Prospects to Draft and Stash (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Baseball fans and fantasy gamers have been treated to otherworldly young talent in recent years, and another prospect prodigy’s debut is on the horizon. Even the most hyped prospects sometimes suffer hiccups in their adjustment to MLB, but some of the game’s brightest young talent can also help push fantasy squads to championship glory. The elephant in the room headlines the most stash-worthy prospects listed below, and his ADP is inside the top 50. The next highest ADP among the prospects touted as stash options checks in at 130.3. The other suggested prospects have an ADP north of 210.
One notable prospect who isn’t included below is Fernando Tatis Jr. He’s prospect gold in dynasty and keeper formats, but I’m skeptical of his value in standard re-draft leagues. He has a ton of talent, but his 27.7 K% in 394 plate appearances at the Double-A level is a little troubling when projecting success right out of the chute. Furthermore, while there’s excitement in San Diego due to the signing of Manny Machado, the Padres are a long shot to contend for even the second Wild Card spot. They don’t need to rush their prized prospect.
As for the players listed in this piece, their stash worthiness is largely dependent on your league’s settings. Deeper benches are more conducive to stashing prospects. That should be obvious. What might be less obvious is that a league with restrictive move limits is less conducive to rostering prospects. Restrictive move limits make it difficult to stream around a prospect eating zeros while opening the year in the minors. Another consideration is innings pitched limits in roto leagues. The higher the innings limits (or complete lack of an innings ceiling), the less appealing it is to stash prospect pitchers due to bypassing the innings, strikeouts, and wins that can accompany the sheer volume of churning through pitchers. The lower the innings limit, the more appealing it is to stash a young arm since quality should be the focal point.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR – 3B) – 43.8 ADP
Guerrero is the top prospect in baseball, and he’s easily the top prospect in fantasy baseball, too. His bat is special. He spent his age-19 season annihilating minor-league pitching. In 266 plate appearances at the Double-A level, he smacked 14 homers with a 7.9 BB%, 10.2 K%, and .402/.449/.671 slash. In 128 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, he knocked pitchers around for a .336/.414./.564 line with six homers, an 11.7 BB%, and 7.8 K%. Despite his excellence and clear readiness for the bigs, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is already spinning the service time manipulation malarkey. As was the case with Kris Bryant a few years ago, whatever nonsense Toronto suggests is preventing Guerrero from being big-league ready will miraculously be corrected roughly exactly when the Blue Jays gain another year of team control. Guerrero shouldn’t be a candidate for this piece, as he should be a shoo-in to break camp on the Blue Jays, but that’s simply not how things work in MLB. The young third baseman cracks my top-10 options at third base, and his top-50 ADP is defensible.
Nick Senzel (CIN – 3B) – 215.0 ADP
The infield is locked down with Eugenio Suarez at the hot corner, Jose Peraza at shortstop, and Scooter Gennett at the keystone. Due to the talent ahead of him on the depth chart in the infield, Senzel is working in center field this spring. There’s optimism about him handling the position, and he could possibly break camp as the team’s center fielder on Opening Day. The position change does, however, give the Reds a viable excuse to send him to the minors to open the year, even if they’re merely manipulating his service time. The 23-year-old prospect missed significant time last year first because of vertigo, and then later because of a fractured finger that required surgery. The health/injury issues limited him to only 193 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, but he made the most of them by hitting six homers, stealing eight bases, and slashing .310/.378/.509 with a 9.8 BB% and 20.2 K%. Senzel’s bat is his calling card, and he’s a career .314/.390/.513 hitter in 990 plate appearances in the minors, per Baseball-Reference. Senzel backs his plus hitting skills with average to slightly better power and speed. His punch will be aided by his homer-friendly home digs.
Josh James (HOU – SP) – 224.8 ADP
How big of a believer in James am I? Prior to spring training, James ranked as my SP29 with the belief he’d capture a rotation spot and break camp with the parent club. I’ve since dropped him outside of my top-50 starting pitchers because of a quad injury that’s removed him from “the mix” and has taken him “out of the conversation” for the team’s fifth rotation spot. It’s possible James makes the club in the bullpen, but it’s also possible the Astros stretch him out when he’s healthy at the Triple-A level. The hard-throwing righty was a pop-up prospect last year after adding a few ticks to his heater. You can read a little bit about James’ breakout in John Sickels’ piece from last June, but the reason I linked to it was specifically to point out James crediting a diagnosis of sleep apnea and the usage of a CPAP machine for helping his breakout.
His 2018 breakout resulted in an ascension to the parent club, and in 23.0 innings across six appearances (three starts), he twirled a 2.35 ERA (3.51 FIP, 3.46 xFIP, and 3.00 SIERA as well as a 3.20 DRA, according to Baseball Prospectus), 0.96 WHIP, 7.7 BB%, 31.9 K%, and 14.3 SwStr%. His swinging-strike rate in the show was identical to his mark in 17 starts spanning 92.2 innings at Triple-A last year. The biggest knock on James is below-average control, as he walked 10.3% of the hitters faced in Triple-A after sporting a 10.8 BB% in 21.2 Double-A innings last season. The walk rates aren’t awful, though, and his swing-and-miss stuff helps offset the concerns. I’ll be heavily exposed to James and his electric stuff in re-draft leagues, and his ADP should drop due to the quad injury, making him an even lower-risk investment.
Jesus Luzardo (OAK – SP) – 229.0 ADP
Luzardo reached Triple-A for four starts to cap off his age 20-season. The lefty is knocking on the doorstep of the bigs, and FanGraphs’ depth charts projects him for the fourth-most innings (111.0) pitched for the A’s this year. Luzardo coughed up eight earned runs in just three innings pitched in his final start of last year, and that helps fuel an ugly 7.31 ERA in four starts spanning 16.0 innings at that level. He coaxed a 14.1 SwStr% in Triple-A after recording a robust 13.5 SwStr% in 16 starts spanning 78.2 innings at the Double-A level to open 2018. At Double-A, he dominated hitters en route to a 2.29 ERA (2.89 FIP, 3.19 xFIP, and 3.40 DRA), 0.97 WHIP, 5.8 BB%, and 27.7 K%.
He ranks 27th on FanGraphs’ top-100 prospect list, 13th at Baseball Prospectus, and 12th at MLB Pipeline. The scouting reports for his stuff and control are predictably favorable given his high ranking on prospect lists and excellent numbers at the Double-A level last year, and MLB Pipeline also lauded his mound presence and polish. The A’s haven’t been shy about promoting young starters when they deem them ready-fellow lefty and former highly touted prospect Sean Manaea reached the parent club at the end of April in his rookie season back in 2016. I’m optimistic about Luzardo’s odds of making 20 or more starts for the A’s this year. When he reaches the majors, he’ll call his new home a pitcher-friendly park (0.921 park factor for runs) that’s one of MLB’s toughest in which to hit taters.
Peter Alonso (NYM – 1B) – 241.3 ADP
Colleague Bobby Sylvester recently boldly predicted Alonso would force the Mets’ hand and break camp with the parent club, and it’s possible that’s the case. I’m a skeptic, though, entirely because of the monetary incentive to delay starting the service time clock. The right-handed slugging first baseman is already doing his part to say them, though, having slugged a dinger right out of the gate this spring. Alonso’s bat is his carrying tool as a first base prospect who’s probably better suited for designated hitter duties.
The good news is that offense is what matters in our world of fake baseball. Alonso mashed at the Double-A level, hitting .314/.440/.573 with 15 homers, a 15.8 BB%, 18.3 K%, and 180 wRC+ in 273 plate appearances at that level last year. He continued to mash in 301 plate appearances at the Triple-A level last year, but his strikeout rate ballooned to 25.9% and torpedoed his average to .260. He continued to walk at a high rate (11.0%), and that helped him post a strong .355 OBP. He also kicked up his power, belting 21 homers with a .326 ISO (.259 ISO in Double-A). The end result was an outstanding 139 wRC+.
He’ll likely be a batting average liability in fantasy leagues, but projection models differ on the extent with Steamer estimating a .241 average and THE BAT projecting .222. The right-handed hitter’s patience makes him more valuable in non-traditional scoring formats that use OBP instead of AVG. His greatest asset will be his ability to hit for power, but Citi Field’s right-handed park factor for homers is 0.988. I’d bypass stashing Alonso in 12-team, re-draft mixed leagues unless the benches are deep. He’s a fine stash in 14-team mixed leagues and NL-only formats, though.