Prospects to Acquire in Dynasty Leagues (Fantasy Baseball 2020)
As we get closer to pitchers and catchers reporting, most dynasty baseball leagues are preparing to hold their drafts. If you’re in an established dynasty league, your draft will include developmental players taken by MLB teams in last year’s First-Year Players Draft. For start-up dynasty leagues, you’ll want to build for the future by identifying which top prospects to target and stash after you draft your core of big-league talent.
If you’re preparing for a startup draft, my advice with prospects is simple: prioritize hitters over pitchers, specifically outfielders. Outfielders are athletic, and they tend to age much better than lumbering corner infielders. Middle infielders sometimes get shifted to the outfield as well. This doesn’t mean you should ignore top pitching prospects like Mackenzie Gore or middle infield phenoms like Wander Franco. It just means you want to assemble a team that’s built to last.
If you’re joining a startup dynasty league, here are seven hitters to consider:
- Wander Franco
- Luis Robert
- Julio Rodriguez
- Jarred Kelenic
- Dylan Carlson
- Adley Rutschman
- Marco Luciano
Franco is the top prospect in all of baseball; that’s what happens when you post a .885 OPS through A-ball as an 18-year-old. Rodriguez and Luciano look like studs in the making, and while each could be the next Franco, both just turned 18 years old and aren’t quite as polished as Franco is at this young of an age. Regardless, each possesses arguably some of the biggest upside of all prospects in the minor leagues right now.
The catcher position experienced a rebound last year, but it’s been a fantasy wasteland for years. Rutschman, the 2019 first overall pick, is the best catching prospect since Buster Posey, and you likely wouldn’t have to think about the position for close to the next decade once he gets called up. However, catchers often take more time in the minors as they learn the nuances of calling an MLB game and managing a staff of big-league veterans.
Shifting the focus to prospects who should reach the big leagues sooner, Robert posted a 30/30 season across three levels in the minors last year, and he may open the year starting in the outfield for the White Sox out of camp. The Cardinals have a history of producing hitting prospects, and Carlson is the latest as a 20-year-old who slashed .292/.372/.542 with 26 home runs and 20 steals between Double-A and Triple-A last year. He might also make the big league team out of Spring Training. Kelenic should find himself flashing his own brand of power and speed in Seattle’s outfield by 2021 at the latest if his stock holds.
There are others to consider as well, like Jo Adell, a dynamic, five-tool athlete who figures to man right field opposite Mike Trout in Los Angeles before long. The aforementioned list represents some elite hitting talents to consider as you build for the future.
On the pitching side, Mackenzie Gore has emerged as the top pitching prospect in baseball. However, this time last year, Forrest Whitley was widely considered the best arm in the minors, and some even labeled him as a “can’t miss” prospect. Well, Whitley posted a putrid 7.99 ERA across four levels last year, showing poor command despite high velocity. Other former top arms like Michael Kopech, Brent Honeywell, and Hunter Greene have fallen victim to Tommy John surgery. The point here is that investing too much draft capital in prospect pitchers comes with risk and while it’s cheaper to find the next Stephen Strasburg before he hits the majors, identifying who that will be has become increasingly more difficult in today’s hitter-friendly game.
All that being said, Gore is a former number three overall pick who flashed dominating potential in the lower minors. He struggled a bit in Double-A (4.15 ERA), largely due to a spike in HR/9 (1.25 after never registering an HR/9 over 0.74). The 10.38 K/9 portends electric stuff though, and Chris Paddack’s success suggests Gore has a chance to rise quickly through San Diego’s system.
Other arms to consider are Toronto’s Nate Pearson (119/27 K/BB rate across three levels in 2019), Jesus Luzardo (last year’s pitching prospect darling who nearly made the A’s rotation out of camp if not for injuries), and the Dodgers’ Dustin May, whose 3.63 ERA and back and forth shuttling between the rotation and bullpen last year mask elite stuff, as evidenced by a 32/5 K/BB.
If you’re a seasoned dynasty player, then most of the names above are almost certainly taken in your leagues. If not, jump up and pick them up immediately. More likely, you need to dig a little deeper to unearth some gems and identify prospects who have a good chance to greatly improve their stock this year.
Here are ten names that might be available on waivers or via trade. Some of these players shot up prospect lists last year but aren’t quite as heralded yet, while others took steps backward in 2019 and may represent prime buy-low targets. Furthermore, some of these players are 2019 First-Year rookies who make prime targets in the first few rounds of established dynasty league rookie drafts. For start-up dynasty leagues, the list below should also be added into consideration with the aforementioned names, since all of them will be available in start-up drafts.
1) Alex Kirilloff (OF – MIN)
In 2018, Kirilloff posted an average wRC+ of 172 across Single-A and High-A. For reference, weighted runs created (wRC) quantify a player’s total offensive value and measures it by runs. wRC+ takes into account park factors and era, with 100 being league average. Kirilloff generated 72% more runs than a league-average hitter. He was universally regarded as a top-20 prospect, with some outlets even calling him a top-12 hitter coming into 2019. Many folks will see a drop in wOBA (.431 in 2018 to .347 in 2019) and assume Kirilloff’s star has already begun to fade after he seemed to struggle in his Double-A debut. However, a wrist injury sapped some of his power last year, causing the dip in production. He still hit .283/.343/.413 last year despite the injury and advanced level. There may never be a better chance to buy-low on a top prospect with an elite hit tool.
2) Luis Patino (SP – SD)
Patino often gets overlooked with Chris Paddack and Mackenzie Gore dominating the prospect pitching airwaves in San Diego. However, Patino possesses elite velocity, and he posted a 123/38 K/BB with an ERA under 2.60 across High-A and Double-A. It’s not inconceivable that we could be talking about Patino as the best pitching prospect in the National League, if not all of baseball, in another year or so.
3) Vidal Brujan (2B – TB)
Brujan will never be viewed as the crown jewel of a loaded Tampa Bay Rays farm system with Wander Franco also playing in the middle of the infield, but Brujan has the skills that could make him a fantasy star – namely, pure speed and the ability to get on base. He posted a healthy .346 OBP across High-A and Double-A last year, but more importantly, Brujan stole 48 bases. In an era where power dominates and speed has become increasingly rare, Brujan has the skillset that may make him the next Jonathan Villar at the next level if the power develops.
4) Taylor Trammell (OF – SD)
Trammell was the prized Reds prospect San Diego acquired in the seven-player blockbuster deal with the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. Trammell lit up Rookie League the year he was drafted, hitting .303 with a .374 OBP and 24 stolen bases. The power came the next year at Single-A when he clubbed 13 home runs to go along with 41 stolen bases in 129 games. He maintained a .375 OBP in High-A, stealing another 25 bases in fewer games. Trammell seemed to hit a roadblock in Double-A, slashing .234/.340/.349 and striking out more often against advanced pitching. However, he still hit 10 home runs and stole 20 bases, proving the modest power and top-flight speed potential remains. He still has the dynamic athleticism to be an impact player with elite speed, and it’s easy to wonder if the Padres see the stud in Trammell that they once hoped Manuel Margot would be.
5) Jasson Dominguez (OF – NYY)
You’re going to hear a lot of buzz about Dominguez, the Yankees’ prized international signing last year. He’s that raw prospect with plutonium grade, five-tool skill that makes scouts and dynasty league owners drool. That being said, this kid is just 16-years-old, and while he may emerge as the game’s best prospect in two years, he could also flame out well before then. What can’t be disputed is that the Yankees viewed him highly enough to ink him with a franchise-record $5 million signing bonus, and his nickname is “The Martian” for his seemingly otherworldly talents. If you have the 1.01 pick in your dynasty rookie draft this spring, he’s in the mix for the top overall pick. There are safer picks, but arguably no bigger upside.
6) Andrew Vaughn (1B – CWS)
Building off what I wrote about Dominguez above, Vaughn profiles as that safer 1.01 pick. In his pro debut, the White Sox first baseman of the future walked nearly as much as he struck out, and he posted a .813 OPS. He has immense power and plate discipline. As deep as first base may seem this year at the big league level, it’s usually flooded with high power, low OBP guys who strike out a ton. Vaughn has the skillset to one day be considered the best in the game at his position.
7) Bobby Witt Jr. (SS – KC)
Many will tout San Diego’s CJ Abrams as the best shortstop in this class, and it’s hard to argue that assertion after Abrams hit .401/.442/.662 in rookie ball, with blazing speed that allowed him to steal 14 bases in just 32 games. However, the Royals had the chance to draft Abrams’ hit tool and speed at number two overall, and they took Witt Jr. instead. For fantasy purposes, Witt Jr. has elite power potential and better-than-average speed as well, making him a less dynamic, but more well-rounded prospect. If Abrams’ impressive slash line causes Witt Jr. to fall, he’s an excellent shortstop prospect who carries top-five potential at his position long term.
8) Adley Rutschman (C – BAL)
I mentioned Rutschman above as someone to target in dynasty startup leagues, but even for established dynasty leagues, Rutschman is a top target in rookie drafts this year. Having a generational talent with power and an elite hit tool at catcher keeps you from having to play waiver roulette at the position every year. Behind Andrew Vaughn, Rutschman might be the safest pick atop rookie drafts this year. We may one day see Rutschman and top Baltimore pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez form one of the better batteries in baseball.
9) Hunter Bishop (OF – SF)
If you’re picking towards the back of your rookie draft, one player that might slip due to contact issues and a high K-rate might be Hunter Bishop. If he does, he’s the perfect upside pick given his power/speed combo in San Francisco’s outfield. Giants President of Baseball Operations (and former Dodgers GM), Farhan Zaidi, has shifted the team philosophy towards stronger on-base skills, and Bishop posted a .438 OBP during his stint in rookie ball. He seemed to sacrifice some power in the process, which may cause his stock to slip some. However, he has a fantasy-friendly skillset (grades of 50 or above in all five categories) that makes it hard to imagine Zaidi wasn’t thinking about Cody Bellinger when the Giants took Bishop with the 10th overall pick last year.
10) George Kirby (SP – SEA)
Kirby may be the best pitching prospect from the 2019 class. Consider that he didn’t walk a single batter in his pro debut, striking out 25 across 23 innings pitched. He has good size (6’4″, 200 lbs) which should lead to a durable frame. Already 21 years-old with a plus fastball and curve, expect Kirby to be fast-tracked to the majors, joining the next wave of Mariners prospects changing the culture in Seattle.