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August 27, 2014

Dynasty Dynamics

Progress Report: Prospect Edition, Part Three

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.

You can find previous editions of the Dynasty Dynamics Progress Report here:

Improved

Craig: Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox (most recent Eyewitness Account)
While I had my reservations about Anderson entering the season, I fell in love after watching a dynamic batting practice session (or three). Though Anderson employs a relatively noisy setup, his quick hands allow him to attack the ball out front, generating loud contact from an effortless swing. Personal feelings aside, Anderson has elevated his dynasty value thanks to an impressive performance despite an aggressive assignment to High-A. He slashed .297/.323/.472 in Winston-Salem, and was rewarded with a promotion to Double-A upon his return from a fractured wrist.

Neither the injury nor the advanced competition have slowed Anderson down, as he’s hitting .471/.471/.647 through (small sample size warning) 18 plate appearances. While 2014 has been fairly rosy for him, there are some concerns going forward. He’s extremely aggressive at the plate as evidenced by his 2.3 percent walk rate in High-A, and he doesn’t make enough contact to support that type of weakness (22.7 percent strikeout rate). His power is going to play as long as he stays up the middle, and there’s a chance he develops more as he fills out a lithe, muscular frame. Double-A should ultimately expose Anderson’s aggressiveness, and how he responds to that adversity will be key to his overall future. The White Sox challenging Anderson is a good thing, as it allows us to find out whether he can make those adjustments sooner rather than later.

The White Sox are as aggressive with promoting prospects as Anderson is at the plate, and his presence in the upper minors bodes well for his ability to contribute in the shorter term. The South Siders are one of an increasingly rare species of teams that make use of their Triple-A affiliate, so it’s not like Anderson is knocking on the door just yet. Alexei Ramirez is on the payroll for $10 million for 2015, with a club option for the same amount for 2016. Anderson’s performance and progress will likely play as much as a role in their decision to exercise it as Ramirez’s will. There’s still a good chance that the athletic Anderson gets moved off of shortstop in favor of the keystone or center field, but the bat will play at any up the middle position.

Ben: Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians (most recent Eyewitness Account)

Video from Mauricio Rubio:

Historically, I’ve been the lowest on Lindor from among the TINO group when it comes to fantasy. I viewed him as a player who would hit for a good but non-elite average and swipe a couple of bases, but didn’t see a lot of power in his future, and thought we were basically looking at a 2.5-category shortstop who’d be best left as a middle infielder in shallower leagues. But the more I read about and see from Lindor this year, the more I come to understand that I’ve been underselling him all along.

Lindor is hitting .289/.317/.400 in Triple-A as a 20-year-old right now, and he hit .278/.352/.389 in Double-A in nearly 400 PA there earlier this season. These numbers don’t jump off the page, but when you consider Lindor’s production relative to his age at these levels, they’re really quite impressive. Lindor’s also put his power and speed on display, knocking out 10 homers and stealing 28 bases all while striking out in less than 20 percent of his plate appearances.

Lindor is more of a five-category threat than I initially understood, and with Asdrubal Cabrera out of the picture, Lindor is in line to see the lion’s share of time at shortstop for the Tribe next year. I still don’t think he’ll be an immediate fantasy star, and I think a top-15 fantasy shortstop finish for next year would be a great benchmark for him to try and reach. But in due time, we’re looking at a player who could hit .290 or better with 12-plus homers, 20-plus steals and a ton of runs on a regular basis: a sort of shortstop version of Dustin Pedroia. He’s not in the Xander Bogaerts/Javier Baez/Addison Russell class, but Lindor could be a fantasy stud in his own right.

Craig: Jorge Soler, RF, Cubs
With Sahadev Sharma on board, prospect/Cubs’ twitter members Jordan Gorosh and Mauricio Rubio, plus Chicago residents Harry Pavlidis, J.P. Breen, Rob Arthur, and probably a few others I’m leaving out, it’s highly unlikely that an article gets written at BP without talking about a Cubs prospect. Actually, we might be contractually obligated to do so. I’ll have my people look it over and call your people.

By the time you read this, Soler will have debuted, but he hasn’t at the time of writing. Either way, his absolute domination of the upper minors since returning from a thigh strain in early July. While there’s been no doubt about Soler’s physical skill-set, there were questions regarding his focus and ability to apply his prodigious talent. Those particular issues lose focus themselves when one posts a OPS of 1356 over 22 Double-A games, and clears an OPS of 1000 over the following 32 Triple-A games. Still, look at those numbers again -- we’re talking about a player with 54 games above High-A, and fewer than 200 games stateside, including his time in rookie ball and the AFL. There are good reasons for the small number of overall games (missed time due to injury), but that doesn’t mean that development time wasn’t needed, or that the lack of it won’t show through in the early going.

There’s as much downside as there is upside to Soler, at least as far as 2014 is concerned, but the long-term outlook is intensely positive. This is someone who has held himself back in terms of rankings thanks to the aforementioned concerns, but appears to be in the process of addressing them. Not only have those issues not cropped up since his July return, but he’s been playing better than ever before; posting walk rates in the low-to-mid teens, and pairing them with equally impressive strikeout rates, given his penchant for power production. The call up to the majors helps his immediate stock, but our goal isn’t to make this a stock watch. The long-term dynasty value sees a real spike because the Cubs clearly have confidence that he’s on the right path, and are rewarding him as such.

Ben: Josh Bell, OF/1B, Pirates (most recent Eyewitness Account)
I was already considering writing about Bell—a notion I thought of myself and that was suggested to me by no one else—before we learned that he was headed to the AFL to play first base. As my esteemed boss and Internet Father Figure Bret Sayre always tells us, position changes in the upper minors are a prelude to MLB playing time in the near future, and this is a sure sign that the Pirates see Bell as a 1B option at some point in 2015.

Of course even before the position change, Bell’s bat has led to him skyrocketing up prospect rankings this season. He hit .355/.384/.502 in 363 PA in High-A, and has hit .287/.343/.309 in 102 Double-A PA since. He’s walking often, he’s striking out in just 12 percent of his PA and he’s doing this despite turning 22 just two weeks ago. If the move to 1B is real, he’s the best fantasy 1B prospect in the minors.

I don’t want to get too carried away and suggest that Bell will see 400-plus PA in Pittsburgh next year, but there’s a very real path to playing time in the near future for him. Once he grows more into his power, we’re talking about a potential .275 hitter with 25-plus homers, and in today’s game that’s pretty attractive.

Neutral

Ben: Jon Gray, SP, Rockies
My love for Gray is well known, so I had a mini heart attack late last week when news broke that Gray would be hitting the DL for an undisclosed injury. I, along with the rest of Twitter, immediately assumed he tore his UCL, rotator cuff and ACL in a freak venison-hauling accident, and was greatly relieved when we learned that he’s basically just being rested for the Double-A playoffs. In a way, though, that tells you all you need to know about Gray’s season, because “resting for the Double-A playoffs” wasn’t what I had in mind for him when the 2014 season began.

Gray’s had a solid but pretty unspectacular year in Double-A, posting a 3.91 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 124 1/3 innings. That’s not the dominant line you’re looking for from an early first-round pick, but Gray has struck out 22.2 percent of the batters he’s faced while walking a reasonable 8.1 percent. There are some concerns that the Rockies are limiting him by trying to get him to induce contact rather than just blow hitters away, and if that’s true and Gray is still managing to miss this many bats, you can imagine what he might be able to do when unshackled. There’s a healthy dose of speculation in that above scenario, sure, but it remains a fairly viable one, and I just can’t quit Gray’s ultimate upside.

Before the season began, I said Gray should be in the conversation for best fantasy pitching prospect in the minors, and I still think that ceiling is close to that high today: I ranked him as the sixth-best pitcher in the minors two weeks ago, but I almost ranked him even higher. He’s hardly had an awe-inspiring year, and I was hoping to see him in the majors at some point in 2014, but even with that disappointment I think he’s poised for a significant 2015 impact.

Craig: JaCoby Jones, SS, Pirates (most recent Eyewitness Account)
One of the more popular pop-up prospects out there, Jones has put together a fine season at Low-A West Virginia, slashing .292/.353/.502. Despite the success at the plate, there are serious questions on his hit tool, and his ability to stick at shortstop. At 22 years old, he’s older than the average South Atlantic League player, and those ages are skewed compared to someone’s prospect-worthiness. Compare Jones to Anderson above, and see that he’s now two levels behind him, and it’s easy to see why despite the quality production, they’re worlds apart in terms of prospect value.

While Jones has certainly made strides in the short-term, his long-term future is extremely questionable, with a realistic role of utility player thanks to contact concerns. He’s been able to take advantage of the weak secondary offerings proffered by lower-minors pitching, but even average breaking pitches give him fits, and he’s sure to see a steady diet of those as he moves up the chain. Add in the reduction in mistake fastballs as he advances, and there’s going to be less food for Jones to feast on, despite the same appetite at the dish. All that portends some lean months ahead for Jones, and while his athleticism should be enough to propel him to the majors, if he can’t stick at SS his fantasy value remains as meager as his future batting average.

Ben: Mikie Mahtook, OF, Rays
When he was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft out of LSU, Mahtook was viewed as a fast-moving player capable of starting every day for a first-division team. He lived up to that billing in an impressive 92-game showing in High-A in 2012, but stalled out in Double-A in more than a full season’s worth of PA there. The Rays promoted him to Triple-A for the 2014 season anyway, and when you just go by the stats, they’ve been rewarded for their show of faith.

Mahtook is now hitting .291/.365/.446 with nine homers and 18 steals, and he’s walking in 8.8 percent of his plate appearances. He’s revived his career to the point where he’s likely a long-term major leaguer, and for that he should be commended. But if you’re looking at his stats in Durham and projecting him to be fantasy relevant next year, you’re going to be disappointed. Mahtook’s BABIP is just a bit unsustainable at 382 right now, and as Adam Sobsey pointed out recently, Mahtook’s crushed LHP this year after struggling against it for most of his career. He’s likely to see the majors at some point next year, or maybe even this September, but he’s still not a top-150 name for me and he’s irrelevant in mixed leagues.

Craig: Franchy Cordero, SS, Padres
After a rough start at Low-A Fort Wayne, including a 38 percent strikeout rate and a .188/.237/.235 slash line in 22 games. That display of ineptitude earned him a demotion to Short-Season Eugene, where he’s rebounded to record a .279/.329/.458 slash line, restoring some luster to his prospect status. While a demotion is never good news, keeping Cordero’s age in mind, soothes the pain just a bit. Cordero could fail to solve Low-A until 2017, and still be in the same spot as JaCoby Jones is presently.

The tools that landed him in the “On The Rise” section of the Padres Top 10 still remain, with the focus squarely on his swing. There’s some #slack to it but in a good way, as it’s a free-and-easy left-handed stroke that is capable of spraying balls to all fields, when he can make contact. That’s proven difficult in 2014, as despite the relative production, Cordero is whiffing 29 percent of the time in Eugene. He’s not balancing that with a patient approach either, producing walk rates of 4.3 and 5.4 percent, at Low-A and Short-Season, respectively. His future position is in doubt as well, as a move to the hot corner was already in the cards and his .805 fielding percentage won’t win him any accolades. He’s already spending close to 40 percent of his time at DH at Eugene. More pressure will be on the bat if he does slide down the defensive spectrum, but both talent and time are on his side for now. While the expected leap forward failed to materialize, Cordero’s long-term value remains steady at present.

Decline

Craig: Stryker Trahan, C, Diamondbacks
A similar situation to Cordero in that Trahan flunked his full-season trial, slashing .198/.264/.367, resulting in a return to sender, and an assignment to Short-Season Hillsboro (address unknown). Part of the problem for Trahan was a position switch, taking him out out from behind the plate and putting him in the corner outfield. Add in the jump from Rookie ball to Low-A, and it’s not surprising to see the 20-year-old struggle. Back to backstopping in Hillsboro, Trahan has compiled a .253/.337/.505 that has re-established some of his prospect credibility.

The issue lies with moving him off the position in the first place though. It’s clear it won’t be a smooth transition if-and-when the time comes for him to move to the outfield, and as a catching prospect his ascent is going to be of the slow-and-low variety. While it might seem to be an equitable trade-off in terms of value, thanks to the low offensive bar at catcher, it’s hard to imagine Trahan sticking there given their efforts to put him in the outfield already, and the questions on his defensive prowess from the moment he was drafted. A quality athlete, he should be fine in an outfield corner, but without an elite profile on the bat, his long-term value takes the type of hit he’s been unable to generate thus far in 2014 (significant).

Ben: Mason Williams, OF, Yankees (most recent Eyewitness Account)
I came into the year somewhat hopeful that Williams would be able to rebuild his fantasy value, even stuffing him in toward the end of my top-150 so that readers wouldn’t forget about him. Yes, his High-A performance last season was uninspiring, and he was downright bad in a small sample of games in Trenton. But he began the year as a 22-year-old just one season removed from a promising campaign, and I was attracted to his power/speed combo and low strikeout rates.

Womp womp. Williams is hitting just .216/.283/.295 in Double-A this year, and the Red Wedding was a more uplifting read than this Eyewitness Account on Williams by Tucker Blair. Sure, he’s still showcasing his speed, but he’s not hitting at all, appears completely defeated in the field and is still thrown out on the bases too often to be labeled a truly effective runner. What we’re probably left with is a potential defense-minded fifth outfielder and fantasy non-factor, which is really disappointing given what many thought Williams could become just a few years ago.

He’s even been moved out of center field for prospect Jake Cave, though I doubt we’ll see any sort of free Mason movement coming from Trenton soon. We’ve yet to see Mason jar himself out of this slump, and he’s not a top-200 fantasy name any longer.

Craig: Alberto Tirado, SP, Blue Jays
This one hurts. The third-ranked prospect in the Blue Jays system entering 2014 has taken more steps back than someone who has publicly supported my views on sandwiches. The degree to which Tirado has backslid is as extreme and disturbing as my aforementioned views, as he’s walked 66 batters in 71 2/3 innings, across two levels. His impressive stuff has allowed him to accrue more missed bats than free passes issued, if only barely.

Tirado was another player who I anticipated to take well to the challenge of a full-season assignment, only to struggle immensely, but unlike Cordero and Trahan above, he’s been unable to recapture an semblance of his previous form upon his demotion to Short-Season. Tirado has the potential for three plus pitches, including a plus-plus pitch in his fastball, but without an idea of where it’s going once it leaves his hand, the lethal nature is rendered feckless. Tirado still holds plenty of promise, but we’re nearing a full season of eight-plus walks per nine innings, and even the strongest of believers would acknowledge the damage that does to a prospect’s dynasty value.

Ben: Allen Webster, SP, Red Sox
Did you think I was going to make it an entire article without writing about a Red Sox prospect? That’s adorable. Unfortunately, I’m going back to the well not to extoll the virtues of one of Boston’s up-and-comers, but rather to decry Webster, who technically lost his prospect eligibility last week but is still of interest here. The 24-year-old right-hander had a solid if unspectacular season in Triple-A, posting a 3.10 ERA, 7.38 K/9 and 3.25 BB/9 in 122 innings. That numbers are a bit odd for Webster, as in the past he’d been an occasionally dominating force who tended to miss a lot of bats but was prone to implode. In Pawtucket this year, he seemed to sell off some of his upside in favor of stability, notching fewer strikeouts but achieving better overall results.

The same has not held true for Webster in the majors. Instead, we’ve seen the worst of both worlds, as Webster has struggled to strike anyone out while also frequently losing his release point and demonstrating an inability to command his fastball. His changeup has allowed him to look dominant for innings at a time, but overall, he has a 5.81 ERA after 31 MLB innings, and he’s walked more batters than he’s struck out during that span. Webster will likely lose his job to Anthony Ranaudo in short order, and while Ranaudo doesn’t offer any semblance of upside, I think he’s legit a better fantasy prospect than is Webster at this point. It’s probably time for Webster to move to the ‘pen—a move Craig has been encouraging for years—and in that role he’ll have little fantasy relevancy. The only upside here is that people will stop making “Webster defines walks” jokes if he’s better as a reliever.

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

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Fantasy Article Dynasty Dynamics: More... (08/20)
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Fantasy Article They Hold No Quarter: ... (08/27)

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