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 Rockies.
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.
Editor's Note: Our rankings were completed prior to the Shelby Miller trade, and since we have already completed the Braves' system, we opted to leave the traded prospects in.the top 10, but have also included the next two names we would have included.
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 - Dansby Swanson (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Swanson was the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. He is currently a shortstop, but he's not too big where he will need to move to another position. He held up perfectly well in his first exposure to pro ball, hitting .289/.394/.482 at short-season Hillsboro. What's not to like? Well, ok, he was older than many of his short-season cohorts, and while his skills are solid, he's certainly not Carlos Correa offensively, or Francisco Lindor defensively. But Swanson looks to be a solid regular at worst, and perhaps a star if he can make even some incremental improvements. Swanson will be a vast improvement over the Diamondback's current shortstop, Nick Ahmed, at least offensively, and I'm sure the team will be happy to live with the small hit in defense to get another impact bat into the lineup at a premium position.
Note: Swanson was traded to the Atlanta Braves in the Shelby Miller deal. The Braves are rebuilding and Swanson will now be a key piece of that rebuild. The instant Swanson is ready, he will play in the big leagues; the Braves will make sure of that, no matter who is playing shortstop at the time.
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 - Aaron Blair (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Drafted in the supplemental first round in 2013 (36th overall), Blair is now officially ready for a major league trial. At least, that's what 73 innings of solid pitching (3.16 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 56 Ks), in the AAA Pacific Coast League indicates. Blair has incrementally moved up one level at a time in the minors and generally succeeded everywhere. He's durable, which is to be expected with his 6-5 230 lb frame. His stuff is solid, although not spectacular. Expect Blair to reach that #3 starter ceiling and be around awhile.
Note: Blair was traded to the Atlanta Braves in the Shelby Miller deal. Expect Blair to be a part of the Braves rotation soon, potentially this season. The team might keep him in triple-A for a few starts to ease the pressure on him (and delay the service time clock), but by May, Blair will likely be pitching in the very same rotation spot that Miller occupied.
#3 - Archie Bradley (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Archie Bradley was drafted #7 overall in 2011 and has consistently been one of the Diamondback's top prospects since then. All was generally happy and joyful... that is until Bradley reached the majors last year but forgot to bring his command with him. Actually, his command has always been rather wobbly and that's the big bugaboo with Bradley, because otherwise, his stuff is ace-worthy. If Bradley can just sharpen that command just a bit, and there were some strong indications at the end of the year in AAA Reno that he might have turned a corner in that regard, then the sky is the limit for Bradley. However, it will likely be a bumpy ride for a few years.
Tier 3 -- The Next Group of Starters
These prospects likely would slot into the 100-200 range on an overall ranking list and would be starters in mid-depth formats such as 12- and 14-team leagues.
#4 - Braden Shipley (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
Braden Shipley was drafted #15 overall in 2013 and like the other two big-time Diamondback pitching prospects, has moved up through the minors one level at a time, with generally solid results throughout. Shipley is similar to Blair, in that his likelihood of pitching in the majors effectively is reasonably high, but he is unlikely to top his #3 starter ceiling. Shipley is going to pitch in the majors. Just don't expect him to be a star, but he will have decent value (to both the Diamondbacks and your fantasy team) sooner rather than later.
#5 - Wei-Chieh Huang (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Who? Don't be ashamed if you've never heard of Huang, but... here is a chance to get ahead of the competition because Huang is going to be shooting up prospect lists soon. Wei-Chieh Huang (not to be confused with Wei Huang of the Atlanta Braves) was signed out of Taiwan in July 2014 and after signing, hung out in instructional camp for a few months. Finally, the Diamondbacks deemed him ready to pitch in real minor league action, and the result was a rousing success: In 77 innings in the Midwest league, Huang had a 2.00 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, and excellent strikeout ratios. Like many pitchers, his low-90s fastball is ahead of his secondary pitches, but he has taken very well to instruction and there is plenty of room for growth. Grab him while you can.
#6 - Alex Young (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Alex Young, the Diamondback's 2nd round pick in 2015 (#43 overall), is yet another solid entry in the impressive stable of Diamondback pitching prospects. Young was a reliever for his first two years in college, but became a starter during his junior year with great results. He is your standard college draftee: he can overwhelm younger hitters with his decent stuff and college-learned command, but he needs to improve on pretty much everything to make it to the show as a starter. There is also a strong chance that Young will be converted to a reliever if he fails to make the necessary improvements, especially since he has experience with being a reliever previously. Like many pitching prospects with his skill set, he has a chance. It all comes down to development.
Tier 4 -- Single-League and Deep-Format Plays
These prospects likely would slot into the 200-300 range on a ranking list and would have the most value in mixed leagues with 16+ teams and single-league formats with 12+ teams.
#7 - Socrates Brito (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Guess who might benefit from Inciarte's departure (and Yasmany Tomas' defensive issues): None other than good ‘ol Socrates Brito! Having already made it to the majors in 2015 at age 22 and even having success in 33 at-bats, Brito is ready to be in the OF conversation at the major league level starting right now. Brito's skill set is mostly about two things: his above-average hit tool and his speed. Brito has the skills to probably hit .280 at minimum and the speed to steal at least 20 bases a year if he was a full-time player. Also, he's not exactly Jason Tyner out there; Brito can sting the ball with some authority. However, the overall package seems to reek more of second division starter/good 4th outfielder material, and not quite up to par as "solid regular". Nevertheless, Brito is at worst, a useful player capable of contributing steals to a fantasy team, and there is room for growth. He's already become the first major league ballplayer in history with a first name of ‘Socrates': how cool is that?!?
#8 - Isan Diaz (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 19
Now that Swanson has been summarily removed from the Diamondbacks' future, the mantle of "best shortstop in the Diamondbacks system" falls to Isan Diaz. As the 70th overall section in the 2014 draft, Diaz has shown far more polish than expected for someone who has yet to reach his third decade in life. In short, Diaz hit the snot out of the ball in the Pioneer League, torching the league with a .360/.436/.640 dominating performance. But... this was rookie ball. There is a looong road ahead for Diaz with many pitfalls to navigate, both offensively and defensively. There will be struggles to overcome, but Diaz certainly has a broad set of skills to rely upon so his chances are stronger than most.
#9 - Brandon Drury (2B/3B)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Brandon Drury was the throw-in player in the Justin Upton trade with the Braves back in 2013, but Drury has turned out to be a very pleasant surprise for the Snakes. He's had success in the upper minors the last couple years and finally reached Arizona last year, getting 56 at-bats at the end of the year and playing both 2B and 3B for the team. Drury will turn 23 next year, so there is still some time for further growth, which will be needed if he is to wrest either the 2B or 3B job from other candidates at the big league level. His bat is currently not quite at a high enough level to warrant a starting position right now. He will most likely start 2016 in Reno. However, if he can learn some things and improve his numbers there, the organization may be convinced to make some moves in order to give Drury a full time job in the majors. The most likely scenario is that Drury will be a utility infielder for a few years and perhaps become a starter in 2018 or so. Geoff Blum comes to mind as a reasonable comparison. Not a bad result for a throw-in.
#10- Yoan Lopez (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
On January 13, 2015, the Diamondbacks signed Cuban free agent pitcher Yoan Lopez, giving him an $8.25 million signing bonus. In doing so, the Diamondbacks exceeded their international signing bonus limit and therefore had to pay a pretty hefty penalty. Obviously, the team felt the cost was worth it. Well, so far, the results are rather discouraging. Lopez pitched in double-A Mobile last season and the 48 innings there were underwhelming. His command especially was extremely disheartening. However, keep in mind that Lopez is still young and still adjusting to American life, and don't forget about that 95 mph fastball of his. Lopez is a very risky prospect, but the Diamondbacks will give him every opportunity to make good on their investment, so he will get more chances than your typical 23 year-old pitching prospect.
Editor's Note: The next two prospects in the discussion were:
Peter O'Brien - He still doesn't really have a position, and would be in a great spot if the Diamondbacks were allowed to use a designated hitter in every game. They're not, and so the questions about where he gets regular playing time to show off his plus power. He's likely headed back to AAA to start the 2016 season, but is an interesting flier in the reserve rounds of NL-only leagues, as he could provide home runs at a 30-home run pace with regular playing time.
Jamie Westbrook - A 2013 draftee, Westbrook can be an offense first second baseman. He had a strong season in High-A this year, hitting .319 with 17 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 123 games, but it comes with the usual caveats related to the California League. At this point he's a prospect to keep an eye on, as he's worth grabbing if he can show that he can carry part of that production forward in AA.