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March 3, 2014
The Top 101 Fantasy Prospects of 2014
Part One: 1-50
The following is an excerpt from the upcoming Baseball Prospectus Futures Guide 2014, our second-annual prospect book, which will collect all of BP's offseason prospect content (plus exclusive prospect and fantasy offerings) in book and e-book form. Here's a look at last year's book; expect an even more meaty offering this time around.
In an age where there’s more statistical information available on players than ever before, you’ve come to the right place to differentiate yourself from your league-mates. Even if you don’t play in a keeper or dynasty league where you can own minor leaguers without wasting roster spots, the importance of reading scouting reports and knowing who these players are becomes obvious when a few years later you are faced with the dilemma of choosing them for your roster.
If you are in a dynasty league, you can take advantage of the box-score scouts by knowing more tangible details about a player. How can his power tool progress as he develops? How much of his speed at the minor-league level is sustainable for major-league stolen-base success? Does he lack high-end bat speed and can he potentially be exposed as the pitching he’s facing improves?
The more you know, the more you’ll win. And the more you win, the happier you’ll feel. So let’s start your journey toward nirvana.
Within this list, you’ll find some fantasy-specific information about each player—namely where his impact lies and how much you can expect to one day pay for his services if he reaches the heights he is capable of reaching. Also included this year are “Realistic Ceiling” and “Realistic Floor” designations, which are meant to give a more tangible idea of who these players can become from a statistical standpoint or compared to their peers. So when I say that Rougned Odor could be Martin Prado, I do not mean it in any scouting sense—but strictly in the type of value he can have for a fantasy team.
I also won’t go too in depth with the commentary here, as you’ve just combed through hundreds of pages of scouting reports, and I’m not going to add anything earth shattering. Plus, more detailed fantasy takes are already sprinkled throughout the top 10 lists.
Finally, like any list, there are some disclaimers to go over before we get started. These rankings are for fantasy purposes only and do not directly take into account things like an outfielder’s ability to stick in center or a catcher’s pop time.
Of course, these things often matter indirectly, as they affect a player’s ability to either stay in the lineup or maintain eligibility. So, while Austin Hedges is a top-20 prospect on Jason Parks’ Top 101 list, this is largely because of his defensive value. Hedges doesn’t make the Fantasy 101 list because underneath that glossy defense is a bat that doesn’t profile so well in our world.
Additionally, home environments and league differences need to be factored in, just as they are when we are when talking about a major-league player. If Josh Johnson’s fantasy potential skyrockets from moving both from the American League to the National League and from a hitters’ park in Toronto to a pitchers’ paradise in San Diego, we can’t pretend that these prospects operate in a vacuum, unaffected by such factors. Of course, there’s no guarantee that they will reach the majors with their current organizations, so while it is not a heavy consideration, it is reflected.
In the end, the intention of this list is to balance the upside, probability, and proximity of these players to an active fantasy lineup. These rankings should be viewed in the context of a medium-sized mixed dynasty league where you have a separate minor-league farm team. That means if you’re in a deep league, you can bump up some of the names that have higher probability and lower ceiling, like Matt Davidson and Rafael Montero. The opposite also applies with shallower leagues, where the focus should be upside, upside, and more upside—in those leagues, players like Tim Anderson and Joey Gallo will have increased value due to the elevated replacement level and likely shallowness of the minor-league systems.
No other prospect on this list combines Bogaerts’ level of combined floor and ceiling for fantasy—and he’ll be receiving regular at-bats in April. Playing half his games in Fenway will only magnify the positives of his skill set by allowing him to take aim at the Monster.
The only thing more dynamic than Buxton’s fantasy upside might be his smile. What’s keeping him from the top spot on this list is the fact that he has no experience in Double-A yet—not that it should be an issue for him.
Taveras was supposed to have gotten a half-season of playing time by now, but his ankle did not go along with the plan. The 2014 season will be take two, and while the Cardinals’ major-league lineup looks full, like the Red Sea, it will part for him when he’s ready.
Baez has upside and bat speed for days. He also has nowhere near the floor of the first three names on this list for fantasy purposes. The other complicating factor (though it shouldn’t affect how Baez is valued) is that his major-league defensive home is up for debate.
The first-overall pick from 2012 only got better as the 2013 season went on. It will be fun to see what kind of numbers he can put up in Lancaster, as the Astros haven’t had an offensive prospect this advanced (or good) in recent memory.
All systems are go for Hamilton to start Opening Day in center field for Cincinnati. He is the only player in professional baseball who has the potential to steal 100 bases in the major leagues, but he’s going to have to get on base (either by hitting or walking) to come close.
7. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins (Age: 19, Previous Rank: 11)*
The power is real and is beloved in fantasy circles. The hit tool scares some, but more than it should. No one is expecting a near-.300 average out of Sano, but with the fantasy stars at the hot corner aging (or losing eligibility), 40 homers at that spot is elite—even if he hits .250.
8. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 35)
Last season went a long way toward showing that Springer is not going to follow Brett Jackson’s career path. The contact rate improved without damaging the beloved secondary skills. He’ll likely start the year back in Triple-A, but through no fault of his own.
Russell doesn’t share the same lofty fantasy ceiling as the three shortstops ranked ahead of him, but that’s a reflection on the forest, not this individual tree. Importantly, he’s also the likeliest of the bunch to stay at the position long term.
10. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs (Age: 22, Previous Rank: NR)
The top fantasy prospect from the 2013 draft, Bryant is already one of the most powerful prospects in the minor leagues. Don’t stress about whether he’ll end up at third or in the outfield, as the latter isn’t nearly as deep as it seems.
If they pitched in neutral parks/leagues, Walker and Bradley would be a coin flip, but with Safeco being a more pleasant place to pitch than Chase Field, the Seattle righty gets the nod. To be fair, it’s like choosing between cake and pie.
The hammer is potentially special and could go a long way toward buoying the rest of his fantasy game, even if his command regresses at the major-league level. It’s not unrealistic to think that he’ll to lead the National League in strikeouts at some point before the end of the decade.
It’s tough to follow in the footsteps of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, but the big right-hander is up to the challenge. Plus, if you draft him, you can name your team “Stand Gaard” and your team logo can be the picture of Syndergaard working out in his Thor costume.
The problem with trying to translate Polanco into fantasy categories is that he projects to have real impact in all five, it just likely won’t happen at the same time. He’ll be more steal-heavy when he arrives, and once the power develops, he’ll likely be slowing down.
Gausman was far better than he’s being given credit for in his brief 2013 major-league debut. He’s unlikely to crack the Orioles rotation out of spring training, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he were their best pitcher by year’s end.
A contender for Rookie of the Year honors in the American League this season, Ventura’s heat added some spice to the end of the Royals’ 2013 season. He may struggle to throw 200-plus innings, but the rate stats have the potential to be high-end.
There’s been no shortage of Giolito love this offseason after he showed his pre-injury raw stuff in the minors—it’s top of the pops. But don’t lose sight of how much risk is still here. If he had just pitched in Double-A, he’d be right up there with the big four.
18. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 7)
While Cory Luebke, Ryan Madson, and Daniel Hudson have reminded us that Tommy John surgery is no sure thing, Bundy will look to be back on the mound this summer and could make a fantasy impact even in a relief role this season, if the Orioles let him.
If fantasy upside is what you seek, Frazier is where you need to go. Armed with bat speed that could seriously injure a water buffalo, he has the raw tools to be a fantasy superstar. He could be the one who forces teams to change their stance on drafting redheads.
There is less than one handful of arms on this list with higher ultimate fantasy upside than Gray, and that’s despite him pitching half his games at altitude. Don’t be surprised if he moves very quickly and sees action in Denver before rosters expand in 2014.
21. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 15)
Taillon gets lost in the shuffle behind the present dream of Gerrit Cole and the future dream of Tyler Glasnow, but that’s ridiculous. He’ll set out to prove this to be comical in Pittsburgh as soon as May or June 2014.
The Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler swap gave Castellanos the clear inside track to playing time in Detroit until he proves he doesn’t deserve it. The batting-glove-less wonder will have an adjustment period in 2014, but can hit right through it.
23. Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 77)
Cheese is delicious, but cheese alone does not make a meal. The Reds flamethrower has work ahead of him to satisfy those counting on him upon his arrival in the Queen City. The triple-digit heat will get him in the door, but it won’t unlock the key to fantasy stardom.
24. Travis d’Arnaud, C, New York Mets (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 12)
The offensive environments d’Arnaud has frequented in his march up the minor-league ranks may overstate his case at the plate slightly, but the power is real and will show up in games if he stops showing up in the trainer’s office.
25. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 47)
Common sense states pitching in Kauffman Stadium will help Zimmer, but then again, he spent the first couple of months in 2013 getting knocked around in Wilmington—one of the ultimate minor-league pitchers’ parks.
26. Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros (Age: 22, Previous Rank: NR)
The fantasy ceiling usually associated with a 1-1 pick in the draft isn’t quite there with Appel, as he’s unlikely to find a home as a fantasy ace. However, in deeper leagues, his value shoots up because of his floor—which is as high as that of any other arm on this list.
It’s tough to overstate the ceiling in play here, as Alfaro could be a 30-homer, middle-of-the-lineup hitter, also capable of stealing double-digit bags. Unfortunately, it’s also tough to overstate the risk, as he just may never hit enough for it to matter.
28. Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 22)
If you believe in either second chances of the legalization of marijuana, Singleton is your kind of guy. He was bad, out of shape, and suspended for portions of the 2013 season, but still carries plenty of upside as a power prospect—and showed it off in winter ball.
29. Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 33)
There’s a real risk with Martinez that, despite the opportunity he should get in the rotation, the combination of organizational depth and his sheer awesomeness coming out of the bullpen will keep him there for good. This would deprive fans everywhere.
Martinez gets the nod over Stroman because he’s done it on the big stage, but they both have excellent stuff. He’ll get opportunities north of the border, but if he doesn’t make the most of them, he could get put back into the reliever box quickly.
31. Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 22, Previous Rank: NR)
Owings will have that pesky Didi Gregorius (and Kevin Towers, by extension) in the way of his playing time for 2014, but the job should be his before long. He can do a little of everything, which goes a long way when a player is shortstop-eligible.
Pederson has the misfortune (if you can call it that) of being known as a gritty gaming gamer who knows how to play the game the right way and maximizes his tools. It’s unfortunate because it overshadows his actual tools, which are very real (including his surprising power).
33. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 59)
Yes, that is done to make a point. Lindor may not have extreme ceiling in fantasy (unlike he does in real life with that defense), but he’s this high on the list because he is a very safe pick. He’ll hit enough, have enough pop, and steal some bases.
Being caught between an organization no one pays attention to and a younger/better pitcher in Jose Fernandez helps Heaney fly under the radar in South Florida. However, expect him to flash brightly in air traffic control booths as soon as June of this year.
The fact that the Phillies are starting to get him some action at first base in 2014 doesn’t mean he’s doomed to a fantasy life of poor eligibility. His high-contact approach for a potential power source, combined with a future in a park that’s very friendly to right-handed hitters, is attractive.
36. Corey Seager, 3B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 19, Previous Rank: 88)
There is potential in both the average and power departments with Seager, but how much depends on whose eyes he is being viewed through. Still more safety than ceiling at this point, he will fit in nicely at a weak position in Los Angeles.
37. David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 45)
It’s not very common for a player to miss nearly a whole season and move up in these rankings, but with great reports about his makeup and work ethic, Dahl may be more likely to reach his lofty ceiling than originally anticipated.
38. Matthew Wisler, RHP, San Diego Padres (Age: 21, Previous Rank: NR)
Wisler ranks high here because he’s close and San Diego is a wonderful place to
39. Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Chicago Cubs (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 67)
Vogelbach is the first name on the Fantasy 101 that does not show up on Jason Parks’ Top 101, and for good reason: He can’t play the field. For better or worse, we don’t care about that. We care that it’s always autumn in Vogelbach’s world, since there will be a lot of raking in his future.
40. Max Fried, LHP, San Diego Padres (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 42)
Even with a year that looked deceptively pedestrian on a statistical level, Fried still maintains some of the highest upside in the minor leagues in that left arm of his. However, someone needs to hide him from the UCL boogeyman in San Diego.
41. Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Age: 23, Previous Rank: NR)
In a context-neutral setting, Butler probably deserves to be 5-10 spots higher, but Coors is Coors, and it remains a force to be reckoned with. If he’s a starter, he should be good. If he’s a reliever, he should be great.
42. Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 82)
There’s a wide range of outcomes with Meyer because, despite the strides he’s made in the last two years, it’s anything but a lock that he’ll stick in the rotation long term. Don’t lose patience with him though—sometimes it just takes super-tall guys longer.
43. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs (Age: 22, Previous Rank: NR)
There’s plenty of excitement in the range of tools here—especially with Alcantara’s speed—but the ability to hit for average and power is still up in the air. Without help in those categories, he becomes a decent steals guy, but not much else.
44. Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers (Age: 20, Previous Rank: NR)
The Odor/Alcantara debate was one that raged from the zygote stage of this list. In the end, it just depends on league size. In a deeper league, Odor is the better play, but in a shallower format, Alcantara has the requisite upside.
45. Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 17, Previous Rank: NR)
When someone has success at such a young age, it’s tough to gauge how high his star can rise. For all of his press (which is deserved), Urias has benefited from not having to turn over a lineup often in 2013. He could take a step forward and be great or begin his descent into darkness.
46. Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 28)
The power potential is there, and it is tempting, but Soler is going to have to show that he can stay healthy and tap into that power the way someone with his thunder is intended to. He may not have the fantasy pull of Baez or Bryant, but that’s not his fault.
47. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 20, Previous Rank: NR)
On the one hand, Glasnow gets less attention in fantasy leagues because we are all busy losing our minds over Giolito. On the other, his strikeout numbers were ridiculous (164 in 111 1/3 innings). Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
48. Kohl Stewart, RHP, Minnesota Twins (Age: 19, Previous Rank: NR)
The best prep pitcher in the 2013 draft, Stewart was taken by the Twins despite his ability to miss bats. As long as they don’t try to get him to stop doing that, he could be a fantasy force in another three or four years.
49. Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 65)
What’s a fantasy prospects list that doesn’t invoke Charles Dickens? Wong is going to play now in St. Louis, and he has enough all-around skill to warrant ownership in all leagues right away (though he’s more of a middle-of-the-road middle-infield option in shallow formats). But will the Cards let him run?
How highly Sanchez is valued is directly proportional to how likely he is to stay behind the plate. This story is just one of the many reasons catching prospects in dynasty leagues are highly volatile propositions: many trapdoors to fall through.
*Note: These rankings went to print before some recent injury news surfaced. Miguel Sano would drop from no. 7 to no. 10 (behind Kris Bryant) and Taijuan Walker would drop from no. 11 to no. 14 (behind Gregory Polanco) if their respective injuries were factored into the rankings.
Part two, with prospects 51-101 and those who just missed the list, will run tomorrow.