Sometimes there’s just a more fun way to do things. I am currently in the final stages of drafting my Top 100 Fantasy Prospects list (which will hit BP in mid-February), but everyone does lists. What everyone doesn’t do is gather together a whole bunch of experts across the industry, from both a fantasy and scouting perspective, to gather in one e-mail chain and draft 140 of their favorites. Last month, I sent out the bat signal to people who really know and love prospects—and from that alarm, a group of 14 have assembled to carry out this exercise with much aplomb. We hope you have half as much fun reading about this draft as we had carrying it out.
But first, we must examine the parameters. There are always parameters. These were the instructions for the participants of this draft, straight from the email I sent out prior to kickoff:
“The premise is very simple, we're drafting a minor league roster for a brand new dynasty league team (no one has a major league roster yet). The ‘league’ is standard 14-team 5×5 rotisserie where you keep all players indefinitely with no contracts/salaries involved. The first rule is that any player you select must still have their prospect status intact, sans service time restrictions (meaning 50 IP/130 AB max). The second rule is that there are no other rules. It's just about building the type of farm system you would want to start from scratch with.”
Just 14 guys drafting 10 minor leaguers a piece to start a dynasty league roster with. And the most fun part about this exercise is that with all of the picks, I asked each “owner” to write a quick comment on why they were taking the player—so you’re going to be reading analysis directly from the person who made the pick in the draft. The result of this is not a precise prospect list by any means, but a great representation of how minor league players are valued for fantasy across the industry. As a final note, since we were operating off current status as of January 1, 2014, Masahiro Tanaka was not available, while Jose Abreu and Alexander Guerrero were.
So without any further ado, here are the first two rounds of the Baseball Prospectus Expert Mock Prospect Draft:
1.1) Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Eno Sarris, FanGraphs)
“The fact that the Cards have two center fielders right now, and take their time with their prospects (top-ten oldest debut age in this decade) and that Taveras plays an un-scarce position gave me enough pause to consider a certain Boston infielder first, but I'm a sucker for power attached to a tiny strikeout rate. I know that in real life, strikeouts aren't as worrisome and a plus walk rate and infield D would probably push the infielder ahead—but we play fantasy ball, and strikeouts and batting average don't mix well.”
1.2) Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins (Chris Crawford, MLB Draft Insider)
“That certain infielder that Mr. Sarris passed on was tempting at this point, but Buxton's overall package is just too appetizing to pass on at this point. He won't help you in 2014—and maybe not even 2015—but with his tools he has a chance to help you in all five rotisserie categories; depending of course where the Twins chose to deploy him in the lineup. As good as some of the other options are, Buxton has the best chance of becoming a fantasy superstar of any prospect left in my opinion, and will be well worth the wait.”
1.3) Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox (Ray Guilfoyle, Fake Teams)
“I am shocked that he is here at no. 3 as I see him as the top fantasy prospect for 2014, and possibly long term, as he possesses the hit and power tools to be valuable at shortstop or third base, should he outgrow shortstop. I am pretty high on him for 2014, ranking him as a top-five fantasy shortstop, with the chance to hit for a high average with double digit home runs in one of the more productive lineups in the game. Looking into the future, it is easy to see him as the top fantasy shortstop once the two top guys there now begin the decline phase of their careers.”
1.4) Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins (John Sickels, Minor League Ball)
“This comes down to an extremely difficult three-way choice between Miguel Sano, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant. All three have a strong case. All three have enormous power. Baez and Sano have contact issues, but are younger than Bryant. Baez has an outside chance to stick at shortstop, but Sano is the youngest and is more patient than Baez. I also think that Sano's defense at third is underrated, but Bryant should be fine at third and Baez has the tools to play there certainly if shortstop doesn't work out.
Bryant is probably the safest pick and if this were strictly fantasy I would select him. However, this is "build the best farm system you can build." On my post-season ranking list I had Sano as the highest of the trio, so I will stick with that. All three should be outstanding power hitters but Sano is the youngest and ultimately I will use that as the trump card.”
1.5) Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs (Bret Sayre, Baseball Prospectus)
“I have to say, I was pretty pleased to see Baez still available with this pick. His upside for fantasy rivals that of Byron Buxton—even if he's unlikely to reach it (he'd need to max out offensively and stick at short for that to happen). But even without that, he's still a potential 30-home-run infielder with bat speed for days and enough speed to be a legitimate five-category contributor. The contact issues are there, but it's not nearly enough of a detriment to give me pause here.”
1.6) Carlos Correa, SS Houston Astros (J.D. Sussman, Bullpen Banter)
“The top five went off the board as I expected—most play premium positions, are close to contributing, and possess elite talent. At this point, I'm happy to draft a prospect with two or three of those qualities, but there is a noticeable drop off in present fantasy value.
I struggled between Correa and Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco, initially settling on the latter before deciding Correa's ceiling and position scarcity outweighed Polanco's stolen-base and proximity advantages. The former first overall selection's upside at shortstop is limitless and far too great to pass up.
Taijuan Walker earned more than a passing thought but as I noted last year, I refuse to take a pitcher this early. Starting pitchers are weak four category players (they have just moderate effect on wins and ERA/WHIP are subject to defense and park factors) and they're too injury prone. Plus, while a physical specimen—have I talked enough about his leg strength?—Walker is rawer than many concede.”
1.7) Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Mike Newman, RotoScouting)
“For the second year in a row, the guy who advises against taking a pitcher in the first round does just that. In this instance, Archie Bradley over Mariners Taijuan Walker is more of a 1A versus 1B pick than anything else. Having seen both in 2013, Bradley possesses the more refined breaking ball that pushes him slightly ahead. Plus, seeing him attack Dodgers Yasiel Puig on the inner half or a strikeout looking is seared into my memory as a scouting moment I'll never forget.
With a mid-90s fastball and hammer curve, Bradley has the size and stuff to post many seasons of 200-plus innings and strikeouts. The profile is of a true ace and those are nearly impossible to come by. For the record, I'd still take the Diamondbacks’ right-hander even if Masahiro Tanaka were available. Yes, Bradley is THAT good!”
1.8) Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs (Ben Carsley, Baseball Prospectus)
“I love me some Taijuan Walker, but I just can't pass up on the power potential here. With the Olt/Baez/Castro logjam I'm not convinced he starts his MLB career at 3B, but even in the OF Bryant has top-30 fantasy upside and I shouldn't have to wait too long to see this pick pay dividends. Honestly, I'm thrilled he's left here as I think he's one of two second-tier fantasy prospects remaining on the board and the best fantasy prospect from the 2013 draft. I'll have to see if Roman Quinn gets back to me in Round 2. “
1.9) Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics (Nick Shlain, Rotowire)
“I like Tai Walker as a no. 2 on playoff team, but I was only going to consider a pitcher with this pick if Bradley was still on the board. So with him gone and Bogaerts, Correa, and Baez off the board, I'll grab the next best SS prospect. Russell hit .275/.377/.508 as the only 19-year-old in the Cal League this year and looks more like a big league shortstop defensively everyday. Like Mr. Carsley, I'm also hoping a certain speedy prospect makes it back to me in Round 2.“
1.10) Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds (Mike Rosenbaum, Bleacher Report)
“I had my fingers crossed that either Bryant or Russell would fall to me with the 10th pick, if only so I wouldn't feel compelled to draft a pitcher in the first round. Well, both players came off the board right before my turn, which means I probably should draft Taijuan Walker… but I'm going with Billy Hamilton, who's already been tabbed as the Reds' Opening Day CF. I'm far from sold on his bat and worry about the on-base skills improving at the highest level, but the off-chance Hamilton becomes something special is too tantalizing to pass up here, especially knowing that everyone else is targeting speed next time through the order. Plus, even though Walker should to be a stud, he's not Archie Bradley, and I'm confident there'll still be high-upside arms on the board in the upcoming rounds.”
1.11) George Springer, OF, Houston Astros (Craig Glaser, Bloomberg Sports)
“Springer might be on the older side (he's 24 already, gasp) but he offers an intriguing package for fantasy leagues and should start producing as soon as he's called up this year. Brian Cartwright's Oliver projections have Springer posting 4.6 WAR this season in 600 PA despite a 39.8 strikeout percentage (a figure which I hope/think Springer will beat.) While Oliver's projected .228 batting average would be tough to live with, the 30 HR and 30 SB would be a great addition to any OF. Springer should be hitting in the middle of the lineup so he'll also have a positive impact in the R/RBI categories making him a really nice four-category player, even if his batting average does disappoint. If he can cut down on the strikeout rate (Steamer projects a 26.9 K% with a .256 AVG) he'll be even more valuable.”
1.12) Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (Jim Callis, MLB.com)
“I wish the first 11 picks had broken better for me, because the top of my prospect board now consists of several pitchers and Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, whose great glove won't be of any value in fantasy baseball. (I like his bat, but his defense drives his value.) I'm not going to take a pitcher here, because a) they're riskier fantasy investments, especially with my first-rounder, and b) there are enough of them that I can still get one of the best five picks from now. After all that bellyaching, I went with Polanco because I think he'll provide across-the-board value. He should hit for at least a solid average and has a good chance to be a 20-20 guy and maybe even a 30-30 guy. With his on-base ability and speed, he'll score a lot of runs, and with his pop, he'll drive in a lot, too.”
1.13) Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners (Nick Faleris, Baseball Prospectus)
“Jim summed-up my take on the positional side of the available prospect landscape, popping the only remaining hitter I'd consider over a nice collection of high-ceilinged hurlers. A pitcher-phobic first round has left for me arguably the top prospect arm in the game, with Walker's fastball/cutter combo capable of missing big-league bats right away. The command is still developing across the arsenal, and the curve remains inconsistent, but there is no doubt the young power arm is ready to step into the Mariners rotation and do some damage once camp breaks. As a nice bonus, Walker has a decent chance to outperform 2014 projections off the strength of a rapidly improving change-up, which continues to get a surprising amount of love from evaluators in spite of ugly looks early in the 2013 campaign. It could be a game changer as early as this summer, both as a bury pitch when ahead and as a tool to keep hitters from sitting on the fastball/cutter velo range and plane.”
1.14) Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets (Craig Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus)
“Ohhhh-kay. I agonized over this, and I apologize for the delay that caused. My issue is that the best value continues to be arms, and while I'm not as resistant to taking a first-round arm as some, my issue is this tier of pitchers is quite deep in my opinion. Meaning that whomever I take now, someone is going to get a comparable guy in eight picks or so, meaning I'm robbed of all value in the pick.
Then again, the bats at this stage (Lindor, Singleton, Abreu, Castellanos) all share considerable risk and none affect all five categories, meaning none will be a big step up over a starting pitcher.
All that said, I was left deciding among a deep pool of players. The aforementioned bats, to go with names like Syndergaard, Bundy, Giolito, Gausman, Ventura, and others. In the end, I think I'm just in a rough spot when it comes to value and nothing is going to change that, so I'll take high upside, and immediate contribution type arms.”
2.16) Clint Frazier, OF, Cleveland Indians. (Nick Faleris, Baseball Prospectus)
“My next pick won't come until the end of the third round, at which point the chances of grabbing a potential five-category guy seem slim. Frazier has the upside of a tier-one contributor across the board, though that upside comes with the risks you'd expect of a player yet to debut in full season ball. I'm willing to roll the dice here that Frazier's bat speed and deep desire to punish baseballs will get him to where he needs to be developmentally.”
2.17) Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, Tigers (Jim Callis, MLB.com)
“After most of the guys I hoped would last until no. 12 went before I could make my first selection, my top three candidates for this pick all snuck through to no. 17. (And no, I'm not mentioning them, on the off chance that they might fall to no. 40, though I'm not counting on it.). I've loved Castellanos' bat since I saw him at the 2009 Under Armour All-American Game, and I think he might be the best pure hitter in the minors outside of Oscar Taveras. Scouts' two main concerns with Castellanos heading into 2013 were his power ceiling and his discipline, and he improved both. He won't steal bases, but he'll contribute mightily in the other four categories and play a position of relative scarcity.”
2.18) Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Craig Glaser, Bloomberg Sports)
“Taillon finished 2013 in Triple-A and, at 23 years old, he is rapidly approaching his MLB debut. Once he makes it to the big leagues he'll give the Pirates an excellent young 1-2 punch with Gerrit Cole. Taillon has a big frame, a big fastball, a big curve, and could make just as big a splash as Cole did in his rookie season. PNC Park is a nice place to pitch and Taillon should be moving in soon.”
2.19) Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals (Mike Rosenbaum, Bleacher Report)
“Giolito offered a glimpse of his ace ceiling after returning from Tommy John surgery last summer, showcasing an effortless 8 fastball and devastating curveball that will earn a similar grade at maturity, as well as a changeup that should be stupid good with refinement. With pitchers starting to come off the board and what feels like an eternity until my next pick at no. 38, there's no way I'm passing on the 19-year-old's potential as a five-category beast on a first-division team.”
2.20) Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Nick Shlain, Rotowire)“After some deliberation, I said "screw it" and nabbed Bundy. He's obviously coming off Tommy John surgery, but he's only a few months older than another pitcher I considered here (Robert Stephenson). These guys won't get back to me for my next pick, so I can say I also considered Albert Almora here, but, even with all the normal pitcher risks and Tommy John surgery in his past, I can't pass on Bundy's upside.”
2.21) Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians (Ben Carsley, Baseball Prospectus)
“I've been pretty vocal about Lindor being a better MLB prospect than a fantasy one, but I have better odds of grabbing a pitcher I like down the line than I do another starting shortstop. I know Lindor gets compared to Elvis Andrus a lot, but I'd expect him to hit for slightly better averages and steal fewer bases, making him a probable fantasy starter but not an elite one. Still, he's pretty safe and he'll be here soon, and I certainly don't mind potentially locking up the left side of my fantasy infield for a many years. Sorry, Roman. Plus, I knew this would kill Newman, which pushed me over the edge.”
2.22) Robert Stephenson, SP, Cincinnati Reds (Mike Newman, RotoScouting)
“Stephenson is a prime target for me next year as he'll spend much of 2014 in the Southern League, one of my stomping grounds. It pains me to draft another pitcher, but I'm not sure there's a higher ceiling talent still available. Plus, I'm a sucker for easy velocity as it leaves considerable room for error if Stephenson's secondaries don't fully develop. With no injury history to speak of, one could make the argument the Reds right-hander should have gone before Bundy or Giolito. I was hoping Bundy would fall to me with this pick, but Stephenson is a damn good consolation prize.”
2.23) Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs (J.D. Sussman, Bullpen Banter)
“My stance against drafting pitchers early remains unwavering. With most top arms off the board, you can add another modifier—"young". If a pitcher projects to throw several hundred more innings in the minor leagues, stay away! There are plenty of lottery tickets available in the late rounds.
Almora was my second- or third-round selection in last year's exercise and I'll happily draft him again. His deep crouch is reminiscent of Rocco Baldelli and while he may not be an elite athlete, he should produce more power than the former Ray. There is a chance he'll be above league average in five categories.”
2.24) Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Bret Sayre, Baseball Prospectus)
“There's only one player still available that resides in my top-20 and it's the little righty that could from Kansas City. His stuff is some of the best in the minors, with an 8 fastball flanked by two potential plus pitches and he's on track to spend most of the season in the Royals' rotation—meaning I won't have to wait particularly long for him to contribute. And even if the naysayers are right and he eventually moves to the bullpen, closers (and elite ones at that) are still pretty valuable in this game. For me, he's the last pitcher left in this wide second tier of minor-league arms.”
2.25) Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers (John Sickels, Minor League Ball)
“Odor sometimes gets lost in the shuffle when top infield prospects are discussed, but I can't ignore him here. He doesn't turn 20 until next month. He hit .305/.365/.474 with 41 doubles, 11 homers, and 32 steals last year, including a .530 SLG in 30 games in Double-A. He's shown more power than Jurickson Profar did at the same stage. He needs some defensive polish but the tools are there. I don't know how Odor fits into the Rangers roster schema, but his across-the-board tools and skills are too much to pass up.”
2.26) Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros (Ray Guilfoyle, Fake Teams)
“Recently Buster Olney opined that the Astros should go all in on free agent starter Masahiro Tanaka to lead their rotation when their rebuild is complete and they are ready to compete in the AL West. I guess Olney forgot about 2013 first round pick Mark Appel. According to some, Appel has three possible above-average offerings and the potential to be an ace. He made just eight starts after being drafted, tossing 33 innings in Low-A. He is slated to begin the year in the High-A California League, but the Astros could decide to have him skip High A altogether and begin the season in AA. I doubt we see him in 2014, but if things go well for him, we could see him in Houston by June 2015.”
2.27) Jonathan Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Chris Crawford, MLB Draft Insider)
“There are a plethora of pitchers who I could take in this spot, and had Appel not gone one pick before me he would have been my selection. Still, I think Gray has more upside in is right-arm than any pitcher still on the board. With a fastball that can hit triple digits and a plus-plus slider, Gray should be able to succeed even in the less-than-friendly confines of Coors Field, and while the Rockies may not provide him many wins in his first few years, he should be solid in all of the other fantasy categories, especially with strikeouts.”
2.28) Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies (Eno Sarris, FanGraphs)
“I have a feeling that this duo will make at least one of the people on this list roll their eyes. Franco is not without his detractors, but I've watched as much video of him as I could find, I don't see anything that tells me to run the other way. And MiLB's Breakout Prospect of the Year has that magical low strikeout rate paired with big power, which I've already talked about loving. His position might be a question—he's a big boy without the speed that might benefit his range — but at least he's starting out in the infield. With Ryan Howard at first for a while, I think they'll try him at third and move Cody Asche, who gets first dibs on the job this spring. I wanted a prospect that's close to the big leagues (292 PA at Double-A) and on the infield. I'll get pitching later.”