Early Fantasy Baseball Keeper League Prospects 'Watch List'

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterApril 19, 2014

Early Fantasy Baseball Keeper League Prospects 'Watch List'

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    Is Pittsburgh Pirates outfield prospect Gregory Polanco owned in your fantasy league? Because he should be.
    Is Pittsburgh Pirates outfield prospect Gregory Polanco owned in your fantasy league? Because he should be.Gene J. Puskar

    In the wake of Wednesday's promotion and debut of outfielder George Springer, one of the top prospects in a loaded Houston Astros system—not to mention, all of Major League Baseball—it's time to put together a batch of some other youngsters who are what Springer was merely a few days ago to fantasy owners in keeper leagues. That is, a top-tier prospect who isn't currently in the majors but should be soon enough and one who will make a major fantasy impact upon arrival or soon thereafter.

    While this list can apply to owners in re-draft leagues (i.e., 2014 season only) who could pick up one or more of these elite, nearly big league-ready prospects to help at some point this season, the focus here is keeper-format based. In other words, these prospects should be up at some point in 2014, but the bigger impact is likely to come in 2015.

    As such, owners in leagues where you can hang onto more than a few players heading into next season (say, five or more keepers), you should be paying close attention to these 10 hot-shot prospects for their inevitable call-ups and be ready to pounce sooner than later—if not now.

    After all, what fantasy owner wouldn't want to add a little future to the present?

     

    Statistics come from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, except where otherwise noted.

     

Already Up

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    The early front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year, Masahiro Tanaka might also be the best keeper for 2015 among the current crop of first-year players.
    The early front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year, Masahiro Tanaka might also be the best keeper for 2015 among the current crop of first-year players.Associated Press

    Because they're already in the majors, these rookie-eligible players aren't up for consideration, but they need to be owned in just about all leagues, especially keeper formats, where their value should only continue to rise going forward into 2015. Including them here is simply making sure they at least get a mention.

    Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees (pictured)

    Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox

    George Springer, OF, Houston Astros

    Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox

    Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds

    Yordano Ventura, SP, Kansas City Royals

    Nick Castellanos, OF, Detroit Tigers

    Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks

    Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals

    James Paxton, SP, Seattle Mariners 

Just Missed

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    The No. 2 overall pick in 2013, Kris Bryant could be ready for Wrigley Field by early 2015, if not sooner.
    The No. 2 overall pick in 2013, Kris Bryant could be ready for Wrigley Field by early 2015, if not sooner.Charles Rex Arbogast

    These prospects fell just shy for one reason or another, whether that's being a bit too far away from their MLB debut or being blocked on the depth chart at the moment or just not being quite as impactful for fantasy purposes as the 10 you're about to see.

    Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

    Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Kyle Zimmer, SP, Kansas City Royals

    Alex Meyer, SP, Minnesota Twins

    Andrew Heaney, SP, Miami Marlins

    Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies

    Matt Wisler, SP, San Diego Padres

    Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs

    Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

    Alexander Guerrero, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins

    Rafael Montero, SP, New York Mets

    Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians

No. 10: Marcus Stroman, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Gene J. Puskar

    2014 Statistics: 1 W, 1.17 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 21 K (15.1 IP)

    Current Level: Triple-A

    MLB Experience: No

    At 5'9", Marcus Stroman isn't a big guy, but he does have a big fastball that has gotten him to the highest level in the minors inside of two years after being drafted in the first round in 2012.

    The 22-year-old right-hander has posted some knockout numbers in reaching Triple-A for the first time in 2014 (3.08 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 10.6 K/9 for his career), and his initial few starts there have been even better: 15.1 IP, 12 H, 2 ER and a 21:6 K:BB.

    The Jays need all the pitching help they can get, and Stroman should be up to pitch in—whether in the rotation or bullpen—before the All-Star break. The biggest question surrounding Stroman is if he winds up as a reliever long-term due to his size. If so, he'll be a lights-out closer, but if not, he could be a strikeout-an-inning starter, and that's likely the route Toronto will take with him early on.

    5x5 Fantasy Category Contributions: ERA, WHIP, K

    Potential 2014 Fantasy Role: Streaming Starting Pitcher

    Potential 2015 Fantasy Role: Fourth Starting Pitcher

    Potential 2014 Rank: Top-50 Starting Pitcher

    ETA: June 2014

     

No. 9: Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros

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    Alex Brandon

    2014 Statistics: .349 BA, 17 R, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 0 SB (73 PA)

    Current Level: Triple-A 

    MLB Experience: No

    Jonathan Singleton can no longer call George Springer a teammate after the latter was promoted from Triple-A midweek. That might not be the case for long.

    Singleton, 22, is off to a fantastic start for Oklahoma City, hitting well over .300 with 13 extra-base hits—including six homers—in his first 15 games. That's coming off of a strong showing in winter ball, which helped him move on from a poor 2013 season in which Singleton was suspended, out of shape and underwhelming.

    The lefty slugger has enough pop to play at first base and does own a career .854 OPS in the minors, but given the depth of talent at his position, it's hard to see Singleton as more than a corner infielder or fill-in option at first base. Still, he's worth adding right now for some depth and production, because a call-up could happen at any time.

    5x5 Fantasy Category Contributions: HR, RBI

    Potential 2014 Fantasy Role: Corner Infielder/Utility/Reserve First Baseman

    Potential 2015 Fantasy Role: Corner Infielder/Utility/Reserve First Baseman

    Potential 2014 Rank: Top-20 First Baseman

    ETA: May 2014



No. 8: Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

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    Jeff Roberson

    2014 Statistics: N/A

    Current Level: High-A (Disabled List) 

    MLB Experience: No

    If this list were only about 2015, Byron Buxton would be several spots higher. But 2014 has to factor in, too, and a sprained wrist suffered in mid-March is expected to prevent the consensus top prospect in the entire sport from suiting up in Double-A before May, per Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com.

    The injury isn't considered serious, but the Twins are smartly choosing to be cautious with the 20-year-old phenom, who was the No. 2 overall pick in 2012 and went on to hit .334/.424/.520 with 109 runs, 12 homers, 77 RBI and 55 stolen bases in his first full pro season last year. 

    Provided Buxton makes it back in May and doesn't experience any furth health-related hiccups, he has the skills and savvy to make it to the majors for a late-season cameo. That would put him in position to earn an Opening Day job with Minnesota in 2015, which would make him just about everyone's pick for AL Rookie of the Year. 

     

    5x5 Fantasy Category Contributions: BA, R, SB

    Potential 2014 Fantasy Role: Reserve Outfielder

    Potential 2015 Fantasy Role: Third Starting Outfielder

    Potential 2014 Rank: Top-30 Outfielder

    ETA: September 2014



No. 7: Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs

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    Chris Carlson

    2014 Statistics: .154 BA, 4 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB (28 PA)

    Current Level: Triple-A (Disabled List) 

    MLB Experience: No

    Perhaps no prospect had a more impressive spring training than did Javier Baez, who smashed five home runs, all of which displayed his impressive bat-on-ball impactIn fact, the 21-year-old, who walloped 37 homers across High- and Double-A in 2013, came darn close to coming north with the Cubs, who ultimately decided to let him marinate in the minors for a bit more.

    The start of Baez's 2014 season has been slowed by a sprained ankle that has him on the DL currently, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Although it's a minor injury, the uber-aggressive Baez does need the reps both at the plate and in the field, especially since the shortstop was slated to see some action at second base, possibly as a way to get him to the majors sooner.

    The man with the most violent swing in baseball still has some wrinkles to iron out, so expect him to play no more than half the year in the majors, and it wouldn't be a complete shock if he spent all (or almost all) of 2014 in the minors. That's the only reason he's not in the top three on this list, because as a potential 30-homer shortstop or second baseman, Baez is going to be extremely valuable in fantasy.

    5x5 Fantasy Category Contributions: HR, RBI

    Potential 2014 Fantasy Role: Starting Middle Infielder/Reserve Shortstop

    Potential 2015 Fantasy Role: Starting Shortstop

    Potential 2014 Rank: Top-10 Shortstop

    ETA: July 2014



No. 6: Noah Syndergaard, SP, New York Mets

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    2014 Statistics: 2 W, 3.94 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 12 K (16.0 IP)

    Current Level: Triple-A 

    MLB Experience: No

    Standing 6'6" and weighing in at 240 pounds, Noah Syndergaard always has been a man among boys in the minors—and not only in the physical sense. Only 21, the hard-throwing right-hander also has stood out from the competition from a performance standpoint, as his career ERA (2.70), WHIP (1.12) and strikeout rate (9.9) prove.

    This season marks Syndergaard's first in Triple-A, and he shouldn't remain in hitter-haven Las Vegas all that long, as he's expected to follow the Matt Harvey-Zack Wheeler midseason promotion plan the Mets have used for their other two young righties the past two seasons.

    Once up, Syndergaard should produce immediately, and he'll get to take advantage of pitching in the NL, as well as in one of the more pitcher-friendly parks around.

    5x5 Fantasy Category Contributions: ERA, WHIP, K

    Potential 2014 Fantasy Role: Fifth Starting Pitcher

    Potential 2015 Fantasy Role: Fourth Starting Pitcher

    Potential 2014 Rank: Top-40 Starting Pitcher

    ETA: June 2014



No. 5: Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson

    2014 Statistics: .286 BA, 10 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB (60 PA)

    Current Level: Triple-A 

    MLB Experience: No

    Were it not for an ankle injury that wound up costing him all but 47 games in 2013 and requiring surgery, Oscar Taveras likely wouldn't be eligible for this list—he would have graduated to the majors by now.

    The 21-year-old is arguably the best natural hitter among all prospects, with an ability to make consistently hard contact and plate coverage that has been compared to former fantasy stud Vlad Guerrero. No wonder Taveras owns a career .318 average and .515 slugging percentage in his five-plus pro years.

    Aside from showing he's fully recovered from a mostly lost season, Taveras' other obstacle to becoming a starter in St. Louis is that there's no clear path for him to get PT at the moment. Still, these things tend to work themselves out, especially if Taveras hits like he has in past years. The left swinger's production potential while stationed in the heart of the Cardinals' deep lineup should have owners salivating.

    5x5 Fantasy Category Contributions: BA, R, HR, RBI

    Potential 2014 Fantasy Role: Fifth Starting Outfielder

    Potential 2015 Fantasy Role: Third Starting Outfielder

    Potential 2014 Rank: Top-30 Outfielder

    ETA: June 2014



No. 4: Kevin Gausman, SP, Baltimore Orioles

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    Carlos Osorio

    2014 Statistics: 0 W, 4.63 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, 11 K (11.2 IP)

    Current Level: Triple-A 

    MLB Experience: Yes (2013)

    Don't dare be turned off by Kevin Gausman's introduction to the majors last year when he posted a 5.66 ERA in all of 47.2 frames while shuffling between the rotation and bullpen. After all, not only did he arrive in The Show less than a year after signing as the No. 4 pick in 2012, Gausman also pitched better than his ERA, as his 3.99 FIP indicates.

    The 23-year-old right-hander possesses a mid-90s fastball and a wicked changeup to offset lefty hitters, along with an improving slider. It's the type of repertoire that could make him a true front-of-the-rotation horse in short order.

    Currently at Triple-A, where he's merely fine tuning and biding his time, Gausman is going to make an impact in 2014 for the Orioles—and fantasy owners—and it should happen sooner than later. From there, he's bound to just get better.

    5x5 Fantasy Category Contributions: W, ERA, WHIP, K

    Potential 2014 Fantasy Role: Fifth Starting Pitcher

    Potential 2015 Fantasy Role: Fourth Starting Pitcher

    Potential 2014 Rank: Top-40 Starting Pitcher

    ETA: May 2014

     

No. 3: Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners

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    Tony Gutierrez

    2014 Statistics: 1 W, 0.96 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 17 K (9.1 IP)

    Current Level: MLB (Disabled List) 

    MLB Experience: Yes (2013)

    Taijuan Walker was the toughest prospect to place on this list given that he just can't seem to shake right-shoulder trouble. The latest has him being shut down for about two weeks, the second such time since the start of spring training, and just when he appeared to be on the verge of making his 2014 Mariners debut, according to Adam Lewis of MLB.com.

    While the shoulder stiffness is worrisome, it's not yet necessarily a severe problem, so Walker could be back in the majors next month. When he's right, the 21-year-old deserves this ranking, as he's big league ready and has the stuff to get big leaguers out and the hurler-haven ballpark to help, too. Add it all up, and he's going to be a good one.

    Whether that can start happening any time soon, though, depends a lot on how Walker progresses over the next coupe of weeks. If things don't start heading in the right direction, he'll have to be bumped down.

    5x5 Fantasy Category Contributions: W, ERA, WHIP, K

    Potential 2014 Fantasy Role: Fourth Starting Pitcher

    Potential 2015 Fantasy Role: Third Starting Pitcher

    Potential 2014 Rank: Top-30 Starting Pitcher

    ETA: May 2014

No. 2: Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar

    2014 Statistics: .439 BA, 11 R, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB (61 PA)

    Current Level: Triple-A 

    MLB Experience: No

    The time is fast approaching for Gregory Polanco to start making his mark in Pittsburgh—and the fantasy landscape, too. The 22-year-old is off to a ridiculous start in his first real shot at Triple-A, hitting .439 (25-for-57) with seven extra-base knocks through 14 games, and it's now becoming a question of how much longer can the Pirates reasonably keep him down.

    Surely, the lefty-swinging, slick-fielding Polanco would be an immediate upgrade over the Travis Snider-Jose Tabata platoon in place, so the speculation is that Pittsburgh will bring Polanco up in late May or early June, once they project that he's surpassed the Super-Two deadline so as to avoid making him arbitration-eligible four times (instead of the usual three).

    Polanco has shown an exciting combination of contact, power, plate discipline and speed (he swiped 38 bases in 2013 after 40 in 2012). He could take off out of the gate, but even if he does struggle to adjust to big league pitching, Polanco will have his speed to fall back on to help fantasy owners. If that happens, expect a prorated version of Leonys Martin's 2013; but if it all comes together, Polanco could be the good version of Alex Rios (although with a much better approach at the dish in both cases).

    5x5 Fantasy Category Contributions: BA, R, SB

    Potential 2014 Fantasy Role: Fourth Starting Outfielder

    Potential 2015 Fantasy Role: Third Starting Outfielder

    Potential 2014 Rank: Top-30 Outfielder

    ETA: May 2014

     

No. 1: Archie Bradley, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Chris Carlson

    2014 Statistics: 1 W, 3.31 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 12 K (16.1 IP)

    Current Level: Triple-A 

    MLB Experience: No

    By the time he arrives this season, it might be too late for Archie Bradley to save the woeful Arizona Diamondabcks—but not too late for him to provide owners with a mid-rotation fantasy starter.

    Now 21, Bradley was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft, and since then he's arguably been the most dominant starter who's yet to make his major league debut. In his second full season, the right-hander put up a 1.84 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 9.6 K/9.

    Bradley made a strong push to earn his way into the D-backs five-man coming out of spring, but ultimately Arizona thought it best to pump the brakes and let Bradley hone his control and command, which is pretty much the only thing he has to work on. No doubt, he'll have some tough go's of it on nights when his ability to spot his stuff is off, but otherwise Bradley's mid-90s fastball and devastating curveball should make plenty of hitters look silly. And soon.

    Even if Bradley's home park isn't the easiest to pitch in, he still takes the top spot—for now—because he's in the non-DH NL, and because elite pitching prospects tend to have fewer challenges or hiccups than do hitters when it comes to out-of-the-gate performance.

    5x5 Fantasy Category Contributions: W, ERA, K

    Potential 2014 Fantasy Role: Fourth Starting Pitcher

    Potential 2015 Fantasy Role: Second Starting pitcher

    Potential 2014 Rank: Top-25 Starting Pitcher

    ETA: May 2014