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:
Ah, the outfield. So much fantasy potential, so many places to look for the promise of production. This is a thick file, friends. I’m going to keep my discussion of the big league types to a minimum, since in most cases these are the guys who you’ll be spending FAAB dollars on as injury replacements over the course of a season and not find yourself actively targeting for speculative acquisition in deep dynasty formats.
I guarantee you I missed at least a couple guys that should be discussed here, so if after reading through Bret Sayre’s Dynasty League Top 125 list (which you should do anyway before continuing here), you stumble on a guy that you don’t see, ask about him in the comments. Let’s get right to it.
Backup Types, But They’re Big Leaguers, So…
Anthony Gose, DET – If I had to bet on one guy making the jump from this portion of the list into consideration for Bret’s list next year, it might be Gose. He put up a $12 season in standard mixed leagues last year largely on the strength of his 23 steals, though it’s certainly worth noting his poor efficiency rate. Cameron Maybin’s acquisition pushes him to a fourth-outfielder role out of the gate, but betting on consecutive healthy seasons from Maybin seems… unwise. Gose remains just 25 and showed a nice uptick in walk rate down the stretch last year that jives with his minor league profile, and there’s at least marginal pop in there as well. 400-plus plate appearances with better selectivity on the bases could very easily lead to a 30-stel season, and given Jarrod Dyson’s place on our top 125, it’s not at all impossible to see Gose making a jump into that territory as well.
Mark Canha, OAK – If I had to speculate on a second guy to jump onto the list, it’d be Canha. He also put together a $12 season in spite of a poor batting average, thanks to impressive pop and a few bags. The power is real, as he’s consistently shown 20-plus homer projection throughout his minor-league career. He hits a ton of flyballs in general, and popups in particular, that keep a lid on his ceiling. But assuming some regression towards career norms against left-handers, who oddly flummoxed him last year, Canha has sneaky potential to drift into mixed-league asset territory over a full season.
Gregor Blanco, SFG – His consistently strong on-base skills and above-average speed make him a relevant deeper-league OBP play, and he made strides with his overall contact rate last year. He also became much more pull-conscious and reliant on a likely random spike in line drives to prop up his batting average and spur his $11 return. As a straight platoon player with a ceiling of around 400 plate appearances, he shouldn’t be of much concern outside of specialized OBP leagues with daily lineups.
Juan Lagares, NYM – Boy that crashed and burned quickly, huh? After teasing with potential intrigue in 2014, Lagares did everything much worse last year. Amid nagging injury he didn’t walk, he rolled over on a ton of balls, and generally didn’t hit well. Still, he’s 26 and there’s speed and some pop here if he wanders into a starting role after somebody gets hurt.
Carl Crawford, LAD – That ol’ Carl is just an after-thought for a list like this at 34 is the saddest thing I can report back to the version of myself who hopped around the room after the Red Sox inked him a little over five years ago. Crawford’s formerly elite athleticism is a shell of itself, but hey, he’s a warm body with an ostensible starting gig. Health permitting, would it be the craziest thing to see him rebound with a solid campaign? Not as crazy as paying nearly nine figures for less than five WARP to date, I’ll tell you that much.
Drew Stubbs, FA –This is a provisional mention, as Stubbs remains a free agent. A free agent, however, that’s been tied to a return trip to Texas, where Josh Hamilton’s balky knee and poor performance would be the only thing standing in his way of regular at-bats in a sweet park.
Luis Alexander Basabe, BOS – I’m grateful for the opportunity to write about Basabe on the same day as our Red Sox list drops, because now that I’m done drafting him in all of the leagues I’m likely to draft him in, the more coverage the merrier. I stand firmly behind Mark Anderson’s effusive bullishness on Basabe’s breakout potential this year, as he shows five tools to pair with a nascent approach and speed utility on the basepaths. This is the kind of potential 20/20 threat that dynasty leaguers in even moderately-deep leagues are wise to be one step ahead on, as the helium from a successful 2016 campaign may be a sight to behold.
Mallex Smith, ATL – There’s little—if any—power to speak of in Smith’s game, but outside of a BABIP-depressed run in A-ball three years ago all he’s done is hit .300 and steal a bunch of bases in every year of his ascension through the minor league ranks. He’s on the doorstep of the big leagues, though barring injury there’s something of a logjam ahead of him for outfield playing time. Still, particularly those in OBP leagues would be wise to stash him for some potential speed impact if he does wander into playing time this season.
Brandon Nimmo, NYM – After graduating onto the Mets’ 40-man roster this winter, Nimmo suffered the misfortune of a torn foot tendon last month and will miss time to start the season. Coupled with the Cespedes re-signing, the acquisition of Alejandro de Aza, and Nimmo’s own solid-if-underwhelming production across Double- and Triple-A last year, Nimmo’s an unlikely contributor until the second half this season in a best-case scenario. Long term, not a ton has changed: Nimmo possesses solid across-the-board fantasy skills, but lacks anything in the way of standout or impact potential in any category. His value plays up in OBP leagues, but even there it’s more of an uninspiring OF3 profile.
Derek Hill, DET – Here’s a speedy guy for you in a stolen base-depleted world. Hill’s 70-grade wheels prop up outstanding defensive projections in center that bump his real-world value higher than in fantasy, but he shows a sound approach in working his way into good hitting counts to help an average hit tool play up. There’s a ways to go before he’s in the mix as a legitimate top-125 candidate, as he’ll need to handle better sequencing from more advanced arms (and do it better than he handled A-ball last year), but as a potential table-setter he warrants attention.
Socrates Brito, ARI – Brito forced his debut last year, and offers an intriguing blend of plus-or-better speed to go along with some nascent power potential. He’s an aggressive hitter, which takes a bite out of both his on-base potential and his ability to bring above-average raw power into games with consistency. A linear swing plane doesn’t help the latter effort either, and despite the contact-orientation he still fails to make contact as often as you’d like to see out of this profile. His defense will keep him in the bigs for a long time, but he’s not the sexiest of fantasy prospects even in spite of the proximity.
Eloy Jimenez, CHC – Dare to dream, I say! Jimenez was the top J2 name in 2013, and the Cubs paid him accordingly to the tune of a $2.8 million bonus that rated as the top figure for the signing period. There is an absurd amount of raw power here—easily double-plus—and the kind of frame to suggest elite strength as he settles into adulthood. He’s not there yet, however, having just turned 19 in November. There is a long developmental path ahead of him that should include a full-season debut this year, but if you’re interested in ceiling, this is your guy.
Mac Williamson, SFG – On pretty much the exact opposite end of the spectrum, Williamson fits the mold as an already-approaching-his-prime guy with as much present utility as long term value. He tore his UCL and had to undergo Tommy John surgery in 2014, and is performance upon returning more solid than inspiring. Still, dingers are diner, are dingers, and this guy can hit them if opportunity presents itself and he can make enough contact.
Trayce Thompson, LAD – There isn’t a ton to see here, with poor hitting skills and not quite enough in the way of speed utility on the bases to warrant specialization attention even in deeper daily formats. He shows some pop, with plus raw power, and his competent debut with the White Sox last year may lend credence to some value as a trade asset in the short-term. But a long, oftentimes loopy bat path should leave him vulnerable to exploitation with more looks at the big league level. If you liked Drew Stubbs’ season in 2013, you’ll be excited when you get it from Thompson in a couple years if things break right for him.
Class of 2015
Nick Plummer, STL – Plummer probably has the steepest potential trajectory onto next year’s list. The Cardinals grabbed him 23rd overall after some questions about his hit tool surfaced thanks to a slump during his senior season in high school. His struggles continued in the GCL after signing, but the potential for a fantasy monster with plus hit and power tools remains.
D.J. Stewart, BAL – Stewart hit in college, then he hit some more. His pro debut was less impressive, however, with evaluators coming away wary of a stocky build and swing that doesn’t allow him to full tap into plus raw power. There are defensive concerns here to where an eventual shift to first base may very well be in order, and it’s unclear if he’ll ever get to enough power to justify the position. He’s more of a wait-and-see guy at this stage of things, as his age and collegiate polish will demand strong production this season to keep him on dynasty league radars.
Christin Stewart, DET – Stewart improved dramatically during his junior year at Tennessee, and the Tigers popped him with the 34th pick last June. He kept right on slugging after signing, knocking ten dingers in about 300 plate appearances and showing well in the age-appropriate Midwest League. He shows plus bat speed and can get extension to drive pitches the other way, and the approach improved by leaps and bounds over the past year to where you can squint and see a 50-hit, 60-power outfielder, assuming he can play his way to passable on the grass, anyway.
Eric Jenkins, TEX – The Rangers bought Jenkins out of a UNC commitment with a well-above-slot deal last summer, and he performed reasonable well in his first professional season. He boasts speed that is at least plus, which helped him steal 28 bases in just 224 Arizona plate appearances. A whiff rate north of 27 percent speaks to the kind of projection required here, but speed is speed. Especially if that efficiency rate holds as he moves up, he’s worth tracking and following.
Desmond Lindsay, NYM – Lindsay impressed in his pro debut with what one of our prospect team members dubbed “shockingly advanced feel for hitting” given that he missed all but seven games last spring to a significant hamstring injury. It’s a short, linear swing at present, with his quick wrists and strong forearms helping to generate solid bat speed and consistent barrel delivery. He’s built for all-fields contact, though at a cost of much power utility, and it’s not the sexiest of fantasy profiles—certainly relative to real-world value.
Andrew Stevenson, WAS – Speaking of speed, Stevenson was the best defensive center fielder in this class. He logs plus-or-better run times out of the box and shows some utility on the bases. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he has an extremely unorthodox swing with virtually no power to speak of, to the point where it’s unclear he hits enough for the speed to matter. Outside of sim leagues he’s best left for later, though a strong showing with the bat could change that quickly, especially given the second-round pedigree.
Donnie Dewees, CHC – Dewees suffered a gnarly broken wrist during his sophomore season, and there was confusion about his draft eligibility heading into his third collegiate season. But he posted video game numbers leading up to the draft (seriously: .422/.483/.749 with 18 homers and 23 bags), and the Cubs popped his well-rounded skill set in the second round. The wood bat power is closer to the fringy side of the street, but the speed is legitimate and Dewees earned praise for having one of the prettiest swings and surest paths to a plus hit tool down the line.
Harrison Bader, STL – A centerfielder out of Florida, Bader showed some of the best bat speed in the college class and he raked his way to one of the better second-half performances in the Midwest League after signing. There’s power and speed in the package, though both are closer to average than plus. As a college bat who ripped A ball, Bader has some fast-track potential should he show well at High-A to stat the season.
Hyun-Soo Kim, BAL – Kim signed with Baltimore on the cheap after hitting 28 homers in the KBO last year, and he’ll enter the mix in left at age 28. He’s a grinder in every sense, a guy who went undrafted and clawed his way into the Korean league and ultimately emerging as a solid player there. There’s some power there—he hit in one of the larger stadiums in the KBO—but the offensive selling point here is selectivity and solid contact. If the approach translates there’s mid-teens power with a decent on-base percentage on the table here.
Class of 2016 and Beyond
Lazaro Armenteros, FA (Cuba) – “Lazarito,” as he’s been dubbed, missed the cutoff date for this signing period, but was granted a waiver and declared eligible to sign with any team as a free agent a couple weeks ago. If he holds off on signing until after July 2nd, he would join Kevin Maitan (covered here) at the top of the next international class. Willie Mays in his prime, Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson, the love child of Godzilla and the Moon…you name it, and if it’s good enough, Lazarito has or will be compared to it. The raw tools include 70 speed, plus-or-better power, and athleticism that flows like the mighty waters of the Cauto River during rainy season. He’s alleged to have $15 million on the table from a Japanese club already, so his ultimate MLB bonus should push into or beyond Moncada territory.
Blake Rutherford, Chaminade College Prep (CA) – I’ll see Rutherford in about three weeks, so check our prospect coverage in due time for some notes on that. He’s the consensus top high school position player heading into the draft class’s season, though, thanks to effortless athleticism and above-average or better tools across the board. He has produced consistently throughout his showcase career and excelled in game conditions as well against advanced competition in southern California. He’s committed to UCLA, but with a trajectory pointed at the top half of the first round, it’s unlikely he gets there.
Nick Banks, Texas A&M – I’ll see Banks this weekend, so check our prospect coverage next week for some notes on that. Banks is lauded for above-average to true plus hit and power tools, depending on who you ask, and his run grade hangs out on the same street corner. The swing remains more compact at present, though he’s shown an ability to turn on pitches with leverage. He was the best hitter on Team USA last summer, and he’ll make for one of the more well-rounded college bats available on the grass this June.
Buddy Reed, Florida – Reed started alongside Banks (and our next hitter) on that Team USA squad last summer, and now he’s setting tables for the top-ranked college team in the country. He features dynamic athleticism, with a prototypical high-waisted frame to dream on and borderline-double-plus speed. He’s a recent commit to playing fulltime baseball, but the swing is already fluid and quick to the point of contact, giving him the potential to pair an above-average hit tool with all of the speed. His is a longer frame that probably won’t add enough mass to get him to average power down the line, but even though the real life profile is more tantalizing he’ll be an awfully interesting fantasy prospect as well.
Corey Ray, Louisville – Have yourself a weekend, kid. Ray opened his draft season with an absurd .667/.714/1.444 line with six (six!) stolen bases on opening weekend. A double-plus runner, he can lay claim to one of the cooler achievements in recent major conference history after executing a walk-off straight steal of home last spring. He’s added notable good bulk during his college career, to where his power utility now projects safely into average range. And while there are and likely will always be some contact issues, he’s draws praise for improving his approach over the past couple years as well. He may have the highest upside of any college bat when all is said and done, and barring injury he’ll be firmly in the top-ten conversation somewhere.
Kyle Lewis, Mercer – In case you haven’t picked up on the theme yet, this year’s college outfield class is stacked, and Lewis enters the years as yet another potentially high first-rounder. I wrote about the reigning Southern Conference MVP’s exploits on the Cape last summer, and if you like raw power and bat speed, Lewis is your dude. He fills out a baseball uniform like someone created him in a lab, and his blend of strength and athleticism is rare for a college hitter, since guys that look like him usually get popped out of high school. His bat speed is easily plus, and he has the raw strength to take balls out all over the yard. The swing features an aggressive hitch and long load, and toning that down into a practical hit tool will take some time. But this is a potentially special late-blooming bat.
Jorge Ona, FA (Cuba) – The other Cuban outfielder of note, Ona is a 19-year-old with prototypical right field projection. He showed plus power already the last time scouts got a look at him in competitive play, and his frame suggests ample opportunity to add additional strength and power as he matures. He’s been tied to the Padres, which would mean a wink and a nod handshake deal with some unfortunate delay to his professional debut.
Will Benson, The Westminster School (GA) – Benson is one of the larger teenaged humans you’ll find, checking in at a robust 6-foot-5, 220 pounds entering his senior year in high school. Let’s get the requisite Jason Heyward comp out of the way now, and then note that this is your standard-issue high risk, high reward dynasty league play in the making. The power has a chance to be special, but the swing-and-miss does too.
Others: Mickey Moniak, La Costa Canyon HS (CA); Avery Tuck, Steele Canyon HS (CA); Bryan Reynolds, Vanderbilt; Ryan Boldt, Nebraska; Tirso Ornelas (Mexico); Jeisson Rosario (Dominican Republic)