There's no time of year in deep leagues quite like September roster expansion. After weeks upon weeks of staring at the same slag on the waiver wire, fantasy owners' eyes begin to glaze over. September brings a fresh crop of possibilities to the free agent list. It's our job to help you decipher which of these countless no-name players you want, and which of the overhyped call-ups are as good as their billings. And naturally, because this is the critical time of year in keeper leagues, we'll also take a look at the future potential of the chosen players. In part one of a three-part look at September call-ups, we start by profiling three newcomers who have been performing at a very high level since their debuts.
Joey Votto, 1B, CIN
In his first 12 plate appearances, Votto has two home runs, a double, two singles and two walks. That's a .500/.583/1.200 line. How good can this guy be?
Will: For Real. Votto is going to get a lot of time down the stretch, so he will be a valuable player for the next three weeks. He also reliably profiles as a major league regular with decent power and on-base skills. His contact rate is too low and his strikeout rate too high for him to project as a .300 hitter, but he has a sound approach at the plate and should be able to hit above .280 at the major league level. The only knocks on this guy are a lack of big-time power, a higher strikeout rate than you'd like to see and below-average defense. Improvement in any of these areas is unlikely to come in large doses, so I don't think Votto will be a superstar. He should be a major league regular for years to come, however, and as a bonus is working on his outfield defense in order to give him more chances to crack the lineup.
Adam: Unreal. Votto doesn't have a ton of room for growth, and with Jorge Cantu and Scott Hatteberg on the roster, he'll have to pull his own weight to garner playing time. He's definitely major league ready, but he's more like a souped-up, right-handed version of Dan Johnson than a legitimate threat at first base. Hitting in Great American Ballpark helps, but if you're a first baseman and don't have 30-homer power, it's hard to make a name for yourself. I'm skeptical of Votto's power, at least in the immediate term. Hatteberg has a 2008 option, and the Reds didn't ship him off for prospects, so their commitment to Votto is also in question. He's not a special talent, which makes him a solid, not great, keeper.
Ian Kennedy, SP, NYY
It's no secret that the Yankees need starting pitching, and Kennedy showed enough in his first two starts to remain in the rotation for now. Is he talented enough to be there for good?
Will: Unreal. I'm not one of those analysts who never recommends anyone unless he has a blazing fastball, but I don't think Kennedy is quite ready to proceed with his major league career without a hitch. He does have very good command, but I'm not sure it will hold up against the more patient hitters he'll be facing at the highest levels. Counting college, Kennedy has pitched at six different levels in just over a year's time. While he is very polished for someone who has spent so little time in the minors, I think the lack of seasoning will catch up with him and that he'll struggle for a while as he bounces back and forth between Triple-A and the majors for a year or two. He will be too hittable, as he lacks a big-time out pitch. I do think he'll have a relatively successful major league career, but as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter rather than as a solid No. 3 as most people project. Overall, I doubt he'll help anyone down the stretch of 2007, and while he's a decent keeper pick, he's not one to break the bank for.
Adam: Real. Kennedy had a very strong strikeout rate in the low minors, and his walk rate actually improved as he rose throughout the farm system. While his stuff isn't equivalent to his numbers, which scares some people off (a la Yusmeiro Petit), home run rate is the strongest indicator of major league success, and Kennedy has a career 0.36 home run rate in the minor leagues. Prevent the home run and you can last enough innings to at least net some wins from the best offense in baseball, and the ability to prevent the home run and extra-base hits is a skill that is usually consistent from year to year. That, at worst, makes him roster-worthy in any fantasy league; toss in his age -- he'll be 23 by Opening Day 2008 -- and his dominating full-season minor league debut which saw him skip three levels, and it's hard not to be excited by Kennedy.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS
We're cheating a tiny bit on this one, since Ellsbury was promoted briefly in late June and then again in mid-August. However, he accumulated only 19 at-bats during those trials and has already eclipsed that mark in September. Since his most recent call-up, Ellsbury is 12-for-27 with two homers, three steals and only two strikeouts.
Will: For Real. People like to compare Ellsbury to Johnny Damon, and the similarities are certainly there, except in the power department. Ellsbury is unlikely to exceed 15 home runs or a .450 slugging percentage in a season, but he looks like a consistent 30-steal threat who will hit plenty of doubles and draw his share of walks. His career minor league numbers are .313/.389/.425, and he has impressively maintained his contact rate and batting eye with each promotion. His defense in center field is a plus, as well. He's a legitimate talent who will undoubtedly be a productive major league regular. He should see enough time to be useful during the next three weeks, and he has enough potential to make Coco Crisp expendable as soon as next season.
Adam: Unreal. Ellsbury is a much better real-life player than fantasy player. He is a safe prospect due to his excellent defense, plus speed and contact skills, and patience, but fantasywise that essentially translates only to batting average and steals. The downside is that batting average is much more dependent on luck than power is, and since Ellsbury has very little power, pitchers can challenge him more in the major leagues and cut into that batting average. The Red Sox also don't run enough -- 23rd in total steals attempted -- to truly utilize Ellsbury's speed. In such a loaded fantasy position as outfield, there are too many safer and higher-upside players to bank on instead of Ellsbury, who has little-to-no upside as a baseball superstar.
Will Harris and Adam Madison are fantasy baseball analysts for TalentedMrRoto.com. Will can be contacted at WillHarris@TalentedMrRoto.com and Adam at Adam@TalentedMrRoto.com