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.
Willie Calhoun is one of many promising young players currently in or recently graduated from the Los Angeles system. Despite being extremely young for Double-A, Calhoun has more than held his own with a slash line of .254/.318/.469. Most impressive of all, however, is his impressive 11.6 percent strikeout rate. After moving up four levels in two seasons, Calhoun looks poised to start the 2017 season at Triple-A. From there, he’s just a few months of solid performance from earning a promotion to the major leagues. Assuming he continues on the trajectory, he has the potential to be an efficient outfielder with average or better power.
Josh Staumont is a hard throwing righty in the Royals’ system. With a fastball that tickles triple digits, Staumont put up a gaudy 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Unfortunately, the strikeouts were accompanied by over eight walks per nine. A pitcher with that poor of control generally doesn’t make it to the majors – Tyler Glasnow’s infamously poor control peaked at 4.8 walks per game in Triple-A. That being said, the Royals are generally considered an organization that gets the most out of their players and Staumont has rare talent. He is likely to be a cheap or even free option in deep dynasty leagues. There’s no harm and some upside to investing in him.
Michael Kopech is no longer a secret to anyone is a relatively deep dynasty league due to his well documented fastball velocity. He reportedly reached speeds as high as 105 miles per hour as he dominated High-A to the tune of 2.25 ERA and over 14 strikeouts per nine innings. Of course, he struggled with free passes, issuing over five per game. The elite arm that he possesses would hint at a role in high-leverage relief if the free passes aren’t resolved. It may be too late to cheaply acquire him as mlb.com recently placed him in their top-50 prospect list in the most recent update.
Drew Jackson was a player that I was unreasonably high on coming off a spectacular entry to professional baseball in 2015. All parts of his game suffered after an offseason promotion to Advanced-A Bakersfield. Most depressingly, the remarkable stolen base totals dropped precipitously to a less than appealing 16 in nearly 600 plate appearances. He is still an interesting player in very deep dynasty formats due to the fact that his speed and defense will likely get him to the majors at some point. If he can hit a little bit his speed might make him worthwhile to own in 20-team leagues.
Dustin May was a third round pick of the Dodgers this past June. While not close to a finished product – he has mechanical inconsistencies – he throws very hard and experienced a good deal of success in his first month of professional baseball. May impressed by striking out a quarter of batters faced while walking only three percent. There’s really no way to know whether he will be a future starting pitcher or Low-A flameout but there’s something reassuring about a pitcher that already has shown the ability to throw strikes consistently.
Khalil Lee was a very good two-way prospect when he was drafted by the Royals in this June’s draft. In fact, mlb.com has a picture of him pitching from the stretch as his profile picture despite the fact that he started his professional career as an outfielder. In his first summer as a professional, Lee has acquitted himself very well, slashing a robust .269/.396/.484, driven by an impressive 15 percent walk rate. There are plenty of pitfalls that could trip up Lee in the coming years, he needs to cut down on his swing and miss and he probably won’t offer much in the stolen base category so he needs to hit for some power, but so far he’s offered a little bit of everything. He’s certainly worthy of being considered in a format that includes several hundred minor leaguers.
Last on my list of players to watch is Indians outfield prospect, Will Benson. He commonly gets a Jason Heyward comp due to being an athletic power hitter from the Atlanta area, but to be fair, Heyward was considered a generational prospect. He’s likely to have a somewhat similar skills and, on the optimistic side, he’s known to have a fairly aggressive approach at the plate. Unfortunately, this is likely the cause of a 32 percent strikeout rate. He’s a good investment in deeper dynasty leagues due to his excellent athleticism, power potential, and ability to chip in with some steals. He’s far from a finished product – his long swing draws negative reviews – but if things go right for him, he could be a legit star.