Around this time last year, I started taking a look at prospects whose early-season performance had their dynasty stocks on the rise. While it’s awfully early to be diving into minor league stat lines, it’s not an exercise completely devoid of merit. You may well miss more than you hit, but early-June leaderboard mining revealed prospects such as Jacob Nottingham, Trey Mancini, and Cody Reed as prospects whose value was changing dramatically.
I hope it goes without saying that you should always try to pair stat line scouting with actual reports if you can find the information. To that end, you should definitely be reading the amazing work done by our prospect team: daily minor league updates, Monday morning ten packs, eyewitness accounts, notes from the field, chats, mailbag Q&A’s. It’s quite staggering how prolific they are as a unit, and how much my dynasty game has improved by soaking it all in.
Prolific as they are, though, there is a significant early adoption advantage in the prospect acquisition game, especially in deeper leagues. You might not have time to wait for scouting reports to hit the public domain. Turning over the bottom of a dynasty roster is important in leagues of all sizes. This time of year—when new rebuilders are born out of slow starts—can be a crucial time for upgrading your farm system. So, hit those leaderboards and make some adds if you have the roster spots to do so. Just be sure to flip again if you see a report down the line that doesn’t quite match what the numbers alone tell you.
Here are a few candidates:
Aristides Aquino, OF, Daytona Tortugas (Reds)
Aquino is a tooled-up outfielder with an enviable power-speed combination and ultra-raw approach at the plate. As speculative additions based on short samples go, this is my favorite class for deeper leagues because the acquisition cost is close to zero and the profit potential is immense if the light goes on. In this case, an early mechanical adjustment that helps explain a recent tear may just be some evidence that the light is beginning to shine, or that a corner has been turnt, to use the parlance of our times. Aquino demolished the Pioneer League in 2014, hitting .292/.342/.577 with 16 home runs and 21 stolen bags. 2015 was a massively disappointing season coming off that performance, in part because of a broken wrist that cost him two months. He wasn’t productive when he was healthy though, underscored by the fact that he’s already eclipsed last year’s home run total. That he’s also beaten 2015’s walk total goes to show just how much work there is to do at the plate. Aquino’s current .212 batting average is more proof. At least that should make him come cheap.
Wuilmer Becerra, OF, St. Lucie Mets (Mets)
Becerra is off to an absurd start, hitting .424 through 24 games and currently working on a streak of seven multi-hit games in a row and 11 of the last 13. The progress Becerra has made in his approach and contact ability since coming stateside in 2013 has been staggering, as he’s trimmed his strikeout rate by almost five percentage points in each season since his 2013 debut, despite not repeating a league. He’s also managed to hold his walk rate steady over the past three seasons. If there’s a nit to pick with his season to date, it’s that Becerra has yet to homer or steal a base. The latter is particularly curious when you consider he’s been standing on first base 38 times already and he nabbed 16 last year. Stolen bases were also going to be icing though, so I’m not worried. Becerra had 37 extra-base hits last season in Savannah, an extreme pitchers’ park, so I suspect the power will come too. This is looking like a well-rounded fantasy profile, with growing confidence in a productive big-league future.
Ryan O’Hearn, 1B, Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals)
This one qualifies as cheating the premise, since O’Hearn slugged his way out of the Carolina League in only 22 games and now resides in Double-A. Still, the seven long balls he hit in Wilmington remain tops in the Carolina, and his 1.079 OPS is the best in all of High-A. He’s kept right on hitting in his first week since the promotion, tallying ten hits in his first six games, half of which have gone for extra bases. That he’s hitting for power is no surprise; O’Hearn has borderline double-plus power to all fields and led the Sally League in home runs last year despite not having enough at-bats to qualify. There’s no question O’Hearn goes to the plate with an aggressive mentality, looking to put his carrying tool to work. You can see that in a strikeout rate that has approached 30 percent at every level, even if it is hidden by acceptable walk rates. In a sense, the real evaluation begins now for O’Hearn. He shouldn’t have nearly as many mistake pitches to punish in Double-A and his ability to recognize and hit more advanced secondary offerings will be the key whether he becomes a legitimate prospect or just a guy who can hit baseballs out of minor-league stadiums.
Andrew Stevenson, OF, Potomac Nationals (Nationals)
Stevenson was a second-round selection in last year’s draft and his defensive profile alone provides a high likelihood of eventually carving out a major-league role. Whether that role is of the everyday variety depends on the continued development of his bat. Stevenson has close to bottom-of-the-scale power because of both his swing path and his build, and even though he registered a top-10 batting average in the SEC in both his sophomore and junior seasons, pre-draft questions about his stick prevailed because of an unorthodox swing. The Nationals and Stevenson have worked to make his swing somewhat more conventional, and he’s done nothing but hit all the while. After batting .308 across two Low-A levels last summer, Stevenson started at High-A this season and is hitting .340 through his first 106 at-bats, walking only one less time that he’s struck out. The questions will persist until he proves it at a higher level, so you might be wondering why I’m telling you about a light-hitting, glove-first player. The answer is that Stevenson has wheels. He’s up to 35 swipes in 81 professional games, including 12 this season. Low-minors stolen base totals can be deceiving, but grades on his speed confirm Stevenson as an eventual threat on the basepaths at the highest level. I have an affinity for players who produce numbers on the field in the SEC, and am willing to look past the fact that his swing isn’t Tom Emanski’s ideal.
Christin Stewart, OF, Lakeland Flying Tigers (Tigers)
Did I mention that I have an affinity for productive bats from the SEC? Stewart parlayed a productive junior season at Tennessee to a first round selection last June and has mashed since. He’s up to 10 bombs already to lead all of High-A. That’s four more than the next closest player in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Stewart is a player who has continuously gotten better over the past few years. As a college sophomore, he hit a pile of doubles and interestingly, he also led the SEC in triples. After a productive summer with USA Baseball, he turned a slew of those doubles into home runs while more than doubling his walk rate. Stewart continued to rake after the draft, popping seven dingers as part of a .286/.375/.492 line in the Midwest League, an age-appropriate yet aggressive assignment if you bought into the prevalent skepticism about his first round worthiness. This recommendation is geared more toward shallow dynasty leagues, since first-round selections who rank in their organization’s top 10 hardly qualify as under the radar. Still, Stewart’s been far better than expected and there might yet be time to nab him at preseason value, which I think was unjustly depressed in the first place. As long as advanced pitching doesn’t feast on Stewart’s swing-and-miss to the point that his batting average becomes a liability, there’s a solid floor here and he’s closer to the majors than your average High-A prospect.
Thank you for reading
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