July 9, 2014
Progress Report: Prospect Edition, Part Two
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 his 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.
You can find previous editions of the Dynasty Progress Report here:
Ben: Alex Meyer, RHP, MIN
Meyer was a difficult prospect to rank headed into the year. On the one hand, he looked the part of a potential no. 2 starter who was close to the major leagues. On the other hand, there were plenty of concerns that Meyer would need to move to the bullpen, significantly hurting his fantasy value. Many hedged their bets by placing Meyer in the midst of their top-100 lists, though he tended to be ranked a bit more optimistically in the fantasy world thanks to his proximity to the majors.
Fast-forward to today, and Meyer now looks like a near-elite prospect. Jason Parks and co. just ranked him at no. 12 on the BP Top 50, where Al Skorupa labeled him a “potential front-of-the-rotation piece.” Meyer currently boasts a 3.46 ERA through 83 1/3 innings in Triple-A, and while he’s walking 10.8 percent of the batters he faces, he’s striking out 25.8 percent, too. Command has always been an issue for Meyer, and there’s a real chance he hurts your WHIP in the short-term. But if Meyer can even reduce his walk rate to around eight percent, we’re looking at a potential top-25 starting pitcher.
I don’t think I’d have Meyer quite as high as no. 12, but he’s a top-20 fantasy prospect for me now. I want to see him pitch deeper into games and reign in his command further, so I don’t mind if he spends the rest of 2014 in the minors. But he’s on track for substantial MLB time in 2015, and let’s not forget that his “fallback” option is still as a shutdown closer.
Craig: Hunter Dozier, 3B, KC (most recent Eyewitness Report)
Dozier has shown more polish at the plate than expected, walking in 13 percent of his plate appearances at the High-A level. He’s already been promoted to Double-A, shortening his timetable to the major leagues, which is a huge factor in his landing in the “improved” section. He’s not hitting for the power he’s capable of, with only six home runs on the season, though it should be noted that Wilmington is a tough place for power to play, as evidenced by his home/road splits:
The power should continue to develop, especially since Northwest Arkansas is a better run-scoring environment, though it is friendlier to left-handed power than right-handed power. At 22 years old, Dozier isn’t quite young for the level, but he should still be granted an adjustment period. With a big, athletic frame and a swing geared for plus contact and plus power, Dozier’s power should come in time. He’s placing himself in a position to the see the big leagues as early as late 2015, though mid-2016 is a more realistic timeline for meaningful production.
Ben: Blake Swihart, C, BOS
The switch-hitting Swihart boasts a .294/.347/.474 line through 297 PA in Portland. He’s striking out in just 15.2 percent of his PA, showing no discernible platoon splits and hitting for far more power than he ever has before, as his .180 ISO suggests. He’s on pace to finish the year with 12-15 homers, 75-plus RBI and 5-7 steals to boot, and I think those are all numbers we can realistically expect him to produce in the major leagues in his prime. That won’t make him an elite fantasy catcher, but if he’s also hitting .280, he could be in for a long stretch of top-10 finishes.
Jorge Alfaro is still the pick if you want to gamble on upside, and Austin Hedges may be the better real life prospect. But if you’re looking for the fantasy catching prospect who offers the best combination of upside, probability and proximity, it’s Swihart by a mile right now. He’s come a long way in a short period of time.
Craig: Daniel Norris, SP, TOR
Norris’ rise is predicated on two significant factors:
This doesn’t mean we should overlook other factors, such as more consistency out of his potent arsenal, allowing him to attack the zone with confidence. Norris always had front-end quality stuff, but it didn’t show up every outing, and even if it did, he couldn’t always command it. Better mechanics have allowed the athletic southpaw to hone in on the strike zone, and while he’s walking a few more batter through three Double-A starts, the Blue Jays have already talked about spotlighting him (and rotation-mate Aaron Sanchez) in the bullpen.
Norris’ ability to get to the majors in a hurry is only one component of his dynasty-league ascendance, as he has the stuff to stick as a SP2 long-term as well. He’s started dropping his curveball in for strikes, as well as using it as a chase pitch, and he’s comfortable throwing it to righties and lefties alike. Norris’ game gained a lot of maturity in a hurry this season - it’s a wonder what can happen when one can stay on the field.
Craig: Michael Taylor, CF, WAS (most recent Eyewitness Report)
“He's striking out in 31.6 percent of plate appearances (career high) and while he's walking in a career high 11.6 percent, a nine percentage point jump in strikeout rate is concerning.
His slash line is beautiful but deceiving. He's never cracked .270 in terms of batting average and his .447 BABIP is doing most of the work there. The power is encouraging (he's already at a career high there), but I don't know that it lasts. He's 23 at Double-A which isn't old for the level, but isn't young either.
I'm still reserving judgment to see what happens when half the balls he puts in play aren't falling for hits, and how he'll react to that adversity. It's a nice skillset, no doubt, but the question was on the functionality of the hit tool and I tend to think there's too much BABIP noise to judge with any accuracy whether that's changed at all.”
Taylor has since trimmed his strikeout rate to just under 30 percent, but it’s still a worrisomely high figure given his age and level. His BABIP hasn’t budged, sitting at .447, and I’d still contend that’s due to regress towards the .330-range, which is still plenty high for a BABIP, but reasonable given his plus speed. He’s still walking, which is an encouraging sign, and a necessary asset if he’s going to swing-and-miss as much as he is, while still providing value.
Taylor is shattering his previous career high in isolated power by a full 46 points in 2014, posting a .225 ISO. The power is going to need to play above a .500 slugging percentage given how much he whiffs, and while he’s clearing that figure handily right now, it’s questionable if he’ll be able to do so going forward. The limiting factor is his (in)ability to make consistent contact, and when half the balls he puts in play are falling for hits, there’s too much noise to make a determination on how well he’s adjusting in that regard. He’ll likely be able to provide fantasy value in doses, as long droughts will render him bench-able, but hot streaks can carry teams here and there. This isn’t a markedly different read from his pre-season report though, so his overall value remains static.
Ben: Maikel Franco, 3B/1B, PHI
So why am I refusing to bail on Franco at a time when many others clearly are? For one, he’s fallen victim to a .255 BABIP this year, which is absurdly low for a player in Triple-A who makes hard contact regularly. While he’s striking out more, he’s still only whiffing at a 15.6 percent clip, and his 6.5 percent walk rate is more respectable than it’s been in the past. Plus, Franco has really on struggled for two months as a 21-year-old in Triple-A, as his May was very good and his early returns in July have been promising, too. Two-hundred poor PA in the minors’ highest level is hardly a death sentence for a prospect.
I’ll buy the argument that Franco is a better dynasty league prospect than a real one since it doesn’t really matter if he’s good at third base as long as he’s eligible there, and his OBP is of less importance, too. Add all these factors together and Franco is still an easy top-50 fantasy prospect in my book, and I’d look to him as a buy-low candidate in dynasty leagues. He might not be a star, but he’ll hit enough to be relevant in that park.
Craig: Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM
He’s still striking out over a batter per inning (23.5 percent), and while his walk rate is elevated compared to last year, it’s still a very solid 2.5 per nine innings (6.6 percent).
While he’s been “hittable,” the extreme offensive environs of his home park (and league in general) should be noted. While that often takes it’s toll on home run numbers, it applies to hits as well. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the numbers entirely, as it is a concerning number of hits allowed, but we don’t know how much credit goes to the ballparks and how much goes to Syndergaard at this moment. Even if you’d like to ding Syndergaard for the hits, his strikeout and walk totals are encouraging, especially given his age at Triple-A, and he’ll be moving to a much more forgiving environment once he’s promoted to the big leagues.
As far as his health goes, it’s a concern as well, but almost every top ranked fantasy pitcher has something of a health concern, as pitching just isn’t good for you. Factor it into his history, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem at the moment, and that’s really all you can ask for.
Ben: Max Fried, LHP, SD
Ben: Matt Barnes, RHP, BOS
After missing the first few weeks of the season with arm soreness, Barnes has thrown just 70 innings this season, posting a 4.63 ERA. He’ striking out just 17.2 percent of the batters he’s facing—by far a career-low—and he’s walking 8.7 percent with a 1.51 WHIP. Barnes is now 24 and in the midst of his third full professional season, so there’s serious cause for alarm here. He’s unlikely to be transitioned to a bullpen role this season, but if he begins 2015 as poorly as he’s started 2014, that move isn’t out of the question.
Even if he remains a starter, we have to wonder if Barnes still has the no. 3 starter upside so many saw when he was drafted. And with the likes of Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, and Henry Owens all likely above him on the Red Sox’ depth chart, he’ll face plenty of competition just to see MLB time. He’s not a top-100 name anymore, and you’d probably have to fight for him to have a case on a top-150.
Craig: Jorge Bonifacio, OF, KC
There are some weird things going on with Bonifacio’s season, and in a certain light, they could be viewed as a positive. Bonifacio hasn’t cracked a 700 OPS in any month this season, as he’s failed to hit for power in just about every situation, with slugging percentages under .300 in both June and July (thus far). He’s been absolutely dreadful against left-handed pitchers sporting a 482 OPS, whom he raked against in 2013 (1078 OPS). He’s doing all of this despite holding his strikeout rate steady and seeing a distinct, but not drastic reduction of two percentage points in his walk rate.
At 21 years old, there is plenty of time for Bonifacio to turn things around, but given his fringe-fantasy prospect status already, a half-season of performance this bad is a blow to his value. He’s someone who needed to prove himself every season. His ceiling is still right where it was when the ceiling started, but unless he can prove that his struggles against lefties (if not in general) are a fluke, his chances of reaching that ceiling are greatly diminished.
Ben: Eddie Rosario, 2B/OF, MIN
Chris Mellen recently wrote up Rosario in an Eyewitness Account, and while he also came away impressed with Rosario’s hit tool, he didn’t give the player much of a chance to stay at second base. That seems to be an increasingly common refrain, and it’s hugely damaging to Rosario’s value. A player who can hit .280 with 10-plus homers and 10-plus steals at second base is quite interesting, but a player who duplicates those states from an outfield spot is eminently replaceable.
I still think Rosario will make the majors at some point in 2015, but with his current defensive limitations coming to light and with Brian Dozier in front of him, it’s quite unlikely that future comes as an infielder. He’s just a fringy top-150 dynasty league prospect now.
Craig: Jeimer Candelario, 3B, CHC
His walk rates are down, his strikeout rates are up and whatever contact he is making isn’t very strong. Add in the massive amount of infield depth that the Cubs have accrued over the last few years and Candelario is something of a forgotten man in this system. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as people won’t be as intent to focus on his struggles and he can work through them. Being 20 years old in Low-A is nothing awful, so even if he continues to flail, this is no final nail in the coffin. Similar to Bonifacio though, as a fringe prospect in fantasy leagues any setback carries significant weight. It’s possible that Candelario sets himself on the right track and regains some luster, but for the time being, he’s not rosterable in virtually any format.
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @bencarsley