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June 11, 2014

Dynasty Dynamics

Progress Report: Prospect Edition

by Ben Carsley and Craig Goldstein

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When you’ve done rankings and mock drafts for two straight months, you kind of wonder… why would anyone write about anything else? Sure there are draft grades, but those aren’t nearly as applicable to fantasy.

Then it hits you like a ton of bricks. Something like a… a stock watch. No. Everyone does that. What if you just called it something else. Yes, now you’re cooking with gas. What about a Progress Report? Perfect.

Really though, this is meant to be something a bit different than your standard stock watch. Fantasy stocks are easy to keep track of. If someone’s doing well, then their stock is high. If not, it goes the other direction. The progress report is meant to tell you about players who have seen their actual value change in the long-term dynasty sense - not just guys riding a hot streak.

To that end, we’re also including a “neutral” section for guys that have performed awfully or admirably but haven’t moved the needle in a substantial direction long-term. This week is a prospect edition, but we hope to bring this feature back in an MLB sense as well.

Prospects on the Rise

Ben: Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers
Gallo entered the year as one of the most notorious boom-or-bust prospects in all of baseball, and the space between his floor and ceiling is still great enough to cause some concern. But Gallo has done his damnedest to answer our questions about his approach and the utility of his hit tool so far this season. The 20-year-old hit .323/.463/.735 in High-A in 246 PA, cutting his strikeout rate to 26 percent while raising his walk rate to 20.7 percent. He’s always going to swing and miss, and if he’s striking out in a quarter of his PA now he’s an easy candidate for 200-plus strikeouts at the MLB level. But Gallo is absolutely murdering the ball when he does make contact, and his new selectivity at the plate makes him a safer proposition than the player we saw last year.

Many consider the jump between High-A and Double-A to be the toughest in the minors, and it would not at all surprise me to see Gallo struggle some now that Frisco is his home. But there’s at least a chance that Gallo sees the majors in 2015 now, and a season ago some were reasonably questioning whether he’d ever escape the mid-minors. He has legitimate, I’m-not-exaggerating 40-homer power, and all of a sudden he’s fairly close to utilizing it. If you like pop, this is about as dreamy as it gets.

Craig: Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees
It’s a little surprising that the East Coast Media Bias Yankee Hype Train hasn’t caught on to what Judge is doing thus far in Low-A. A late-first-round pick, Judge has seemingly toiled in the shadows of the shortcomings of the prospects listed ahead of him like Mason Williams and Gary Sanchez, though it may also be that he didn’t play after signing in 2013. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, it’s no surprise that he has been #blessed with enormous raw power, and while many rated it a 7 pre-draft, it looks like that might have been light.

There will always be swing and miss in Judge’s game—that happens when you’re 6-foot-7—but he’s done well to shorten his swing over time, and his 22 percent strikeout rate thus far isn’t overwhelming. He’s also walking in just short of 15 percent of his plate appearances when he’s not slugging the ball all over the field. He’s a good athlete for his size, but he’s not going to offer anything on the basepaths. His .318 average is at least partially a reflection of his advanced approach against lower-grade arms, and his ability to work counts for better pitches to hit, but he shouldn’t kill your batting average either. Scouts have willingly put an 8 on Judge’s raw power, and while that’s not necessarily what it plays to in in-game situations right now, he should learn how to get there in time.

Ben: Mookie Betts, 2B/OF, Red Sox
I was really slow to come around on Betts, refusing to completely acknowledge his 2013 breakout and listing him as just the sixth-best fantasy prospect in the Red Sox organization headed into the season. That looks a bit foolish in retrospect, as Betts did horrible, mean, George R.R. Martin things to Double-A all season before a recent promotion to Triple-A. He’s more of an outfielder than a second baseman now, which of course hurts his fantasy value, but he has such an intriguing five-category skill-set that it doesn’t truly matter.

Betts walked more than he struck out by a wide margin in Portland this season, along with hitting six homers and 18 doubles and stealing 22 bases in just 253 PA. He has more pop than many considered imaginable given his frame, he’s an adept base-stealer and he has the bat-to-ball skills and bat speed to hit for high averages. Quite frankly, it’s the elite leadoff hitter starter set, and if you place him atop a Boston lineup that generally scores a ton of runs, the fantasy upside here is pretty significant. Betts could get 400-plus MLB PA in 2015, and he’s someone you’ll want on your fantasy team even in shallow leagues. He’s an easy top-20 fantasy prospect now.

Craig: Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
Pompey is something of a pop-up guy, having spent much of his career nicked up and unable to showcase his true ability. The switch-hitter is stronger from the left side of the plate, where he’s shorter to the ball. He has a thin frame but boasts the bat speed to put the ball over the fence—at least enough for average power. Pompey’s calling card, though, is his speed, which borders on plus-plus.

He’s slashing .311/.391/.467, with the slugging figure playing up a bit in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He’s added 22 stolen bases in 24 attempts to that slash line with his six home runs matching his career high. If Pompey can stay healthy, we’re looking at a talented prospect who was undervalued heading into the season due to health reasons that are no longer present. It’s fair to be concerned about Pompey’s injuries to some extent, but he’s gone from “that guy with the dog breed name” to “that guy I wish I grabbed in more leagues” in a hurry.

Prospects Staying Neutral

Craig: Corey Seager, 3B, Dodgers
It may seem weird to have a “neutral” statement coming from the resident Dodgers’ fan on the fantasy staff, especially after Seager has been bringing darkness from above these first two months. At 20 years old, Seager is one of the younger players in the California League, furthering the legitimacy of his .342/.388/.615 slash line.

At the same time, the Cal League is an explosive offensive environment in almost every capacity, and Seager was already recognized as one of the better prospects in baseball. To say this was expected would be something of an overstatement, but it’s not entirely unexpected either. He’s also walking less than he ever has—reasonable when you’re hitting the way he is—but that’s something will likely have to correct itself outside of High-A. While his dominance has been a joy to watch, read about, and pore over in box scores, there’s little we’ve learned about Seager that we didn’t already know. How his power plays outside of the Cal League will go a long way towards shifting his value up or down.

Ben: Jose Berrios, RHP, Twins
Berrios is absolutely destroying High-A competition at the age 20, striking out well over a batter per inning and exhibiting plus command. He’s always been praised for his impressive feel for pitching and his three-pitch repertoire, which is very refined for someone who stopped being a teenager just last month. Those skills are fully on display, as the Puerto Rican is cruising through the mid-minors and looks like he could be in for a long Double-A stint in 2015. His MLB ETA now sits as late-2015 or early 2016, which is pretty much a best-case scenario for a prep arm drafted in 2012, non-Jose Fernandez division.

So why do I have Berrios as “neutral” instead of “up?” Because there’s not a ton of projection left in his stuff, and because his ceiling is still that of a mid-rotation fantasy starter rather than the fantasy stalwart his current numbers would suggest. Jeff Moore recently wrote up Berrios in an Eyewitness Account, and while much of what he says is kind, he also acknowledges Berrios as a no. 3 starter, somewhat held back by his size and the violence of his delivery. Target Field is a great place to be if you’re a short pitcher, so there’s a real shot at Berrios having meaningful fantasy value. He’s definitely a top-100 name now, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not really on my top-50 radar. Also, going with “Jose” over “J.O.” is a travesty.

Craig: Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Reds
A two-way player in college, and a closer when he pitched, Lorenzen understandably took some time to adjust to starting in the pros. He was also at the tail end of a long college/pro season when he reached the aforementioned hitter-friendly Cal League late last year. 2014 has been much kinder to Lorenzen with a 2.41 ERA in 71 innings at Double-A, in only his second professional season.

While Lorenzen is undoubtedly worth more now than he was at the beginning of the season, this isn’t meant to be a “stock watch” so much as a check-in on if players have changed (or not) their long term outlook—be it ceiling or floor—from our previous perceived values. While Lorenzen’s ability to hold velocity and current production is certainly encouraging, his ceiling hasn’t moved much from that of a mid-rotation starter, and it’s still an open question as to whether he flags in the latter half of the season as he continues his transition from closer to starter. Add in his mild 47 strikeouts in those 71 innings, and his fantasy star doesn’t shine as bright as his real life one.

Ben: Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
Hey, did you know that Appel lacks mental toughness, has questionable testicular fortitude and is most decidedly not a bulldog on the mound? Appel has become the Drake/Lebron James of the prospecting world in that his masculinity is questioned almost as often as his ability, and it’s having a palpable negative impact on his fantasy value. I’m not a scout and don't know Appel personally, so it’s not that I’m refuting the questions surrounding Appel’s on-the-field character. I’m simply asking you to hold your horses if you’re losing interest just because Appel is apparently softer than baby thighs.

If you’re more skeptical about Appel’s trainwreck of a season in High-A, that’s understandable. 2013’s first-overall pick has thrown just 14 1/3 innings in organized ball this season after opening the year in extended spring training. Now, Appel is missing time with thumb tendonitis and while there’s still plenty of time for Appel to log some innings, it’s beginning to feel like 2014 is a bit of a lost year for the right-hander. That being said, recent scouting reports from Appel’s few appearances have largely been positive, and this is still a pitcher with an ideal frame and very good stuff. Maybe he’ll end up being more of a no. 3 starter than an ace, but that’s still a very valuable fantasy player, especially if he ends up falling somewhere in the middle. You can be disappointed that Appel doesn’t appear to be a fast-mover, but write him off completely at your own peril. He’s still a top-50 guy for me.

Prospects in Decline

Ben: Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays
The hope was that Sanchez would improve his command and control as he climbed the ladder, allowing him to more closely resemble the no. 2 starter it’s so easy to dream on based on his pure stuff. Unfortunately the opposite has happened, as Sanchez is currently walking 14 percent of the batters he’s facing in Double-A while watching his strikeout rate fall to 20 percent. He’s managed to keep his ERA to 3.82 for now, but that’s not sustainable if he moves forward with a 1.39 WHIP. We always knew this was possible, but it’s still disappointing to see.

The biggest challenge with owning high-risk, high-reward pitchers is knowing when to cut bait. We’re not at that point with Sanchez yet, but he’s no longer receiving the benefit of the doubt from me when it comes to dramatically improving his command. I love the stuff and I always will, but Sanchez isn’t someone who can survive at the MLB level if he’s walking 12-plus percent of the batters he’s facing. He’ll kill your WHIP, he’ll hurt your ERA and the strikeouts won’t be worth it. I’d give Sanchez another season in the rotation to try and figure it out, but the dreaded “transition to the bullpen” rumors will probably rear their ugly heads soon. Unfortunately, he is now only my second-favorite Aaron Sanchez.

Craig: C.J. Edwards , RHP, Cubs
It might not be fair to pick on the injured guy, but the knock against Edwards was always his frame and how it would hold up under a starter’s workload. His stuff profiles well in the pen, and it’s possible he can salvage fantasy value as a closer, or even as a starter, but the risk proposition on him just got markedly worse.

If it was an elbow injury it might not even be as concerning, but shoulder’s are more of a problem, and his small frame and previous concerns only serve to amplify the issue. His MRI was clean, but the time missed means he’s going to struggle to top last year’s 116 innings pitched, and could delay his timetable to contribute if he remains a starter. It’s not a death knell by any means, but the likelihood that he fails to reach his ceiling just increased in a major way.

Ben: Brian Goodwin, OF, Nationals
This one really hurts. Elderly BP fantasy manager Bret Sayre and I have long been co-piloting the Goodwin bandwagon dating as far back as I can remember, long listing him as one of our favorite sleeper prospects. Last year, Goodwin tested my faith with a low batting average and modest power/speed totals, but his walk rate spiked and his strikeout rate fell, so I was willing to forgive. This season, however, Goodwin is performing poorly in Triple-A, posting a .224/.368/.343 line in 254 PA.

I like that Goodwin is still willing to take a walk, and I definitely still think he has a major league future. But it’s tough to project him to hit for decent averages at this point, and what I once thought could be a 15-plus homer, 25-plus stolen base profile now looks like it might have more of an eight-homer/15-steal ceiling. Add in that the Nats have a very crowded MLB outfield situation, and it’s tough to see Goodwin earn any MLB time this season unless he’s traded. I’d probably keep him on my top 150, but he’d fall off my top 100. The upside just isn’t there.

Craig: Matt Davidson, 3B, White Sox
Much of Davidson’s value was built around the concept that he could contribute almost immediately, both because he was ready and because the options in front of him were tepid at best. So far, neither are proving to be the case, as Davidson’s strikeout rate has climbed, his babip has reached a career low, and his walk rate dropped, crescendoing into a symphony of decay.

We knew he would stumble and fall, he’s still learning to hit, just starting to crawl, really. Still, detractors pointed to the swing-and-miss in Davidson’s game and how his contact issues could substantially affect the entire package. It’s possible he learns to address this enough to function on the major league level, but as had been made abundantly clear, so too is it possible that he doesn’t. This is yet another situation of the ceiling remaining in tact, but the likelihood of reaching it waning, rather than waxing. He better say something to grab our attention before we give up on him.

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

Related Content:  Prospects,  Fantasy,  Dynasty Leagues,  Keeper Leagues

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Fantasy Article Dynasty Dynamics: Idea... (06/03)
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