In Fantasy Baseball offense is king and rankings 1-10 are filled with high ceiling, difference maker hitters that, aside from Lucas Giolito and maybe Addison Russell, should contribute to your Fantasy teams in 2015. Unless a pitcher is projected to be the next Clayton Kershaw, and Lucas Giolito projects to potentially be that good, then high upside position players ready for full time major league at bats will always rank higher than pitchers. That’s the fact of Fantasy life.
Rankings 11-20 are where the pitchers start to flex their muscles. We have a “sky is the limit” young lefty, who is banging on the Top 10 threshold, as well as a bushel of talented arms that all should contribute to Fantasy teams in 2015. Sprinkled in you have a potential superstar at shortstop, one of the most powerful hitters in all of baseball, and a five category Fantasy contributor with the potential added bonus of multi-position eligibility.
All of the pitchers in this tier of the rankings have the potential to be SP2s. Four are right handed and three are lefties (my preference when ranking comparable pitching prospects). Two of the three hitters are extremely talented infielders with just enough question marks to knock them outside of the Top 10, while the third has very few flaws in his game but has a slightly lower ceiling than the others.
11. Archie Bradley, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Bradley pitched well in spring training and almost broke camp with the 2014 Diamondbacks. But things went downhill from there, and instead of breaking camp in the majors, he never made it there at all. He had some elbow and command issues early on that limited him to just 82.2 innings, a 4.45 ERA a 1.51 WHIP.
That lowered Bradley’s stock to make him a buy low prospect. Bradley lacks a nasty third pitch and the plus command that would make him a potential ace; otherwise, he is everything you want from a top Fantasy prospect. He has a sturdy, 6’4”, 235 lb. frame, two plus pitches that are good enough to expect 180-200-plus strikeout seasons, and he should throw at least 150 innings in the majors in 2015.
Bradley’s 2014 stumble isn’t reason for concern as long as he holds his own in the Arizona Fall league and follows up with an acceptable Spring Training. Assuming that, you can expect 170-180 innings, 150-160 strikeouts and an ERA around 4.00 in the majors in 2015. If he struggles in Arizona or spring training then we need to start re-evaluating and re-projecting Mr. Bradley’s future.
2015 Projections: 180 innings/160-170Ks/4.00 ERA/1.30 WHIP
Projected Career Fantasy Stats: SP2-3/ 185-200 Ks/ 3.40 ERA/1.25 WHIP
Comparable Player: Matt Latos
12. Julio Urias, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Urias gets his fastball up into the high 90s with a plus-plus breaking ball and an above average changeup to go with plus command – extremely impressive for a pitcher that turned 18 years old in August. He has the stuff you need to be that rare ace. Other pluses going for Urias – he is left handed, will pitch in the National League in a great pitcher’s park and he could arrive as early as 2016, before he is old enough to drink. That kind of upside this close to the majors at that young age, makes Urias as valuable as any prospect in Fantasy baseball right now.
Urias is a short and stocky lefty (5’11”, 160 lbs.), who has yet to throw seven innings in a single start, more than 90 innings in a season or a single pitch above High-A.
Urias could break down because his slight, stocky frame can’t handle the 200 inning per year workload of a Fantasy ace. Or, he could prove that he can handle it. He could also end up somewhere in the middle like Scott Kazmir; a few seasons of dominance followed by several partial seasons marked by injuries. We just have no idea and no reason to confidently predict either outcome. Even if he proves to be less than a SP2 he will still be at least a 200 inning, SP3/4. This time next year I expect to see Urias as a Top 3 prospect but in 2014 he ranks 12th, one slot behind Bradley.
2015 Projections: Starts in High-A, Finishes in Double-A/125-135 innings/155k’s
Projected Career Fantasy Stats: SP1-2/ 200 inning/220K’s, 2.80 ERA/1.18 WHIP
Comparable Player: Gio Gonzalez/Matt Moore hybrid
13. Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers
Gallo was originally ranked seventh overall. In fact, if you read the original posting for rankings 1-10, Gallo was ranked seventh. In retrospect, there are some things about Gallo’s came that led to a change in his ranking. Gallo has immense 40-plus home run power and will play third base in Texas’ friendly hitter’s park; his power makes his extremely high strikeout rate acceptable. Kris Bryant has a similar high strikeout rate and it doesn’t bother me at all. What is concerning about Gallo is his approach at the plate and his low walk rate.
In 2013 in Low-A, he struck out 165 times with only 48 walks in 106 games. Heading in to 2014 the question was whether he would show improved plate discipline and pitch recognition. At the beginning of 2014 in High-A, Gallo struck out 64 times with 51 walks in 58 games but had a .323 batting average, a significant improvement. It led analysts to believe he had turned a major corner in his development and Gallo exploded up the top prospect lists as a result. Some even speculated that Gallo could make it to the majors in 2014. Slow your roll ladies and gentlemen. After he was promoted to Double-A, the true proving ground for prospects, Gallo regressed back to his old ways. He struck out 115 times with only 36 walks in 68 games and compiled a .232 batting average. Gallo hit 21 home runs at both levels, so it is clear that the home runs are going to be there. His floor is pretty clear, 35-45 home runs with batting averages in the .240 range. The question now is, what is Gallo’s ceiling? Can he hit .270, walk at a high rate and become a Fantasy MVP? We heard these questions about Adam Dunn early in his major league career. Currently, the thinking is that he cannot make the adjustments at the higher levels, thus his ranking was dropped here to 13th overall.
A 35-45 home run, .240 batting third baseman is more valuable than Carlos Correa if he lands at third base, but he isn’t a Fantasy MVP with those numbers. If Gallo can maintain the batting eye he showed at High-A then he could hit 50 home runs, be a Fantasy MVP and have multiple seasons like the one Chris Davis had in 2013. If he continues to strike out at high rates without an improved approach at the plate, then we are looking at Pedro Alvarez with more power. That is a nice Fantasy player but significantly less valuable than Chris Davis circa 2013. Gallo will have multiple 40 home run seasons that probably start as early as 2016. That kind of power is sorely lacking in Fantasy Baseball, and at third base he is even more valuable.
2015 Projections: Starts in Double-A, Finishes w/ Sept. call up to Texas.
Projected Career Fantasy Stats: 40-plus HRs, .240 BA/.340 OBP
Comparable Player: Pedro Alvarez
14. Carlos Correa, SS/3B, Houston Astros
Correa has the potential to be the next Fantasy superstar. If he reaches his ceiling, Correa projects to be a 25-30 home run middle of the order hitter with a .290-.300 batting average at shortstop. The reason why he is ranked at 14 rather than among the Top 5 is the doubt surrounding his future position and his lack of experience and development in the minors.
Correa has good defensive instincts, an elite throwing arm and good enough feet to move both his left and right, which could make him a Gold Glove third baseman. However, as a 20-year-old he is already 6’4” and 205 lbs. Troy Tulowitzki is 6’3”, 215 lbs., which would make Correa one of the biggest shortstops we have seen since Cal Ripken or Alex Rodriguez. Some scouts believe his athleticism and dexterity will allow him to stay in the middle infield, but I project a move to the corner.
If Correa can stay at shortstop his only peers would be Troy Tulowitzki (2014 ADP of 16) and Ian Desmond (2014 ADP of 33), and he would rank higher than Cubs prospect Addison Russell. If he has to move to third base, he projects to have less power than Evan Longoria, less speed than David Wright in his prime and comparable overall numbers to Ryan Zimmerman (2014 ADP of 64 and over-drafted there). Correa has the best raw power of any minor league shortstop, but significantly less than third base prospects Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo, and slightly less than Miguel Sano or Maikel Franco, albeit with a better hit tool. Defense isn’t a category in any league, but it certainly has value in Fantasy sports and it is the difference between being ranked Top 5 and Top 15.
Correa also fell in the rankings because he has yet to have a dominant season in the minors (nine home runs is his career high), and he hasn’t yet been challenged by Double-A competition. There is still too much projection and not enough production in his profile to warrant a Top 10 ranking. Next year will be a proving year for Correa. Houston will likely keep him at SS regardless of whether he eventually moves to third base or not, so how he handles Double-A pitching is what Fantasy owners need to watch. If Correa is to become the superstar some analysts believe he can be, then we should see him start 2015 by dominating High-A, followed by a promotion after 40-50 games to Double-A, where he sustains his power while holding his own in batting average. If we see that and scouts report positively on his defense, then he could be the top overall prospect this time next year. If he struggles, or the power numbers don’t improve, or he starts to look more like a third baseman than a shortstop, then his prospect stock will lose some steam.
2015 Projections: Starts in High-A, finishes w/ Sept Call up to Houston.
Projected Fantasy Stats: 23-27 HRs, .290 batting average/.340 OBP
Projected Fantasy Position: Third Base
Comparable Player: Ryan Zimmerman
15. Andrew Heaney, SP, Miami Marlins
Heaney has been a prospect that Fantasy owners expected big things from for what feels like forever. Because of that, there is some prospect fatigue surrounding him. His value has dropped solely because he didn’t make the major leagues as fast as owners expected and not because of how he has pitched. There is a buy low opportunity here.
Heaney is 6’2”, 185 pounds and offers two plus pitches (fastball/slider) and an above average changeup with well above average velocity for a lefty. He has a career minor league ERA of 2.77, WHIP of 1.14 and 262 strikeouts in 259 innings. He has the benefit of being left-handed, pitching in a league without the designated hitter and working in one of the friendliest pitcher’s parks in all of baseball. What is there not to like? Well, his 5.83 major league ERA and 1.33 WHIP is one, but that’s a sample of only 29.1 innings. There is no reason for owners to be frustrated, but ask around your league, I bet he can be had.
Heaney was taken in the first round of the same 2012 draft class as fellow college pitchers Mark Appel, Kevin Gausman, Michael Wacha and Marcus Stroman. Wacha has established himself as a tier two Fantasy pitcher. Stroman emerged as a Fantasy factor in 2014. Gausman has pitched in the majors for two years (primarily as a reliever), but he has some lofty expectations placed on him for 2015, while Appel has plummeted down prospect lists. Heaney ranks second behind Wacha on this list in my opinion, but you will find that most Fantasy owners would rank him closer to fourth.
Heaney should break camp in the up and coming Marlins rotation. Look at Zack Wheeler’s 2014 season with the Mets, expect fewer strikeouts as well as fewer walks and a better WHIP, and that’s what you should get from Andrew Heaney in 2015.
2015 Projections: 180 innings/165Ks/3.70 ERA/1.28 WHIP
Projected Career Fantasy Stats: SP2-3/200 inning/195K’s, 3.30 ERA/1.25 WHIP
Comparable Player: Jon Lester w/lower peak years
16. Henry Owens, SP, Boston Red Sox
Owens has an above average fastball that only sits at 92-93 MPH, but it plays up because batters have a hard time picking it up out of his hand. He combines that with a plus changeup, but makes Owens so intriguing is his curveball. It is inconsistent, but when it’s on it makes Owens unhittable. He has the potential to be a dominant SP2 like Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee, if he can consistently throw the dominant version of his breaking ball. His floor is as a SP3.
Owens has received more fanfare than Andrew Heaney because of his dominance over the last two years, but they project closely as Fantasy SP2/SP3s. Both pitchers are left-handed with plus fastballs (Owens due to deception in his delivery) and secondary stuff. Owens has a higher ceiling and a little bit more risk of flaming out. Owens will have to deal his way through the AL East in Fenway and the Green monster. I would rather have Owens’ upside in my major league organization, but Heaney is more likely to have the better Fantasy numbers.
The Red Sox head in to the 2014/2015 offseason with major needs in the rotation, and how they address them at the winter meetings will determine when we see Owens. With only 38 innings pitched above Double-A, Owens could start 2015 in Triple-A followed by a July promotion. However, if the Sox strike out in free agency and in the trade market, then a strong spring training could have Owens in Boston pretty quickly as part of their starting rotation.
2015 Projections: 100-120 MLB innings/100-110Ks/4.20 ERA/1.35 WHIP
Projected Career Fantasy Stats: SP2/200 inning/195Ks, 3.60 ERA/1.25 WHIP
Comparable Player: Cole Hamels (ceiling)/ Jon Lester
17. Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners
Taijuan Walker is another victim of prospect fatigue. If he was an emerging prospect, owners would be busting at the seams about his electric arm and plus breaking stuff, instead of the fact that he only threw 38 innings in the majors in 2014.
Walker is scheduled to throw 30 innings in the Arizona Fall League and that will give prospect watchers a fascinating glimpse to evaluate. If he can dominate in the All Star format with some elite prospect talent, it could rejuvenate Walker’s reputation and elevate him back to elite status. There is no shame attached to being ranked the 17th overall prospect in baseball, but his arm and stuff deserves a higher rank. At his best, Walker would rank as the third best pitcher in the minors behind Giolito and Urias. However, a few stumbles have my confidence and excitement down slightly. He ranks as the sixth best pitching prospect on this list.
Projecting forward, if Walker struggles in the Arizona Fall league then he becomes a buy low opportunity to target, or a talented prospect that his owners have to sit on until he resuscitates his reputation. If he can dominate Arizona and then lights up spring training, then he could be a SP2 on the rise, or potentially, a sell high opportunity. His pure stuff has always excited owners but his command issues have always been something of a concern. Walker has ace strikeout numbers – 491 strikeouts in 454 innings – but he has a less than dominant ERA of 3.75 and a WHIP of 1.23. Good numbers, but not major league ace numbers when you adjust them against major league competition.
Zack Wheeler circa 2014 is a good young pitcher to use as a comparison for all of the prospects that should make the majors early in 2015. Walker has better stuff, similar command issues and will pitch in a tougher league. His 2015 projections reflect the necessary adjustment for that. Walker has a higher ceiling and could be better than Wheeler was in 2014 if everything clicks, but it would take a Rookie of the Year caliber campaign to do it. Walker’s live arm and nasty breaking stuff compare favorably to Julio Teheran, A.J. Burnett and early Matt Cain with a higher ceiling. Cain stopped throwing his 12/6 swing-and-miss curveball and went to a heavy amount of fastballs and cutters because of his trouble commanding the breaking ball. Walker can’t survive doing that in the American League, but there are concerns he could continue to have command issues.
2015 Projections: 160-180 MLB innings/170Ks/3.90 ERA/1.40 WHIP
Projected Career Fantasy Stats: SP2/ 200 inning/200Ks/3.40 ERA/1.30 WHIP
Comparable Player: Matt Cain (2006)/A.J. Burnett
18. Dylan Bundy, SP, Baltimore Orioles
Bundy’s raw stuff and minor league numbers are filthy (2.24 ERA/ 1.03 WHIP/156Ks in 145 innings). His fastball routinely sits 95-plus; he has a plus cutter, a strikeout breaking ball and his changeup is developing into a fourth plus pitch. That combination of skills and numbers makes Bundy a potential ace, but Tommy John surgery in 2013 has cooled the buzz surrounding him.
Bundy turns 22 next month and he has already pitched in the major leagues, which is even more remarkable considering he missed a year for TJ surgery. He is only 6’1”, 195 lbs., but that makes him two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than A’s bulldog Sonny Gray – who had a 3.08 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 183 strikeouts in 219 inning in 2015.
The two biggest criteria used to determine a prospects value is their ceiling and how close to the majors they are. Bundy has already been in the majors, projects to pitch significant innings in Baltimore in 2015, and has four plus pitches and the athleticism to feel confident he can dominate major league lineups. The reduced buzz around him presents an opportunity to get a future ace at a very reasonable price. Mark him as a priority acquisition this winter, because 12 months from now he could be untouchable.
The way Baltimore has handled Kevin Gausman makes predicting Bundy’s 2015 difficult. Do they start Bundy in Double-A (very cautious approach) or Triple-A (a reasonable starting point), or does he break camp in an Orioles rotation that could use some ace stuff (an aggressive move)? The Orioles are likely to handle Bundy something similar to how the Blue Jays handled Marcus Stroman in 2014. He’ll pitch in relief in late June or July before he’s eased into the rotation when the games get meaningful in August and September.
2015 Projections: 70 MLB innings (20 in relief/50 as a starter/65Ks/3.70 ERA/1.20 WHIP
Projected Career Fantasy Stats: SP2/200 inning/200Ks, 3.20 ERA/1.18 WHIP
Comparable Player: Sonny Gray (with a higher ceiling)
19. Mookie Betts, 2B/OF, Boston Red Sox
Betts started 2013 in High-A as an unranked undersized prospect (5’9”, 155lbs.) with good baseball skills. As of now, he is a double-digit homer, double-digit steal, .300-plus hitting utility man and one of the most sought after trade chips in baseball. Baseball America didn’t even rank Betts in their Red Sox Top 30 prospects list heading in to 2013. He was ranked seventh in their 2014 rankings, and he would rank second behind Henry Owens if we did those rankings today.
In 2013, Betts hit 15 home runs and stole 38 bases while batting .314 with a .417 OBP in High-A. Fluke right? In 2014, Betts was tested against Double-A competition and he continued to improve. He hit 16 home runs and stole 40 bases between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors. Betts also batted .346 in the minors and .291 in the majors with OBPs of .431 and .368, while changing positions from second base to centerfield. Betts is one of those prospects, like Dustin Pedroia, with the ability to make consistently good hard contact. This allows him to out-produce projections that are based almost entirely on a player’s size.
Betts ranks here because of doubts about his ceiling. He doesn’t project to be an elite producer in any of the cornerstone Fantasy categories – home runs and stolen bases. He projects to max out at 20 home runs and he is more likely to hit closer to 12-15 a year. He doesn’t project to steal 40 bases in a season and he is more likely to steal 25-30 in his peak years. What he does do extremely well is hit and get on base, and that is why I like him so much. Betts has a career minor league batting average of .315 with an OBP of .408; amazing, considering he is not a power hitting prospect.
If the Sox hadn’t overpaid Dustin Pedroia, then Mookie Betts would be a future star second baseman, launching doubles off of and homers over the Green Monster at Fenway. If the Sox hadn’t signed Rusney Castillo this fall, then Betts would be the 15 HR/25 SB leadoff hitting centerfielder that die hard Sox fans fooled themselves into believing Jackie Bradley could, but never will be. As things stand now, it is difficult to know where Betts plays and whom he plays for. The Sox are desperate for pitching help and middle of the order bats, and Betts is the first name you hear about in any and all trade rumors involving the Red Sox.
Betts’ skill set is comparable to Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Desmond Jennings. But unlike Jennings, Betts earns his hype with production, while Jennings was based on projection and potential. Jennings has been a Fantasy disappointment, while Mookie is a safe bet to be an above average five-category contributor. I would like to be aggressive and predict Betts could be Jacoby Ellsbury, but the elite 50-60 stolen base ability isn’t there.
2015 Projections: 10 HRs/25 SBs/.280 batting average/.330 OBP
Projected Career Stats: 13-15 HRs/25 SBs/.295 BA/.350 OBP
Projected Fantasy Position: Utility 2B/OF.
Comparable Player: Starling Marte (lower ceiling/higher probability of success)
20. Robert Stephenson, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Stephenson and Twins prospect Alex Meyer are two of the least appreciated prospects in the minors right now. Stephenson has everything you want from a frontline starter without the “prospect love” that Archie Bradley and Taijuan Walker have received at times in their careers. He has a 6’3”, 195 lb. frame, 95-plus MPH velocity, a nasty swing-and-miss curveball and the makings of a plus changeup. In 316 minor league innings, he has a dominant 348 strikeouts. Stephenson has a career ERA of 3.79 with a WHIP of 1.24. All of those are better than Matt Harvey’s minor league numbers, to give you a frame of reference. I am not saying Stephenson projects to be an ace, because he does not; but he deserves more hype than he gets.
On the negative side of the ledger, Stephenson’s fastball has plus velocity but lacks movement with only average command. The Reds rotation was full in 2014, but Stephenson didn’t exactly force the Reds to consider promoting him. In 136.2 Double-A innings, he had an ERA of 4.74, a WHIP of 1.38, and his home run rate rose to 1.3 HR/9 while his groundball rate plummeted, all career-worsts.
Because of his struggles at Double-A in both 2013 and 2014, we could see him start 2015 at Double-A, which Fantasy owners can only interpret as a step backwards in his development. I would have liked to see Stephenson pitch in the Arizona Fall league this year (like Seattle is doing with Taijuan Walker), but he won’t. I can’t help but wonder if the Reds have some concerns about how a poor showing could affect Stephenson’s confidence.
How much Stephenson contributes to Fantasy owners in 2015 is entirely up to him. If he pitches to his potential in April, he could be a July promotion and make an impact in the majors in the second half. If he continues to struggle against advanced prospects, then Fantasy owners will have to downgrade him and possibly consider whether a change to the bullpen is a possibility. That is a worst-case scenario, but to struggle in three different seasons at Double-A or above would be reason for significant concern. Rubby De La Rosa circa 2014, with a statistical adjustment for pitching in the NL, is a potential scenario for Stephenson in 2015.
2015 Projections: 100 innings/70Ks/4.20 ERA/1.40 WHIP
Projected Career Fantasy Stats: SP2/3/200 innings/190Ks/3.60 ERA/1.25 WHIP
Comparable Player: Matt Garza (good)/ Luke Hochevar (bad)