Last week we counted down the top dynasty league prospects from #100 (Jeurys Familia) to #51 (Mike Montgomery). Today, it's the cream of the crop. These are either your potential superstars or above average big leaguers ready to help within the next year or so. And to preempt the question that's sure to come up in light of Yoenis Cespedes signing with the Athletics on Monday, I would put him right around #24.
A few disclaimers first. These rankings only include players who are rookie-eligible heading into the 2012 season. You will notice that Yu Darvish is not on this list despite the fact that I think he's awesome, as I don't consider him a prospect. You will also notice there is no Yoenis Cespedes or Jorge Soler, but that is because when I started the list last week, they were not in Major League Baseball. Again, not for lack of either baseball ability or core strength. Finally, the intention of this list is to balance the upside, probability and proximity of these players to an active fantasy lineup. So in a vacuum, I'd rather have the #87 player on this list than #88 on my dynasty league roster right now based on all of those factors.
Additionally, if you want to delve any further into the list or have specific dynasty league questions you want my opinion on, either post them in the comments section here or catch me on Twitter at @tfw_bret and I'll answer all of them. If you want to just say hello or tell me I've over/under rated someone you love/hate, that's great too. I'm a firm believer that an ongoing dialogue is always more helpful than a singular monologue, and the goal of this is to be an additional resource in guiding your team to a championship.
So without any further ado, I give you prospects 50 through 1:
#50 - Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics
It's not easy being a right-handed power hitter in Oakland, but Choice's power will play anywhere. He'll always have issues with strikeouts, but improved as the year went on and struck out only 12 times in 66 Arizona Fall League at bats.
#49 - Anthony Gose, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Gose is a toolshed, capable of doing nearly anything on a baseball field. The only thing standing in his way is his ability to make contact. If he can be an average hitter, he's a fantasy superstar. If not, he'll join the ever growing graveyard of once toolsy outfielders.
#48 - Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
The knock on Castellanos was not that he wasn't good in the Midwest League (he hit .312 with 46 XBH), but that he was more raw than anticipated coming out of high school. His plate discipline needs work, but Castellanos will hit and have at least average power.
#47 - Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Boston Red Sox
Not the sexiest name on this list, Middlebrooks finally put the power he had hinted at previously on display in games. He should be able to hit 25-30 HR while not hurting your batting average, and will be ready to take over at the hot corner in Boston in 2013.
#46 - Wily Peralta, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
Last off-season, Peralta was the last man standing atop of the Brewers' farm system after they cleaned house for Zack Greinke, but this season he earned it. His improved control now puts his most likely outcome is an innings eating 2/3 starter with 180+ K potential.
#45 - Wilin Rosario, C, Colorado Rockies
Rosario's real-life value is held back by the fact that his OBP has been under .300 two of the last three seasons, but in most leagues that won't matter. He's a catcher in the thin air of Coors with potential 25-30 HR power, and those don't come around too often.
#44 - Brad Peacock, SP, Oakland Athletics
One of the more hotly debated names on prospect lists, you either believe Peacock has showed enough improvement to stay in the rotation or you haven't. A pretty extreme fly ball pitcher, Oakland will be a good place for him to settle in -- and he'll compete for a rotation spot next month.
#43 - Nick Franklin, SS, Seattle Mariners
Franklin did not put up the gaudy numbers some thought he would in the Cal League to start the year, but showed well after a promotion to AA and in the Arizona Fall League. He's a switch-hitter with power and average speed that plays up on the bases (think 15-20 steal potential).
#42 - Jacob Turner, SP, Detroit Tigers
Turner pounds the strike zone (2.2 BB/9 over his career) with a plus fastball that has some heaviness to it and two off-speed pitches that have plus-potential. He doesn't project to be a huge strikeout guy, but he should be a solid mid-rotation starter with no glaring weaknesses.
#41 - James Paxton, SP, Seattle Mariners
The most recent poster boy for the insanity that is the NCAA, Paxton didn't start his pro career until the age of 22. But he certainly made up for lost time by impressing in the Midwest League and then dominating in AA. A power lefty who gets strikeouts + Safeco = yes, please.
#40 - Carlos Martinez, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
His stuff is undeniable -- a fastball that touches triple digits, a low 90's sinker and a sharp curveball -- but there's much debate as to whether he'll hold up long-term as a starter. He's only 6'0" and there's effort in his delivery, but even if he's moved to the bullpen, he can be a dominating closer.
#39 - A.J. Cole, SP, Washington Nationals
Cole was an arm strength pick out of high school and in some respects, he's still that now. His secondary pitches (curveball/changeup) are still pretty crude, but show promise. If he can continue his progression, he can be a front-line starter who can pile up the K's.
#38 - Drew Pomeranz, SP, Colorado Rockies
It shouldn't be surprising that Pomeranz would be slightly higher on this list if he were not about to call Coors Field home, but his potential for strikeouts should carry solid value anywhere. He should be the pitcher Colorado was hoping Christian Friedrich would be.
#37 - Yonder Alonso, 1B, San Diego Padres
Your opening day 1B for the Padres, Alonso does not have your typical 1B power -- and playing in Petco may mask some of the average to above-average power he does have. But Alonso projects to hit for a high average, as he showed by hitting .330 in 88 at bats for Cincinnati this past season.
#36 - Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
The biggest prize in the Hunter Pence trade from last summer, Singleton is a potential middle-of-the-order power hitting 1B who can also hit for some average. He will start 2012 at AA and work on his approach, as he needs to turn his pitch recognition skills into plate discipline skills. But be patient, he'll play all of 2012 at the age of 20.
#35 - Jean Segura, SS, Los Angeles Angels
2011 was a lost year for Segura, who managed only 185 at bats in the Cal League before sitting out the last three months of the year with a torn hamstring. However, in his limited time he managed to impress in his move from 2B to SS. If that sticks, his value will shoot up as a top of the lineup hitter who can provide average, plus speed and 12-15 HR.
#34 - Brett Jackson, OF, Chicago Cubs
Jackson's 2011 season was a great demonstration of both his strengths and weaknesses as a prospect. On the positive side, Jackson hit 20 home runs and stole 21 bases in his 115 games. On the negative side, he struck out 138 times in 431 at bats. In the end, he'll be a solid fantasy contributor despite the strikeouts, similar to Corey Hart.
#33 - Archie Bradley, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Bradley would have been the top prep pitcher available in most recent drafts, but in 2011 he wasn't even the best in his own state (Dylan Bundy, co-Oklahoman). Bradley has ideal size with a big fastball and power curve. He still needs to learn a changeup, though his athleticism and clean delivery should bode well there. He's further away, but his upside could trump both other higher rated arms in the D'Backs system.
#32 - Danny Hultzen, SP, Seattle Mariners
Usually when you hear talk of a player jumping from college straight to the majors, it's not to be taken seriously. But Danny Hultzen is not your average college pitcher. He's got three major league ready pitches right now (FB, CH, SL) with present above-average command. He's not an ace, but he's safe and solid across the board.
#31 - Christian Yelich, OF, Florida Marlins
Yelich was a first round pick for his bat and his potential power, neither of which disappointed in his impressive 2011 full-season debut. But it was his stolen base acumen which was most surprising, as he stole 32 bases in 37 attempts. If all breaks right, Yelich can be the Ryan Braun (albeit with less power) to Mike Stanton's Prince Fielder.
#30 - Addison Reed, RP, Chicago White Sox
Reed dominated in the minors during 2011, starting the year at Low-A and ending it on the south side of Chicago. His fastball and slider are both plus pitches which will rack up plenty of strikeouts, and he has a clear path to being the White Sox closer of the future after the Sergio Santos trade. For Reed, that future could be as soon as April.
#29 - Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
The biggest drawback to Marte's game is of the non-fantasy variety, that he's drawn 70 non-intentional walks in his minor league career (over 364 games). Fortunately this won't be an issue for fantasy owners as he's also a career .309 hitter over that time period. He's got power, speed and he puts the ball in play -- all the elements of a high-end fantasy OF.
#28 - Manny Banuelos, SP, New York Yankees
More was expected from Banuelos in 2011 after the buzz he created in Yankee camp. There were even calls for him to start the year in the rotation. Unfortunately, his inconsistent control was on display most of the year, walking 71 batters in 129 innings. But fortunately, his three pitch arsenal still screams front-line starter, and he will likely make his debut at some point this summer.
#27 - Jarrod Parker, SP, Oakland Athletics
Parker lost the 2010 season to Tommy John surgery, but returned with a solid AA season in 2011. He'll need to improve his changeup (stop me if you've heard that one before), but his 4-seamer/2-seamer/slider combination is good enough to carry him on its own. He won't strikeout a ton of guys, but should be a solid four-category contributor.
#26 - Zack Wheeler, SP, New York Mets
Wheeler has the most upside of any Mets' pitching prospect since "Generation K" collectively flamed out. His plus-plus fastball and potential plus-plus curveball make Wheeler a candidate to rack up strikeouts at the major league level -- he's yet to put up a K/9 below 10 in any of his minor league stints. He won't see the majors this season, but if he continues to improve his control (his BB/9 rate improved from 5.8 at Low-A to 4.1 at High-A), he'll be there by 2013.
#25 - Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets
It's a coin flip between Harvey and Wheeler, but Harvey has more certainty and a more likely chance to contribute in 2012. Essentially (and this shouldn't be particularly re-assuring to Mets fans), Harvey should become the pitcher Mike Pelfrey would have become if he had an off-speed pitch. Fortunately, Harvey's slider is a plus-pitch which will work in the majors, but he needs to refine his changeup to keep left-handed hitters more honest.
#24 - Billy Hamilton, SS, Cincinnati Reds
Depending upon who you ask, Hamilton has either 90 or 100 grade speed (it's a 20-80 scale), but he is still raw at the plate and learning the nuances of switch-hitting. A .318/.382/.387 line after the All-Star Break provides hope he can develop into an above average hitter. If it all clicks, he could be the first player since 1988 to steal 80 bags in a season.
#23 - Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins
The most likely successor to Jesus Montero as the prospect who gets the most Miguel Cabrera comps, Sano is a beast of a man who clearly has massive potential. He's also not a third baseman -- frankly he'll be lucky to stick in the outfield -- but he also slugged .637 in the Appy League this past season as an 18-year old. If he does what he's supposed to do at Low-A, he should be in the top-10 next year.
#22 - Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals
If you ran a poll of baseball insiders and asked them which 2011 draftee has the best shot of getting into Cooperstown, odds are they'd say Starling. That's how high this guy's upside is. The Matt Kemp comps are out there for a reason, Starling has all the ingredients of a superstar and future #1 overall pick in fantasy. But don't overrate his likelihood of reaching that ceiling -- he's got a long way to go and more raw than most high school products.
#21 - Martin Perez, SP, Texas Rangers
It's easy to forget that Perez won't turn 21 until opening day 2012, as it feels like he's been around forever. At this point, his owners are tired of constantly being told he's the youngest pitcher in his league (which he was again in the PCL in 2011) instead of one of the best. Perez still has his low-to-mid 90's fastball and plus changeup that evoked all those Johan Santana comps a few years back, but he needs more innings to improve both his consistency and his breaking ball.
#20 - Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners
If Danny Hultzen is the certainty, Taijuan Walker is the dream. A supremely athletic pitcher, Walker flew onto the scene in 2011 in the Midwest League (2.89 ERA, 113 K in 97 IP). With a fastball that can touch 98 and a crazy sharp low-80's curve, Walker has few limits to his ceiling. Oh, and he won't turn 20 until the 2012 minor league season is nearly over.
#19 - Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
The best sign for Arenado's fantasy value in 2011 was his showing defensively at 3B, as he quieted whispers of having to move to 1B. His much improved approach at the plate (BB/K rate jumped from 0.57 to 0.89) portends a future high batting average at the major league level. At his prime, Arenado has a chance to be a slightly lesser version of Todd Helton with 3B eligibility.
#18 - Jameson Taillon, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Taillon, the #2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, sports an upper 90's fastball which plays up due to both its movement and the plane he generates from his 6'6" frame. His curveball projects as an out pitch at the highest level, while his changeup shows promise for a 20-year old. But the Pirates take are going to have to take his training wheels off (he was rarely allowed to pitch more than 4 innings per start in 2011) before he can develop into an ace.
#17 - Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants
In addition to being Kevin Goldstein's man-crush, Brown brings some serious skills to the field and (more importantly) to the plate. Despite being a little old for the level, he destroyed the Cal League to the tune of .336/.407/.519 with 53 steals. He'll be challenged a little more in AA this year, but Brown has the talent to put up Carl Crawford type numbers and could be ready as soon as 2013.
#16 - Tyler Skaggs, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
The key piece to the Dan Haren trade, Skaggs had a breakout year in 2011 between High-A and AA. His fastball doesn't have supreme velocity, but his ability to locate it and the fact that hitters don't pick it up well out of his hand, makes it play up. His curveball has been his calling card since he was drafted, but the development of his changeup has pushed him closer to stardom. He projects as a solid #2 starter with big strikeout potential.
#15 - Wil Myers, OF, Kansas City Royals
Myers had a rough 2011 season between his disappointing performance and his knee injury, but turned back the clock to 2010 in the Arizona Fall League with a 1.155 OPS. His power ceiling is in debate among scouts -- some seeing only average power, while some seeing a 30+ HR threat in his prime -- but his strike zone recognition should allow him to hit for average while posting a high OBP. Expect Myers to bounce back strong in 2012.
#14 - Travis d'Arnaud, C, Toronto Blue Jays
During his Eastern League MVP campaign, d'Arnaud was able to do two extremely important things -- put on the hitting display scouts thought he was capable of and stay healthy. Above average hit and power tools in a catcher is special, and if he stays healthy, he can be a top-5 catcher for the next 8-10 years.
#13 - Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
For all the talk of the 2011 draft's epic college crop, Cole has the highest upside of them all. Armed with a fastball that touches triple-digits and two off-speed pitches that flash as plus, Cole has true ace potential. The hesitation is that his results at UCLA never lived up to his stuff because of either pitch sequencing or pitching up in the zone too much (depending on who you ask). If he can harness his stuff, he'll be a consistent top-10 fantasy pitcher in his prime.
#12 - Dylan Bundy, SP, Baltimore Orioles
Last year's "best high school righty since Josh Beckett" may force this phrase to be retired and replaced with the "best high school righty since Dylan Bundy". He not only has the standard high 90's fastball and power curve you'd expect, but he also throws a low 90's cutter which is extremely advanced for his age. On top of that, Bundy is lauded for his plus-plus makeup. His biggest negative at this point is the organization he's in, as Baltimore is among the worst organizations at developing pitchers, but he's talented enough to be successful despite this potential obstacle.
#11 - Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds
Mesoraco gets a slight edge over Travis d'Arnaud because he's a year ahead of him developmentally and he is less of an injury risk. After showing his breakout 2010 was not a fluke, Mesoraco is poised to begin 2012 with the Reds and have value immediately. He won't be the first catcher off the board, but a .280+ avg and 20+ HR should provide plenty of value.
#10 - Trevor Bauer, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Bauer was the most unique pitcher in the 2011 draft. From his extreme long-toss to the running start he gets when he throws his first warmup pitch, he does things his way and the Diamondbacks are on board. His arsenal includes as many as six pitches, though his mid 90's fastball and 12-6 curve are his best. He's probably not for the risk averse as there hasn't been anyone quite like him before, but dismiss him at your own peril.
#9 - Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals
The highest rated of all 2011 draftees on this list, Rendon was the favorite to go 1st overall in this draft during his freshman and sophomore seasons at Rice. Injuries derailed his junior year and the Nationals had the good fortune of him being around at #6. Rendon is a future .300 hitter with 25-30 HR power, and that future could be as soon as 2013 -- he just needs to prove that he can stay healthy.
#8 - Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves
If the Teheran owner in your dynasty league is getting concerned over a 20 inning sample size in the majors, this may be your last chance to get him for any sort of discount. The fact that he was even up in the majors as a 20-year old was impressive enough -- he's 10 days younger than the just-discussed Trevor Bauer. Teheran still has the best fastball/changeup combination in the minors and his breaking ball and fastball command will come in time. Be patient.
#7 - Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
The top right-handed pitching prospect in the game, Miller has averaged 11.4 K/9 in his minor league career. His fastball is plus-plus as not only does it generate mid-90's velocity, but its movement is often as impressive as it's speed. He also has two potential plus pitches in his curveball and changeup -- along with the future command and control to give him ace upside. He'll start the season at AAA and should be ready to make his debut by mid-summer.
#6 - Manny Machado, SS, Baltimore Orioles
The comps to A-Rod are unfair to Machado, but understandable as it's exceedingly rare to see a high school SS with Machado's offensive upside these days. And while it's true that he may have to move to 3B eventually, that's not exactly a position loaded with depth or star-power either. In Low-A as an 18-year old, he not only put up an .859 OPS but also had a 23 walks against 25 strikeouts in 170 plate appearances. He can be a Nomar Garciaparra type of offensive player with high averages, plus power and a touch of speed.
#5 - Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers
Profar jumped up prospect lists this year as he was named the MVP of the South Atlantic League as an 18-year old while also being its youngest player. His approach to the game is advanced beyond his years both in the field and at the plate, where he registered a .390 OBP and had more walks (65) than strikeouts (63). He may not have 30 HR power or 30 SB speed, but he projects to put up raw numbers similar to Dustin Pedroia -- a high average with 20/20 potential.
#4 - Jesus Montero, C/DH, Seattle Mariners
It is unfortunate for his fantasy value that he was dealt to Seattle this off-season, but even that can only put a slight damper on the huge excitement around Montero. Plus, if it is Seattle's plan to use him at catcher enough to maintain eligibility from season to season, this ranking will probably end up looking too low. A future .300 hitter with 30 HR power, even in Safeco, Montero is a force at the plate and he will begin the season in the middle of the Mariners lineup. His .996 OPS in 61 September at bats was no joke -- he's ready for prime time.
#3 - Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
#2 - Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
#1 - Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
What else can you say about these top three guys that hasn't already been said? Moore could be one of the best pitchers in baseball as soon as this season. Harper could be the best power hitter in the game and will likely reach the majors as a teenager. Trout could be the best all-around player in the game when you combine his offensive potential with plus defense in center field. There's no wrong order to put these three in, but for this particular list, Moore is third solely because of the inherent values and risks of pitchers (though there is nothing to suggest that he's likely to get hurt). Trout edges Harper just barely because he projects to hit for a better average and has the potential to steal 40-50 bases along with his future plus power. But again, I can't say this enough, all three are absolute studs.