Welcome down to the depths below the positional top 50, where each week we scavenge for potential crumbs among the current professional ranks and look mercifully into the future for the next wave of fantasy talent at each position. This series is geared towards those of you in deeper dynasty formats, particularly those either with a mid-season minor league draft or with no eligibility restrictions on the player pool. Here are links to the previous articles in this series:
Earlier in the week I discussed the top-heavy nature of third-base production right now, and the lack of depth really comes into sharp focus once you get down into the lower portions of Bret Sayre’s Dynasty League Top 50 list (which you should read before continuing here). The current minor-leaguers I’ll touch on below are not a particularly impressive lot, and last year’s draft class was notably light behind the couple of options that made Bret’s cut. Still, there are a handful in that lot who could jump considerably with a strong showing next year, and the ’16 class features a nice crop of flawed-but-intriguing options.
Backup Types, But They’re Big Leaguers, So…
Conor Gillaspie, FA – Gillaspie is probably more interesting to wonks of baseball arbitration and free agency, as his currently unattached status is courtesy of an interesting little glitch in the CBA matrix that started his clock prematurely back in the day. On the field there’s not much to see here after significant regression from a mildly interesting age-26 season, when he returned $13 of AL-only value in 2014. He’s only 28, and given the doldrums of the back end of Bret’s list, a second-division starting gig may be all it takes for him to return to the top 50.
Juan Uribe, FA – Uribear is money. Unfortunately, the 36-year-old current free agent doesn’t really belong in your long-term fantasy plans anymore. He did earn $10 in NL-only leagues last year, though, and he’ll probably get another job this year and end up in somebody’s FAAB queue at some point, so… here he is!
Cody Asche, PHI – Asche failed to take the job and run with it when he had the opportunity in 2014, then stupid Maikel Franco came up and stupid hit like a million stupid homeruns last year, and the Phillies still haven’t unloaded Ryan Howard, and now Asche’s just kind of there, floating around in the background. Not that I had Asche on any teams in 2014, or even still might have him on one or two of them, or anything. To be fair, though, he received his share of plus-hit-tool designations coming up, and there’s enough pop to ostensibly make him an interesting fantasy option in the right circumstance. But he’s going on 700 plate appearances now of below-average production, and you only get so many opportunities when you do that. A change of scenery could lift him into second-division territory in very deep leagues by this time next year, so he’s at least worth maintaining on your watch list for the time being.
Chris Johnson, MIA – In researching this column I realized I had missed Chris Johnson signing with the Marlins, but then realized I hadn’t really missed it, because of course Chris Johnson signed with the Marlins. There’s at least some reason for intrigue here for deep league players in daily leagues, as Johnson slides into a pretty favorable platoon situation (albeit on the short-end). He’s a .314/.350/.436 career hitter against lefties, and he should face a bunch of them spelling Justin Bour.
Mike Olt, CHW – Slowly… and I mean sloooowly… turn around, and you creep right back out that door.
J.D. Davis, HOU – Davis was one of the questions on our Astros list earlier in the week, and he’s as polarizing in fantasy as he is in real life. My scouting report of him is here, and he does possess the kind of big-time power that fantasy players want to see in a third base prospect. He swings and misses a ton, though, both at pitches inside and out of the zone. You can copy and paste this about pretty much any prospect, but Double-A will be particularly instructive for him as to how much the power might end up playing. If he manages to hold his own and produce offensively in spite of the massive swing-and-miss there may be enough cause for cautious optimism that he sneaks onto the back of next year’s Top 50.
Jhoan Urena, NYM – A switch-hitter with plus power from both sides and an average hit tool, you say? What’s the catch? Well, in Urena’s case it’s that he’s unlikely to stick at third base long term, and the power hasn’t really translated into games consistently as yet. He was young for the level at High-A last year though, so there’s certainly still plenty of time for that. If that transition starts this year Urena is a prospect that can jump up lists quickly by this time next year.
Yandy Diaz, CLE – The Yandyman™ can… get on base at a good clip and pick it at third. He posted a .412 at Double-A last year and now sits at .401 for his minor league career with more walks than strikeouts in over 900 plate appearances. The raw hit tool is above-average, and plays up from there on the back of his stellar strike zone discipline. Unfortunately, there’s precious little power here, either the gap or over-the-fence variety, and that reduces his value projection to something in the range of “semi-interesting corner man in a deeper OBP league.” But there are worse outcomes than that, and with only Giovanny Urshela’s brutal offense standing in his way he may grab an opportunity sooner than most.
Matt Davidson, CHW – Davidson’s a former Top-100 fantasy prospect, so there’s certainly some lingering panache here. But he’s now coming off two consecutive awful years of flirting with the Mendoza Line at Triple-A. It’s certainly worth at least mentioning in passing that he’s hit 43 homers across those two seasons and still walks a little, but his huge contact issues ballooned farther last year, and most signs point to him as a stalled-out prospect at this point, barring a significant swing overhaul.
Rio Ruiz, ATL – Ruiz rode a powerful performance as a 20-year-old in High-A to some offseason helium last year, ultimately settling in seventh on our Braves list. He was quite young for the California League when I saw him, but his long load and lack of leverage at the plate created inner-half holes that sapped his power potential and threatened to limit his hit tool if exposed, and those caution flags flapped frequently in the Double-A breeze last year. It’s still way too early to give up on him, but even the best-case scenario projections from those halcyon days of early 2015 didn’t involve suggestions of impact offensive potential. If he can make some adjustments to reestablish his hit tool credentials this summer he should sneak back into the mix for organizational prospect lists next winter, and that means value in deep dynasty formats.
Eric Jagielo, CIN – He was already a suspect defender at third before suffering an ugly knee injury that further threatened his dodgy range, and it is less clear than ever that he can actually man the hot corner going forward. There’s above-average pop in his bat, and he’ll work himself into position to get to that power in games. But the swing is long from a high load, and the hit tool has enough questions that, coupled with the questions about his game, make him a, well, questionable investment in dynasty leagues of any depth.
Anderson Franco, WAS – You can find a better and more detailed write-up of Franco in yesterday’s Washington Top 10 list (he checked in seventh), but the takeaway for our purposes is that he’s got some raw power and he has the skills – if not the body – to stick at the position. He’s 18 until further notice, however, and light years away from contributing in a best-case scenario, so he’s strictly a follow for now, at least until we see how the bat plays in full-season ball.
David Thompson, NYM –Thompson slid to the fourth round last summer despite crushing the ball all spring for Miami (.333/.445/.658, college baseball-leading 19 home runs, 43 walks to 27 strikeouts) on account of a thick medical file and questions about his hit-utility with wood bats, and he promptly struggled in his first taste of pro ball in the NYPL. One of those injuries on his resume is a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, and his poor arm strength may ultimately facilitate his transition across the diamond. But he’s got borderline-plus power, and is therefore a name to monitor for our purposes.
Carl Wise, TOR – The Blue Jays popped Wise in the fourth round entirely on the strength of his bat, as significant defensive volatility exists in the profile. He played third after signing, though it’s well short of certain he can stick there (some evaluators even suggested he may be a better fit behind the plate). He showed consistent pop in the college and translated it well to wood bats on the Cape, but he struggled with the bat after signing. He controls the zone reasonably well and while there’s some swing-and-miss he’s shown enough barrel ability to project an average hit tool.
Paul DeJong, STL – A senior sign out of Illinois State, DeJong can, in the words of one of our prospect team members, “freakin’ rake.” He was also exactly the kind of “man without a country” defensive profile coming out of college that the Cardinals tend to find success with. He played second in high school, but his name was mentioned as a possibility everywhere except the mound in the lead up to the draft. The Cardinals stuck him at third after he signed, and after just abusing Rookie-ball pitching he held his own in the age-appropriate Midwest League. There’s plus power here with signs of an approach to help it play, and while it may be a little early still to jump on the bandwagon, he’s a guy that could move quickly next year as a polished college bat.
Bryce Denton, STL – The Cardinals bought Denton out of a Vanderbilt commitment with an over-slot deal in the second round last summer, and he was one of the more polarizing players at the top of the class. On one hand, he has already grown into a plus-or-better power projection, featuring some of the best bat speed in the draft class and showing the ability on the showcase circuit to handle top-end velocity without cheating. On the other, reports of his pitch recognition and approach vary greatly, and there is significant swing-and-miss in the game already against low-level competition. His hands are a big question mark in his quest to stay on the infield dirt, as well. The Cardinals sent him to the GCL after signing, and he was overmatched in 44 games last summer.
Travis Blankenhorn, MIN – Blankenhorn popped up on the showcase circuit before his senior year of high school but started the season cold before a late push landed him in the third round. His simple load helps him get the bat on plane consistently, and he’ll deliver the barrel with enough leverage to help him get to above-average power. Power won’t be his calling card, but he shows the swing and approach to develop into a solid hitter. A shortstop in high school, he immediately slid over to third after signing, and scouts see the potential for a solid defender who can stick. Blankenhorn’s the type of player who receives strong makeup grades, and projects as higher-probability than most prep bats to reach his ceiling.
Class of 2016 and Beyond
Bobby Dalbec, University of Arizona – I’ve seen Dalbec play on the Cape for my hometown Orleans Cardinals (yeah, I said it, MLB) in each of the last two summers, and he’s shown similarly in each case. There’s a bunch of power here, derived from significant separation and leverage in his swing (video). He pays a high price in contact ability to create those conditions, however, as the length in his load and delivery leads to significant swing-and-miss. He slugged over .600 in the Pac-12 last year, however, and for sheer power upside this is one of the better college bats in the class that’ll play on the dirt.
Will Craig, Wake Forest – Craig posted a positively monstrous year in the ACC, cranking out a .382/.496/.702 line with 13 homers and a 41 walks to just 24 strikeouts in almost 240 plate appearances. He struggled on the Cape last summer, but I did see him work an epic 12-pitch walk off league strikeout leader Eric Lauer that spoke volumes to the kind of approach and barrel control he can demonstrate at his best. He’s a big dude at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, and while that’s great in terms of his raw strength and power output, it likely pushes him across the diamond in the professional ranks. Still, this is a bat to watch closely this spring, as a performance approaching last year’s outburst will have him shooting up draft boards.
Josh Lowe, Pope High (Marietta, GA) – Lowe is one of the most intriguing prep players in the country heading into this spring, as he’s a true two-way player who already works into the mid-90s on the mound and shows plus power from the left side. As things currently stand, his projectability as a pitcher is probably the likely winner here, but he’ll be a name to keep tabs on regardless of where he ends up.
Nolan Jones, Holy Ghost Prep (Langhorne, PA) – A Virginia commit, Jones has the kind of athleticism and projectable frame that you can’t teach, and he already shows impressive bat speed and power potential. He has played shortstop primarily in high school, but the body suggests an impending move off the position is all but guaranteed, and his plus arm strength makes third a natural landing spot.
Carter Kieboom, Walton High (Marietta, GA) – Yeah, there’s a lot of prep talent in this class down Georgia way. The younger brother of Nationals’ catching prospect Spencer, this Kieboom shows across-the-board skills highlighted by already-plus bat speed. He raked on the showcase circuit last summer, and he’ll enter the spring as one of the top 20 or so prospects in the entire class.
Luis Yander La O (Cuba) – Major League Baseball declared La O a free agent last week, after he defected from the Cuban National Team last summer. The 23-year-old La O is exempt from bonus pool restrictions and ostensibly big league-ready, though it is unclear how his offensive skill set will translate. He’s a career .329 hitter in Cuba, showing outstanding bat-to-ball ability with a miniscule five percent strikeout rate for his career, but almost no useable power to speak of. He can run a little, as evidenced by his Serie Nacional-leading stolen-base output two years ago, but the package probably amounts to more of a utility profile than that of a big-league regular.