Breakout Prospects: Betts, Gallo, Harvey, Lively, McMahon and More
Today we will look at some hot prospects who are tearing up the minor leagues. None of these guys were in the top 50 of any of the preseason rankings lists, and only some of them were even in the top 100. But all of them are shooting up the rankings this Spring. You should try to acquire these players ASAP before your leaguemates catch on. I didn’t include prospects like Gregory Polanco and Lucas Giolito even though they are playing phenomenally because they were already considered elite prospects before the season started and presumably were already taken in any dynasty or keeper leagues.
Mookie Betts — 2B Boston Red Sox — Average Preseason Rank: 71 — Current Rank according to me: Top 25
Betts wasn’t drafted until the 5th round of the 2011 draft and put up a poor .658 OPS in rookie ball in 2012, although he did steal 20 bases. He had a breakout year in 2013 in Low A and High A, putting up a .923 OPS with 15 homers and 38 steals (getting caught only 4 times). That was good enough to earn him a slot as a top 100 prospect in baseball this Spring but he was still flying a bit under the radar and most observers were not too excited. The best ranking he got was #59 from FanGraphs and he didn’t make Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 at all. I think a lot of the reticence to rank him higher was due to his small size — he is only 5 foot 9 and weighs about 160 pounds. There are not too many players that small who become star hitters in the major leagues.
Betts has fantastic bat control and manages to square up the ball routinely, which allows him to hit for a surprising amount of power despite his slight physical stature. He doesn’t strike out much and will happily take a walk. The speed is a huge bonus in fantasy too. Betts is blocked long term at second base in Boston by Dustin Pedroia but is athletic enough to move to shortstop or more likely the outfield to speed his ascent to the majors. Betts has superstar potential but is more likely to settle in as a 1st-division regular and a stalwart in fantasy lineups. The best scenario for his fantasy value is that he stays at 2nd base, but that would necessitate a trade out of Boston and that is certainly a real possibility given the Red Sox’ excess of good players. The Red Sox don’t have room to keep all of Pedroia, Bogaerts, Middlebrooks, Cecchini and Betts. Someone will have to be moved and it won’t be Pedroia. Most dynasty leaguers are probably already aware of Mookie Betts so his price will likely be high, but try to get him if you can. You won’t regret it. Verdict: Future Top 5 second baseman who provides above-average stats in all 5 fantasy stats.
Joey Gallo — 3B Texas Rangers — Average Preseason Rank: 88 — Current Rank according to me: Top 35
Gallo is known for two things: blasting home runs and striking out. His power has been obvious for a long time, but this is the first extended period where Gallo has shown the ability to improve his strikeout rate. Last year in Low A ball Gallo cranked 40 jacks in 461 plate appearances! But he also whiffed 172 times for a 37% strikeout rate! Gallo is a big dude at 6 foot 5 and 205 pounds with a big, long swing to match. This year he has gotten his strikeout rate down to 25%, which is still bad but a definite sign of progress, especially when combined with his climbing walk rate. He has put up an amazing .345/.451/.791 slash line for an unbelievable 1.242 OPS! He hit 3 home runs last night to raise his season total to 17 already on the young season. In addition to the power, Gallo can swipe some bases too. There is no question that Gallo has the power to be a superstar in the major leagues, but the strikeouts are a big red flag that could ultimately derail his career before he ever reaches the big leagues. He has made major strides in correcting that flaw but he still has a long way to go. He is still in High A ball and will have to prove he can handle the improved offspeed pitches he will face in the upper minors. Keep an eye on his K:BB ratio. If he continues to improve that stat as he climbs the ladder you should go all-in to acquire him. Verdict: Future Top 5 third baseman who hits 40+ homers with 200 Ks per year, basically young Adam Dunn without the walks or maybe a better Pedro Alvarez.
Hunter Harvey — SP Baltimore Orioles — Average Preseason Rank: 75 — Current Rank according to me: Top 50
Harvey was a 1st round pick last year and put up good stats over 8 games in rookie ball but analysts disagreed on him over the winter. Some people really liked him (#38 on ESPN, #58 on Baseball Prospectus) but others were not impressed (unranked by Baseball America and MLB.com). I think his doubters are starting to come around not only due to his great stats (1.38 ERA in 39 innings with 45 Ks) but because it is apparent that he possesses a plus fastball and a plus curveball along with a work-in-progress changeup. His upside is very high but he needs to refine his mechanics to improve his command, develop some professional craftiness and his body has yet to fill out. I don’t think he will be a fast mover to the majors even though he is already 20 in low A ball. His father is Bryan Harvey, who was a 2x All Star closer for the Angels and Marlins last century. Verdict: Potential #2 starter with lots of Ks, long and risky development period to survive.
Ben Lively — SP Cincinnati Reds — Average Preseason Rank: Unranked — Current Rank according to me: Top 125
Lively was an unheralded 4th round pick in last year’s draft, but he proceeded to shred the Pioneer League and one start in Low A to the tune of a 0.88 ERA with 56 Ks in 41 innings. He didn’t get much attention for that due to the small sample size in Rookie Ball and because he was an experienced college pitcher without the pedigree of a high draft pick. So far this season in the High A California League, which is a very tough place for pitchers, he has put up a 0.74 ERA over 48 innings with 61 strikeouts versus only 5 walks! While Lively doesn’t have any plus-plus pitches to wow you with, he does have excellent command of 4 quality pitches (Fastball, curve, slider, change) that are all major league caliber. Lively is a big guy at 6’4″ 190 pounds and he has a strong fastball that sits at 92-93 mph and can reach 95 on occasion. He is still in High A ball but he could move quickly through the minors and may reach the majors as early as the 2nd half of 2015. I think he will remain a starter due to his repertoire. Verdict: #3 starter with 8 K/9 and a low WHIP.
Ryan McMahon — 3B Colorado Rockies — Average Preseason Rank: Unranked — Current Rank according to me: Top 125
McMahon was a 2nd round pick last year out of high school and will be only 19 this whole season in Low A ball. He has hit 21 homers in 354 professional at-bats so far. He does swing and miss quite a bit but he projects as a guy who will hit for both power and average. He is a good third baseman defensively and should be able to stay at the position long term. He is blocked in Colorado by Nolan Arenado, but a lot can change in the years it will take for the youngster McMahon to reach the major leagues. Once McMahon reaches Coors Field he could put up some stellar fantasy stats. Verdict: Future stud, but it will be a long time before he pays off in your lineup. Grab him now, hold onto him until his stock rises, then trade him for a prospect closer to the majors.
Gabriel Guerrero — OF Seattle Mariners — Average Preseason Rank: Unranked — Current Rank according to me: Top 175
This is a guy to watch as a potential supernova — a player who might suddenly explode into a huge star. He could also fizzle out very quickly. Classic lottery ticket type of international signee. He has great bat speed, great hand and wrist strength, great bat-to-ball natural talent, terrible pitch recognition and terrible strike zone awareness. His uncle is Vladimir Guerrero and there is a definite physical resemblance at the plate. In 2012 Guerrero put up stellar stats in the Mariners’ Dominican and Arizona camp complexes. But then he took a small step back last year at the age of 18 in Low A ball, striking out a ton but showing good tools and potential in his first exposure to full-season ball in the USA. Moved up aggressively to High A this year, he has shown a lot of growth in terms of walking more and making solid, hard contact despite still striking out a lot. He hasn’t truly broken out yet statistically but his .837 OPS looks promising and I see strong potential for a sustained breakout. Verdict: Buy him now while the price is very low.
Dalton Pompey — OF Toronto Blue Jays — Average Preseason Rank: Unranked — Current Rank according to me: Top 200
Pompey was an extremely raw 16th round pick in 2010 from Ontario, but he has made tremendous strides both offensively and defensively. His best fantasy attribute is stolen bases. He stole 38 bags last year and already has 17 this year while only being caught once. He is rocking a .338/.412/.490 slash line in High A ball and has even added a bit of home run power to his game this year. I am not a huge fan of players whose best quality is speed, but Pompey is starting to get lots of helium in prospect circles and should appear on quite a few mid-season prospect rankings this summer. That means he is going to have some trade value in deeper dynasty leagues very soon. So Pompey is a guy you can pick up for free now and trade him for a prospect you like better in a few months. Verdict: Pick him up now and flip him after the midseason prospect lists come out.
If you have any questions about any other prospects ask them in the comments below. I will reply promptly, some of the other TDG writers may join the discussion as well.