Keeper Rankings: Prospects
The most astute fantasy baseball owners know the value of developing long-term prospects with the highest of ceilings to best build a perpetually renewable contender.
Identifying who to target based on scouting reports and prospect rankings is almost an art form. Too often the layman relies on Baseball America rankings that take into account defense and penalize hitters for striking out.
We’re looking mostly at what will matter to fantasy owners – production in the stat categories. Defense only matters in how it might affect their long-term position, so a premium can be placed on catchers and shortstops who will stick there.
With all that in mind, here’s how we’re ranking keeper prospects thinking in terms of the next three-to-five years and how to value them in trades and drafts/auctions:
1. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs: The 23-year-old slugger is looking more and more like he could break camp with the Cubs, or at worst spend nine games in minors before coming up in mid-April. We have him projected to hit 30 homers in 586 plate appearances this year, but there should be 40-homer seasons in his future with possibly a .280-type average, some steals and tons of runs with an excellent OBP. Encouraging reports on his once-questioned defense would mean he can stay at third base rather than move to the outfield, which would help his value a bit as well. By the end of 2016, Bryant should enter at least a five-year run as a possible top-10 pick in fantasy.
2. Jorge Soler, OF, Cubs: The 23-year-old Cuban burned his way through the minors last year and finished the season with five homers in the final month for the Cubs. Like Bryant, he has tremendous power with a well-developed hit tool and enough speed to steal a handful of bases. We have him projected to hit 23 homers in 585 PA, but he could vault to 30 homers and eventually push 40 with a .280ish average and a very good OBP.
3. Rusney Castillo, OF, Red Sox: The 27-year-old Cuban wasted little time reaching Boston after signing a seven-year, $72 million deal last summer, playing in just 18 minor-league games before hitting .333 with two homers and three steals with the Red Sox in September. He should be a five-category contributor in standard fantasy leagues, but his power is projected to be more in the teens or pushing 20 in homers. The lack of big-time power and that at 27 he’s already at his peak keeps down his long-term value, but he should push Soler for the top rookie season right now.
4. Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers: L.A. dealt Matt Kemp to open up a spot for Pederson, so a lot is being expected from the 22-year-old. Pederson put up video-game numbers – .303, 33 homers, 30 steals, 106 runs – in the offense-first PCL playing for Las Vegas with its bandbox and elevation last year, but struggled in a cup of coffee with the Dodgers (4-for-28 with 11 strikeouts). We have Pederson projected to hit .245 with 19 homers and 23 steals, but if he can control the strikeouts that average will rise over time and he could approach 30-30 in his prime.
5. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins: Eventually, Buxton should top this list as the No. 1 prospect with off-the-chart tools galore, but his ETA is likely next year. He will also need to stop getting hurt, as injuries ravaged his 2014 season. Once in Minnesota, we could be looking at the second coming of Mike Trout. So if you’re not as concerned about this year, he’d be our No. 1 going forward.
6. Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers: Here’s where defense can have some say as well as team situation, as Gallo may not have the chops to stay at third base and is blocked through 2016 there in Texas by future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. The 21-year-old’s pure power rivals Giancarlo Stanton‘s light-tower blasts, so 40-homer seasons could be in his future. Scouts have been questioning since he was drafted 39th overall in 2012 whether he will strikeout too much, but he managed 42 homers in 126 games between High-A and Double-A last year. His K% rose to 39.5 in Double-A, where he hit .232, but he makes up for it by drawing tons of walks.
7. Carlos Correa, SS, Astros: The 20-year-old is the consensus No. 3 prospect behind Buxton and Bryant, but will likely start the season in Double-A so he’s another that would be higher if you’re looking past this year. He’s hit just 18 homers in 229 combined minor-league games, but he’s expected to develop into a 20-homer, five-category shortstop with the glove to stick there.
8. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs: The 21-year-old was pilfered from the A’s last summer in the Jeff Samardzija deal, helping give the Cubs an embarrassment of riches coming to Chicago soon. Russell is like Correa in that his across-the-board tools haven’t fully manifested themselves in the minors in terms of production yet, but he profiles as a five-category shortstop with the defensive chops to be able to stick there.
9. Steven Souza, OF, Rays: Overlooked on prospect lists going into 2014, he exploded last year to triple-slash .350/.432/.590 with 18 homers and 26 steals in 96 games at Triple-A. He struggled in a brief trial with the Nationals (3-for-23 but two homers), where he was blocked but was dealt in the off-season to Tampa Bay, where he is expected to start. Souza turns 25 in April, so he should be able to hit the ground running, as evidence by our projected .255 with 16 homers and 22 steals. This could be a sneaky five-category stud flying under the radar of the bigger names.
10. Yoan Moncada, 2B/3B, Red Sox: Another five-category infielder, the 19-year-old Cuban just needs some time in the minors and for the Red Sox to figure out where they’re going to play him. We’re betting on third base and that he could arrive in Boston sometime next summer.
11. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers: It is expected that the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder will move to third base due to limited range, but his bat will play anywhere. Scouts rate his hit tool higher than brother Kyle on the Mariners, as he hit a combined .349 with 20 homers, 99 runs, 97 RBIs between High- and Double-A last year. Seager could be up sometime this season, likely depending on injuries in L.A., but he should eventually settle into the middle of the Dodgers lineup for the next decade.
12. Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins: The mammoth slugger is coming back from Tommy John surgery, having missed the 2014 season after belting 35 homers between High- and Double-A in 2013. The 6-foot-3, 232-pounder may not need much time in the minors before bringing his light-tower power to Minnesota. Trevor Plouffe owners beware, as Sano will be jockeying for his third base job by this summer.
13. Lucas Giolito, SP, Nationals: The No. 1 pitching prospect, Giolito should come fast now that he has a full season under his belt returning from Tommy John surgery in 2012. At 6-6, 255 pounds, Giolito is a striking figure on the mound and he has the stuff to match, with an 80-grade fastball that ranges from 92-98 and has touched 100. Giolito also has a 70-grade curve and a 60-grade changeup, tools the right-hander should be using in Washington by 2016.
14. Carlos Rodon, SP, White Sox: Long considered a lock to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, Rodon’s stock dipped with a sub-par junior season at N.C. State, but the White Sox still jumped in at No. 3 to take the flame-throwing lefty. Solidly built at 6-3, 234 pounds, Rodon features a mid-90s fastball and a 70-grade slider. He regained his premium stuff after signing with Chicago, rocketing from rookie ball all the way to Triple-A, striking out 38 in 25 innings along the way. Now competing for a spot in the White Sox rotation out of spring training, Rodon should be a fixture in Chicago by summer.
15. Noah Syndergaard, SP, Mets: Another pitching prospect with the requisite size (6-6, 240) and big fastball (70-grade) to be the horse atop an MLB rotation, Syndergaard’s time could be early this season after Zack Wheeler‘s TJ surgery leaves just Dillon Gee in front of him in New York. Syndergaard also has a plus-curve and a developing change to go with at least average control, so the sky’s the limit for the big right-hander with how well Mets pitching prospects have done in recent years (think Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom).
16. Daniel Norris, SP, Blue Jays: The quirky lefty who famously lives in a van shot through three minor league levels to reach Toronto in September last season, along the way posting the highest strikeout rate (11.8 K/9) of any qualified starter in full-season ball. Now with Marcus Stroman lost for the season with a torn ACL, Norris is stepping up to claim a rotation spot with the Blue Jays coming out of spring training. His deep arsenal (60-grades on fastball, slider and change with 50-grade on curve) makes him a favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year and should help him become a fantasy weapon right away with his strikeout potential.
17. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF, Cubs: Some called the Indiana product the best college bat in the draft last year and the Cubs bought in by taking the 6-foot, 235-pound slugger fourth overall. Schwarber hit the ground running, blasting a combined .344 with 18 homers in 72 games between short-season, Low- and High-A. Schwarber is hanging in at catcher for now, which would make his fantasy impact even greater, but it is expected that he will eventually settle in as a corner outfielder. His ETA is dependent on the position, as his bat could force its way to Chicago by the end of this season if out from behind the plate, otherwise it could take until late next year or even 2017 at catcher.
18. Julio Urias, SP, Dodgers: Already having mastered Low-A as a 16-year-old (2.48 ERA) and High-A as a 17-year-old (2.36 ERA), Urias can now make a push to reach L.A. as a teenager. His fastball is solid at 89-94 mph and can reach 97, but it’s his curve and change that dazzle and have double-plus ceilings. At just 5-11, 185 pounds, there is the usual durability questions, but the left-hander has the clean mechanics to turn into a cog in the Dodgers rotation. The Mexican teenager could create a frenzy in L.A. upon arriving, ala Fernando Valenzuela, so his fantasy stock could continue to soar with the increased profile.
19. J.P. Crawford, SS, Phillies: Philadelphia’s shortstop of the future has absolutely nothing in front of him now that Jimmy Rollins is off in L.A., but there’s still some development time needed. Crawford should start in Double-A this season after totaling 11 homers and 24 steals between Low- and High-A last year. It’s still to be seen whether Crawford will develop enough power to produce 20-25 homers annually or if he will settle in more like 10-15, but he should contribute across the board.
20. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians: The dazzling glove is what sets the 21-year-old apart, but that assures that he will stick at shortstop where his offensive limitations will still play well in fantasy. Lindor combined to hit .276 with 11 homers and 28 steals between Double- and Triple-A. He was successful on just 3-of-10 stolen base attempts in Triple-A, so he has some work to do if he’s going to be as much of a contributor there as we would hope. Lindor has the polish and baseball acumen to develop into even more, but we’re expecting something in the Jean Segura to Elvis Andrus range.