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.
#1 - Orlando Arcia (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Milwaukee might have the deepest farm in the NL Central, but there is no debate about the system's best prospect. Shortstop Orlando Arcia, milb.com's Top Breakout Prospect in 2015, has ascended from relative unknown to one of the most heralded young players in the minors. Signed in 2010 out of Venezuela for a mere $95,000, Arcia has helped reinvigorate the Brewers' once-moribund international program. As a 16-year-old in the Dominican Summer League, he hit .294 and showed advanced plate discipline. He also flashed early signs of a potential power-speed combo, which, coupled with his hit-tool, would make him an interesting prospect at a number of positions. At shortstop, where he projects to stay, his offensive profile gives him the ceiling of a franchise cornerstone and perennial all-star. At Biloxi in 2015 he slashed .307/.347/.453 with 8 HR and 25 steals. On Baseball America's postseason list of the top-20 prospects in a loaded Southern League, Arcia ranked third, behind only Minnesota's Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, and one spot ahead of Cubs playoff-hero Kyle Schwarber. Arcia has earned his place among the game's elite youngsters. Fantasy players might see him at Miller Park sometime in 2016, though no one should be surprised if the rebuilding Brewers delay Arcia's arrival until early 2017.
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 - Brett Phillips (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Fair or otherwise, Brett Phillips might become the face of Milwaukee's current reconstruction. The deadline trade that sent CF Carlos Gomez and RHP Mike Fiers to Houston confirmed for the baseball world what many already knew: the Brewers have no plans to contend in 2016. As the centerpiece of that deal, Phillips will garner considerable attention from fans and organization officials alike while he continues to develop at the upper levels of the minors. 2015 was a whirlwind season for the 21-year-old outfielder as he moved from Lancaster to Corpus Christi to Biloxi during the season, then to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .346 in seven games, and finally to Team USA for the recently-concluded Premier 12 tournament in Japan and Taiwan. Dynasty-league owners, therefore, should not panic if Phillips appears somewhat tired early in 2016. Fantasy players in general, however, should monitor Phillips's power numbers over the entire season. At Quad Cities in 2014, Phillips slashed .302/.362/.521 with 13 HR and 18 SB in 103 games. He then opened 2015 by hitting 15 HR in only 66 games at High-A Lancaster's notorious launching pad. While he continued to amass extra-base hits once he reached Double-A, he managed only one home run in 54 games. Expect the power-speed combo to reappear at some point in 2016, and begin to worry a little if it does not.
#3 - Trent Clark (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 19
The Brewers solidified another strong draft when they made prep outfielder Trent Clark their 2015 first-round pick (15th overall) and then signed him away from a Texas Tech commitment. Praised by scouts for his plus-speed, above-average hit-tool, and excellent plate discipline, Clark has the makings of a first-division regular in the majors. A frightening outfield collision in his second professional game cost him several weeks but did not prevent him from earning a late-season promotion to Helena of the Pioneer League. All told, the impressive rookie slashed .309/.424/.430 in his debut season. With 25 steals and the defensive profile of a centerfielder, Clark looks like a future leadoff hitter. Dynasty-league owners who also want run production from their Tier-2 outfielders should expect Clark's 6'0"-205 lb. frame to generate more power as he matures and advances through the system.
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.
#4 - Jorge Lopez (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
For years the Brewers' system has lacked a projectable ace, but Jorge Lopez, a 22-year-old former second-round pick, looked like the closest thing to it in 2015. He's certainly closest to the majors. While many of Milwaukee's top pitching prospects have yet to reach High-A, Lopez anchored the AA Biloxi staff and even got two starts for the big-league club during the regular season's final week. He earned that brief promotion by compiling a 2.26 ERA with 137 strikeouts in a career-high 143.1 IP at Biloxi. As the low ERA suggests, his performance was both impressive and consistent throughout the summer, so much so, in fact, that he was named Milwaukee's Minor League Pitcher of the Month for June, July, and August. Fantasy players in search of red flags might note that Lopez never has been known as a control-pitcher, and his strike percentage did decline every month from May through August. He likely will open 2016 in the rotation at AAA Colorado Springs, where the hitter-friendly environment will further test his willingness to throw strikes. Should the Brewers banish Matt Garza to long relief, or should a rotation spot open by other means, Lopez could be first in line for an opportunity to claim it.
#5 - Clint Coulter (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 22
This generous ranking reflects our belief that Coulter's 2014 breakout season at Low-A Wisconsin (.287/.410/.530 with a league-leading 22 HR) better approximates his offensive potential than does his .246/.329/.397 line with 13 HR in the pitcher-friendly High-A Florida State League this past season. Travis Sarandos at Brew Crew Ball went deeper into those numbers and argued that Coulter's FSL performance gives more cause for encouragement than for alarm. Indeed, numbers aside, Coulter continues to profile as a middle-of-the-order run producer at the major-league level. It is worth noting, however, that Baseball America did not include him on its list of the FSL's top-20 prospects. If you own Coulter in a dynasty league, you already know not to count on him sticking at catcher, for he already has made the transition to right field. AA Biloxi in 2016 will present both a challenge and an opportunity for a 22-year-old former 1st-round pick who has a high offensive ceiling but has yet to post impressive numbers above Low-A.
#6 - Gilbert Lara (SS/3B)
Age on Opening Day: 18
Signed in 2014 for a Brewers' international record-shattering $3.1 million, Gilbert Lara at once became the most interesting of Milwaukee's corner-infield prospects. Like many Latin American teenagers whose trainers hope to catch professional scouts' attention, Lara is listed at shortstop, but his future lay elsewhere, most likely at third base. At 6'2"-190, he has some room for physical growth. Major-league clubs have shown that they will pay high prices for power, even projectable power, and Lara is one of the most projectable power hitters in the low minors. Though his numbers (.248/.285/.382, 1 HR, 9 BB/41 K in 202 AB) were not impressive, his overall performance as a 17-year-old in the Arizona Rookie League earned him a brief promotion to short-season Helena. Fantasy players should watch how aggressive the Brewers are in moving him through the system. Even if he spends the entire 2016 season at Helena, he still will finish the year as one of the Pioneer League's youngest players. A midseason call-up to Low-A Wisconsin of the Midwest League would pit him against former college players. In short, Lara's final numbers against advanced competition might not reflect his offensive upside, which is substantial.
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.
#7 - Josh Hader
Age on Opening Day: 21
Acquired from Houston in the blockbuster deal that also sent prospects Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana, and Adrian Houser to Milwaukee, Josh Hader has yet to receive the sort of attention his year-to-year statistics suggest he deserves. Baltimore selected Hader in the 19th round of the 2012 draft and then challenged him with a 2013 assignment to Delmarva, where he compiled a 2.65 ERA in 17 starts as a teenager in the Low-A South Atlantic League. The next season, following a trade to Houston, he dominated the hitter-friendly California League, amassing a 2.70 ERA in 22 appearances (15 starts) with 112 strikeouts in 103.1 IP, and earning California League Pitcher of the Year honors. In 2015, while pitching the entire season as a 21-year-old in AA, he nearly replicated his Cal-League numbers from the prior year (3.03 ERA, 24 appearances, 17 starts, 119 strikeouts in 104 IP). On the most recent organizational rankings at Baseball America and MLB.com, however, Hader remains outside the top ten, in part because some scouts continue to view him as a future reliever due to his high-effort, three-quarters delivery, as well as over-reliance on his plus fastball. He certainly showed his capabilities in shorter stints during the recently-completed Arizona Fall League, where he posted a miniscule 0.56 ERA in 16 IP (7 appearances, 2 starts) and caught the attention of gammonsdaily.com, which named him one of the league standouts. In short, fantasy owners should view Hader the same way they view other talented pitching prospects--Chicago's Frankie Montas, for instance--who enjoy minor-league success as starters but could be ticketed for the bullpen: be aware of scouts' concerns, but treat the pitchers as high-upside starters unless and until they prove they cannot start.
#8 - Demi Orimoloye (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 19
Rated #41 on Baseball America's 2015 list of the top 500 draft-eligible prospects, Demi Orimoloye fell to the Brewers in the fourth round (121st overall) and then spent the summer showing why he could be considered the steal-of-the-draft. At 6'4"-225, the 18-year-old Orimoloye already boasts plus speed and plus power, and he put both on display during a scorching start to his professional career. Through his first 68 AB in the Arizona Rookie League, he posted a .353/.380/.691 slash line with 5 HR, 17 RBI, and 11 SB. His pace slowed in early August, and a 3:39 BB:K ratio suggests that he needs to focus on plate discipline. But that combination of power and speed does not grow on trees, and it seldom shows up in games, at least not with someone so young and raw. Orimoloye figures to open 2016 at short-season Helena, though the Brewers have been aggressive with past assignments, so Low-A Wisconsin is not out of the question. Either way, fantasy owners in deeper leagues already should have Orimoloye on their radar.
#9 - Devin Williams (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Devin Williams pitched well in 2015 at Low-A Wisconsin, where he got his first taste of full-season ball two years after the Brewers selected him in the second round of the 2013 draft. Williams's repertoire, delivery, and athleticism all suggest that he should stick as a starter. In an act of pleasant symmetry, he struck out 89 batters in 89 innings. He also allowed only three homers--an impressive feat considering he debuted on May 16 and thereby missed out on the Midwest League's offense-stifling cold weather. On the flip side, Williams, like many young pitchers, simply must throw more strikes. His 3.64 BB/9 ratio represented a step backward on that front. The Brewers have been careful with his innings count, but in truth Williams could help himself and go deeper into games by making better pitches. An assignment to High-A Brevard County of the pitcher-friendly Florida State League should be good for his ERA. Fantasy owners, though, would do well to ignore that traditional statistic and instead keep an eye on Williams's control and workload. Positive steps in these two areas would solidify Williams's profile as a future mid-rotation starter with upside.
#10- Kodi Medeiros (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 19
In many ways, Kodi Medeiros had a more impressive 2015 season than did his Wisconsin Timber Rattlers teammate, Devin Williams. Many believed the Brewers reached for Medeiros when they selected him 12th overall in the 2014 draft. Then, the young lefthander struggled badly with his control during a brief debut in the Arizona Rookie League, which did nothing to dispel the doubts of those who viewed him as a future reliever. So there was no reason to suggest that Milwaukee even should assign Medeiros to full-season ball, let alone that as a teenager he might thrive against such advanced competition. But thrive he did. In 93.1 IP, Medeiros compiled a 4.44 ERA, struck out 94, and did not allow a home run. This was a strong performance for the talented youngster from Hawaii, who will not turn 20 until late May. Of course, he also walked 40 batters and made only four starts after June, so all of the control- and workload-related questions facing Devin Williams in 2016 also will apply to Medeiros. In all likelihood, fantasy owners in 2016 will be able to monitor both young starters at High-A Brevard County.