With the playoffs in full swing, that means it will be time for teams to assess their needs for next season and start planning for a longer than hoped offseason. We're at the same point for fantasy owners in dynasty leagues, and we're here to help you with the information you need as you prepare for your minor league drafts.
In previous years, we have done rather intensive top 10 prospect lists, including an organizational rundown, opportunities in the coming season, as well as the top fantasy prospects. However, we have found that a number of these topics are covered as we continue through the offseason, and specifically through profiles done as a part of our preseason redraft rankings. As a result, this year's top 10 lists will be primarily that: a list of the prospects with brief writeups rather than the 4000-8000 word opuses that have occurred in the past. We feel that this year's format will both suit the goal better (of providing fantasy relevant information and rankings) as well as allow us to move through them much more quickly so that they can be completed by the Christmas holiday.
The schedule itself is fairly basic: We cover a division, going in alphabetical order of city/location name. This means the next team after this post will be the Tigers, followed by the Royals and Twins. Once we finish a division, we'll move to the AL West. Once we've finished one league, we start over on the East Coast in the National League and do the same.
With fantasy prospect rankings, the key to knowing the usefulness of a specific player is how large and deep of a league you would need to be in for them to end up as a fantasy starter. We will be ranking 10 prospects in each system, but that doesn't mean that every one of them is useful if you play in a 12-team mixed dynasty league. With that said, we're aiming to provide useful information whether you play in a 10-team mixed, a 15-team AL-only, or a 24-team mixed.
Prospect rankings also come with the same caveat I provide every year. They represent a snapshot of how we view the players at the time of publication. There will inherently be more information published throughout the offseason, and so it is very possible that by the end of the offseason, how we view a player may be very different from where we had them originally. We're going to get some of these right, we're going to get some of these wrong, and in general my reminder is to find information you trust, and use it to your advantage. If that comes from us, that's great and we're happy you're here. If it doesn't, we'll continue to work and hope that you'll keep checking in to see how we're doing.
Something new I wanted to introduce this year is a tier system to help delineate where prospects are likely to fall on the overall top prospect list. We have not completed our top prospects lists yet, and will not likely do so until we are close to finishing all the prospect rankings. The tiers are here though to provide some clarity when comparing between different teams. It's by no means a perfect system, but the goal is to give you a general idea of which players we think are in a similar range in terms of value and ranking. Since the tiers are also expected to be relatively consistent across teams, there may be tiers which do not have prospects for certain teams.
Tier 1 - The Elite Prospects
These prospects are expected to be in the top 25-50 prospects overall, and have the potential to be among the top options at their position regardless of format or league size.
#1 - Bradley Zimmer (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Zimmer was the Indians' top draft pick in 2014, and broke out in a big way this past season. Split between High-A and AA, Zimmer hit .273 with 16 home runs and 44 stolen bases in 127 games. He struggled a bit in his promotion to AA, but all that really leads me to think is that he'll return there to start 2016. There remains the potential for a hitter who can provide 15-20 home runs with 25-30 stolen bases, a solid batting average, and a good on-base percentage with Zimmer, and one who could arrive by the end of 2016.
#2 - Clint Frazier (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Frazier was the 5th overall pick by the Indians back in 2013, and has been plugging away in the minors to date. The reports on Frazier ooze of all five tools, with the ceiling of performance being a potential 25+ home run outfielder who provides 20+ steals and a high batting average. His performance from July 1st onward gave a bit of a preview of what could be (.332/.419/.537, 8 HR, 8 SB in 60 games). He's been surpassed by Zimmer in part due to Zimmer's closer proximity, but there's a potential top outfielder still here in Frazier.
Tier 2 - The Top 100 Candidates
These prospects are expected to be in the discussion for the top 100 prospects overall, and are expected to be starting options in all formats.
#3 - Brady Aiken (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 19
We're all fairly well versed in the story of how Aiken ended up back in this year's draft, and the Indians may have a huge steal on their hands as a result. The risk with Aiken remains how he returns from the Tommy John surgery which ended his time at the IMG Academy. If he can return to close to how he was projected before the 2014 draft, this is a potential top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher who can be among the top 20 fantasy starters in the game. We should get a better idea of whether that is the case next season when he starts appearing in games again.
Tier 3 - The Next Group of Starters
These prospects would likely slot into the 100-200 range on an overall ranking list, and would be starters in mid-depth formats like 12 and 14 team leagues.
#4 - Rob Kaminsky (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Acquired from the Cardinals in the Brandon Moss trade, Kaminsky only threw nine innings for the Indians' High-A affiliate following the trade. His performance in the Florida State League was excellent (79 K/28 BB, 82 H in 94 IP), but a back injury ended his season after those final nine innings. Kaminsky can be a mid-rotation starting pitcher on the strength of three potential above-average pitches (FB, CB, CH), with the curve being a strikeout offering. He'll likely head to AA during the 2016 season.
#5 - Bobby Bradley (1B)
Age on Opening Day: 19
A 3rd round pick from the 2014 draft, Bradley has already emerged as one of the top first base prospects in the minor leagues. His calling card will be his bat, which, as a 1B-only prospect, will be key as continues to move up through the minors. He led the Midwest League this year in home runs (27), wRC+ (153), wOBA (.401), and was in the top 10 in both slugging % (.529), and OPS (.890). There are some concerns about the strikeouts (32%), but if he continues to hit for this level of power, that will not be so worrisome. The potential for Bradley is a .250-.260 hitter with 25+ home run power on a regular basis, and would likely be a starting CI in 12-14 team leagues.
Tier 4 - Single League and Deep Format Plays
These prospects would likely slot into the 200-300 range on a ranking list, and would have the most value to mixed leagues with 16+ teams and single-league formats with 12+ teams.
#6 - Justus Sheffield (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 19
A first round draft pick from 2014, Sheffield made news off the field in the offseason after being arrested in January, which you can read a bit more about here. The Indians sent him to the Midwest League in 2015, where he finished second in the league in strikeouts with 138. Sheffield falls right on the border of tier 3/tier 4 for me, as his upside is as a mid-rotation starting pitcher, but is still probably three years away from the majors and still needs a little bit of work on his consistency from start-to-start.
#7 - Triston McKenzie (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 18
McKenzie was the Indians' supplemental first round pick this year, and threw just 12 innings in the Arizona Rookie League after signing. The word of the day for McKenzie is projectable, who has been throwing in the upper 80s/low 90s, but is 6'5" and just 165 lbs. As he continues to grow and mature, he's expected to pick up more velocity, which would help the rest of his repertoire as well. McKenzie is another potential mid-rotation starting pitcher for the Indians, but may not be helping fantasy owners for another four to five years.
#8 - Juan Hillman (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 18
Hillman was the Indians' 2nd round draft pick this year, and debuted in the Arizona Rookie League for 24 innings this year. He's another projectable left-handed starting pitcher who has the potential to throw three above-average pitches with good command. Early reports point to a pitcher that is advanced for his age, but also note that he should continue to develop as he grows and builds up his workload. He profiles to me as a potential mid-rotation starting pitcher if it all works out, with a back-end starter profile the most likely outcome.
#9 - Tyler Naquin (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 24
Naquin reached AAA in 2015, and has hit well at every stop through the minors before that. The profile here isn't one for most mixed leagues, but if he's given regular playing time, he can provide 7-10 home runs and double-digit steals with a solid batting average. Most reports point to him being a fourth outfielder in real life, which would limit his value to deeper leagues, but a player who provides some production in all categories can be extremely valuable there.
#10 - Mike Clevinger (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 25
Clevinger was acquired by the Indians for reliever Vinnie Pestano, and would likely not have been available had he not needed Tommy John surgery in the 2013 season. He struggled in his return to High-A in 2014 with the Angels before the trade, but has since emerged as a potential back-end starting pitcher with a little bit of upside. He was excellent at AA this year (145 K, 40 BB, 127 H in 158 innings), and could be a candidate for the rotation by the end of the season.