The full-season minor-league schedule has officially kicked off, and we’ve got a good week and a half’s worth of data to work off of now. And we all know what that means: it’s time to start adjusting our pre-season rankings to account for out-of-the-gate performance! Kidding, kidding. For the 52,472,832nd time, using minor-league stats lines for information on prospect status is a terrible, terrible idea. And using nine or 10 games worth of stats is a really terrible idea. Yet there’s still, somehow, a semblance of relevance here insofar as the early returns do affect our perceptions of players despite what we may tell ourselves. And when perception of a prospect changes, even in a small way and against our will, the trade and acquisition values we assign him in dynasty formats is affected. Over the next month as our assorted prospects for a run this season begin to formalize it’ll be these early season performances that inform our recency bias in evaluating prospects to target or sell.
So with caveats noted and demands for caution aired in full, let’s take a look at some interesting super-early performances, both from prospects already firmly on the radar and others who’ve shown some early signs off life from the depths of the prospect ocean.
Blake Snell, LHP, TBR
The Rays snagged Snell out of high school in the supplemental first round of 2011, and after struggling through a couple seasons of control issues he showed flashes of inconsistent progress last summer en route to being named the Rays’ minor league Pitcher of the Year. Despite a rough turn command-wise on Monday, he’s shown signs of further progress in three starts thus far. Through his first 15 innings he’s yet to allow a run while whiffing 21 batters against seven walks. The league context should give Snell a nice boost on top of whatever legitimate progress he may or may not make in refining his command, and he offers excellent potential to leap up the ranks if he can build on his solid start and keep the walks in check.
Alex Jackson, OF, SEA
Seattle’s first rounder last summer, the 19-year-old received an aggressive assignment to the Midwest League to start the season and has not surprisingly been overmatched at the outset. After checking in 53rd on Bret’s Top 101 fantasy prospects, he’s registered just four hits through his first 37 plate appearances to go along with 12 strikeouts. He’s two and a half years younger than his competition, however, and the league plays tough in the cold weather. Another week or two of struggles might just open up a window for acquiring him on the cheap from an owner with an itchy trigger finger and dreams of competing this year.
Bradley Zimmer, OF, CLE
Zimmer’s start to the season has been arguably the most impressive in the entire minor leagues, with a .324/.422/.649 line boosted by four homers and five stolen bases through just 43 plate appearances in the Carolina League. After checking in 88th on Bret’s pre-season list he’s done as much as anyone to angle himself for a big jump on the mid-season update. He was already considered a potential fast mover when he was drafted, and with continued production the 22-year-old may very well be on pace for a Double-A debut sooner than later.
Phil Ervin, OF, CIN
Ervin, a 2013 first rounder, struggled mightily last year at Low-A and promptly fell right off of dynasty-league radars far and wide this past winter. Still, the baseline skillset for a 15/15 or even a 20/20 hitter remains, and through the early going it looks like he may have found some answers to what plagued him last summer. He’s put together a .316/.381/.579 start with two homers and three stolen bases through 10 games in the pitching-dominant Florida State League. I wouldn’t go pouncing on him just yet based off 10 games, but he certainly makes for an intriguing follow in the early going given the pedigree. As a college bat dubbed as relatively polished out of school, he could move quickly if the production shows signs of stabilizing.
Derek Fisher, OF, HOU
Fisher just missed the cut for Bret’s Top 101 fantasy prospects after flashing tools for days through his college career, yet suffering through some injury issues and never quite putting everything together. Well, so far so good in his first full season of pro ball, as he’s taken the Midwest League by storm through 10 games to the tune of a .316/.395/.605 line with three homers and two stolen bases. This is the kind of power/speed combo player with the potential to rocket up fantasy prospect lists with a healthy, productive season, and the window to acquire him for a reasonable return will close very shortly if he keeps up the scorching start.
Matt Boyd, LHP, TOR
A former sixth rounder, Boyd is an interesting southpaw to watch in the Toronto system, as he twice dominated High-A last year and twice struggled mightily after promotions to AA. The sum totals of his career to date include a 2.92 ERA, double-digit whiffs-per-nine, and a reasonable walk rate, but the stuff and delivery doesn’t offer much red meat for scouts. He’s back at Double-A now, and in three Eastern League starts to begin the year he’s thrown fourteen and a third shutout innings with 24 whiffs, seven walks, and only four hits allowed. The production should at least raise an eyebrow halfway, and if it continues for another couple starts he’s the kind of prospect that savvy deep league managers can claim on the cheap and sell with a song for present upgrades.
Trevor Story, SS, COL
Story’s had an interesting run over the last couple seasons. After exploding into the top 33 prospects in the land heading into 2013 Story responded with a resounding dud of a season at High-A, a failure all the more glaring given that it came in the high-octane California League. He appeared well on his way towards re-establishing some shine last year after posting a 1.017 OPS in over 200 plate appearances during a return engagement at Modesto, but was subsequently overmatched at Double-A, where his contact issues spun out of control. He’s off to a .366/.447/.585 start in his second look at Double-A pitching (see a theme here?), but he’s also whiffed 14 times in his 47 plate appearances. The contact issues are still there with no signs of improving, however, and they really limit the ceiling here. If you’ve been holding onto him since the 2012 breakout in hopes of him rebuilding value you might almost be to that point. If he can keep it up for another week or two he may just write you a nice “See? He’s fixed!” sales pitch.
Matt Olson, 1B, OAK
Olson snuck into the preseason 101 at no. 96 on the heels of one of the best power displays in the minor leagues last year. Unfortunately for Olson’s stock in the real world, that production came in the California League, and between that discount and his first base profile the hype train didn’t quite leave the station. He’s shown he’s not entirely a product of environment thus far however, continuing his power rampage against tougher pitching in the more difficult stadium contexts of the Texas League. He’s already ripped three bombs en route to a 1.042 OPS through 38 plate appearances. All three true outcomes have been firmly on display, with nine walks and 11 strikeouts also in the mix. He looks like a true-to-form Adam Dunn type in the making, and those who may have been skeptical based on the Cal League penalty last year will need to come around quickly if he can sustain the start.
Zach Eflin, RHP, PHI
Eflin’s the kind of prospect who may just have fallen through the cracks this past winter, as he was a man on the move. San Diego’s first rounder in 2012, he was moved first to the Dodgers in the Matt Kemp deal and then swapped to Philadelphia in the package for Jimmy Rollins. He dramatically improved his ground-ball rate last year and the figure has ticked up another notch through 14 shutout innings to start his season at Double-A. It remains an open question as to whether he’ll develop the kind of secondary weapon(s) to up his whiff rate into appealing territory. But in deeper leagues where league-average starters provide value he should be a name firmly on your radar through the early going.
Wes Rogers, OF, COL
A fourth rounder from last summer, Rogers has opened the season scorching hot in the hitter’s paradise of Asheville, posting a .333/.436/.485 line over his first 39 plate appearances. More intriguing still are his 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts already. That’s not a typo, and it is a lot of stolen bases (at an excellent clip) in just nine games. Including his efforts in Rookie ball after signing last summer he’s now swiped 26 bases in 28 attempts in less than 40 professional games. Factor in the whole part where he’s in the Rockies’ system and figures to spend the next however many years he remains in the organization hitting in excellent offensive environments, and we may just have a live one on our hands here.
Tony Kemp, 2B, HOU
A diminutive Astros keystoner who just keeps barreling baseballs to prove the doubters wrong? Body type and organizational comps are generally lazy, but the more Kemp keeps hitting the more he’ll conjure the minor league ghost of Jose Altuve. I wrote about Kemp last summer after seeing him at High-A, and he hasn’t missed much of a beat since a second-half promotion to Double-A. He’s off to a blistering .382/.523/.412 start through 10 games in the Texas League, and while power will never be a part of his game he’s now rocking a composite .401 career OBP with more walks than strikeouts through 999 professional plate appearances. Toss in the speed profile to steal 20-25 bases, and at some point he’s bound to start earning himself roster spots in some dynasty leagues.
Bubba Starling, OF, KCR
All I’ll say is that he’s off to a .361/.425/.611 start in the Carolina League, and that might be the best nine-game stretch of his entire career. Just FYI. That’s all. Just… just so you know what’s up with him.
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