Identifying breakout prospects early is an absolutely vital key to success in dynasty leagues. The best way to build up an elite minor league roster is to acquire the best prospects cheaply before any of your leaguemates realize the youngsters are future stars. You can’t wait for the famous Top 100 Prospects lists to be published in the Spring. Don’t wait until your next draft to grab these players. You need to snare these guys before someone else picks them up from the free agent pool. Today we will take a look at a group of unheralded minor leaguers who are still available in many leagues.
I have written a couple of columns about breakout prospects this season twice previously (Here and Here). Today’s edition will feature players who will be participating in the 2014 Futures Game. Many of the players in that game are bigtime prospects and are already taken in your league, but some of them are guys who were not really on the prospect radar prior to this season and are likely still available in your league. I will focus here on some players who have exploded onto the scene recently. Their exposure in the upcoming Futures Game will give their fantasy trade value a big boost, so get them now before the game is played…
Christian Binford — Starting Pitcher, Kansas City Royals
The 21 year old righty has never gotten much attention, largely because he had Tommy John surgery in high school and was a 30th round draft pick in 2011. He is a big guy at 6’6″ 217 pounds and has a stiff fastball that sits around 92 mph with room to grow. He also wields a slider and changeup and may need to develop a 4th pitch because none of his pitches rate as elite. When you are a 30th round draft pick you won’t get any love from the prospect gurus even if your stats are great, and Binford has always put up great stats. In 2012 in Rookie ball he yielded a 2.03 ERA with a 31:4 K:BB ratio in 40 innings. In 2013 at Low A he rolled to a 2.67 ERA with 130 whiffs and 25 walks in 135 innings. This year the beat goes on at High A where Binford has dealt a 2.35 ERA with 85 Ks against only 11 BBs in 76 innings. He is forcing people to take notice and earned himself a coveted slot in the Futures Game. Not all good prospects have to throw 100 mph or have multiple plus offerings, sometimes command and pitchability do the trick. Verdict: Top 150 Prospect, ceiling of a #4 fantasy pitcher. High Risk.
Jake Thompson — Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers
This right-hander was a 2nd round pick in 2012. He is another big guy at 6′ 4″ and 235 pounds. He throws a slider, curve and changeup in addition to the low-to-mid 90s fastball. After a strong season in Low A ball last year (3.13 ERA, 91:32 K:BB in 83 innings) he has been dominant in High A this year. His ERA is 2.75 with 68 strikeouts and 24 walks in 72 innings. Right now he doesn’t project as a top of rotation pitcher in the majors, but he has good stuff and a strong arm that with continued development could allow him to evolve into an elite prospect in the next couple years. Verdict: Top 100 Prospect, ceiling of a #3 fantasy pitcher. Medium Risk.
James Ramsey — Outfielder, St. Louis Cardinals
The 24 year old Ramsey got a late start in the minor leagues because he played 4 years of college ball. He was a 1st round pick in 2012. He dropped off the prospect map after signing in that 2012 season because he put up a disappointing .648 OPS with only one home run in 210 ABs in A ball even though he was old for the league. He bounced back a lot in 2013 with a more encouraging .814 OPS with 16 homers spread over High A and AA leagues. This year in AA he has busted out to the tune of .307/.389/.550 with 12 home runs in 189 at-bats. This guy doesn’t project as a star but he will hit in the major leagues. The good news is he is in the Cardinal organization, which means he will be developed well and will be primed for success in their strong lineup when he reaches the bigs. The bad news is he is in the Cardinal organization, which means he is blocked by way too many good hitting outfielders to get an opportunity any time soon. With rumors swirling that the Cardinals are shopping for a top starting pitcher, perhaps Ramsey will be moved to a team that could give him a chance to play in the majors soon. Verdict: Top 100 Prospect. Fantasy ceiling somewhere in the range of Adam Lind / Billy Butler / Josh Willingham / Ryan Ludwick / Allen Craig. Medium Risk but could lack an opportunity to play.
Michael Taylor — Outfielder, Washington Nationals
Taylor is having a huge breakout season statistically as a 23 year old in AA ball. He already has 17 home runs and 22 stolen bases and is slashing .332/.412/.572 for a .984 OPS. Those are almost George Springer-like stats. The power and speed are real but the batting average is a mirage due to a whopping .450 BABIP. He strikes out way too much to maintain a .300 batting average and in fact is more likely to be a sub .250 hitter in the major leagues. The Nationals have a crowded outfield already and they have another prospect named Steven Souza who is ahead of him on the depth chart. Taylor is a good candidate for a “Sign-and-Trade” on your part: pick him up off the waiver wire then shop him around to other team owners while touting his amazing stat line. Verdict: Prospect Mirage, sell high on him right away.
Luis Severino — Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees
The 20 year old put up a nice campaign last year in his first season stateside. In 44 innings in Rookie ball and Low A he struck out 53 batters compared to only 10 walks and delivered a 2.45 ERA. He has played most of this season in Low A but made 2 starts after a recent promotion to High A, combining for a 2.76 ERA in 78 innings with 84 whiffs and 17 walks. Severino has a strong 93 mph fastball and a nice slider and is trying to improve a raw changeup. He misses a ton of bats and throws nothing but strikes. There is some elite potential here but he still needs a lot of development time, which makes him a high risk / high reward type of prospect. Verdict: Top 100 Prospect, ceiling of a #2 fantasy pitcher. High Risk.
Kennys Vargas — 1st Baseman, Minnesota Twins
Built like Frank Thomas (6’5″ 275 pounds), Vargas is a big, slow beast of a hitter. He will be 24 years old in a month and was signed by the Twins way back in 2009. Vargas has hit well throughout his minor league career but never really distinguished himself as a prospect, largely (pun intended) because he is a liability on defense. He has now climbed up to AA and is still raking with the bat and finally has to be taken seriously as a potential fantasy asset. As you might expect from his size Vargas has a ton of raw power but it wasn’t until last year that he finally turned that raw power into game power by hitting 19 home runs. This year he already has 14 homers, which has helped boost his slash line to .313/.389/.515 for a .904 OPS. He is prone to the strikeout but he alleviates some of that negativity by working a lot of walks. He has a nice 47:35 K:BB ratio in 304 plate appearances. Vargas is a switch-hitter who won’t be subject to drastic platoon splits. The Twins will likely have a place for him to play next year if Josh Willingham and Kendry Morales move on after (or during) this season. He won’t steal any bases for your team but will hit for power and RBI without hurting your AVG. I like his chances of being a stalwart Utility slot slugger for several years. Verdict: Top 100 Prospect. Medium Risk.
If you missed these previous breakout prospect articles be sure to check them out:
Breakout Prospects: Winker, Norris, Bell, Hader, Coulter and Lorenzen
Breakout Prospects: Betts, Gallo, Harvey, Lively, McMahon and More
If you have any questions about these prospects or any other players ask them in the comments below. I will reply promptly and some of the other TDG writers may join the discussion as well.