Yes, yes, Byron Buxton and Joey Gallo are two of the best fantasy prospects in baseball and likely contributors from the jump (or pretty close to it) this year. But y’all are already watching those guys, so yet another write-up of either feels unnecessary. Let’s talk about five other dudes of less-extreme projection instead, shall we?
Tyler Naquin, OF, CLE – With Michael Brantley on the shelf for the foreseeable future and penciled-in replacement Abraham Almonte shuffling off to PED purgatory for the entirety of the season’s first half, there’s a wide open road ahead for Naquin to emerge from spring training as the Tribe’s first rookie starter on Opening Day in 30 years. And he’s certainly doing his part, forcing the issues with a very strong spring (.400/.429/.650 in his first nine games).
On one hand, it’s really not the sexiest of fantasy profiles. The bulk of his prospect value lies in real world assets: a canon he disguises at customs as his right arm and solid track-and-close defense in center field. On the other, there’s just enough to the offensive projection that every day at-bats offer an opportunity for helpful fantasy production, especially in deeper and –only formats. He gets on base at a solid clip (.376 over the past two years and more than 700 plate appearances in the high minors), he can steal a few bags with sound efficiency, and despite a flat swing he has enough natural strength to run into the occasional dinger as well.
He’s not likely to be the kind of sets-the-world-on-fire rookie that wins you a league all by himself, but he’s exactly the kind of shrewd end-game investment that, coupled with several more in the same vein, can help you win a league.
Tyler White, “3B,” HOU – The quotes are on account of his technical eligibility heading into this fantasy season. He can’t field, and he can’t run, but none of that really matters for our purposes. All he’s done since joining the professional ranks as a 33rd rounder in 2013 is rake, to the tune of a .311/.422/.489 line with more walks than strikeouts across more than 1,200 minor-league plate appearances. Outside of a 28-game introduction to the NYPL, he’s never posted an on-base percentage less than .400 in any other stop (it was .362 for Tri-City, in case you were wondering). The 25-year-old raked down in the Dominican this winter, and he’s currently raking in Kissimmee (.385 through eight games). Ho hum.
The vast majority of corner infield buzz in Houston tends to revolve around whether Jonathan Singleton can finally put some at-bats together or when A.J. Reed’s arrival may happen, but White just keeps on raking. He doesn’t have to be added to Houston’s 40-man roster until next winter, and as an outsider he’s unlikely to make the big squad out of the gate. But he’s likely to be in the mix for a call-up as soon as injury and/or ineffectiveness afflicts one of Houston’s corner men (or Evan Gattis), and he possesses the kind of translatable swing and approach that could lead to some quick early returns if he’s given any kind of opportunity. The value plays up significantly in OBP and DFS formats, but this is a guy who should be on every AL-only and deep mixed-league radar from the jump.
Joey Rickard, OF, BAL – Rickard may very well have the best chance of any Rule 5 position player to stick with his new organization. The former ninth-rounder exploded through three levels last year with a .321/.427/.447 line and 23 bags in his thievin’ pouch. Similar to Naquin, the skillset suggests a more likely future as a fourth outfielder, but as Ezra Wise noted in our Orioles Top 10 the organization has found some success over the years at maximizing outcomes for guys with Rickard’s profile. He’s a plus runner lauded for sound instincts and an excellent command of the strike zone, all of which is born out in last year’s statistical outburst. That outburst did come somewhat out of nowhere, and the lack of game power makes a transition to handling big league pitching that much more difficult. But for those bargain hunting for this year’s AL version of Odubel Herrera, Rickard may be the best bet. He won’t begin the year in a starting role, but an injury to perpetually injured Nolan Reimold or ineffectiveness by untested Korean import Hyun Soo Kim could easily open the door to more consistent at-bats. As a flyer in AL-only leagues he’s not the worst.
Dylan Bundy, RHP, BAL – Bundy’s history as a prospect probably needs no introduction at this point, but according to literally every public utterance by the organization and the pitcher himself this spring his perpetual arm issues are at bay this spring. He feels good! He looks good! He’s mentally prepared to compete! He’s in the best shape of his life (probably)! This is all well and good, as he’s out of minor league options and needs to break camp with the Orioles in order to stay with the Orioles. In real life you’d be hard-pressed to find a more compelling storyline this spring. In the fantasy world it’s not quite as interesting, but it’s still kind of interesting.
The reason it’s less interesting here? He’s going to be a reliever if and when he makes the club. And not a high-leverage reliever, at least not at first. A middle man. The lowest of the low men on the fantasy totem pole. But given the pedigree and name recognition, he’s still a guy that will at least potentially hold outsized value as a fantasy asset if he shows well in the early. His spring performance to date has been…okay, not great. He reportedly sat 89-92 with his fastball in his most recent appearance, topping at 93. That’s a far cry from his halcyon days of slangin’ upper-90s cheddar, but it doesn’t make him Jered Weaver either.
It’s unclear what kind of value range we’re really looking at right now with Bundy. He’s likely a non-factor in most re-draft leagues even if things break “right” for him and he heads north to Baltimore as anticipated. And in deeper keeper formats where you’re stuck with him, well, you’re probably still going to be stuck with him for a while.
Jose Berrios, RHP, MIN – Fine, fine, we’ll close it out with some red meat. Berrios is an all-but-definitely guaranteed casualty of service time manipulation, but with It’s Just Tommy Milone! keeping the fifth rotation spot warm in Minnesota, Berrios is as good a bet as any of the Super 2 deadline types to catapult into a rotation slot before the first day of Summer. He led the minors in whiffs last year, though the strikeout stuff isn’t likely to play as elite at the big league level. He’s been dinged for lacking prototypical height (and the plane that goes with it), yet he’s improved notably each year and most recently dominated the high minors at 21.
We’re fairly conditioned in the fantasy game to downgrade Twin starters sight unseen on account of the organization’s modus operandi, but Berrios has the potential to be the first one since Francisco Liriano to buck that trend.