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 Dodgers.
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 - Brendan Rodgers (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 19
Rogers was the third overall pick in the 2015 draft; he could very easily have been the first. He was thought to be the best prep bat in the draft. His power, hitting tool, and arm all rank as "plus" already. His debut in pro ball went reasonably ok in 173 at bats; no red flags appeared.
So, yeah, here's a guy who should be at least a solid hitter at a premium position, *and* he gets to play in Colorado! It's tempting to think of Troy Tulowitzki comparisons here which are of course completely unfair right now. But... at least Rodgers actually has a chance to reach that lofty ceiling, hopefully without all the Tulowitzki injury history.
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 - David Dahl (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 22
David Dahl had a pretty good year, considering he no longer has a spleen anymore, due to a horrific collision in the field with a teammate in June. He had other aches and pains too, but ended up finishing his age 21 season in double-A New Britain with a .273/.304/.417 line. The thing is, Dahl can really hit. He sprays liners all over the field and it is a reasonable expectation that some of his copious amount of doubles will turn into homers, especially at Coors Field. His strikeouts climbed alarmingly, but that hasn't been much of a problem before, and most of those strikeouts happened at the beginning of the year, ...and he was getting over not having a spleen so give the poor guy a break.
It is commendable that Dahl did not punt the entire year due to his injury, but instead worked hard and came back, and produced. It shows excellent character and resiliency. Hopefully better fortune will shine upon Dahl in 2016 and he can truly show off his many talents in the high minors this year.
#3 - Ryan McMahon (3B)
Age on Opening Day: 21
The Rockies may be hurting everywhere else, but they have an embarrassment of riches at 3B. Their top 3B prospect, Ryan McMahon, can definitely put a charge in the ball (he has yet to have a slugging percentage under .500 in his minor league career), but McMahon is not just a home run hitter. His career minor league batting average is .297, and defensively, he shows strong potential. His only below-average tool is his speed.
McMahon has some issues that should give one pause: 1). Like many young sluggers, McMahon's strikeout rate is uncomfortably high, and 2) He is blocked in the big leagues by the Rockies' best player in Nolan Arenado. However, McMahon has certainly earned the right to play at double-A in 2016, even at his young age and if he succeeds, the Rockies will definitely find a place for him.
#4 - Raimel Tapia (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Raimel Tapia has freaky-weird hitting skills. There is no truth to the rumor that famed bad-ball hitter Vladimir Guerrero shook his head in wonder after seeing Tapia stroke yet another otherworldly single that he had no business reaching. However, it is definitely true that many scouts doubt whether Tapia's highly unorthodox hitting style will work in the big leagues.
What is also true is that Tapia is arguably the most exciting player in the system. He has plus speed and will be able to handle center field easily. For fantasy purposes, a .300 hitter with speed and a modicum of power is always welcome (think Starling Marte), and also remember... he will get to play in Coors Field (stop drooling!). Tapia is ready for double-A in 2016, and we will start getting some answers about whether his approach will work starting this year.
#5 - Jon Gray (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
In any other system, Jon Gray would be a top prospect, perhaps worthy of a tier-1 level. However... again... Coors Field (ugh). Think about it: How many pitchers have had success at Coors Field? Go back and look at the sordid history of pitchers in this blighted ballpark. Only one starter has ever had even one year worth owning in fantasy: Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010. That's it! Sure, there have been other pitchers having decent years of mediocre ERA and barely serviceable WHIP, with a decent number of wins and Ks (Jorge De La Rosa for example). But, that is hardly what we are hoping for from Gray and the other Rockies pitching prospects.
So that's the problem with Gray. Great stuff, solid command, could be an ace, or at least a #2, but he has to somehow solve Coors Field, and his first exposure to it wasn't pretty. He's a tier-2 prospect because he really is a great pitching prospect, but... beware.
#6 - Jeff Hoffman (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
In any other system, Jeff Hoffman would be a top prospect... blah, blah, blah (see all caveats above in the Gray comment!) Anyway, Hoffman was part of the haul acquired from Toronto in the momentous Tulowitzki trade and he truly is an excellent pitching prospect in his own right. He pitched quite well in double-A and is clearly ready for bigger things. He will start the year in triple-A and should reach the majors sometime this year. His stuff isn't as spectacular as Gray's, but he has better command overall. He's also a righty. Perhaps his overall approach will work well in Coors. *Something*'s gotta work in Coors one of these days, right?
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.
#7 - Kyle Freeland (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Kyle Freeland was the Rockies first round pick in 2014 (eighth overall). He's also a lefty and was expected to move quickly, but suffered some injury woes last year, including shoulder fatigue and surgery for removal of bone chips in his elbow. Health was a concern when he was drafted, and some of those concerns have come to fruition. However, if Freeland is past the worst of his health woes, then he has a chance to shine. He has a low-90s fastball and great command of a decent slider. He'll need to figure out a solid third pitch, but he knows what he's doing on the mound and could reach a #3 starter ceiling. Uh oh... a #3 starter in Coors Field is probably not worth having in fantasy, right? Still, in a vacuum, Freeland is a solid pitching prospect.
#8 - Mike Nikorak (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 19
Mike Nikorak was the Rockies' other first round pick in the 2015 draft (27th overall). He is extremely high risk, without even considering Coors Field, but he is also very high reward. His fastball reaches 97, and he's shown the makings of a plus curveball, and flashes a solid changeup. His stuff got him consideration as a top 10 draft pick at times over last summer.
However, Nikorak's first exposure to pro ball was ugly to say the least (11.72 ERA!), but it was in only 18 innings so it pretty much means nothing. The Rockies are being very careful with him. Expect much better results in his first full season in the minors. Nikorak is a huge gamble, and it will be a long wait, but he could pay off big someday.
#9 - Trevor Story (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Ah, back to hitters, woo hoo! Trevor Story, Colorado's pick in the supplemental first round (45th overall) way back in 2011, had a nice year in the high minors and he's knocking on the door to a big league job. Story has had an up-and-down minor league career so far, mixing dominant years with sub-par ones, but last year, he hit a combined .279 with 20 homers and slugged over .500 at both double-A New Britain and triple-A Albuquerque. Now, these aren't spectacular numbers for the Pacific Coast League, but for a player who can player anywhere in the infield, this sort of production will definitely get him a job in the big leagues, and depending on the status of Jose Reyes, perhaps even the starting shortstop job soon. He's only 23 so there is some possible growth left in Story's development. Story is ranked #9 on this list because the four pitchers ahead of him are better prospects, but... Story may very well be the more valuable player anyway because (you guessed it), Coors Field.
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.
#10- Tom Murphy (C)
Age on Opening Day: 25
There was much love in our analysis for putting pitcher Antonio Senzatela into our final spot on this list. However, since this is the Rockies we are talking about, doesn't it make more sense to go with a hitter? In this case, the hitter is catcher Tom Murphy. Murphy has always hit pretty well in the minors, especially for a catcher. His power, especially, is intriguing (he has a career .505 slugging percentage in his minor league career). Murphy got a cup of coffee with the major league team this September and didn't disappoint, hitting 3 homers in 35 at bats and playing solid defense.
Murphy is going to be part of the Rockies' plans; of that there is no doubt. The question is whether his defense is good enough to start. Right now, he still has some work to do, although he has reportedly made tremendous progress throughout his minor league career in that regard. At the very least, Murphy will be a backup who gets significant at bats, perhaps as soon as this year. No matter what, his bat will most definitely play at catcher. Even if he's a backup, expect him to be one of the most valuable fantasy baseball backup catchers available.