In case you haven’t noticed, the past few weeks have brought the unveilings of many of the baseball industry’s most respected and reputable Top Prospects lists. As is, these make for good discussion and great debate, but there’s also a difference between evaluating prospects for real life Major League Baseball and evaluating them from a fantasy baseball perspective. With four Top 100s available for perusal, it’s time to focus on the latter.
This week, we’ll highlight some prospects who are really, really good — in fact, each is included in all four of the Top 100s — but actually might be underrated in fantasy compared to reality, given where they stand in these rankings.
Before getting into the names, here’s a quick review of the methodology I used.
As of the end of February, the four Top 100 Prospects lists that have been released are:
1) Baseball America’s Top 100
2) Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101
3) ESPN.com’s Top 100
4) MLB.com’s Top 100
I dissected and parsed all four sets of rankings and identified the prospects who appeared on all four. I found 75 common prospects, which is about what I’d expected, giving me the best of the best.
From there, I took the average rankings of those 75 prospects and sorted them from best to worst. For this week’s column I focused on the second half of my list of 75 and picked out a batch of prospects who could be underrated in fantasy compared to reality.
Billy Hamilton, Reds OF
Average Ranking: 18.8 (No. 18 overall out of 75)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: Okay, so I’m cheating a bit here, as Hamilton was ranked in the first quarter of the list, but I’m pointing him out because, frankly, once (or is it “if”?) the 22-year-old switch-hitter proves he can be a starting outfielder with enough bat for the majors — possibly by 2014 — he almost immediately becomes a second- or third-round pick given that he could steal 80-plus bases and practically win that category by himself.
Jorge Soler, Cubs OF
Average Ranking: 38.5 (No. 35 overall)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: Having just turned 21, Soler has some of the best raw physical tools in the minors, and he could start 2013 in High-A. My hunch is that Soler’s very-good-but-not-great average ranking stems from the fact that, as a Cuban-born player, he’s still somewhat of an unknown. A solid showing this year could jump him solidly into the Top 25 prospects next spring.
Mason Williams, Yankees OF
Average Ranking: 39.8 (No. 39 overall)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: Williams, 21, is an extremely athletic player with plus speed, good contact skills and more power than you might think from his sinewy frame (6’0″, 150). After missing the final two months of 2012 because of shoulder surgery, if he stays healthy and produces in his first legitimate go at High-A, Williams will look even better.
Danny Hultzen, Mariners SP
Average Ranking: 40.8 (No. 40 overall)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: The 23-year-old Hultzen fluctuated on the four rankings — as high as No. 18 (MLB) and as low as No. 66 (ESPN) — so clearly nobody quite knows what to make of the left-hander’s wild ways at Triple-A last year (43 BBs in 48.2 IPs). I’ll focus on the unexpectedly great 9.9 K/9, the four homers allowed and the fact that he’s nearly ready to pitch in one of baseball’s most pitcher-friendly parks.
George Springer, Astros OF
Average Ranking: 48.0 (No. 45 overall)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: Springer’s biggest flaws are his scary strikeout rate (27%) and his age (already 23). Sure, his 2012 stats were inflated by the hitter’s haven that is High-A Lancaster — Springer went for 24 homers and 32 steals last year — but this toolshed has the ability to post perennial 20-20 seasons. If he can just hit in the .240-.260 range, that actually doesn’t hurt fantasy owners as much anymore.
Gregory Polanco, Pirates OF
Average Ranking: 53.8 (No. 51 overall)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: Sensing a pattern? There seems to be somewhat of a bias against very athletic outfielders on these Top 100s, especially those who have no more than one great full season on their resumes. Polanco, a 21-year-old lefty hitter, crushed the comp in A-ball, posting a .325 average, 16 homers and 40 steals — while whiffing just 13% of the time. If he proves he can do that again as he reaches the high minors, Polanco will be sitting prettier this time next year.
Oswaldo Arcia, Twins OF
Average Ranking: 63.3 (No. 59 overall)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: Still only 21, all Arcia has done in five pro seasons is hit: .314/.371/.535. The lefty hitter also started to show some patience last season with a career-best 10% BB rate. Given the Twins outfield situation, a late-2013 debut is possible, and Arcia has the lumber to rack up high averages, which holds more weight in today’s fantasy game, and plenty of extra-base hits.
Nick Franklin, Mariners SS/2B
Average Ranking: 66.8 (No. 61 overall)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: Franklin, a 22-year-old switch-hitter, has the tools to be a .250-.270 hitter with 15-15 ability as a shortstop and/or second baseman. That’s a Jed Lowrie-type (minus the injury issues), which is very useful in fantasy. The big questions, though, are whether he can handle short at the big league level (because Dustin Ackley deserves another shot before he’s declared a bust), and how much his limited offensive profile will be reigned in by Safeco.
Wily Peralta, Brewers SP
Average Ranking: 68.5 (No. 62 overall)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: Peralta, 23, throws easy mid-90s gas with heavy sink, so he generates strikeouts and groundouts. Combined with an expected rotation spot with Milwaukee this season, he’s an intriguing fantasy sleeper, who’s ERA and whiff total might be better than his WHIP, because control (4.0 BB/9) has always been his bugaboo.
Jedd Gyorko, Padres 3B/2B
Average Ranking: 68.8 (No. 63 overall)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: Let’s not go gaga over Gyorko’s spring performance just yet. That said, the 24-year-old is one of the most MLB-ready hitters who’ve yet to debut. Don’t expect 30 homers — his 2012 total between Double- and Triple-A — especially with Petco as his home, but a high-average doubles machine who could have eligibility at second and third base sounds like a nice fantasy piece to own.
Kolten Wong, Cardinals 2B
Average Ranking: 87.3 (No. 75 overall)
Why He’s Better in Fantasy: Wong gets mention here mainly because he checked in dead-last among the 75 common names, but given his all-around game and baseball savvy, he’s very likely to wind up being more fantasy relevant than a large chunk of the 74 players ahead of him. He’ll never be a top fantasy option for second base, but he’ll hit for a solid average and score plenty of runs — two of the more underrated categories — while also chipping in double-digit steals. Perhaps the perfect mixed league MI, and he should start helping owners this season.
Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11