Fantasy: Trust The Tools For These Nine Dynasty Prospects

Image credit: Red Sox No. 1 prospect Triston Casas (photo by Tom Priddy)

Where did that come from? 

Many left 2020 asking that question about Ke’Bryan Hayes’ incendiary September performance. The 23-year-old Pirates third baseman hit .376 with five home runs in 24 games during his big league debut. His 1.124 OPS ranked fourth among qualifiers in September, and he showed the array of secondary skills to believe his breakout was no fluke. 

No, Hayes won’t maintain a .450 batting average on balls in play, but the rookie hit the ball hard with frequency, took his walks, turned in a 79th percentile sprint speed and delivered on projected Gold Glove-caliber defense at the hot corner. 

The incredulity surrounding Hayes stemmed more from his minor league track record—consistently good but never great—than his debut. At Triple-A Indianapolis in 2019, both Hayes’ .336 on-base percentage and .415 slugging ranked below the International League averages—about 8% worse when taken together.

But scouts remained high on Hayes, whose athleticism, quick swing, patience and defensive prowess stood out, even when his raw offensive output did not. Similar things could have been said about Francisco Lindor heading into 2015 and Hanley Ramirez heading into 2006. But when called up, both shortstops quickly became impact big leaguers. 

All three are reminders that for some prospects it’s important to trust the tools. To trust the athlete. To trust that scouts projections will come to pass even if those projections run contrary to mounting minor league performance data. These guidelines are particularly true for athletes, especially those who play up the middle, because athletes are more adept at making adjustments, at catching up with the speed of the major league game and holding those gains as they mature and eventually decline.

While baseball lost the 2020 minor league season to the pandemic, dynasty players should keep faith in these nine position prospects who lost a year of traditional development.

Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals

Witt was drafted second overall in 2019 and ranks as the No. 21 prospect in baseball this offseason. That should foreground him for fantasy players—except for the fact that Witt didn’t hit all that much in the Arizona League in his pro debut (84 OPS+) and enters his age-21 season having not taken an official at-bat above Rookie ball. But not all development was lost in 2020. The Royals raved about Witt’s pitch-identification skills this summer and were pleased with the competitive at-bats he took against older pitchers at the alternate site. He even tried his hand occasionally at third base, which could signal that the Royals have him on a fast track. 

Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox

First basemen get no respect in prospect rankings, but Casas is the rare one who should command yours. Scouts have to be sure that a young first baseman will impact the ball, and Casas’ No. 65 ranking on the Top 100 Prospects reflects that certainty. (Andrew Vaughn of the White Sox is the only other Top 100 first baseman.) The 6-foot-4 Casas delivered a 141 OPS+ at low Class A Greenville in 2019 while ranking third in the South Atlantic League with 19 home runs. The lefthanded slugger’s knowledge of the strike zone is advanced for a young hitter—he’ll be 21 in 2021—and so is his power to all fields. Check out Casas’ home run distribution below.

Ronny Mauricio, SS, Mets

Scouts look at Mauricio’s lean, 6-foot-3 frame and dream about future power production. Those extra-base hits haven’t been summoned in large quantities yet, but the 20-year-old switch-hitter has been one of the youngest regulars in his leagues while holding his own. Mauricio has made improving his physicality and increasing his attack angle to the ball primary goals after a groundball-heavy profile at pitcher-friendly low Class A Columbia (106 OPS+) in 2019. An offseason in the Dominican League would help the No. 60 prospect in baseball gain reps this winter.  

Cristian Pache, OF, Braves

The Braves got no offensive production from center fielder Ender Inciarte in 2020, yet seemed hesitant to turn the position over to the 21-year-old Pache, who batted just four times. That changed in October, when Pache appeared in all seven games of the National League Championship Series. He hit just .182 while batting ninth but showed a discerning eye on borderline pitches and even chipped in with a home run and four RBIs. The stage wasn’t too big for Pache, who broke out in the Double-A Southern League in 2019 (149 OPS+) and ranks as the No. 10 prospect in baseball. That is good news for the Braves as they plan for 2021 and beyond.

Geraldo Perdomo, SS, D-backs 

Perdomo is a switch-hitting shortstop who has shown everything in games except for power. He walked more than he struck out in 2019 and sports a career .411 on-base percentage in the minors up through high Class A, which coupled with his graceful defensive actions and above-average speed speak to his athleticism. Those attributes helped earn him a No. 67 ranking on the Top 100 Prospects. Perdomo will play all of the 2021 season at age 21, so he is entering the sweet spot for physical growth and power manifestation. That growth is imperative for him after his .088 isolated slugging percentage in 2019 ranked in the 10th percentile among qualified minor league batters. 

Jordyn Adams, OF, Angels

A standout baseball and football prospect in high school with 80-grade speed, Adams showed more refined skill than expected in his 2019 full-season debut. He drew 50 walks in 97 games for low Class A Burlington and delivered power that was near average and an OPS+ that was solidly above (118) in the context of one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the Midwest League. What will impact Adams’ fantasy value to a greater degree is his basestealing aggressiveness. He swiped 12 bags in 17 tries in the MWL but with a modestly above-average takeoff rate. The 21-year-old center fielder has plenty of time to develop his basestealing chops and fluidity in center field.

Gunnar Henderson, SS, Orioles

Baltimore chose Henderson with the first pick in the second round in 2019, after taking Adley Rutschman No. 1 overall in the same draft, and the Alabama prep turned in a slightly above-average (106 OPS+) debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. The pandemic scuttled what would have been Henderson’s full-season debut in 2020. Still, the Orioles were excited with the power, speed and competitive drive he exhibited at the alternate training site this summer. The 19-year-old lefthanded hitter could advance quickly to high Class A in 2021 on his way to occupying a spot on the left side of Baltimore’s future infield.

George Valera, OF, Indians

Valera recovered from a hamate injury in his 2018 pro debut to show huge lefthanded power as one of the youngest position players in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2019. He hit just .236 for Mahoning Valley but ranked 96th percentile for isolated slugging (.210) and 95th for walk rate (14.9%) in the NYPL, making him the most prolific power-and-patience prospect in short-season ball in 2019. The 20-year-old saw plenty of reps at the Indians’ alternate training site in 2020 and the sweet-swinging corner outfielder stands poised to surge up prospect lists in 2021. 

Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs

The D-backs were thrilled with what they saw from Carroll this summer at the alternate training site. His pitch-recognition skills are more mature than his 20 years, while his speed, glove in center field and developing power production round out what could be an impact fantasy profile. Carroll exhibited no weaknesses in his pro debut in 2019, earning him a No. 87 placement on the Top 100 Prospects. His breadth of skill has him poised to move rapidly in 2021. Arizona appears to have gotten a steal with the 16th overall pick in 2019, and many dynasty players were probably able to do the same in their first-year drafts.

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