The Situation: The Yankees are muddling through a cold streak during a season of unexpected contention. With the Super-2 window having passed and injuries creating needs all over the diamond, they’re calling up much of their vaunted upper-level prospect depth. Today’s newest Baby Bomber is versatile and toolsy outfielder Dustin Fowler.
Background: New York popped Fowler in the 18th round of the 2013 Draft out of West Laurens High School in Georgia and signed him for an over-slot $278,000 bonus. Aggressively assigned to Low-A Charleston in his first full season along with draft classmate Tyler Wade, Fowler kept his head above water in two A-ball seasons and then broke out after the 2015 season in the Arizona Fall League. He followed that up with 57 extra-base hits in Double-A Trenton in 2016, with continually improving power as the season progressed, firmly putting himself on the national radar. Despite his prospect stock improving in 2016, Fowler actually fell from fifth on a weak preseason Yankees top ten to just off the comically loaded postseason team list. He has continued consolidating his skills in the first half at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, hitting .291/.327/.530 while chipping in 13 steals and playing all three outfield positions.
Scouting: Fowler does nearly everything on the baseball field well; the main question is whether he does any one thing at a high-enough level to not get squeezed as an outfield tweener. He’s got that classic smooth lefty swing with solid bat-to-ball skills, but the hit tool has always played down a bit due to an overaggressive approach. He’s actualized above-average raw power into games over the past year, and hasn’t sacrificed hitting ability to add loft. His plus speed helps in both the average and power departments, and he’s posted excellent triples rates in particular in the high-minors despite not playing in terribly triples-friendly parks. He’s also a threat to be a significant base stealer at the MLB level. Fowler’s fast enough and defensively-skilled enough to play a decent center, but he can be a real asset in the corners, similar to how Brett Gardner has provided incredible defensive value to the Yankees in left for most of this decade.
Overall, there’s sneaky potential for all five tools here as the profile has developed and expanded, and if a carrying tool develops Fowler could even turn into a star. The more likely outcome is on the continuum from a high-end fourth outfielder to an average regular that contributes in a lot of different ways but comes up a bit short in the on-base department.
Immediate Future: The Yankees certainly have short-term playing time available to Fowler, as three guys in the OF/DH/1B mix—Matt Holliday, Aaron Hicks, and Tyler Austin—have all recently landed on the disabled list. Once the bigger names are back, Fowler could be ticketed back to Triple-A, but he’d be an interesting bench weapon for September and beyond, and should threaten for regular outfield time in 2018. —Jarrett Seidler
Fantasy Impact: Even after a 2016 at Double-A Trenton that saw him hit 12 home runs and steal 25 bases, Fowler remained under the radar in most fantasy leagues (entering today, Fowler was rostered in four percent of CBS fantasy leagues). Despite the lack of prospect pedigree, Fowler kept hitting at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, with 12 home runs and 13 steals in a mere 312 plate appearances. Fowler had only been a slightly above average hitter in the minors mostly due to a poor walk rate but thanks to the power spike was having his best year by far prior to his promotion.
He was promoted because of a hamstring injury to Tyler Austin but even if Austin manages to avoid the disabled list, Fowler figures to get a fair amount of playing time in the next few days. The bigger question is whether Fowler will stick around. Even if Austin’s injury is significant and he cannot avoid the DL, Matt Holliday could return relatively soon from his viral infection. Alternately, Fowler could stick in favor of recent call up Miguel Andujar.
Despite the power/speed potential, Fowler is only worth a low-end bid in AL-only in redraft leagues. If you desperately need stolen bases, you can push your bid into high single digits, but risking anything more than $10 (out of $100 FAAB) could be a sunk cost for 2017. Fowler’s low walk rate makes him less palatable in OBP leagues but he offers enough everywhere else that this shouldn’t capsize his value. In keeper formats, Fowler is obviously more intriguing, even if his future isn’t necessarily with the Yankees. Whether Fowler can maintain his value in the majors is an open question but his performance the last two years in the minors has at a minimum opened the door for him as a starter in some team’s big league outfield. —Mike Gianella