Fantasy Baseball: Why trading away top-100 prospects can be a winning dynasty strategy
Fantasy managers love prospects. Regardless of the sport, people always go wild for them. Perhaps it is the unknown that they enjoy so much. Or maybe it is the dream that they will be the next Mike Trout or Greg Maddux. Is loading up on prospects a winning dynasty strategy? The answer to that question is often no. If you hit on every prospect it would work, but people forget the bust rate of even top prospects is high. Let us take a look at three years’ worth of MLB.com top prospects by Jonathan Mayo to see how they panned out.
Here is MLB.com’s list of top prospects for 2011. Seven years have passed since this list so every player should be in the majors for the prospects strategy to be working. Here is how it breaks down, though. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are one and two in this ranking. Both are what managers hope their top prospects become. The rest of the top five is Matt Moore (at 29 years old, Moore has a career 4.56 ERA and 1.413 WHIP), Julio Teheran (age 27 with a career 3.64 ERA and 1.195 WHIP), and Shelby Miller (had three fantasy-worthy seasons, but has a 6.35 ERA over the last three years). Digging in further, Jesus Montero and Jacob Turner were numbers six and seven. Neither player was worth rostering in a standard fantasy league at any point in their career. The top-50 also features Manny Banuelos (13, but logged 26.1 MLB innings total), Casey Kelly (14, but never more than a middle reliever), Jarrod Parker (17, but never played again after 2013), and numerous other players who never saw more than spot time in the MLB.
Here is MLB.com’s list of top prospects for 2012. Jurickson Profar grabbed the top spot in 2012. He is still only 25 years old but has a career .240 batting average with 32 HRs total over parts of five MLB seasons. There was a time when he could have easily been traded for a top-50 player in a dynasty league, and now it looks like he may never reach that status himself. The rest of the top five was Dylan Bundy, Wil Myers, Taijuan Walker, and Trevor Bauer. None of those players are going to be top picks this season. Bauer likely goes first just inside the top-50, and Myers is likely a top-100 pick. Not exactly standout production from top-five prospects, though. This list is once again littered with players who barely played in MLB at this point. Number eight prospect Danny Hultzen is 29 years old and has yet to log an MLB inning. Mike Olt had 400 career MLB plate appearances, and his last was in 2015. Bubba Starling was ranked 21st but has still yet to have an MLB at-bat.
Here is Mayo’s list for 2013. Byron Buxton holds down the number one spot in the rankings from 2013 to 2015. Buxton is by no means done in the majors and is still only 25 years old. That said, he has 1,074 career plate appearances. In that time, Buxton produced 28 HRs and 46 steals on a .230 batting average and .285 on-base. The top of the list has plenty of standouts this year, though. Francisco Lindor (5), Xander Bogaerts (6), Carlos Correa (8), Javier Baez (9), and Jameson Taillon (10) all made the top 10. Each figures to be a top 100 pick in 2019 drafts. Number two was Oscar Taveras who died suddenly in 2014 after just one MLB season. Miguel Sano checked in a number three, and he has yet to take off as a fantasy stud. Sano has been worth owning in spurts but hurt his owners last season by batting under .200 and logging just 266 at-bats. The 2013 list again features multiple players that have yet to even play in the majors and numerous others who have struggled when reaching the show.
Taking it further
The point is despite people getting hyped about these prospects, the bust rate is high. Especially for fantasy when just making the show and playing does not equal production. Here are three keys that fantasy managers should use when owning top prospects in dynasty
1. Trade them away after a hot season in the minors
In 2013, Byron Buxton hit .334 in the minors with 12 HRs and 55 SBs. In one of my dynasty leagues, his owner traded him for Jose Altuve who was a second-round pick in redraft leagues that season. Buxton was the top prospect in baseball, and Altuve was three years into his MLB career. The Astros second baseman hit five HRs with 35 steals in 2013. Obviously, it turned out to be a steal for the Altuve acquirer. Sure, sometimes a move like that will backfire but bet on a player who has proven they can hit MLB pitching over the top prospect. The further down the list the more likely I am to trade for any top 100 player in the redraft rankings.
2. Move on before their first MLB game
In my experience, most player’s value is the highest right before they make their MLB debut. People go wild for a hot young guy. As soon as he struggles, the value plummets. Think about Scott Kingery from last season. He was a consensus top-50 prospect and when word came out that he was making the team out of Spring Training fantasy managers were trying to acquire him without a second thought. Kingery hit .226 with eight HRs and 10 steals as a rookie and now is barely in the top-300 for 2019 redraft leagues. Always look to acquire someone established as a top 100 player for prospects outside the top 20. Aim higher for the cream of the crop, though. Top 10 prospects can often net a top 50 player. That is wise business every time except for the elite of the elite prospects.
3. Buy them back after struggling in the bigs
Going back to Kingery, acquire him right now in your dynasty leagues. He is still only 24 years old and has plenty of time to develop into a top 100 fantasy player. He can be had at a significant discount after struggling for an entire year in the big leagues. Buy low on the young talent. That can often net you a player with significant upside. Managers know that winning your league usually takes having a breakout player or two on your roster.
Tyler Watts is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Tyler, follow him @tylerpwatts.