There’s been so much talk over the past few months about how down this draft class is, and it certainly has held true. The pitchers all got hurt, which is always a fun surprise. It feels like most of the interesting college position players are just barely on the wrong side of being able to play an up-the-middle position. But from a fantasy standpoint, the first round of dynasty drafts this year will not be any weaker than the first round was in the prior year. In fact, you could make the argument that it’s a touch stronger. It becomes far more important to hit on your first pick though, as the draft falls off pretty rapidly.
Right now, we’re in the honeymoon period with these players. We’ve heard all of the comps, seen all of the swings and deliveries. It’s the time to fall in love. But even when you get into the mid 20’s on this list, the overwhelming new car smell can’t cover up the fact that you’re missing your rear windows and door handles. So this is the kind of year where trading those later picks, especially your third and fourth rounders (you know, the ones that still sound valuable, but really aren’t), makes a whole lot of sense.
So with the 2015 First Year Player Draft now in the books, it’s time to take initial stock of how the players involved rank from a dynasty league perspective. It’s also important to keep in mind that a lot will change between now and January (when the final 2015 signee list will come out)—especially because the signing deadline thankfully negotiated into the current CBA will get more of these prospects into games sooner. Other than that, the economics are relatively simple, like all of the other dynasty lists you see at Baseball Prospectus, this assumes a medium-sized mixed league (14-16 teams) with one catcher spot. We do take into account dependent factors like future home park and organization as well. It also presumes that you can keep a player forever without price or contract consequences.
With all of that out of the way, let’s start talking about some actual players. Here are some actual players in list form:
1) Brendan Rodgers, SS, Colorado Rockies (Round 1, Pick 3)
This is not about Coors Field, although it certainly helps. Rodgers is a strong bet to stay at the position long-term and offers the ability to hit for power and average (with a few steals to boot—though it will never be a big part of his game). The comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki are likely to get unfair, but they are present because of how talented Rodgers is. He’s the only player in this class who becomes a top-20 fantasy prospect immediately, and the clear top option here. And yes, this is when I mention that Coors Field is a perfect fit for his profile.
2) Dansby Swanson, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks (Round 1, Pick 1)
Swanson and Bregman are linked by strong college performances for high-end programs, a strong all-around offensive game, and being selected ahead of Brendan Rodgers. While neither Swanson nor Bregman has a profile that translate to fantasy quite as well as Rodgers' does, they shouldn’t be sold short on the whole, as they are extremely safe selections. Swanson should have slightly more power than Bregman, but Bregman might have the more advanced hit tool of the two. In fantasy, the difference between a second baseman (as Bregman is more likely to be) and a shortstop (as Swanson is more likely to be) is nowhere near as large of a deal as it is for the teams that drafted them. It wouldn’t surprise me if either (or both) ended up as a .300 hitting middle infielder with 15-20 homers.
4) Ian Happ, 2B/OF, Chicago Cubs (Round 1, Pick 9)
When looking at these recently drafted players in a fantasy context, there are a multitude of angles to come from. And while the most important is the player’s amateur track record and scouting report, it plays up and down based on organization. For example, Happ is someone who I thought highly of as a hitter at Cincinnati over the last two years (in fact, he’s been inside the top-10 on my amateur fantasy prospect list both years). That’s great. I have opinions, often informed and enforced with experience. But when Jason McLeod takes a hitter in the first round of the draft that means something. If you believe in the power showing through, he could be a near .300 hitter with 20-homer pop. And while his defensive home may be a question mark, it could mean multi-eligibility in the future—which is never a bad thing.
5) Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros (Round 1, Pick 5)
Tucker is the best natural hitter in this class, and possibly the best one in the prep ranks in a few years. He will join the same organization that currently employs his brother, Preston, and immediately becomes most valuable member of his family in fantasy leagues—an impressive feat considering the elder occupies a prominent lineup spot in Houston. There will be a longer lead time on Tucker than the names ahead of him, which knocks him down the list slightly, but there is first-round fantasy upside in his bat. He could hit for average, tap into his plus power, and contribute on the basepaths.
6) Dillon Tate, RHP, Texas Rangers (Round 1, Pick 4)
It’s a bad draft if you’re seeking out pitching for your fantasy squad, but Tate could hold his own, even in a stronger class. He carries more risk than a standard college arm because he only has one year of starting under his belt, but the raw stuff is what top of the rotation dreams are made of. His fastball/breaking ball combo is the best in this class, reaching plus-plus grades on each from multiple sources, and it’s not difficult to envision him racking up strikeouts in Arlington in the next few years.
The delivery may be scary, but the results have long been fantastic. So while the former may knock him out of the top five—due to the present risk that he could be a reliever long-term—the latter holds more weight than Fulmer gets credit for. Personally, I think he’s a starter, a damn good one, and soon. He’s not a finished product by any means, as he’s going to have to sharpen his command in the pro ranks, but the stuff is electric. Plus, the White Sox have a little bit of a history of taking poor mechanics guys and keeping them healthy and in the rotation.
8) Garrett Whitley, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (Round 1, Pick 13)
Tools, tools, tools. That’s the play with Whitley. He has more fantasy upside than anyone not named Brendan Rodgers on this list, including all the makings of a five-category stud. Then again (and stop me if you’ve heard this one before), he’s going to have to make enough contact for all of that to matter. It’s a 20-homer, 40-steal profile, if everything clicks. Of course, we know it’s anything but a surety.
9) Nick Plummer, OF, St Louis Cardinals (Round 1, Pick 23)
The Michigan native is not too dissimilar from Tucker, as he’s a very strong natural hitter with the ability to hit for 25-30 homers annually down the road. The hesitation with Plummer, however, stems from his lack of high-end competition (he’s a cold weather kid), as some scouts are left a bit unsure about how likely he is to reach that upside. Don’t let the fact that he slipped into the 20s be a turn off in a dynasty draft; we don’t care if he’s a left fielder in the end as long as he hits.
The story is well-known at this point, but Aiken has now put ink to his contract with the Indians and will continue on his recovery from Tommy John surgery. If Aiken were healthy, he’d be second on this list behind Rodgers. If Aiken just had the surgery, without the question marks that may or may not come with having a small UCL, he’d likely rank a couple of spots higher as well. But with significant risk, comes significant upside—and fantasy owners are better equipped to handle this going poorly than the Indians are. Aiken still can be a four-category borderline SP1, though even optimistically, his ETA is likely to be 2019 now.
11) Kolby Allard, LHP, Atlanta Braves (Round 1, Pick 14)
The southpaw came into the spring as the top prep pitcher available and a stress fracture in his back helped him fall into Atlanta’s lap. Just like with Aiken, it’s far more manageable for a fantasy owners to swallow the risk associated with Allard than the Braves—even though the lead-time is longer here. Still just 17 years old (he won’t turn 18 until August), Allard features two easy plus pitches in his fastball and curve and complements it well with a strong command profile. It’s not hard to envision an SP2 here, with the ability to strike out 200 batters at his peak.
12) Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox (Round 1, Pick 7)
There are a few things in every draft class that scare me: hit-tool dominated college hitters, high school pitchers, and college hitters with exactly one good season. Benintendi has all of the attributes you’d want in a fantasy selection, and he was amazing for Arkansas in his sophomore season, but it was just one season. He certainly has looked the part of a 15-homer, 30-steal outfielder that can even help you a little in batting average; this is just where some of my caution comes in.
13) Daz Cameron, OF, Houston Astros (Round CB-A, Pick 37)
I know we’re still in the aftermath of the Astros’ strategy and Cameron’s perceived price tag, but don’t let his draft spot fool you. It’s very unlikely he’ll turn into a fantasy superstar, but Cameron should be able to do enough to be a worthy across-the-board contributor, capable of nearing 20-20 at peak. He might even be able to be more functional in batting average than his father, Mike.
14) Cornelius Randolph, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies (Round 1, Pick 10)
15) Trenton Clark, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (Round 1, Pick 15)
16) Josh Naylor, 1B, Miami Marlins (Round 1, Pick 12)
This is the next level of upside in this draft class. Randolph could be a middle of the order hitter in Philadelphia with 25-30 homer power—especially in that ball park. Clark is a slightly more advanced, but less toolsy version of Whitley; which is what dings him a little on the fantasy side. We love upside, if you hadn’t heard. Speaking of upside, Naylor’s power is potentially of the plus-plus variety, which means he could be looking at 30-plus jacks at the major-league level. It’s a shame the Marlins popped him so early, since he’d be a guy trumpeted by the fantasy community; however, the talk of him being a reach is also helping to push down his value slightly.
17) Walker Buehler, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Round 1, Pick 24)
18) Tyler Jay, LHP, Minnesota Twins (Round 1, Pick 6)
19) Scott Kingery, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies (Round 2, Pick 48)
20) Jon Harris, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (Round 1, Pick 29)
If the group before was the fun prep class, this is the mostly scary college class. Buehler and Jay both carry SP2 upside, but are much higher risks to end up as relievers than you want a first round pick in a dynasty draft to be. I’m more confident in Buehler to stick in a rotation than Jay. Harris should be a slightly better bet for a starting role long-term, but doesn’t quite have the out pitch that the two others ahead of him have. That leaves the one hitter in group, who I actually like quite a bit. Kingery has the potential to steal a whole host of bases with his easy plus speed—and a solid hit tool, along with developing power, gives him a Jason Kipnis fantasy starter set. Of course, he’d have to max out everywhere to do that, so let’s not get too carried away yet.
21) Chris Betts, C, Tampa Bay Rays (Round 2, Pick 52)
22) Donnie Dewees, OF, Chicago Cubs (Round 2, Pick 47)
23) Mitch Hansen, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Round 3, Pick 67)
These three are personal favorites of mine once you get past the more obvious talent. Betts is certainly no sure thing to stick at catcher, but even if he has to move to first base down the road, he still has the hit/power combo to make it there. If he does stick behind the plate, he could be a high-end fantasy backstop capable of approaching 25 homers. The North Florida center fielder, Dewees, has a strong speed component to his game, but complements it with enough average and power to avoid being a one-category wonder. Hansen is a do-it-all prep outfielder, who isn’t much less interesting than the top five-category prep bats in this draft. He just has more risk in the hit tool than Clark and quieter tools across the board than Whitley.
24) Phil Bickford, RHP, San Francisco Giants (Round 1, Pick 18)
25) Jacob Nix, RHP, San Diego Padres (Round 3, Pick 86)
26) Kevin Newman, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates (Round 1, Pick 19)
27) Tyler Stephenson, C, Cincinnati Reds (Round 1, Pick 11)
28) Ashe Russell, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Round 1, Pick 21)
29) Mike Matuella, RHP, Texas Rangers (Round 3, Pick 78)
Go ahead and pick your poison here. The arms all carry significant risk, but Bickford ended up in just about a perfect situation with the Giants, which ticks him up slightly. Matuella is as much of a wild card as exists in this whole class, but the SP2 ceiling he showed prior to his back and elbow injuries is enough to stop him from slipping any further than this spot. Stephenson slots in behind Betts in the prep catcher ranks, and it’s mostly because I worry that he won’t hit enough for the plus raw power to play through. Power is scarce at the catcher position, but it’s not that scarce. Finally, Newman is boring and safe; he could be a D.J. LeMahieu type from a fantasy perspective. That should explain why he’s not higher on this list.
30) Bryce Denton, OF, St Louis Cardinals (Round 2, Pick 66)
31) Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Round 1, Pick 35)
32) Nate Kirby, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers (Round CB-A, Pick 40)
33) D.J. Stewart, OF, Baltimore Orioles (Round 1, Pick 25)
34) Eric Jenkins, OF, Texas Rangers (Round 2, Pick 45)
35) Mike Nikorak, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Round 1, Pick 27)
36) James Kaprellian, RHP, New York Yankees (Round 1, Pick 16)
37) Tyler Nevin, 3B, Colorado Rockies (Round CB-A, Pick 38)
38) Beau Burrows, RHP, Detroit Tigers (Round 1, Pick 22)
39) Josh Sborz, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Round CB-B, Pick 74)
40) Juan Hillman, LHP, Cleveland Indians (Round 2, Pick 59)
And this is the second place where you really notice the difference between the overall quality of last year’s crop and the current one. There’s some upside here, but mostly it’s comprised of players doomed to fail for various reasons. Uplifting, I know. Denton has some pop, but Craig Goldstein has already claimed him for his own, so I’m legally obligated to stop speaking about him. Funkhouser and Kirby saw their once high first-round stocks tumble and now they’re barely more than lottery tickets. Nikorak ended up in Colorado; which is both a terrible thing from both an environment and development standpoint. Jenkins has speed, but his other skills are questionable. Kaprelian could be the fastest moving arm in this draft class, but doesn’t carry a ton of fantasy upside and he’ll call Yankee Stadium home. Burrows throws hard, but his other skills are questionable. Sborz is likely a reliever, but if he can start, he could surprise plenty. Hillman lacks traditional upside, but his stuff now is quite good and he knows how to pitch. The profile reminds me a little of Jose Berrios, but like Berrios, he’ll have to prove it all the way up.
Demi Orimoloye, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (Round 4, Pick 121)
Christin Stewart, OF, Detroit Tigers (Round 1, Pick 24)
Justin Hooper, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers (Round 25, Pick 751)
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates (Round 1, Pick 32)
Tristan McKenzie, RHP, Cleveland Indians (Round CB-A, Pick 42)
Nolan Watson, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Round 1, Pick 33)
Chris Shaw, 1B, San Francisco Giants (Round 1, Pick 31)
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