There are many paths to success in baseball. Some guys hit the ground running as soon as they’re called up. Others fall on their face immediately and then find their footing and reach or exceed expectations. Then there are those who take a little while. The prospect sheen has worn off and the fantasy community has long since forgotten about them before they finally get it. I mention the fantasy community specifically because as a whole we’re really bad about sticking with prospects.
A player pretty much has to be from that first group of guys who get it immediately or their stock plummets. Part of that is the nature of single-year leagues. We can really only focus on the here and now. Even keeper leagues can’t always wait. In most keepers, you have a limited number of spots or escalating costs meaning you can only hang on so long. Dynasty leagues are different altogether, which is why you get more stories from those leagues about hanging onto the late bloomer for 3-4 seasons before he finally popped. Today I’m looking at a group of once-heralded hitters who’ve yet to click, but still hold at least a flicker of hope. That hope may finally come to fruition in 2018.
I’m not looking for the next Justin Turner or Jose Bautista here. They remade themselves into superstars in their late-20s several teams removed from their original organization. I’m also not taking about Nomar Mazara types here. He has 1184 PA of 93 wRC+ in ages 21-22 with 40 HR, which is absolutely nothing to sneeze at and plenty of folks remain firmly on his bandwagon (including yours truly). Yoan Moncada also doesn’t qualify as he’s a two-time Top 10 prospect with just 251 PA so far. No one with a functioning brain has given up on him.
I’m looking at younger players with medium-to-high prospect pedigree that they haven’t cashed in yet. They’ve had some major league time (usually 300+ PA, but I didn’t have a specific set of statistical parameters) with maybe a spurt of success, but there’s a real shot for much more, especially if the playing time is there. Best of all, they won’t cost much at the draft table. Examples would include the Tim Beckham and Chris Taylor types. Beckham, of course, was a former #1 overall who was written off in some circles before he could legally drink. Meanwhile, Taylor never had the hype of a Beckham, but was firmly Top 10 in the Seattle org. for 2013 lists and might’ve charted in some Top 100s had he not expired his rookie status in 2014.
Albert Almora Jr. | Cubs – .292/.330/.448, 17% K, 6% BB, 102 wRC+ in 440 PA
Drafted 6th overall in 2012; 5-time Top 100 Prospect industry-wide
I’ve always liked Almora Jr. as a prospect. I loved what I read about him coming into the 2012 draft and then saw him at the AFL in 2013 and became an even bigger fan. I’m a sucker for defensive wizards. I think those players get a long leash because of their glove and that gives them on-the-job training for their hitting. It’s not like he’s been bad at the dish in his MLB sample, though. He’s crushed lefties (.881 OPS) and held his own against righties (.715).
I think there’s untapped power and speed that we’ve yet to see on full display even in the minors. I’m talking like 15 HR/20 SB and should it develop it’d come with a .280+ AVG as he has exceptional bat-to-ball skill. I don’t think he has unencumbered path to the starting CF role, but I think there’s a good shot at his first 400+ PA season even if he’s losing time against righties.
Jorge Polanco | Twins – .266/.322/.417, 15% K, 7% BB, 95 wRC+ in 834 PA
I remember reading and hearing about Polanco on Twins prospect lists for several years, but then once he came up to the majors… nothing! I’m not talking about 2014-15 when his two sips of coffee combined for 20 PA, but even in 2016 when he played 69 (nice!) games there wasn’t any real chatter surrounding him. Then this past season he slogged through 78 games with a .570 OPS before rallying to the finish line with a fantastic .931 OPS in 55 games including 10 HR and 7 SB. Only then did he get a little buzz, but even that was muted by fellow second tier prospect Eddie Rosario (.889 2H OPS). Perhaps Polanco could be on something of a Jose Ramirez track.
It’s not a perfect comparison as I think Polanco trades some of the contact and speed of Ramirez for more ready-made power, but both are switch-hitting power/speed middle infielders who were up at 20 years old logging MLB time. Again, Polanco tallied just 20 total PA in 2014-15 while Ramirez had 280 through his age-21 season, but Polanco turned around his struggles quicker than Ramirez had through age-22 (78 wRC+ in 625 PA) so he may not need as many reps to make the leap. The beauty with Polanco is that his first half overshadows his final two months on the bottom line so there won’t be a ton of attention on him come draft day. Scoop him up on the cheap!
Jorge Alfaro | Phillies – .293/.336/.463, 31% K, 3% BB, 105 wRC+ in 131 PA
Signed from Colombia at age-17 (by TEX) in 2010, 5-time Top 100 Prospect industry-wide (6-time at BP)
I generally fade the hell out of catching prospects in fantasy, but there are exceptions. Gary Sanchez was definitely one and while Alfaro is undoubtedly a cut below The Sanchize, his offensive potential at a such a thin position is hard to ignore and he’s nowhere near as expensive as Sanchez was after his beastly two months to close 2016. Alfaro was thoroughly unimpressive for 350 PA at Triple-A Lehigh Valley (79 wRC+) and his sharp 127 wRC+ in the bigs came in a scant 114 PA so there’s no “Next Big Thing” tax in the fantasy market.
There’s a lot of swing-and-miss in Alfaro’s game without much in the way of pitch identification so don’t get too keyed in on that .293 AVG. It’s completely buoyed by his .420 BABIP in 114 PA this past season, a mark that could lose more than 100 points if he doesn’t tighten up both the strikeout and walk rates, but the .196 ISO from 2017 is very much indicative of his power potential. With the lion’s share of starts behind the dish, he could pop 20-something homers – a boon at the C2 position. That is essentially at the status quo. If he starts to improve on his raw skills, he could deliver the power without being a drag on your batting average and chip in a few stolen bases as he’s relatively fast for someone of his size.
Chris Owings| Diamondbacks – .257/.295/.390, 22% K, 5% BB, 77 wRC+ in 1797 PA
Drafted 41st overall in 2009, 1-time Top 100 Prospect industry-wide (2-time at BP)
This one is a little different as Owings has more MLB time than our other three guys combined, but he’s still entering just his age-26 season. He was in the midst of a breakout season before a fractured finger followed a bad two-week run than essentially ended his season with two months to go. He had a .290/.323/.484 line through the first half, but came out of the break with a hideous .135/.151/.192 in 53 PA before the injury. There are some Jean Segura vibes to Owings.
He hasn’t dealt with a horrific off-the-field tragedy like his former teammate did when he lost a son, but their stat lines before age-26 look similar:
- Owings – .257/.295/.390, 22% K, 5% BB, 77 wRC+ in 1797 PA
- Segura – .266/.302/.361, 14% K, 4% BB, 79 wRC+ in 1923 PA
Segura has a sharp edge in contact and outwardly displayed more speed with 96 SBs to Owings’ 59, but their 7.0 and 6.8 Speed scores are comparable and Owings edges Segura on the Statcast Sprint Speed leaderboard. Plus, Owings has stolen bases at a tremendous 87% clip while Segura was at 77% in 125 attempts (which is still fantastic, by the way). In the last two seasons, Segura has posted a .310/.359/.467 line, good for a 120 wRC+ with 31 HR and 55 SB in 1260 PA. That is not out of bounds for Owings, especially considering that Segura’s breakout happened in Arizona. Owings hasn’t fully leveraged his favorable home park like Segura did in his one season there, but he did have an .887 OPS, 8 HR, and 10 SB in 51 games there this past season.
While Owings needs to show that his 2017 first half skills were legit, I’m more concerned about his health at this point. He has DL stints in three of the last four seasons and the only silver lining is that none of them are recurring injuries. Brandon Drury didn’t exactly lock down the 2B job in Owings’ absence nor did Ketel Marte look like the unchallenged SS. Owings can also play the outfield, so he’s going to get his chances if healthy. With speed as scarce as it is, he’s a strong MI target with triple eligibility and a 20/20 upside.
Delino DeShields| Rangers – .254/.333/.360, 23% K, 10% BB, 86 wRC+ in 1135 PA
Drafted 8th in overall (by HOU) in 2010, 1-time Top 100 Prospect industry-wide (2-time at some outlets)
The Dentist (I’m going to make this nickname happen, Regina!) is a longtime favorite of mine so it’s probably not a huge surprise to find him on this list. I just love the great speed and plate patience combo. It’s so rare! Those skills are what had me thinking he could be the 2017 iteration of Jonathan Villar, but it never materialized as he got off to a slow start (.636 OPS in Apr.) and was only a fulltime starter for two months (May, Sept/Oct), maxing out at 16 starts in the other four months (achieved in June and August).
The inconsistent playing time didn’t stop him from posting a career-best .347 OBP in 440 PA, but as seemingly everyone else’s power surged his dipped to a career-low .098 ISO. His 29 SBs were also a career-best and his 77% career success rate paired with top-five Sprint Speed has me thinking there’s a 40-SB season in there somewhere. He’s always done his best work against lefties, but the platoon split is essentially power as his .332 OBP against righties is certainly playable. He’s 24th of 53 among OF in righty vs. righty OBP since 2015 (min. 500 PA). If they let Carlos Gomez walk and don’t nab a CF in the market, DDS will finally get a crack at 500+ PA.
I have enough for a second piece on these post-hype guys so I’m going to cut this here and do a part 2 later this week or early next week.
I also have plans down the line for a piece on post-hype guys who are more established and getting drafted everywhere, but still might have another level or two to their game. Yes, of course I’ll be mentioning Joc Pederson in that piece. I’m obviously going to draft Pederson every year for the rest of his career.