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December 13, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Seven Hitting Prospects on the Rise

by Ben Carsley

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If you’ve been reading Baseball Prospectus’ outstanding Transaction Analysis series, you’ll know that the BP Fantasy team chimes in on every move as well. We think this is a great way to bring our fantasy readers information throughout the offseason, rather than flooding them with opinions come spring, and if we’re being honest, it’s just good fun, too.

Something we pride ourselves on is analyzing not only the players dealt or signed in a transaction, but on talking about every relevant player who might be impacted. You’d be surprised at just how often non-moving pieces are more deeply affected than their dynamic counterparts.

This is especially true of fantasy-relevant prospects, who’s entire perceived 2014 value can live and die with a single transaction. How many dynasty owners are thrilled to own Nick Franklin right now? How many more people now want to own Tyler Skaggs?

With that in mind, let’s take a look at seven hitting prospects who’ve seen a nice boost in value this offseason, even if they’ve remained stationary through all the Hot Stove madness.

Jurickson Profar, 2B, Rangers
Profar was a solid choice for best prospect in baseball last season, but many of us cautioned against rating him as highly for fantasy purposes right away. Thanks to the combo of Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus in front of him, Profar received just a sporadic 324 PA in the majors in 2013 and limped his way to a .234/.308/.336 line as a result.

There were plenty of rumors that Texas was going to trade Profar this offseason— to Tampa Bay for David Price, to Miami for Giancarlo Stanton, or elsewhere—but it was Kinsler who got the boot instead. That leaves Profar with nothing in front of him in 2014, and while he receives a slight drop in value from playing 2B instead of SS, he still has top-15 middle infielder upside. I wouldn’t expect him to reach that status quite yet, but if Profar hits close to .300 with 15 homers and 10 steals, no one would be surprised. If his poor performance last year takes some of the shine off Profar and makes him more affordable in drafts this season, all the better.

Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals
It’s so rare for a common-sense baseball move to pan out exactly the way we all expect it to these days. For months now, many baseball fans figured that the Cardinals might save some money and make room for a good prospect at the same time by dealing David Freese and sliding Matt Carpenter to third. Sure enough, Freese now finds himself a member of the Angels, clearing the way at second base for Wong.

It’s fashionable to point out that Wong is not an elite prospect, and that’s just as true for fantasy as it is in real life. But there’s a pretty wide range between elite and irrelevant, and Wong is a good candidate to settle in to a long career as a top-15 2B option. It would be nice to see him walk more, but if Wong does bat near the top of St. Louis’ potent order, expect a bevy of runs to go along with a respectable average, 8-10 homers and 15-plus steals.

Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Red Sox
While everyone else on this list is a beneficiary of a move their organization did make this offseason, Bradley sees a bump in value thanks to a move his team didn’t make: resigning Jacoby Ellsbury. That makes Bradley a near lock to begin the season as Boston’s starting center fielder, where he’ll look to redeem himself after a poor MLB showing in 2013.

Bradley is a much, much better MLB prospect than he is a fantasy one. Double-digit homers are within his reach, but he’s not going to hit for a ton power, he’s not going to steal a ton of bases and he gets on base more via the walk than he does via a high average. That being said, Bradley is still fully capable of hitting in excess of .270, and he’s a candidate to score 80-plus runs if he gets 500 PA this season. Bradley gets a huge boost in OBP leagues, as he’s going to routinely reach base at a .350 clip or better.

Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, Tigers
This should reinforce how great the Kinsler/Prince Fielder swap was for just about every player involved from a fantasy perspective. Castellanos was likely to see some playing time in 2014 even before the trade, but it probably would’ve come in the outfield and his playing time probably would’ve been reduced thanks to Andy Dirks. That’s not a receipe for fantasy success.

But now, Castellanos will likely be the starting third baseman for arguably the best offense in baseball. Unless he tanks in Spring Training, there’s no reason to think he won’t get at least 500 PA next year. While there’s an argument to be had over how much power he’ll hit for in the majors, no one really doubts that he will hit, and even a .270 average with 15 homers, and 70 or so runs and RBI would make Castellanos quite relevant in standard leagues. I wouldn’t draft him as my starting 3B just yet, but I certainly would draft him.

Josmil Pinto, C, Twins
Is Pinto the luckiest prospect in the game? He’s blocked by a future Hall of Famer, but then that Hall of Famer moves to first base. His team is linked to nearly every second-tier free agent catcher, but they don’t sign any of them. And now, his competition for playing time behind the plate is Ryan Doumit. I want to rub Josmil Pinto’s head before I play the lottery and no that’s not creepy at all.

On to Pinto himself: despite not being particularly well known even in dynasty circles last year, the 24-year-old put himself on the map with an outstanding campaign in Double-A and Triple-A, eventually earning 83 PA in the majors. While high BABIPs lead to some cause for concern, Pinto clearly has some pop in his bat and certainly has enough offensive upside to be relevant for fantasy purposes. He’s a sneaky-good second catcher option for those of you who play in god-forsaken leagues that start two catchers.

Adam Eaton, OF, White Sox
2013 did not go as planned for Eaton. After a stellar 2012 that had many viewing Eaton as the favorite to start everyday in center field for the D-Backs, Eaton received just 277 PA last season in an injury-plagued, ineffective campaign. Trapped behind the likes of Martin Prado, Gerardo Parra, Cody Ross, and A.J. Pollock in Arizona, things didn’t look great for Eaton moving forward, either.

That was until earlier this week, of course, when Eaton was dealt to the White Sox as part of the Mark Trumbo deal. Suddenly, the 25-year-old speedster finds himself playing in a great hitters’ ballpark and probably at the top of a batting order, with little competition for playing time other than Alejandro De Aza. Eaton instantly becomes one of the better sleeper sources of steals for 2014, and seeing him put together a season somewhat similar to Leonys Martin’s 2013 wouldn’t be surprising at all. This was a great move for the White Sox and for fantasy owners alike.

Michael Choice, OF, Rangers
It’s not often you see top-100 prospects traded within the division for non-elite talent in return. That’s especially true after said prospect hits .302/.390/.445 in a full slate of Triple-A games. But the A’s sent Choice packing to Arlington in the Craig Gentry deal earlier in December, and for that, dynasty league owners should be thankful.

Choice is a valuable prospect for two reasons: He gets on base, and he can hit for power from the right side of the plate. The latter of those two skills should be amplified by Choice’s new home park, and the former should come in handy in what’s shaping up to be a good Rangers lineup. Texas may still opt to add another outfielder this offseason, but if they don’t, Choice is in line to be the starter. Even if he only sees limited time in 2014, his future is brighter in Texas than it was in Oakland.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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