Ranking prospects for fantasy purposes is a tricky exercise. The variables involved are constantly in flux — talent emerges, talent regresses… opportunity comes, opportunity goes… clubs get cold feet because of service time, clubs don’t give a shizz about service time. So, given the fluid nature of this prospect business, we’re going to keep a running ranking throughout the season. This post will run every other Wednesday, providing a weekly glimpse of the soon-to-arrive impact talent.

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For those of you who don’t remember, here’s the gist (and we’ll keep this blurb here all season so as not to confuse any newcomers):  Ranking prospects for fantasy purposes is a tricky exercise.  Back in February, I rolled out my Top 50 Fantasy Prospects for 2014 (part 1, part 2), and those are already garbage.  The variables involved are constantly in flux — talent emerges, talent regresses… opportunity comes, opportunity goes… clubs get cold feet because of service time, clubs don’t give a shizz about service time.  So, given the fluid nature of this prospect business, we’re going to keep a running ranking throughout the season.  This post will run every Wednesday, providing a weekly glimpse of the soon-to-arrive impact talent. 

It’s our first PPR list of the year (don’t get confused, football meatheads), and I’m too excited to chat, so let’s get right to it:

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We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere. To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team blogs and featuring their locally blogged answers to pressing 2014 fantasy baseball questions regarding their team. We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway). The 2014 Blue Jays Fantasy Baseball Preview comes courtesy of Tom Daker from Bluebird Banter.

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Another Cuban has washed ashore, dreaming of American capitalism and getting seriously laid in Miami. The Cardinals signed shortstop, Aledmys Diaz. Let’s give you a comparison that may or may not do it for you. Diaz hit 12 homers and stole 11 bases with a.315 average in his last year in Cuban ball. Recent raftee by the Dodgers, Alexander Guerrero hit 21 homers, stole 2 bases and hit .290. Right now, Guerrero might be losing the starting job to Dee Gordon who can’t hit his weight, and he weighs 143 pounds. It’s nice that another Cuban gets to realize his dreams like Yasiel Puig and Tony Montana, but I’m not even sure if Diaz will make an impact this year, or ever. Despite his name resembling “All Days,” he’s being projected as a bench player. Oh, and I just had a great idea. I’m not sure who can make this happen, but we should get Fidel Castro on the podcast to talk about baseball. Speaking of which, we’re recording the first podcast of the year today and it should be on-site tomorrow. You can hardly wait. No, you! Anyway, here’s what else I’ve seen in Spring Training for 2014 fantasy baseball:

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To begin, I should make it clear that this is not a list of my top overall prospects.  No, this is a 2014-specific list, and it exists only to serve those of us in fantasyland.  The names that follow are, at this moment, the prospects who have the best chance at offering positive fantasy contributions during the 2014 season.  Those of you who follow my Prospect Power Rankings series during the season, understand that time-specific prospect rankings are fluid — it’s a tricky game, weighing potential impact against current opportunity, and outlooks can change drastically overnight.  There are too many variables at work to peg these ETA’s accurately, and that is precisely why we revisit these rankings often throughout the year with the aforementioned power rankings.  Consider this a starting point.  Numbers 26-50 will run next week, but for now, let’s dig into the top-25.

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Organizational Talent Rankings via Baseball America
2013 (22) | 2012 (5) | 2011 (4) | 2010 (19) | 2009 (19)

2013 Affiliate Records
MLB: [74-88] AL East
AAA: [74-70] International League – Buffalo
AA: [68-72] Eastern League – New Hampshire
A+: [63-68] Florida State League – Dunedin
A: [61-78] Midwest League – Lansing
A(ss): [39-37] Northwest League — Vancouver

Graduated Prospects
Todd Redmond (RHP); Aaron Loup (LHP)

The Run Down
No one questions Aaron Sanchez‘s fantasy upside, which is as sexy as any minor league starting pitcher’s. And Marcus Stroman is a whiff machine — a former Duke Blue Devil, whose fastball/slider combo is so impressive that it (almost) allows me to look past the fact that he (probably) roots for Duke hoops. I loathe Duke hoops. Anyway, after those two headliners, this Toronto farm is young. Quite young. And as we know, youth is volatile. There’s upside here, but much of it hasn’t yet reached the full-season level, and therefore, it’s largely untested. A good number of these promising youngsters, however, will be headed to Toronto’s Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League next spring, and being a Chicago native, I’m excited to have the chance to put eyes on the Lansing squad when it passes through Kane County. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on what I see. Until then…

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I’m gonna double-dip on what I wrote a year ago in my week 23 MiLB report because 1) I think it still holds, and 2) I’m a double-dipper: “The Minor League Baseball season has reached it’s glorious culmination. Well, actually, it’s not very glorious. No, no one really cares who wins in the New York-Penn semis, or the International League title, or the Midwest League championship. It’s just not that interesting. Not even for me. Sure, organizations do their best to instill winning attitudes throughout their farm systems, and I absolutely agree that’s important. It’s why Jeff Luhnow is still tweeting crap like “#JETHAWKS WIN”. Yay, Jethawks… It’s fun for the players, I suppose. It’s fun for the small-town fans, too. And it’s a small source of pride for player development types. But that’s about the extent of it. All that said, the various MiLB playoffs are still worth keeping an eye on, if only for the handful of real-deal prospects who’re performing on a slightly grander stage than usual. So, to wrap up this year’s Minor Accomplishments series, I leave you with a brief rundown of what’s happening with some of the more notable prospects in their respective postseasons.”

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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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The Phillies paid a shizzload of dough to sign the big league-ready Cuban RHP, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. The deal is worth up to $60 million, $40+ million of which is guaranteed. So, if we’re taking for granted that Ruben Amaro knows what he’s doing, then it’s a safe assumption that Gonzalez is going to quickly blossom into a front-end starter and a coveted fantasy asset, a la Yu Darvish, who signed for similar money. But I’m not so sure about all that. Gonzalez is 26 years old and he’s been pitching in international ball long enough for talent evaluators to have come to a consensus on his projection, so it’s surprising to find such mixed opinions on the guy. The Phillies are paying him starter’s money, but there are plenty of folks around baseball who don’t even see Gonzalez working out long-term in a starter’s role. Clearly I’m skeptical about the Phillies’ financial commitment, but even so, I’m not completely writing off the possibility of M.A.G. earning every dime of that contract on the mound. With a deep arsenal of fastballs and various off-speed offerings, all of which he throws with deception and good command, Gonzalez appears to be a guy who’ll keep hitters guessing and tally up the whiffs — there’s certainly enough upside to be stashing him in deep leagues. Still, my inclination is that there’s not $60 million dollars worth of talent here.

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There are several questionable farm systems in baseball, but the Chicago White Sox are certainly one that stands out. For years now, the Sox have maintained a firm MLB-first approach to player personnel. They’re a principled franchise that would rather allocate its baseball operations budget toward free agent signings and MLB extensions than toward draft spending. And when they do stumble upon a real-deal prospect, they usually like to trade him for a veteran dude, someone to help that playoff push. It’s a model that occasionally works — they won a World Series by it in 2005 — but it’s not one that’s built to sustain success. And now, in 2013, the White Sox are awful. They’re in total rebuild mode — everything is for sale. This is finally their opportunity to change direction, to try to build a system that cultivates and utilizes impact talent. They’ve already dealt Matt Thornton to Boston for Brandon Jacobs, an upside outfielder with a skill set that might be very useful in the fantasy game. Don’t stop there, Chicago. Tear it all down.

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