With the playoffs 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 post finishes up the American League, and with that we will be jumping back to the National League East later in the week.
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 - Joey Gallo (3B/OF)
Age on Opening Day: 22
If the Hall-of-Fame admitted players based on jaw-dropping power alone, then Gallo one day could have his own wing at Cooperstown. A supplemental-round pick in 2012, Gallo has averaged a home run every 10.8 ABs in his minor-league career. These are not fence-scrapers, either. When Gallo gets his 6'5"-230 lb. frame behind a swing and then barrels-up a pitch, the results often are majestic. His at-bats already qualify as must-see TV; his June 2 debut in Texas against the White Sox (3-for-4, HR, double, 4 RBI) had MLB Network analysts gushing. Despite 80-grade power, Gallo generated more discussion among our writers than perhaps any other prospect. His strikeout totals are nearly as jaw-dropping as his raw power: 41.2% of his minor-league ABs have resulted in whiffs. At that rate, Gallo would eclipse MLB's single-season strikeout record in less than 550 ABs. Either Gallo will make the necessary adjustments, or major-league pitchers will expose this one enormous flaw in his game, and the latter is as likely as the former, at least early in his career. Even if Gallo fails to cut down on the ghastly strikeout totals, he should remain quite useful as a one-or-two-category stud in roto leagues, though he would be something of an albatross in head-to-head points leagues that penalize strikeouts. If, however, Gallo adjusts to major-league pitching--something he's done at every level he's reached in the minors--then his ceiling as a power-hitter could make him an annual MVP-candidate.
#2 - Nomar Mazara (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 20
Despite his relative youth--he will not turn 21 until April 26--Mazara seems like one of the safest bets in a loaded system. Scouts already view him as the top corner-outfield prospect in baseball. His .296/.366/.443 slash line and palatable BB:K ratio of 52:102 across AA and AAA bespeak a polished hitter. In fact, the hype surrounding Mazara should be louder than it is, but "safe bets" and "polished hitters" don't always generate much excitement. Furthermore, Mazara's reticence, calm demeanor, and seemingly effortless success have earned him the nickname "The Big Chill." Fantasy players, however, should not lose sight of the fact that "steady-as-they-come" Mazara still has an enormous ceiling. At 6'4"-195, he maintains plenty of projectability. In short, Mazara looks like a run-producing slugger who will hit in the middle of the Texas lineup, produce strong averages and 30-HR seasons, and play in multiple All-Star games.
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 - Lewis Brinson (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 21
With encouragement from his mom and an improved two-strike approach, Brinson in 2015 transformed himself from a toolsy-but-free-swinging hitter into one of the elite outfield prospects in baseball. Though he lacks Gallo's prodigious power and Mazara's demonstrated polish, Brinson nonetheless boasts the most impressive power-speed combo in the Texas system. Since his first full professional season at Low-A Hickory in 2013, when he hit .237 with a dreadful 191 strikeouts, Brinson has shown more plate discipline at each level of the minors. Like Gallo, Brinson produced a spirited discussion among our writers, several of whom thought he belonged in Tier 1 or even #1 overall in the Texas system. The majority, however, viewed Brinson as a high-Tier-2 player in part because most of the stats from his breakout 2015 campaign (.332/.403/.601 across three levels) came from High Desert of the California League, a hitter's paradise, and in part because our writers, like many evaluators, would like to see Brinson put together another full season of elite offensive numbers. Regardless of where he might rank at the moment, Brinson is an otherworldly athlete with the ceiling of a five-tool fantasy stud who, if he reaches his full potential, might remind baseball fans of another Florida high-school centerfielder named Andrew McCutchen.
#4 - Dillon Tate (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 21
A year after serving as UC-Santa Barbara's closer, Tate became a starter and emerged as the top pitching prospect in the 2015 draft, where the Rangers selected him 4th overall. With two plus-pitches, fastball and slider, an above-average changeup, and an athletic frame, Tate has the profile to suggest he can start in the majors. The key word, of course, is suggest, for Tate, with only one year of starting experience, has yet to prove that he's durable enough to withstand a starter's workload. His professional debut, while successful, amounted to only a half-dozen starts, as the Rangers wisely managed their young pitcher's innings between Spokane and Hickory. 2016 could feature an ominous assignment to hitter-friendly High Desert, where Tate would face his first major professional test. If all goes well, he could reach AA later in the season and then pitch his way into the Rangers' plans at the major-league level as early as 2017. Meanwhile, fantasy players should keep tabs on his strikeout rate even at High Desert. As he refines his command and adds strength to his frame, Tate could become an elite SP option in all leagues.
#5 - Luis Ortiz (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 20
Ortiz credits his family, in particular his great-grandfather, for teaching him to be generous. Humility, a form of generosity that shares praise with others by denying it to oneself, will keep Ortiz grounded following an impressive 2015 season at Low-A Hickory. Teenagers who flash dominance against former college hitters in the South Atlantic League tend to attract the attention of prospect evaluators. Fantasy players should know that Ortiz already possesses the repertoire, physicality, and makeup to succeed as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. In 19 starts across two professional seasons, including 14 with Hickory, Ortiz has compiled a 1.79 ERA with 15 walks and 65 strikeouts in 70 innings. Like Tate, Ortiz also faces a significant challenge at High Desert in 2016. Everything about Ortiz suggests a future Tier 1 prospect with elite potential.
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 - Ryan Cordell (OF/3B/SS)
Age on Opening Day: 24
An 11th-round pick out of Liberty University in 2013, Cordell exploded onto the prospect scene a year later with an impressive display of power, speed, and versatility. Between Low-A Hickory and High-A Myrtle Beach, Cordell slashed .318/.385/.530 with 13 homers and 21 steals. In 2015, he split time between High-A High Desert, where he excelled at the plate, and AA Frisco, where he struggled. Cordell's age, coupled with the fact that he has yet to hit above High-A, forces us to temper expectations. On the other hand, the Rangers appear determined to develop Cordell as kind of young Ben Zobrist; in 2015 the versatile outfielder played every position except catcher and second base. If Cordell maintains that versatility upon reaching the majors--and he has the athleticism to do so--then fantasy players will take note.
#7 - Yohander Mendez (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 21
At times in 2015 Mendez looked like the most dominant pitcher in the South Atlantic League. The Venezuelan lefty made his season debut on May 3 and did not allow his first earned run until June 28, his 12th appearance. In the meantime, he tossed 24.1 shutout innings with 7 walks and 37 strikeouts. From July onward the Rangers increased his workload, and for the most part the youngster responded. All told, Mendez logged 66.1 innings with 15 walks, 74 strikeouts, and a 2.44 ERA. With an above-average changeup, advanced control, and the ability to add strength to a 6'4"-178 lb. frame, Mendez ranks among the system's most promising prospects. Health and durability, however, remain big questions. Fantasy players, therefore, should pay less attention to Mendez's ratios than to his workload as he reaches higher levels. Optimists might point to a 6-inning, 2-hit, 10-K, 75-pitch gem against eventual champion Asheville in April 2014, while pessimists might note that an ensuing injury sidelined him until August. In short, Mendez could be a top-flight starter, but he still has much to prove.
#8 - Michael Matuella (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 21
2015 was a season of attrition for top college pitching prospects, including Matuella, who was in the mix for 1-1 before Tommy John surgery knocked him all the way down to the third round, where the Rangers drafted him 78th overall and then gave him the payday ($2 million) of a late-first-round pick. If Matuella recovers his pre-surgery form, he will skyrocket up the prospect rankings in short order. 6'6" hurlers with a plus fastball, two above-average breaking pitches, and above-average control do not grow on trees. The health concerns, however, are significant, and the Tier 3 placement at present assumes an eventual recovery. When and how he returns are anyone's guesses. In the meantime, fantasy players should not lose sight of a talent like Matuella.
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.
#9 - Josh Morgan (2B/3B)
Age on Opening Day: 20
Texas chose Mississippi high-school infielder Ti'Quan Forbes in the second-round of the 2014 draft, but it was Morgan, selected one round later, who earned a late-season promotion to Spokane in 2014 and then made the South Atlantic League All-Star team as a teenager with Hickory in 2015. With only 3 HR and 12 steals in 553 career ABs, Morgan's fantasy appeal to-date comes from his career .300 average and .404 on-base percentage. Head-to-head points leagues also would reward his 74:76 BB:K ratio. Morgan might not be the sexiest offensive prospect in a system replete with them, but fantasy players certainly can use above-average hitters with above-average speed and exceptional plate discipline who project to stick in the middle infield and could wind up batting at the top of a powerful lineup.
#10- Eric Jenkins (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 19
Jenkins might be a long way from the majors, but he has the present speed and projectability to make this list ahead of four or five other promising prospects. Texas outfielders (see above) tend to justify such bullishness, so we're banking on Jenkins to take a big leap forward in Year 2. The 28 steals in 56 games were nice. Moving forward, fantasy owners should keep an eye on how much--and how quickly--Jenkins's power develops.