Rookie "Hype" and the Role of the "Expert"
by  Ray Flowers (Guest Writer)
Feb. 28, 2004

* For the purpose of this article we consider a “rookie” to be anyone with 2 or less years of major league experience. 

For 2004 the names are familiar to most; (a) Teixeira, Beckett, Podsednik, Berroa, (b) Mauer, Reyes, Crosby and K. Greene…the question is are these player worth what they will cost on draft day? We all spend countless hours shuffling through draft guides, Internet sites, and talking to our friends. But when it comes down to draft day how many of us trust our gut and scream out “Michael Tucker” regardless of what the “experts” say? Our contention is that fantasy players should take it upon themselves to “eyeball” the players and use their own instincts as the litmus test to determine which players to target for the upcoming season. 

For comparisons sake we have broken them down into two groups; group (a) consists of players with real major “success”, and group (b) consists of the up and coming rookies. The basic question to consider is how much trust does the fantasy player place in the hands of the “experts” to tell you which of these players should end up on your team?  

Group (a) and their success.  

Teixeira- (26 hr, 84 RBI) Yes he should continue to improve, no one should doubt that, but how much? Will he be helped by the fact that Arod went to NY? Can he handle the extra pressure of being the cleanup hitter for Texas? Temper your optimism…he hit only .259 with an OBP of .331last year… is he really the third best 1B in the AL? 

Beckett- (Playoff hero, World Series MVP) He was only 9-8 last year…heck he’s only 17-17 for his career! Granted his stuff is electric, and he has been touted for years as the next “big thing,” but how much is he really going to improve? What if the blisters return? Is he worth the extra cash you’ll have to throw at him because of last years W.S.? 

Podsednik- (Only the 3rd rookie since 1900 to hit .300, score 100 runs and steal 40 bases…the others you ask… two nobodies… Ichiro and Shoeless Joe Jackson) 9 year minor leaguers with 26 major league at-bats don’t get this good. Shoot, he never even hit above .290 in his minor league career, and he plays on the Brewers for goodness sakes. 

Berroa- (AL Rookie of the Year) Teixeira’s .331 OBP was decried above, so what are we to make of Berroa’s OBP of .338…he hit .287, 28 points higher than Teiexeira, and only was 7 points better in OBP. The steals are nice, but temper that enthusiasm for this free swinger with speed as SS is a deep position this year. 

Group (b) and their potential. 

Mauer- All signs point to this being “the” catcher of the next ten years. He was the number #1 pick in the country, and did hit .338 last year to win many minor league player of the year awards…hell, he only struck out once in his high school career! But he’s a catcher without a major league at bat, a new league of hitters to learn, and a staff to familiarize himself with. That’s a whole lot of stuff to bank on his offensive production matching its minor league levels, at least initially. 

Jose Reyes- The Mets SS of the future. Wait, now he’s the 2nd baseman of the future (Kazuo Matsui is the new SS). Yes he had a wonderful half season, but it was only 274 at bats. 20 year old starters in the majors usually have great careers (see Bill James), but the road is rarely smooth. Could Reyes breakout this year…sure. But he plays in the media capitol of the world, on a poor offensive team, and is switching positions. Beware the “east coast” hype. 

Crosby/Greene- Two SS who everyone universally agrees will eventually be accomplished major league players, but is this the year? Crosby, the A’s minor league player of the year, has 12 major league at-bats and will be counted on to replace Miguel Tejada in the A’s lineup (and nothing will lead to his collapse more than trying to replace the 30, 100 seasons of Tejada). Greene, well, the Padres “starting SS” might be on the bench by the time the season starts (the Padres signed Rey Ordonez in the offseason). Hence the life of a rookie ballplayer. 

How comfortable are you with any of the above players costing you upwards of $20 on draft day? How about a “blast from the past” to help us think about this question. Who wouldn’t have drafted, and paid heavily, for the following players who were touted heavily by the “experts”? Do you remember these names… 

J.D. Drew- After hitting .417 in 36 at bats in 1998, Drew was very costly.

His 1999 production: .242 with 13 HR, 39 RBI.

Adam Dunn- In 2001, Dunn hit .262 with 19 homers in only 66 games.

His 2002 production: .249 with 26 HR in 291 more at bats!  

Hank Blalock- The highly touted youngster who in 2001 hit .352, 18, 103 in the minor leagues.

His 2002 production: .211, 3, 17.

Sure Blalock rebounded this past season to post a .300, 29, 90 season so the “experts” weren’t wrong with him, they were just off by a year. Dunn, well he might still come around (his career .379 OBP and his power are still there, despite his propensity for the K). And Drew, well if he ever stays healthy. If… 

The point is for every Ichiro, Alfonso Soriano, or Mark Prior the “experts” pick, at least as many players either fall flat on their face or greatly underachieve. For how long have we heard that “if things break right” for Adrian Beltre, Nick Johnson, Gabe Kapler, Carlos Pena or Fernando Tatis they will be fantasy monsters? Are you as tired of waiting for that as we are? In our opinion, you’d be better off investing in some red wine that you could age for 5 years and drink with a special friend than to keep spending money on the “what if” season that these players are all “capable” of producing.  

So don’t be afraid to play a hunch. Go out to the park and watch a game. Turn on the television and see how that youngster handles “Uncle Charlie” when Kerry Wood tosses it at him. Consider how much of a risk you want to take on draft day by choosing a player who has the “education” but no real “work experience.” Some risk is not only advisable, it is usually a necessity if you want to win your league. But minimize that risk with wise late round picks, or as we have suggested here, temper your enthusiasm a bit until your sure these “rooks” have what it takes.