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 Angels, and then the Athletics. Once we wrap up the AL West, we start over on the East Coast in the National League and go through those divisions.
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 - Alex Bregman (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Bregman was the Astros fifth top-two pick in a row, and, with the team's new-found success, perhaps the final prize of a half-decade of tanking. Drafted out of LSU, Bregman was a no-doubt top pick this June, ranked as a top-four talent by Keith Law, Baseball America, MLB.com, and FanGraphs, and Law went so far as to call him "perhaps the best pure hitter in the class." There is some debate as to whether or not he will be a shortstop in the longterm, due to fringe-y range and arm strength (as well as the presence of Carlos Correa) - but he impressed in his time at Low-A and High-A, and changed some minds along the way. Bregman has the tools to hit around .300 with double-digit home runs and steals, and his advanced, high-contact approach at the plate could help him rocket through the system. Pegging his ETA as 2017 is a matter of opportunity at the big league level, rather than a statement about his abilities - the Astros have no reason to rush him.
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.
#2 - A.J. Reed (1B)
Age on Opening Day: 22
First base prospects are viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, as their value is wholly tied to their bats - and, for fantasy purposes, that is exacerbated by the depth of the position (fifteen first basemen had 20-plus home runs in 2015, and nine of the top-25 in RBI qualified at first). Reed batted .289/.375/.522 after being drafted in the second round in 2014, and was praised for an average hit tool and plus to plus-plus power. Despite this, he garnered next to no attention nationally, and heading into 2015 was ranked as the 13th best prospect in the Astros system by Kiley McDaniel, and 14th by both John Sickels and Keith Law. And then Reed did his best Paul Goldschmidt/Miguel Cabrera impression in 2015, hitting .340/.432/.612 with 34 HR and 127 RBI between High-A and Double-A. This time around, Law named him 2015's Prospect of the Year, praising his contact skills and power. Reed's bat projects as something truly special, regardless of his position.
#3 - Kyle Tucker (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 19
The younger brother of fellow Astros outfielder Preston Tucker, Kyle Tucker profiles as a prototypical right fielder a few years down the line. Standing at 6'4" with a sweet left-handed swing, Tucker projects to hit for both average and power, and his approach is far more advanced than most high school draftees. MLB.com (7th), Baseball America (8th), and Law (8th) all ranked him as a top-ten talent in this year's draft, and all agree that he could be a force in the middle of an order.
#4 - Daz Cameron (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 19
After taking Tucker with their second pick, the Astros once again opted to take a highly-regarded outfield prospect with Major League bloodlines with their third pick (though being the son of Mike Cameron is a bit more impressive than being the brother of Preston Tucker). And like Tucker, Cameron was regarded as a top prospect in the 2015 draft, ranking 5th, 6th, and 12th by Baseball America, MLB.com, and Law, respectively. Cameron lacks the offensive ceiling of Tucker, though he does project to be a bit more well-rounded offensively (less power, but more of a threat on the basepaths), and he is far more likely to stick in center.
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.
#5 - Michael Feliz (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Feliz has the build of a workhorse (6'4" and 220-plus), along with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a wipeout slider. He has genuine swing-and-miss stuff, and flashed that in his brief sting with the Astros this Summer. What keeps him from ranking a bit higher, however, is the lack of a consistent change-up (though some believe it could be at least serviceable), and intermittent struggles with command. Feliz is still only 22, however, and he entered 2015 with no experience above Low-A. A bit of consistency could make him a legitimate force in the middle of a rotation.
#6 - Derek Fisher (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 22
The biggest knock on Fisher has long been that he was destined to shift to left field, where his bat would need to carry him - which is generally not a concern in the world of fantasy baseball. Fisher has above-average to plus power and speed, and both showed-up in spades in 2015 (22 HR, .208 ISO, 31 SB). Some of that production can be attributed to Fisher spending 84 games in the hitter-friendly California League, but there is little doubt that he has the tools to contribute in every category. His hitting mechanics may lead to batting averages in the .250 to .270 range (and he did strike out in just over 23% of his PA last year), but that feels like nitpicking.
#7 - Mark Appel (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
It seems as though Appel has been around forever, due to both his decision to return to Stanford in lieu of signing with the Pirates in 2012, and hindsight bias surrounding the Astros selecting him over Kris Bryant in 2013. The fact that he has largely disappointed does not help matters, either, as the number one overall pick sports a 5.12 ERA and less than stellar peripherals in his professional career. That being said, the stuff has never really slipped (he has three pitches that project as above-average), and he still has the look of an ace. Consider this placement a show of faith in Appel rediscovering himself.
#8 - Francis Martes (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 20
Martes was something of an afterthought in the Jarred Cosart/Colin Moran deal, as a live-armed lottery ticket with a big fastball and little else. Flash forward fifteen months or so, and Martes may well be the best pitching prospect in the Astros system. How did we get here? Martes opened the season in Low-A and dominated, moved up to High-A and dominated, and finished up the season in Double-A, where he was roughed up a bit (and over five years younger than the average player). Everyone knew about the low-to-mid 90s fastball, but we didn't know about his legitimate plus curveball, which he commanded with gusto. Martes is far more advanced than anyone expected, with two plus offerings and a promising change-up. At only 19 and with precious little on his resume, it makes sense to be cautious ... but that doesn't make it easy.
#9 - Joe Musgrove (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Often described as a command/control type with middling stuff, Musgrove has been nothing short of excellent since being acquired by the Astros in their massive ten-player deal with the Blue Jays in 2012 (which included Francisco Cordero, Brandon Lyon, and J.A. Happ). In 219.1 IP accumulated between rookie ball and Double-A, Musgrove has struck out 196 batters against only 22 walks, to go along with a 2.79 ERA (while throwing most of his innings in hitter-friendly environments). In 2015, Musgrove struck out just under a batter per nine, with a staggering 12.38 K/BB and a 2.32 ERA across three levels. He's a big, durable pitcher with four average-ish pitches, and well-above average control. He may not post gaudy strikeout rates in the Majors, but he has everything else that you could look for in a mid-rotation starter.
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.
#10 - Colin Moran (3B)
Age on Opening Day: 23
No Astros prospect solicited a wider array of opinions than Colin Moran, who was ranked as high as Tier 2 and as low as off of the list entirely. Moran was one of the most highly regarded prospects in the 2013 draft class, and was ranked as the 61st best prospect in baseball heading into the 2014 season by Baseball America. He underwhelmed in 2014 both offensively, his solid .296 batting average masking his lack of power (only 7 HR and a .101 in 515 PA), and defensively, leading many to believe that he would end up at first base sooner rather than later. His bat perked up in 2015, with 9 HR and a .153 ISO in 417 PA, and more patience at the plate. However, his defense remains well below-average at third. Long regarded as a natural hitter with great bat-to-ball skills, Moran has not disappointed in that regard. Without more power, though, a move to first would make him rather similar to Lyle Overbay, who had a couple of nice years, but was largely an average player at an power-heavy position.