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.
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.
The Reds do not have any prospects in this tier.
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.
#1 - Robert Stephenson (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
A 2011 first round draftee, it feels as though Robert Stephenson has been on prospect lists forever. The Reds have taken their time with him and it appears that Stephenson will finally be ready to make his debut at some point in 2016. Stephenson isn't likely to be an ace with his high walk rate(4.7 per 9 in 2015), but he should still be a quality #2-3 big league starter. If you draft him you are getting a guy that should help you in the strikeout and ERA categories with a WHIP that will probably be closer to league average until he can improve his command. He's a guy worth taking in any sized league with a minors system, but he may not be a significant contributor until 2017 as he could need time to adjust to big league hitters.
#2 - Jesse Winker (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 22
The Reds have been looking for a left fielder for what feels like the past decade, but they finally have one in Jesse Winker. The promising all around hitter got off to a slow start to the season in AA this year, but finished red hot to put up a final line of .282/.390/.433 with 13 homers and 8 steals. Winker is a contact oriented hitter who should provide very good average and on base percentage numbers, but he doesn't maximize his power since his approach is geared more to putting the bat on the ball. With only average power projection, I see Winker more as a #2-3 fantasy outfielder than a star, but he will help your team at some point in 2016. He's a guy worth owning in any sized league with minors and could be worth a spot in standard NL-only leagues.
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.
#3 - Amir Garrett (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Amir Garrett is an interesting prospect who may be familiar to college basketball fans as a former St. John's forward. That basketball background has slowed the start of his career and explains why he is still a little ways away from the big leagues despite 2016 being his age-24 season. Garrett spent last year in High A, going 9-7 with a 2.44 ERA and 133 K in 140 IP and closed out the season on a high note with a 1.39 ERA over his August starts. Garrett projects as a solid #3 starter, but because he is still behind in the developmental curve due to being so new to playing baseball full-time, he could still have even more untapped potential inside. Garrett will likely start 2016 in AA and spend the full year there due to still needing more time in the minors than a typical prospect. I expect him to contribute in every category, making him a guy to target in any sized league with minors.
#4 - Tyler Stephenson (C)
Age on Opening Day: 19
The Reds used the 11th pick of the 2015 MLB Draft to select Georgia high school catcher Tyler Stephenson. Stephenson is a very well rounded prospect and while he will have fantasy value, he will likely be more valuable to the Reds than your fantasy team because of his defensive ability. He's going to need a significant time in the minors to develop, but he could be a balanced catcher in 2019. It is important to note that catchers drafted in the first round of the MLB Draft, particularly high schoolers, have a high failure rate. With all of this in mind Stephenson is more of a guy for deeper leagues or as a guy to take a flier on in a mid-sized league, until we can see what he does in full season ball.
#5 - Keury Mella (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
The Reds return in the Mike Leake deal, Keury Mella had a big year in High A in 2015, going 8-4 with a 3.23 ERA and 1.15 WHIP to go with 106 K's in 103 IP. That's especially good news considering he spent the bulk of his season in the hitter friendly California League. Mella will likely begin 2016 in AA and has a chance to become a solid #3 starter capable of giving you help across the board. Right now he's a guy that's only for the mid-sized and deeper leagues, but if he starts well in AA then his stock will only rise.
#6 - Cody Reed (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
The Reds received Cody Reed from the Royals in the Johnny Cueto deal. The 2013 2nd round pick struggled quite a bit in his first two seasons as a pro, but took a step forward this year by going 13-9 with a 2.41 ERA and 1.16 WHIP to go with 144 K's in 145 IP. He started in High A in the Royals organization before being moved up to AA about a month ahead of the trade, and Reed managed to post a WHIP of 1.19 or better in each stop. He's got the stuff to keep his hit rate down and strikeout rate up, making him a candidate to be a middle of the rotation starter. Reed will likely start 2016 back in AA, where he pitched 78 innings last year, but could be promoted quickly. He's a guy worth owning in mid-sized or larger leagues as well as NL-only leagues.
#7 - Nick Travieso (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Nick Travieso is another former high draft choice(1st round 2012) who struggled a bit early in his career, but has finally started to figure things out. Travieso spent the year in High A, going 6-6 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, but missed some time due to being hit with a line drive. That injury led to him being sent to the Arizona Fall League where he excelled, going 1-1 with a 2.05 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in what is considered a hitter friendly league. Travieso is another potential middle of the rotation starter, but his strikeout totals aren't as good as the other Reds prospects which is a slight knock on his fantasy value. Travieso will likely start the 2016 season in AA and is more of a target for deeper leagues only right now.
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 - Phil Ervin (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Phil Ervin is yet another former first round pick in the Reds system. He spent most of last year in High A, but was promoted to AA late in the year on his way to posting a .241/.346/.379 slash line with 14 homers and 34 steals. Ervin has some power, good speed, and the ability to draw a walk, however he isn't going to hit for a very high average. Ervin is capable of playing all three outfield positions, but is best in left field where he is behind Winker on the Reds depth chart. He's likely to start the 2016 season in AA, but could possibly begin the 2017 season with the Reds. He's more of a deeper league target right now because of the low average in addition to not having a clear path to playing time right now.
#9 - John Lamb (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 2016
ETA: Opening Day 2016
John Lamb is another piece to the Johnny Cueto deal and actually made 10 starts with the Reds at the end of the season, where he went 1-5 with a 5.80 ERA. The one positive takeaway from that time in the big leagues was the fact that he struck out 58 hitters in 49 IP. Lamb isn't the potential top of the rotation guy he was before Tommy John since he lost some of his stuff after surgery, but he's got the ability to be a back of the rotation starter with strikeout potential. He's ready for the big leagues right now and should be better in his second try in the big leagues. He's really only a deeper league and NL-only target right now.
#10 - Aristides Aquino (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 21
The Reds chose not to protect Aristides Aquino from the Rule V Draft, but that is only because Aquino is a few year away and not an indication of his upside. Aquino is a power and speed prospect with major upside, but also with plenty of bust potential. Aquino had a weak start to 2015 in Low A and then at the end of April broke his wrist and didn't return until July. Even upon his return he struggled in Low A, but that could be chalked up to a lost season. He's likely to start 2016 back in Low A, but with a strong start could be promoted quickly. He's more of a deeper league target right now, but his potential makes him worth tracking going forward.