Ten Next-Level Names To Know In Open Universe Leagues
In open universe dynasty leagues, the world of prospects is your oyster.
The open universe format allows fantasy players to roster any baseball player in the world, regardless of age, country or professional status. The player pool thus includes Japanese all-stars, American amateurs who will be drafted in 2022 or later and international amateurs not yet eligible to sign with an MLB club because they’re younger than 16.
Professional players are fair game, too, including 2021 draft picks who won’t be eligible in standard dynasty leagues that use a first-year player draft as the entry mechanism for the most recent wave of domestic and international amateur signees.
Thus open universe leagues force managers to consider the entire prospect continuum. Retraining one’s brain to place every prospect in the world on a timeline to MLB is required, because reaching MLB is the ultimate goal for (virtually) every baseball player in the world.
We at Baseball America are as well positioned as any to help fantasy players in open universe formats. The biggest challenge in deeper, competitive leagues with knowledgeable managers is that the obvious prospects have already been scooped up.
Your first steps to unearthing open universe value are to scan the first round of the 2021 draft and projected top 10 picks in the BA way-too-early 2022 mock draft for unrostered players. Pay special attention to shortstops, center fielders and other non-first base infielders. These players tend to have more differentiating skill to advance and catch the attention of MLB clubs.
If you find that most of the players in those groups are rostered, then keep reading. In this piece, I outline and rank 10 players with future fantasy upside who are either unaffiliated with an MLB organization or who were drafted after the first round in July.
Think of these prospects as leads to either stash now or follow next season.
1. Koudai Senga, RHP, Softbank (Japan)
No pitcher recorded more strikeouts in the Japanese major leagues in 2019 and 2020 than Senga, who totaled 227 and then 149 in a shortened NPB season. His strikeout rate topped 11 per nine innings in both seasons. The 2021 season played out differently for Senga, who had been limited by an ankle injury and had totaled just 28.1 innings because of the injury and also his time with the Japanese Olympic team. He made two scoreless relief appearances, totaling three innings, at the Tokyo Games. He ranked as the No. 3 prospect at the Olympics this year.
Senga pitches in the mid 90s and could bump 100 mph in shorter stints. His forkball is an elite pitch and one that he commands well. It is affectionately referred to as a “ghost fork” on Twitter, because it disappears under hitters’ barrels—if they aren’t too locked up to swing in the first place.
The biggest questions Senga faces are how he recovers from his 2021 injury and which season he will come to the United States, if ever. He pitches for Softbank, which has won four Japan Series in a row and has never posted a player. Senga first qualifies for free agency after the 2022 season, and possibly not until after 2023 because of how his injury affects his NPB service time. If he arrives in MLB at the earliest possible point in 2023, he will be 30 years old.
2. Seiya Suzuki, OF, Hiroshima (Japan)
What Suzuki lacks in upside relative to countryman Koudai Senga, he could make up for in proximity. Hiroshima could post its star right fielder this offseason rather than see Suzuki walk as a free agent after the 2022 season. The righthanded hitter is in the midst of another outstanding NPB season, with high extra-base hit totals and a strong walk-to-strikeout ratio. He is a five-time NPB all-star who won the Central League batting title in 2019 and boasts a career line of .308/.399/.534 in more than 1,000 games.
Scouts see Suzuki as a potential average hitter, once he adjusts to MLB velocity, with above-average game power and raw power that grades as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His swing is geared for damage with an uppercut bat path, as opposed to the middle-of-the-field or even inside-out hitting approaches favored by many Japanese hitters. Like Senga, Suzuki participated in the Tokyo Olympics and ranked as the No. 6 prospect at the event. He went 3-for-18 (.167) with one home run for gold medal-winning Japan.
Suzuki will stay in right field with good range and an above-average arm. He’s a fair runner who has slowed with age and won’t factor with stolen bases. Suzuki will be 27 next season and in the prime of his career.
3. James Triantos, SS/2B, Cubs
Rather than wait an extra year, Triantos reclassified to be eligible for the 2021 draft as an 18-year-old. The Cubs drafted the Virginia high school shortstop late in the second round and went well over slot to sign him as the 56th pick.
Triantos helped win a state championship game for Madison High with a go-ahead home run in a game in which he nearly pitched a no-hitter. Cubs decision-makers were in attendance.
Triantos has all the ingredients to impact games with his bat. He makes frequent, loud contact and shows advanced strike-zone awareness. He’s a strong athlete but not a surefire shortstop, though he probably has an infield future. He quickly caught up to the speed of pro ball in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League and could rocket up prospect lists in 2022.
4. Brock Wilken, 3B, Wake Forest
Wilken set a Wake Forest freshman record by blasting 17 home runs in 2021. While that wasn’t enough to win top freshman honors in the Atlantic Coast Conference, he accomplished something even more notable by generating intense scouting buzz in the Cape Cod League as a 19-year-old rising sophomore.
Wilken was named Cape MVP after hitting .302 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 36 games as one of the premier summer wood bat league’s most exciting players. Wilken ranked as the No. 2 prospect on the Cape.
The 6-foot-4 Wilken has all the attributes of a future middle-of-the-order corner masher. The righthanded hitter employs a powerful, balanced swing to drive the ball like few others. Wilken’s isolated power (.217) and walk rate (15.8%) both ranked in the high 80th percentile among Cape hitters with at least 50 plate appearances, while his strikeout rate was a manageable 22.8%. He is not draft eligible until 2023, but you might have to act quickly to snag him in open universe leagues.
5. Connor Norby, 2B, Orioles
The American Athletic Association player of the year was one of the top college hitters in the country this season. Norby hit .415/.484/.659 with 15 homers, 15 doubles and 18 stolen bases in 61 games this spring, backing it up with a 33-to-34 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
Norby and East Carolina teammate Gavin Williams, a righthander, were first-team All-Americans and helped the Pirates reach super regionals. The Orioles nabbed Norby early in the second round this year.
While he doesn’t ooze with raw tools, Norby hits all pitch types and gets the most out of his ability and is a well-rounded player. He got off to a fast start in his pro debut with Low-A Delmarva, showing feel to hit, hit for power and control of the strike zone.
6. Zach Neto, SS, Campbell
Neto busted out as a Campbell sophomore in 2021, batting .405 with 12 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 44 games, while also logging 21 innings on the mound, to take Big South Conference player of the year honors. He authenticated his mid-major breakout in the Cape Cod League, where he ranked as the No. 6 prospect as one of the summer wood bat league’s deadliest hitters.
Neto missed the final three weeks of the Cape season with an ankle injury but returned for the playoffs. While he might ultimately land at second base in pro ball, fantasy players can use that position skepticism to their advantage. Among batters with 50 plate appearances on the Cape, Neto ranked third with a 194 OPS+ (not adjusted for home park) and placed in the 90th percentile for both isolated power (.283) and lowest strikeout rate (14%).
Neto has bat speed, discipline, barrel accuracy and now a track record with wood. He is athletic and runs well enough to chip in stolen bases. There is a lot to like about the Campbell shortstop as he enters his draft year in 2022.
7. Cooper Kinney, 2B/3B, Rays
The Rays drafted the Tennessee prep with a fluid lefthanded swing with the 34th overall pick in the supplemental first round this year. Kinney has a chance for above-average hitting ability and above-average power.
It’s all about the bat for Kinney, who contributes little with his speed or defense but is a disciplined hitter with a quick bat. He has natural power to left-center field that could manifest as plus one day. He began his career in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League.
Pete Crow-Armstrong Continues To Make Strong First Impression For Cubs
Of all the prospects the Cubs acquired at last year’s trade deadline, none came in higher regard than Crow-Armstrong.
8. Tyler Black, 2B, Brewers
An Ontario high school product who attended Wright State, Black showed exemplary strike-zone judgment in college by logging a career .468 on-base percentage. As a junior he drew 39 walks against 25 strikeouts while hitting .383/.496/.683 with 13 home runs in 48 games.
The Brewers drafted Black 33rd overall in the supplemental first round this year. The lefthanded hitter is an offense-first second baseman with a fast bat and pull power. Black’s fine batting eye had translated at Low-A Carolina in his pro debut, though results on contact were still pending.
9. Chase DeLauter, OF, James Madison
Following an abbreviated 26-game college season with James Madison, DeLauter more than made up for lost time in the Cape Cod League. His numbers in the summer wood bat league indicate that his batting upside is not a mid-major illusion.
DeLauter tied for the Cape lead with nine home runs while hitting .298 with more walks (21) than strikeouts (18). The lefthanded batter ranked in the 98th percentile with a .290 isolated slugging and in the 95th percentile for lowest strikeout rate, while also leading the league in walks. His 181 OPS+ (not adjusted for home park) placed fourth in the league among hitters with 50 plate appearances.
DeLauter ranked as the No. 3 prospect on the Cape, but as a probable corner outfielder his bat will have to carry him. But the 6-foot-4 slugger could be up to the task and is on track to become JMU’s first-ever first-round draft pick in 2022.
10. Max Clark, OF, HS—Franklin, Ind.
An early candidate to possibly go No. 1 overall in the 2023 draft, Clark is an exciting, lefthanded-hitting high school center fielder with a chance for five average or better tools. His coordination, bat speed and feel for the barrel stand out at present, and he has the type of physical projection and discipline for power to manifest.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Clark runs well enough to stick in center field and potentially keep stolen bases a part of his game. The rising high school junior is 16 years old, roughly the same age premium international free agents are when they sign.
Just three Indiana preps have ever been drafted with a top 10 overall pick: Pat Underwood (No. 2 in 1976), Jarrod Parker (No. 9 in 2007) and Trey Ball (No. 7 in 2013). All three were pitchers, so Clark has a chance to become the highest Indiana high school draftee ever.