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.
The Giants do not have any prospects in this tier.
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.
The Giants do not have any prospects in this tier.
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.
#1 - Tyler Beede (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Beede twice was selected in the first round of the draft--once by the Blue Jays with the 21st pick in 2011, once once by the Giants three years later and seven spots higher. The talented hurler has all the tools, the repertoire, and the competitive makeup to develop into a frontline starter in the majors, which is why he ranks as San Francisco's top fantasy prospect. Still, the young righthander has left scouts scratching their heads at least since his junior year at Vanderbilt, where, despite fronting a rotation that led the loaded Commodores to a national championship, Beede endured long stretches of inconsistency, especially in the postseason, when he was shelled by college hitters and even passed over for a World Series start in favor of teammate Carson Fulmer, whom, in fairness, the White Sox selected in the first round a year later. Beede pitched very well through his first 15 professional starts, but in 2015 at Double-A Richmond the control problems he suffered in college began to resurface (35:49 BB:K in 72.1 IP). In some ways, Beede resembles Mark Appel, an even more ballyhooed pitching prospect who leaves the same general impression that his results should be much better. Beede, at least, has been less disappointing than Appel, and we think Beede will become a better pitcher. With the Giants this offseason having committed so much money to their starting rotation, however, Beede's future in the organization is now a bit less clear.
#2 - Christian Arroyo (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 20
The Giants have a knack for finding players such as Arroyo--3B Matt Duffy comes to mind--for whom the whole appears greater than the sum of individual parts. Unlike Duffy, whom the Giants unearthed in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, Arroyo carries the pedigree of a first-rounder (2014). Arroyo also boasts a plus hit-tool and an above-average throwing arm, so it should come as no surprise that he has enjoyed a strong professional debut. It is surprising, however, that he has performed so well against advanced competition. At High-A San Jose, where he opened the season as a 19-year-old, Arroyo slashed .304/.344/.459. He followed up that effort by leading the Scottsdale Scorpions to the Arizona Fall League championship. In short, Arroyo has solidified his reputation as one of the top young hitters in the low minors. Looking to the future, his fringy athleticism, coupled with the presence of Brandon Crawford, likely will push Arroyo to third base. Otherwise, he would rank as San Francisco's top fantasy prospect and would receive serious Tier 2 consideration.
#3 - Phil Bickford (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 20
San Francisco has cornered the market on right-handed pitchers and former first-round selections who once rejected Toronto. Like #1 prospect Tyler Beede, Bickford chose college after the Blue Jays made him their top selection (2013). Following a successful freshman season in the Cal-State Fullerton rotation (10 GS, 2.13 ERA, 13:74 BB:K in 76.1 IP), Bickford transferred to a junior college to make himself eligible for the 2015 draft, and the Giants chose him in the first-round, just as they had done a year earlier with Beede. Bickford has not flashed a front-of-the-rotation repertoire the way Beede has, but Bickford does have much better control than Beede. In 2016, Bickford could begin at Low-A Augusta, though an aggressive assignment to HIgh-A San Jose remains a possibility. Either way, fantasy owners should pay attention to reports on Bickford's secondary pitches. Significant improvement on that front while maintaining present control would raise his mid-rotation ceiling..
#4 - Mac Williamson (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 25
This aggressive ranking reflects how much our prospect staff loves Mac Williamson as a possible breakout candidate in 2016. Skeptics might question such bullishness toward a power-hitting outfielder in his mid-20s who has enjoyed moderate success in the high minors--Didn't the Giants already trade Adam Duvall to the Reds?--but we believe Williamson's profile and circumstances justify the optimism. His 6'5"-240 lb. frame generates plus to double-plus raw power and calls to mind former Giants 1B Mike Morse, though Williamson on the whole is a better prospect than Morse was. Hunter Pence occupies right field, of course, but a number of other factors, including San Francisco's recent spending-spree on starting pitchers, could make Williamson an attractive option in left field. Fantasy owners should be patient and keep an eye on the young slugger even if he returns to Triple-A to begin the 2016 season. If, on the other hand, he earns regular playing time in the majors, then owners who share our optimism and select Williamson late in their drafts could be rewarded with big power numbers at a low cost.
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.
#5 - Lucius Fox (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 18
Fox played high-school baseball in Florida through his junior year, returned to his native Bahamas in order to avoid the 2015 draft, then received a $6 million bonus from the Giants after MLB deemed him an "international free agent." At 6'1"-175, Fox possesses 70-grade speed but also has the frame to develop more power as he matures. He's listed at shortstop and would be most valuable to fantasy owners if he stays there, but his offensive profile of plus-to-double-plus speed and an above-average hit tool would make him an asset even if he shifts to second base, where he played in high school, or in centerfield, where many scouts think he will settle. Short-season Salem-Keizer would be the safest assignment outside the rookie leagues. The Giants clearly like what they see in Fox, however, so they could challenge him with a promotion to Low-A Augusta.
#6 - Samuel Coonrod (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Coonrod came to the Giants in 2014 from Southern Illinois, where serious control problems (5.3 BB/9 IP) during his sophomore and junior seasons overshadowed his outstanding stuff and knocked him all the way down to the fifth round of the draft. Under the Giants' tutelage, the 6'2"-225 lb. righthander appears to have solved his control issues and learned how to utilize his talents. He started 22 games for Low-A Augusta, compiled a 3.14 ERA with 114 strikeouts and only 34 walks in 111.2 innings, and at times looked like the most dominant pitcher in the South Atlantic League. Coonrod turned 23 in September, so the Giants in 2016 could push him to Double-A, though he's more likely at least to open the season at High-A San Jose. Either way, fantasy owners should pay attention to his walk:strikeout ratio, which could determine whether he reaches his mid-rotation ceiling or winds up in the bullpen.
#7 - Chris Shaw (1B)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Although scouts consider first-base a premium offensive position, the current crop of minor-league first basemen appears short on premium prospects. Shaw, the second of San Francisco's two first-round picks in 2015 (31st overall), hopes to change that. A converted outfielder, the 6'4"-255 lb. Shaw boasts plus raw power. He clubbed 11 home runs in only 40 games during an injury-shortened junior season at Boston College. Then, he maintained that impressive power production by hitting a Northwest League-leading 12 home runs in 46 games with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Best of all, he appears to have a clue in the batter's box, which means he's unlikely to develop into a free-swinging albatross, either for the Giants or for your team. Shaw, in short, could emerge as the sort of power-hitting prospect fantasy owners love. The challenge of full-season professional baseball, likely beginning at Low-A Augusta, awaits him in 2016.
#8 - Aramis Garcia (C)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Garcia impressed Giants officials with his performance at Low-A Augusta in 2015, where he slashed .273/.350/.467 with 15 home runs in only 319 ABs. Scouts do not expect the young backstop to maintain that level of power production, but they do believe he has a chance to develop into a solid offensive player with a good hit tool and some pop. Like most Giants hitters, Garcia seems to know what he's doing at the plate. Better yet, he also has the ability to stick behind it on defense. If he does, then Garcia could emerge as an average-to-above-average catcher in fantasy leagues.
#9 - Clayton Blackburn (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
At one point this offseason it looked as if Blackburn might receive an opportunity to compete for a rotation spot in San Francisco in 2016. Since then, however, the Giants have signed free-agent starters Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, likely pushing 2015 breakout-performer Chris Heston to long relief and sending Blackburn back to Triple-A. This lost opportunity, coupled with diminished strikeout totals, has dulled Blackburn's prospect-luster a bit. On the other hand, he does not turn 23 until January, and he's coming off a 2015 season in which he led the Pacific Coast League in ERA. That's no small achievement. Furthermore, if Jake Peavy or Matt Cain hits the disabled list, which is hardly improbable, Blackburn could get first shot at the rotation.
#10 - Jalen Miller (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 19
A 2015 third-round pick, Miller scuffled at the plate in his debut with the Giants' Arizona-League rookie affiliate, slashing 218/.292/.259 in 174 ABs. The tools are there, however, for the youngster (he turned 19 on December 19) to develop into a solid, offensive-minded middle infielder. He has above-average speed and plays the game with intelligence; despite his struggles at the plate, he did manage to swipe 11 bags. A conservative assignment to short-season Salem-Keizer seems appropriate, though a strong performance in his second professional season could earn him a promotion to Low-A Augusta. Either way, fantasy owners who are curious about Miller's long-term prospects should keep an eye on his on-base percentage, which could determine whether or not he gets a chance to hit at the top of a major-league lineup.