Here at RotoProspects, we’ve been studying, analyzing and forecasting baseball prospects in our dynasty leagues for decades. We’ve used prospects to build the core of our keeper lists and to trade for reinforcements when our teams are in contention.
As voracious consumers of all things prospects, we’ve come to be frustrated by the lack of updated rankings and having to translate everything into fantasy terms. Right after MLB drafts, we have wanted to know where teams’ newest prospects slide into the rankings to no avail. We see defensive specialists ranked as top prospects, knowing that they will have less impact in fantasy leagues.
So we decided to make updated fantasy baseball prospect rankings ourselves, upping the research and deepening our focus. This led to a top 500, focusing on production in traditional fantasy categories as well as sabermetric ones.
Hitters whose prospect status is diminished by poor defensive skills see a boost in their value. Pitchers especially skilled in high strikeout and low walk rates see a boost even if there are concerns of future bullpen roles, especially due to size, or lack thereof.
One example that comes to mind on an overrated prospect for fantasy purposes was Austin Hedges, who was the Padres’ consensus No. 1 prospect back in 2014 and was even ranked No. 14 overall by Baseball America in their midseason update that year. The ranking was due mostly to his sparkling defense as scouting grades of 50 in batting and power left much to be desired in fantasy. I remember the commissioner of our dynasty league shopping Hedges due to his high profile as a top prospect, but luckily everyone turned up their nose at him. And for good reason, as Hedges has gone on to post a career average well below the Mendoza Line at .194.
As for pitchers, looking at the current preseason fantasy rankings on Fantasypros, the top 20 is littered with hurlers who were diminished as prospects for their lack of size, reliever risk or low ceiling – Corbin Burnes, Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, Jacob deGrom, Shane Bieber, Sandy Alcantara, Robbie Ray, Freddy Peralta, Chris Sale and Logan Webb. Common denominators of those pitchers’ success has been increased strikeouts and cutting down their walks.
Speaking of pitchers, they inherently have so much more risk due to injuries, mechanics and the yips that we generally favor hitters. Looking back five years at the highest-ranked pitching prospects, there’s really only two rousing success in Josh Hader (converting to closer) and Lucas Giolito, and he had to endure some serious growing pains on the way. Otherwise, the consensus top 20 was comprised of Alex Reyes, Francis Martes, Mitch Keller, Brent Honeywell, Reynaldo Lopez, Jose De Leon, Tyler Glasnow (was finally getting good when Tommy John befell him), Anderson Espinoza, David Paulino, Kolby Allard, Cody Reed, Michael Koepech, Luke Weaver, Riley Pint, Jeff Hoffman, Yadier Alvarez, Jason Groome and Erick Fedde. The book is certainly not closed on all of these guys, but it’s been a rocky road to say the least! Meanwhile, the top-ranked hitters have produced the likes of Cody Bellinger, Ozzie Albies, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Austin Meadows, Kyle Tucker, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Rafael Devers, Dansby Swanson, Tyler O’Neill, Ronald Acuna Jr., Josh Bell and Kyle Lewis.
Another bone to pick is with catcher, which has produced so few fantasy assets in the past decade that we’ve accounted for extreme risk at the position in our rankings. It just so happens that a bumper crop like never before is rising through the minors right now, so our list still has plenty of catchers, but expect to often see them lower in our rankings than elsewhere. Not only are there so many busts, but even so few wind up as elite fantasy assets – there are just seven catchers in the top 250 overall on Fantasypros. There’s just one in the top 50, Salvador Perez, and he wasn’t a highly-touted prospect coming up in the minors.
Ultimately, we’re looking for stars. We want long, sustained success in as many fantasy categories as possible. A balancing act of sorts exists in our rankings between the safer bets to have productive MLB careers as prospects knocking on the door of the majors to the high-risk, high-reward youngsters with a long ways to go.For every Bryce Harper that arrives in professional baseball as the next great thing and delivers on that promise, there are plenty of Bubba Starlings who never amount to anything. And many of today’s elite fantasy players were once lightly-regarded prospects, like Fernando Tatis Jr. (not even ranked in White Sox top 30 by Baseball America in 2016) and Jose Ramirez (never sniffed BA top 100, profiled as utilityman).
As prospects begin to pop or struggle in the minors, we will be adjusting our rankings weekly throughout the season so that you have a resource to help you value these treasured baseball resources – RotoProspects!
– Rudy Ropp and Phil Krugel