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 that must be rehashed 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 off-season, and so how we view a player may evolve significantly over time. 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.
The tiers are here though to provide some clarity when comparing players 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 that do not have prospects for certain teams.
Tier 1 - The Elite Prospects
These prospects are expected to be in the top-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: 20
Rodgers entered 2016 as one of the best prospects in baseball, with our team ranking him the highest overall, at tenth on our consensus top-hundred list. The 3rd overall pick in the 2015 draft showed why most everyone was so high on him by slashing .281/.342/.480 with 19 HR and 6 SB in 491 PA, a line 35% above league-average by wRC+. The 20-year-old should have no difficulty sticking at shortstop, projecting as a steady defender there, with the potential for plus hit and power tools. In a neutral environment, Rodgers profiles as a .270 hitter with 20-plus home runs; with a Coors Field boost, he could eventually be the best fantasy shortstop around.
#2 - Raimel Tapia (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 23
A few years back, Ryan Parker of Baseball Prospectus tossed a 70-grade on Tapia’s hit tool, and followed that up with a brilliant explanation of what makes Tapia’s swing so potent. It essentially boils down to preternatural bat-to-ball skills coupled with elite bat speed and balance, which lead many to believe that he could be a future batting champion (particularly in Coors Field). The issue with Tapia is largely that there is a large gulf between opinion on the utility of his power and speed tools, so there is no true consensus on either. At worst, I see average power and average speed, which would make him a .300 hitter with 15 plus home runs and 12 plus steals (without adjusting for Coors Field).
From this point forward, it makes sense to drop the repetitious use of the Coors Field caveat. Pitchers will obviously be hurt by the environs, whereas most hitters will benefit. In all likelihood, you can probably inflate the fantasy value of the hitters while dinging that of the pitchers.
#3 - Jeff Hoffman (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
There are two ways to look at Hoffman’s 2016 - one is with disappointment, given that he was mediocre at Triple-A and bad in the Majors, and the other is with a bit of excitement, as he stayed healthy and maintained his stuff over a full season. Most discussions about Hoffman begin with said stuff, as he has four pitches that may well be average or better, with some suggesting that he could have three plus pitches. The issue, then, is that he often struggles to throw quality strikes (the ol’ command vs. control conundrum), and ends up being far more hittable than his offerings would suggest. With even average command, Hoffman could be a second or third starter, racking up strikeouts and limiting hard contact. And we’re hesitant to bet against his stuff - for now.
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.
#4 - Riley Pint (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 19
A year from now, we may look foolish for not having Pint in Tier 1, as well as having him ranked behind anyone on this list. The 19-year-old was the consensus top RHP in the 2016 draft class, and was said to have the best fastball and change-up among High School pitching prospects. The fastball is unsurprising, given that he has supposedly reached 102 with the offering, but it is rare to see such a young pitcher possess such a stout change-up. Pint also has a power breaking ball that has drawn a great deal of praise, with some suggesting that it could end up in the plus-plus range. He’s also regarded as a premium athlete, which bodes well for his ability to make adjustments and handle a large workload. The risk essentially boils down to the development of his command and control, and the inherent risk with young, inexperienced power pitchers. Nevertheless, the top of the rotation upside is easy to see.
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.
#5 - Tom Murphy (C)
Age on Opening Day: 26
It may seem strange to see a soon to be 26-year-old rated so highly, but it is fully justified in this instance. Murphy has refined his defensive skills to a bit above passable behind the dish, and should finally have the opportunity for regular playing time this year. His hit tool is fringe average at best, owing largely to his aggressiveness, but he has shown enough raw and in-game power to lend confidence to his ability to hit 20-plus home runs at the highest level. And a catcher that can hit .240 with that sort of power production could find himself among the top eight to ten fantasy options at the position.
#6 - German Marquez (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Marquez ended the 2015 season pitching in High-A, the level at which he spent the entirety of the year. In 2016, he ended the season with a quality start (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K) against the Brewers in the Rockies last game of the season. All that he did in between was toss 166.2 IP between Double-A and Triple, posting a 3.13 ERA, 8.4 K/9, and a 1.16 WHIP. The 21-year-old Marquez has excellent control and above-average command, which help his low-to-mid 90s fastball and late breaking curveball play up as plus pitches. His change-up isn’t much better than a show-me pitch, but his command profile makes that a non-issue when everything is going right, as he limits walks and keeps the ball on the ground. If his change-up doesn’t improve, he could end up as a late inning reliever - a role in which he’d thrive.
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.
#7 - Kyle Freeland (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 23
There is a gap between Freeland the real world prospect and Freeland the fantasy prospect, due to the southpaw’s lack of a true swing-and-miss pitch. He has four fringe-average or better offerings, in his low-90s sinker, cutter, curve, and change-up, and he does a great job of keeping the ball on the ground (54% GB last year). He has strong control, as well, which has kept his career walk rate at just 2.2 per 9. Freeland’s career 6.1 K/9 jumps off the page, though, and his ability to be anything more than a back of the rotation arm would require a jump in quality of his cutter or curve, or a great defense behind him. He should spend a great deal of 2017 with the Rockies, so he’s worth keeping an eye on.
#8 - Ryan McMahon (1B)
Age on Opening Day: 22
McMahon plummeted from top-fifty prospect to borderline afterthought, due to his poor showing at Double-A and his move across the diamond to first base. The latter has been somewhat attributed to the presence of Nolan Arenado, but McMahon was never a good defender at third, and this slide down the defensive spectrum was expected by most scouts. The sweet, powerful left-handed stroke is still there, and his offensive ceiling is strong enough to be tantalizing regardless of any position - he could hit 25-plus home runs in most any park. There has always been swing and miss in his game, though, and his strikeout rate ballooned to 30.1% last year, while his power largely disappeared. That’s unsurprising against the more advanced competition, but it’s not a great sign. A bounce back is possible, if not probable, but his stock is way down.
#9 - Ryan Castellani (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Full disclosure - Castellani is one of my favorite prospects in the Rockies system, and would have been ranked higher in a non-collaborative effort. That happens on all of these lists, as Michael and I differ quite a bit on several players, and I say it now because it applies to Castellani (who did not make Michael’s top-ten) and the next pitcher on this list (who did not make mine). But I digress. Castellani has three average or better pitches in his low-90s sinker, low-80s slider, and low-80s change-up, and he can locate all of them quite well. He maintained a 55% groundball rate at High-A, which allowed him to limit opposing hitters to just 0.43 HR/9 in the hitter friendly California League. He is unlikely to post strikeout rates that are much higher than the league-average, but most everything else points towards a solid mid-rotation starter.
#10 - Peter Lambert (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 19
Despite being just 19, Lambert already has the look of a high-floor, moderate-ceiling type prospect. He has an average fastball in the low-90s, an above-average to plus change-up with good separation (his best pitch), an average slider, and a below-average curve, to go along with an advanced command and control profile. You don’t have to squint too hard to see him eating innings in the back of the rotation for a decade, with low walk rates and average-ish run prevention. Given his age, though, it might just take him a few years to get there.