Unheralded Dynasty Prospects to Target (Fantasy Baseball)
Like any real sports franchise, a fantasy manager must draft wisely to sustain success in dynasty leagues.
This process goes beyond the obvious names who will go early in prospect drafts. It will certainly help if Mackenzie Gore matures into the next Clayton Kershaw, but not every future star is a blue-chipper who receives the appropriate hype. The middle and late rounds can become a profitable goldmine for those who locate top talent before everyone else.
The definition of an unheralded prospect will vary by person. Those playing in a 12-team mixed league with a five-man farm need only worry about the elite options, so Keston Hiura could qualify. Yet, the typical dynasty league goes deeper. To have some guidelines, I did not consider anybody ranked on both MLB.com and Baseball America’s top 100. (I created a technicality to highlight a pitcher. Few hurlers outside of either top 100 are worth targeting in all but the deepest leagues.) That eliminates rising prospects like Monte Harrison, Heliot Ramos, Corbin Burnes, and Jon Duplantier, who may qualify as sleepers in some circles.
Beyond that, a buzzing player was not disqualified for growing popularity. Just know that those whose leagues roster over 100 prospects may have to dig deeper or draft these guys more aggressively. While one fairly polished hitter is overlooked because of his handedness, the others are youngsters worth grabbing a year early in case they catapult up minor league rankings in 2018.
Jhailyn Ortiz (OF – PHI)
The Phillies love their power-hitting prospects. So should dynasty managers. Rhys Hoskins arrived with a bang last summer, and fellow “Bash Brother” Dylan Cozens could join him this year. Jhailyn Ortiz will need much more time, but he could prove well worth the wait.
Last September, Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan told At The Yard’s Jim Salisbury (h/t NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Corey Seidman) that the 19-year-old has the highest raw ceiling among all the team’s young hitters.
“If you put every player in our system on a board and say every one of them gets to their potential, this guy would arguably be the best player,” Jordan said. “He has that kind of ability.”
Dynasty drafters will salivate over Ortiz’s 70-grade raw power that could one day yield a 40-homer slugger. Along with belting 16 home runs in 356 career minor league plate appearances, the 6’3″, 215-pound outfielder has stolen 13 bases in 16 attempts. He has the hit tool to generate enough contact. Just don’t count on him sustaining last year’s .302 batting average beyond Low-A.
This winter will be the last opportunity to stash Ortiz at a reasonable rate. Speculate on his immense power maturing before he smashes his way onto everyone’s radar.
Peter Alonso (1B – NYM)
Despite toiling in last summer’s MLB debut, Dominic Smith should not lose significant playing time to a washed-up Adrian Gonzalez. If the Mets’s young first baseman does not perform in 2018, he will have to watch out for Peter Alonso.
Although drafted three years later, Alonso is over a year older than Smith. He did not blossom into a significant prospect until torching college pitchers in his junior year at Florida, and he hasn’t slowed down in New York’s farm system. In 516 career plate appearances, the 23-year-old righty has hit .297/.364/.539 with 23 homers and an 18.0 strikeout percentage.
He now must prove his raw power will translate against Double-A and Triple-A opponents before pushing for Smith’s spot. As a right-handed first baseman, he also must make substantial defensive improvements before anyone can trust him as a future fixture. These holes have made him seemingly invisible in prospect rankings (real and fantasy alike) despite difference-making pop.
Not every prospect pick needs to be an unpolished teenager with a sky-high ceiling. Alonso doesn’t offer the same excitement, but he’s a dirt cheap power play whom investors could quickly discard if he stumbles within the next year or two.
Akil Baddoo (OF – MIN)
It might be a tad early to hop aboard the Akil Baddoo bandwagon. After all, the undersized outfielder turned 19 in August and has yet to play above Rookie ball. There’s a reason he’s not a top-100 prospect yet, but don’t be surprised if that changes by midseason.
In 53 games with two different Rookie leagues, Baddoo batted .323/.436/.527. The speedster swiped nine bags, and even flaunted more power than anticipated with 19 doubles, five triples, and four homers. Even at a low level, it’s impressive for a teenager to draw more walks (36) than strikeouts (32).
Anyone who has begun drafting has witnessed speed’s growing demand. Burners with a strong hit tool and commendable plate discipline have become as scarce as water in a desert, so Baddoo’s skills could one day translate to fantasy stardom. Dynasty managers with deep farm systems should take a late-round flier before the hype grows out of hand.
Jesus Luzardo (SP – OAK)
Jesus Luzardo is especially gaining steam in fantasy circles, so don’t expect him to fall in competitive, high-skilled leagues. He went two picks before Hunter Greene in the Rotowire Dynasty Invitational draft, but he should come at a more reasonable cost among non-industry groups.
Acquired from Washington in the midseason trade for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, the 6’1″, 205-pound southpaw notched a 1.66 ERA, 48 strikeouts, and five walks in his first 43.1 professional innings. He did that all as a 19-year-old returning from Tommy John surgery, which pushed him down to the third round of 2016’s amateur draft.
Ken Rosenthal, now writing for The Athletic, said after the July deal that the Athletics view Luzardo as a younger Gio Gonzalez, whom it shipped to Washington in 2011. Based on his microscopic walk rate through a dozen professional outings, that comparison might sell his upside short.
Drafting any young pitcher is in itself a risky endeavor. A past surgery and small sample size magnify that uncertainty, so don’t reach high in the early rounds of an offseason draft. At the right cost, he’s an ideal high-ceiling gamble capable of shooting up prospect lists this year.
Brandon Marsh (OF – LAA)
Google will assume you got distracted while searching for Brandon Marshall. I’d be lying if I said my first impression of Brandon Marsh wasn’t “Brandon Darsh is more like it.” But after completing that inquiry and spending an hour or two watching South Park, you’ll find an intriguing neophyte who deserves your attention.
Although a back injury delayed the 2016 second-round pick’s debut, he made up for lost time by hitting .350 with five triples, four homers and 10 steals in 39 Rookie League games. While the Angels already have a pretty good center fielder in Mike Trout, the 6’4″, 210-pound Marsh has the athleticism to play up the middle if needed. The 20-year-old is at least two or three years away anyway.
With only a small, low-level sample size under his belt, Marsh remains a highly volatile prospect with a wide range of outcomes. There’s certainly bust potential if more advanced pitchers exploit his aggressive approach, but there’s also massive five-category upside. He’s not going to cost premium draft capital, so shooting for the stars won’t hurt if he falls short. Plenty of prospects will disappoint, so invest in his immense power and speed skills.