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
Michael Taylor has always been a tease with elite tools, but this year he hit .304/.390/.539 with 23 HRs and 37 SBs. On the surface this seems like an elite player going forward, and he already has been rated as the #1 prospect in the Eastern League by Baseball America. However, Taylor had a .421 BABIP to go with 29.5% K% in AA this year. Both those numbers indicate a large inflation of his stats. As a fantasy player you are looking at a power speed combination that could be very good, but the questions over the hit tool present potential limits on how much they will play in-game action, and he could potential offer limit in batting average.
If we ignore the warning flags on Taylor as a player there are plenty of other indications that he may be overrated this offseason. The first is that Taylor is a terrific defensive center fielder and that defensive acumen will push him up on real life prospect rankings. The second is that like Maikel Franco last year he has a combination of players in front of him and room for improvement at the AAA level. The Nationals still have Jayson Werth, Denard Span, and Bryce Harper in front of Taylor at the major league level and without a major injury it is unlikely that Taylor will see the majors in a meaningful role in 2015. With only 12 games at AAA he could use more seasoning against advanced pitching. As rankings come out Taylor should be well positioned in the Nationals top prospect lists and on Top 100 lists. Combining the rankings and his raw AA numbers you should be able to position Taylor as a cornerstone OF in a trade for a major league asset or better prospect.
Tyler Glasnow – SP -Pittsburgh Pirates
Of anyone on this list Glasnow is the guy you could come back 3 years from now and yell at me for telling you the best pitcher in baseball was overrated after is hi-A year. Right now MLB.com has Glasnow ranked as the #16 prospect in baseball, he was #21 on BAs midseason Top 50, and he was #31 on BP’s midseason Top 50. He has all the sexiness you want in a pitching prospect with an elite fastball, a wipe-out breaking ball, and huge bat missing potential. It isn’t all perfect for Glasnow who walked 4.13 per 9 innings in the Florida State League and so far has 9 walks in 13.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League. In addition to the control issues Glasnow still does not have a changeup that he trusts. The two pitch mix coupled with the control issues point to a risk that Glasnow could end up in a relief role.
Someone in your league is likely to look past the issues for Glasnow and just see a pitcher with elite upside. If you can flip Glasnow in a deal for an elite major league pitcher or for top 10-15 hitting prospect I would do it. The hype on Glasnow will grow this offseason since he has cemented himself has the top prospect in a deep Pirates system. All that being said, there is no pressure to move Glasnow now, he has the raw stuff to continue to put up numbers in AA next year, and you should only move him if you can position him as an elite player on the market. He is a guy to use to buy, not as something to sell.
Willy Adames – SS – Tampa Bay Rays
In the middle of the season Adames was one of the hot sleepers in the Tigers system as he made the jump from the Dominican Summer League to the Midwest League. Adames moved into the spotlight when he was the only prospect in the deal that sent David Price to Detroit. Normally Adames would be the perfect sleeper in your league, he is a 19-year-old shortstop with an advanced approach at the plate and the ability to have a plus hit tool and average power. The big problem is that Adames is now positioned as the best prospect in a disappointing Rays system (Baseball America just rated him the #1 Prospect in the Rays system). This will artificially push Adames up prospect rankings this winter to the point where he won’t have that sleeper surprise anymore. Additionally, Adames is likely destined to third base or second base, and with fringe average speed he is not going to give you anything in the SB category. If you can still acquire Adames for cheap before all the rankings come out I would go for it, but his value may not be higher than it will be by the end of the offseason.
You don’t always have to look for which prospects will bust or fail. The best-selling opportunities can be found by knowing what other players will value this offseason. You can play the information publicly available in a way that will give you an advantage over your league mates.