Riding the Prospect Rankings: Three to Sell

Prospect Ranking season kicked off last week when Baseball America released their Top 10 Red Sox prospects and today when Baseball Prospectus released their Phillies Top 10.  With ranking season dynasty players everywhere now have an objective numbering system to use in their trades.  The key as always is to anticipate and navigate the rankings process to achieve that holy grail of fantasy, the perfect buy low and sell high.  To this point only a handful of team rankings have been released so it is the opportunity to sell stock of a player whose value is falling, but it is also time to stock up on some players who may see their stock soar in the next few months.

A year ago the top player to ride the rankings on was Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco.  He was coming off a year where he hit .320/.356/.569 across hi-A and AA, including 31 home runs.  He seemed like the perfect fantasy player with a high average, big time power, at a relatively weak position, and on a team with a gaping hole in the lineup.  Over the offseason his stock rose as fantasy players shook off the negatives because they related to his on base percentage and defense.  The hype reached an all-time high when Baseball America ranked him the #17 prospect in baseball.  With conventional wisdom saying that he was a better fantasy player than real life player some people believed he was one of the top fantasy prospects in the game and that he would arrive with impact in 2015.  It was the perfect time to move against the grain.  It turns out Franco wasn’t ready and he struggled in AAA as he worked through some of his approach and pitch recognition issues, before having an unspectacular major league debut in September.  The end result is that Franco is not a bad prospect set to fail, but rather the hype came too early and too strong based on ignoring the development still required.

The goal then is to find the next Franco, players whose hype is going to outpace reality.  Some keys we are looking for include red flags for adjustment periods both in the majors or at a new minor league level.  Here are three prospects who are very good prospects, but you may want to sell high this offseason if their hype reaches critical levels.

Michael Taylor – CF – Washington Nationals

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Prospect Perspective: Nolan Arenado and Nick Castellanos are Still Elite Prospects

When a young player has been in the major leagues for awhile it seems like they are older than they really are. It is uncommon for a player to break into the major leagues at the age of 20 or 21 but it does happen. There are usually a couple players who do it each year. Oftentimes those players struggle quite a bit their first year or two in the majors, Mike Trout being the exception that proves the rule. Guys like Nolan Arenado, Nick Castellanos, Manny Machado, and even Yasiel Puig and Freddie Freeman are much younger than people think they are. It is easy to forget that these guys are still younger than many or most top prospects. Many baseball fans and fantasy team owners fall into the trap of believing that a player who has been in the majors for awhile “is who he is” and fail to consider the context of the player’s situation. The reality is that all of the players on the list below are still kids who are a long way from reaching their peak performance. You can expect significant performance increases from every player on this list over the next several years, even the ones who are already stars.

The definition of a prospect as defined by the baseball scouting industry is a hitter who has not reached 130 ABs or a pitcher who has not yet thrown 50 innings in the major leagues, but that definition is misleading. That may be the cut-off for Rookie of the Year eligibility, but a 22 year old doesn’t cease being a prospect just because he has seen a modicum of major league time. Continue reading

2014 Has Been a Disastrous Year for Elite Prospects

We had a bumper crop of elite prospects to play with this Spring. We had visions of new players joining our rosters and playing like the next Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig. The consensus Top 12 prospects this year were as good as we have ever seen. The excitement was at a fever pitch for prospect hounds like us, but the season ended up being a tremendous letdown. Some of it was due to injuries, while most of it was due to flat out poor performance. It just goes to show that patience is key when it comes to prospects — even the elite “can’t miss” prospects often struggle when they reach the majors.

For this discussion let’s focus on what I consider to be the consensus top 12. These are the guys that were ranked at the top of nearly every major list that was published last offseason. We will go down the list and review each prospect. The theme of the day is disappointment. Every guy on this list except for one or two had a disappointing season for one reason or another…

1. Byron Buxton, OF Twins

Buxton has been touted as the next Mike Trout, an all around superstar 5 tool talent. His season has been absolutely destroyed by injuries. He sprained his wrist early in Spring Training and was forced to sit out until May, then he played 5 games and re-injured the wrist again. He had to sit out another two months. He played 30 games at High A Fort Myers but didn’t perform as well as he did last year. His .718 OPS wasn’t too impressive but you could still see the talent and tools in action and see a future superstar. On August 13th he got promoted to AA and what happens? He got hurt in his very first game. He suffered a bad concussion during a diving collision in the outfield. Buxton is still an elite talent and a future star but this season was a total bust. Continue reading

Prospect Talk: Deep Diving

It’s been a while since we took a look at some lesser known prospects around the league, that should be pertinent to mid- and deep-leaguers. It’s likely that for those in deep leagues, some of these guys will be owned, but for others they’re names to keep track of as the season wears on. There’s even two names from the 2014 draft, for those of us who aren’t allowed to get to them until the offseason!

Jacoby Jones – SS – Pirates

Generally, when a prospect jumps to full-season ball and sees their strikeout rate rise by five percentage points and their walk rate right only two and a half points, you think… that’s good, but not great. Jacoby Jones has been great in his Low-A debut, though, slashing .285/.348/.466 and playing an inconsistent shortstop. The defense is less of a concern to us than to actual talent evaluators, but his ability to stick at the games toughest position is going to have an effect on his long term value, so it should be noted.

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Is James Ramsey Worth Your Time?

So, James Ramsey was just traded for Justin Masterson, and you’re left wondering, possibly scrambling – because no one talks about James Ramsey. Is he suddenly worth something? There have been some takes that Ramsey is now the Indians second best outfield prospect. Without saying who he’s behind, we’re left to guess, but either way I think it’s an overstatement. With Tyler Naquin performing solidly at Double-A, and fellow first round picks Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer in the lower minors, Ramsey would check in fourth on the outfield depth chart for me, both in real life and in fantasy.

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Four Prospects I’d Like to See Traded at the Deadline

“Who are some prospects we might see traded for Giancarlo Stanton?”

“What do you think it would take to land David Price?”

“Can you believe what Kevin Towers did?”

Such are the questions we’re most accustomed to seeing when it comes to trade deadline analysis. Engaging in hypothetical trade discussions is fun, allows for midseason rosterbation and also gives us plenty of Twitter fodder. I don’t want these questions to go away.

That being said, they’re not entirely useful from a fantasy POV. Speculating on players who could change teams before they in fact change teams is a fool’s errand, and, unless you’re playing in AL- or NL-only leagues, is unnecessary to boot. When it comes to MLB trades, it’s better to read and react than try to predict.

What’s perhaps more useful than trying to ping down who might be dealt at the deadline is who we’d like to see dealt, from a fantasy POV. And while MLB players may come to mind more readily, it’s a useful exercise for prospects, too.

With this timely notion in mind, here are four prospects I’d like to see moved at the deadline thanks to contextual factors, organizational depth and what we know about each team’s player development. Continue reading

Breakout Prospects: Berrios, Nimmo, Williams and Renfroe

Time for another look at some fresh names that are thriving in the minor leagues. This week we will examine several players who made it onto the Midseason Top 50 lists published by Baseball Prospectus and/or Baseball America this week despite not being considered consensus Top 100 prospects prior to the season. There were several other players who met the same criteria but I have already written about them in prior columns (links below).

Jose Berrios — Starting Pitcher, Minnesota Twins

The 2012 1st round pick from Puerto Rico put up a solid season in Low A ball last year with a 3.99 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 103 innings along with 40 walks, although in the second half he lost a lot of steam that degraded his stuff and depressed his overall season stats compared to his stellar first half rates. But it was good enough to get him ranked this Spring at #75 on the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects, #93 by FanGraphs, #90 by MLB.com and #102 by The Dynasty Guru, but he wasn’t ranked by Baseball America or ESPN. He kicked his game up a notch here this year in the High A Florida State League where he put up a 1.96 ERA with a fantastic 109:23 K:BB ratio in 96 innings. He was promoted to Double A last week and managed to give up 5 runs in 5 innings in his first start, although he only gave up 3 hits. That bump from High A to AA is considered the biggest jump in baseball, so we could find out really quickly just how good the 22 year old Berrios really is. He gets a lot of velocity from his smallish frame. His fastball averages about 94 mph. He also sports a plus slider, a good curveball and a solid changeup.  About a month ago I traded Berrios to ESPN’s Chris Crawford for Michael Lorenzen in the #TDGX experts’ league, so of course Berrios has been on an epic hot streak ever since. Yikes. My trade doesn’t look quite as good as it did at the time, although Lorenzen also made the BP top 50 list just a few slots behind Berrios so I am still happy with the deal. Verdict: Top 40 Prospect. Potential #3 starter. Continue reading