KEEPERS: Late 2015 pop-ups and surgers—AL

As the off-season draws near with little time left to adjust rosters prior to the close of 2015, sifting through August and September pop-up names and under-the-radar finishes is a must-do, particularly for keeper league (KL) rebuilders. In the first of our Keeper League series that will run weekly through the off-season, we’re looking for growth-age players who will get long March looks thanks to their 2H efforts, as well as minor leaguers who created some value with their late-season performances—whether their ETAs are in 2016 or years away. With at least a few of your league’s non-competitive owners MIA and/or being diverted by football during these final weeks of the season, there’s a chance that at least some of these names are available for the taking.

And these late turnarounds and breakthroughs can come from out of nowhere. Prior to his trade from BAL to BOS at the 2014 trade deadline, Eduardo Rodriguez’s (LHP, BOS) 4.79 ERA and mediocre 69/29 K/BB over 82 IP at Double-A had dropped him from most fantasy radars. But Rodriguez posted an 0.96 ERA with a 39/8 over 37 IP in his final six starts in the same league with a different organization, prompting the most watchful scouts and analyses (including here in this space) to list him among the top MLB-ready BOS pitching prospects before 2014 ended.

Now after his first 19 starts in BOS, the 22-year-old Rodriguez owns a 3.94 ERA, 2.6 Cmd, and a 44% GB%, with a promising future as a #2-3 MLB SP. Obviously not all of the names listed below will rise as quickly and generate positive fantasy earnings or have the upside of Rodriguez—and some are as much suspect as prospect. But all have shown recent skills flashes that give them some deep-league fantasy looking forward to 2016.

Jackie Bradley’s (RHP, BOS) explosion began in mid-August following 509 MLB AB of sub-.200 BA and just 4 HR stretching back to 2013. Since then, Bradley has hit .312 with 8 HR through 138 AB, backed up by a 116 HctX and a monstrous 266 PX (183 xPX).  Bradley’s one offensive constant has been terrific patience, and he’s always hinted at power; it’s just never been evident to this degree. Despite a .277 xBA over 165 AB in 2015, Bradley’s MLB ct% continues to sit firmly below 70% and his 2H 40% h% isn’t sustainable. But on the plus side, Bradley reduced his swing-and-miss while at Pawtucket this season, posting an 84% ct% (.305 BA) over 282 AB. His recent binge, outstanding defense, speed and athleticism give Bradley legitimate value and near-term opportunity barring a sudden performance reversal. He enters 2016 as a starting OF, but what and how much of Bradley’s late-season surge is repeatable remains a question mark.

The future of Bradley’s teammate Travis Shaw (1B, BOS) is even murkier. Shaw had averaged 19 HR over 465 AB over his past three minor league seasons, but no one expected this line—11 HR, .910 OPS through 162 2H AB in his rookie season. His PX/xPX, FB% and HctX are all supportive of this bottom line for now, though the left-handed-hitting Shaw has faded just a tad through 69 September AB (.261/.235 BA/xBA, 125 PX). Another reason to hedge your bets are his strange splits, including six HR, .350 BA in 60 AB vs. LHP vs. a .243 BA vR. At age 25, Shaw has a legitimate window, but BOS has other 1B options.

Ketel Marte (SS, SEA) has staked a late-season claim on the SEA lead-off spot that has some doubters, as last week's Speculator suggests. But despite the Mariners' own reservations about Marte’s ability to handle SS—as seen in an initial CF audition after his August call-up—his small sample defensive effort has been surprisingly decent per most metrics. And the fact that he hasn’t been overmatched in his initial exposure as an MLB leadoff hitter--.284/.272 BA/xBA, 80% ct%, .353 OBP/10% bb%, 7/4 SB/CS through 169 AB—has this space taking a more positive, longer-term slant. Marte is still just 21 years old and coming off his best minor league BA (.321) and ct% (88%) at a young age in Triple-A—and his combined 57 SBs (75% SB%) across three levels in 2014-15 represent another step up. Marte will never have much power, he may need more minor league time to consolidate his recent gains, and he doesn’t project as a star. But Marte offers middle-infield value now, either as a trade chip or for owners who can afford to wait.

Abraham Almonte’s (OF, CLE) August/September performance remains relatively unheralded, likely due to a low ceiling and checkered past. After showing good patience, base running skills and average power that paired well with good OF defense in the minors, Almonte could never sustain more than flashes during his 2013 debut and afterward. His acknowledged off-the-field struggles couldn’t have helped, but now his deadline trade to CLE and everyday playing time seem to have given Almonte new life. With a 2H ct% again at 80%, and a .270/.278 BA/xBA through 148 AB, Almonte is again hinting at the decent pop (4 HR, 117 PX) and base running skills (6/0 SB/CS, 131/127 RSpd/Spd) that made him mildly interesting a few years back. Almonte’s glove helps give him a shot at manning CF in CLE for a while after September—and flyer status once again for OF-needy owners.

Alex Colome (RHP, TAM) has been a revelation since moving to the bullpen in early July. Since the All-Star break, Colome has posted closer-worthy numbers that include an 1.38 ERA and a 36/7 K/BB in through 31 IP, all in relief. Like many converted SPs, Colome’s velocity has ticked up since the move, and his 15% SwK% hints at more dominance down the road. Though not awful, a 59% FpK% says his walk rate may not be this good, he doesn’t generate a hefty GB%, and he needs to show us more before we become true believers. But his efforts to date are very positive, and Brad Boxberger’s poor 2H suggests that Colome could be in the 2016 saves mix, if not sooner.

If you’re interested in successful late-season injury returns from previously-elite minor league SPs, look no further than Kyle Zimmer (RHP, KC) and Taylor Guerrieri (RHP TAM). Once a consensus Top 20 prospect, Zimmer has a lot to prove after missing all of 2014 due to shoulder woes, and tossing just 64 IP in the second half of 2015. But he posted a 2.39 ERA and a 72/20 K/BB between A and Double-A levels that suggests that there’s talent here IF he can stay healthy. Likewise, former first-round pick Guerreri rebounded from Tommy John surgery to record a 1.85 ERA, 72/19 K/BB and huge ground-ball rates between the A+/AA levels late this season. Both of these names should make their MLB debuts in 2016.

Rookie short-season league games don’t begin until mid-late June. But even though most of these players are at least 3-4 seasons away from MLB play, there is  always a head-turning performance or two worthy of speculation. The AL pitcher most scouts and observers raved about here has been 17-year-old Venezuelan Anderson Espinoza (RHP, BOS). Along with two plus pitches and a developing change-up, Espinoza reportedly showed a feel for pitching beyond his years that was evident in his 1.23 ERA, 65/14 K/BB and almost 4:1 GB:FB ratio (zero HR allowed) over 58 IP. Despite his youth and the long development process ahead, Espinoza could turn up on a few Top 100 lists next spring. And depending on league depth, your willingness to wait and/or need of a bargaining piece with “unlimited upside,” he may be rosterable now.

The minors’ best 2H shortstop bat belonged to Chad Pinder (SS/2B, OAK), who elevated his prospect stock significantly with his late season offensive performance. From June onward, the 23-year-old Pinder torched Double-A pitching to the tune of a .340 BA and a .500+ Slg over 294 AB, resulting in his being named Texas League Player of the Year. Pinder doesn’t have the plate patience we’re used to seeing with most A’s prospects, but he projects as either an offensive middle-infielder—an A’s problem area now for several seasons. Regardless of whether Marcus Semien can stay at SS defensively or not, look for Pinder to get an opportunity work his way into the lineup sometime in 2016.

A.J. Reed and Jon Singleton may be the first names that come to mind as to the HOU future at 1B/DH. But as we pointed out here in late August, unheralded Tyler White (1B/DH) has done nothing but rake since being selected in the 33rd round of the 2013 draft. White posted a .939 OPS with an 84/73 BB/K over .403 AB at AA/AAA this season—including a .362/.447/.559 line after the All-Star break following his Triple-A promotion. He’ll be 25 to begin 2016, is reportedly limited to 1B/DH defensively, and has plenty of competition in HOU. But bats like this will find an opportunity somewhere.

 

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.