At this juncture of the fantasy season, most dynasty leagues have already crowned their champion and the focus has shifted onto deciding who to carry into the offseason and who to throw back into the player pool. It’s an agonizing process for some owners who fret over each and every roster spot and (understandably) nobody wants to throw away value at the end of the year and see one of their league mates reap the benefits of their discarded prospect in the future.
There is a delicate balancing act that needs to occur when making these decisions, as patience needs to be shown with a prospect who simply had underwhelming seasons but are still held in high regard. One example is Stephen Piscotty, who at this time last season was sent to the waiver wire in many shallower leagues after posting an uninspiring league-average output (including a single-digit home run total) in his first taste of the Pacific Coast League at age 23. The other part of the equation is that oftentimes a reluctance to part with a prospect who has had a down year (or two) can lead to an inability to pick up a prospect who carries more trade value over the winter—and this is especially problematic when said prospect could have been used as currency to help improve the strength of the major-league roster.
Let’s take a look at three hitting prospects who were once top-100 fantasy darlings and see if patience is advised, or if they should be sent packing to the waiver wire. Next week, we’ll do the same with pitching prospects. These recommendations are made with “standard” dynasty league prospect settings in mind: 16 teams with 10-12 minor leaguers per team, meaning 160-192 prospects are owned.
Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs (2015 Preseason Top-100 Dynasty Prospect Ranking: 56th)
Almora—who was selected sixth overall in a 2012 draft that has already seen fellow top-15 overall high-school products Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, and Addison Russell reach the majors—spent his age-21 season at Double-A Tennessee, a typical progression for most prospects. Theo Epstein’s first draft pick at the helm of the Cubs hasn’t shown nearly the offensive prowess in the minors as the college bats who were selected by the organization in the first round of subsequent years (completely understandable), which has caused some consternation among those who had already penciled in Almora at the start of the year to replace Dexter Fowler should he depart via free agency. Almora has failed to reach double-digits in home runs or stolen bases in each of his three minor-league seasons and has walked a grand total of 65 times in his 1,398 career plate appearances.
His raw numbers this season don’t knock your socks off (.272/.327/.400), and I certainly don’t think he’s a top-100 fantasy prospect right now, but showing patience with Almora could pay dividends as soon as next season if he builds on the improvement that he showed over the season’s second half, hitting .301/.370/.464 with four home runs and four stolen bases over his final 196 plate appearances. Almora also notched a career-best walk rate of just over seven percent this season (still not great, but an improvement), adding in a full-season-level best strikeout rate of just over 10 percent. That’s reason to hope that a maturing approach will help him reach his fantasy ceiling: a center fielder who can reach lower-double-digit home run and stolen-base totals while hitting .270-.280 and scoring a ton of runs in a loaded Cubs lineup.
It’s easy to fall in love with Taylor’s athleticism, but unfortunately athleticism does not qualify as a measurable fantasy category. Taylor reached Double-A Biloxi as a 21-year-old, and while he didn’t fall flat on his face, his production this season (.649 OPS and 10 stolen bases, wRC+ of 84) doesn’t exactly scream future fantasy star and is in line with his career numbers to this point (.722 OPS). Taylor’s offensive game is based around utilizing his speed, but he hasn’t gotten on base enough so far in his minor-league career to put his wheels in motion, as evidenced by his lifetime .331 on-base percentage.
Recommendation: Drop in standard leagues, hold in deeper leagues
Taylor, a former two-sport standout who is still adjusting to baseball, is a prospect whose fantasy worthiness will hinge on his ability to earn an everyday role and get on base enough to make an impact with his speed. I believe that Taylor will struggle to reach a double-digit home run output at the major-league level and will have a tough time getting on base enough to steal more than 15-20 bases, putting pressure on his bat to hit for a high-enough average to make an impact. I think Taylor can serve as a useful fourth-outfielder type for the Brewers, but I don’t see him putting it all together to make any significant fantasy impact. I’d keep him for another year in deeper leagues to see if the power develops, but in standard leagues, I would seek a prospect who is closer to the majors, as I believe Taylor is a minimum of 2-3 away from reaching Milwaukee and may not end up being more than a backup when he does.
After peaking at no. 31 on the 2014 midseason update of the top fantasy prospects, the elder Cecchini brother’s hitting has continued to spiral downward. Perhaps dismayed by the Red Sox signing every available third baseman over the winter instead of giving him a chance at the job, Cecchini started off the 2015 season slowly at Triple-A Pawtucket, hitting a paltry .213/.282/.310 with six home runs and eight stolen bases over the season’s first half. The bad news is that after making “mechanical adjustments” at the start of the second half, things got even worse for Cecchini and his slugging percentage dipped to .273 over 154 second-half plate appearances—certainly not a number that will work at a corner position. Cecchini finished the 2015 season, a repeat International League campaign, with seven home runs and nine stolen bases in 469 Triple-A plate appearances, and despite being called up for a brief time in August, he was not a part of the Red Sox September expansion.
Recommendation: Drop in leagues that roster less than 300 prospects
For the third consecutive year, Cecchini’s wRC+ dropped significantly, peaking at 186 in a half-season at High-A Salem, with a solid 136 over the other half of 2013 while at Double-A Portland. His performance continued to drop as he moved up the organizational ladder, falling to a 99 wRC+ last year in his first Triple-A season and all the way down to 69 this season. Things certainly don’t appear to be heading in the right direction, and a change of scenery could be the only thing that gives Cecchini’s career a much-needed jolt. While that may end up being a likely scenario with a new general manager at the helm in Boston, there are much better uses of a roster spot floating around in standard leagues.
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