Image credit: Michael Busch (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
After releasing the first volume of our annual Fantasy Traits To Target articles, we returned to the spreadsheets to identify another group of underrated prospects to target in dynasty leagues this offseason. As we explained in article one we use a variety of metrics to weigh and measure performance. The goal is to identify the minor league hitters with the best combination of impact, bat-to-ball skills, approach and optimized launch angles.
Being average in one area certainly won’t keep you out of article like this if you combine that with other above-average or better skills. Overall the players discussed in this article were selected due to their ability to hit for impact at a plus level without sacrificing their approach or bat-to-ball skills to the determinant of their profiles. We will discuss each players exit velocity data, overall contact rate, in-zone contact rate, chase rate and batted ball launch angles. Look at the overall data gives us a good idea of the types of hitters each prospect is currently, and a window into the players their can develop into.
Michael Busch, 3B, Dodgers: At 25 years old Busch isn’t so much underrated as he is cast aside. When players reach 25 without graduating from prospect status, they tend to get lost in the general consciousness. Busch is a Top 100 prospect but one of the more maligned due to his age and lengthy minor league career. Should Busch be traded it’s possible he could slot in immediately as an above-average major league quality bat. Busch’s robust set of skills boasts plus power data with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 105 mph. He pairs that impact with strong contact numbers. In Triple-A that set him apart from other power hitters, as his 87% in-zone contact rate combined with a 90th percentile exit velocity put him in rare company, as just 10 hitters could boast that combination. With strong underlying skills and a history of production, Busch looks long ready for the major leagues. He could be a worthwhile buy this offseason as fantasy managers that roster him may have gotten sick of waiting.
Colt Emerson, SS, Mariners: The emergence of Emerson post draft has been one of the most impressive among the 2023 prep class. Emerson helped lead Low-A Modesto to an impressive run of 21 wins in 23 games, culminating in a California League championship for the Nuts. Emerson went 15-for-28 with six walks and six strikeouts over eight Arizona Complex League games before hitting .302/.436/.444 over his final 16 games with Low-A Modesto. Emerson’s combination of plate skills and projectable power was evident in his small professional sample. His 90th percentile exit velocity of 105 mph put him in rare company among 2023 draftees. Emerson’s profile is more than plus power projection, as he combines his impact with strong plate skills. Emerson was one of two 2023 high school draftees with a 90th percentile exit velocity above 104 mph with a contact rate of 78% or above, an in-zone contact rate of 88% or above and a chase rate of 20% or below. The other was the Padres Dillon Head. Emerson has emerged as one of the highest helium picks in the 2023 draft in just a few months.
Thomas Saggese, SS, Cardinals: Over the last two seasons only a handful of prospects can match Saggese’s production at the plate. In fact he’s one of just four players in the minor leagues the last two seasons with a .310 or higher batting average, an on-base percentage above .370, a slugging percentage above .520 and 40 combined home runs (over the two seasons). The other three players are the Reds Christian Encarnacion-Strand, the Rays Junior Caminero and Jonathan Aranda. Saggese doesn’t fit neatly into analytical markers. His 90th percentile exit velocity is just 102.5 mph, a below-average number even for 21-year-old MiLB hitters. While his 31% chase rate isn’t a major red flag it is on the more aggressive side. Where Saggese excels is his bat-to-ball ability and his outlier ability to make contact at optimal launch angles. Sweet Spot percentage is a metric that measures the percentage of a hitter’s balls in play hit between 8 and 32 degrees, the optimal range of launch angles for batted balls. Saggese’s 39% rate is among the best in the minor leagues. Despite below-average exit velocity data, Saggese gets the most out of his power due to his consistently optimized launch angles. In fact Saggese has an average launch angle of 8 degrees or higher on his pull side contact as well as balls in play over 95+ mph, this is well above average. So despite fringy raw power and swing decisions, Saggese’s barrel control wizardry allows him to get every ounce out of his ability.
Trey Sweeney, SS, Yankees: The surface level stats look fairly pedestrian for Sweeney as he hit .252/.367/.411 over 100 games for Double-A Somerset. Starting at shortstop for 98 of those 100 games, Sweeney was a constant in the Patriots lineup. He had respectable totals of 13 home runs and 20 stolen bases, and shows a well rounded profile. The underlying data suggests that a slight improvement in impact could push Sweeney to new heights at the plate. Sweeney’s plate skills are strong, as his 77% contact rate, 84% in-zone contact rate and 22% chase rate are all above-average rates. Sweeney’s exit velocity data is average with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 104 mph, an average of 88 mph and a max exit velocity of 110 mph. With slight improvements in strength Sweeney could see his power results and home run total jump. As he already makes contact at optimal launch angles and shows the ability to elevate to his pull side on his best contact. Sweeney’s overall impact is slipping under the radar despite first round pedigree.
Luke Adams, 3B, Brewers: It’s funny how aesthetics can impact the perception of things. If you’ve ever seen Adams swing the bat you’ll understand the relevance of the first sentence in this writeup. Adams has an unusual swing and setup, but the results speak for themselves in 2023. A 2022 12th round pick out of Hinsdale (Ill.) Central HS Adams was assigned to Low-A Carolina out of camp in 2023 hitting .233/.400/.401 with 11 home runs and 30 stolen bases. The full season line is solid, earning a 135 wRC+ when applied to league context, which puts him 35% above the average Carolina League hitter. When digging into the advanced data, Adams profile looks even more enthralling. There were three players in MiLB last year with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 105 mph or above, a contact rate of 76% or above, an in-zone contact rate of 83% or above and a chase rate below 18%. Those three players were Wyatt Langford, Edouard Julien and Luke Adams. To be in company of elite plate discipline profiles with above-average raw power places Adams among the best data-driven profiles in the game.
Ben Rice, C, Yankees: Perhaps no amateur baseball demographic felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic quite like Ivy League players. After the abrupt stop to the 2020 season, the Ivy League didn’t return to play until 2022, taking off the entirety of the 2021 season. This forced many Ivy League players into the portal or to find opportunities where they could in summer collegiate leagues. Rice is one such story. A second generation Ivy League player, Rice barely played at all in his final two years at Dartmouth. He found success in summer wooden bat leagues in consecutive years, winning the 2020 Futures League MVP before participating in the Cape Cod League prior to the 2021 draft. After solid but unspectacular showings in 2021 and 2022, Rice took his game to another level in 2023. Rice hit .324/.434/.615 across 73 games spanning three levels, hitting 20 home runs and 18 doubles. While old for the level Rice shows an advanced lefthanded bat with impact. Rice was the only hitter in the minor leagues with 200 or more plate appearances with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 104 mph or higher, a contact rate or 78% or higher, an in-zone contact rate of 84% or higher and a chase rate below 20%. Despite Rice’s age, his skills demand attention, from a purely data driven perspective Rice is a superior hitter to the more highly rated Austin Wells.
Joey Loperfido, 2B, Astros: Over the last two seasons Loperfido has been one of the most productive hitters in the minor leagues. He’s one of just ten players with a triple slash line of .290/.390/.500 over the last two seasons with a minimum of 600 plate appearances. Loperfido’s well rounded offensive profile and defensive versatility make him one of the more intriguing long term options on the Astros farm. The data backs Lopefido’s performance as well. He has a strong balance of power, contact, approach and a strong launch angle profile. Loperfido is an above-average performer across a variety of data points, he’s in a select group of players with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 104 mph, with average or better contact and chase rates. It’s Loperfido’s ability to make consistent hard contact at optimal angles that makes him noteworthy. His pull side power is still an area that needs work but there’s plenty of other positive traits to carry the profile.
Echedry Vargas, 3B, Rangers: After a strong professional debut in the 2022 Dominican Summer League, Vargas came stateside and took the Arizona Complex League by storm. In the infielder hit .315/.387/.569 with 11 home runs over 52 games. He finished top five in the Arizona Complex League in runs, home runs, RBI and slugging percentage. While his surface level stats show Vargas’ talent his underlying data only cements that thought further. He’s one of just two players 18 years of age or younger with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 104 mph or higher, a contact rate of 70% or above and a sweet spot rate above 30%. Vargas has projectable raw power, with at least average plate skills and optimal launch angle data. As he grows into more power in the coming years Vargas already looks optimized for long term success as a power hitter. The infielder should see assignment to a full season level next spring and could take off with his combination of skills and power.
Haydn McGeary, 1B, Cubs: It’s been a great year for Cubs prospects, as there seemed to be growth throughout the system in 2023. McGeary burst onto the scene early in this spring with his power. McGeary’s combination of plus-plus power and plate skills out him into rare company. He’s one of six players in the minor leagues in 2023 with a minimum of 100 plate appearances to make contact at a rate of 72% or higher with a 90th percentile exit velocity. The other five – Jordan Walker, Junior Caminero, Ronny Mauricio, Nolan Jones and Oscar Colas – are all current or former Top 100 prospects. When you factor in swing decisions McGeary’s 2023 puts him in truly rarified air. He’s one of two players with a 90th percentile exit velocity over 108 mph with a contact rate above 72% and a chase rate below 25%, and he’s the only player to do that in more than 200 plate appearances this season. McGreary has the opportunity to develop into a power hitting first baseman with high on-base percentages. He’s an older prospect from a lower pedigree background which will raise concerns for many.
Jeral Perez, SS, Dodgers: It was a bit of a shock when Perez was assigned to a full season affiliate after a rash of injuries forced him to fill-in for a few weeks. Perez headed back to Arizona and re-emerged in Arizona Complex League play. Over 53 games with the ACL Dodgers, Perez hit .257/.389/.503 and finished tied for the ACL lead in home runs with 11. Throughout his short professional career Perez has shown well above-average on-base skills and power. Among players in their age 18 season or younger, Perez was one of five players in a minimum of 140 plate appearances to make contact at a rate of 73% or better, with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 103.5 mph or higher. Of those five players, Perez had the highest expected slugging and xwOBAcon of that group. He’s highly skilled with average contact rates, an above-average chase rate and optimized launch angles. Perez might not be a star but looks like a third baseman with a balance of skills at the plate.