We are in the middle of Week 8 in the Fantasy Baseball season, and in Dynasty leagues, you should have a pretty good idea whether you are a pretender, a contender, a buyer or a seller. That means that you are either shopping your prospects or shopping for prospects.
With the great prospect flood of 2015, the minor leagues have become somewhat depleted of impact bats, which has elevated the rankings of some impressive pitching prospects, three in particular. If you are looking to add an impact major leaguer or looking to subtract one in a rebuild then Julio Urias, Lucas Giolito and Alex Reyes are the players to be named now. An argument can be made that Blake Snell or Tyler Glasnow deserve to be considered in this class, but in my evaluation, they are a tick below these three elite guys.
In Dynasty leagues, trading prospects is like stock manipulation; you need to have a feel for the ebbs and flows of the market to determine whether you should buy, sell or stick. These three elite potential aces have me in a tough spot as an analyst and put owners in a difficult position. When a prospect has elite potential and is on the verge of producing for Fantasy teams, you should be reluctant to trade them, but trading for one of these prospects or trading one of them away for an elite major leaguer is the fastest way to get where you want to go – a league championship – and so they have to be on the table and now is the time. Here is how to handle these top pitching prospects.
Julio Urias, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Urias has four plus pitches to go with plus command to both sides of the plate. He projects as a high-end SP2 with a chance to be that rare ace, and he is only 19 years old. He dominated every level of the minors, has already made a major league start and is scheduled for his second on Thursday. This kind of prospect profile would typically have Urias on my untouchable list, but there are durability concerns attached to Urias, and that’s why I recommend that owners attempt to sell him high.
He isn’t a skinny kid, if anything, at 215 lbs., he is a little heavy. But at 6-feet, with the kind of velocity be brings to the bump, there is a concern that he may not be able to handle a 200–inning workload. Top Fantasy aces are expected to show up every five days and pitch 210-220 innings with 200 or more strikeouts, and the history of shorter starters isn’t great. Scott Kazmir and Rich Harden both broke down, and while Sonny Gray has had two seasons of more than 200 innings pitched, he has had minor injuries in consecutive seasons and is showing some signs that durability could be a concern for him (I tried selling him this winter in my Dynasty leagues). Even Pedro Martinez had to be babied by the Red Sox in his prime years.
Urias has never missed a start due to injury, so concerns about his durability lack any actual evidence to justify them, but he has never pitched 90 innings in a season either, so there isn’t evidence to point to too say the concern is completely unfounded. In Dynasty leagues, a player’s value is determined by projections over the next 3-5 years, and for a teenager that the Dodgers are trying extremely hard to ease into their rotation, I am concerned that you won’t get the bang for your buck.
If you are going to trade a prospect of Urias’ stature, you need to be targeting top 25 players. This does not mean that you should expect to trade Julio Urias for Manny Machado or Mookie Betts or Max Scherzer or Chris Sale in a two–player swap. What it does mean is that a trade should be structured, in a fair way that ends with you receiving a top 25 Fantasy league player. This means that additional players will need to be added. Julio Urias and a prospect further away that has upside but also more development remaining, like Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Cody Reed or 3B/1B slugger Rafael Devers for Mookie Betts would make sense. Urias and a lesser prospect like Clint Frazier (a prospect I am high on) for Starling Marte is interesting as well.
It pains me to advocate this approach, but Julio Urias and his 6-foot body is a sell–high prospect in my view. It may take some patience because he didn’t show well in his major league debut against the New York Mets and next up are the hard-hitting Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, so it could get worse before it gets better. I am not suggesting that Urias is a player that you should be running from. Owners should not accept the best offer that comes along just to be rid of the phenom, but if an offer meets your demands and returns the kind of top major leaguer that an elite prospect justifies in exchange, you should seriously consider it. Urias owners should also be dipping their toes to see what kind of interest there is.
Alex Reyes, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
I have Reyes on my shoppable list because of both his weaknesses, that concern me quite a bit, and because of his strengths, which make him extremely enticing to other Fantasy owners.
Reyes’ fastball/slider two-pitch mix is the best in the minors, better than anything Urias or Giolito pump up there off the bump, but his command is almost as bad as any top prospect that I have ranked as high as he is ranked. He has 382 strikeouts, 145 walks and has only allowed nine home runs in 284 minor league innings pitched. Those kinds of numbers are ridiculous; they are video game numbers, but one of the three is a very bad number – the walks. Reyes has no idea where his pitches are going, and batters have almost no chance to hit them. To allow only nine home runs in slightly more than three seasons is unbelievable, but to walk more than a batter every other inning is extremely difficult to imagine from an elite major league starter.
His electric stuff has analysts and owners drooling, and if you look at his WHIP and ignore the underlying numbers you might not realize that there is significant reason for concern. So few batters make contact that his career WHIP of 1.26 isn’t bad, and at Double-A and Triple-A, he had WHIP’s of 1.13 and .93, suggesting if you don’t look closer, that he is improving his command when the reality is that he isn’t. He has walked 25 batters in 49.2 innings pitched at Double-A and Triple-A – a small sample size I realize, but with more innings and development time the command isn’t improving. This doesn’t mean that it won’t, but once a prospect reaches Triple-A and is a phone call away from the majors, I am reluctant to project significant improvement at the major league level, especially command. Ask Sean Newcomb owners. Improvement is possible, but it’s not the norm. These kinds of strikeouts and walks is the profile of a middle reliever like Dellin Betances, who walked 99 batters in 134.1 innings pitched in Double-A and Triple-A in 2012 and 70 walks in 126.1 innings pitched in 2011.
The more it looks like Reyes is going to be the next Dellin Betances rather than Danny Salazar, the less and less value you are going to find on the trade market, so shop him now and let someone else pay for the upside and take on the risk.
Reyes is back from suspension, his K/9 rate is as good as it has ever been in 15 innings at Triple-A, and he could be in St. Louis any day now. That’s your sales pitch, and that’s the steam behind his trade value. Add the fact that the stuff is filthy and owners shouldn’t have any trouble finding interest. Reyes is going to be a starter for at least two to three seasons because his stuff is too good, and he is too close to the majors, but in four to five years, we could see the next Betances rather than Salazar. For a prospect to justify untouchable status, they need to be extremely talented and close to contributing to your Fantasy team with minimal risk. Reyes’ command is troubling enough that it concerns me significantly enough to sell the risk at its peak value, which is now.
Owners should demand the same kind of talent in return that I outlined for Urias. A trade that is structured around a top 25 player, preferably a young one, that involves four to five players swapping sides in the exchange to ensure a fair trade.
Lucas Giolito, SP, Washington Nationals
If you were to create an elite pitching prospect from scratch, Giolito would be the end result. He has three plus-pitches and good command on its way to being plus, a durable pitchers’ frame and he is close to contributing to Fantasy teams. I don’t have the durability concerns with Giolito that I have with Urias even though he has already had Tommy John surgery or the command concerns that are impossible to ignore with Reyes and that is why Giolito is an untouchable.
No player should actually be untouchable, but owners shouldn’t be shopping him , and if trade discussions around Giolito arise, then aim high and don’t budge from your demands. This kid has the physical frame and the stuff to be a 230 inning, 220 strikeout, Justin Verlander-type ace, and those pitchers are rare and they carry Fantasy teams to championships. There isn’t a prospect in the minors with a ceiling as high as his to go along with the level of certainty that he will have at least an impact floor for Fantasy owners.
These kinds of elite prospects have the talent to kick start a conversation for elite Fantasy players like Bryce Harper, Betts and Machado, so don’t be afraid to aim high. The trade will need to involve more than just Reyes, Urias or Giolito, but it’s a starting point that could persuade a rebuilding owner to move the best that Fantasy baseball has to offer. Manipulate the momentum and the buzz surrounding these prospects, and if the price fits, don’t be afraid to pounce, or in the case of Giolito, walk away. Trading for or trading away prospects like these three are the fastest way to move your Dynasty league team in a championship direction and Week 8 is as good a time as any to make your move.