And so our tour of the Junior Circuit comes to an end with the AL West. In this edition, I don’t have to write about David Lough. Life is good.
Houston Astros: Robbie Grossman, OF
I think Jonathan Villar is the best post-prospect candidate on Houston’s roster, but I’ve written about him many times before. In the interest of diversity, I’ll cover Grossman, who was long one of my favorite “sleeper” fantasy prospects both when he was in Pittsburgh and once he was traded to the Astros.
Grossman’s been unsteady in his ability to hit for average throughout his minor league career, but one thing he’s always done is get on base. Grossman’s .332 OBP in 288 MLB PA last season was far and away the lowest he’s posted at any level since he was in High-A in 2010, and I believe in Grossman’s ability to work walks and hit enough to consistently post OBPs in the mid-.300s.
That makes him a much better play in leagues that count OBP than in standard leagues, of course, but Grossman also has the ability to hit around 8 homers with 10-12 steals over the course of a season, and if you put all of those numbers together Grossman starts to look like a decent sleeper in AL Only and 20-team leagues. It’s not the sexiest profile in the world, but don’t be surprised if Grossman, Dexter Fowler and George Springer are starting everyday by June.
Two more to remember: Jonathan Villar, SS and Jarred Cosart, SP
Los Angeles Angels: Kole Calhoun, OF
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Calhoun is old, and he was never much of a prospect. When he destroyed rookie ball in 2010, we said it was because of his age. When he destroyed High-A in 2011, we said he was old for his leagues. When he did bad things to Triple-A in 2012, many of us still didn’t fully take the bait, but at least he was on our radars.
Maybe it’s time to stop doubting Calhoun. He hit .354/.431/.617 in 274 Triple-A PA last season, then hit .282/.347/.462 in 222 PA in the majors. He’s old for a prospect, but he’ll be just 26 when next season begins, and with Mark Trumbo reportedly on the block, Calhoun could just find himself some serious playing time in 2014.
I’m not advocating you go all in on Calhoun next season, but I do think he has a shot at being a Top 75 outfielder, which would make him relevant in even moderately deep leagues. If he gets the playing time, the runs and RBI will be there in what should still be a good Angels lineup.
One more to remember: Grant Green, UT
Oakland Athletics: Sonny Gray, SP
Gray finds himself here after dominating Triple-A and erasing the doubts of many (myself included) that he’d end up in the bullpen long-term. Gray pitched to the tune of a 2.67 ERA with a 9.42 K/9 in 64 innings in the majors, too, and is widely regarded as one of the game’s rising stars after his postseason heroics.
Many of us viewed Gray as a reliever because of his short stature and pedestrian 2012 campaign. The fastball-curveball combination has always been sexy, but as Jason Parks has spoken about recently at Baseball Prospectus, it’s easy to box short players into a “reliever only” profile – especially when they’re not performing well. Gray’s step up should pave the way for the likes of Marcus Stroman, Yordano Ventura and to a lesser extent Tyler Thornburg to be more properly valued by us prospect pundits, which will have serious fantasy implications as well.
All of that being said, Gray is likely to be a bit overrated in fantasy drafts next season after outdueling Justin Verlander in the playoffs his season. I believe in the strikeout rate but he’s far from a lock to have a sub-3.50 ERA, and it will be worth watching how the league adjusts to Gray, too. He has the upside of a Top 30 starting pitcher, but there’s a lower floor that’s a real possibility for 2014. Don’t treat him like a Top 100 player yet.
Two more to remember: A.J. Griffin, SP and Dan Straily, SP
Seattle Mariners: Brad Miller, SS
Seattle is where good hitting prospects go to die. Justin Smoak. Jesus Montero. Dustin Ackley. Michael Saunders. The list goes on and on. Yet Miller, a fairly unheralded second-round pick in 2011, has risen from the ashes of so many other failures. Miller tore through the minor leagues in fewer than two full seasons, and is poised to begin 2014 as Seattle’s starting shortstop.
If you look at Miller’s MiLB stats, you might think Seattle has a potential star on their hands. Thanks to a BABIP that neared .400 in a few stints, Miller consistently hit above .320 and got on base at a better than .400 clip as a prospect. Let’s be clear that he doesn’t have that type of upside in the majors, but that doesn’t mean he’s an all-glove shortstop. Even if Miller only hits .270 at the highest level, he has the potential to put up solid counting stats.
Stephen Drew hit .253 with 13 homers and six steals last season, and he was fantasy’s 18th best shortstop. Miller can easily surpass those figures (perhaps except for steals) and should be considered in the Top 15 range. If the Mariners really do continue with their rebuilding, he’ll only become more valuable as his R and RBI opportunities increase.
One more to remember: Nick Franklin, 2B/trade bait
Texas Rangers: Jurickson Profar, 2B
Perhaps the most obvious name in this entire series, Profar was ranked by many as the best prospects and fantasy baseball prospect in the game last season. I ranked him at No. 3, behind Xander Bogaerts and Oscar Taveras, because I was worried about a lack of playing time in 2013, and wasn’t sure he had the same offensive ceiling as the two players I listed above him. Inconsistent playing time, a high strikeout rate and a low BABIP led to Profar hitting just .234/.308/.336 in 324 PA last season, which might have some down on the MI prospect headed into 2014.
That’s a mistake. Profar is going to hit for a good average, he’s going to get on base and he’s going to score runs in a talented Rangers offense. It may be a few years before we see him truly grow into his pop, but 10 homers is easily within his reach with 600 PA, as are 10-15 steals. Profar isn’t slated to perform like a superstar just yet, but he can still be an asset for your team next season.
Overall, Profar’s profile is down a little bit from a year ago thanks in large part to the shortstop eligibility he’s going to lost in most leagues. He’s obviously untouchable in dynasty formats, but there’s an argument to be made that Profar shouldn’t yet be trusted with a starting 2B job in a 12-team league. Don’t reach for him in redraft or auction leagues, but don’t let him fall completely off your radar, either.
One more to remember: Leonys Martin, OF