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 last year’s 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.
I covered five High-A guys a couple weeks ago. Here are a few candidates from the Low-A ranks:
Luis Arraez, 2B, Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins)
I’m not going to lie and say I knew anything about Arraez before I started doing research for this piece, but he caught my eye pretty quickly for a couple reasons. First and foremost, Arraez turned 19 years old shortly after Opening Day, and is one of the youngest players in Low-A. Age relative to the level is one of the most important data points to consider when you’re stat line scouting, and looking at the performance of the youngest players in any league is a good way to identify prospects with quick helium. It’s how, for example, I spotted an 18-year-old Ruddy Giron early last season. Because of the suddenness of the ascension and the distance from Low-A to the majors, the success isn’t always lasting, but on-field performance at a young age is oftentimes a good indicator. In addition to his age, Arreaz has managed some eye-popping (in a good way) strikeout numbers as a pro. In the Gulf Coast League last year, Arreanz struck out in just ten of his 233 plate appearances, an absurd 4.3 percent rate. He’s topped that raw number already in 2016, something you’d expect given the jump in competition level. Still, nobody is going to complain about a 10.7 strikeout rate, considering he’s hitting .328 and has walked only one fewer time than he’s whiffed. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, calling Arraez slight might be overselling it. Because of his size and zero track record of hitting for power, there’s a good chance his stick won’t play at the higher levels, but Arraez is worth monitoring for now because of what he’s accomplishing at such a young age.
Thairo Estrada, 2B/SS, Charleston RiverDogs (Charleston)
Estrada has played all over the infield this year, which would lend some credence to his future as a utility-man if his offensive game hadn’t also seemingly taken a step forward. Estrada has always made a little more solid contact than you might expect from his small frame, and his five 2016 dingers are three more than he hit in a full New York-Penn season last year. Some of that is certainly luck, as the five home runs represent more than half of his extra-base hits, but it’s an encouraging sign that two of the five have gone the opposite way. Another plus for our game is that Estrada is running more, finally using his above-average speed to swipe some bags. He has 10 steals already this year after just eight in 2015. Estrada’s fantasy value would get a boost if he can move back to shortstop full-time. He has both the glove and arm to make it work at the six spot, but has played primarily at the keystone recently to make room for last year’s first round pick, Kyle Holder. The power is likely to normalize to the gap-to-gap doubles variety, but getting to a place where you can reasonably project even 8-10 homers would change his profile considerably.
Francisco Mejia, C, Lake County Captains (Indians)
Typically when I write this type of column—especially this early in the year and focused on this level of the minors—the players I profile fall into the phylum of “speculative add.” Heck, some of them, like Arraez and Estrada above are players to simply keep an eye on, and don’t yet warrant a roster spot in anything except the deepest of leagues. Mejia is not that. Mejia has appeared on a top-100 list and he has been inside Bret’s top 50 dynasty catchers in each of the past two seasons. Instead, Mejia’s inclusion here is a reminder to be patient with your higher profile guys. Hanging on to underperforming prospects in the lower levels is one of the hardest things to do in a dynasty league, especially this time of year, when players whose newness alone seems more exciting than sticking with the guy you rode with through an underwhelming season. This is doubly true for catchers, and double again for catchers who make their full-season debut during their teenage years, as Mejia did in 2015.
Mejia slashed .243/.324/.345 last season, which isn’t very exciting until you consider that it came from a 19-year-old switch-hitting backstop. Through the first 33 games of 2016, he’s up to .311/.356/.444, with the batting average increase a product of fewer strikeouts and better results on balls in play. If there’s a complaint, it’s that Mejia only has one home run to date, after stroking nine in 2015. Mejia’s slugging percentage is up by nearly 100 points though, and some of those doubles will turn back into home runs eventually. If you already roster Mejia, take his 2016 performance as an encouraging sign and re-dedicate yourself to seeing his development through. If you’re not, pursue Mejia in case his current owner is simply tired of the lead time. Mejia is a no-doubt catcher defensively, and everyday catchers who don’t kill you at the plate are getting harder to come by. It’s worth the wait.
Josh Ockimey, 1B, Greenville Drive (Red Sox)
Ockimey was a Philadelphia prep product who the Red Sox popped in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. After spending time in the Gulf Coast League in his draft season and the New York-Penn League last summer, the 20-year-old first baseman is getting his first taste of full-season ball in the Sally this year. Ockimey has exhibited a solid approach throughout his professional career, but questions about his ability to make enough contact to access his plus raw power in games have suppressed his stock until now. Ockimey struck out in 34.1 percent of his plate appearances last summer, but has shaved 11 percentage points off that number while doubling his walk rate to a Low-A leading 21.2 percent. What makes him appealing for our game is that power potential. Ockimey has blasted off seven times so far this season and his .538 slugging percentage is a top-five mark in the classification. Dulling the excitement is the fact that Ockimey is a first baseman in a best-case scenario, and more likely a DH, provided he stays in the junior circuit. Still, he’s a prototypical middle-of-the order, left-handed slugger who could be a three-category contributor someday as long as he’s able to make enough contact to survive.
LaMonte Wade, OF, Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins)
Wade was a favorite deep sleeper of mine entering the season and he’s done nothing but build on the momentum that began after his return from a broken hamate bone at Maryland and accelerated with an incredible post-draft stint in the Appy. After the Twins stole Wade in the ninth round, he proceeded to finish in the top ten in the Appalachian League in hits, triples, home runs, walk rate, strikeout rate, OPS, and stolen bases. Like his Kernels teammate Arraez, Wade’s strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Midwest League this season demands attention. He has walked 25 times against 19 strikeouts and is putting together the kind of well-rounded line that should make him popular mid-season target in dynasty leagues. Wade’s age alone was enough to cast some doubt on the 2015 line, but the growing body of statistical evidence, coupled with scouting reports that praise his athleticism, smooth stroke, and quick bat are starting to add up to something more than a college player feasting on inferior competition. I’d like to see what Wade can do with one more promotion before I make the add in leagues that roster fewer than 200 prospects, but I wouldn’t argue with a rebuilding owner pulling the trigger on him now.
Thank you for reading
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