It’s great to be back to a normal 162 game season, but something within in baseball that doesn’t get covered enough? The minor leagues are back in full force!
This is a major development and relief for the industry as a whole. After all, game experience is still to ultimate way for a player to refine their skills, and not having the 2020 season definitely set some players back in terms of debuting in the majors. Now, however, they can look to build off of whatever progress was made at the alternate sites, and, hopefully, their progression won’t be greatly impacted. As someone who loves to keep track of the statistics of every notable minor-leaguer, I feel as though I speak for all when I say that I couldn’t be more excited for the minor leagues to be back.
With the season now underway, now would appear to be the optimal time to rank the top prospects from a fantasy perspective. Recently, at Prospects Live, I debuted my projections for every prospect, utilizing a model created based on the overall stability of amateur statistics, and adjusted for future role. The idea is that by taking into account a player’s stats, regressing it with tool grades, and slotting them into an anticipated role (mainly for pitchers), we can make our best assessment of a player’s future outlook. From there, a rating system was created for 5×5 leagues that take into account on-base percentage, home runs, runs, RBI, and stolen bases; the quality hitters tends to score the most runs and accumulate the most RBI, making this strictly on the quality of the player. For pitchers, we assume the categories selected are ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, saves, and wins, though the latter two we won’t try to project. With this, a proper “fantasy rating” is calculated based on the prospect’s anticipated future fantasy outlook.
However, although projections give a great deal of information, they still need to be properly contextualized. Even if we are looking at a player’s mean projection, for instance, the degree of confidence in that projection and the overall range of outcomes is not the same for each prospect. At the top of the dynasty drafts, you might want a safer option, whereas at the end of your prospect stash, you may want to embrace variance. Meanwhile, it’s always good to take into account consensus opinion a little in terms of marketplace and a “wisdom of the crowds approach”, while certain prospects are more likely to receive playing time and be in favorable circumstances according to others.
That leads me to my rankings! Utilizing my projections, I had the groundwork for where I’d stack up each prospect, and was able to create tiers based on those projections. Then, within those tiers, I adjusted rankings based on degree of confidence and preference, though the idea with tiers is that the players in them are relatively interchangeable.
Do keep in mind that these rankings may differ compared to others. For starters, an OBP league isn’t valuing batting average at the same rate, which would explain some small discrepancies. Furthermore, since my rankings take into account the projections a great deal, they may lean more on the statistical side than the scouting side. By no means am I saying “one is better than the other”. Rather, this can hopefully serve as a tool and a useful guide for how I interpret my own projection system.
With that being said, let us get to the rankings! The top-250 prospects were placed into five tiers, and, as you will see, the size of said tiers gets significantly larger in a hurry. Thus, the interchangeability increases. You may a prospect rank too low or high, for instance, but, in reality, the ranking can be easily shifted up to 100 spots without their being any major disagreements on my part. At the end of the day, this is a crapshoot for a reason, making adding as much depth a priority. However, as we start with the top, I think it is safe to say that these two prospects are as “safe” as it gets.
To view the whole list, click here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-50Geuvq-EqpPuvYoNT_Bc-23ZaKT_pWDEOC8RXDecU/edit?usp=sharing
Based on my projections, it was obvious that these two prospects would reign supreme in their own tier. However, the real question was: who to rank #1?
You really cannot go wrong. Torkelson’s production at Arizona State, starting as a freshman, was unprecedented, as you’d expect in order for a first baseman to be selected with the #1 overall pick. Franco, on the other hand, has dominated against older competition, doesn’t strikeout, is growing into more power, and also plays a premium position.
However, it’s hard not to side with Torkelson’s elite offensive profile. As a freshman, he posted a .320/.440/.743 slash line. That simply does not happen in the Pac-12. Not only that, but he maintained that elite performance throughout his college career, and also was a standout performer in the Cape Cod League. Even with a somewhat high 16.5% strikeout rate in college, he still walked more than he struck out, and you’re okay with more whiffs when the quality of contact is excellent. That’s the main reason to take him over Franco, though Franco has a legitimate chance to be the next generational superstar and is already projected by the BAT X to be an above-average offensive producer. Simply put, you cannot go wrong. These are undoubtedly the top-two fantasy superstars in the minors, in my opinion, and they ought to be valued as such.
I find the second tier extremely fascinating. There’s multiple potential elite tier-1 athletes with very little minor-league track record, a few elite amateur producers, in addition to a few players that have already debuted in the majors.
CJ Abrams and Marco Luciano are extremely interchangeable. Luciano has the better offensive skillset with a slightly better track record and more power, but Abrams is the far more likely bet to rack up a lot of stolen bases. Really, it just depends on what you’d rather gamble on. Corbin Carroll, meanwhile, doesn’t quite have the power than the former two have, yet he is likely to get on base an exceptional clip and will steal bases- the ideal fantasy player.
Jarred Kelenic is set to make his major-league debut, and when he does so, he’ll join Andrew Vaughn and Randy Arozarena as recently-debuted players. He certainly has the most well-rounded skillset of the bunch, and has shown much more power than expected. Will he get on base enough with the strikeout rate he’s running? That’s a legitimate question, though it’s easy to see the excitement with his power-speed combination. If Randy Arozarena could start lifting the ball in the air, meanwhile, then he’d be arguably the top fantasy prospect in baseball, and despite Andrew Vaughn’s early struggles, his production at Cal was too elite to write off just yet.
In an on-base league, Nolan Jones has much more value since he’ll run an extremely high walk rate, but his stock is lessened greatly in traditional formats. The real intrigue with this list, though, is the positional value aspect. How high do you bump up Adley Rutschman as the only fantasy cornerstone at the catcher position? The more I consider it, the more I agree with the sentiment to boost his stock, as he’s viable as is and the gap between him and the next ranked catcher (70th) is absurd. Then, when do you invest in pitching? I like MacKenzie Gore and Tarik Skubal, yet with the former’s inability to get promoted over some of his peers and the latter’s struggles this season, we’re already seeing that even they have flaws that are tough to swallow; did I mention both also have injury histories? Now, lefties with the arsenals and strikeout ability they have don’t grow on trees, and you need plenty of pitching depth, so don’t be overly scared to the point you avoid them altogether. However, moving down pitchers is resembling of a shift between the first version of the projections and where the rankings are now.
Woah, the players within the tiers increased in quite a hurry!
Bobby Witt Jr.’s performance this spring was impressive the point the Royals considered putting him on the opening day roster. With him and Julio Rodriguez, I’m cautious about each of their underlying plate discipline skills, but they also are well ahead of the developmental curve. Riley Greene appears to be as well, though the main reason I’m more intrigued by him that the projection is the margin for error in a tools-based projection is considerably larger- he’s at least had more game reps so far than Zac Veen, though I’d be tempted to take Veen over him. Speaking of strikeout concerns, Kristian Robinson has plenty of those, having yet to strikeout below 24.9% at any level. He has elite power and draws enough walks, yet you’re mainly embracing variance with him.
There are a cluster of recently-drafted college bats that are intriguing here. Austin Martin gets on base, steals bases, hits for enough power, AND should have defensive versatility, useful for fantasy. Nick Gonzales, meanwhile, provides rare offensive prowess at second base, whereas JJ Bleday may be the best all-around offensive presence. You’ll notice I’m much higher on Michael Busch that the consensus. For starters, his projection is strong in an OBP league with a career 18.1% walk rate in college. Considering he walked more than he struck out and hit for enough power as well, that makes sense, and if he can stick at second base, his fantasy value goes through the roof. He’s the opposite type of second base prospect to Vidal Brujan, whose fantasy skills stem more from pure hit-tool and stolen bases, though I wouldn’t completely discount his future power outlook. To segment back to college bats, Heston Kjerstad’s value is similar to these players in a batting average format, though his plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired.
The Red Sox and Yankees each have one young prospect to be intrigued about from a fantasy perspective, yet both come with considerable risk. Can Triston Casas hit for enough average and strike out at an acceptable clip for on-base purposes? What type of player is Jasson Dominguez at all? These are the types of prospects who’ll want to balance out with safer, upper-level players as well. Alek Thomas’ strong early performance makes him a little safer than those two, though with less upside.
If you want no risk and no strikeouts, look no further than Geraldo Perdomo and Nick Madrigal! Perdomo should grow into more power than Madrigal. However, Madrigal is already in the majors and has a very high OBP floor in addition to stolen bases. Should you be in a traditional league, he’s someone who could rank higher, though I’m skeptical about the long-term viability of his skillset. Royce Lewis, on the other hand, is the exact opposite in that he has the speed and power you can dream of, but not enough production to show for it. Since he’s been challenge with aggressive promotions, receives strong scouting grades, and steals bases, there’s still a lot to like, although his torn ACL is far from ideal.
Then, there are the pitchers. Logan Gilbert is definitely the safest of the bunch after blowing through the minor leagues, and he’s the only sure bet to provide your pitching staff with quantity in addition to quality. Nevertheless, if you’re shooting for the moon, Luis Patino and Nate Pearson are going to have no problem accumulating strikeouts and also have a strong track record of production. I’d say Asa Lacy fits this category well as someone who drew a lot of comparisons to Blake Snell coming out of Texas A&M with a lot of strikeouts, but also a lot of walks and not a track record of accumulating innings, while Casey Mize is in the middle of that spectrum overall as a nice compromise. As the game of baseball continues to shift towards less-defined roles, I wonder what this does for fantasy. Do we cater more towards the few pitchers who do accumulate innings since they’re harder to come by, or do efficient, strikeout-heavy pitchers become prioritized? This quantity over quality debate will be fun to monitor, though I think a balance is always optimal.
It’s always difficult to know what to do with a player’s early start to their career. I’d say it’s a case-by-case basis. For instance, Jazz Chisholm’s excellent start to this season adds with a high floor created by stolen bases at an up-the-middle position, whereas Ke’Bryan Hayes plays a more demanding offensive spot, ran a very high batting average on balls in play, and also has some concerns regarding his trajectory of contact. Dylan Carlson, on the other hand, has struggled much more overall, though he hasn’t chased many pitches and still is 22-years-old. On the pitching side of the spectrum, Ian Anderson continues to miss bats, though walks remain a question with his profile.
The draft has churned out a lot of fun-to-dream on college players recently. Max Meyer throws upper 90s with a wipeout slider AND with limited amount of walks. Hunter Bishop has the power-speed combination many dream of. Josh Jung might be in the majors very soon as one of the most polished hitters of recent memory. These are the types of talents to get very excited about, and I will note that first basemen Aaron Sabato and Michael Toglia, as well as outfielder Matt Wallner, also are intriguing.
Then, there are some very exciting, “tooled-up” players with immense potential pay-off. Jordyn Adams, for instance, has handled the beginning stages of the minors much better than anticipated from a discipline standpoint, and his power should come. Players like Noelvi Marte, Brennan Davis, and Austin Hendrick, meanwhile, are complete gambles based on scouting reports and tools projections. Outside of Adams, the one player I would keep an eye on from this group is Alexander Canario. His combination of raw power and high walk rate should make him very useful in OBP leagues, even if strikeouts are somewhat of a concern.
Need pitching? Outside of Meyer and Anderson, Grayson Rodriguez’s overall pitch quality and early production gives him extensive appeal, with Spencer Howard, Hunter Greene, Deivi Garcia, and Michael Kopech resembling a nice group of high-quality pitchers who may never give you the quantity you’re looking for. This is also where the catchers become interesting value propositions. Alejandro Kirk isn’t sufficient defensively, but he also walked more than he struck out in High-A in 2019. Furthermore, Patrick Bailey’s production at NC state was absurd and he remains an undervalued player, Dillon Dingler provides rare catcher speed, and Luis Campusano is a swing change away from a duo of on-base ability and power. Finally, Cal Raleigh, Bo Naylor, Gabriel Moreno, and Ryan Jeffers profile as above-average offensive producers for the position.
Outside of that? Will Nolan Gorman strike out at an acceptable clip and tap into all of his power? Will Jordan Groshans make good on his scouting reports? Do recent high-school draft picks Keoni Cavaco, Tyler Soderstrom Jordan Walker, Hudson Head, and Kyle Harrison match their hype with production? Does Khalil Lee continue to have an extremely high floor due to his stolen bases? How much viability do Taylor Trammell and Joey Bart have given their inability to transition to the upper levels of professional baseball? There is risk attached to every player within this group. The question is, do you chase a high floor or ceiling? It depends on your team, but I will once again repeat my main overarching theme: balance is critical.
By now, I think it’s clear that my projections, and my model in general, is going to be hesitant on players who haven’t demonstrated adequate plate discipline. That is my concerns with Alex Kirilloff, Ryan Mountcastle, Christian Pache, Heliot Ramos, and other well-regarded talents. I think they’ll be quality everyday players, yet I’m hesitant to buy into them at their current price. Tier 5 is where you definitely start to see the pitchers take shape, and with it being a depth-oriented spot in fantasy, this is where I’d want to attack from. Now, players such as Sixto Sanchez may be overpriced, yet there are plenty of opportunities to find gold. I’d generally advise against worrying too much about pitching in general for dynasty, as not only is more about depth, but it’s also a position where development is unpredictable, injuries take shape, and breakouts are common. This is where you start to see players with one specific skill come into value. Whether that’s with stolen bases, pure OBP, or power, there are places for them on your team, though there’s a reason they’re outside the top 100. There are some players the top 250 that I also am fond of, but for the rankings, I tried to be as compliant of letting the projection formulate the tier groups as possible. Remember, the interchangeability is extreme, and it’s more so identifying players who are over and underpriced that is a necessity.
When constructing your dynasty fantasy baseball team, it is imperative that you create as balanced of a roster as possible. If you shoot for the moon with “upside plays”, there’s a chance that you ultimately get out of it, while you need high-end potentially pay-off from a few spots to take your team over the top. Think of this with actual baseball trades. The Marlins, for instance, went for athletes in their trading of Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, and Marcell Ozuna, and came away with little return. The Red Sox, on the other hand, made sure to get a solidified big-league player in Alex Verdugo, in addition to a prospect regarded as “polished” in Jeter Downs. I’m always going to side with a high floor over a high ceiling given our inability to quantify ceiling, though it is all about offense.
In my opinion, the tier-1 prospects are in a tier above the rest and should be treated as such. From there, players like CJ Abrams, Marco Luciano, and Corbin Carroll have all the makings of becoming elite fantasy stars. The lack of minor-league data in 2020 means that you’re forced to bet with what you know about players and their talent rather than their production, though, making depth critical. Hence, why it is much more advisable to not “shoot the moon” for pitchers and consistently be willing to exchange them for offensive cornerstones.
In general, I’d say the minor leagues is rich currently with shortstops, outfielders, and pitching depth. That’s to be expected for the most part, though I do notice that the corner infield talent pool continues to shrink, making Torkelson that much more appealing. There certainly is a lack of high-end pitching talent right now as well, in addition to “complete packages”, but there a lot of players that can reach that level with a minor-league season in 2021. With pitchers being utilized differently, automatic strike zones impacting catcher value, and a fluctuation of stolen base opportunities, we are at a precarious time overall for fantasy baseball. The best we can do is try to get out ahead of the market. If you’re not early, you’re late, after all! Although you want to stick to consensus, there are opportunities to find undervalued prospects, and with this piece, which comes from a more methodical/calculated point of view, my hope is that I am able to provide that to you. The fork (market inefficiencies) is in the road, as the great Yogi Berra would say. My advice? Take it.