We’re about a third of the way through the prospect rankings for every MLB organization. The amount of prospect information that is available to us as fantasy players is immense. Videos, reports, and rankings are out there in spades. They come from a variety of sources and are typically valuing players for real life baseball instead of fantasy. I want to give you an idea of how I sift through everything when I do each team’s fantasy rankings and what to look for when you go out and do your own research on players.
It’s not a comprehensive list by any means, but it might save you some of the time that I spent on the learning curve. First and foremost, these are prospects we are talking about, so the reality is many of them will not even pan out. I’d wager that of the 300+ players mentioned in the organizational top tens, maybe ~50 will truly make a big impact in standard fantasy leagues. And yet we still look, because there are players who are fantasy studs in the making. My goal with each player in the reports is to give a little background, compile info on the players’ tools, look at their path to playing time/role, and attempt to relate all of that to their value in fantasy baseball. Here are the things I have found to be most helpful when looking at fantasy prospects…
Prospect rankings are really fluid and usually aren’t fantasy-driven
Prospect rankings change all the time and become dated pretty quickly. Traditional lists are often ranking on real-life value, which can greatly differ from fantasy value.
Don’t put too much weight on minor league stats
I include a stat line for the year in each player’s blurb. Its purpose is to provide a snapshot of what that player’s year looked like. It’s not necessarily going to tell you all that much about their potential.
Find good information
Since stats aren’t really reliable, we need something else to go by – or at the very least combine them with. That’s where scouting reports come in. I’m not a scout, so I have to trust information from places like Baseball America. The important thing is that you find information that is fresh (see bullet point #1) and that is based on more than one look at a player. Just like I wouldn’t want somebody to judge my performance based on just one sample, I don’t trust prospect evaluations that are based on a game or two. Instead, it’s better to get information from multiple looks and preferably at different points in a season. Cross reference different reports. If everybody that sees a player thinks he has plus power, then he probably does.
Use the scouting scale as a guide
Scouts use a scale to grade a player’s tools, and fantasy owners can use that information to get a feel for what that may translate to in the majors. It’s 20-80 (or 2-8) where 50 is average. Average power might translate to about 15 homers, an average hitter might be a batting average in the .250-.260 range, and an average overall grade for a pitcher might equate to a #3/#4 starter. The grades go up or down from there. Plus is the same as 60. Plus plus is 70. 80 is elite. Be careful with 80. You shouldn’t see it that often in reports on players. Billy Hamilton is 80 speed. Giancarlo Stanton is 80 power. Miguel Cabrera might be the closest thing to an 80 hit right now if there even is one. Honestly, seeing a 55 or 60 grade on a hit tool is great. When I convert the scouting scale into potential stats, it makes it much easier to determine what a player’s fantasy value might look like.
Hitting is really hard
Here are just a few of the things that seem to go into a player’s ability to “hit”: bat speed, hard contact, knowledge of the strike zone, ability to turn on fastballs, ability to hit breaking balls, ability to hit to all fields, ability to make adjustments, etc. etc. Not only is it easy to see why players don’t make it, but it is also easy to see why stats can be unreliable. There are just so many things a hitter may be working on that aren’t reflected in their stat line.
Raw power versus game power
Just know that they are two different things. Home runs are gold in fantasy. It seems obvious, but what a player can do in batting practice is much different than what they can do in a game. Any good scouting report will mention the difference. Power is typically the last tool to develop.
We want stolen bases in fantasy, but the grade on the speed tool doesn’t take into account everything that actually goes into stealing a base. Typically it’s a player’s time from home to first and his 60-yard time. There’s obviously more to steals than raw speed, so don’t assume plus speed automatically means big steals numbers. On the topic of speed, it seems to be the first thing to deteriorate, so big stolen base totals don’t usually have a long shelf life.
Some players get ranked highly even though they are really young and haven’t played much yet. This can be because scouts see more power in the bat or strength in the arm as the player fills out and develops physically. You may not want to invest too much in prospects who are “maxed out physically” or who “don’t have much projection left”.
Is a prospect young for their league? Some teams are aggressive in promoting players. Others aren’t. If a prospect is “old” for a level, they should be handling themselves. If they are well below the average age, it should be expected that they struggle. Players who hit or pitch well against older competition stand out. Along these lines, the jump to Double-A seems to be one of the biggest in the minors.
Fantasy value can hinge on whether a player ends up as a starter, closer, or middle reliever. Starters tend to have at least a three-pitch mix of average or better pitches with solid control and command. Control is the ability to throw strikes. Command is the ability to hit your spots. Like power, command is typically the last facet to develop. On a side note, #2 and #3 starters are actually pretty good. Don’t get flustered if all of your pitching prospects aren’t labeled as an “ace” or a “#1”.
Don’t let a player’s position sway you. Just because a team has four shortstops doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own one of them because “we don’t know where they will play”. Those things tend to work themselves out. In fact, a player changing positions in the minors is a good sign they are getting closer to a call-up. I will say this though…I like to collect shortstop prospects. Even though they often change positions, some of them stick and they are usually the best athletes (along with center fielders).
I hope this will be helpful when looking at prospects for fantasy purposes. Feel free to add how you go about evaluating fantasy prospects in the comments.
Happy New Year!