Today we will look at some hot prospects who are tearing up the minor leagues. Now that guys like George Springer, Gregory Polanco, Andrew Heaney, Jonathon Singleton, Eddie Butler, Oscar Taveras and other top prospects have been promoted to the majors there are a lot of fantasy teams that have open slots on their minor league rosters. Here are some guys you should consider to fill those spots. These guys were not on many top 100 prospect lists prior to the season, but all of them are shooting up the rankings this Summer. If you are looking to get the jump on your foes in a deep league now would be a great time to snag these breakout youngsters. I imagine all the elite prospects are already taken in most dynasty leagues, so let’s get a head start on the next batch of future stars…
Jesse Winker: Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds
A supplemental 1st round pick in 2012, Winker has failed to get much love from the prospect industry and I think people have missed the boat on him. He gets dinged because of a perceived lack of athleticism that could limit his utility defensively. He may not be a great fielder, but I don’t see a future first baseman. He can play left field at least as well as a lot of major leaguers I have seen in recent years. But I don’t really care about his fielding because this guy can hit baseballs so well that he would be a nice fantasy commodity even if he were limited to playing as a DH. He is not a true power hitter, but he does have more pop than people have given him credit for. He hit 16 home runs last year and already has 13 this year. He is still only 20 years old, so even more power development is highly likely. He is an OBP machine and draws almost as many walks as strikeouts every year. He does one thing very well: barrel up the baseball with hard contact. The hitter-friendly Cal League has certainly helped boost his stellar 1.006 OPS this year, but he has hit at every level and there is no reason whatsoever to think that Winker is just a Cal League mirage. Winker just got promoted to AA Pensacola and is on track to make his major league debut next year. He is likely to be an above average contributor in all the fantasy baseball statistical categories, even stealing some bases. He will be one of those guys that doesn’t blow you away in any category but somehow ends up ranked in the top 50 hitters in your league every year. He is an easy top 40 fantasy prospect already and could go much higher.
Daniel Norris: Starting Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
Norris was the Blue Jays’ 2nd round pick in 2011 and was actually a top 100 prospect on most lists prior to the 2012 season. He fell off those lists after putting up an 8.44 ERA in his debut campaign, although he did strike out more than a batter per inning. Last year he improved his ERA to 3.97 and kept that high K rate, but he struggled with his control and walked way too many batters. This Spring he was not included on the leading prospect lists again, but his performance thus far has him climbing the prospect ladder very quickly. He has thrown 72 innings with 85 strikeouts against only 19 walks and put up a fantastic 1.63 ERA. He was promoted to Double A this week and could reach the majors next season. He is a lefty with a nice fastball and three quality offspeed pitches including a plus slider and curve. He has to be considered a top 50 prospect right now.
Josh Bell: Outfielder, Pittsburgh Pirates
Much like Norris, Bell is another 2011 2nd round pick who was initially highly regarded by prospect mavens but fell out of favor. He was a top 75 prospect on 2012 lists but has been unranked the last couple years. After putting up a disappointing .691 OPS in Low A ball in 2012, he repeated the level in 2013 and put up a much better .806 OPS. This year he was bumped up to High A and has upped his game to an .895 OPS while making much better contact and striking out less. He is finally living up to expectations and his prospect stock is soaring. His power is still a little less than one would predict from a player his size. I think he will be a good fantasy player but not a star. He will generate solid numbers in all the fantasy stat categories, even stealing a handful of bases. Likely to be well within the top 75 prospects moving into next season.
Josh Hader: Starting Pitcher, Houston Astros
When you are a 19th round draft pick you really have to do something unexpected to make prospect watchers begin taking you seriously as a potential future star. What Hader did was add 10 mph to his fastball in the last couple years. He is a lefty and only has three pitches (fastball, curve, change) but he has always been able to rack up strikeouts by the bushel. At times he has struggled with walks, but not this year. He is putting up a 2.34 ERA with a 75/25 K/BB rate over 65 innings in the High A California League, which as you know is a league that punishes pitchers with small ballparks at high altitudes. Hader was drafted by the Orioles and traded to the Astros as part of the Bud Norris trade last year. He has put up excellent stats at every stop in the minor leagues. Now that he is conquering the Cal league he will start garnering some real helium in prospect circles and should get some love on the midseason lists. Snap him up while you can, but he needs a lot of development time so don’t expect him to hit the big leagues for at least a couple years yet. Probable top 100 prospect next Spring.
Clint Coulter: Catcher, Milwaukee Brewers
Coulter was a 1st round pick in 2012 and is finally starting to fulfill the promise the Brewers saw in him on draft day. He has broken out with the bat in the Low A Midwest League. He has a .282/.427/.534 slash line with 11 homers, 42 walks and 45 strikeouts so far. It remains to be seen if he will remain behind the plate, but even if he doesn’t we are looking at a major league bat here. He is a top 100 prospect for me right now.
Michael Lorenzen: Starting Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds
Few players have seen their prospect stock rise as much as Lorenzen has simply because he was so far off the radar to begin with. He is still not an elite prospect, nor is he particularly likely to be a top of the rotation pitcher (although that could happen). He was the Reds supplemental 1st round pick in 2013 out of Cal State Fullerton. Some teams considered him a better hitting prospect than pitching prospect because he was an excellent outfielder as well as a relief pitcher in college. The Reds surprisingly chose to convert him into a starter, much as they had previously done with Tony Cingrani. Lorenzen has a big frame and a strong arm. He sits around 95 mph and can reach 100 on occasion. He also is developing a changeup and a slider, and has only recently added a curveball. Despite being drafted just last year he has already thrown 77 innings in AA ball. That is a very aggressive progression for a guy who is still learning how to pitch and is a strong indication of just how enamored the Reds are with him. All reports are that his stuff is electric and his control has improved dramatically. His 2.41 ERA in AA is impressive, but the strikeout rate will need to improve before he is ready for a promotion. His strikeout rate in college and in his professional debut last year were excellent. Even if he doesn’t end up as a starting pitcher in the majors there is a strong chance he could be a closer eventually and that means he has a high floor as a prospect. Adding Lorenzen to your minor league roster is a speculative play based on his stuff and potential and is not fully backed up by the numbers just yet, but if you want to get him you better act now before word gets out. He has a good chance to be a top 100 prospect on the major lists this offseason.
If you missed this column be sure to check it out: Breakout Prospects: Betts, Gallo, Harvey, Lively, McMahon and More
If you have any questions about these or any other prospects ask them in the comments below. I will reply promptly and some of the other TDG writers may join the discussion as well.