Prospect season is around the corner, and while various rankings, reports, and even trades will continue to influence the ebb and flow of prospect opinions, it’s helpful to lay the groundwork for establishing this year’s fantasy prospect values as early as possible. The list below represents a very early look at the top 101 prospects in the game for fantasy leagues tailored specifically towards sabermetric scoring (where OPS, FIP, and wOBA are better indicators than AVG, ERA, and SB). For example, this list could be a resource for evaluating the value of prospects in Ottoneu points leagues (a separate post will follow ranking the top 101 prospects for traditional rotisserie leagues).
Years ago I introduced the Scorecard system, my custom prospect ranking process, and I’ve continued to use this method for scoring and ranking this crop of 2020 prospects. In ranking these prospects I take into account the following factors:
“Scouting” is everything that goes into evaluating the true talent of an MLB prospect. Age, ability, stats, rankings, “makeup”, and scouting reports all play a role here. It’s the input of information that causes you to ask about the player’s ceiling, their floor, and what might be realistic in between. What are the risks, and how serious are they? Is this prospect regarded more for their defensive talents than offensive? What MLB players might they compare to? What is their future value expectation and how likely are they to reach it?
Royce Lewis scouts like a dream player (and #1 draft selection), but scouting alone hasn’t yet materialized into an elite on-field player, so there are other elements to consider when ranking him among the other top prospects in the game in this context.
“Scoring” is honestly assessing whether the prospect’s skills and talents effectively translate to the specific scoring format of your fantasy league. It seems obvious, but I continually see fantasy owners fail to make this connection in the way they draft and value their prospects each season. While Drew Waters might be an exciting buy in a 5 x 5 auction, his value needs to be reassessed in the context of OPS leagues, for example. In order to be more successful in building our dynasty rosters, we need to always project value within the context of our specific league, which is what this rating is designed to consider.
“Impact” is more than just estimating a reasonable MLB ETA for your prospect. While isolating a realistic debut is helpful, it is far more important to give some thought as to when your prospect may actually contribute (in a significant way) to your team within the context of your fantasy format. Is it realistic to expect this prospect to need a significant MLB adjustment period? Will they play full time? Do you expect this prospect to be an above-replacement level contributor during the season in which your roster is built to compete? If not, you might be better served trading them away for MLB players that are already near peak performance. “Will this prospect truly improve my team when I need them most?” That’s what we’re getting at when rating “impact”, and players with a skill set that should allow them to succeed or adapt to MLB more quickly get a boost here.
Due to his recent college success, Andrew Vaughn is a player that gets a slight bump in the impact category this year. Due to his recent long-term contract, Evan White also receives a bump, since it’s expected he will get a longer leash to make adjustments that many other prospects during their debut.
“Hype” is a measure of perceived prospect value within the industry (usually in the form of rankings or press) and especially within your own league. It has to do with the trend of a prospect’s value over time. Is it growing, like Julio Rodriguez, or is it waning after injury or a “disappointing” debut like Mitch Keller? The careers of these young players could go in any direction at this point, but perceived value is just as important as real fantasy contribution value. “Hype” is an attempt to measure the demand for this prospect within your league, which usually takes the form of constant trade interest, particularly in dynasty leagues.
Being part of a large, live online baseball community like Ottoneu (where we have a dedicated Slack channel just to talk prospects, for example) gives me the advantage of “reading the crowd” more than most leagues. Brendan Rodgers is an example of another prospect the crowds seem to be backing away from this year, at least in terms of fantasy expectations.
“Cost” is the price at which a player is owned, both in the present and the future, and it can never be overlooked. Cost is always a variable in fantasy prospect valuation. Always.
In keeper leagues, cost is usually a function of the draft round required to keep a player, or in auction leagues like Ottoneu, the salary at which you own the player for future seasons given a salary budget. Again, perception is reality within your league, as there may be a substantially different reaction (demand) to an $8 Adley Rutschman compared to a $3 Adley Rutschman. For these specific rankings below, I’ve assumed cost is neutral across all prospects, but would encourage you to always consider cost when calculating your own values.
Again, these rankings below are early, and they are specific to fantasy leagues that lean towards sabermetric scoring systems. Fantasy prospect rankings are fluid, so some of these rankings will shift over the next few months as more information and analysis becomes available.
Special thanks to the FanGraphs prospect team for all their hard work producing exceptional prospect content, including The Board, which now makes some of this research a lot easier.
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Trey is a 20+ year fantasy veteran and an early adopter of Ottoneu fantasy sports. He currently administers the Ottoneu community, a network of ~1,200 fantasy baseball and football fans talking sports daily. More resources here: http://community.ottoneu.com