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Passing the Buc - Former Pirates Prospects to Watch


The offseason hot stove is well underway, and major deals are already happening. Now, take “major” with a grain of salt, because if this is the best that baseball fans get, it will be a long winter. And yet, under the hood, the first few moves have fantasy implications that can affect early drafts, or owners as they prepare for their own version of the winter meetings. 

The one common thread through both early trades has been the presence of former Pittsburgh Pirates prospects; one on the move, and one moving up the depth chart. First, Mallex Smith moved back to Seattle in return for Mike Zunino, with additional prospects (not fantasy relevant) involved in each deal. This move has large implications for Tampa Bay outfielder Austin Meadows, as he enters the 2019 campaign with the club. Second, Jordan Luplow moved to Cleveland from Pittsburgh with Max Moroff, in return for Erik Gonzalez and lottery ticket pitchers deep in the Cleveland system. While not sexy moves on their own, both deals offer some interesting impact on other fantasy players, and perhaps, might lead to more value than expected.

As trades begin to happen with an increased frequency, no move is too small to look at for fantasy value. That especially goes for trades involving former young stars that might still have a ceiling to hit. While none of these players will be top-five round picks in redraft leagues, if they go undrafted, owners will be missing out on some essential production.

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Outfielders to Watch

Jordan Luplow (OF, CLE)

Luplow entered the 2018 season as Baseball America’s number thirteen ranked prospect in the Pirates farm system. In a deep system, this was a compliment, and many expected him to make an impact late in the year.  To his credit, as a minor leaguer, Luplow had posted strong seasons at every level with a WRC+ over 130 at every stop. While the counting stats have declined with each step as well, there is a mix of power and speed with double digits at most spots. Also, add in double-digit walk rates, with OBPs over .360, and a SLG mark over .420, and Luplow makes for an intriguing package with a little bit of everything on display.

While the production has not carried over to the Majors yet, the track record is there. He only has 64 games on the ledger thus far, so small sample size alert before writing off his chances at sticking with Cleveland this year out of spring training. The significant red flag with the jump for Luplow to the Majors has been the K rate. In the minors, he was never above a 20% K line, but with the Pirates, Luplow was closer to 25%. If he can cut down on the swing and miss, the contact should be there, and this was his calling card in the system so far.

The good news for Luplow is that the Cleveland outfield is a mess, meaning that without any new additions, he might be the starting left fielder at Progressive Field right now. While the assumption is that another player will be added, Luplow does offer a nice bench option who can play all three spots and add a bit of speed and power. For Cleveland fans, this looks a lot like the Brandon Guyer style player, with most of his chances coming as a pinch hitter, but earning a run of games with a hot bat. The other piece to keep in mind for Luplow owners is that Terry Francona likes to rotate his players, so even if he is the fourth outfielder, he will get chances.

Luplow is a breakout candidate this year, with a solid lineup around him, a good park, and the opportunity to play all helping his case. In redraft leagues, this is a round-23 or higher pick and in AL-only leagues a must have for the chance the skillset can translate. Steamer projects him for a .251/.322/.409 slash with six homers and four steals. All of those numbers rely on him only playing a part-time role, with 58 games total. Owners should take the over on those lines, and notice that even with a limited role, Luplow is close to a 10/10 player. With playing time, expect 15/15 and use that to cash in on a late round pick for mid-round value.

Austin Meadows (OF, TB)

Another former top prospect, Meadows has so far not hit the heights most projected when he was an overall top-10 prospect for consecutive seasons while with the Pirates. Injuries played into the slow rise, but the production was always there in the minors. A bit of a hiccup to start the year in 2017 at Triple-A might be the only blemish on what was a quick rise through the ranks. A contact over power bat, Meadows often would be close to double digits in the homer category only to fall short, and his career high was 10 bombs last year with the Rays at Durham. Also, the case was similar with speed, as he never got close to the 20 steals he posted in 2015 again in his career. And yet, there is still the potential for a handful of steals with the Rays this year, so some helium remains in the profile. Like Luplow, the K rates are low, and the BB rates are right where owners want for a prospect with some upside.

When he finally got to the Pirates last year, Meadows took the world by storm, for 48 games. In that time he batted .288 with four steals and five homers. The downside? 33 strikeouts in 151 at-bats for a 22% rate. This is not, in a vacuum, a bad line, but Meadows would need to keep that power up to justify this jump in the rate. The move to Tampa should help keep those numbers up.

Meadows is an intriguing player because he was added last season in the Chris Archer deal, so this is a player that Tampa coveted. And yet, after the move he started at Triple-A, which might be due to service time issues, but also hints at the deep outfield than the team had put together. This is why Mallex Smith leaving is a boon for Meadows owners, as the new starting outfield looks to be Kiermaier, Pham, and Meadows, whereas, with Smith around, Meadows would be on the bench or starting back at Durham. With the ability to play average at least in the corners, and perhaps close to average in center, Meadows might also get some chances to move around if can keep showing an impact bat.

Steamer projects Meadows as a .264/.315/.433 slash with 17 homers and 16 steals. This would make him a must own, and in fact, owners should expect a bit more in the batting line. If the K rate comes down to the 18.1% projected, there is no reason to think that he is not a .270 plus hitter. Meadows is the better of the two profiled in this piece and should be a relatively high pick in most drafts. This would be a nice 11th-13th round pick, with some hedge for the upside, but also, an interesting floor with a good team around him.

 

Bottom Line

Meadows and Luplow both offer interesting fantasy options for players who might never be elite with any one tool but can contribute across the board, and in all offensive categories. Do not let others with elite numbers overshadow this style of production, which is vital in roto leagues for sustained success.

While context, and further news and moves this winter will continue to affect these player's value, for now, move them up draft boards. Luplow is the most likely to drop with other additions, but Meadows looks to be in the driver's seat for a major role this year for the Rays. Buy in now, before the rest of the league comes around on these prospects.

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