Teens Who Rake: Five Short-Season Hitters to Watch
Anderson Tejeda, SS, Texas Rangers
An athletic middle infielder with natural left-handed power and a reasonable chance of sticking at shortstop, Tejeda is one of the most alluring breakout prospects of the 2016 season. He came out of the gates running in the Dominican Summer League (DSL), earning a stateside promotion after just 11 games. Tejada had continued success for the Rangers’ complex-level Rookie ball team, the AZL Rangers, where he once again hit his way to a promotion to the Low-A Northwest League with a .293/.331/.496 line and 19 extra-base hits in 32 games. It’s one thing for an 18-year-old to reach Low-A, but it’s a completely separate beast when he hits 8 home runs in just 23 games. Only four players hit more dingers in the NWL this year, and they all played at least 38 games and had at least 154 PA. Now, that home run rate is not to be expected moving forward — he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds — but the kid has natural pop with impressive bat speed and loft, something most 18-year-old middle-infielders only dream of. While it’s a very risky profile, Tejeda stands a chance to skyrocket up prospect lists this winter, and possibly even find himself squarely in the back-end of industry top-100’s. Pick him up before it’s too late.
Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals
Soto, who turned 18 just six days before Halloween, kicked off his stateside career with an incredibly fast start. Washington had him skip the DSL and report straight to the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Nationals after signing last summer for $1.5 million — the organization’s largest bonus ever handed out to an international free agent. Despite being one of only five 17-year-olds to see at least 150 PA in the GCL, Soto ran away with the league’s MVP award while facing pitchers multiple years his senior. Hitting five home runs and stealing five bases across 45 games, the 6-foot-1 lefty doesn’t necessarily have the flashy power/speed combo dynasty owners drool over. What makes him a potentially special player is his hit tool, which produced a .361/.410/.550 triple-slash in the pitcher-friendly Rookie league. Remember how much helium Victor Robles got at this time last year? Well, Soto might not have that same fantasy upside, but he might make just as much noise. If you can still acquire him on the cheap, do your dynasty team a favor and get him immediately.
Sandro Fabian, OF, San Francisco Giants
Although he’s not quite as exciting as Soto or Tejeda, Fabian offers a balanced profile across the board. After holding his own in the DSL last summer, the outfielder caught the attention of scouts in the AZL this year. Spending the entire season as an 18-year-old, he was one of the youngest regulars in the AZL but still finished just five points shy of a share of the league’s batting title. Producing a .340/.364/.522 triple-slash, the young Dominican outfielder has a mature build and an impressive hit tool. While he didn’t walk much, it isn’t necessarily a red flag at that age and level. However, it’s something to keep an eye on as he progresses through the Giants’ system. A more important word of warning comes from the AZL’s reputation as a fastball-heavy league. The high frequency of fastballs allow for guys to put up stats similar to Fabian’s nearly every year, and more often than not, it isn’t reproducible moving forward. That’s not to say Fabian won’t ever develop into a big leaguer, but he’s much more of a watchlist/wait-and-see prospect in the leagues with less than 200 prospects rostered.
Carlos Rincon, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Speaking of young Dominican outfielders who preyed on fastballs, Rincon came stateside mid-season and finished one short of the league lead in home runs in the AZL this summer. After posting a gaudy .364/.458/.714 line in 96 PA in his home country, Rincon’s success continued in the copper state, hitting .301/.314/.621. The walks all but disappeared, and he struck out in nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances, but the 6-foot-3 physical specimen had 31 hits in 26 games, with more extra-base hits than singles. His profile is about as risky as they come for position players — small sample in Rookie ball, lots of swing-and-miss, and limited defensive value, being that he’ll be relegated to a corner outfield role — but he’s got that non-zero chance of becoming a star which escapes all but a dozen or so guys at the Rookie level of the minor leagues. Having just turned 19, he isn’t exactly super young, but in the hunt for the next Eloy, Rincon has somewhat of a chance of being that guy. In that sense alone, he’s worth a flier in deep dynasties, and is certainly worth keeping an eye on moving forward in just about any dynasty.
Andres Gimenez, SS, New York Mets
Signed out of the Dominican Republic for over a million dollars last summer, Gimenez was considered one of the better players in the 2015 IFA class…but he might not have been drafted in your league. He played 31 games in the DSL, hitting .340/.478/.500 while walking almost three times as often as he struck out. The Mets promoted him to the GCL, where his batting average actually improved by twenty points and he maintained his ability to walk more than he K’d. A .360/.461/.544 triple-slash is very impressive for a shortstop originally lauded more for his glove than his bat. His ceiling might not be as high as others’ on this list, but his combination of contact ability, plate discipline, and defensive value makes him possibly the safest prospect on this list.
Others of note:
Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves
If you don’t know Acuna by now, you’re most likely way late to the party. His stats were somewhat suppressed by a mid-season hand injury, but the 18-year-old centerfielder hit .311/.387/.432 with four home runs and 14 stolen bases as the youngest regular in the South Atlantic League. A significantly more advanced prospect than any of the previously mentioned, Acuna is probably long gone in your league. The reports on Acuna are absolutely glowing, with some even saying there is potential plus-plus power (meaning 25+ HR ability) to go along with his legitimate stolen base potential. As with any teenage outfielder, there’s a very high risk of a flaring out in the upper minors, but to have already performed at his caliber in A-ball is something to take note of.
Leodys Taveras, OF, Texas Rangers
After signing for over $2,000,000 last July, there’s a good chance Taveras was selected in your league’s first-year-player draft. The switch-hitting Dominican centerfielder has drawn the praise of just about everyone who’s seen him play in person. Displaying excellent range to both gaps, an above-average arm, innate bat-to-ball skills, and even some legitimate pop, Taveras has certainly made a name for himself in the industry. He’s one of the more exciting prospects in the lower levels of the minor leagues, and is likely long gone in leagues where even 100 or so prospects are rostered. Having spent the entire year as a 17-year-old, Taveras likely won’t crack the Rangers’ big league roster anytime soon, but he’s about as safe of a prospect as you can find in the lower levels.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Considering he shares the name of a soon-to-be Hall of Famer, and received one of the largest bonuses in the 2015 international free agent class, Guerrero is owned in your league unless it’s very shallow. While he has a long road ahead of him before he’s anything like his father, the young Dominican debuted in the Appalachian League, skipping not only the DSL, but the GCL as well. Vlad Jr. won’t turn 18 until next March, making him by far the youngest regular in the Appy League this season, but he still hit his way to an outstanding .271/.359/.449 triple-slash with eight home runs and 15 steals in 62 games. You might as well double-check he isn’t available in your league, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.