We're starting to see the first dominoes falling this offseason as teams are setting their rosters and starting to make deals. 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 we will move to the NL Central next, and finish up with the NL West after that.
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 - Lucas Giolito (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Giolito is the top pitching prospect in the minors right now, and it's not really all that close. He split last season between High-A and AA, striking out 131 batters over 117 innings. His repertoire, built on an 80-grade fastball, plus curveball, and above-average changeup should provide high strikeout totals for fantasy owners very soon, and paired with his excellent control, can also provide elite ratios. He has the ceiling of a #1 overall starter for both the Nationals and for fantasy owners, and could debut during the 2016 season.
#2 - Trea Turner (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Acquired from the Padres as the player to be named later in the three-team deal with the Rays, Turner has arrived in Washington just at the right time. Free agent shortstop Ian Desmond is not expected to return after turning down a qualifying offer, and we will likely see Turner take over the spot on Opening Day. He is known for his elite-level speed, which should translate into high stolen base totals on a regular basis, but is more than just that. He has shown himself capable of providing a high batting average (.290+) which will help that speed out, and should provide at least some home run production as well. With the potential to be elite in two categories and at least solid in the other three, Turner is someone I'll be targeting even in redraft leagues in 2016.
#3 - Victor Robles (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 18
Robles has emerged as a potential elite option for fantasy purposes, and jumped up many fantasy rankings on the strength of a .352/.445/.507 slash line with four home runs and 24 stolen bases in 61 games in 2015. He is what you're looking for when trying to find a five-tool talent, as he is expected to be an above-average defender in center field to go along with the excellent production at the plate. Long term, he can be a potential five-category contributor, providing some home runs to go along with an excellent batting average and high stolen base totals. It's an aggressive ranking given that he has not played above short-season ball, but the ceiling for Robles could be a top 10 outfielder.
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.
#4 - Reynaldo Lopez (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Lopez emerged after his strong 2014 campaign as an extremely interesting fantasy prospect, and was moved up to High-A for the 2015 season. The performance there was a bit up-and-down, but finished up strong with 21 strikeouts, 1 walk and 8 hits allowed in his final 16 innings pitched. Lopez features a three-pitch mix which includes both a fastball and curveball that can be strikeout pitches, as well as a changeup that could develop into a third above-average offering. The tools are all there for a potential mid-rotation starting pitcher who can provide a high strikeout total, but which comes with a bit of risk to your ratios if he can't improve his control.
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 - Wilmer Difo (SS/2B)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Difo made his major league debut this year, appearing in a total of 15 games and serving primarily as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement. He spent most of the year at the AA level, stealing 26 bases in 87 games there with a .287 batting average. Difo's calling card will be his speed, which should be capable of providing 25+ stolen bases a year. The speed will also help with his batting average, and combined with good bat speed, should provide solid value in both batting average and potentially power as well. It may only be in the 5-10 range for home runs, but there's definitely upside here. Difo is likely to head to AA to start the season, but could move quickly and finish the year with the Nationals.
#6 - Erick Fedde (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
The top draft pick of the Nationals in 2014, Fedde did not debut until June this year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. With the injury occurring prior to the draft, Fedde fell somewhat, as he had been expected to be a single-digit selection. He was able to throw 64 innings this year between two levels, and could head straight to High-A in 2016. He's likely to be on an innings limit in 2016 as the Nationals continue to rehab him, which given the Nationals' history with TJ surgeries, bodes well for his long-term outlook. He can be a mid-rotation starting pitcher if he develops as hoped, but it may take a year or two to get back up to that level in terms of both repertoire and stamina.
#7 - A.J. Cole (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
Drafted originally by the Nationals back in 2010, Cole was traded to Oakland after the 2011 season, then back to Washington a year later. He split time this past season between AAA and the majors, making one start in early April that went very poorly, along with a pair of relief appearances in mid-May. With 170 innings in AAA between the last two years, he likely doesn't need a whole lot of time in the minors. He's likely to get a shot at a rotation spot in 2016, and can still be a solid fantasy starter if given the opportunity.
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 - Austin Voth (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
There's a lot to be said in deeper formats for high floor prospects, and Voth definitely fits that profile. A 5th round pick back in 2013, Voth led the Eastern League in strikeouts in 2015 with 148 over 157 innings. The repertoire is solid but not spectacular, as he has three average to above-average offerings and has good control to go with it. Add in a groundball rate approaching 50% each of the last two seasons, and you're looking at a relatively safe back-end starting pitcher that can provide innings with decent ratios.
#9 - Anderson Franco (3B)
Age on Opening Day: 18
A 2013 international signee, Franco is a long way from the majors, but with the potential to be an interesting prospect for both the Nationals and for fantasy. He has above-average raw power, and coupled with good bat speed could develop into an above-average hitter at third base. He more than held his own in two short-season leagues this past year as a 17-year old, and early reports on him give him the potential to stay at third base defensively. He's a prospect who could move up this list quite a bit with a strong full-season debut in 2016, but it's going to take a while before we see him in Washington.
Tier 5 - We Ranked Ten Prospects, We Really Did
These prospects generally will be useful in the deepest of formats. Think 24+ teams for mixed leagues and single-league formats with more teams than the league it uses. In many cases, these will be part-time players or utility-types when they get to the majors.
#10 - Andrew Stevenson (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 21
There was a bit of division on what Stevenson can be amongst our own rankers, and as a result this may end up being much too low or much too high in a year's time. He was drafted this year in the 2nd round, and hit .308 with 23 stolen bases in 55 games after signing. The best case scenario for Stevenson is a defense-minded center fielder who fits at the top of the order, providing good stolen base totals with a good batting average. He'll need to continue to work to develop into that level of hitter though, and could potentially end up as a fourth outfielder type on the strength of his defense if he doesn't improve.