Outside of the BP staff league here, I pretty much only play in dynasty formats. Some of those leagues are shallower types – a 12-teamer with 7-man minor league rosters, a 14-teamer with 5 apiece – and others with no player universe restrictions and not-infrequent trades involving 15-year-old Dominicans and college freshmen who won’t be MLB Draft-eligible for two more seasons. Those of you knuckleheads who play in leagues more akin to the latter will have our Ocean’s Floor series to look forward to as usual this winter. For the rest of y’all normals, though, this column is designed more for your speed.
Every year around this time I like to take stock of the lower minors and pin down my helium guys to target before the balloons inflate too full. So without further ado, here are eight of my favorite A-ball targets for this winter in shallower and medium-depth dynasty leagues.
Monte Harrison, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (High-A Carolina League) – Harrison’s season – .350 OBP, 21 dingers, and 27 bags across two Low-A levels – is a cautionary tale against giving up on elite athletes too early. And when I say elite, I mean elite. I wrote about his raw tools at the season’s outset, and finally, for the first time in his young career, the former second-rounder managed to stay healthy long enough to start converting those immense tools into baseball skills. There’s still a long way to go here, but this season was a monumental step in the right direction, and seven runners with six raw and even nascent signs of a hit tool don’t grow on trees.
Keston Hiura, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Midwest League) – Sure, Brendan McKay’s got the two-way thing, and top overall pick Royce Lewis has more tools than you can shake a fancy, store-bought stick at. But for my money Hiura was the top dynasty bat in this draft class. He might be the best pure collegiate bat I’ve scouted since I started doing this. The approach, bat speed, and body control is all highly advanced, and early pro reports remained highly enthusiastic. If you’ve got yourself an early pick in a first-year player draft this winter, you’d do well to spend it on Hiura.
Michel Baez, RHP, San Diego Padres (Low-A Midwest League) – I’ve been beating a consistent drum about Baez at every opportunity around here lately, so why not toss another shout-out onto the pile? I’m not one to invest in A-ball pitchers by trade, but there are exceptions to every rule, and giant Cubans with disgusting stuff and some feel for where it’s going will always qualify for my list. If you haven’t had the opportunity to peruse Will Siskel’s piece on Fort Wayne’s rotation, you…you should go do that now.
Nolan Jones, 3B, Cleveland Indians (Short-Season NYPL) – I feel like there are a few guys in every draft class like this: the prep bat who goes in the comp or second round, doesn’t really do a ton to stand out after signing, and goes the entirety of his next season unowned in moderate-depth dynasty leagues as a result. Then the next batch of shiny new draftees gets dumped onto the table in your next draft, and that prep bat from last year’s class just kind of keeps floating around. Those guys can be a really nice source of sneaky value into the second, third, fourth rounds of your prospect draft. Jones is one of those guys. At 19 he’s still working on filling out his athletic, 6-foot-4 frame, and scouts have long projected him to grow into plus power once he does. He already impressed with an advanced approach in the NYPL this year, and his strong command of the zone positions him well to bring that eventual power into games.
Jhailyn Ortiz, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (Short-Season NYPL) – If you’ve read anything I’ve written on the pages of this site over the years, you’ve probably caught whiff of a theme: I’m a sucker for behemoth sluggers who won’t age well. Enter Ortiz, who at barely 18 years of age checked in at a robust list size of 6-foot-3, 215 pounds at the season’s outset. It is not a svelte 215, either. He surprised scouts a bit with demonstrated athleticism in right field, and even thiefed a few bases in Low A this summer. But let’s not kid ourselves: if you’re investing a roster spot in a kid like Ortiz now, you’re doing so with the hope that he keeps his body in check long enough to bring his top-of-the-scale raw power far enough into games that he develops into a power-hitting lineup cornerstone. And based on the early returns, it’s not crazy to think he might do just that some day. Given the pedigree – he signed at 16 for $4 million – and strong performance out of the gate, if he mashes in full-season next year he’s going to fly up dynasty rankings. Take the flier now while there’s a flier to take.
Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Oakland Athletics (Short-Season NYPL) – I just wrote up Luzardo as my breakout pick for 2018 in this week’s Ten Pack, so I’ll refer you in that direction for the goods. Luzardo’s an A-ball arm, and a Tommy John recovery at that, so the risk factor here is not ideal. Same time, before his elbow blew out he was considered to be among the handful of top prep arms in his draft class, and the stuff has come back intact. He can move quickly next year, and when he does he’s going to become a popular target for in-season pick-ups and drafts.
Wander Javier, SS, Minnesota Twins (Rookie Appalachian League) – Javier was one of the top J2 signs in 2015, with reports indicating plus speed, a frame that can grow into 55 power at maturity, and the feel and athleticism to develop as a shortstop. He was considered raw as a hitter, but the Twins didn’t seem particularly concerned, jumping him stateside this summer at 18. And they were rewarded for their aggressiveness, as Javier came over and pummeled Appy League pitching. He’s probably still a tick below others on this list in terms of being an appropriate target for leagues rostering less than 80 or 90 prospects. But he’s already creeping into top 100 consideration, and he’s got the kind of profile that will up and explode if he puts together a decent year in full-season.
Heliot Ramos, OF, San Francisco Giants (Rookie AZL) – If Hiura was the best fantasy bat in this draft class, Ramos might be my favorite. He was one of the youngest players to hear his name called in June (19th overall by the Giants), and he wowed scouts in Arizona after signing with dynamic physicality and awesome bat speed. When you hear phrases talking about a player who “oozes projection” or “very well may win you a fantasy title some day if you don’t do something stupid like trade him for Jeff Samardzija in a deadline deal,” you hear those phrases about a player like this. As a first-rounder with some post-draft helium he’ll be a tough get in your first-year player draft, but I’d consider trading up into the top 6-7 range to make a play at him.