When it comes to fantasy baseball not all prospects are created equally. In keeper leagues and dynasty leagues it’s important to have strategies around your prospects; you don’t want to just randomly grab a Top 10 or 20 prospect and hope for the best.
Along with skill, knowing a player’s ETA is key. Is the player advanced enough to help in 2016… or is he headed for a 2019 debut? Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a talented dude but he’s not likely to visit the Great White North until 2020. Chicago (AL) drafted Carson Fulmer in 2015 with the eighth overall pick but he’s considered advanced enough to perhaps help the club in ’17. And then there’s Colorado’s Trevor Story, who is likely to turn the Jose Reyes soap opera and a strong spring into a ’16 starting gig.
As a result, your strategy around acquiring prospects should vary. If you’re grabbing a guy earmarked to help in 2017 or later, you should look at them like a stock — an investment that you hope to see increase in value before you cash out (either by adding to your active roster or by trading for an opportunity to win sooner). You also have to consider if you’re truly committed to a long-range prospect and willing to commit a roster spot to someone who may not help for three or four years — if at all. Prospects with a ’16 or ’17 should be viewed as players that can be valuable (albeit potentially inconsistent) contributors to the current makeup of your roster at a reasonable cost.
Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll have a look at the expect time frames for key prospects in each organization.
*In this series, sleeper refers to someone who’s not necessarily expected to be a key contributor in 2016 but might end up surprising and seeing more time than expected. (And doesn’t refer to their overall prospect standing).
2016 Sleeper: Jose DeLeon, RHP: Shortstop Corey Seager is going to receive a lot of (justified) press in 2016, followed by pitching phenom Julio Urias. DeLeon, though, is a stud prospect in his own right and could have a bigger impact this year than Urias — who only pitched 68.1 innings in ’15 (vs DeLeon’s 114.1). This right-hander has a firm fastball, two excellent secondary offerings and strong control. With Los Angeles’ pitching depth already being tested in spring training, DeLeon could receive significant opportunity to establish himself as a big leaguer.
2017 Stud: Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF: Bellinger began his career known more for his glove at first base than his bat at the plate and he hit just .210 in his debut. Things changed in a hurry, though, beginning in 2014 and carried through ’15. He’s now the talk of the Dodgers spring training with his strong performance. After hitting more than .300 in ’14, he didn’t hit for as much average last year but he slugged 30 home runs and added another 33 doubles. Incumbent first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is locked in with an expensive contract that runs through 2018 but Bellinger appeared in center field 26 times last year as the club explores ways to fit the rookie into the lineup sooner rather than later.
Long-term Investment: Alex Verdugo, OF: Owned in just 4% of Ottoenu leagues, Verdugo owns a .322 batting average over his first two pro seasons. The 19-year-old outfielder has impressive contact skills (83 Ks in 702 career at-bats), can run a little bit and has raw power potential that he has yet to tap into. Once he does, though, his value will skyrocket.
2016 Sleeper: Hunter Renfroe, OF: The toolsy Manuel Margot is the rookie outfielder expected to make the biggest impact in The Show for the Padres in ’16 but Renfroe could add some much-needed pop. San Diego plays in a pitching-friendly park but this young slugger has the raw power to hit the ball out of any park. He just needs to tighten up his contact rate. Both Jon Jay and Melvin Upton are earmarked to beginning the season as regulars in the outfield but don’t be shocked if both are on the bench (or out of San Diego) by the summer.
2017 Stud: Jose Rondon, SS: The Padres suddenly find themselves with an embarrassment of riches at the shortstop position after acquiring Javier Guerra from Boston to go along with Ruddy Giron and Rondon. This shortstop is probably the least talented of the bunch but he’s a couple steps further up the ladder and should get the first taste of the Majors (Alexei Ramirez is just keeping the spot warm). He could hit for average and has the speed to steal 15-20 bases. With Guerra and Giron behind him, though, Rondon’s time as the starting shortstop in San Diego could be brief — but his skills should allow him to move to second base or be the No. 1 guy at shortstop for another club.
Long-term Investment: Logan Allen, LHP: A 2015 eighth round pick of the Red Sox, Allen is already considered a draft steal. He was coveted by the Padres and acquired in the Craig Kimbrel deal. The young southpaw is considered advanced for his age and could skyrocket through the Padres’ system — although ’16 will be his first taste of full-season ball. He has a four-pitch mix and potential to develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.