Breaking Down Top MLB Prospects Who Could Help in Each Fantasy Category
Not surprisingly, the top prospects in baseball also figure to be the one's with the most potential to rack up points for your fantasy baseball team. Five of the top 12 pitching prospects in baseball entering the season, according to Baseball Prospectus' rankings, have had solid rookie seasons.
Jose Fernandez (No. 6) of the Marlins and Shelby Miller (No. 16) of the Cardinals, the two that have been in the majors the entire season, have been as good as it gets. The 21-year-old Fernandez, who made the surprising jump from High-A, has nine wins, a 2.41 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP (walks plus hits/innings pitched) and 157 strikeouts in 24 starts. Miller has 11 wins, a 2.98 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 145 strikeouts in his 24 starts.
The three midseason call-ups of that group have also been impressive. Chris Archer (No. 29) of the Rays has six wins, a 2.95 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 15 starts. Gerrit Cole (No. 3) of the Pirates has six wins, a 3.88 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 52 strikeouts in 12 starts. Zack Wheeler (No. 5) has six wins, a 3.49 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 12 starts.
Chances are that you're happy with either of the aforementioned rookies if they are or have been part of your fantasy rotation. There weren't as many top hitting prospects as close to the big leagues, aside from Wil Myers (No. 7 in Baseball Prospectus' rankings; .312 OPS, 9 HR, 9 2B, 39 RBI, 29 R, 5 SB) and Christian Yelich (No. 23 in Baseball Prospectus' rankings; .286 BA, HR, 7 2B, 7 RBI, 2 SB in 27 games), but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty on the way.
Here is the next wave of top prospects who could be fantasy baseball studs, sorted by the category in which they'll likely have the biggest impact.
Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras would likely be in the majors by now if not for an ankle injury that has kept him sidelined for most of the year and has effectively ended his season. In the 46 games he was able to play in, he hit .306 with five homers, 12 doubles, 32 runs batted in and five stolen bases.
A career .320 hitter in the minors, Taveras has all the tools to be an elite hitter in the majors. Above-average bat speed, bat control and hand-eye coordination are amongst those key components that could lead him to compete for a future batting title. The force at which the ball leaves his bat will also allow more grounders to get through the infield and more line drives to find the outfield alleys.
With Carlos Beltran headed for free agency, the 21-year-old Taveras has the inside edge on the starting right field job in 2014. After missing so much time this season, however, it wouldn't be a surprise if he began the year in Triple-A. It also wouldn't be a surprise if he knocked down the door to the majors by the end of April.
Like Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig, Twins prospect Miguel Sano has a questionable attitude—he's had issues with showboating homers—but there's no mistaking his talent. The 20-year-old slugger has some holes in his game, including his defense at third base, which could force a move across the diamond or to a corner outfield spot by the time he reaches the big leagues. But as long as he's somewhere in the lineup on a regular basis, his home run total will very likely sit near the top of the leader board.
A promotion to Double-A after he absolutely annihilated High-A pitching for 56 games earlier in the season (.330 BA, 16 HR, 15 2B, 48 RBI, 9 SB) hasn't slowed down his power output. He has 15 homers, 13 doubles and 46 runs batted in, also in 56 games. But his batting average has suffered (.238 BA).
A repeat of the level in 2014 is probably the most likely scenario, although he could challenge for a job in spring training and, at the very least, could push for a midseason promotion if he can show progress at the plate and an increased sense of professionalism.
Red Sox shortstop prospect Xander Bogaerts has arrived in Boston earlier than expected after proving that the minor leagues were no longer much of a challenge. The 20-year-old, who seemingly had a 2014 starting job cleared for him when Jose Iglesias was traded last month, hit .297 with 15 homers, 23 doubles, six triples, 67 runs batted in and seven stolen bases in 116 games between Triple-A and Double-A before being called up earlier in the week.
Hitting in the middle of a Red Sox lineup that figures to have plenty of talent in front of him should provide plenty of opportunities to knock in runs. With .300-batting average and 30-homer potential, Bogaerts could be a lock for at least 100 runs batted in per season, with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedroia crossing home plate often as a result.
The popular pick for the current top prospect in baseball, Byron Buxton could have an Andrew McCutchen-type impact with an ability to pile up fantasy points in several categories across the board.
For a 19-year-old playing in High-A, it's difficult to know if his plus hit tools will translate to the big leagues in the future. Buxton's elite defense in center field, however, will likely ensure that he'll be a major league regular at some point, and his elite speed will give him enough value even if he isn't close to the hitter he is projected to be.
If his first full season in the minors is any indication, Buxton is on the fast track to being a major league superstar. Between High-A and Low-A, he is hitting .330 with 12 homers, 19 doubles, 16 triples, 75 runs batted in, 98 runs and 50 stolen bases in 111 games. He'll likely start 2014 in Double-A and if he continues to put up these kinds of numbers, he'll be in the Twins lineup by season's end.
As Fernandez has shown with the Marlins, it helps to pitch on a good team with a productive offense if you want to pile up the "wins." He does have nine wins, but you can argue that he's pitched well enough to win in 11 other starts.
Kevin Gausman might not be as good as Fernandez—to be fair, it might be a long time before we see another rookie pitcher who is—but he's likely to be pitching every fifth day for an Orioles team with plenty of offensive firepower.
The 22-year-old, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, wasn't quite ready this year (6.21 ERA in 33.1 MLB innings), but the experience could prove valuable as he enters what will likely be his first full big league season in 2014.
In 79 combined innings between Triple-A and Double-A, Gausman has a 3.65 ERA with 14 walks and 78 strikeouts. He hasn't pitched deep into games very often, which is why he only has three wins, but he could win 15 games next season if the O's remove any restrictions with their potential "ace of the future."
Pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League at age 20 can't be the easiest task in the world. Although Mariners top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker hasn't dominated as he did in Double-A earlier in the season (2.46 ERA, 84 IP, 58 H, 30 BB, 96 K), he's more than held his own with a 3.86 ERA in 10 starts.
In fact, a promotion to the big leagues, where he'd be pitching in a home stadium that isn't as friendly for hitters, could give Walker, who turned 21 earlier this month, all the confidence he needs to quickly develop into the top-of-the-rotation starter he's projected to be. Having a mid-90s fastball and plus secondary pitches also helps.
While it's likely they'll shut him down after the 2013 minor league season, expect him to be a part of the Mariners rotation in 2014, possibly as soon as Opening Day. And expect him to be one of three Seattle starters, along with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, with a shot to post a sub-3.00 ERA.
In the span of just a few months, Diamondbacks prospect Archie Bradley went from being Baseball Prospectus' 13th-ranked pitching prospect (31st overall) in the preseason to No. 1 (fifth overall) in its midseason rankings.
The 21-year-old has always been able to strike hitters out—he had 156 strikeouts in 138 minor league innings coming into the season. But until he cut down on the walks (5.6 BB/9 through 2012), there would be no thoughts of him striking out big league hitters anytime soon. It didn't take long, though.
In 141.2 innings between Double-A and High-A this season, the 6'4" right-hander has dropped his walk rate just enough (3.9 BB/9) to where there's even been talk of a late-season promotion to the majors. The improved command has also resulted in a 1.91 ERA while his strikeout rate (9.8 K/9) remains strong.
Bradley is a workhorse with top-of-the-rotation potential and a chance to win a rotation spot with the Diamondbacks out of spring training next season. Once he does arrive in the majors, he's a near lock for 200 innings and 200 strikeouts per season.
Most top pitching prospects also have the ability to be dominant closers. They all have the minimum of two plus pitches required to project in that role. If they have a third pitch that has the potential to be at least average, it makes sense to continue starting them so the entire repertoire has the best chance to develop. A top-of-the-rotation starter also has much more value than a dominant closer.
Of the current crop of top pitching prospects, Carlos Martinez of the Cardinals has the best chance to end up in the bullpen and ultimately in the closer's role. While he's only 21 year old, he is still very raw and the likelihood that he develops a reliable third pitch is still very low.
Martinez is having plenty of success in the upper minors as a starter (2.60 ERA in 15 starts between Triple-A and Double-A), which should at least get him an audition for a rotation spot next spring. But he could follow a similar path as rookie setup man Trevor Rosenthal, who moved to the bullpen in 2012 and has developed into one of the top setup men in the game this season. If all goes well, Martinez could end up as the Cardinals' closer by the second half of 2014.