Fantasy: Predicting Breakthrough Prospects At Every Position
Just because a player doesn't crack our preseason Top 100 Prospects ranking doesn't mean he's fantasy irrelevant.
Because the Baseball America Top 100 is a collaborative effort that reflects the views of multiple writers, there is no such thing as consensus, especially as the ranking moves farther away from No. 1 prospect Wander Franco.
What's more, the BA Top 100 assesses real-life major league potential, considering factors such as defensive ability, baserunning and plate discipline that are only indirectly valuable to fantasy players.
In this piece I create an all-star team of prospects outside the Top 100 who are poised to break through and have the potential to impact your fantasy league.
The Key numbers category collects 2019 data including walk rate and strikeout rate for batters, as well as OPS+ and XBPA+ (extra bases per plate appearance), which are index metrics compared to league average and calculated by the author. SB+ is included for players who run well—it measures stolen bases attempted per (estimated) times on first base, compared with league average. SwStr% stands for swinging-strike rate, which appears at FanGraphs.com.
C Miguel Amaya, Cubs
Age: 21. Projected level: Double-A Tennessee
Key numbers: 13.3 BB%, 16.7 SO%, 132 OPS+ and 136 XBPA+
Amaya showed up to big league camp this spring ready to work. He impressed new Cubs manager David Ross with his receiving technique, energy level and receptivity to veteran instruction. That bodes well for Amaya in his bid to become the franchise’s catcher of the future. So too does his bat. Amaya produced at a well above-average rate last season as a 20-year-old catcher in a pitcher’s park in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League. This season he moves to a friendlier hitting venue at Tennessee in the Southern League.
1B Lewin Diaz, Marlins
Age: 23. Projected level: Triple-A Wichita.
Key numbers: 6.6 BB%, 18.2 SO%, 159 OPS+ and 226 XBPA+
First base had been a position of acute weakness in the Marlins’ system before they acquired Diaz from the Twins last summer in the Sergio Romo trade. Not any more. The 6-foot-4, lefthanded-hitting Diaz launched 27 home runs last season to more than double his previous career high, while advancing to Double-A and keeping his strikeout rate in check. He drew raves for his soft hands and grace around the bag, winning best defensive first baseman in the Florida State League prior to the trade. While Diaz didn’t hit a ton after joining Jacksonville in August, that’s understandable in light of his new home park’s dampening effect on batting average and runs scored, both of which ranked in the first percentile among all full-season parks last season.
2B Aaron Bracho, Indians
Age: 19. Projected level: low Class A Lake County.
Key numbers: 16.6 BB%, 17.2 SO%, 190 OPS+ and 229 XBPA+
A lost 2018 season had no visible impact on Bracho during his 2019 pro debut in which he showed incredible power for a teenage middle infielder and the discerning batting eye of a veteran. Quibble if you must with his lack of speed or limited defensive profile—but the switch-hitting Bracho can hit. His Arizona League manager said it best. "What (Bracho) did, more than anything for a young hitter who was so impressive, was his ability to control the zone, swing at strikes . . . and put himself in good counts to hit,” Larry Day said.
3B Brett Baty, Mets
Age: 20. Projected level: low Class A Columbia.
Key numbers: 15.4 BB%, 28.5 SO%, 126 OPS+ and 151 XBPA+
Baty was a divisive draft prospect even though he rated as one of the best hitters for average and power, as well as being one of the most disciplined hitters in the 2019 high school class. The Mets took him 12th overall; other teams claimed that they wouldn’t have taken him until the fifth round based on his age—Baty turned 20 in November—and how that impacted their projections. In his pro debut, the lefthanded hitter showcased impressive raw power, especially to left-center field, and plate patience but also gave voice to his critics by hitting .234 with an elevated strikeout rate. According to one scout, Baty struggled to catch up with velocity middle-in because he got out on his front foot too early, saw his hands drift and failed to hit against a firm front side. These are all correctable flaws, and ones Baty must address in 2020.
SS Gabriel Arias, Padres
Age: 20. Projected level: Double-A Amarillo.
Key numbers: 4.9 BB%, 24.7 SO%, 140 OPS+ and 128 XBPA+
It’s true. Arias compiled one of the highest swinging-strike rates among qualified minor league batters last season, according to data at FanGraphs.com. But it’s also true that in the second half of last season, Arias minimized his movements at the plate to scale back his load and let his natural strength take over. In turn he reduced his strikeout rate from 30 percent to 20 percent half over half, all while hitting 17 home runs to nearly triple his previous high. (Check out that opposite-field power on his Baseball Savant spray chart below!) That sort of remarkable progress sustained over two and a half months cannot be faked. While patience is not Arias’ strong suit as a hitter—and he’s not a runner—he is an elite defensive shortstop who is poised for a huge offensive season at the hitter’s haven that is Amarillo.
OF Peyton Burdick, Marlins
Age: 23. Projected level: high Class A Jupiter.
Key numbers: 10.9 BB%, 23.1 SO%, 183 OPS+ and 211 XBPA+
Burdick had perhaps the quietest loud season in the minors last year. His 173 wRC+ ranked third best among minor league batters with at least 300 plate appearances, trailing only Triple-A mashers Ty France and Kevin Cron. The Marlins drafted Burdick, the Horizon League player of the year at Wright State and a second-team All-American, in the third round last year and quickly moved him to low Class A Clinton of the Midwest League during his pro debut. He thrived there, hitting for average and power while posting an average exit velocity bordering on 91 mph. Don’t overlook Burdick based on his draft status or age—he redshirted a year after he had Tommy John surgery—because his intensity, attention to detail and performance shine through.
OF Brenton Doyle, Rockies
Age: 22. Projected level: low Class A Asheville.
Key numbers: 13.9 BB%, 22.8 SO%, 183 OPS+, 218 SB+ and 149 XBPA+
Rockies farm director Zach Wilson puts it this way when asked about Doyle: "If he went to a school that people had heard of, for me he would’ve been a first-rounder. That’s the type of tools he has.” Doyle landed at Division II Shepherd (W.Va.) after he decommitted from Virginia Military Institute as a high school senior because he had blossomed as a baseball player and wouldn’t be able to focus on the game as much at VMI. Things turned out well for him. He got noticed by scouts as a D-II player enough to go in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. The Rockies appear to have chosen wisely after Doyle showcased all five tools in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, which he led in batting (.383) and OPS (1.088) while hitting eight homers and stealing 17 bases in 20 tries. He even used a three-week stint on the injured list to alter his stance to stand taller, which improved the leverage in his swing and helped him see the ball better.
OF George Valera, Indians
Age: 19. Projected level: low Class A Lake County.
Key numbers: 14.8 BB%, 28.3 SO%, 124 OPS+, 134 SB+ and 170 XBPA+
Even in our enlightened age, we don’t look favorably at a .236 batting average, which is what Valera managed at short-season Mahoning Valley last season before a late bump to the Midwest League. However, he showcased well above-average power production as the youngest position player in the New York-Penn League, and his average should continue to climb given his picturesque lefthanded swing, bat-to-ball skills, pitch recognition and plate discipline.
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SP Seth Corry, Giants
Age: 21. Projected level: high Class A San Jose.
Key numbers: 1.95 FIP, 14 SwStr% in the second half.
Corry illustrates why it’s wise to extend a longer leash to wild young lefthanders with power stuff. In the first half of 2019, he recorded a 2.74 ERA but with 6.8 walks per nine innings. Corry found the strike zone with his potent 93-96 mph fastball and tightened his above-average curveball in the second half, when he allowed a 1.10 ERA and .154 opponent average in 73 innings while walking 2.6 per nine.
SP Blake Walston, D-backs
Age: 18. Projected level: low Class A Kane County.
Key numbers: peak velocity of 97 mph after signing.
The D-backs viewed Walston as more of a projectable lefthander when he was drafted 26th overall last summer. They were right—they just didn’t expect him to develop so quickly. Walston rapidly improved his stuff and physicality after turning pro, and he spent his time at instructional league unifying the release point of his three pitches. Walston has all the ingredients one would expect to see in a prospect on the verge of breaking out, including recent velocity gains, feel to spin a breaking ball, a tall, projectable frame and a two-sport background.
SP Luis Medina, Yankees
Age: 20. Projected level: high Class A Tampa.
Key numbers: 0.75 WHIP in final four starts.
Medina has always had one of the best arms in the minor leagues, but it wasn’t until late in the 2019 season that he found results that came anywhere close to matching expectations. The Yankees say that he found his release point, and that allowed him to record a 0.40 ERA in his final four starts, a stretch that included 29 strikeouts, six walks and 11 hits allowed in 22.2 innings. Medina fires triple-digit heat that is difficult for opponents to square up and pairs it with a hammer breaking ball. His repertoire combined with even fringe control would give him a floor of a future impact closer candidate.
SP Luis Frias, D-backs
Age: 22. Projected level: low Class A Kane County.
Key numbers: 19.7 SwStr% that led all short-season starters
Scouts love Frias’ arm but are divided about his future role. No matter. A high-90s fastball and outstanding spike-curveball make for a strong downside scenario as an ace reliever. Bear in mind that Frias’ pitching coach at short-season Hillsboro isn’t so sure that the 6-foot-3 righthander is destined for the bullpen, not after he added a split-changeup last season. "Now that he has that third pitch,” Barry Enright said, "it being so new and him having such a good feel for it and him being able to pick things up relatively quick—I think he has, on the low end, the (upside) of a No. 3 starter. He has the arm of a No. 1 starter.”
SP Brandon Williamson, Mariners
Age: 22. Projected level: low Class A West Virginia.
Key number: 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings in his pro debut.
Williamson pitched only one season for Texas Christian, and even then he was overshadowed in his own rotation by fellow lefty Nick Lodolo, the No. 7 overall pick last June and the first pitcher drafted. Williamson made a name for himself in his pro debut at short-season Everett, where in a short look he struck out 25, walked five and allowed nine hits in 15.1 innings. His swinging-strike rate bordered on 20 percent. Williamson performed better than expected in pro ball, thanks to added velocity on his fastball (up to 96 mph) and a high-spin, true curveball in the mid-70s. He also throws a slider and changeup, while his clean arm action and repeatable mechanics give him strong control, especially for a 6-foot-6 lefthander. The Mariners appear to have scored a second-round steal in Williamson.