The Arizona Fall League is a couple of weeks old now, so we’ll peek at a few of the highlights and lowlights. In a league with only six teams, there is a limited pool of players and we’ll have to take the small sample sizes with a grain of salt. There have been a few standout performances, and this league is a good way to get eyes on prospects returning from injuries or facing some tougher competition for the first time. One name from the AFL that has surfaced quite a bit this year is Reds’ outfielder Jesse Winker. Reports on Winker like his approach and power, with left field a likely destination when he reaches the bigs. Despite a concussion early in the season and a wrist injury that ended his season prematurely, the 21-year-old hit .327/.426/.580 with 13 homers in the hitter-friendly California League before a brief stint in Double-A. In 38 AFL at bats, Winker has two homers, two doubles, and a league-leading 13 runs batted in. He’s top 5 in average (.368), on-base percentage (.479), and slugging percentage (.632). I’m not totally on board the Winker train yet since he hasn’t seen much of Double-A, but I am at the station in line to buy a ticket. Here are some other noteworthy AFL prospect performances so far…

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Prospect hounds looking for some action now that the minor league season is over can turn their attention towards the 2014 Arizona Fall League. The league is made up of six teams and each of those teams is affiliated with five major league clubs. MLB clubs will typically send prospects that need some more reps to refine their skills against different (sometimes tougher) competition. Other players on these rosters may have been injured at some point in the past season and need the extra game action to continue their rehab and development. The preliminary rosters have been released for each AFL squad and there are a bunch of fantasy relevant prospects for us to take a look at. For the next three weeks I’ll write up two teams and a few of the significant names from each, what their 2014 MiLB season looked like, and what we might expect from them in fantasy baseball going forward. Let’s get right to it with Mesa and Glendale…

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Welcome to the All-Star break gang – the unofficial beginning of the second half signals the time to reorganize, revamp, and re-think approaches for us, as well as the folks making the calls for your favorite MLB teams. And, coincidentally, it also marks the time for me to revisit my Prospect Rankings. These are the current top-50 guys on my board that haven’t accumulated the standard minimum 130 AB/50 IP at the MLB level that most fantasy leagues recognize. When compiling my rankings, I try to consider as many variables as possible, but my main focus tilts toward future “difference-makers”… those guys that have the potential to make significant impacts when they reach “The Show”. Some players you’ll find on this list may be further away from making that impact than others, some may be struggling a bit right now (they may have been recently promoted to the next level to challenge them and are adjusting to stiffer competition), some may be on the shelf because of injury, etc., but this list represents the top-50 players I’d pick if you give me the first 50 picks in the MiLB phase of a draft in a newly forming fantasy league. These are the prospects GMs “dream on”, regardless of their current minor league level – the players they plan to build their rosters around at some point in the near future.

So here we go…

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Another week completed, another step closer to excitement for prospect-watchers waiting impatiently for the next round of call-ups, and the ultimate “Christmas In July” for prospect-hounds across the globe as we get to spend the day with the ultimate showcase – the Futures Game. In honor of this great event, this week’s Minor Accomplishments Sunday Twelve-Pack will include several players that will be participating in the game, as well as some that would’ve been at Target Field for it (yes, I’m looking at you Arismendy Alcantara, Jimmy Nelson, and Christian Bethancourt).

The All-Star Break is upon us, the playoff picture’s beginning to come into focus for several teams that were “on the fence” a week ago, and trades completed over the next three weeks will lead to many more openings for prospects to get a look at the MLB level, as well as advancement opportunities for players further down each organizational pecking order.

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…And by “IBS”, I don’t mean irritable bowel syndrome. In this context, I mean BABIP verified by ISO and Spd scores. Two things induce my real life IBS: nutrition, and my high impact dynasty leagues. Consider this series your dynasty IBS treatment.

BABIP has little face, so I use ISO (isolated slugging) and Spd (FG’s speed score) to verify the BABIP.

Check out Part 1 of this series where I delved into Trois-A assets. While Joc Pederson and Gregory Polanco naturally lead the rankings in conjunction with Quad-A guys like Andrew Brown and Chris Dickerson, I pointed to some translatable future impact in Chris Taylor and Domingo Santana, among others.

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For those who missed it, we took a brief look at a handful of draft prospects earlier in the week, highlighting players who, by my estimation, have the quickest paths to fantasy baseball relevance. Without knowing who would end up where, it would have been a stretch to try to peg specific timetables on anyone listed. Even now, before signing bonuses have been agreed to, that sort of exercise seems silly. There is one ETA, though, that I can’t help but speculate over. The White Sox drafted Carlos Rodon third overall, and have begun the process of negotiating signing terms with Rodon’s agent, Scott Boras. Given Boras’s reputation, there are many who wonder if the Sox will even be able to sign the 21-year-old, but I’m not overly concerned on that end. Chicago established a precedent in 2010 when they pushed Chris Sale through to the big club only two months after drafting him in the first round, revealing a distinct willingness not to pinch pennies over service time. A similar fast-track for Rodon puts him (and Boras) one year closer to payday. I believe the “screw super two” attitude displayed by Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams will be a valuable bargaining piece for Chicago, and could lead to a bonus in the neighborhood of MLB’s slot suggestion. Granted, such a scenario would involve the lefty pitching in a relief role, it still wouldn’t derail any plans to have him join the starting rotation next spring. This is all to say that Carlos Rodon pitching at the highest level this season is not out of the question. Keep that possibility in mind during your upcoming dynasty drafts.

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No prospect in baseball brings a higher ceiling than Javier Baez. That much is noted. He gave us a glimpse of the limitless potential last summer when he reached Double-A, drilling 35 XBH (20 HR) in 240 plate appearances during the season’s final two months. Then he showed up at big league camp this spring and knocked 5 HR in 18 games, and baseball began to wonder how long the Cubs could keep a talent like this in the minors. I drank the Baez Kool-Aid — I drank lots of it. I fantasized about scenarios that would’ve had Javy in the bigs by now, and I advised you to stash him in redraft leagues, and not let go. But then the cant-miss 21-year-old proceeded to miss. He missed just about everything that was thrown to him, to be clear, racking up a K% at Triple-A Iowa north of 35% through the first month and a half of the season. Throughout it all, though, I told you to be patient. I told you he’d turn it around, and once he did, he wouldn’t be long for the minors. I admit, anxious feelings about Baez began to creep into the back of my mind in recent weeks, and to a degree, they’re still present. These past 10 days, however, have provided much needed relief, as Baez has posted a slash line at .414/.419/.897 with 3 homers and 5 doubles. It’ll take several more weeks like this one to repair his line on the year, which sits at .201/.268/.388, but I believe Javy will be up to the challenge. And if, by chance, too much damage has been done to salvage the Triple-A line, he’ll still have a clean slate to work with when he surfaces at Wrigley later this summer.

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Our offseason prospect series is through — all 30 minor league previews with fantasy-specific top 10’s are in the books.  For years we’ve written this same series, finished it, and then just sort of rolled into the regular season stuff without any fanfare.  This year, though, we’re wrapping up the minor league previews, and adding a nice little bow on top.  This post will serve as the bow.  The purpose is twofold: (1) For the first time we have links to each of our MiLB previews all in one place, and (2) we’ve ranked each farm system from a fantasy perspective, giving you a simple guideline as to which orgs are stacked with fantasy impact, and which orgs are virtually void of it.  Let’s cut to it:

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Organizational Talent Rankings via Baseball America
2013 (19) | 2012 (23) | 2011 (12) | 2010 (21) | 2009 (23)

2013 Affiliate Records
MLB: [92-70] NL West
AAA: [76-68] Pacific Coast League – Albuquerque
AA: [59-80] Southern League – Chattanooga
A+: [65-75] California League – Rancho Cucamonga
A: [67-72] Midwest League – Great Lakes

Graduated Prospects
Yasiel Puig (OF); Tim Federowicz (C); Scott Van Slyke (OF/1B); Hyun-jin Ryu (RHP); Stephen Fife (RHP); Paco Rodriguez (LHP)

The Run Down
After a holiday hiatus, we have returned to our MiLB preview series.  To get us back into prospect mode, let’s all scream Puig on three.  One, two, three, PUIG.  Good, we’re back.  We’re talking about the Dodgers today, a top-heavy farm, but a group that offers plenty of fantasy intrigue.  There’s a lot going on here from spots one to six, but things take a turn toward the boring when we reach the last four names of the top ten.  Still, Seager, Pederson, and Urias are all of the high-impact variety, while Lee, Guerrero, and Anderson should all develop into relevant fantasy pieces in their own right.  Combine those six with recent grads like Yasiel Puig and Hyun-jin Ryu, and this Dodgers org begins to take shape as one that develops well and spends wisely in the international markets.  That’s a particularly effective model for sustainable success.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have the best record in baseball. At least right now, as I’m typing this, they do. The Bucs are an exciting big league club composed with a seemingly perfect balance of youthful talent and veteran savvy, and they have a legitimate chance at a pennant this year. But if we’re looking ahead to 2014, 2015, and beyond, Pittsburgh has a chance to be frighteningly good. Their system has already graduated top-shelf prospects like Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole, and there’s plenty more on the way. Gregory Polanco — currently at Double-A — is one of the brightest outfield prospects in the game, ranked #10 on my Mid-Season Top 50 Fantasy Baseball Prospects list. One spot ahead of Polanco on that list is the 6-foot-6 RHP, Jameson Taillon. Taillon’s projectable frame and elite stuff have him profiling as a top-of-the-rotation arm, and there are plenty folks around baseball who like his upside just as much as Gerrit Cole’s. The 21-year-old has showed some inconsistency this season at Double-A Altoona (3.67 ERA, 1.34 WHIP), but the Pirates, holding to their development plan, have promoted him to Triple-A. He looks to be exactly one year behind Cole, so it’s safe to assume we’ll be seeing Taillon with the big club next summer.

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