If you play fantasy baseball long enough, you're bound to run into that owner. They are the one that invests too soon in a prospect, and holds onto them when they could be using that roster spot for someone providing any fantasy value. They tend to be looking for a prospect that is slightly under the radar for their league, one who isn't the clear cut top prospect out there, but rather one that can make them look like a genius if it goes as they hope. How do I know about this owner?
Because I have been that owner for as long as I can remember.
The one that invests in a prospect that may not be up until midseason, but whom you're absolutely convinced they will provide more value in that time than whatever else you could have done with the roster spot. The deeper your league is, the better this strategy can work, simply because of the caliber of player at the fringes of that roster could be worse over a full season than the half you're hoping to get from the prospect. And I've got my guy for this year in J.P. Crawford of the Phillies.
Crawford was the Phillies' top draft pick back in 2013, going 16th overall. After a brief debut that year, he split his first full season between both levels of single-A, hitting .285 with 11 home runs, 24 stolen bases, and a sterling 63 walks against 67 strikeouts in 123 games. He returned to High-A Clearwater to start the 2015 season, and after just 21 games had moved again, this time to AA Reading. As a 20 year old, he hit .265 with a .354 OBP, 5 home runs and 7 stolen bases in 86 games there.
Crawford provides a ton of value for the Phillies specifically with his ability to stay at shortstop in the future, and while we like that for our own valuations, his bat could carry him at nearly any position. Crawford has shown excellent plate discipline throughout the minors, posting double-digit walk rates at every stop and low strikeout rates to go with it. This bodes well for his ability to post both a high batting average and a high on-base percentage. He's not considered a speedster by any stretch, but is no slouch on the base paths and should provide 5-7 steals at a minimum per season, with double-digits a reasonable likelihood most years.
All of this is great for a shortstop, but what moves him into the discussion at the top of prospect lists is that he's also expected to provide above-average production in the other three categories as well. While he does not have a ton of power, he should still be able to provide double-digit home runs most years, and can be a solid run producer when given the opportunity.
That opportunity could come quickly in Philadelphia. Crawford could well be on his way to AAA to start the season, and while the team is rebuilding, he could force his way to the majors by midseason. With Freddy Galvis expected to be the everyday shortstop to start the year, it may not take much for Crawford to unseat him, regardless of the service time concerns.
This brings us back to the beginning, and whether to hold hold onto Crawford while you wait for his call up to the majors. In a half season of playing time, I could see him hit in the .260-.270 range with 5-7 home runs, 40 runs ,and 30 RBI without too much difficulty. This production would fit him fairly reasonably into the back of our top 30 shortstops, and potentially without the low batting average that can come from the players at the back-end of those rankings.
Long term, Crawford can move into the top 10 at the position, and could even jump into the top five in his best years. He should be the starting shortstop by Opening Day 2017 at the absolute latest, and can be an impact talent when that happens. He may not unseat top options like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager because he just doesn't have the same power potential, but he should be right behind them giving above-average production across the board. Well worth taking a shot late in drafts this year when you're looking for late upside.