For anyone who listened to “Leading Off” back in the summer of 2019, you might remember me as the behind-the-scenes producer constantly nagging Dan Harris to give more air time to discussing prospects (speaking of the show, more to come on a potential return in the near future). Since then, my fantasy baseball brand has more or less centered around being aggressive on prospects, especially in redraft leagues. In fact, this past month I debuted my first ever Top 100 Prospects List!
It’s my belief that, even in redraft leagues, top prospects can appreciate in value. What I mean by this is that there is zero risk to using a late-round selection on high-end prospects or adding them off the waiver wire as soon as they’re called up. They have the potential to far out-produce their cost, similar to a lowly penny stock suddenly trading at a much higher price-per-share.
Over the past few seasons we’ve seen players such as Cody Bellinger, Ronald Acuña, Yordan Alvarez, Pete Alonso, etc. all make major fantasy impacts as rookies. But what made those acquisitions so special for fantasy mangers? The cost. These players produced like early-round studs but were acquired for pennies on the dollar. While not every prospect is going to work out, I strongly advise being proactive and being the person in your league to scoop them up. Due to the minimal cost of acquisition, if it doesn’t work out, you simply drop them and keep searching for high-upside players to stash. Onto the list!
Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced is using FantasyPros consensus ADP
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Wander Franco (SS – TB) Overall ADP: 334
Surprise, surprise. Franco is the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball and is being taken as early as Round 2 in dynasty startups this offseason. Interestingly, his ADP is currently outside the top-300 in redraft leagues. I have to imagine this is solely due to fantasy players believing that the Rays aren’t going to call him up for a while. This line of thought is warranted in my opinion, and I wasn’t particularly bullish on Franco’s redraft value until I saw how late he’s going. After all, he’s turning 20 in March and has yet to play above High-A.
Still, he’s a once-in-a-generation talent who possesses a hilarious 83:54 BB:K ratio in the minor leagues. His 80-grade hit tool according to MLB Pipeline is one of the only perfect grades they’ve ever given out. A switch-hitter, Franco is easily able to control the strike zone with a level, compact swing. His approach is best described as “controlled aggression” as he isn’t a free swinger yet can do damage when getting a pitch he likes. Franco is so advanced for a hitter his age that his top prospect ranking is mostly attributed to his ridiculously high floor, even as a teenager. There isn’t another prospect who can match his probability of being a productive major league player right now.
Been getting lost in some Wander Franco highlights the past couple of days
His combination of bat speed and controlled aggression (from both sides of the plate!) truly make it feel as if he's impossible to strike out pic.twitter.com/Gvu0eBW1iE
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) February 4, 2021
Alex Kirilloff (OF – MIN) Overall ADP: 267
The 23-year-old lefty actually made his Major League debut in the postseason last year. With Byron Buxton unable to give it a go in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series, Kirilloff went 1-for-4 with a single as Minnesota was eliminated. Now set for a starting role following the non-tender of Eddie Rosario this offseason, Kirilloff is positioned to be one of the most valuable rookies in fantasy baseball entering 2021.
While he isn’t as talented of an overall player as some other names on Top Prospect lists, Kirilloff owns an extremely strong hit tool. He can use the whole field, turn on pitches with power, and is able to handle both velocity and breaking pitches. A wrist injury sapped his power numbers in the minor leagues back in 2019, but his work at the alternate site last summer was obviously enough for the Twins to include him in their postseason plans. His pure hitting abilities, combined with his knowledge of the strike zone, gives Kirilloff a chance to be a plus-plus hitter right out of the gate.
MacKenzie Gore (SP – SD) Overall ADP: 354
For me, Gore is the best pitching prospect in baseball. I do, however, have to admit that it was a bit curious the Padres never called him up even as they were contending in 2020. The lanky southpaw has a “funky” delivery with a high leg kick that he’s generally athletic enough to repeat on a consistent basis. When he’s “on”, Gore’s arm extension allows his 93-94 mph fastball to explode onto hitters quicker than expected. Additionally, he features a changeup, a slider, and a curve ball – all three of which can be deadly when he has them working.
Gore’s issue is that these pitches are rarely all clicking at the same time. While his unique delivery can be so advantageous when he’s in control, he reportedly struggled to maintain a rhythm while at the alternate site this past summer. This explains why San Diego was hesitant to promote him to the big leagues. Those same reports suggest that Gore got back on track by the end of the season, and if he ever gets everything clicking at the same time he has the upside of a fantasy ace.
Andrew Vaughn (1B – CWS) Overall ADP: 283
Similar to Kirilloff, Vaughn isn’t as good of an overall player as he is a hitter. This lowers his prospect ranking on most sites, but we aren’t that concerned with his defense and speed when it comes to fantasy. We care about his bat and there’s no doubt that Vaughn can rake. It takes a special hitter for a first baseman to go No. 3 overall in the draft, and that’s exactly what happened with the former California Golden Bear back in 2019.
A right-handed slugger who works at-bats to put himself into advantageous counts, Vaughn has the potential to hit for both average and power once he gets to the big leagues. He looks like the next “exit velocity” king and Chicago seemingly has a lineup spot ready for him as long as they don’t re-sign Edwin Encarnacion. The White Sox have signed former top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert to long-term extensions before they made their MLB debuts, and perhaps they’ll take a similar path with Vaughn. This means he would crack the Opening Day roster, and would therefore be a must-have player in drafts.
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Brendan Tuma is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Brendan, check out his archive and follow him @toomuchtuma.