It’s the beginning of another Fantasy Baseball season and Trevor Story is rocking the Fantasy world while Carlos Correa is making an early case for why he deserved to be a Top 10 pick. The Godfather of Fantasy sports, Lenny Melnick, loves to say, “A rookie is a rookie is a rookie,” and with yearly drafts behind us you either heeded his advice or you didn’t, but that’s water under the bridge.
Now, we have to look ahead and decide which prospects can or should be stashed. It’s also time to look at some lesser-known prospects that could contribute in meaningful ways. Justin Bour (23 home runs) of the Miami Marlins was on my power prospects to watch list while Billy Burns (26 stolen bases) was an under-the-radar stolen base prospect in 2015, and the list below has some potential prospects that could fit the same needs in 2016.
But, before we discuss some names that you want to keep an eye on, let’s put into context what you should expect from prospects in their rookie season based on what we saw in 2015, one of the better rookie classes we have seen in a long time.
* 15 rookies played 120 or more games.
* 10 rookies received 440 or more at bats.
* 10 rookies had 15 or more home runs.
* 10 rookies had 10 or more stolen bases.
* Four rookies had 15 or more stolen bases.
* Eight rookie starter pitched 120 or more innings.
* 11 rookie pitchers started 20 or more games.
* 10 rookie starting pitchers had 100 or more strikeouts.
* Five rookie starting pitchers had 130 or more strikeouts.
* Two rookie pitchers won 10 or more games.
* Three rookie pitchers pitched at least 100 innings and had an ERA below 3.50. Noah Syndergaard (3.24 ERA – 150 innings pitched), Lance McCullers (3.22 ERA – 125.2 innings pitched) and Andrew Heaney (3.49 ERA – 105.2 innings pitched)
Rookies are exciting because they are young players with bright futures and loaded with potential, but very few are even league average producers in their first season. Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa had great rookie campaigns, two of the better seasons we have seen since Carlos Beltran or Ichiro Suzuki, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule.
In Fantasy Baseball, you need to keep expectations low while looking at specific categories in which a rookie might be able to make an impact. They are more valuable in rotisserie formats in which they can contribute in one or two categories over a long season. But they can do more bad than good in head-to- head leagues, as their inconsistency and poor batting averages can be costly in small sample sizes.
This year the rookie class isn’t quite as strong because of the great minor league purge of 2015. A lot of potential impact prospects got more than a taste of Major League baseball, making them ineligible for the Rookie of the Year Award this season. Miguel Sano, Michael Taylor, Francisco Lindor, and Maikel Franco would have added significant depth to this year’s class if they were eligible. Because they aren’t, we have Corey Seager, who was drafted as a Top 75 pick while Byron Buxton and Trevor Story were both drafted outside the Top 200. All three have a good chance to receive full-time at bats and should be owned in all except in the shallowest leagues.
In my Top 30 prospects list, I profiled the potential Fantasy impact of a majority of the top rookies of 2016. Now, let’s look at some of the lesser prospects that could contribute and are likely to be available in the majority of leagues.
Jose Peraza: Cincinnati Reds, 2B/SS/OF
Strengths: Speed, Batting Average, Multi-Position eligibility
Weaknesses: Power, On-Base Percentage
Peraza isn’t new to the Fantasy radar, but he has had an up and down relationship since finding his way onto it. He broke into the prospect scene in 2014, when it looked like his impact speed and plus batting average potential could be a half-season away from the major leagues in Atlanta. The fact that he has zero power and was blocked by Andrelton Simmons were more of an afterthought than a concern when he was first discussed as a top prospect. Now, two organizations and two seasons later, the concerns have come to the forefront and he is blocked once again, this time by Brandon Phillips at second base.
The Reds need to develop their future players. Peraza still makes a lot of contact (45 strikeouts in 513 PA in 2015) and he still profiles to be an impact base stealer for Fantasy owners. If, or more like when, Peraza receives full-time plate appearances, he will have an impact in the stolen base category and he won’t kill your batting average, a rarity for rookies.
Robert Stephenson: Cincinnati Reds, SP
Strengths: Velocity, Stuff
You won’t find many prospects with more consistent velocity or better raw stuff than Stephenson, but he has struggled with his command. He spent parts of three seasons in Double-A, not something you like to see in any prospect’s development, and he had WHIPs of 1.38 and 1.30 in 2014 and 2015.
Stephenson will pitch for one of the worst teams in either league with a majority of his starts coming in one of the worst pitcher’s parks in baseball, the Great American Ball Park. So he starts with two strikes against him right out of the box. He has top of the rotation stuff that could provide above average strikeout totals if he can find a way to harness his command. He makes for an intriguing stream starter, with a chance to be a sneaky good rookie pitcher who is owned by almost nobody in Fantasy leagues right now.
Tim Cooney: St. Louis Cardinals, SP
Strengths: Above Average strikeout potential
Weaknesses: Mid-rotation starter
Cooney has slightly above average stuff from the left side that has resulted in fairly impressive strikeout totals. He doesn’t profile as an elite Fantasy pitcher, but he has the potential to strike out 150 batters per season.
It is a crowded path to starts and innings pitched in St. Louis, but there is a lot of injury risk in that rotation as well. He will be available in all leagues and worth a look if an opportunity develops. We are taking a deep dive prospect look here and he fits that description well. Cooney could total 140-150 strikeouts per season, which places a starting pitcher on the threshold of relevant versus afterthought; Cooney should be relevant when given the chance.
Brandon Drury: Arizona Diamondbacks, 3B/2B
Strengths: Power, On-base Percentage
Weaknesses: Position, Inconsistency
Drury makes a lot of contact that has resulted in good on-base percentages, and he has flashed raw power, albeit inconsistently in his minor league career. He profiles to be an above average offensive second baseman or a slightly below average Fantasy third baseman depending on where Arizona chooses to use him.
Scouts believe Drury is going to hit in the major leagues even though his minor league numbers haven’t been as consistent as you would like. It’s a crowded roster in Arizona, but if he does get an opportunity and qualifies at second base, he can be an effective waiver wire addition. Arizona is a great park for hitters and the Diamondbacks’ lineup is one of the better ones to be in.
Matt Olson: Oakland Athletics, OF/1B
Strengths: Power, Approach, On-Base Percentage
Weaknesses: Strikeouts, Defense
Olson has plus power and his approach draws an enormous number of walks. He has 77 home runs and 294 walks over his three previous minor league seasons. A significant amount of strikeouts could create a situation where his batting average is prohibitive, but his on-base percentage should be a plus that you don’t see from rookies very often.
It will take impressive production by a rookie to start at first base in Fantasy leagues, but if he can maneuver his way to outfield eligibility, his power, and on-base percentage would put him in serious consideration in deeper leagues.
Max Stassi: Houston Astros, C
Weaknesses: Contact, Approach
Stassi doesn’t have much of a plan at the plate and he struggles to make consistent contact, nothing new for a catcher, but he has above-average power for the position. His defense is average at best, which could limit his chances for full-time playing time, and he is currently the clear backup to Jason Castro.
Houston doesn’t seem to be an organization concerned with swings and misses, and they appear to love home runs, both good signs for Stassi. Jason Castro is injury prone and shouldn’t be a major roadblock to Stassi getting playing time if he performs, but it is very unlikely that he could steal the full-time job. He isn’t worth stashing, but if the playing time is there, Stassi can be a starting catcher in Fantasy.
Reymond Fuentes: Kansas City Royals, OF
Strengths: Speed and Batting Average
Weaknesses: Power and Opportunities
I wanted to get some speed on this list and while you won’t confuse Fuentes with Billy Hamilton or even teammates like Terrence Gore or Jarrod Dyson, his speed should be good for 25-30 stolen bases per season. Fuentes makes a lot of contact and has a .281 career minor league batting average, which would make him a relevant contributor in at least two categories if he were given the playing time. Fuentes could run into five or six home runs per season but it will never be a meaningful element of his Fantasy value. The Royals have a lot of speed and plus defenders clogging their outfield, so it will be difficult for Fuentes to earn the playing time he will need to be viable. But if he gets an opportunity to play, he could be on the fringes of starting in deeper leagues.