With the offseason 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 Nationals, and then we'll head on over to the NL Central, beginning with the Cubs.
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 - J.P. Crawford (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Heading into 2015, Crawford was viewed by most everyone as one of the best prospects in baseball, with the only debate focusing on whether or not he was elite - Keith Law ranked him 7th, Baseball Prospectus placed him 36th, and Baseball America, MLB.com, and John Sickels fell somewhere in between. That's unsurprising for a slam-dunk first round pick, particularly one with Major League bloodlines (he's the cousin of Carl Crawford), plus-plus athleticism, and a well-rounded skill set. Crawford's stock only rose this season, as he dominated for three weeks at High-A (hitting .392/.489/.443) before posting a .265/.354/.407 slash line with 5 HR, 7 SB, more walks than strikeouts, and a 121 wRC+ as a 20-year-old at Double-A (4.4 years younger than the average player there). He has a patient, high-contact approach, and enough pop to project 12 to 15 home runs with regularity - perhaps even a bit more as he grows. Most everyone agrees that he could hit between .280 and .300 with double-digit steals and home runs while batting at the top of an order. And, most importantly, Crawford is a lock to stick at shortstop.
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 - Nick Williams (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Few prospects improved their stock as much as Nick Williams this year. Acquired in the Cole Hamels deal, Williams posted career-bests in BB%, K%, and ISO as a 21-year-old in Double-A, and performed demonstrably better in the outfield. Few have ever doubted Williams' raw tools, highlighted by terrific contact skills and excellent bat speed, but his hyper-aggressive approach and questionable batting eye raised doubts about his bat as he advances up the chain. While one season should not entirely change one's opinion, it is worth noting that the scouting backs up the numbers - he was more selective at the plate, showcasing a new approach. He may never take many walks, but he's as good a bet as anyone in the minors to bat .300, and he could hit twenty-plus home runs as he matures.
#3 - Jake Thompson (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Jake Thompson has almost everything that you could ask for from a top of the rotation starter - workhorse build, above-average fastball, swing and miss slider (a legitimate plus-plus pitch), and the ability to hold his stuff late into games. 'Almost' is the key modifier, however, as he has yet to show consistency with his change-up, which can mitigate his effectiveness against lefties (they hit .283/.359/.417 against him in 2015). Thompson's change-up was a bit better this year, leading Baseball Prospectus to rank him 30th on their midseason list, and going so far as calling the pitch above-average. Even with a bit of pragmatism, Thompson profiles as a solid mid-rotation starter that can eat innings and rack up strikeouts.
#4 - Jorge Alfaro (C)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Despite being only 22, Alfaro has been on the prospect map for the better part of four years, having been lavished with praise by writers-turned-scouts Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks as early as 2011. Why? Put simply, Alfaro is one of the toolsiest catchers in recent memory, with legitimately above-average speed, and plus to plus plus power and arm strength (though, his speed may be in question on the heels of his ankle injury). Both Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law ranked him in their midseason top-50, as he more than held his own at Double-A. Alfaro may not hit for a high average (his hit tool is fringe-average to average), but he has the power to regularly hit 20-plus home runs, and the arm and athleticism to be an asset behind the dish.
#5 - Cornelius Randolph (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 18
There was a great deal of discussion regarding Randolph's positioning, given the fact that he was ranked no higher than the 19th best prospect in the 2015 draft. However, his impressive debut in short-season ball (.302/.425/.442 with as many walks as strikeouts) and his incredibly advanced approach at the plate have already made some folk wonder if his draft position (10th overall) was a bit more reflective of his talent. Randolph was viewed by most everyone as the most advanced high school hitter in the draft, and among the best overall. He has the contact skills, bat speed, and raw power to hit for average and knock out 18-plus home runs, if not more if he continues to bulk up. If he was able to stick up the middle, he may be one of the best prospects in the game - the likelihood that he is limited to left field is all that really holds him back.
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 - Franklyn Kilome (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 20
Towards the end of the 2014 season, Baseball Prospectus identified Kilome as a breakout candidate, due to his power sinker, promising change-up, clean mechanics/delivery, and potential to add more velocity as he fills out his gigantic 6'6" frame. He went on to produce modest numbers in 2015, spending the better part of the season in extended Spring Training before tossing 49.1 IP at Low-A. The numbers are unimportant, however, as Kilome capitalized on the promise of his size, sitting 93-95 with his fastball, and touching 97, and just missing the cut on at least one mid-season list. With a power sinker and improving secondary offerings, Kilome has the potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter - if not more.
#7 - Roman Quinn (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Depending upon who you ask, Quinn's power is somewhere between well below-average and slightly below-average. As a result of this, he is often compared to Billy Hamilton, as a burner with speed to spare and a heavy question mark regarding his ability to hit. However, Quinn has an average to slightly above-average hit tool, and enough pop to keep pitchers from knocking the bat out of his hands. He also has a good approach at the plate, working the count in his favor and taking his walks. If comps are your thing, he reminds me of a switch-hitting Lorenzo Cain.
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 - Andrew Knapp (C)
Age on Opening Day: 24
To say that Knapp was a fringe prospect heading into 2015 may be a bit of an overstatement - he was a second-round pick in 2013, after all, and had raked at both Low-A and A before stalling out at High-A (in a 90 PA sample size). He was not however, among the team's top-ten according to Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, nor was he among their top-20 per John Sickels. And, remember, this was a bottom-ten system before the Cole Hamels deal and the draft. He responded by batting .262/.356/.369 (25% above average by wRC+) in half a season at High-A, and then an absurd .360/.419/.631 with 11 HR in 241 PA at Double-A. Baseball America now ranks him as the team's fourth best prospect. Knapp profiles as a well-rounded hitter that should provide a solid average and double-digit home runs from behind the plate.
#9 - Scott Kingery (2B)
Age on Opening Day: 21
It's all about a high floor for Kingery, an advanced hitter with plus to plus plus bat speed and contact skills, and above-average speed. He has earned comparisons to Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, likely due to his build and "grit" factor, as he does not have the power potential of either. However, Kingery does have the tools to hit at the top of an order, providing a high average and double-digit steals. He played at second base exclusively in his professional debut (and played well), but many feel that he could shift back to the outfield and be an asset there.
#10 - Carlos Tocci (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 20
At this point, Tocci is tools over performance. Most scouting reports out there are glowing - Baseball Prospectus praises his bat speed, swing mechanics, speed, and defensive ability, and gives high grades to his make-up. His power is below-average at best, but his other tools shine bright enough to gloss over that. But if you look at his production thus far, it's difficult to see all of that, as he's a career .250/.303/.315 hitter in 1663 PA. Tocci has been pushed aggressively and has always been much younger than the competition, and he did perform quite well in his third trip through Single-A before struggling once more in High-A. At 20, he still has quite a bit to dream on as one of the best athletes in the minors, and it isn't difficult to see a dynamic top of the order hitter with Gold Glove defense in center; he just has a great deal of work to do.