We're rapidly approaching the playoffs, and for most of the league, that means it will be time to assess the 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 Yankees, then the Rays, and so on. Once we finish a division, we'll move to the next division to their west, (the AL Central in this case), then repeat for 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 - Yoan Moncada (2B)
Age on Opening Day 2016: 20
The Red Sox spent big money ($31.5M) to sign Cuban teenager Yoan Moncada at the start of spring training. Moncada came with some major hype but didn't start playing games in the minors until mid-May due to his late signing. He started off so slowly, hitting .229 heading into July, that some were thinking he was over-hyped. However, he just needed some time to shake off the rust after sitting out last year, and became one of the hottest players in all of the minors in the second half. His overall numbers are very solid at .278/.380/.438 with 8 homers and 49 for 52 in steals, but you have to wonder what he might have been able to do over the course of a full year instead of just 81 games. Moncada is going to be a true five category player with the ceiling of being among the top players in all of fantasy baseball. Moncada should be owned in every league that has minor leaguers and even in some deep keeper leagues.
#2 - Rafael Devers (3B)
Age on Opening Day 2016: 19
As good of a prospect as Moncada is, his Greenville (Low A) teammate Rafael Devers is nearly his equal, as ESPN's Keith Law has him ranked among the Top 10 prospects(Insider) in the game. Like Moncada, Devers was also a big money international signee, getting $1.5M in during the international signing period in 2013. The Sox thought he was so advanced that they skipped him over the Dominican Summer League (DSL) last year, allowing him to make his full season debut this season - despite the fact he is still a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday. Devers didn't just hold his own in the Sally League, he hit .288/.329/.443 with 11 homers during his All Star campaign. Those numbers would have been even more impressive if he didn't hit the wall in August, hitting just .232 with one homer as his first full season took it's toll on him. Devers isn't the five category stud Moncada is since he won't be a stolen base threat, but he's got the bat to hit 25-30 homers and produce in all of the other categories. Devers should be owned in all leagues that have minor league spots.
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 - Anderson Espinoza (RHP)
Age on Opening Day 2016: 17
Anderson Espinoza is yet another hyped international signee who has looked great since signing. Espinoza was the top pitcher in the July 2 market last year, and started the year out in the DSL this year. He was so good in four starts there that the Sox gave him a look in the Gulf Coast League(GCL), where he absolutely dominated hitters on his way to pitching to a ridiculous 0.68 ERA in 40 innings. He's so special that despite his age and the fact he was in his first season, the team allowed him to reach full season ball this year, making a start in Greenville late in the year. Espinoza is one of the small handful of prospects in all of baseball that you can say has true ace potential, which actually makes a very strong case for him to be included in the top tier of prospects. While he has as much potential as any pitcher in the minors, including Lucas Giolito, he also has a lot of risk due to needing so much more time before being big league ready. He's worth owning in all leagues with minor league spots.
#4 - Manuel Margot (OF)
Age on Opening Day 2016: 21
This is where the talent takes a slight drop, though Manuel Margot is still a Top 50 prospect. Margot is yet another toolsy international signing that has done nothing but produce since joining the system. On the surface he looks like a future leadoff hitter because of his high steal totals and the fact that he is more likely to hit 10-12 homers per season, but his less than impressive on-base skills may keep him away from the top of the order. Still, he only turned 21 in late-September and was playing against older competition in High A and AA, so it's possible that he improves on his ability to get on base and work counts. He's definitely worth owning in most formats after stealing 39 bases in 110 games this year.
#5 - Andrew Benintendi (OF)
Age on Opening Day 2016: 21
If anything in here shows you both the talent and depth of the Boston system, it's that the #7 pick in the 2015 MLB Draft is only the fifth ranked prospect in the system. Benintendi came out of nowhere this spring to rise up draft boards, and all he's done since being drafted is produce. The former University of Arkansas star slugged 11 homers in just 54 games between short season ball and Low A Greenville. Benintendi is a five category contributor that could potentially hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases per season in the big leagues. Benintendi is worth owning in most leagues that have minor league spots.
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.
#6 - Javier Guerra (SS)
Age on Opening Day 2016: 20
This is not former big league closer Javy Guerra, but rather a young shortstop prospect who was a part of the best minor league infield in baseball for Greenville alongside Moncada and Devers. While he's not a huge power prospect, Guerra actually hit more homers (15) this season than promising slugger Devers and elite prospect Moncada, to go with his .279 batting average. Any shortstop that can put up numbers like that in Low A despite not turning 20 years old until after the season needs to be watched. Guerra is worth owning in AL only and deeper prospect AL/NL leagues.
#7 - Michael Kopech (RHP)
Age on Opening Day 2016: 19
Michael Kopech was in the middle of a breakout season for Greenville with a 2.65 ERA in 16 games before he saw his season come to an early end, when he got popped for a 50 game suspension for a positive drug test. The 2014 first round pick has a special fastball, touching 100 MPH and sitting in the upper 90s, but the positive drug test for a stimulant hurts his grade as both a mark against his makeup as well as bringing up the question of how much of his performance was assisted. He's still worth owning in deeper leagues, but in the more shallow leagues you may want to wait until he gets back on the field to see if the same stuff is still there.
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.
#8 - Brian Johnson (LHP)
Age on Opening Day 2016: 25
Brian Johnson is more of a high floor, low ceiling pitcher. While his ultimate ceiling is likely a #3 starter, he profiles more as a #4 starter who eats innings and with his high floor he has a very good chance of at least being a decent #5 starter. Johnson actually reminds me a little of a young Mark Buehrle in the profile and the fact his stuff isn't special but he knows how to get guys out. One difference between the two though is the fact Johnson is better at striking hitters out, as evidence of his 90 strikeouts in 96 AAA innings this season. He's worth owning in deeper leagues, but also in AL only leagues since he is so close to big league ready.
#9 - Michael Chavis (3B)
Age on Opening Day 2016: 20
The answer to which of the Greenville infielders led the team in homers this year is actually Michael Chavis. The 2014 first round pick may have been a little underwhelming in his first full season, hitting just .223 and only drawing 29 walks, but he did manage 16 homers to go with 29 doubles. The weird thing with him is that he was supposed to be a potentially plus hitter with more gap power than over the fence power, but he played to the exact opposite of that. If he can turn things around and the power stays, he could actually be a breakout candidate. For now he's only worth owning in very deep leagues considering the way he struggled to hit and that he's still a few years away.
#10 - Sam Travis (1B)
Age on Opening Day 2016: 22
Sam Travis is an intriguing talent who has been productive in the minors, but he's not your typical first base/DH profile. Travis has below average power for a position that is filled with sluggers, but he's a good contact hitter with gap power. In his 131 games between High A and AA he hit 32 doubles, 6 triples, and 9 homers with a .307 average, but his 19 stolen bases gives him an element to his game that most of the sluggers at first base in the big leagues don't have. Travis should be owned only in deeper leagues for now, but if he was to see an increase in power his stock would immediately increase.