors. In 300 plate appearances with the big league club last year, Alcantara hit just .205 with a .254 OBP, but he left the yard 10 times and swiped eight bags. Just as importantly, he logged 25 games at second base and 48 in center field, proving himself more than adept at both positions.
Alcantara's main issue will be getting enough playing time to be relevant in fantasy leagues. Right now, Alcantara doesn’t slot as a starter at any position. The Cubs traded for Dexter Fowler in the offseason, and he’s going to be the team’s everyday center fielder. Meanwhile, Javier Baez is expected to be the starting second baseman on Opening Day. Given the hopes the franchise has for Baez, they undoubtedly want him to take the job and run with it. Chris Coghlan is the starting left fielder (with Chris Denorfia expected to make it a platoon), closing off the final potential starting avenue for Alcantara.
This is where Alcantara’s versatility makes him a valuable real-life player and worthwhile late-round target. Alcantara will be the primary backup to Baez at second and Fowler in center. He can also factor into the mix in left field. Plus, it’s not like Coghlan or Denorfia is an established star who will be allowed to play through any and all struggles. If Coghlan struggles through the first six weeks of the season, Alcantara could find himself starting in left. While Baez ceiling is as high as any prospect this side of Bryant or Byron Buxton, he struck out in 41.5 percent of his 229 plate appearances in the majors last year. Even as he was raking in the minors, he was striking out just about 30 percent of the time. Maddon will let a player with his talent work through growing pains, but if he keeps on whiffing, Maddon is going to want to get a player with better contact skills more at-bats.
And then there’s the Kris Bryant situation. Bryant is going to start the season at Triple-A Iowa, meaning the Cubs will have a hole at third base. Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella could both factor in, but Maddon’s going to want Alcantara’s glove on the field and speed in the lineup. Depending on how long the Cubs keep Bryant in the minors, Alcantara could gain eligibility at third base, as well.
With all the different factors contributing to Alcantara’s playing time, it’s easy to see him getting 500-to-550 plate appearances, especially when you consider that he’s a very good defender at multiple positions. Project his 2014 performance across an entire season, and it comes out to 20 homers and 16 steals. Steamer projects him to hit 11 bombs and steal 14 bases in just 428 plate appearances. There’s little reason to expect he won’t be able to match or exceed the per-game stats he has put up over the last two years, even while acknowledging that he spent about three-quarters of that time in the minors. If he does get to 500 plate appearances, he should hit 15 homers and steal 15 bases. At a position like second base, that makes him a player with legitimate top-10 upside.
• BURNING QUESTION I: Is Miguel Cabrera still a first-round pick?
• BURNING QUESTION II: Will Kemp and Braun live up to their price?
• BURNING QUESTION III: Will Harper reach superstar status this year?
• BURNING QUESTION IV: Worth it to draft the oft-injured Tulowitzki?
• BURNING QUESTION V: Coming off surgery, how big a risk is Harvey?
• BURNING QUESTION VI: Invest in Adam Jones's boring consistency?
• BURNING QUESTION VII: Could Strasburg emerge as No. 1 fantasy SP?