There has been a lot of talk about Jeff Samardzija being acquired by the White Sox from the Oakland Athletics, but there has been little discussion about the players Oakland received in return, namely Marcus Semien. Real life baseball fans probably know nothing about the man. Same thing goes for the casual fantasy baseball fan who may have gleaned his name on the waiver wire last season in search a productive hitter. Semien wasn’t a highly touted prospect so it’s no surprise that people know little about him. That could all change this season though.
Coming into the 2014 season, Semien was seen as the heir apparent to the third base position with the team giving little weight to incumbent starter Conor Gillaspie. Most believed Gillaspie would fail and Semien would slide in and replace him. Unfortunately the batting average never went over .237 and Semien found himself back in the minors by June. He would receive a call-up in September and batting .273, but his bottom line masked the improvements he made. So what should we expect from Semien in 2015?
Walks and Strikeouts
This is one place Semien generated a fair amount of success in the minors. Take a look at his totals for each level.
As you can see, Semien knows how to draw a walk despite only drawing 21 walks last season (8.2%). Those numbers did go down with his move from AA to AAA, but what’s important here are the splits. In 2013 he had a walk percentage of 9.9 after his promotion from AA to AAA. In 2014 when Semien was sent back down to AAA, his walk percentage over that time was 14.5 so it looks like he just needed time to acclimate himself. I would expect his walk numbers to increase in his second go around in the majors and to be over 10%.
If you look at his ML strikeout percentage in 2014 (27.5%), you envision a Chris Davis or Adam Dunn type of hitter, but his minor league numbers suggest otherwise. It has been below 20% since graduating to A+, improved and remained steady throughout the minors. It was below 20% during his 3 years at California State as well so the plate discipline has always been there. After returning to the majors from his AAA demotion, Semien’s strikeout percentage was 17.6% in September so it appears he just needed a little time to adjust to major league pitching. Given his track record, I would expect a strikeout percentage below 20%.
This area may turn some people off since Semien is not a .300 hitter. He batted .273 while in A+, which jumped up to .290 during his AA year and fell down to .266 in AAA. In his first taste of the majors in 2013 he held on to that AAA average and hit .261, but in his second go around that average dropped down to .234. Like I said in the intro, Semien did bat .273 upon his return from AAA in September so that does give you hope. An eventual batting average in the .275 range should be expected given his plate discipline and ability to adjust.
There is a matter of his splits. He hits lefties very well, but he struggled against right-handed pitchers in AAA. Semien hit .207 against righties in 2013 after batting .276 against them in AA. That average improved in 2014 to the tune of .249 but dropped to .212 in the majors. Usually handling lefties is the hard part and he seems to have figured that out. There was improvement in September which is encouraging and he didn’t have any major issues in the lower levels so he may just need some steady at bats.
Over a full year of at bats I can see an average similar to what he posted in AAA, somewhere in the .265 range. Granted this could tick higher if he adjusts quickly, but don’t count on that. Streamer calls for an average of .241, but that seems low to me. You can probably find better average hitters for second base, but let’s see what else he can do for you before we pass judgment here.
There isn’t breaking speed here, but there is enough to contribute in fantasy.
He has enough speed to at least steal 10 bases a year, that is the lowest total you should expect and what Streamer is predicting for him. The success rate increased as he progressed through each level. The two times he was caught stealing in the majors was in 2013, he was 3-3 in 2014 with limited opportunities. From A+ through AAA Semien’s lowest OBP was .362. If he demonstrates the same characteristics he displayed in the minors and come close to this number, there will be plenty of stolen base opportunities. 15 stolen bases with the chance for a few more seem realistic given 500 plus at bats.
Just like the speed, there isn’t a lot here but enough to get you interested. In A+ ball in 2012, Semien hit 14 home runs in 418 at bats. In 2013 he hit 21 home runs across 3 levels, 15 in AA over 393 at bats, 4 more in AAA over 125 at bats and 2 more upon his promotion to the majors in 69 at bats. Semien managed on 6 ML home runs in 2014, but the season wasn’t exactly a success. He did manage 15 home runs over 303 at bats in AAA after he was demoted so the power is there; it just hasn’t transitioned to the majors yet.
His average flyball distance in 2014 was 271.27 feet. Players surrounding him in the flyball distance chart were Andre Ethier, Lonnie Chisenhall and Chase Utley, players you don’t expect a lot of power from but who can deliver approximately 15 home runs. Semien is only 24 so unlike the men surrounding him on the leaderboard, he still has room to grow and develop. Considering he has hit 15 minor league home runs in each of the past 3 years in under 450 at bats, expecting at least that over 500 ML at bats is a safe assumption. If he comes close to the 39% flyball rate he posted in 2014, it is almost assured.
Now I’m sure some of you are dismissing Semien’s power with his move to the Coliseum. I would as well, but that was until I took a glance at the parks where he played in the minors. That brings me to the next point.
Normally moving to the Coliseum would be a bad thing, but this is just the same page of a different chapter for Semien. Centerfield in Oakland is 400 feet and coincidentally it is the same distance in all three parks Semien played in from A+ through AAA. Left field in Oakland is 330 feet. In the minors, left field for Semien started out at 330 feet, went down to 320 feet in AA and up to 325 feet in AAA. Right field in Oakland is also 330 feet which is fairly close to the 325 feet Semien dealt with in AA and AAA.
Comparing The Coliseum to Cellular Field, the parks are somewhat similar except right and left center are 8 feet closer in Oakland and the right field porch is 5 feet closer as well (335 feet in Chicago). From a ballpark standpoint, Semien should have no issues adapting to his new surroundings since he had to learn to hit in the cavernous minor league pitching parks. Since the dimensions are very similar, maybe you might be convinced of about that 15 home run prediction I made for him.
So right now we’re looking at a .265 average with 15 each for home runs and stolen bases. Runs and RBIs I will not attempt to predict since his place in the batting order will ultimately decide that. Streamer has him down for 62 runs and 58 RBIs so let’s just round things out to 60 of each. Those are safe numbers, but I would bump up the runs with a higher spot in the order and increase the RBIs if he hits 2nd, 5th or 6th.
Where do those numbers place him in the grand scheme of second base? Looking at where players finished in 2014, those numbers put Semien just outside the top 12 and in the same bracket with Ben Zobrist and Martin Prado. With a few more runs or RBIs he could be a top 12 player, but I’m not sure I want to go that far in promoting his worth. Semien is not someone you would want for your starting second baseman in a 12 team league. He is however someone to consider for larger leagues and those that use a MI slot. More than likely Semien will be a late round flyer in leagues if he is even drafted at all.
If you’re looking for a decent late round pick or potential sleeper to add to your watch list after the draft, It’s Semien.