AFL Potential Value Surgers – OF & C

Last year it was Josh Hader and Lewis Brinson: prospects whose stock made significant jumps during the regular season, each capping them off with outstanding performances in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). Hader was under the radar coming into 2015, but was fully on the map after a lights-out AFL. Brinson was a toolsy first-rounder with an impressive all-around profile, but was left off most industry top prospect lists going into 2015. After capping a breakout season with a glowing performance for the Surprise Saguaros, Brinson was considered a Top-50 guy across the board.

As a dynasty owner, it’s imperative to stay up to date with the player valuation landscape. Since the AFL is the only minor league baseball happening from October through November, each individual player can see their value swing drastically before the industry lists come out in the winter. In the middle of June, going three-for-four with two home runs can get swept under the rug, but that same performance is rewarded with Minor League Player of the Day during the Fall League. This sets the stage for legitimate jumps in perceived value, yet a poor performance in the AFL is often discounted for fatigue, inexperience, or injury (see: AJ Reed, 2015). Here are some outfielders and catchers who could see a bump in dynasty value with even a solid performance in the AFL:

Eloy Jimenez, OF, Chicago Cubs

With a truly electric fall, Jimenez could jump into the conversation for top prospect going into 2018. He’s already the Cher of minor league baseball, going simply by first name in many circles. He’s a consensus top-25 guy at this point and his stock should only continue to rise. The 6-foot-4, 19-year-old Dominican has tremendous power, and it should be fun to see what he can do in the thin desert air. He also has the cushion of the ‘aggressive assignment’, where a weak showing will be chalked up to his age. If he wasn’t already in your sights early this year, his mammoth home run and spectacular catch in the Futures Game likely caught your eye. He has a boost from being in the Cubs organization already baked into his value, but the 2016 Midwest League MVP has earned every bit of praise he’s received.

Anthony Alford, CF, Toronto Blue Jays

While Jimenez only looks like a football player, Alford actually was one — at Southern Mississippi and Ole Miss — during the first three years he spent in the Blue Jays organization after being selected in the third round of the 2012 MLB Draft. Listed at 6-foot-1, 215 lbs, Alford is obviously an elite athlete for the diamond. Since he’s always split time between two sports, he’s still slightly raw, but he has some of the easiest pure physical projection in the minor leagues. His stock skyrocketed last year after he hit nearly .300 across A-ball and High-A, displaying a hit tool more polished than anyone expected. He followed it up with a down year, missing most of April to a knee injury, and sitting out almost two weeks after a collision in the outfield in early June. He hit just .236/.344/.378 (with 9 HR and 18 SB in 92 games) this year, but still took walks at an impressive clip, despite his strikeout rate jumping back up to almost thirty percent. He’s already fallen out of the top-50 on midseason lists, but the Blue Jays organization has had success developing power, so many are still bullish on Alford going forward. A strong AFL would go a long way in regaining some of that preseason 2016 hype.

Christin Stewart, OF, Detroit Tigers

Power will always play in the Major Leagues, and Stewart has it in spades. Hitting a combined 30 dingers between Advanced-A and Double-A, Stewart showed off the tool that made him worthy of a first-round pick in 2015. The parks in the AFL are big, but the air is warm, the altitude is high, and the pitching is often pedestrian. Stewart’s probably not in Detroit’s plans for 2017, but he could be knocking on the door by next season’s end. He has some serious competition for playing time with J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton, but for a system that has had success finding and developing big league power, a loud AFL campaign could provide a healthy boost to Stewart’s already-rising stock. Most of his damage in 2016 was done in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, but he was slightly old for the level at 22. He’ll likely never hit .300 in a big league season, but it would be very interesting if Stewart shows signs of improved barrel control this fall.

Ramon Laureano, OF, Houston Astros

Laureano hit the same number of home runs as Yoan Moncada at the same levels this year (High-A and Double-A), and came two stolen bases short of tying the consensus number one overall prospect. The relatively unheard-of Laureano should be on just about everyone’s radar after his 15 home run, 43 stolen base season, and is worth a speculative add right now. With a big AFL — and perhaps a trade to a more opportune organization — Laureano could provide serious returns as early as next year.

Harrison Bader, CF, St. Louis Cardinals

After an incredibly loud start to the season at Double-A Springfield, the 2015 third-rounder looked to be the breakout prospect of the season. He was hitting .286/.350/.491 with 13 home runs and nine stolen bases (on 19 attempts) prior to earning a promotion to Triple-A. He hit just .231/.298/.354 in the Pacific Coast League before receiving a demotion back to Springfield, where he finished the regular season on a slightly better note. There might not be another prospect whose stock saw the same highs and lows as Bader’s did this year. The AFL is a huge opportunity for Bader to flash the tools that made him such an interesting name earlier this name. The strikeouts never got too out of hand, and the walk rate was steady around seven percent across levels, but the 50 percent success rate on stolen bases is worrisome. As of today, he projects as a potential solid Major League piece — think something between a Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk — but a huge AFL could change some opinions.

Jacob Nottingham, C, Milwaukee Brewers

After a stellar start to 2015 in the lower levels of Houston’s system, Nottingham was dealt to Oakland for Scott Kazmir. After arriving in the bay, he didn’t quite go as hyphy has some had hoped, but he hit a solid .299/.368/.409 in 43 games at High-A. One trade is good for a prospect’s value; a second trade can be worrisome. Oakland dealt him to Milwaukee just a few months later as part of the package that netted the A’s big league slugger Khris Davis. The Brewers were aggressive with Nottingham, assigning him to Double-A right after his 21st birthday. He responded with a .234/.295/.347 campaign which left a lot to be desired from dynasty owners. His strikeout-rate spiked to slightly over 30 percent and his walk rate plateaued around six percent. He displayed athleticism for a backstop, swiping nine bases while hitting 11 home runs in 456 PA, but his future projection is much murkier today than it was this time last year. On the bright side, the AFL provides an opportunity for Nottingham to point his stock in the right direction once again.

Taylor Ward, C, Los Angeles Angels

Ward already has some name value because he’s near the top of all Angels’ prospect lists for the same reason that we’re stuck with our current presidential candidates. There’s no telling how far the Angels’ catching prospect would fall if he was in the Dodgers system (seriously, it could easily be in the thirties), but while he’s still a member of the AAoLA, he’s a de-facto “top prospect”, and just a few weeks of high BABIP  away from being a sell-high candidate. The 22-year-old’s .249/.323/.337 triple-slash in the Cal League this summer was ghastly, but to his credit, Inland Empire is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the league. I wouldn’t hold my breath on Ward posting promising numbers for the Scottsdale Scorpions, but much crazier things have happened.
Zack Collins, C, Chicago White Sox

Collins is in an interesting situation, as he might be the only player in the AFL who was drafted in 2016. Considering plenty of new-player dynasty drafts are held off until the winter, this gives Collins a rare opportunity to increase his already-strong draft value. With an impressive AFL, Collins could prove enough to entice owner’s to draft him over the injured Kyle Lewis, or many of the high-upside arms available with a top-5 pick. He could also gain value out of sheer laziness from owners in your league due to recency bias and the bump in press he’ll receive. The White Sox have been notoriously aggressive with their recent draft picks, and the AFL could easily be the White Sox way of seeing if Collins is ready for an early-2017 call to the show.

Carson Kelly, C, St. Louis Cardinals

2016 was a huge season for Kelly. He entered the year coming off a very lackluster campaign in the Florida State League, and just nine months later, there’s reason to believe he’s the heir-apparent to Yadier Molina’s throne. Projected as an above-average defender, Kelly hit nearly .290 across Double-A and Triple-A before getting a September call-up to the big league club. There will likely never be too much power to his game, but he keeps his strikeouts in check, and has always shown at least a passable eye at the plate. While I don’t expect him make too much noise in the AFL, I feel the assignment alone is reason to believe the Cardinals want to see if he really is their next franchise backstop. Even a solid AFL would go a long way in cementing the jump in value his stock received this year.

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Offseason Prep: The Sell-High Candidates

With the 2016 fantasy baseball season drawing to a close, dynasty league owners will soon turn their attention to the 2017 season.  The offseason provides a unique opportunity for savvy owners to take advantage of their opponents’ propensity to value players solely using their seasonal stat lines, with little consideration given to the manner in which the player arrived at the outcome.  This week, we’re going to take a look at a few players whose final stat lines will be significantly skewed by a short-lived uncharacteristic performance.

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Forward Thinking: Final Week of the Season Edition

With just a week left in the season, dynasty owners in the championship race are doing whatever they can to get that extra little help to put them over the top. Most of these moves are designed to help in the short term, but savvy owners still may be able to pick up players to help in the last ten days, and contribute beyond 2016. Below are four players who may still be available in small to mid-size leagues who can contribute more than just this season.

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Combing the AFL Desert

As the various minor leagues wrap up their seasons, there is one more event for prospect seekers, the Arizona Fall League. This is a five-week baseball extravaganza that includes top prospects, injured prospects, and a mix-match of everything in between. While not all of the rosters are completely filled, a few names caught my eye as particularly interesting with regard to dynasty fantasy baseball. While not all standouts in this league will continue to see their prospect status rise – here’s looking at you, Adam Engel – some of these players will be future top prospects.


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Discount Hall of Famer: Xander Bogaerts

Xander Bogaerts is just 23 years old and yeah, I am saying he has a great shot to be in the hall of fame. 2016 will be his second straight season producing an fWAR of over 4.0 and has him on pace for a career of well over 40 fWAR should he play just until he is in his early 30’s.  At 23, we can also assume that there is a lot of room for him to get better.  This is a good thing because for the once highly touted prospect has yet to reach the high ceiling that his 65-70 grade power rating as a prospect once promised.

A lot has gone very well for Bogaerts during the 2016 campaign.  For one, he was named the starter for the American League at shortstop for the All-Star game in San Diego.  This came on the back of a first half where he slashed .329/.388/.475 while playing very good defense.  Things have begun to unravel in the second half where he has been struggling to a .249/.309/.402 mark and as Matt Collins notes, he has been struggling vs off-speed offerings.  I have also noticed that as this slide has occurred public opinion on him has started to slip.

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Deep(ish) League Early Off-Season Targets Part One

I doubt the title left much to the imagination. The good news: I don’t have to write anything here. If your league allows trading this late into the season, read the title as”Deep(ish) Late Season Targets for 2017″.

Jorge Polanco, SS, MIN – Polanco has been on the radar for a while now without making a Baseball Prospectus Top 100 list. Since Eduardo Nunez was traded to San Francisco, he has basically been the everyday short stop in Minnesota. He’s put 155 balls in play and only one has been classified as a popup. His absurd line drive rate of over 33 percent would lead the league by a mile over a full season and his plate discipline has been an even bigger and more pleasant surprise. He’s always had very quick hands and it looks like he’s added muscle to his wiry frame. The 11 home runs he’s hit in AAA and MLB combined are a career high and do not look accidental as he’s just stopped hitting ground balls. Combining a sub 2 percent pop up rate and a sub 35 percent ground ball rate over the course of a season is rare and difficult to do. Brandon Belt is the only batter to combine the two. It would not surprise me at all to see an Odubel Herrera type of break-out in 2017.

Wily Peralta, SP, MIL – Since returning from a well-earned demotion, Peralta has been a different pitcher. He’s not different in the sense that he’s still a fastball/slider guy, he’s just changed the amount he’s used the two pitches. He’s less predictable and it seems to be working. He’s managed at least 6 innings pitched in all but one of his eight post-demotion starts and he completed five innings in the other. His five percent decrease in fastball usage paired with his seven percent increase in slider usage has led to significant improvements in his contact and swinging strike rates. He’s nearly doubled his strikeout percentage while somehow lowering his walk percentage. He wasn’t a true talent 6.68 ERA guy before the demotion, but his ERA estimators suggested that he was pretty terrible. Very few starting pitchers throw their slider over 34 percent of the time because of the obvious risks, but the ones who do typically perform better for it. This season, only four qualified starting pitchers have thrown their slider as often as Peralta has after being promoted; Michael Pineda, Chris Archer, Ervin Santana and Jason Hammel. The new Wily Peralta looks an awful lot like 2016 Ervin Santana and I’d bet he’s on your league’s waiver wire or about to be. If you are the visual type, watch his 10 strikeouts from his August 30th start vs the mighty Cardinals. He’s only had one other double-digit strikeout performance and that came against a AA lineup rolled out by the Cubs on the next to the last day of the 2014 season. You know, the ones that just swing at everything so they can go play golf.




Scott Schebler, OF, CIN – Since the trade deadline, Schebler has been a full-time player and he’s hit .284/.356/.457 while earning his manager’s trust against same-handed pitching. What turned me on to Schebler was the fact that he doesn’t hit anything softly. When he makes contact, it screams. He’s a strong man, we know this. He hit 27 home runs in High-A in 2013 and 28 in AA in 2014. The issue was supposed to be his ability to make consistent contact. Well, that hasn’t been an issue and his strikeout and walk rates have remained consistent with his minor league numbers. Since settling in as a full-time player, he’s sitting on a roughly league average contact rate and out of the zone swing rate. He looks almost exactly like the outfielder he is replacing in Cincinnati, Jay Bruce. He’ll almost certainly get a full season’s worth of plate appearances in 2017 for a very bad Reds team.