No prospect is poised to make a bigger splash in the 2014 fantasy baseball season than Chicago White Sox, first basemen Jose Abreu. Abreu, a 27 year old slugger, is being inserted into the middle of the Chicago lineup and will see a full 162 game schedule barring injury. No other fantasy prospect, besides fellow international signee Masahiro Tanaka, is in a situation better optimized for accumulating fantasy statistics. The spot in the lineup (currently projected to hit 3rd), the favorable home park, and the physical maturity is unrivaled and projects Abreu to be the best prospect fantasy asset in 2014. This is of course due to his questionable standing as a "prospect", but if your league classifies him as such, you should be all over this guy in prospect drafts.
Valuing Abreu is obviously a bit abstract at the moment and will remain so until we see him against some live MLB-level pitching. Many have compared his statistics in Cuba to that of recent successful international signings, Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, and in comparison Abreu's numbers should leave fantasy owners optimistic. There is so much more that comes with defecting from Cuba and a simple mathematical extrapolation does not suffice. A tool-based evaluation is the best way to get an idea of what type of player Jose Abreu will become. Luckily, this evaluation method grades out positively for Abreu and his future fantasy value. The positives in the profile: raw power, ability to draw a walk, and willingness to hit to all fields are advantageous for his fantasy value. While the most glaring weaknesses: foot speed, glove, and a little too much swing-and-miss, are things we don't need from a fantasy standpoint - caveated for those in points leagues that may have to watch the strikeout rates.
In both re-draft and dynasty/keeper formats, I'm higher on Abreu than most. In re-draft formats, I probably take him as high as Round 5 depending on how quickly the power evaporates. He's the last in the second tier of 1B and there's quite a drop after. I would group Pujols, Hosmer, A. Craig, A. Gonzalez, and Abreu together with the next group consisting of Brandon Moss, Chris Carter, Rizzo, and Butler. I'd be much happier with any of the first group and would be willing to reach on Abreu in order to avoid the risky/one-dimensional plays in the second group. In dynasty formats, where Abreu is being drafted along with Tanaka and the 2013 draft class, I have him in the Top 3 depending on the rules format. If you can keep prospects on a minor league system for cheap or at no cost, I have Abreu 3rd behind Kris Bryant and Clint Frazier. If there's a cost associated with prospects, or if I feel I can make a run in the next year or two, Abreu jumps to number one due to his advantage of immediate returns. I'd prefer to wait and have the entire careers of Bryant and Frazier if possible, but Abreu is worth consideration right next to them.
As we saw with Yoenis Cespedes, and might see with Yasiel Puig, an international rookie's first season is not always indicative of future success (or failure). If Abreu comes out and rakes, or struggles to put it all together (which I wouldn't bet on) do not let that alter your overall evaluation of him too much. In the same vein, don't let his first month or two scare you off and dump him quickly if it doesn't work out. He's dealing with a life transition many can't comprehend and time for adjustments is absolutely necessary. The tools are there for Abreu to develop into possibly a first round pick in future years so don't cut bait early if you don't see immediate returns. After all we're classifying him as a prospect; treat him the same way with your future roster decisions. In many ways, I would almost like to see him struggle so that he's forced to make adjustments. If he can create a habit of constant adjustments early, if it's not already apart of his baseball IQ, he has a chance to be something very special.
Former writer and newly minted MLB hot shot, Andrew Ball threw out a fantasy line that I like as a solid foundation for Abreu: .253 AVG, 24 HR, 65 R, and 83 RBI. I think the HR total is a bit light and the AVG has a chance to be 20 - 30 points higher, but this line bakes in the possibility of some initial struggles, which is certainly something you can't ignore. It might not seem worthy of a 5th Round Pick, but if you believe in the upside as much as I do, it could be a worthwhile gamble that allows you to grab another SP or speedster in the Top 4 Rounds as opposed to another slugger.
Feel free to send any comments or additional fantasy questions my way at Twitter (@BrianCreagh)