In Keeper and Dynasty leagues, the quickest way to turn a cellar dweller into a contender, or a contender into a champion, is with an influx of productive prospects. In 2015, we saw impact seasons from Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Joc Pederson, Miguel Sano, Noah Syndergaard, Anthony DeSclafani and Lance McCullers. In 2016, we have seen signs for optimism from Trevor Story, Nomar Mazara, Aledmys Diaz, Vincent Velasquez, Steven Matz and a few others. However, we have seen some significant disappointments as well.
A.J. Reed didn’t make it out of camp with the starting first base job in Houston. Byron Buxton has been such a disaster that Fantasy owners are questioning whether he has a major league future at all. He does, but you should be readjusting your expectations. Jose Berrios arrived in Minnesota with much fanfare only to crash, burn and then get demoted with a 10.20 ERA for his troubles.
The last two seasons have been two of the weakest amateur drafts that I have ever covered as a baseball prospect writer, and the talent level of the current Top 30 prospects is lower than I have seen in years. With the graduation of the 2015 class and the exception of a few elite prospects at the top of the current class, we have a thinned out crop. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any quality players in the minor leagues. Nor does it mean that they aren’t showing signs of having higher ceilings than they had before the season began and many of them will contribute to your Fantasy rosters soon.
Entering 2016, I was low on Byron Buxton and Nomar Mazara, lukewarm on a majority of the shortstops, and very high on A.J. Reed. I ranked Lucas Giolito as my number one overall prospect. That was contrary to the industry consensus that rallied around Corey Seager with some votes being cast for Byron Buxton, probably more out of habit than reason.
Seager is on his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award while Nomar Mazara is on the same trajectory in the American League. Buxton has been an enormous disappointment and A.J. Reed currently sits on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring. Meanwhile, Giolito has had an acceptable but uninspiring start to 2016 with an ERA of 3.86 and a WHIP of 1.21 in Double-A.
The Fantasy values and projections of the top prospects aren’t going to change in any meaningful way at this stage of their development. Prospects like Giolito, Tyler Glasnow, Julio Urias, Joey Gallo or Trea Turner are what they are for the most part. Now they need to turn that potential into performance and that is always fluctuating. The upcoming articles that you read about them will speculate about when they will be promoted and won’t have anything to do with any meaningful change in their skill sets or their development.
I am going to take a closer look at the prospects that are drafting behind the big dogs to determine who has improved and how their values have changed.
Yoan Moncada, Red Sox, 2B/SS/3B/OF
Stats: 128 AB, 3 HRs, 25 SBs, .328 BA, .463 OBP
I ranked Moncada sixth on my Top 30 prospects list entirely based on projection and the immense physical tools that he brings to the diamond. He signed with the Red Sox after defecting from Cuba and had only played 81 games at the time of my rankings.
Development: Moncada’s speed was undisputed entering the season and his performance in 2016 has validated his high ranking. However, it’s his contact tool and power that will determine whether he is just a good Fantasy player or an elite first round Fantasy draft pick.
His improvement in 2016 after a promotion to High-A suggests that he will make consistent hard contact with a chance to bat .280 or better with an on-base percentage around .350. Whether or not he will hit home runs is still an open question. He has the raw power and plus bat speed to hit home runs but scouts are concerned that his flat swing plane will result in doubles and triples rather than home runs. We haven’t seen a change in 2016 that suggests which way Moncada is going to develop. He had eight home runs in 2015, and he is on pace to average a similar total this season.
Fantasy Value: Entering 2016, we had 306 at bats to evaluate. After a promotion to High-A and 128 more at bats, Moncada is confirming that his plus-plus speed is for real and that his ability to make consistent hard contact is not a concern. Moncada has all of the physical tools that excited analysts about Byron Buxton without any of the struggles, and he has dominated in a way that Buxton never has. If I were to re-rank my Top 30 today, Moncada would be ahead of Buxton.
There isn’t much left for Moncada to prove at High-A, so the next hurdle will be to see how he handles Double-A, which is likely to happen sometime after the All Star break. The final hurdle to determine his future Fantasy value will be whether he naturally hits more home runs or if he makes adjustments to his swing to try to hit more and what impact that has on his batting average and approach.
If you own him, he should be considered one of those rare untouchables. If you can acquire him, the skill set justifies paying the full asking price. His floor is 10 home runs, 35 stolen bases and a .275 batting average with a ceiling of 20/40/. 290. His high floor minimizes the concerns all owners have about a prospect’s future, while the ceiling is extremely exciting.
Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox, OF
Level: Started at High-A ~ Promoted to Double-A
Stats: High-A: 135 AB, 1 HR, 8 SBs, .341 BA, .413 OBP
Double-A: 7 AB, .286 BA, .375 OBP
I ranked Benintendi tenth in my Top 30 because he was one of the best hitters in the 2015 amateur draft, and at two levels and over 198 at bats he batted .313 with a .416 OBP, 11 home runs and 10 stolen bases. I had some reservations about ranking him that high because as a college player he was a little old for short season and then Low-A.
Benintendi, in many ways, is the polar opposite of Yoan Moncada. Moncada is a physical freak that could end up hitting for less power than his natural tools suggest he is capable of, while Benintendi has already hit for more power than his slight frame suggests he should. Moncada is inexperienced and raw, while Benintendi has an extremely poised approach and is already a polished hitter.
Development: Benintendi hasn’t had a problem making contact after moving up in levels and he is stealing bases, but he hasn’t hit home runs in 2016. He has hit 13 doubles and seven triples in only 135 at bats, which explains why the Red Sox were comfortable promoting him to Double-A so quickly in spite of the lack of home runs.
The extra base hits are a good sign that he is making hard contact that will eventually lead to home runs, which is essential to his development as an above average or impact player. If he handles the next three weeks in Double-A well, then we could see him in Boston this season, which would be well ahead of schedule.
Fantasy Value: Benintendi will need to do a little bit of everything to become the kind of star scouts and analysts believe he can be. He doesn’t have an impact tool that will carry him. His value hasn’t changed in a significant way yet, but if he handles Double-A as easily as he has handled the other levels, then you will start to hear a lot of Mookie Betts comparisons and his value will shoot up significantly as a result.
Benintendi isn’t a must-own prospect because his ceiling is lower than some of the more elite prospects. However, his floor is higher and his development suggests that he is more likely to reach his ceiling than play to his floor.
Rafael Devers, Red Sox, 1B/3B
Stats: 126 AB, 3 HRs, 4 SBs, .190 BA, .282 OBP
Devers ranked twelfth on my Top 30 list because of his plus power and how advanced a slugger he is at this stage in his development. He is a 30 home run slugger that has the potential to bat .280 or better, a rare combination in today’s power depleted, high strikeout culture.
Development: Devers batted .288 in Low-A with a .773 OPS as an 18- year-old in 2015. He generated significant praise for his maturity and approach, and his 38 doubles and 11 home runs legitimized projections of his power potential. This year he has struggled to make consistent contact (.190 batting average and .599 OPS), but he is still very young for the level as a 19-year-old in High-A. He is still roaming the hot corner, which isn’t all that telling, but it’s better than if the Red Sox had already decided to shift him to first base.
The sample size is small and he is on pace to match or exceed his home run totals from 2015, so it isn’t cause for concern yet. However, if he continues to struggle to make consistent contact it will slow his meteoric rise to the majors and could be cause to re-evaluate his projections.
Fantasy Value: Dever’s Fantasy prospect status hasn’t changed even though his .190 batting average may make some owners a little squeamish. He is a bat-only player who is likely to be a first baseman in Boston as a 21-year-old, and his early struggles don’t change his ceiling or the likelihood he reaches it.
Anderson Espinoza, Red Sox, SP
Stats: 28.2 Innings Pitched, 38 Ks, 4.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
A lot like Yoan Moncada, Espinoza’s high ranking was based on how his filthy raw stuff projects rather than his minor league track record, which amounted to 58.1 total innings at three levels in 2015. And a lot like Moncada, the raw physical tools are top of the charts. His fastball can tick triple-digits while his curveball and change up are considered major league average now. Both project to be plus pitches as he develops.
Development: An 18-year-old in Low-A is impressive. But the fact that he has increased his K/9 rate has to have Fantasy owners even more giddy about grabbing this wunder kid before the rest of their league. His walk rate has increased in a somewhat meaningful way, but Espinoza is so young and so inexperienced that it isn’t a development that should have owners concerned or justify altering projections.
The raw stuff is so good while his command is already well above average. Aside from a drastic collapse in his performance or an injury, you shouldn’t overanalyze small sample size ebbs and flows in the numbers.
How the Red Sox manage his innings and how quickly they promote him through the system are the most important things to watch going forward. Like Julio Urias in Los Angeles, the proper management of the innings and promotions of an extremely young, potential ace can be a tricky high wire to walk. The Seattle Mariners did a great job with Felix Hernandez while the Minnesota Twins have botched it with Byron Buxton.
Fantasy Value: I have some concerns about Julio Urias’ durability, as well as a nuanced approach to how Fantasy owners should handle him (trade him soon), but Espinoza isn’t close enough to the major leagues and the buzz isn’t loud enough to consider shopping him as a “sell high” at this point. However, there has been too much sizzle surrounding his ace potential to sneak him out from under an uninformed owner, which puts Espinoza in a holding pattern as far as trades are concerned.
Owners should still target him in all trades. If you own him, then he should be untouchable unless an elite Fantasy contributor is offered in return. He doesn’t rank as highly as Urias or Lucas Giolito, but I currently rank him ahead of Alex Reyes of the Cardinals, Jose Berrios of the Twins and Joey Gallo of the Rangers.
Sean Newcomb, Braves, SP
Stats: 42.1 Innings Pitched, 42 K, 23 Walks, 3.83 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
Newcomb is in my Top 30 list because the raw stuff is SP2 caliber and you don’t find a lot of prospects with that kind of profile, especially pitching from the left side. Lefties like Blake Snell and Steven Matz were ahead of him on my list, mostly because of his lack of command, but the stuff is on their level.
Development: Newcomb was #17 overall on my list because he has significant command issues that many scouts believe are uncorrectable, and he hasn’t shown anything in 2016 to suggest the scouts are wrong. 23 free passes in 42.1 innings pitched is not going to get it done in the majors. The fact that he is on pace to match his walk totals from 2015 shows that he isn’t doing anything to adjust and improve, or he is and it isn’t working.
Fantasy Value: The stuff is plus and at some point the Braves will give him a chance to show what he can do at the major league level regardless of whether he improves his command or not. However, that doesn’t mean you should take a risk on Newcomb unless it comes at a discounted rate. If you can acquire him as a throw in or at a marginal cost, then he is worth a roster spot. But don’t spend a valuable asset or buy into the idea that he is a buy low. He IS a buy low, but the risk is anything but, making him more of a potential buy bad.
Andrew Benintendi Photo Credit: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire