With Addison Russell having already been summoned to the majors at age 21, and future fantasy stars Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Francisco Lindor looking major-league ready, dynasty league owners are already searching for the next fantasy star currently in the minors that will call the six-spot home at the big-league level.
The six shortstops below could ascend to the upper tier in short order as the aforementioned prospects graduate to the big leagues. We’ll also take a look at two other hitting prospects who have flown onto dynasty owners’ radars everywhere with their monster 2015 performances.
Also, next week, we’ll take a look at the pitching prospects who have increased their value in dynasty leagues with their performances in the first couple of months of the season. For now, on to the hitters…
Orlando Arcia, SS – Milwaukee Brewers (Preseason Dynasty 101 – Not Ranked)
Arcia’s line of .328/.383/.476 in his first 210 Double-A plate appearances of the year has certainly been noticed in these parts, but what’s often left out is that it’s really just a continuation of the .309/.359/.422 line that he posted in the second half of the 2014 season as a 19-year-old in the pitchers’ paradise known as the Florida State League. The main knock on Arcia coming into the year from a fantasy standpoint was regarding his future power output, but his .148 ISO output to this point is good for a top-20 standing in the Southern League and dwarfs the ISOs of more heralded hitting prospects like Brandon Drury (.087) and Jesse Winker (.083).
After Arcia’s 2013 season, in which he totalled a .647 OPS and stole 20 bases, many painted him as an Alcides Escobar type with the stick, but I don’t feel he was given enough credit for keeping his head above water after losing the entire 2012 season to an ankle injury. Being thrown into the Midwest League as an 18-year-old is a tough enough assignment in itself, let alone for a player coming off an injury, and Arcia walked almost as much (35) as he struck out (40) in his first taste of full-season ball, getting 486 plate appearances. Arcia struck out in just over eight percent of his plate appearances during his 2013 season in the MWL, and he’s carried that contact ability up the ladder, where his current strikeout rate of just under nine percent puts him sixth among Double-A qualifiers, with everybody in the top five being at least two years older. Arcia’s ISO has jumped in each of his three years in full-season ball, and I feel that after his first couple of years at the big-league level, Arcia is capable of hitting between 15-18 home runs while having the glove to stick at short. For my money, there’s not much difference between Francisco Lindor and Arcia from a fantasy standpoint. Imagine what he can do when he finally gets to sleep in the same bed for a whole week straight this season.
Wilmer Difo, SS – Washington Nationals (Preseason Dynasty 101 – Not Ranked)
I was quick to dismiss Difo’s quality 2014 season (14 homers, 49 SB, .831 OPS) as a case of a 22-year-old feasting on younger pitchers at the Low-A level, but as (the President of the Difo Fanclub) C.J. Wittmann conveyed on the outstanding Raw Projection podcast, this was a case of a prospect with quality tools finally translating them into production. Difo was assigned to High-A Potomac to start the 2015 season, where he posted a .919 OPS (with 4 SB) in 83 PA and earned a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, and then stole three bags and hit for a .839 OPS in 14 games before shockingly getting called up to Washington, when an injury forced noted eye-black artist and former frosted tips purveyor Yunel Escobar to the DL. Difo was added to the 40-man roster over the winter, and appears primed to take over one of the two possible up-the-middle jobs that should be available in Washington after the season. Difo will head back to Double-A once/if Anthony Rendon comes back, but a solid showing in Harrisburg could propel his value to a top-50 fantasy prospect level by the end of the season.
Jorge Mateo, SS – New York Yankees (Preseason Dynasty 101 Ranking – Not Ranked)
Mateo has used his 80-grade speed to swipe 36 bags in his first 45 games of full-season action in the Sally League and put himself in the discussion to be the “Next Next Yankees Shortstop.” His recent inside-the-park home run on a relatively routine groundball down the left-field line shows you all you need to know about the impact potential of his speed. Mateo still needs a lot of development time in the minors, especially after missing virtually all of last season with a finger injury, but his stolen-base output as an 20-year-old certainly has dynasty league owners taking notice of a player who could be the Yankees’ top fantasy position prospect at season’s end.
Rafael Devers, 3B – Boston Red Sox (Preseason Dynasty 101 Ranking – Number 77)
Devers being ranked in the Dynasty 101 prior to the year at all showed immense confidence in his advanced bat, and he’s done absolutely nothing in the 2015 season to diminish those thoughts, mashing his way to a .331/.363/.477 line in his first stateside season an 18-year-old, leading the league in batting average. As Tucker Blair recently pointed out, questions remain about Devers’ ability to stick at the hot corner long term, but his bat is so good that it will almost certainly play across the diamond if a move to first is necessary. Don’t be scared away by Devers’ three-homer output in 183 PA; he can provide more than enough power at either corner infield spot.
Derek Fisher, OF – Houston Astros (Preseason Dynasty 101 Ranking – Honorable Mention)
Fisher was having an excellent season (.896 OPS with 8 SB in 39 games) in the Midwest League before getting promoted to the Cal League, where he put up a historic performance in his first game, bringing his season line to a robust .308/.390/.576, and adding 10 home runs to go with 11 steals in 14 attempts. I touched on the possibilities of Fisher’s power/speed combination last month, and it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if the former Virginia Cavalier ends the season at Double-A Corpus Christi.
Trea Turner, SS – ‘San Diego Padres’ (Preseason Dynasty 101 Ranking – Number 80)
If Difo doesn’t secure one of the starting jobs at short or second that should be open next spring, it could be because his future teammate Trea Turner does. As a college bat, Turner was expected to move quickly through the minors after being taken 13th overall in last June’s draft, and he might have been starting at short for the Padres at some point this season if he’d stayed with the organization. Instead, he has thrived at Double-A San Antonio, showing more power than expected and running less than expected, going 9-for-12 on SB attempts. Turner’s .890 OPS output shows that he hasn’t let his impending inclusion as the world’s least surprising PTBNL (when he is shipped to the Nationals later in the year) affect his play. Turner’s 150 wRC+ ranks fifth overall in the Texas League, answering questions about how his bat would play in the upper minors.
Gleyber Torres, SS – Chicago Cubs (Preseason Dynasty 101 Ranking – Not Ranked)
The fact that Torres has been able hit for a .320 AVG with a .397 OBP in his first 46 games as an 18-year-old in the Midwest League is even more impressive when you consider the temperature has averaged roughly 18 degrees during his games to this point in the season. Okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but Torres has passed his first full-season assignment with flying colors so far. Torres hasn’t seen any balls leave the yard this season, but the power will come as he grows into his 6-foot-1 frame, and he has shown good plate discipline in South Bend, walking 21 times in his first 195 plate appearances. One of the best places to find value in dynasty leagues is to look at prospects in deep systems that would be ranked much higher in other organizations, and Torres certainly fits that bill. Ranked as the seventh-best position player prospect before the season in the Cubs organization, Torres will soon get his due once Kyle Schwarber joins Addison Russell and Kris Bryant at Wrigley.
Ozhaino Albies, SS – Atlanta Braves (Preseason Dynasty 101 Ranking- Not Ranked)
The Wizard of Ozhaino might be my favorite prospect to watch play in the minors. His lack of power will keep him from being a true fantasy beast in the future, but Albies does enough of everything else to contribute to a fantasy team. The Braves assigned the 18-year-old to the Sally League to begin 2015 and Albies has been a sparkplug atop the Rome order, leading the league in runs scored with 37 in his first 51 games. His .300 batting average puts him just outside the top 10, and his 20 steals are good for fifth in the Sally League and 14th overall in the minors. After walking more than he struck out in the GCL and Appy Leagues last season, Albies has walked 20 times against only 28 strikeouts in 232 PA to start the year. Fantasy overlord Bret Sayre ranked L’il Ozzie as the 47th-most valuable dynasty league shortstop prior to the season, and I think he could sneak into the 20-30 range for shortstops by the end of the year.
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That being said, the Smokies have been one of the most exciting minor league teams to watch over the last few seasons, no question.
Even before this year, I kept thinking the Nats chose the wrong guy to play SS between Espinoza and Desmond way back when (if Espy was actually able to hit better).