What do Brett Lawrie, Eric Hosmer, and Carlos Santana all have in common? They all burst onto the scene in 2011, where high draft picks in 2012, and disappointed fantasy owners everywhere.
What can we learn from this? Track record, people. You have to look at what they've done over the course of their career and not take a small number of at bats as proof of what they will do going forward.
Brett Lawrie only had 150 AB's in the big leagues in 2011, but he made the most of them. He had an OPS of .953 which was good enough for an OPS+ of 153. In addition he tallied 7 stolen bases, and given a full season, that rate would look like nearly 30 for the year. All of this at third base? Yes, please! Imagine what he would do in that lineup, in that ballpark, for more than 500 AB's!
We should have seen it coming because his minor league numbers were actually significantly worse than what he did in the bigs in those 150 AB's. In the minors he had a career OPS of just .850, which was even buoyed up significantly by more than 22% of those minor league at bats coming in Las Vegas, an extremely hitter-friendly environment. The speed could be legit with 62 bags in 1282 minor league AB's, but he was caught 28 times so his success rate has not been great.
Young players can emerge and develop power over time, it's true. But it doesn't typically happen overnight and what you typically like to see is a large number of doubles that gradually start going over the fence. Gap power that turns into souvenir power. So to speak. With Lawrie there is reason for optimism in that regard, so he could still be developing. In 2010 at Double A he hit 36 doubles and only 8 home runs. The next year he was promoted to Las Vegas and the predictable impact came with 24 doubles and 18 home runs. This carried over to his time in Toronto that year, but he came back down to earth in 2012 with only 26 doubles and 11 dingers in 494 AB's.
2012 was his first full season in the majors plus he was dealing with some nagging injuries. So, will he be the power hitting 3B that we all hoped he would be or more of the gap-power guy he was most of the time in the minors? Well, when you pull together all of the evidence on Lawrie, the truth is probably somewhere in-between. I'd take what he did at Double A in 2010 and allow for his three years of physical maturity (from age 20 to age 23... a big jump) and say that his gap power of 2010 was probably still showing a bit as he was still getting his feet wet in the big leagues. But, I would imagine that more of those doubles will start to go over the wall this year. So, if he's around 500 AB's this year, my projection is about 20 HR's with a BA around .278. And, it is a loaded lineup, so no matter where he bats the runs and RBI should be there. Let's say a combined R&R total of over 140. The success ratio on his SB attempts combined with the quality of the lineup (and all of the amazing SB threats there like Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and Rajai Davis) make me think that he will not run as much... so how about we pencil him in at 14 SB's?
Now all you have to do is figure out where that ranks for third basemen. It's probably going to be a bit above average... somewhere in the 8-10 range. He'll be a viable starter for your squad but don't go overboard on draft day. I think it is a fairly projectable range for Lawrie without too much of a ceiling. Very solid floor, though. You want guys like Lawrie on your team if you can get them at a good value.
As we talk about in "The Program" that I created for fantasy football, you are aiming for 3/5's of your draft picks to be dependable producers. 1/5 should be guys with upside and the last 1/5 are the "boom" type of picks with a chance to emerge as superstars. That's how you win your league... a foundation of production with some upside guys mixed in and maybe four players that are big risks with big bust-out potential. The boom or bust guys last year could have been Edwin Encarnacion, Paul Goldschmidt, Yu Darvish, or Adam Wainwright. This year it might be guys like Shelby Miller, Brian McCann, Chris Davis, or Josh Rutledge. Do your homework... It might be a guy that just got his first taste of big league action or it could be a guy in a new ballpark or bouncing back from injury. Examine the situation and look for those "green flags" that we always talk about here at the Brain.
So, what I am saying is that you need to periodically take risks in your drafts without going overboard. And do you your homework. If you took Lawrie in the 5th round last year he didn't kill you. It was fine... Same with a Hosmer or a Santana. (Okay, maybe Hosmer killed your batting average. Nice steals at 1B, though, right?) You took your shots. But, as you were doing that you probably also got a guy like Encarnacion late in your draft because you did your homework and you were taking a few calculated risks. And, that was the one that paid off and put you in contention.
Instead of those picks you could have taken the best available, safe pick. And, yes, those super-safe picks should be about 60% of your team so you have a reliable core. (That is what my "3P3Z" drafting method is all about, by the way.) More than that and you'll be solidly in the middle-of-the-pack. If you have your sights set higher, you've got to take a a reasonable number of shots at hitting some home runs of your own.