editors note – serious fantasy baseball tilt to this article
Raise your hand if you know who Marc Newfield is. Buehler….Buehler…anyone? Newfield was the guy who led the Cactus League in home runs in 1996 with 12 home runs and earned many accolades from the opposition and admiration from the few of us playing fantasy baseball in 1996. I drafted Newfield on my NL Only reserve roster that season because of the Cactus League performance and the fact I had at least 150 of his Topps rookie cards in my collection at the time after reading about his prodigious home runs in high school on the back of the aforementioned baseball card. Newfield went on to hit .251/.311/.387 for my team that year before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in the Greg Vaughn deal that year. That deal benefitted me as my league had a unique rule that any owner who lost a player to a trade in the AL got first dibs on picking up the new NL player. I was the only guy in the league that had any player on their roster involved in the trade so I got Greg Vaughn for free. I still finished second that year because I made the mistake of trading Ken Caminiti for Jeff King when I thought Caminiti was done. If I had only waited two weeks for him to go across the border to get his steroids, I would have won my first league title running away.
I bring Newfield up because fourteen years later, it is the same rage all over again for a hot ticket in Spring Training but this time his name is Sean Rodriguez. Rodriguez leads all hitters with six home runs and 14 RBI, and has a slash line of .425/.477/.975 in just 40 at bats. The only guy more insane than him so far is Jose Bautista who is rocking it in Dunedin with a .519/.519/1.037 line in 27 at bats for the Blue Jays. Rodriguez has been the player everyone is talking about in Rays camp since his torrid start that has not yet quite cooled down. With injuries to Matt Joyce and Willy Aybar, Rodriguez was given the opportunity and took full advantage of it and has all but clinched a roster spot with the Rays as this year’s Mr Everything. So far in Spring Training, he has played in LF, CF, RF, SS, and 2B. Don’t think that mock drafters have not noticed Rodriguez’s spring – he went from not appearing on a ADP report two weeks ago to jumping all the way to 332 on the latest report. Despite the high debut, Rodriguez is still sitting in between the likes of Luis Castillo and Adam Kennedy as people wait to see what his role will be on the team but that ADP spot could take a large jump this coming weekend as Matt Joyce is still out with an elbow issue and Fernando Perez has already been sent down to AAA leaving at worst a reserve outfield spot for Rodriguez. The playing time could become even clearer once Reid Brignac is sent to the minors which is very likely to happen with some news (noise?) that Joe Maddon is very pleased with how Hank Blalock has played in camp.
Rodriguez came to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir deal and I read recently that he was the linchpin to the entire deal and had he not bee included, the deal would have fallen apart. Take that for what you will but understand that if Kazmir is still with the Rays, Rafael Soriano would not be and Wade Davis would be back in AAA for a third straight year. Rodriguez spent nearly his entire minor league career in some very friendly hitter leagues such as the California League, Texas League, and the Pacific Coast League. In his minor league career, Rodriguez owns a very solid slash line of .281/.380/.501, on paper at least. MinorLeagueSplits.com has a handy-dandy MLE calculator and when you take Rodriguez’s numbers for his career and run it through the MLE calculator, that slash line falls to a .210/.280/.364 line. Rodriguez’s problem has been strikeouts, but despite the contact issues, he has been able to be productive in the advanced levels of the minor leagues. The table below shows Rodriguez’s production in A+, AA, and AAA as well as his numbers in limited major league time:
Despite growth in his patience at the plate in terms of his walk rate, the strikeouts have not gotten any better as he has gained experience and it has been even worse in his time in the major leagues.
Recently, some of the guys at RotoJunkie have been debating the merits of Rodriguez for the 2010 season, and frankly I consider some of the expectations to be on the high side because too many people are assuming the Ben Zobrist lightning will strike twice for the Rays and the two hitters are not that close. Zobrist switch-hits and had his swing completely re-engineered by his private hitting coach which changed him from a doubles hitter to a slugger. Not to mention, in the season before his breakout year, Zobrist had a 11% walk rate and a 19% strikeout rate showing more control of the strike zone than Rodriguez does at this point in his career. Rodriguez could make that kind of leap in his first season of decent major league exposure but that would require people to take their expectations down to a 2008 Ben Zobrist who hit 12 homers and had a .253/.339/.505 slash line over the one that hit .297/.405/.543 this past season. The Spring Training numbers are fueling excitement already driven by Rodriguez hitting 30 homers last year in just 405 AAA at bats and owning a .296/.404/.595 slash line while spending all but a handful of at bats in the Pacific Coast League but another quick run through the MLE calculator dampens the excitement. The MLE calculator tells us Rodriguez would have hit .236/.325/.452 at the big league level with 22 homers and 134 strikeouts in just 423 at bats.
After averaging out the projections from many different prognosticators found freely on the Web with our own OwnersEdge projections, I show a .243/.316/.410 slash line for Rodriguez with 12 homers, 44 RBI, and 91 strikeouts in just 330 at bats. Rodriguez could be a valuable fantasy asset in 2010 with his multi-positional flexibility but given his issues with making contact, the more playing time he gets, the more he could drag down your batting average. The short-term play with Rodriguez is to temper expectations but target for your roster. Keeper leaguers can be more excited because as the roster sets up now, Rodriguez could be in line for a starting position next season if Zobrist is asked to shift to first base if the club fails to re-sign Carlos Pena and cannot find an affordable replacement.