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 Diamondbacks.
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 - Alex Reyes (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Reyes went the unusual route of moving from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic in order to get better exposure, and it worked. He signed with the Cardinals in 2012 for just under $1 million. He has moved very quickly through the minors, reaching AA as a 20 year old this past season and posting elite strikeout totals (151 in 101 innings) while doing so. He was also sent to the Arizona Fall League this year, but only made four starts after being shut down, as it turned out, for a 50-game suspension for marijuana use. The suspension might make him more likely to debut in 2016, as he will be out until late May, and could help limit his innings for use later. Reyes is one of the few pitching prospects in the minors with true ace upside, capable of providing elite strikeout totals on the strength of three potential plus pitches. He still needs to work on his command, but he can still be a mid-rotation starter even with a higher walk total.
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.
There are no Cardinals' prospects in this tier.
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.
#2 - Jack Flaherty (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 20
A supplemental first round pick in 2014, Flaherty moved straight to full-season ball this year and pitched well in the Midwest League. He threw a total of 95 innings at Low-A, striking out 97 against 31 walks with a 2.84 ERA. He's a bit of a high-floor type prospect, as his fastball is in the low 90s and not considered an above-average pitch, but is extremely polished overall for a high school draftee. He should be a mid-rotation starting pitcher going forward, providing solid but not spectacular numbers, and could potentially grow into more if the velocity improves.
#3 - Luke Weaver (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Weaver's 2015 season jumps off the page, as the FSU product cruised to a 1.62 ERA in 105.1 IP at High-A. He made headlines for his Summer dominance, as well, allowing only 6 ER in his last eleven starts, good for a 0.82 ERA from July 5 through the end of the season. Weaver features two above-average to plus pitches in his low to mid-90s fastball and change-up, and has shown promise with his curveball. And, as his low walk rate would suggest, he has excellent command and control. He's on the thin side (6'2" and only 170 pounds), which makes some worry about his durability, but he has clean, repeatable mechanics, and he's very athletic. Weaver profiles as a solid mid-rotation starter, with a bit more upside if his curve turns into a true weapon.
#4 - Marco Gonzales (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
Gonzales was poised to contribute at the big league level this season, on the strength of a solid command/control profile and three average or better pitches (the best of which is his change-up - one of the best in the minors). Unfortunately, he was limited to just 83.1 IP between the minors and the Majors, missing six weeks between May and July due to a shoulder injury. If he is back at full-strength this season, he should spend most of the year in the Cardinals rotation, where he could be yet another solid mid-rotation starter.
#5 - Tim Cooney (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 25
Cooney is a classic command/control lefty - the sort of pitcher that should slot into the back of a rotation and churn out 180+ average-ish innings like clockwork. He throws four fringe average to average pitches (fastball, change-up, curve, cutter), and commands all four quite well, but doesn't have a true swing and miss pitch. Cooney does tend to pitch up in the strike zone, which leads to a fair share of flyballs, but he limits walks at an elite rate and generates a great deal of weak contact. His floor is quite high, and there is always value in an innings eater.
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.
Age on Opening Day: 19
Age on Opening Day: 21
Age on Opening Day: 23