February 19, 2014
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There are a lot of good fantasy outfield prospects in the minor leagues right now.
This is a good thing, because as Paul Sporer pointed out yesterday, outfield is a relatively shallow fantasy position in 2014. Many of the game's best players are outfielders, to be sure. But in standard leagues where 50-90 outfielders are technically fantasy starters, things get pretty ugly in the middle and late rounds. People are still rostering Raul Ibanez in 2014, and doing so is defensible.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the deep crop of prospects poised to improve our outfield outlook both in 2014 and beyond.
NAMES FOR 2014
Oscar Taveras, Cardinals
It's easy to overlook Taveras thanks to the adulation given to Byron Buxton, Xander Bogaerts, and Javier Baez, but he firmly belongs among the elite four fantasy prospects in the game today. With a potential 80-grade hit tool and more power pop in his bat than many realize, Taveras could be the closest we get to seeing a Vladimir Guerrero reincarnation from an offensive standpoint, and he should be ready by June. If he sees enough PA, he has a chance to finish as a top-50 outfielder in 2014 batting in what should be an excellent lineup. He's the type of player the Cardinals will make room for, and all he needs to do is stay healthy for his talent to shine through.
Billy Hamilton, Reds
One of the most divisive prospects in the game, Hamilton is the fastest player in organized baseball but questions remain about his ability to hit and reach base. Overhyped a year ago, I believe Hamilton is being a bit undersold by the fantasy community now. He may be more Vince Coleman than Rickie Henderson, but Hamilton won't need to post huge OBP numbers to steal 80-plus bases, and I think he sees over 500 PA in the majors this season. It's true that he's a two-category force, but his ability to singlehandedly win you the steals category outweighs his deficiencies at a certain point. He's not a bad gamble for 2014.
George Springer, Astros
While Hamilton's flaws have been analyzed so frequently that he's become a bit underrated, Springer's flaws have been somewhat glossed over as fantasy owners focus on his intriguing power/speed combo. Yes, Springer absolutely has the pop to hit 25-plus homers and the wheel to steal 20-plus bases. He's also going to strike out enough to qualify as a wind farm in some states, and there's a chance he won't hit better than .250 at the MLB level with any consistency. You can dream on Springer and envision him becoming the next version of The Good B.J. Upton, but there's a chance he settles in as more of The Average Chris Young instead.
Gregory Polanco, Pirates
Polanco received a good bit of prospect helium in 2013, translating his considerable natural tools into strong results at Double-A. An absolute fantasy toolshed, Polanco possesses the ability to hit for above average power, steal 20-plus bases and hit for a good average with the R and RBI opportunities that come with hitting near the top or middle of a lineup. Still just 22, Polanco isn't near physical maturity and so the power is not yet fully present, but he should see the majors at some point in 2014 where he’ll contribute to what could be the league's best young outfield in Pittsburgh. He'll be a much more valuable commodity in 2016, but he's somewhat intriguing for this season, too.
Joc Pederson, Dodgers
The good news? Pederson is another potential five-category contributor, capable of challenging for 20 homers and 20 steals with solid averages in his prime. The bad news? The Dodgers already have four starting outfielders on their roster and Pederson doesn't have the type of insane upside needed to push the playing time issue. Pederson is one of the most likely prospects to be traded in the entire game, and he might need to switch organizations to have a prayer at seeing playing time in 2014. But from a purely talent-based perspective, he should be ready for the show by midseason.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
Bradley is a much better MLB prospect than a fantasy one, as his greatest skills are his plus-plus center field defense and his ability to reach base. Bradley will be of significant use in OBP leagues and should score plenty of runs, but he's not particularly fast or powerful and projects more as a .270-.280 hitter than a consistent .300-plus threat. I think there's enough sneaky pop here for Bradley to hit 12-15 homers per year in his prime, but he's headed for a long career as a back-end fantasy option, not a fantasy star.
Michael Choice, Rangers
Drafted all the way back in 2010, Choice has been on top-100 prospect lists for four seasons now, but he's finally about to make good on some of his fantasy promise. With an intriguing combination of plus power and above average speed, Choice could hit 25-plus bombs and steal 10-plus bases over a full season of PA in Texas. Unfortunately he's slated as a short-side platoon player for 2014, but at some point in his career he'll got a shot at everyday playing time. Keep him on your radar in deeper leagues this season.
Jake Marisnick, Marlins
Marisnick is essentially George Springer lite, possessing the ability to contribute meaningfully in every fantasy category but coming with an average that may preclude him from being useful in many leagues. I think the bat-to-ball is actually better with Marisnick than it is with Springer—as is the approach—but the run and power tools aren't quite as pronounced. Marisnick will still only be 23 this season, and he'd be best served with another 300-plus PA in the minors and a late-season call-up. His defense likely makes him the Marlins' center fielder of the future, but there's a lot of variance between his fantasy ceiling and floor.
Stephen Piscotty, Cardinals
I recently wrote up Piscotty for Bret Sayre's site, The Dynasty Guru, so I'll just repeat my analysis here: Piscotty is another stupid white nondescript Cardinals player who will probably hit .300 immediately upon reaching the majors because that’s what stupid white nondescript Cardinals players do. He doesn’t do anything particularly well but he also has no weaknesses. Cardinals.
Kyle Parker, Rockies
It's all about power with Parker, who has the raw ability to hit 25-plus bombs a season: an attribute that should be further heightened by Coors Field. He's not a particularly good athlete, might be a first baseman rather than a corner outfielder and he's not going to hit for a great average. But it's getting harder and harder to find consistent sources of power, and Parker could become one soon.
Domingo Santana, Astros
Santana has long been a personal favorite of mine, as I believe the plus power and ability to reach base will provide him with a long MLB career. His inability to hit for average and propensity for striking out could render him an untenable fantasy option, though, and it will be fascinating to watch him try to adjust to MLB pitching. Sunday Santana is a plus-plus name.
Tyler Austin, Yankees
Austin is like Piscotty, but even more bland. Piscotty is at least high-quality Italian bread straight from your bakery. Austin is white bread from Pepperidge Farms—fine for your own boring lunches, but nothing to write home about. Austin will have some value in OBP leagues and could hit 15-plus homers a year with a respectable average in Yankees Stadium, but his ceiling is as a fifth outfielder in mixed leagues. He should see some time in 2014, though, as he'd reduce the average age of the Yankees' roster by 56 years.
Others: Cesar Puello, Mets; Gary Brown, Giants; Bryce Brentz, Red Sox; Slade Heathcott, Yankees; Matt Szczur, Cubs; Randal Grichuk, Cardinals; Mitch Haniger, Brewers; Andrew Lambo, Pirates
NAMES FOR 2015 AND BEYOND
Byron Buxton, Twins
The consensus top all-around prospect in the minors, no prospect and few major leaguers possess the type of upside this 20-year-old provides with his bat, glove, and speed. The natural tools have been obvious since the time Buxton was drafted, but he's surprised with an advanced approach and better than expected hit tool, allowing him to soar through the lower minors. Those expecting him to accrue significant playing time in 2014 are likely to be disappointed, but I do see Buxton collecting 400-plus PA in 2015, which is already an insanely aggressive timeline. While I personally rank Buxton behind Bogaerts and Baez among fantasy prospects, I certainly understand why many place Buxton first, and if he's challenging Trout for the honor of being the first-overall pick by 2017, I won't be surprised.
David Dahl, Rockies
Dahl is one of the more underrated fantasy prospects in the game, in my opinion. A hamstring injury robbed him of much of 2013 and that lost playing time, plus undue concern about his makeup, have him falling down dynasty draft boards. He's still a no doubt top-50 fantasy prospect, and he's talented enough to shoot through the low minors in 2014. It's a lazy comparison, but there's Carlos Gonzalez-type offensive upside here. He does suck at Twitter, though.
Clint Frazier, Indians
Frazier's bat speed and overall #want is so seductive that even Eric Cartman would drop the ginger jokes around him. The second- or third-best fantasy prospect from the 2013 draft, Frazier is years away but has all the ingredients fantasy owners look for and natural attributes that you just can't teach. He could be the next Hunter Pence—an underrated fantasy asset in his own right—and I'd bet he moves faster than most prep outfielders.
Jorge Soler, Cubs
Built like a linebacker and with the power to match, Soler is a really exciting fantasy prospect who's on track to earn a full season's worth of MLB PA by 2015. There's some risk with the swing-and-miss, but Soler has 30-homer pop and the hit tool to challenge for a .280 average on a regular basis. And while it's unwise to bank too heavily on contextual stats, he could be batting in the heart of a really good young lineup, too. Don't let his injury dampen your enthusiasm.
Albert Almora, Cubs
Almora is an excellent MLB prospect who's a bit overrated from a fantasy perspective as he lacks game-changing power or speed. There's a ton of value in a well-rounded player who can contribute modestly in five categories, and "modestly" may undersell Almora's potential future contributions in AVG and R. He's not a top-30 fantasy prospect as I've seen suggested elsewhere, though, and it's important to keep that in mind.
Brian Goodwin, Nationals
Some couples bond over a common love of music, food or activities. Bret Sayre and I began our relationship out of mutual admiration for Goodwin, but it's tough not to be disappointed with his 2013 campaign. I'm a huge fan of Goodwin's patient approach, but it would be nice for the power-speed combo to play up a little, and the 24-year-old is now poised to repeat Double-A. There's upside here that looks like Shane Victorino, but a more realistic outcome may be Michael Brantley.
Delino DeShields Jr., Astros
Astros fans on Twitter can rest assured that DeShields, with all of his makeup concerns, will never overtake Jose Altuve as the #FaceofMLB. The young outfielder's #slack is a serious red flag that could derail his career. But if DeShields pulls it together enough to make it to the majors he has the type of speed that will make him relevant in every format. The floor here is quite low, but there's a middle ground that sees him becoming the next Rajai Davis, and a ceiling that's considerably higher.
Nick Williams, Rangers
Williams gets lost in a Rangers organization that's absolutely loaded with high-ceiling talent. But what he lacks in absurd power or speed he makes up for in a plus-plus hit tool, which gives him a considerably higher floor. I wouldn't be surprised to see Williams as a universal top-75 name next season, so buy in on the ground level now.
Josh Bell, Pirates
Because what the Pirates need is another talented outfielder! Bell was considered his last name of the ball when drafted in the second round of 2011, but injuries have derailed much of his career to this point. Bell can really hit, has power potential, and is more athletic than you might think—and he's poised to jump up the rankings if he can stay on the field.
Hunter Renfroe, Padres
Another outfielder with an intriguing power/speed combo and an unfortunate affinity for striking out, Renfroe should move fairly quickly as a college bat but has a limited ceiling. A trade away from the barren offensive wasteland known as Petco Park would help.
Rymer Liriano, Padres
Liriano is another personal favorite of mine, but as a raw player badly in need of reps against upper-level pitching, losing the entire 2013 season to Tommy John surgery was not a good look. I love the 25-homer, 20-steal potential, but Liriano is another player who could be limited by his approach, so there's no Rymer reason to reaching for him in redraft drafts this season. That being said, he's still a borderline top-100 prospect for me.
Jorge Bonifacio, Royals
Bonifacio is completely unlike any other outfield prospect in that his hit tool could limit the utility of his power tool. He's a prototypical right fielder with a big arm and big pop, but the overall package could underwhelm from a fantasy perspective. Worse comes to worse, he's likely to at least be the better of the Bonifacio brothers.
Raimel Tapia, Rockies
All of the upside. None of the probability. The bad thing about Jason Parks blowing up Tapia this year is that it will be tough to acquire him in many leagues. But if you are playing with non-BP reading plebeians, Tapia is perhaps the most attractive lottery ticket in the low minors right now.
Austin Meadows, Pirates
Meadows is a truly divisive prospect. Some prefer him to Clint Frazier. Others rank him where I am here. He's quite well rounded, but it's reasonable to question if any of his tools truly stand out, and his ability to hit is fairly called into question on a routine basis. I'm not trying to sell the upside short, but he's overrated in a lot of fantasy circles right now.
Mason Williams, Yankees
Williams is still an intriguing fantasy prospect thanks to the natural run/power combo, but he comes with more red flags than an Olympic slalom course. I'm a cool dude who makes topical references. He'll either rise up the ranks or fall of these lists completely based on his 2014 performance and attitude.
Nomar Mazara, Rangers
Like Williams, Mazara's hit tool projections allow him to rank higher than other outfielders his age. He was a high profile signing so he won't be available in hardcore leagues, but for the more casual dynasty leaguer, Mazara is another great player to jump on before he's a national name.
Bubba Starling, Royals
Nah. He can run and the natural power is there, but I think best-case scenario at this point is Drew Stubbs. It's probably time to let this dream die.
Lewis Brinson, Rangers
Like Starling, but a touch faster and without the draft pedigree. #Interracialcomps.
D.J. Davis, Blue Jays
Like Starling and Brinson, but even faster! And with less power. And a different profile. But let's not ruin a good thing.
Others: Tyrone Taylor, Brewers; Billy McKinney, Athletics; Phillip Ervin, Reds; Tyler Naquin, Indians; Jesse Winker, Reds; Courtney Hawkins, White Sox; Mac Williamson, Giants; Carlos Tocci, Phillies; Trayce Thompson, White Sox; Aaron Judge, Yankees; Gabriel Guerrero, Mariners; Manuel Margot, Red Sox; Drew Vettleson, Nationals; Jacob Scavuzzo, Dodgers; Brandon Nimmo, Mets; Max Kepler, Twins; Justin Williams, Diamondbacks; Elier Hernandez, Royals; Andrew Toles, Rays; Michael De La Cruz, Pirates
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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