It is common knowledge that runs and power are down in baseball. Whether you believe those numbers have depressed due to increased policing of PED usage, pitchers throwing harder than ever and being more specialized, or a combination of those and other factors, it is inarguable that runs and power are at a premium in a way baseball hasn't seen in decades. What that means for you, the fantasy owner, is you must always be on the lookout for prospects coming up that have impact offensive potential. To be sure, you should keep an eye on pitching prospects too, but with injuries and mechanical issues prevalent the bust rate for pitchers is much higher than that of hitting prospects, and I am of the belief that pitching can always be found. This article will cover just one of those prospects coming up through the ranks that will be worth keeping an eye on, especially in dynasty and long-term keeper formats and not so much for a year to year re-draft format. Let me introduce you to Oakland A's power hitting first base prospect, Matt Olson.
Olson, who bats left handed and is 6'4 and 235 pounds, was drafted in the 2012 supplemental first round by the Oakland A's and has produced at every stop he's made in the minor leagues. Since being drafted, Olson has slashed .282/.357/.527 in 2012 in rookie ball and short season A-ball. Then .225/.326/.435 during a down season in 2013 but in the pitcher friendly Midwest League, and despite said pitcher friendliness he still managed to smack 23 homers as a 19 year old. Finally, Olson slashed .262/.404/.543 this season at "Class A Advanced" Stockton this season. Slash lines, especially in the minor leagues, don't always tell the full story, but there is a lot to like in the slash line that Olson posted this year, so let's look at the 2014 numbers a little more in depth.
Scouts have always liked Olson's mature approach at the plate and that translated into posting a career best walk-rate of 18.5% in Stockton this year, which was the best walk rate in all of the Class-A advanced leagues in baseball with a minimum of 400 plate appearances at that level. His strikeouts even dropped a little, but it's not as statistically significant because it appears striking out will always be a part of his game due to his extreme patience at the plate, but in any case it dropped to a career best 21.6%. Simply put, Olson tore up the California League this season and showed more of his power than he had at any previous stop in the A's system. Olson finished the season with 37 dingers and posted a wOBA of .410 and a wRC+ of 145. The 37 homers ranked Olson 4th in all of the minor leagues, behind only super prospect, Kris Bryant (43), Rangers' third baseman Joey Gallo (42), and 31 year old journeyman Jake Fox (38).*
The most important aspect, and providing even more context to all of these outstanding numbers is that Matt Olson did all this in his age 20 season in a league with a median age of 23**. Age context is often an overused anchor when discussing prospects who post average performances in a season, but when someone dominates a league that is, on average, 3 years older than the prospect it is a significant factor and cannot be ignored.
What does this mean for a fantasy owner looking for an impact power bat? Like I said earlier, I don't think he will help much in 2015 re-draft leagues unless he simply dominates AA and AAA pitching and earns himself a late season call-up to Oakland. This isn't completely out of the realm of possibility, but it seems unlikely given that the A's still have one more year of control on John Jaso and two years on Brandon Moss and both can occupy first base, coupled with the A's being an organization that will not want to start that service time clock before they feel he is 100% ready to face big league pitching. However, if you are in a deep dynasty league that has enough roster space for minor league prospects that are one or two years away from the Show, then I would recommend giving Olson a real hard look because if he performs well at the Arizona Fall League next month I suspect he will start showing up on top-100 lists going into 2015.
*all stats used came from www.fangraphs.com
**median ages found at http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/median-age-for-every-full-season-minor-league/