While breaking down the Top 100 Fantasy prospects in an attempt to get it down to a list of 50, I found that 31 of the top 50, and nine of my top ten were hitters. When you get beyond the top eight, 12 of the next 17 are pitchers. In this group of players the quality of the pitchers is high but most importantly, they are predictable, they are less risky. There are a few possible aces and they all have the potential to be SP2s with consistent 175 strikeout seasons.
In picks 25-50 you start to see a significant drop off in the ceilings of the pitchers along with a lot of high ceiling offensive players. The upside potential of the offensive players begins to outweigh and outrank the predictable, lower ceiling pitchers. The pitchers outside the top 25 are either SP3s or far enough away from the majors that it is difficult to confidently project their potential. The hitters have some flaws, but the potential to be impact Fantasy players is there.
1. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs
The Cardinal rule of Fantasy sports is that nobody is untouchable. A cardinal rule of life is that there are exceptions to every rule; rules were made to be broken. A good dynasty team has a constant influx of prospects to provide depth and longevity to the organization. That is why I have no problem with making elite prospects (“Core Franchise Prospects”, as I call them) untouchable as a standard operating procedure. Bryant is the only prospect I consider worthy of that designation because he is the only player that combines superstar potential with the level of certainty required to deserve being called untouchable.
No prospect is a certainty, but Bryant is as secure a bet as there is in the minor leagues right now. He dominated both Double-A and Triple-A so thoroughly that there is no justifiable on-the-field reason that he wasn’t promoted to the majors in July or August. In his last 174 games Bryant hit 52 home runs. Not only has he hit 40 home runs in a season – which is very rare in the minors – he batted .336 and .325 respectively while he did it. I don’t expect Bryant to bat over .300 in the majors, but for him to do it in the minors shows how easily he handled his time there.
Bryant’s strikeout rate (197Ks in 174 games) is his only weakness, but he shouldn’t have trouble batting .270 as a pro. The only other potential knocks are that he doesn’t run well and he may land in the outfield rather than third base where his 40 homers would play a lot more nicely.
Projected Fantasy Stats: 35-40 HRs, .270 BA/.370 OBP
Comparable Player: Evan Longoria (with more power)
2. Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs
Baez’ bat speed is jaw dropping but his overly aggressive approach makes him susceptible to good breaking pitches. Entering 2014, Baez was my number one overall prospect because of his 40 home run, 20 stolen base potential ceiling, and because he is likely to end up at second base. That kind of power/speed combination is extremely rare in the middle of the diamond and justifies moving him further up my rankings. Baez dropped a notch to number two because of how dominant Kris Bryant was this season and because of his struggle to make consistent contact in Triple-A this season. Baez will be a dominant offensive force but after three or four seasons the stolen bases will fall off. Without the speed aspect to his game, Baez profiles similar to Pedro Alvarez offensively. A lot of power, inconsistent stretches due to his overly aggressive approach and .240-.250 batting averages that are a potential drain on a Fantasy team. There is no comparable player at the second base position. He is a beast of a middle infield presence.
Projected Fantasy Stats: 30 HRs, 15 SBs, .250 BA/.350 OBP
Comparable Player: Pedro Alvarez (with steals and better BA)
3. Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Of all the prospects on this list, Buxton has the highest upside of any of them. Some scouts believe he is a 30-35 home run, 50 steal superstar that will win gold gloves in centerfield. That is Mike Trout territory and that is part of my problem with the hype surrounding Buxton. The hype is enormous and it is based mostly on his tools and has very little statistical evidence to justify the projections.
Buxton is 20 years old (he turns 21 in December), has played in three minor league seasons – shortened by periodic injuries – and he has yet to put up impressive power numbers. He has played only 30 games in High-A and one game in Double-A, the proving ground for prospects. Double-A performance is significantly more important when you are evaluating a prospect than any other level and Buxton hasn’t played there yet. Some players that are interesting to examine in comparison to Buxton: Bryce Harper turns 22 in October and has played 257 games in the majors; Mike Trout just turned 23 a week ago, is in his fourth major league season, has played 336 major league games and arguably should have three MVP awards when this season ends.
If Byron Buxton has that kind of superstar potential then it is developing much slower than similar superstars. He stole 55 bases once and hit 12 home runs in 125 games as a career high. Buxton has also struggled off and on with contact. He batted .248 over 48 games in 2012, .334 over 125 games in 2013, and .234 over 31 games in 2014. Watching him on the field, it is easy to see why analysts are in awe of his talents, but I need to see more production and at least some dominance. Kris Bryant completely owned Double-A and Triple-A this season. Joey Gallo dominated High-A but struggled in Double-A which is why, instead of being in my top 10, he fell into the middle teens.
The athleticism is extremely exciting but I am much less aggressive about Buxton’s ceiling. He is an obvious top five prospect and he’ll be a Fantasy all-star, but one with a 20-25 home run ceiling. That is still very impressive but would be a disappointment compared to what scouts currently project. Buxton is a sell high prospect right now. Either way, he is the third best Fantasy prospect in baseball.
Projected Fantasy Stats: 15-20 HRs, 40 SBs, .275 BA/. 330 OBP
Comparable Player: Alex Rios/Starling Marte.
4. Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
Maikel Franco is the first difficult decision in the rankings; the deciding factor was his projected position, third base, a position that is a disaster in Fantasy baseball right now. Adrian Beltre is aging, Ryan Zimmerman may lose third base eligibility in some leagues and David Wright looks like a shell of his former self. Power is rare at the hot corner in the majors but there is a lot of potential in the minors, and Franco is the second best of the bunch behind Bryant.
Franco has the potential to be a prototypical third baseman in the old school sense of the term. He has 30 home run power with a chance to bat .270-.280, but he doesn’t run a lick, which should keep him out of the outfield and at the hot corner. It also means that eventually he transitions across the diamond, after 4-5 seasons I project.
Franco started 2014 as a highly touted prospect but he struggled mightily to start the season. He gave Fantasy owners a chance to buy low only to re-assert himself as a top tier prospect when he caught fire in July and August. You would like to see more walks but it is not something that will limit his home run totals or his ability to produce at the major league level. The cost to trade for Franco will be high this winter, but with his kind of power at third base I would think long and hard about paying the price.
Projected Fantasy Stats: 30 HRs, .270 BA/.340 OBP
Comparable Player: Ryan Zimmerman
5. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Pederson had one of the great all around minor league seasons in 2014, threes and zeroes all around. He mashed 33 home runs, stole 30 bases and batted .303. Entering 2014, there were some concerns about his ability to hit left-handed pitching but he hit lefties better than righties in Triple-A this season, putting that concern on the backburner.
While Pederson went 30/30 this year, he is more of a 25/25, .280 bat in the majors. Pederson’s game is more well-rounded than Franco’s but the added power and more valuable Fantasy position is why Franco is ranked fourth and Pederson fifth.
Pederson was ready for the majors in July of 2014 and could be wasted in Triple-A to start the 2015 season. In his prime seasons he could be a Carlos Gonzalez type talent with stats adjusted for not playing in Coors.
Projected Fantasy Stats: 25 HR’s, 25 SB’s, .280 BA/.340 OBP
Comparable Player: Carlos Gonzalez (stays healthy/Lower BA)
6. Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs
This is where things start to get a little tricky in the rankings. Soler is a top tier talent but there is rawness and projection to his game, something Pederson and Oscar Taveras (8) do not have. You can call it potential or you could call it risk. As a Cuban defector, Soler played only 139 games before being promoted to the majors, where he has already hit five home runs in 12 games while batting .361.
Soler’s physical talents are immense. He has 30-plus home run power and incredible bat speed to go with great plate coverage and a plus hit tool. Combine all of that with well above average athleticism and you have an elite offensive talent. On the raw side, he is an aggressive swinger that doesn’t walk much and he has above average speed that he has yet to use on the bases.
I don’t expect Soler to be a legitimate base stealer but he could steal enough to be comparable to a player like Justin Upton or Adam Jones. I can see 25-30 homers, 35 or more in his best years, and 12-16 stolen bases while hitting between .280 and .300. If he can combine his raw tools with an intelligent approach and some plate discipline then he could become a Fantasy MVP. It is also possible that pitchers exploit his aggressive approach and limit his potential but I don’t expect that to be the case. His bat speed, hit tool and plate coverage is too good.
Projected Fantasy Stats: 25-30 HRs, 5-10 SB’s, .290 BA/330 OBP
Comparable Player: Adam Jones
7. Oscar Taveras – [UPDATE] – Taveras passed away in a tragic car accident in his native country Dominican Republic on October 26, 2104
8. Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs
Russell shouldn’t be ranked quite this high but it is consistent with the industry. He’s shown flashes of plus tools and the field production to be a well-rounded Fantasy middle infielder. He has 37 home runs, 43 steals and a career .300 batting average in 233 minor league games. Because of his youth, the possibility that he could have broken camp with the A’s to start 2014, and the buzz that surrounded the blockbuster Jeff Samardzija trade, Russell’s stock has continued to rise.
Russell projects to be a 20 home run, 15-20 steal, .280 hitter. His value exponentially increases because he is a surefire shortstop. These offensive numbers are rare for a guy that will play shortstop his entire career. The one bothersome thing about ranking Russell this high is that when you look at his potential numbers, Russell doesn’t project to be much better than fellow Cub, Starlin Castro. And yet, he is universally considered a Top 20 prospect and by most accounts, a Top 10 Fantasy prospect.
Projected Fantasy Stats: 20 HRs, 15-20 SBs, .280 BA/.340 OBP
Comparable Player: Ian Desmond
9. Lucas Giolito, SP, Washington Nationals
Giolito has the least minor league experience and has moved through fewer stages of development than any prospect in the Top 25, but his huge potential justifies it. Projection is more trustworthy with pitchers than hitters. Hitters can project plus raw power that never shows up in games or they can have weaknesses that get exploited by better pitchers at higher levels, but 98 mph fastballs and hammer curveballs don’t go away when they advance up the ranks.
Giolito is one of two potential young aces in the Top 25. There are a lot of very good pitchers ranked behind Giolito, but aces are rare. An ace needs above average command to go with a difference maker fastball and swing and miss breaking pitch. Giolito has two of the best pitches in the minor leagues. His fastball touches as high as 100 mph on the gun. He also has the makings of a plus changeup that we should see more of as he moves through Double-A and Triple-A.
Giolito had Tommy John surgery shortly after being drafted and has been brought along cautiously so far. He’s thrown just 136.2 innings in 32 starts over three seasons. The Nationals are expected to cut him loose in 2015. We could see him as a late season promotion or a September call up, but it’s more than likely that Giolito will be a June 2016 promotion.
Projected Fantasy Stats: 230 Ks, 2.50 ERA/1.10 WHIP
Comparable Player: 2014 Corey Kluber with upside (check out his 2014)
10. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins
Sano is a lot like Philadelphia Phillies third baseman of the future Maikel Franco who ranks 4th on this list. Sano also has the potential to be a throwback power hitting third baseman. He walks more and has slightly more power than Franco but he will play in a pitchers park in Minnesota and due to Tommy John surgery is coming off a lost year in 2014. The lost year is why Sano dropped slightly in these rankings.
He doesn’t run well but his defense and cannon of an arm is good enough to keep him at third for the long haul. Sano is likely to start 2015 in Double-A. If he handles Double-A like he did in 2013 then a promotion to Triple-A after 50-60 games followed by a major league call up in August or September is the development path Fantasy owners should be hoping for in 2015. If there is a buy low opportunity in Sano, now is the time. He hasn’t done anything to diminish his value in Fantasy leagues but because of his absence from baseball in 2014 there isn’t the buzz surrounding him that most of the top prospects have. Sano could be coming off a 35 home run season, a September call-up to Minnesota and a top five prospect ranking this time next year. He has to be cheaper this winter than next and that is pretty close to the definition of buying low.
Projected Fantasy Stats: 30 HRs, .270 Ba/.355 OBP
Comparable Player: Ryan Zimmerman