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 - Cody Bellinger (1B/OF)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Throughout this endeavor, Michael and I have cautioned against first basemen due to the high baseline for production at the position - and Bellinger is the sort of prospect that may well laugh at that baseline. The 21-year-old jumped from rookie ball to High-A in 2015, and he was one of the best hitters at the level. He followed that up by being one of the best hitters in the Double-A Texas League in 2016 (his 142 wRC+ was second in the league), cranking out 23 HR and stealing 8 bases in 465 PA. More importantly his walk (9.6% to 12.7%) and strikeout (27.6% to 20.2%) improved markedly, as he embraced a more patient approach. Bellinger possesses an average to solid-average hit tool and plus to plus-plus power, and looks to be the fixture of a lineup in the near future. The fact that he can play the OF - and play it well - could help him into the Dodgers lineup more quickly, and make him a more valuable fantasy player, to boot.
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 - Jose De Leon (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
De Leon has risen through the Dodgers system rapidly these last two seasons, opening 2015 at High-A and ending 2016 in the Majors, and for good reason. The 24-year-old boasts three average or better pitches, in his low-to-mid 90s fastball, plus change-up, and solid average slider, and he has above-average to plus command. He might not have a true swing and miss pitch, but his slider has improve a bit in each of the last two years, and his pinpoint command on the edges of the strike zone should allow him to pick up whiffs. De Leon’s ceiling is in the middle of a big league rotation, and he stands to open the year with the Dodgers.
#3 - Alex Verdugo (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 20
Verdugo is a testament to scouting the player and not the stat line. His .273/.336/.407 slash line does not jump off the page, nor do his 13 HR and 2 SB. However, the 20-year-old was the youngest player in the Texas League this year, and his lightning fast bat speed does not show up in any box score. Verdugo drives the ball to all fields, and is capable of barreling any pitch in or near the zone. He struck out in just 12.7% of his PA despite his age and relative inexperience (he spent just 96 PA in High-A), utilizing a controlled aggression at the plate. Verdugo will likely sit around 18 home runs per season, but he could hit around .300 regularly and chip in double-digit steals.
#4 - Yadier Alvarez (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 21
The term ‘easy velocity’ may have been coined for Alvarez, who sat between 94 and 98 for the entirety of his first professional season. He flirts with triple-digits regularly, and there is a surprising lack of effort in his delivery. At this point in his development he’s essentially a fastball/slider pitcher, with the latter already flashing plus, but both should be swing and miss offerings. His change-up is a work in progress at best, yet some are confident that it could end up as a plus pitch, as well. There is plenty of risk with Alvarez, given his inexperience and lack of a refined third pitch, but he might have the highest upside of any pitcher in the system.
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 - Willie Calhoun (2B)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Calhoun opened 2016 at Double-A, despite playing just 35 games above rookie ball. He responded by hitting .254/.318/.469 with 25 2B and 27 HR as one of the five-youngest regulars in the Texas League, showcasing plus bat speed and plus power throughout the season. He also struck out in just 11.6% of his plate appearances, thanks to his rare ability to swing from the heels and hit everything within his general vicinity. Few doubt that he will be able to carry that 20-plus home run power into the Majors, and, despite his propensity for weak contact, he should still hit for a reasonable average. The issue is that he’s a bad second baseman, and few outside of the Dodgers front office see him remaining there for the foreseeable future. For fantasy purposes, he’s most valuable at second (where he could be a stud). If he moves, it would likely be to 1B or to the corner OF, where his value would dip accordingly.
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.
#6 - Yusniel Diaz (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 20
In what has become a trend on this list, Diaz was one of the youngest players in the California League this season, his first outside of Cuba. He slashed .272/.333/.418 at that level, with 8 HR and 7 SB in 348 PA, leading some to believe that he’s a safe bet despite his age and inexperience. Diaz represents the baseline for a five-tool player, having earned grades of 50 or better in every category by several scouts and publications, but no single tool stands out as better than above-average. His ceiling is something resembling his High-A line extrapolated over 650 PA (.270ish average, 15 HR, and 15 SB).
#7 - Brock Stewart (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 25
What Stewart’s fastball lacks in velocity (it sits in the low-90s) it more than makes up for in run and sink, earning plus grades as a result. The 25-year-old is able to locate the pitch wherever he wants, as well, picking up whiffs and called strikes with ease. He also has an above-average to plus change-up, and an average slider. Stewart rose through the system rapidly last year, pitching at four levels (including the Majors), and should have the opportunity to start for the Dodgers this year. He profiles as an innings eating back of the rotation starter.
#8 -Walker Buehler (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
Everything that can be said about Buehler was said succinctly in Keith Law’s most recent chat: “If he can really hold this stuff over a full season, I don’t see why he’s not a number one starter. But we have no evidence he can do that yet.” The 22-year-old had Tommy John Surgery shortly after being drafted in 2015, and did not make his professional debut until late-August 2016. He showed the stuff that made him a first-round pick in short order, sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball and flashing a plus cutter, plus curve, and average change-up. That was only in a handful of actual games and then instructs, however, so the risk remains tremendous. The fact that he might have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the system makes that risk worthwhile, though.
#9 - Austin Barnes (C/2B)
Age on Opening Day: 27
It seems strange to have a 27-year-old on a prospect list, yet here we are. Barnes has yet to earn a real shot in the Majors, deferring to first A.J. Ellis and then Carlos Ruiz. This, despite his career .304/.384/.460 line in 720 PA at Triple-A, and overall .299/.388/.439 line in the minors (2575 PA). Barnes will not start for the Dodgers, due to the presence of Yasmani Grandal, but he has an average hit tool, average power, borderline average speed (with good instincts), and an excellent approach, as well as the ability to play 2B and 3B at a passable level. He isn’t a great defensive catcher, but he’s at least fringe average behind the dish. If the Dodgers maximize his versatility, we could be looking at a unique positional profile to go along with a .270 average and double-digit home runs and steals.
#10 - Jordan Sheffield (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Sheffield was the Dodgers third first-round pick in 2016, yet he looks like the best of the trio. The 21-year-old has an explosive mid-90s fastball, a wicked change-up, and an average slider, and the ability to garner swings and misses on all three. The limiting factors here are his injury history (he had Tommy John Surgery in high school) and below-average control, which lead to questions about both his floor and his ceiling. With even average control, he could be a solid mid-rotation starter. Without that, however, he may be best utilized out of the bullpen, where he could profile as an elite closer.