To paraphrase (horribly butcher?) A Tale of Two Cities, prospects are the best of times and the worst of times for ottoneu owners. At least based on the number of questions I get about them.
The joy of ottoneu is you can sign that Double-A SS with the big bat and hope he develops into a star. The problem is how to find the right prospect. For every Mike Trout, there is an Andy Marte. Actually, for every Trout, there are about a billion Marte’s. And the chances are you, like me, are not a prospect evaluator, which makes it awfully hard to tell the difference.
There are really two challenges ottoneu owners face with regards to prospect – how many should you roster and how do you identify the right ones. I’ll admit that what I am about to lay out for you is not scientific, but this is how I look at prospects in ottoneu.
As for how many to roster, this is a question of where you are in the building process. If you are trying to compete, you don’t want 0 prospects. You want to maintain some hope for the future. Besides, you may well need those prospects as trade chips to put yourself over the top. I try to hold 3-5 spots for prospects. Sometimes I fill those spots with guys who are not actually prospects, but are young, talented and yet to break out. This year, I’d put Nick Franklin in that camp – you can’t count on him to play, he is no longer a prospect, but if you treated him as if he were, that would be fine for our purposes.
If you are building for the future, you don’t want 18 prospects (the most you can have once you account for a full lineup (12 positions, 5 SP and 5 RP). You want room to acquire prospects in-season. You also want to build with players who are ready to produce soon and that usually means a decent set of cheap, young MLB talent. If you have a stacked set of 18 prospects, all likely to arrive late this year, I would venture to guess your team won’t be all that good next year. Lot’s of those guys will bust, few will reach their potential, and many won’t get called up when you expect. If you had 7-10 prospects, along with some young players you think can grow into key players, that would work well.
Filling those slots is a bit harder. Since I am not a scout, I rely on others to tell me which prospects are worth rostering. I use a variety of sources I trust. One of the first things I do is combine a small set of Top 100 lists, usually including Keith Law, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com and, of course, FanGraphs. This gives me a great balance of approaches – scouting, stats-based, combined – including some who focus on first-hand looks and others who gather feedback from contacts.
So far this year, I have combined Baseball Prospectus, Law and MLB.com, and some interesting things happen. First, there is wide-spread disagreement. Only 73 prospects appear on all three lists and 32 players appear on only one of the three. Law’s #37 prospect (Dominic Smith, a 1B in the Mets organization) does not make either of the other Top 100s.
About 60 prospects will be rostered in most ottoneu leagues, and that means the top 100s are more than enough. Without the ability to discern between prospects myself, one thing I look for is where there is agreement. If a guy is ranked 19, 20, and 21 (like George Springer is), it tells me a lot about him. When another player 32, 38 and 69 (Kyle Crick), it tells you something else – mainly that there is probably more risk.
This also helps you understand where your competition is looking. Anyone who grabs Dominic Smith this year is likely a fan of Law, and knowing that will help you understand who that owner values (or undervalues). If I know you prefer Law, I can offer to take Noah Syndergaard (24th on Law’s list, 11th on the other two) or Alex Meyer (62nd on Law’s, 32nd and 28th on the others) off your hands and assume you value those players less than I do.
Next, I review write ups on players. In addition to the sources above, I now add another – Rotoscouting.com, a relatively new site but one of the few dedicated to prospects for fantasy purposes. I look for “better in fantasy” or “better in real life” articles, like the ones FanGraphs has run in the past.
I want to identify players who stand out for defense (useless in fantasy), hitters with doubles power (only really useful in leagues that give credit for non-HR XBH), or pitchers without strike out potential. The other thing I want to find is players who have supposed red flags that aren’t. A SS destined to move off the position but with a bat that will play anywhere is extremely attractive to me. His ranking falls due to the defensive concerns and other owners see negative comments where I see a future 2B, 3B or OF with a solid bat.
A few final notes:
- Pitchers are riskier, yes, but don’t ignore them because of that. They pay off just as big when they pay off.
- Avoid players more than 2-3 years away. I do my best to stick to players who will be ready within 18 months or so.
- Don’t worry about balance – having Baez, Lindor and Russell is better than having Baez, Nick Castellanos, and Albert Almora, even though they all play the same position. If you are lucky and they all pan out, I assure you, you’ll have no problem finding buyers.
Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.