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The Major League trade deadline is around the corner and with it comes plenty of prospect buzz too. The Fantasy trade deadline is right around the corner as well, and just like Major League Baseball teams, some Fantasy teams are looking to win now and others are looking to rebuild. That means you need to know your prospects.
In Fantasy circles, you sometimes hear an analyst say that a player could be a great baseball player but not great for Fantasy. The essence of this comment has to do with a player’s tools, power and speed for batters, and velocity and breaking stuff for pitchers. More often than not, it is directed toward middle infielders. These are generalizations, Carlos Correa and Corey Seager aside, but it is extremely rare for even the greatest of athletes to have the size and power to hit 20 home runs in a season, in addition to the speed, quickness and dexterity needed to handle the physical demands of shortstop. Because of these Darwinian realities, the offensive bar is set much lower for shortstops. And yet, there are still plenty of very good baseball players that don’t project to be impact Fantasy players.
Often we hear high praise about prospects with limited tools because of their defensive ability (for fielders), above average command (for pitchers) or above average intangibles and instincts at a young age. However, it’s a player’s proximity to the majors that creates the most buzz.
When you hear a swell of speculation and buzz about a prospect, it is easy to second guess your evaluation of him, but you must stand firm. What I am going to try to do in this week’s column is help you parse the difference between the media buzz that encircles a prospect and their Fantasy value, so that you don’t pay an expensive price for a mediocre Fantasy prospect.
Here are some prospects that we heard a lot about at the Futures Game and will hear more about with the trade deadline looming, but their tools and talents don’t live up to the higher demands that we have in Fantasy sports.
J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
Crawford is a talented athlete and plus defender, who has moved quickly through a weak Phillies system. The downside is that his only plus tool is his ability to make contact, which could result in some seasons with a .300 batting average. Fantasy owners don’t demand much offense from their shortstops and that makes Crawford a Fantasy viable player. However, it is less than a certainty that he’ll hit 10-plus home runs or steal 20-plus bases per season with any consistency. Valuing a player based on where they rank at their position is one thing, but valuing them for the overall production they provide is another. The buzz surrounding Crawford suggests he can be a difference-maker in Fantasy sports, but the tools suggest otherwise. He is a prospect that must be owned in all leagues and he will be a Fantasy starter, but the tools don’t match the hype. If Crawford wasn’t a shortstop, it is unlikely he would be a Fantasy starter.
Ozhaino Albies, SS, Atlanta Braves
Albies is 18 years old and makes extremely consistent contact, well above what scouts are used to seeing from a player so young. That’s the steam behind the hype. Many scouts believe that a player who is underdeveloped physically, but has such an impressive ability to make contact, will eventually develop some power, and that is always possible. At 5’9″ and 150 lbs, there are plenty of physical reasons to have doubts. His baseball acumen and hit tool are intriguing, but Albies could turn himself from a good baseball player into a good Fantasy play with stolen bases. He doesn’t profile as an elite base stealer, but he has stolen 27 bases this season, after stealing 22 in 2014. If he can be a difference-maker in the batting average and stolen base categories (think Jose Altuve), then his production could one day match the hype that currently surrounds him. However, for now, the buzz is far greater than his tools.
Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays’ success developing and trading for prospects gave Adames a level of credibility that he never had or deserved. The fact that he was part of the haul in return for David Price on advanced the perception of his value. He lacks speed of any kind, which is rare for a middle infielder, and his power is limited. Adames could become a double-digit home run hitter, but that is far from certain, and while scouts project high batting averages, he has yet to show that tool in the minors. The tools are mediocre and the minor league production has been underwhelming. If he was in the Detroit Tigers’ mediocre minor league system he’d be ignored by Fantasy owners. The one saving grace for Adames is that he’s been less hyped than Albies and Crawford, so his status in the prospect community is more reasonable.
Aaron Nola, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Nola was a high draft pick in 2014, who had a chance to make the Phillies rotation out of spring training this year. Analysts have been hyping Nola but his stuff isn’t quite as loud. When I think of Nola, I think of Mike Leake with slightly better pure stuff. That kind of prospect deserves to be owned, and he will be a nice matchup two-start pitcher. However, being young and drenched in first round draft pick excitement may lead owners to think he can be a difference-maker, but the stuff isn’t there. He has the pitching acumen and command to succeed at the major league level, but with control-and-command pitchers the margin for error is very small. Nola will need to be on the top of his game every night because the stuff isn’t good enough to get away with mistakes. We will have a chance to see him first hand, as he was promoted on July 21. Owners shouldn’t expect many strikeouts and in Citizens Bank Park he may be homer-prone. Prospects like Nola gain steam from their draft position and proximity to the majors, and as owners see more of them their value plummets.
Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
The buzz has been there since before Bell became a Pirate. A five-tool player and one of the most talented athletes in his draft class, Bell was a first round candidate who was considered un-signable. There was speculation that the Pirates selected him knowing he wouldn’t sign, so they could get an additional draft pick in the next draft. Jaws dropped when the Pirates doled out the big money for Bell, and it was a stunner to find out that he didn’t go to college. That kind of tale carries with it immense expectations but Bell hasn’t come close to meeting them. He hasn’t hit for power or average as scouts projected, but analysts have not waivered on their praise or their projections. Bell has since been moved to first base, but he hasn’t shown anything to justify it. He is another prospect who wouldn’t be on radars if not for the lofty first round expectations and the assumed potential that comes with it.
Raul Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals
When I was researching my organizational Top-10 prospect lists for the Fantasy baseball draft package, I was stunned to find so many Royals prospects with so many impressive tools, and so few players realizing their potential. The Royals graduate a lot of players to the major leagues and almost none of them fully realize their potential. Alex Gordon could be the exception, but it took a while. Mondesi has the athleticism to be a difference-maker on the bases, the potential to contribute some power and he has the bat speed to make consistent contact, and yet, he hasn’t. He will be a Fantasy contributor in leagues that use middle infield spots, but he will be a low end starting shortstop, even though the tools suggest he should be much more. He will continue to sit atop prospect lists, but he shouldn’t.
Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
Judge looks like Giancarlo Stanton and he is one of the Yankees top young prospects, making him a player you will hear about in trade rumors and prospect circles. I always ask the same question about Judge; “how can a 6’7″, 275 lb. behemoth not hit more home runs?” He has never hit more than 17 home runs in a minor league season, and this is a player that was drafted out of college, where they are suppose to be closer to major league ready when they arrive in the organization. The power is taking an awfully long time to come. Judge has a sound approach and he makes consistent contact, but he doesn’t drive the ball like a power hitter and he doesn’t run at all. A 20 home run, .270 hitter has merit, but without any steals and a track record of being more “slap” than “pop” at the plate, he will struggle to contribute in meaningful ways to Fantasy teams. Owners need to ignore the College Home Run Derby awards and the stories about “light-tower power batting practice exhibitions,” and realize that Judge’s ceiling is as a fourth or fifth outfielder on a mediocre team.
Billy McKinney, OF, Chicago Cubs
McKinney is another prospect who picked up steam and garnered some legitimacy because he was involved in a blockbuster trade and went to an organization respected for their prospect analysis. He was involved in the Addison Russell/Jeff Samardzija trade, coming to the loaded Cubs system after being an afterthought for the mediocre Athletics. McKinney has shown the ability to make contact and he can play defense, but he doesn’t run and he doesn’t hit for power. He doesn’t garner enough respect to be a key part of a meaningful trade, but you will see him thrown in as a second or third piece. McKinney survives on name recognition because of the Samardzija trade, but he should be considered a non-prospect in Fantasy leagues.
Nick Gordon, SS/2B, Minnesota Twins
For some reason, scouts came out double-barrel in love with Nick Gordon when he was drafted in 2014. Stories of Gordon bragging about his own ability were perceived as “positive makeup,” and the praise continued into the overall evaluation of his tools. Scouting reports have suggested he will hit for power, while also commenting that he has to learn to pull the ball and make significant physical gains to improve his strength. He’s related to Dee Gordon and he is the son of Tom Gordon, genes that definitely scream athlete, not strength and power. Scouting reports have spoken positively about his speed, while acknowledging that it isn’t plus and hinting that he lacks impact stolen base ability. Analysts have also spoken about how Gordon will be able to stay at shortstop in spite of his lack of elite foot speed or quickness, but there is some disagreement on that. Gordon is benefitting from his last name, and the majority of analysts appear to be willing to believe the hype in spite of the doubts and concerns that are there. He has struggled in his first taste of full season baseball, and eventually playing in one of the stingiest parks in the majors for home runs suggest that Fantasy relevance is unlikely.