Fantasy Baseball: Prospects In Focus

  • Chris Mitchell

Prospects will begin to flood the majors like a gusher now that the “Super-Two” dates have passed. Gregory Polanco (Pirates) is the gem of this group of prospects.

However, it would be unwise to sleep on middle infielders Eugenio Suarez (Tigers) and Tommy La Stella (Braves), and you can’t ignore someone named Rubby (De La Rosa, Red Sox).

Gregory Polanco, OF – Pittsburgh Pirates.

The term “five-tool talent” is thrown around haphazardly, but what people are normally referring to is a player’s athleticism. Well, Polanco is a great all-around athlete and he actually is a five-tool talent. He can run in the field, throw, hit for both power and batting average, and he can steal bases. Over six minor league seasons, Polanco batted .287 with a .358 on-base percentage, 41 home runs and 142 stolen bases. The Pirates feel so confident about his ability to perform at the major league level (even though they didn’t think he deserved a promotion until after the Super Two deadline passed) that they batted him second in his premier game and there have been rumors that he may bat leadoff.

Polanco’s stolen base ability and the likelihood that he’ll be slotted in the top third the Pirates batting order makes him immediately Fantasy-relevant. Add the power and his batting tools and he is capable of a 15/15 season with a .275 batting average over the rest of this season. Polanco has been ready for the majors for a month or more, and while you can expect the usual rookie stumbles along the way, he is an immediate must-start. He isn’t out of the running for the Rookie of the Year Award even though George Springer has a big head start.

In keeper leagues, Polanco certainly deserves “core franchise prospect” status and should be considered nearly untouchable. He is capable of a 25/25 season as early as 2015. Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are elite prospects because of their offensive ability at infield positions. But statistically, Polanco is the best of the elite 2014

Rubby De La Rosa RHP Boston Red Sox.

If you saw De La Rosa’s debut you saw everything that encapsulates his profile. He is a sturdy guy who maintains his plus velocity deep into games and flashes three plus pitches (Fastball/Slider/Change-up). At times he is unhittable, which makes Fantasy owners think De La Rosa could be a SP2, or, as a fallback, a lights-out closer. He also showed, even in a seven inning shutout, that he struggles to maintain his mechanics. He also struggles to maintain command of his pitches both outside the zone as well as in it, and he struggles to execute his pitches from inning to inning, never mind outing to outing. One inning his slider and change-up are unhittable and the next he is hanging them like batting practice soft toss pitches. The lack of consistency and command has led to De La Rosa being tagged with a reputation for being “homer-prone.”

The pure stuff is undeniably legitimate. However, the inconsistencies in his game combined with the uncertainty of his opportunity to maintain a rotation spot make him a good flier if you have a spare bench spot, but not a smart investment.

In keeper leagues, you should take a similar approach. Don’t trade a reliable starter like Nate Eovaldi, for example, in order to take a shot on De La Rosa. He could be a SP2, or potentially a closer, or he could end up as a late inning middle reliever who can never be consistent enough to pitch in high stress, meaningful Fantasy innings.

Tommy La Stella, 2B – Atlanta Braves.

In Fantasy baseball category leagues, first you should look at an offensive player’s ability to steal bases, and second, whether they can hit for power. At a very distant third, you consider whether they can hit for average. Unfortunately, in category leagues, La Stella’s best tool is in that distant third category. Over 15 major league games in 2014, he is batting .377 with a .441 OBP. He can hit and he walks, a lot.

He always has. Over four minor league seasons, La Stella has a career .322 batting average and a .407 OBP. La Stella actually walked more often than he struck out in the minors, and so far, in the majors as well. That is extremely impressive and bodes well for his ability to continue to hit at the major league level. Unfortunately, he only has 21 home runs and 24 steals in 1196 at-bats over 288 minor league games.

In yearly leagues, his batting average as a middle infielder makes him a safe player to start if you are a team with a poor MI or 2B player like Emilio Bonifacio, or if you were waiting for Jed Gyorko to do anything productive. His ability to make contact should lead to La Stella batting at the top of the Braves lineup in front of Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis.

La Stella is never going to light up the HR and SB categories, but in points leagues he could be a Matt Carpenter type of player and that is where his real Fantasy value lies. He projects as someone who could amass 180-200 hits per season with his fair share of doubles and runs scored. You can probably expect 8-10 homers and 8-10 steals per year in keeper leagues. Target him and buy low in points based keeper leagues and claim him if you’re weak in redraft leagues. He is a hidden gem in points leagues and leagues that use OBP.

Eugenio Suarez, SS – Detroit Tigers

Suarez has taken the Fantasy world by storm after eight major league games with three home runs, a .400 batting average and .500 OBP. Before his promotion, Suarez had eight home runs and nine steals in the minors. Sell the farm!!! Buy the next A-Rod. Eugenio Suarez is here. The Hall doors are open and waiting! I am sorry to have to burst your bubble, but Suarez is not the next great Fantasy middle infielder. In Baseball America’s Top 30 Prospects list for the Detroit Tigers, Suarez is listed as their number seven prospect. In my pre season Fantasy based prospect rankings, I passed right over Eugenio Suarez. I didn’t have him in my Tigers top ten.

Suarez has a decent enough hit tool, and he should have respectable, but not outstanding, batting averages. He takes some walks, but his hitting and on base skills are not plus tools. Add that he projects for below average power, even for a middle infielder, and lacks the ability to steal bases, and you start to see his limitations. When you do the math, Suarez does not project to provide anything inany format that would suggest he has much Fantasy value.

His hot start this year in both the minors and the majors is out of character and above and beyond any projections that existed before this year. If you have a spot then always take a flier on a hot player because you never know. Sometimes players just find it and do things nobody thought possible. Don’t give up on a prospect in keeper leagues or an established player in redraft leagues because you think Suarez is the next great thing. It is unlikely that he is. If you own him, then look around and do the best sales job you can and sell-high now. It is unlikely he keeps up this level of performance.