We’re less than two weeks away from Opening Day and fantasy baseball draft season is in full swing. It’s time to get excited. The primary focus of this article is to highlight American League prospects that are on the cusp of making a significant fantasy impact in the major leagues this upcoming season.
I’ve taken the liberty of excluding Andrew Benintendi. He’s really freaking good. He’s going to be the Red Sox everyday left fielder and is currently being drafted among the top 30 outfielders (129th overall, 9th round) in NFBC leagues this spring. You don’t need to hear anything more about him. Barring an unforeseen development, Yoan Moncada will not break camp as the White Sox starting second basemen, therefore he warrants a mention in this space.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t include Gleyber Torres or Brent Honeywell, a pair of my favorite fantasy prospects in the entire game. I understand that the hype machine is in overdrive right now regarding Torres, but it would be extremely unlikely for him to ascend to the major leagues this season. The 20-year-old shortstop has raked in spring training and is coming off an MVP performance in the Arizona Fall League, but he has yet to even reach Double-A. Barring an unforeseen development, or major injury issues, the Yankees have little incentive to rush Torres to the major leagues this season.
The same caveat applies to Honeywell, who has made just 10 career starts above High-A. Given the Rays extremely slow timelines for their top pitching prospects over the past decade, even if he demoralizes Double-A hitters for two or three months, he’s still going to spend some time in Triple-A before hearing whispers of a potential call-up.
Without further delay, here are five AL prospects (and a few bonus selections) poised to make their mark on the 2017 season. If I neglect to mention your favorite prospect, so feel free to drop me a line in the comments section.
Yoan Moncada, 2B, White Sox
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #5
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #1
2017 ETA: Late May
The release of veteran second baseman Brett Lawrie virtually assures that Moncada will be given the keys to an everyday opportunity in Chicago very soon. We’ve covered his immense upside, a potential five-category, switch-hitting monster, extensively throughout the offseason. The strikeouts remain the lone bugaboo in the profile. Fortunately, Moncada is a safe enough bet (for the moment) to hit for enough power and steal enough bases to mitigate that risk somewhat. If he can cut his strikeout rate, even to around 30 percent, he posses a dynamic power/speed combination that has the potential to make him one of the most valuable assets in fantasy baseball. I’m not sure if the raw talent will manifest at the big-league level right away in 2017, but do you really want to bet against him? I didn’t think so.
Clint Frazier, OF, Yankees
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #16
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #10
Fantasy Overview: Five-category contributor; Impact potential in HR & RBI
2017 ETA: June/July
The flowing red hair is gone (for now) but that shouldn’t put a damper on prospective fantasy owner’s enthusiasm in AL-only re-draft formats. The 22-year-old still has some wrinkles to iron out at Triple-A to begin the season, but he didn’t strike out a ton (22 percent over 391 plate appearances at Double-A and 28 percent in 129 plate appearances in Triple-A), and managed to hit .263/.335/.447 with 16 home runs and 13 steals in 119 games last season. It was a bit surprising to see him fall to the reserve rounds of the AL LABR auction a few weeks ago. Especially given the state of the Yankees outfield. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Frazier occupying a corner outfield spot in the Bronx by mid-season. The Georgia native’s value may be limited to AL-only formats to open the year, but he should be firmly on mixed league radar screens as well.
Lucas Giolito, RHP, White Sox
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #10
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #11
2017 ETA: April/May
There are several pressing concerns in Giolito’s profile that he still needs to address, most notably mechanical issues and diminished fastball velocity that defined his brief debut in Washington last season. According to Brooks Baseball’s data, Giolito’s average fastball and sinker velocities hovered around 93 mph in his latest spring training start. I’ll be honest; I’m not as optimistic about Giolito’s immediate outlook as many other analysts will be this season. Yet, there’s no question that he has the talent to rediscover the raw stuff that made him the top-pitching prospect in the game at one time. If you’re speculating purely on upside, it’s hard to find a more interesting prospect than Giolito. We know he’s going to be in the White Sox rotation at some point this season, it’s just a matter of when.
Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Mariners
BP Prospect 101 Rank: NR
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #37
Fantasy Overview: Four-category contributor; Impact potential in OBP formats
2017 ETA: Opening Day
My personal affinity for Vogelbach may have reached an unhealthy level this offseason. I understand the arguments that have been levied against him as a prospect. But, hear me out. The 24-year-old boasts a burgeoning power and plate discipline, righty-mashing profile at the dish. He’s also coming off an impressive Triple-A campaign in which he hit .292/.417/.505 with 50 extra-base hits (23 home runs) and nearly as many walks (97) as strikeouts (101) last season. Even if he’s limited to a platoon role with Danny Valencia, he’s shown an ability to drive the ball to all fields, and should bat directly behind the Mariners loaded heart of the order, which features Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. It’s also important to remember that SAFECO is no longer a death sentence for left-handed power hitters. Needless to say, the range of potential outcomes is vast, but I see a lot of reason for optimism.
Vogelbach isn’t a potential fantasy superstar. That’s the cold, hard truth. But, that’s probably a good thing because fantasy owners won’t have to pay an exorbitant sum to acquire him on draft day. If he can get on base and hit for power, he’s going to be an extremely valuable four-category contributor in AL-only formats this season.
Franklin Barreto, 2B, Athletics
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #47
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #14
Fantasy Overview: Five-category contributor; Impact potential in AVG
2017 ETA: June/July
The crown jewel of the ill-fated Josh Donaldson trade, Barreto has earned rave reviews this spring, and displayed an intriguing blend of power and speed throughout his minor-league career. The 21-year-old will open the season in Triple-A, where he will transition to second base full-time, and could get an opportunity in Oakland by mid-season. Especially considering the flotsam and jetsam currently occupying the keystone. Barreto got off to a painfully slow start last year, but hit .320/.380/.476 with 27 extra-base hits (six home runs) and 17 steals over his final 298 plate appearances in Double-A. The combination of talent, proximity to the major leagues, and a lack of real competition for playing time once he arrives, make Barreto one of the most prominent prospects to stash in re-draft formats this season.
Don’t Forget About…
Bradley Zimmer, OF, Indians
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #80
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #42
Frankly, I don’t understand the fantasy buzz regarding Zimmer. While the former first-round selection managed to rack up 15 home runs and steal 38 bases across two levels, he also struck out over a quarter (28 percent) of the time in 407 plate appearances in Double-A last season. That number jumped to a staggering 37 percent (56 strikeouts in just 150 plate appearances) once he reached Triple-A.
I understand that it seems extremely hypocritical to dismiss Moncada’s contact problems as a non-factor, while at the same time, making a big deal out of the same weakness with Zimmer. The difference for me is that he’s already 24-year-old, plays a much deeper fantasy position, and doesn’t possess enough speed or power upside to overcome the batting average (and on-base) deficiencies in his profile. Clearly, Zimmer is an immensely talented prospect, but I would be wary of making a re-draft investment unless he becomes less of a liability in batting average.
Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #63
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #27
It’s important to always remember that Judge possesses massive raw power. He’s even shown the ability to tap into in against major-league competition. That’s the exact type of profile that will have fantasy relevance in perpetuity. However, he has struggled mightily to make contact, striking out in 44 percent of his 95 career big-league plate appearances. That glaring weakness puts a serious cap on his immediate fantasy value. Unless he makes significant strides at the plate, it’s unrealistic to expect Judge to be anything more than a source of cheap power in re-draft leagues this year. Given the current landscape, where 111 hitters eclipsed the 20-home run plateau last season, it’s just not a tremendously valuable fantasy profile right now.
Francis Martes, RHP, Astros
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #28
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #32
The Houston rotation is a bit crowded at the moment. However, Martes is exactly the type of power arm that could force his way into the mix in a moments notice. If veteran incumbents Mike Fiers or Charlie Morton scuffle over the first half of the year, or Lance McCullers persistent elbow and shoulder issues crop up again, look for the Astros to turn to the uber-talented 21-year-old. In addition to striking out over a batter per inning (9.4 K/9), Martes slashed his walk rate to 3.4 BB/9 and posted a 3.30 ERA over 125 1/3 innings at Double-A last season. He’s almost ready.
Jose De Leon, Rays
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #38
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #71
Tampa Bay began the process of turning their rotation over to the next generation by dealing Drew Smyly to Seattle this offseason, paving a clear path for Blake Snell and potentially De Leon (acquired from the Dodgers for second baseman Logan Forsythe) to step into the major-league rotation right away. The changeup is a true weapon, which has enabled De Leon to post staggering strikeout numbers throughout his minor-league career. The 24-year-old was roughed up (6.35 ERA, 5.40 DRA in 17 innings) during his brief major-league debut in Los Angeles, but remains one of the most intriguing pitching prospects in the game. He may need a few starts in Triple-A Durham to marinate, but it may not take him long to supplant Matt Andriese in the big-league rotation. Keep him on the radar in deeper re-draft leagues.
Willy Adames, SS, Rays
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #21
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #33
The 21-year-old can flat-out hit. Over the past four seasons, he’s a lifetime .265/.366/.409 hitter, and is coming off a stellar campaign in Double-A where he hit ..274/.372/.430 with 48 extra-base hits (11 home runs) and 13 stolen bases. There’s almost zero incentive for the Rays to push him to the major leagues this season, but Adames is a talented hitter who would make an impact of the opportunity arose.
Reynaldo Lopez, RHP, White Sox
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #30
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: #51
The White Sox have developed him as a starter this spring after picking him up from the Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade earlier this offseason. The 23-year-old may ultimately end up in the bullpen, but given the long-term question marks in the big-league rotation, he could get an opportunity to show that he belongs this season. At the very least, he’s going to strikeout a shipload of hitters. He may destroy your fantasy teams WHIP, but he’s worthy of consideration as a stash in AL-only formats.
David Paulino, Astros
BP Prospect 101 Rank: #83
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: NR
The 23-year-old is going to open up the impending campaign on the disabled list with a bone bruise in his right elbow, but he’s been a strikeout machine throughout his minor-league career. He’s a worthwhile DL stash option in AL-only leagues.
Jharel Cotton, Athletics
BP Prospect 101 Rank: NR
BP Fantasy 101 Rank: NR
The changeup wizard has already locked down a spot in the Athletics rotation and should be on the radar in deeper mixed leagues. There is a limited fantasy ceiling here, given the lack of strikeout upside and home run issues, but Cotton should provide plenty of value to fantasy owners who have the ability to pick their spots with him in leagues with daily lineup changes.