Once the holidays have moved on and the calendar has flipped, dynasty leaguers all start to crawl out of the woodwork to submit their rosters for the current season and draft the new group of eligibles to dream on. As Wooderson would say, "that’s what I love about these current-year draftees, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” The promise of the 2013 signees collectively pool together to give dynasty-league rebuilders new hope of contention and dynasty-league contenders new trade chips with which to get the pieces to put them over the top.
And while the 2013 crop isn't the strongest we've seen in recent memory, there are still high-upside options from which to choose. The slight quirk of this year is that the options with the most fantasy upside are, for the most part, not the high school players. In fact, only one of the top six players on this list fit into that category—which is a change of pace from last season, when Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, and Addison Russell all fell into that space (and are all now top-10 prospects in the game). There is no prep arm with more impact potential than Jonathan Gray and no prep bat with more power potential than Kris Bryant. On the international front, just like last year, the crop is headlined by a Cuban hitter and a Japanese pitcher who have impact upside—though for fantasy purposes, they may be less exciting than Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes. Then again, that's not much of a knock on Masahiro Tanaka or Jose Abreu, as you'd be hard pressed to find a one-two punch to match them in most seasons.
This is also the time of year that I get a lot of questions about trades involving draft picks. Like every other year, there is a drop-off after the first tier of players available, but 2014 drafts will see more dramatic tiering in the first round than we're used to. So when someone asks me on Twitter, “should I trade player X and a first round pick for player Y,” the answer is inevitably another question: What pick is that? There is a very sizable difference between the fifth pick and eighth pick in drafts this year, so even small differences matter. And to expound on that a little further, if you don’t have a pick in the top six this year (or top five if Tanaka is not available in your draft), it might be a good time to explore trade options. The biggest weakness of this class of fantasy prospects is in the midsection, and you can take advantage of that by dealing picks for players or pulling a Bill Belichick and securing more picks for 2015—which will have a much deeper draft pool.
These rankings assume a standard 5×5 rotisserie 16-team league where you can keep players forever without restriction. In a deeper league, guys like Mark Appel and Colin Moran will get a slight bump up, just like upside-driven names like Tim Anderson or Aaron Judge will get that same treatment in shallow leagues. “Get on with the list already,” you’re probably thinking and potentially saying out loud to your computer screens (although most of you probably went straight to the names first and are backfilling with the content). Don’t worry, I forgive you. But yes, the list (in tiers):
1) Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2) Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
3) Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Free Agent
4) Clint Frazier, OF, Cleveland Indians
5) Jonathan Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies
6) Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros
Let’s start at the top. Despite Tanaka and Abreu heading straight to the majors and both having chances at stardom, I'm still taking Bryant with the first pick in drafts this year. As a rather polished college hitter, he's not going to be too far behind the pair as far as ETA goes, and the power is just too tantalizing to pass up. That said, it's certainly defensible to take any of the top three with your first selection, depending on how much you believe in the international products. Abreu could be pre-injury Kendrys Morales, but he also has lingering questions about ability to catch up to velocity and his hit tool. Tanaka could be a healthier and slightly better version of Hisashi Iwakuma and slot in as a very good no. 2 fantasy pitcher for your squad, but he's got a ton of miles already on his arm (without the support of a Darvish-like frame).
My love of Clint Frazier is well documented, and frankly, I very nearly put him ahead of Tanaka. It’s just the ETA that pushes him back. Then comes the big decision: Gray or Appel? It’s close and I’ve flip-flopped them a couple of times during the process of researching and making this list. In the end, Gray has the upside to overcome the Coors Field factor and I prefer his strikeout potential to Appel’s safety.
This is the part of the list where the fantasy values drop pretty dramatically.
7) Kohl Stewart, RHP, Minnesota Twins
8) Dominic Smith, 1B, New York Mets
9) Tim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox
10) Sean Manaea, LHP, Kansas City Royals
11) Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
12) D.J. Peterson, 3B, Seattle Mariners
The second group of six here certainly has potential, but it’s a real step down either in upside or safety. Stewart will get billing as the top name in this group, but he’s much closer to Smith’s value than Appel’s. Smith and Peterson both could be very solid fantasy bats, but since neither has huge power or stolen-base ability, their upsides are somewhat limited. The remaining three players have the upside you want, but all carry real risk. Anderson could be an Ian Desmond-type or he could flame out as a utility guy. Manaea has an injury history and though the reports are good now, he could see a setback. Harvey has a lot of upside, but his division and ballpark won’t help and he’s still a long way away.
13) Braden Shipley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
14) Hunter Renfroe, OF, San Diego Padres
15) J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
16) Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
17) Alex Gonzalez, RHP, Texas Rangers
18) Colin Moran, 3B, Miami Marlins
19) Alexander Guerrero, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
20) Hunter Dozier, 3B, Kansas City Royals
The upside in this third grouping is underwhelming. Shipley and Renfroe lead the charge, as they both can reach that next level of prospect status by honing their skills—Renfroe in particular, as a potential power/speed combo (albeit one likely with a low batting average). I’m not the world’s biggest Meadows believer, at least not at a star level, but he’s going to be a fantasy contributor. Moran should be able to hit and starred at North Carolina, but his position and power potential are up in the air—that doesn’t sound at all like Dustin Ackley, right? And Guerrero is a gamble, just without the type of offensive payoff we generally see from Cuban defectors.
21) Reese McGuire, C, Pittsburgh Pirates
22) Trey Ball, LHP, Boston Red Sox
23) Rob Kaminsky, LHP, St Louis Cardinals
24) Devin Williams, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
25) Ryan McMahon, 3B, Colorado Rockies
26) Eric Jagielo, 3B, New York Yankees
27) Bobby Wahl, RHP, Oakland Athletics
28) Billy McKinney, OF, Oakland Athletics
29) Ian Clarkin, LHP, New York Yankees
There’s some talent still in the pool at this point, but once you get outside the top-20, it starts to drop off rapidly. If you’re looking for the most potential bang for your buck in this group, I’d look at numbers 24 and 25. Williams is athletic, but raw, and could take a nice step forward and solidify himself as the Brewers’ top prospect. McMahon is a guy who could hit for power and average—calling Coors Field home is just the icing on the cake.
30) Josh Hart, OF, Baltimore Orioles
31) Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
32) Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox
33) Chance Sisco, C, Baltimore Orioles
34) Eloy Jimenez, OF, Chicago Cubs
35) Marco Gonzales, RHP, St Louis Cardinals
36) Jonathan Denney, C, Boston Red Sox
37) Dustin Peterson, SS, San Diego Padres
38) Chris Anderson, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
39) Nick Ciuffo, C, Tampa Bay Rays
40) Austin Wilson, OF, Seattle Mariners
41) Gleyber Torres, SS, Chicago Cubs
42) Hunter Green, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
43) Travis Demerritte, 3B, Texas Rangers
44) Clinton Hollon, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
45) Jordan Paroubeck, OF, San Diego Padres
46) Ryne Stanek, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
47) Cord Sandberg, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
48) Corey Knebel, RHP, Detroit Tigers
49) Jason Hursh, RHP, Atlanta Braves
50) Tyler Danish, RHP, Chicago White Sox
The rest of this list is filled with lottery tickets (Judge, Devers, Jimenez, Hollon) and likely lower-level contributors (Gonzalez, Anderson, Knebel, Danish). If you’re counting on these guys for anything other than minor-league depth, it’s very likely to end in disappointment.