As more and more outlets publish regular and fantasy prospect rankings, the timeline for said rankings keeps getting pushed up. Used to be, a feller couldn’t get a Top 100 list until the new calendar year. Used to be you’d have to get by on Baseball America’s Top 10 lists until Keith Law or Kevin Goldstein finally reveled their master lists in January or February.
My, how times have changed.
You can bet that as soon as the World Series is over, you’ll start seeing Top Prospect rankings from all the usual sources. That’s going to provide savvy dynasty league owners to take advantage of post-ranking prospect hype, especially when it comes to players with more MLB value than potential fantasy worth.
With that in mind, let’s review how you should handle two good prospects who are about to see their stocks inflated by rankings.
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres
Hedges is the best defensive catching prospect in baseball. Depending on who you ask or which reports you read, he’s the best defensive backstop in the minors we’ve seen over the past several years. That defense, coupled with what may project to be average offensive production from a catcher, could make Hedges a cornerstone player for the Padres. His upside is reflected in standard prospect rankings, where Hedges has been on the rise all season and where I expect him to crack the Top 50 on several mainstream rankings.
And such a ranking wouldn’t be unjustifiable. The 21-year-old put up a .270/.343/.425 line in 266 PA in High-A last season, good for a wRC+ of 102. Hedges then struggled in a 20-game cameo in Double-A, but that’s where he should start 2014, making a late-season MLB debut a possibility. Catchers tend to develop more slowly than other prospects, so that’s an optimistic outlook, but Yasmani Grandal has done nothing to cement his status as a starter in San Diego. Hedges’ path is clear.
But it doesn’t matter where Hedges ranks on regular prospect lists: he’s not a good fantasy bet. That .270/.343/.425 line would basically be his ceiling at the MLB level, and even that may be a bit optimistic. Jarrod Saltalamacchia put up a .273/.338/.466 line and was the 10th-most productive backstop in standard 5×5 leagues, which should put Hedges’ upside in some context.
It’s tempting to say that Hedges shouldn’t be kept in any leagues in which 100 or fewer minor leaguers are retained, but that’s not quite right. The better way to look at this is that Hedges is unlikely to be a Top 10 fantasy catcher – save for a few seasons in his prime, perhaps – and that means that if your league only starts 10 or 12 catchers, he might not worth be keeping at all. Conversely, if you are in a league in which you must start two catchers (and screw those leagues), Hedges’ could reasonably kept as a Top 100 option, as I think he’s a pretty safe bet to be a middling catcher for a long time.
Odds are, though, that you’re better off dangling Hedges as soon as lists from Baseball America, Baseball Propsectus, Keith Law and others come out, as his perceived value is likely to be much higher than it truly is for fantasy purposes.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Hedges is sort of the poster boy for prospects with more MLB than fantasy value, and I don’t expect his inclusion here to turn many heads. But listing Lindor here might cause a few people to bristle. Before Jason Parks or Indians fans show up at my door with pitchforks, let me explain.
The argument with Hedges is that his offensive ceiling is so low, he’s not really a fantasy prospect. The argument with Lindor is different: he’ll certainly be fantasy relevant in all leagues, but he’s being overrated in fantasy circles.
Lindor is a really impressive prospect. In 2013, he hit .306/.373/.410 with 20 steals in 373 PA in High-A, good for a wRC+ of 121. Lindor then moved up a level and actually improved, hitting .289/.407/.395 for a wRC+ of 131 in 91 PA in Akron. Meanwhile, Lindor is a phenomenal defensive shortstop who won’t turn 20 until November. Aside from plus power, Lindor is pretty much a complete prospect.
When it comes to fantasy, though, Lindor figures to only be a modest three-category contributor. He should hit for averages north of .280 in the majors, and he has the requisite speed to take 15-20 bases a year. Odds are he’ll bat near the top of the lineup and he’s a good OBP player, meaning I’d expect plenty of runs to score as well.
If he grows into a bit more pop – and that’s not unreasonable to assume, given his age – this prognosis changes, but right now I don’t see Lindor as a threat to hit more than five homers a year in the majors. A line of .280 with 20 steals and 80 runs would’ve made Lindor somewhere around the ninth-best fantasy shortstop this season, behind Everth Cabrera and Jed Lowrie but similar to Ben Zobrist, albeit with more speed and less pop.
Is Lindor a Top 50 fantasy prospect? Sure. Top 25? Maybe. But he doesn’t belong in the same tiers as Xander Bogaerts, Addison Russell or Carlos Correa. Expect him to begin his career as a fantasy middle infielder.