Last year, Fernando Tatis Jr. broke camp with the Padres in his age-20 season and lit MLB on fire despite having fewer than 500 plate appearances at the Double-A level and never playing in a Triple-A game. I was bearish on his outlook because of his high strikeout rate, young age, and skepticism the Friars would start the season with him on their roster. In short, I was wrong. The biggest takeaway from my error is that sometimes supremely talented youngsters can blow their projections and estimated times of arrival out of the water. I was already aware of that, but last year was a fresh reminder. I’m applying that reminder right off the bat on the list below by including arguably the best prospect in baseball despite the deck being stacked against him reaching “The Show” this year. The list isn’t overflowing with likely major difference makers in 2020, but there are some probable helpers and glue guys as well as a high-end prospect headlining the list.
5 – Wander Franco (TB)
I won’t spend too much time on Franco, because, frankly, he’s a long shot to play in the majors this year. Having said that, he ranked as the top prospect on MLB Pipeline’s final 2019 top prospect list, FanGraphs’ final 2019 prospect list, and Baseball Prospectus’s 2019 midseason top-50 prospect list. His hitting potential is elite, and he’s already putting on a hitting clinic in the minors — albeit the low minors thus far.
He split his 2019 between Single-A and High-A, and he hit .327/.398/.487 with nine homers, a 11.3 BB%, 7.1 K%, and 156 wRC+ in 495 plate appearances, per FanGraphs. His knowledge of the strike zone, patience, and contact skills are downright silly. And, while his over the fence power is still something that he’s growing into, he ripped 27 doubles and seven triples to go with his nine dingers. His grade on his hit tool ranges from plus to plus-plus, and his power grade across reputable outlets is a plus, too.
If Franco sees time on the Rays this year, it means he so thoroughly dominated the minors that they had no choice but call him up. In that case, he’s a must-add in fantasy leagues who could pay dividends, namely in fantasy playoff time in head-to-head formats. While it’s unlikely and there isn’t a perfect comp for a similar situation for the soon-to-be 19-year old shortstop, Carlos Correa’s debut season at age 21 comes to mind. Correa made his debut in the upper minors that year after ranking in High-A the year before, and he dismantled Double-A and Triple-A pitching before making a seamless transition to the bigs for 432 plate appearances. Again, that’s not a perfect comp (Correa was two years older that year than Franco will be this year, after all). Regardless, Franco’s precocious abilities warrant at least a shout out at the bottom of this list.
4 – Jazz Chisholm (MIA)
The Marlins made a prospect-for-prospect swap with the Diamondbacks last year. They received Chisholm in return for Zac Gallen. Gallen had already impressed in his debut with his former club, but they weren’t dissuaded from dealing him for a volatile prospect with a low floor and high ceiling.
Chisholm spent the entire 2019 season at the Double-A level and fully displayed the good and the bad. He ripped 21 homers and stole 16 bases in 112 games and 458 plate appearances with his previous organization and current one. Chisholm also struck out in an alarming 32.1% of his plate appearances, dragging his batting average down to .220. He did show off previously unseen patience working a walk in 11.4% of his plate appearances, but he’ll need to whittle down his strikeout rate to avoid getting picked apart by big-league pitchers.
On the plus side, he did cut his strikeout rate down to a palatable 25.5% in 94 plate appearances with the Marlins. Perhaps his new organization has already implemented changes to help him make an acceptable amount of contact to allow his power and speed play, but 94 plate appearances is too small a sample to make a definitive statement. If his improved strikeout rate with the Marlins to cap last year is a sign of things to come in 2020, though, he could reach the bigs over the summer and put his fantasy-friendly power/speed combo to good use on fantasy teams. Of note for Chisholm’s power, he does a fantastic job of avoiding worm burners with only a 32.6 GB% in 364 plate appearances in Arizona’s organization and a 25.0 GB% in 94 plate appearances in Miami’s organization. Further, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs shared eye-catching exit velocity and launch angle numbers in the write-up of their top-ranked prospect for the Marlins. Chisholm isn’t someone to prioritize stashing since he could spend the entire 2020 season in the minors fine-tuning his contact skills, but he’s someone to monitor who could reach the bigs over the summer and play his way onto rosters as shallow as 12-team mixers.
3 – Mauricio Dubon (SF)
First, let me start by acknowledging a screw up on my part. Dubon should have been included on the second base list, and he would have ranked fifth there. The goof is especially embarrassing since I’m a Giants fan, but my mistake is your gain in the form of the extra write-up for Andy Young. Getting back to Dubon, he played 22 games at second base for the Giants and 10 at shortstop for them, so he should be eligible at both positions at some fantasy providers. He also spent much more time at shortstop in the minors than second base, making his inclusion here all the more acceptable. Having said that, he sits atop San Francisco’s depth chart at second base while also being listed as the primary backup at shortstop to Brandon Crawford.
His standing as the favorite to start at second base helps fuel his ranking on this list. Steamer projects him to play 136 games and tally 556 plate appearances this year. A full-time gig enhances his counting stats potential. As for his skills, he’s a well-rounded contributor who Steamer projects to his 14 homers, steal 13 bases, and slash .266/.305/.403. Judging by his scouting grades and work in the minors, the average feels light while the stolen base projection is more of a mystery.
Eric Longhenhagen and Kiley McDaniel graded his current hit tool as a 55 with a 60 future grade on their list of top Giants prospects, and MLB Pipeline gave his hit tool a 55 in their last updated scouting report from last year. In 539 plate appearances at the Triple-A level last year for the Brewers and Giants organizations combined, he hit .302/.345/.477 with a 5.2 BB%, 12.6 K%, 20 homers, 10 stolen bases, and a 97 wRC+. The wRC+ indicates his glowing slash line was aided by hitter-friendly conditions, and his 10 stolen bases were accompanied by getting caught stealing eight times.
In the linked write-up from Longenhagen and McDaniel, they noted his home-to-first times were down in a return from a 2018 ACL injury. Perhaps another year removed from the injury will help his plus speed return, but his run grade at FanGraphs is only average at 50, and it’s a smidge better than that as a 55 at MLB Pipeline. For what it’s worth, he did steal three bases in four attempts in 30 games in the majors last year, so he should at least chip in even if last year’s run tool is what he has going forward. Dubon isn’t a flashy prospect dripping with tools, but he’s a solid glue guy who’s being underrated with an ADP of approximately 370 in Fantrax leagues. He’s worth a look as a middle infield option in 14-team mixers or deeper leagues, and he could play his way into 12-team mixer usefulness.
2 – Nico Hoerner (CHC)
Hoerner wasted little time in the minors before reaching “The Show” last season. He was a first-round pick of the Cubs in the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft, and he spent most of his first full season in the organization at the Double-A level. In 294 plate appearances at that level, he hit .284/.344/.399 with three homers, eight stolen bases, a 7.1 BB%, 10.5 K%, and 117 wRC+. In 82 plate appearances with the Cubs, he didn’t embarrass himself hitting .282/.305/.436 with three homers, a 3.7 BB%, 13.4 K%, and 86 wRC+.
As his low strikeout rates suggest, he has excellent bat-to-ball skills. MLB Pipeline grades his hit tool as a 60, and, despite his modest homer output, they grade his power just a wee bit below average at a 45. They also grade his speed as a smidge above average at a 55. His aggressive assignment and promotion to the bigs last year should be factored in when evaluating his numbers, and his scouting grades suggest he’s a solidly useful fantasy option up the middle. Like Dubon, he should be a multi-position eligible option, too. Last year, he played 17 games at shortstop filling in for an injured Javier Baez, played one game at second, and played one game in center. He saw time at each of those spots in the minors, too, and he’s currently listed atop the depth chart at second base for the Cubs. Tied to a better offense, in a better ballpark, and with slightly better tools grades than Dubon, he edges San Francisco’s middle infielder out for the second spot on this list. He’s also being selected just a little earlier in Fantrax leagues with an ADP of approximately 337, but he’s also a bit underrated — albeit less so than Dubon.
1 – Carter Kieboom (WAS)
Kieboom was an easy pick for the top spot, and his outlook is all the rosier with the Nationals losing out on free agent Josh Donaldson, who signed with the Twins. Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, and Howie Kendrick are all veteran options of various skill levels who have experience at second base and the hot corner, but none are the caliber of player Donaldson is. If the Nationals had signed Donaldson, he would have been locked in at third base with the trio of listed veterans all battling with Kieboom for playing time at second base. Instead, they’ll collectively compete for playing time at second base and third base, presumably, and Kieboom’s ceiling is the highest of the bunch.
The 22-year-old prospect has steadily climbed the minor-league ladder, and — with the exception of a cup of coffee for the Nationals in which he struggled — spent last year raking at the Triple-A level. In 494 plate appearances, he hit .303/.409/.493 with 16 homers, five stolen bases, a 13.8 BB%, 20.2 K%, and 123 wRC+. All 10 games Kieboom played for the Nationals last year were at shortstop, hence his inclusion on this list. In addition to playing 62 games at shortstop in the minors last year, though, he also played 10 at third base and 41 at second base. His limited playing time at the hot corner, as well as the presence of adequate veterans to hold down the fort on the parent club, gives the team a reasonable excuse (even if it is truly just an excuse and not reality) to send Kieboom back to the minors to open the year while delaying his service time.
As for his stick, however, he has nothing left to prove in the minors and should soon be tasked with making the adjustment to facing big-league pitching. In 43 plate appearances for the Nationals last year, he slugged two homers, but he also hit a paltry .128/.209/.282 with a 9.3 BB%, and 37.2 K%. The strikeout rate is eye-catching for bad reasons, but it’s not indicative of a youngster who was free-swinging or struggled to make contact. On the contrary, his 24.2 O-Swing% was well below the league average of 31.6%, and ditto for his 9.3 SwStr% compared to 11.1% for the league average in 2019. His high strikeout rate appears to have clearly been a case of being too passive when digging into his plate discipline numbers.
Longhenhagen and McDaniel rank Kieboom as the top prospect in the Nationals system with current grades of 45 hit, 45 game power, and 40 run and future grades of 55 hit, 55 game power, and 40 run. They also say, “Kieboom projects as a middle of the order bat with All-Star talent.” MLB Pipeline has even more impressive tools grades of 60 hit, 55 power, and 50 run for Kieboom. The prospect infielder has an ADP of approximately 299 in Fantrax leagues, but he’s the kind of lotto ticket I’d gladly pop around pick 250 or a tiny bit earlier depending on team composition at that point.
Read more about fantasy baseball’s top prospects:
- Top 5 Prospects at Catcher
- Top 5 Prospects at Outfielder
- Top 5 Prospects at First Base
- Top 5 Prospects at Second Base