Fantasy Baseball: Top Prospects Who Are Better, Worse in Fantasy Than Reality

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterMarch 14, 2014

Fantasy Baseball: Top Prospects Who Are Better, Worse in Fantasy Than Reality

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    A consensus top-10 prospect, is Cubs shortstop Javier Baez likely to be better in fantasy or reality?
    A consensus top-10 prospect, is Cubs shortstop Javier Baez likely to be better in fantasy or reality?Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Fantasy baseball is a made-up game that takes into account the real-life performances of players on the field. Just because fantasy is based on reality, though, doesn't mean the two always line up just so—especially when it comes to prospects.

    After all, value on a baseball diamond can be a whole lot different than value on a fantasy roster, and owners in keeper and dynasty leagues deserve to know the difference.

    In recent weeks, five separate reputable industry sources have released their top 100 prospects: Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Bleacher Report, ESPN.com (subscription required) and MLB.com.

    As part of a special project to point out certain prospects who are better or worse in fantasy compared to reality, we tracked those top 100s—well, really four top 100s and one top 101, to be exact—and then dissected them to determine which prospects appeared in all five of the rankings.

    It turns out, there are 69 consensus top-100 prospects who made the cut in each.

    Not every prospect from that batch neatly fits into either category—better in fantasy or better in reality—but we've extracted the top young talents who do.

    Here's a look at 18 prospects, along with their average, highest and lowest ranking from the five top 100s, as well as an ETA and a verdict on whether each profiles better in fantasy or reality.

     

    Statistics come from Baseball Reference.

    Fantasy value is based on standard 5x5 scoring for hitters (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB) and pitchers (W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).

Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/SS, Cubs

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 81.6

    Highest Ranking: 65

    Lowest Ranking: 100 

    By earning the No. 100 spot on Baseball America's top 100 prospects, Arismendy Alcantara just barely made the cut for this evaluation. The 22-year-old switch-hitter had a breakout season last year, hitting a respectable .271 and stealing 31 bags while also flashing more power than ever before with 15 homers—adding another one in the Futures Game.

    If Alcantara, who could push Darwin Barney aside by midseason, can maintain that oomph, he could be good for 12-15 home runs and 25 steals at second base, which is a more-than-useful fantasy 2B.

    ETA: Mid-2014

    Verdict: Better in fantasy

Zach Lee, RHP, Dodgers

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 80.2

    Highest Ranking: 63

    Lowest Ranking: 95

    The Dodgers' first-round pick back in 2010, Zach Lee has climbed the ladder steadily and is on the verge of his big league debut after throwing 142.2 solid innings at Double-A last year (3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.3 K/9). The 22-year-old fits the mold of a mid-rotation starter in real life, thanks to his pitchability, command and repertoire.

    He's always been a little hittable (8.7 H/9) and isn't likely to get loads of strikeouts, which means he'll help the Dodgers as a cost-controlled arm more than he'll add real value in a typical 5x5 league. The fact that he's blocked by about 18 other pitchers in Dodgers camp won't make it any easier for Lee in the immediate future.

    ETA: Mid-2014

    Verdict: Better in reality

Colin Moran, 3B, Marlins

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Average Ranking: 63.0

    Highest Ranking: 51

    Lowest Ranking: 74 

    Colin Moran, a 21-year-old who was the sixth overall pick last June out of North Carolina, led all of college baseball with 91 RBI as a junior in 2013 and then hit a long ball in his first pro at-bat. Yet, there are questions about just how much pop he'll hit for, as James Bailey of Baseball America points out (subscription required):

    Scouts believe Moran will hit, but his power will determine how much impact he has in the big leagues. A pure hitter with an advanced approach at the plate, Moran controls the strike zone, has excellent hand-eye coordination and rarely chases.

    The Marlins will benefit from the lefty-swinging Moran's ability to get on base and make lots of contact, but a third baseman who could struggle to reach the mid-teens in homers is going to have trouble being more than a corner infielder in fantasy.

    ETA: Mid-to-late 2015

    Verdict: Better in reality

Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 59.2

    Highest Ranking: 33

    Lowest Ranking: 91

    After hitting .303 with 10 home runs and 20 steals at the minors' highest level, Kolten Wong, a native of Hawaii, made his Cardinals debut last August. The 23-year-old didn't see consistent action—only 62 trips to the dish in 32 games—but Wong is a steady, heady player (despite that whole picked-off-to-end-a-World Series-game disaster) who's also ready to take over second base in St. Louis.

    He's expected to platoon with veteran Mark Ellis at the outset of 2014.

    Wong, a lefty hitter, can do a little of everything on offense and is a capable-enough defender, which should make him a nice complementary piece on a Cardinals club that is loaded with young talent. Unless he finagles his way near the top of a crowded lineup, though, Wong's plate appearances and counting stats—especially runs scored—could be muted.

    He could prove to be an Omar Infante type.

    ETA: Opening Day 2014 (already made debut)

    Verdict: Better in reality

Garin Cecchini, 3B, Red Sox

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 58.0

    Highest Ranking: 51

    Lowest Ranking: 74

    Garin Cecchini isn't all that different from Colin Moran in that he, too, is a lefty hitter who does most of his damage in the form of doubles and OBP, which was an outstanding .443 in 2013 across High-A and Double-A.

    The 22-year-old, however, hasn't displayed much power with all of 14 four-baggers in more than 1,200 plate appearances in the minors. That's going to make him a miscast fantasy 3B, unless you're in a league that rewards walks or uses OBP as a category.

    The one aspect of Cecchini's game that is somewhat intriguing—and again, different for a hot cornerman—is his baserunning savvy, as he's swiped 74 bases the past two years even though he's not exactly fast.

    ETA: Late 2014

    Verdict: Better in reality

Chris Owings, SS, Diamondbacks

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    Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    Average Ranking: 57.4

    Highest Ranking: 28

    Lowest Ranking: 77

    Chris Owings, 22, is a solid defender, which gives him some points in the reality department, but his won't-walk mentality—seriously, the guy has 73 free passes in more than 2,000 minor league plate appearances—hurts in that arena.

    The benefit to that?

    All those swings from a pretty potent bat (.330/.359/.482 at Triple-A in 2013) could lead to more opportunities for hits, which might mean a few more homers and RBI in fantasy. Plus, he has enough speed to tap double digits in steals.

    Owings just may beat out Didi Gregorius to be Arizona's Opening Day shortstop, which would make the more offensive-oriented Owings relevant right away in NL leagues and eventually put him in position to enter the discussion in mixed formats as a middle infielder.

    ETA: Early 2014 (already made debut)

    Verdict: Better in fantasy

Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Average Ranking: 45.4

    Highest Ranking: 27

    Lowest Ranking: 58

    The hard-throwing Marcus Stroman is going to get plenty of strikeouts, which will give his fantasy value a lift if he shows he can cut it as a starting pitcher. Since being selected in the first round in 2012, Stroman has whiffed 10.4 batters per nine and spent all of 2013 at Double-A.

    Even if he winds up having to move to the bullpen, as some project due to his lack of height—he's listed at 5'9"—Stroman could become a top-10 closer in short order (pun not intended). That's a more valuable role in the fake game than it is in the real one, where being able to throw six or seven innings is always the preferred outcome. With Toronto's rotation lacking, Stroman should get a shot sooner than later.

    ETA: Early 2014

    Verdict: Better in fantasy

Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 43.4

    Highest Ranking: 36

    Lowest Ranking: 52

    Stolen bases are one of the five standard-scoring categories, and Billy Hamilton possesses the speed to swipe 60-plus—and that might be a more conservative estimate—which essentially would lock up SBs for fantasy owners who unleash him in their lineups.

    While stolen bases are a central element in fantasy, they're less impactful on the whole in actual games. Plus, if the slight-of-frame Hamilton doesn't hit or get on base enough (.308 OBP at Triple-A last year), well, he's not going to be of much use to the Reds, who are hoping he's ready to handle leadoff duties right now.

    ETA: Opening Day 2014 (already made debut)

    Verdict: Better in fantasy

Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Red Sox

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Average Ranking: 42.0

    Highest Ranking: 23

    Lowest Ranking: 53

    Jackie Bradley Jr., 23, excels at getting on base (.404 career OBP in the minors), scoring runs and playing defense. Alas, only one of those three is a direct factor in fantasy, and even his run scoring could be dulled if Bradley hits in the bottom third of the Red Sox lineup.

    The expectation is that Bradley will cover center field now that Jacoby Ellsbury is gone, and once he overcomes what was a disappointing first 107 plate appearances in Boston (.189/.280/.338), Bradley could become a Denard Span-like big leaguer whose value to the Red Sox doesn't necessarily come across as well in 5x5 scoring.

    ETA: Opening Day 2014 (already made debut) 

    Verdict: Better in reality

Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Average Ranking: 41.2

    Highest Ranking: 34

    Lowest Ranking: 50

    Still only 21 years old, Joc Pederson has already conquered Double-A, having spent all of last season there and setting career highs in home runs and stolen bases for a third straight year. Pederson dropped in on the Futures Game on his way to upping the former total by four to 22 and the latter by five to 31.

    If Pederson, a lefty hitter, has one element of weakness that could use addressing, it's his platoon splits. He posted a .568 OPS and 27.4 percent strikeout rate against southpaws compared to 1.029 and 19.4 percent marks against right-handers.

    Still, he's turned himself from a fringy fourth-outfielder prospect into a legitimate candidate to be a starter with 20-20 potential. Should Matt Kemp's injuries continue to mount, Pederson could handle center soon enough, even though he fits better in a corner; otherwise, he looks like a promising piece of trade bait.

    ETA: Late 2014

    Verdict: Better in fantasy

Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 34.6

    Highest Ranking: 22

    Lowest Ranking: 48

    It's not often that a catcher is better in fantasy, simply because so much of the position is about defense—not to mention, backstops sit out more games than other position players, which limits their opportunities to compile numbers.

    In this rare case, though, d'Arnaud's health—or lack thereof, since he's played more than 71 games only twice in seven pro seasons—actually hurts him more in real life than it does in the non-real version of the sport.

    D'Arnaud does have pop, as his slugging percentages at Double-A (.539) and Triple-A (.588) prove. So if he's on your fantasy roster and goes from hitting well to hitting the disabled list, well, it's easy enough to just drop d'Arnaud and pick up another catcher. That's not the case for the Mets, who really need their backstop of the present and future to, you know, play.

    ETA: Opening Day 2014 (already made debut) 

    Verdict: Better in fantasy

Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 30.0

    Highest Ranking: 12

    Lowest Ranking: 50

    Yordano Ventura, who fired 4.1 scoreless frames with six strikeouts and zero walks against the Athletics on Wednesday, is using his triple-digit heat to put himself in position to win the Royals' fifth-starter job out of camp, as Andy McCullough of The Kansas City Star writes.

    Including an impressive three-start cameo in K.C. last September, the 22-year-old has been proving throughout his career that he can overcome his slight stature  (5'11", 180) and remain a starting pitcher.

    Ventura should come close to being a strikeout-an-inning starter, possibly right away, although he might not be able to throw 180-plus innings. But even if he ultimately shifts to a relief role, Ventura's stuff would make him a scary-good, potential top-five closer.

    ETA: Opening Day 2014 (already made debut)

    Verdict: Better in fantasy

Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, Tigers

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 27.4

    Highest Ranking: 15

    Lowest Ranking: 37

    This offseason, the Tigers traded away Prince Fielder and shifted two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera back to first base in order to save some money. Subsequently, this opened a spot in the everyday lineup for Nick Castellanos, far and away the team's top prospect.

    Castellanos can hit balls over walls—he did so 18 times as a 21-year-old at Triple-A last year and already has hit two this spring—but he possesses more gap-to-gap pop at the moment.

    A righty hitter with a pure swing and strong wrists, Castellanos should develop more power; however, for now, he looks to be cut from the same cloth as Nolan Arenado, who is more of a fantasy corner infielder with some upside than a starter at third base.

    ETA: Opening Day 2014 (already made debut)

    Verdict: Better in reality

Austin Hedges, C, Padres

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 23.0

    Highest Ranking: 13

    Lowest Ranking: 33

    Austin Hedges is arguably the best defensive catcher among all high-end prospects. That's fantastic for the Padres and their pitchers. Alas, it does nothing for fantasy owners, who should be aware that most positive descriptions of his hitting should be qualified with "for a catcher" at the end.

    For instance, owners won't mind Hedges' capable power for a catcher, but they'll likely want a more offensive-oriented option at the position. His fantasy value, however, would be buoyed in any league that requires two starting backstops, and he could spend a few years on the fringe of the top 10 catchers once he gets acquainted with big league pitchers.

    ETA: Mid-2015

    Verdict: Better in reality

Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 21.8

    Highest Ranking: 16

    Lowest Ranking: 27

    For a big guy—he's 6'6" and checks in at 235 pounds—who throws as hard as Jameson Taillon does, the right-hander just doesn't sport the gaudy strikeout stats one might expect or hope for. In reaching Triple-A his last two seasons, the 22-year-old has posted a 7.4 K/9 (2012) and 8.7 K/9 (2013). That's good, but when you adjust some for the majors, owners might be a tad disappointed.

    It's a bit too harsh to call Taillon an innings eater—he's more than that—but he may not turn out to be a strikeout stud or a peripheral-stat booster. The former No. 2 overall pick is on the verge of teaming with Gerrit Cole in the Pirates rotation, which could give Pittsburgh some much-needed pitching depth after the loss of A.J. Burnett.

    ETA: Mid-2014

    Verdict: Better in reality

George Springer, OF, Astros

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 19.4

    Highest Ranking: 18

    Lowest Ranking: 21

    A lot of what 24-year-old George Springer does well—including his strong defense as a potential center fielder and his ability to take a walk (12.2 percent BB rate)—will certainly help the Astros. Plus, after dominating at Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, he's the best outfield option in the organization—like, right now.

    But any time a player has the goods to post 20-20 seasons with regularity—and possibly even approach a 30-30 campaign or two—there's more value in fantasy. In that case, outside of points leagues where strikeouts are a negative category, owners won't mind that Springer, who owns a 26.5 percent strikeout rate in his minor league career, may struggle to hit north of .250 or .260.

    ETA: Early 2014

    Verdict: Better in fantasy

Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Average Ranking: 8.0

    Highest Ranking: 5

    Lowest Ranking: 13

    Francisco Lindor, who is just 20 years old and will play all of this season at that age, has flown through the minors since being drafted eighth overall in 2011. Heck, he reached Double-A at age 19, and for many elite prospects, the jump from there to the big leagues can happen quickly. It's not out of the question, then, that this savvy, slick-fielding, switch-hitting shortstop could debut before he turns 21.

    Fantasy owners who focus on the fact that Lindor is a top-10 prospect aren't digging deep enough. 

    As Keith Law of ESPN (subscription required) wrote about Lindor: "His feel for the game has always been his greatest strength -- he has instincts and game awareness, and when you combine that with soft hands and a plus arm, you get a Gold Glove-type of defender at a critical position."

    Law did proceed to project that Lindor could reach 12-15 homers a year, and the Indians shortstop of the near future has stolen 27 and then 25 bases in his two full seasons, but any time a young player's strengths are instincts and awareness, that's the epitome of the better-in-reality-than-in-fantasy profile.

    ETA: Late 2014

    Verdict: Better in reality

Javier Baez, SS, Cubs

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Average Ranking: 5.8

    Highest Ranking: 4

    Lowest Ranking: 7

    Dear, Mr. or Mrs. Fantasy Owner: How would you like to own the next 30-homer shortstop! That's right, Javier Baez, the No. 9 selection in 2011—one pick after Lindor—is rounding into form after a breakthrough 2013 in which he mashed 75 extra-base hits, including 37 homers. He also swiped 20-plus bases for the second year in a row.

    The 21-year-old's approach and plate discipline could still use some fine tuning (5.9 percent walk rate), and there are questions about whether Baez may eventually have to move off shortstop to third base. But that type of power, fantasy friends, should have owners potentially fighting to draft Baez in Round 1 in the not-too-distant future.

    ETA: Late 2014

    Verdict: Better in fantasy

     

    To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11