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Future stars, current disappointments

7/19/2011

Corey Patterson, Raul Ibanez, Nate Schierholtz and Emilio Bonifacio are all among the 50-plus outfielders performing better than St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus on the ESPN Player Rater. No, it's actually true. Rasmus was a topic of discussion on Tuesday's Baseball Today podcast for Keith Law and myself, discussing the degree to which the 24-year-old is underachieving and whether a change of scenery is what he needs. I hadn't realized how disappointing Rasmus had been, with a mere five stolen bases and a poor .241 batting average.

It's easier for me to buy into the theory that pitchers occasionally need a different team to play for, as they might clash with a pitching coach/manager or just can't handle either their league or the home ballpark. Happens quite a bit, in fact. With hitters, I don't think it's as much of a factor, but in the case of Rasmus, it does appear that a burgeoning young star is certainly taking his time on the road to stardom. Perhaps a trade to the Tampa Bay Rays really would improve things and make Rasmus the top-20 outfielder many perceive he will become. Really, he should be hitting 30 home runs and stealing 20 bases.

From a fantasy aspect, Rasmus is one of those fellows we reach for in drafts or spend too much for in trades every season -- admit it, we do -- because we think that at some point, our lottery ticket will be cashed. Rasmus hit 23 home runs a season ago and stole 12 bases, and there's nothing wrong with a .276 batting average. Oddly, the ESPN Fantasy projections seemed to peg Rasmus as taking a minor step backward, except in home runs -- lower batting average, fewer RBIs and stolen bases -- and so far that looks prescient.

So I got to thinking, who are the young but relatively experienced players -- I don't need to pick an age, we just know or feel who qualifies -- who should have monster seasons/careers in their future, but haven't gotten there yet, and in the meantime we'll keep overdrafting them? For the record, Rasmus was the 101st selection in ESPN average live drafts, 27th among outfielders. Currently he ranks 54th among outfielders. But someday he'll be great, just like these guys ...

Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles: Also discussed on Tuesday's Baseball Today, some think Wieters has been a huge disappointment, but he is contributing to fantasy rosters, in this case being the No. 6 catcher for the season on the Player Rater. He's on pace for 17 home runs and is also throwing out quite a few baserunners. Perhaps we thought he'd be first or second on the list? I think within three years we could see that, so keep investing.

Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee Brewers: Think about it, this guy always gets drafted better than his numbers suggest, and even now he's 65th among starting pitchers on the Player Rater, worse than A.J. Burnett, Dillon Gee and Aaron Harang. That stinks for a guy annually among the top 25 starters in drafts. Hey, his best season featured 14 wins, and his career WHIP is 1.32. Someday, perhaps, we get a Cy Young performance from him, but in a Ricky Nolasco-type way, he keeps throwing in the random awful outings with the dominant ones.

Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves: It's certainly too early to panic, but I also recommended Rasmus over Heyward in Tuesday's chat session, which I would not have come close to doing in March. Heyward looks hurt to me. He's hitting .224 and looks nothing like the fellow many of us raved about last year. He's only 21, so let's stop short of predicting gloom and doom, but when you draft a guy as a top-10 outfielder and 93 outfielders are doing better -- including injured Allen Craig and Denard Span -- then you're not pleased. This is a future MVP.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates: He's only 24, and injuries -- as well as a total inability to hit left-handed pitching -- have held him back. Let's just say some of the bloom is off the rose. I think there's a 30-homer bat lurking, which means a huge discount for him in 2012 drafts, but I also wonder if his future position is first base, not third base. The name, however, carries significant weight still, which is why he fits here.

Brandon Morrow, SP, Toronto Blue Jays: I rave about the guy because he should be a strikeout machine, capable of no-hit stuff and 17 whiffs on any given day and 250 strikeouts in a season ... but his ERA last season was 4.49 and it's barely better this year. Look at the K's! They're incredible! One of these years, and I doubt it'll be 2011 since Morrow can't get anyone out in home games (6.04 ERA in Toronto, 2.88 ERA on the road), he's going to be a fantasy monster. One of these years ...

Notes: I did think about putting Cameron Maybin here, but I frankly don't think he's ever going to be a great fantasy option, not with that walk-strikeout rate. He's not Drew Stubbs power-wise, certainly not with that home ballpark. ... I can't put Billy Butler here, either. Take the under on him ever smacking 25 home runs. ... Brett Anderson is a future star, but we have to wait until 2013 now that he has undergone Tommy John surgery. ... Can't say Francisco Liriano. He already has had a great (half-) season. ... Elvis Andrus and Adam Jones look really good this year, so they don't belong. ... Ian Stewart? Gordon Beckham? No way. I can't go there. So who did I miss? Feel free to chime in.