When it comes to strategy in dynasty formats, I deploy an unorthodox approach. Depending on where you play and the roster rules that accompany your league, my method may or may not be feasible for you, but it’s simple. I do my best Dave Dombrowski impersonation, fully equipped with a suave, silver wig, a coating of Jurgen’s Natural Glow and a Palos Heights, Ill. birth certificate. What I mean by this, is I like to make win-now moves while my league-mates are busy competing for the strongest prospect pool award and salivating over the talent that is waiting in the wings, each one desperately trying to convince the rest of the league that they are the very best at identifying young talent.
If I’m in any position to win in any given year, I’ll happily dump a few prospects, even ones with top 100 status, for a veteran player with a lower career ceiling in order to help my chances. Like I said, this may or may not be a possible trade-off for you depending on your league rules, but I’ve seen all too many league-mates dwell in the cellar year-after-year, stockpiling more and more top 100 names and never getting the production they were waiting for. Win when you can win — and be willing to sell your highest-rated prospects. That is, except for the select few that you should stash and forget, and wait on no matter the circumstances. This does not necessarily mean honing in on the top 10 in the MLB 100, but rather identifying the players who are young and quickly developing skill sets you just know are going to play at the next level. The fantasy gems. They play loud. Think of Ronald Acuna during the 2017 season, before he became the No. 1 prospect in the game.
Today, I’ll go in-depth on three players you could make this type of argument for: Julio Rodriguez, MacKenzie Gore and Matthew Liberatore. I’ll provide detailed, unbiased data along the way, before providing my own brief opinion at the end regarding whether or not you should pack this player for the long haul. As a reminder, all the players I’ll go over today were previously requested in the comments section by the readers of Razzball. If there is a particular prospect you would like to see an in-depth profile for in the future, please feel free to voice such in the comments section. Now saddle up, take off your shoes and belt, and join me over at the TSA security check.
Without fail every year, there are a handful of prospects that any dynasty manager should be thrilled to have shares of and adamantly hold onto. This means keeping a young player even if you have an opportunity to trade them to improve a win-now roster; even if there’s that one person in your league who continuously engages you about acquiring them. Julio Rodriguez is one such name and, surprisingly enough, isn’t even the only member of the Seattle Mariners organization that I would lump into that category, as Jared Kelenic is also developing into a soon-to-be MLB superstar. Are these ever sure bets? No, but if we’re playing the odds, there’s more than a 50-50 chance Rodriguez evolves into a multi-time All-Star in the corner outfield, armed with a plus-hit tool (55-60) and plus-power (raw: 65; game: 60). Truthfully, I would put those odds at 65-35 in favor of Rodriguez succeeding.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any shares of Rodriguez in dynasty formats, although I’ll be doing my best throughout the off-season to change that sad reality. If you dive into the tape, it really only takes one or two swings before you observe the excellent mechanics, plate coverage and approach Rodriguez has for a player that is just 19 years of age. Let’s start off by looking at a big fly.
he went 4-5 in his Cal League debut last night, including this glorious grand slampic.twitter.com/yTkzk0aw3X
— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) August 17, 2019
As that tweet indicates, the Mariners promoted Rodriguez to the High-A California League from the Single-A South Atlantic League in his first season of pro ball. The decision to throw Rodriguez into a full-length debut season was questioned by some, but he slashed .293/.359/.490 with 10 home runs, one steal and a 22.4 K% across 295 plate appearances at Single-A, making a strong case it was the right decision from the onset.
Upon being promoted to High-A, Rodriguez exploded over the 17-game, 72-PA cameo to follow, slashing .462/.514/.738. Remind you, he posted those numbers as an 18-year-old kid. On top of that slash, Rodriguez produced 11 extra base hits including two homers and reduced his K-rate to 13.9%. Overall, Rodriguez has an 8.8 BB% in the Minor Leagues, but that’s a number we should expect to rise over time. He has an advanced approach and understanding of the strike for his age, although there is still some work to do on the front-side, as he often comes undone and chases breaking balls away or down and out of the zone. While he isn’t Juan Soto-esque, he’s much closer Soto’s degree of advanced feel for hitting relative to his age than most other top prospects.
Rodriguez has been up to the challenge regardless of where he’s been assigned, holding his own in the 2019 Dominican Summer League (.315/.404/.525) and the 2019 Arizona Fall League (.288/.397/.365). This is likely a product of his exceptional mechanics made all the more impressive considering his age, as evidenced in the video below.
Just look at this swing! pic.twitter.com/PfZ5Eq3D0I
— Prospects Worldwide (@ProspectsWorldW) May 30, 2020
From everything that I’ve said already, it’s no mystery what my advice is in regard to Rodriguez in dynasty formats: Pack. Whatever way you want to say it: hold, keep, cherish, coddle — just don’t let him go. This isn’t a universal rule for top 20 prospects, as I would not urge the same for players like Dylan Carlson, Joey Bart and Brendan McKay (nothing against those names, they just aren’t in that “cant-miss” tier for me). Truthfully, J-Rod is going to be even more marvelous than if J-Lo and A-Rod morphed into one and had an insanely talented 19-year-old man-child. He won’t be a five-category darling, as his SB potential is limited, but don’t miss out on this one.
Oh, the hype. That good, sweet hype. Perhaps no pitching prospect has garnered as much of it over the past five-plus seasons as Gore, but it’s been earned nearly every step of the way. He went No. 3 overall in the 2017 draft, a near no-brainer selection by the Padres after Gore’s frequently-documented senior season of high school in which he went undefeated on the mound with a 0.19 ERA and insane 158-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those 158 strikeouts came in 74 1/3 innings of work, translating to a 19.1 K/9.
Gore got off to a hot start in the Minors, notching a 1.27 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, .184 BAA and 14.3 K/9 in 2017 Rookie-level action. He took a step back in 2018 (4.45 ERA. 1.30 WHIP, .260 BAA, 11.0 K/9) while battling recurring blister issues — an ailment that limited him to just 16 Single-A starts.
That speed bump signifies the extent of Gore’s struggles in the game of baseball. In 2019, Gore hurled 101 innings across High-A and Double-A, finishing with a 1.69 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, .164 BAA and 12.0 K.9. Both Gore’s ERA and WHIP paced the Minors (minimum 100 innings), as he showed an advanced feel of four plus-pitches in his fastball (91-96 MPH, tops 97 MPH), curveball, slider and changeup — all of which grade out at 60 or above on the 20-80 scale. For those who need a reminder, here’s a look at Gore’s unique delivery and one of those mid-90s fastballs.
— FanGraphs Prospects (@FG_Prospects) March 30, 2019
It’s worth noting that Gore ran into some trouble upon his 2019 promotion to Double-A. Although it was a mere five-start, 21 2/3-inning sample size, the lefty was tagged for a 4.15 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, as he allowed 20 hits for a .250 BAA. Even though it’s not a major cause for concern, it’s part of the complete picture — which is what these prospect security checks are designed to encapsulate.
Another small fact worth noting is that Gore has basically been able to get by so far in the Minors with his fastball often working in tandem with just one effective secondary pitch. Which pitch that is exactly has altered on a start-to-start basis, and when you have three potentially plus secondary offerings, it’s much easier to adapt as the game flows based on what’s working. As he progresses to the MLB, he’ll need to become more consistent with his secondary stuff and come to the mound each day with at least three pitches working effectively. The fact that Gore has excelled to the degree that he has, mixed with the upside to further improve in this regard, is one of many reasons why he’s nearly universally viewed as a future No. 1 starter – both in the real world and in the fantasy baseball realm.
During his elite high school career and his Rookie-level stint, the curveball was Gore’s clear secondary weapon, whereas he’s come to rely much more heavily on his slider since his 2018 blister issues. Here’s what that breaking ball-fastball combination looks like for Gore.
— Josh Norris ? (@jnorris427) March 20, 2019
The curveball sits 76-79 MPH, which creates a maximum velocity band of 21 MPH for Gore at present. The slider sits in the mid-80s, usually 83-86 MPH and features late break. Both will be formidable weapons at the Major League level.
There’s a lot to love here, besides the fact that many fantasy owners were hoping for a late September call-up this season. It’s possible the Padres will want to see some improvement from Gore in controlling the running game before giving him the call, as that’s one glaring hole in his game as it stands today. Regardless, Gore is a generational pitching prospect, and as long as he can avoid career-altering arm injury, he appears to have the ceiling of a future fantasy No. 1 starter and the floor of a fantasy No. 3-4.
Pack. And clutch tightly to your chest as your flight flies through the fall air.
Liberatore will serve as more of a footnote here, as I’ve already exceeded my weekly word count quota. Grey and Donkey Teeth actually have me hooked up to some new-age house arrest-rigged word count ankle bracelet, and when I go over my allotted post length, it begins to beep and shock me erratically until I close my laptop.
Liberatore was actually one of my favorite prospects in the 2018 MLB Draft, right alongside fellow Arizona HS prep draftee Nolan Gorman — both of which now find themselves in the St. Louis organization. Honestly, the only thing that really concerns me about Liberatore as a prospect is that the Tampa Bay Rays traded him, and they’re ten times smarter than I am. Here’s a quick look at Liberatore.
Which prospects are poised to top the prospect rankings in 2021? #Rays No. 5 prospect Matthew Liberatore (best lefty in the '18 #MLBDraft) & #Mariners No. 5 prospect Julio Rodriguez to name a few. ? https://t.co/jzmyvNAhWR pic.twitter.com/ttJrcxiXzP
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 2, 2019
With a plus-fastball and plus-curve, Liberatore has the makings of a future front-line starter, despite many pundits labeling him as a No. 3. As for the rest of his arsenal, Liberatore’s slider and changeup both have the chance to develop into above average offerings at the MLB level. With clean mechanics, there’s a good chance his command, which is average at present (3.5 BB/9), will develop into above average as well. But by my estimation, the real bread and butter here is that aforementioned fastball-curveball combination. Just look at this nasty hook.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 24, 2020
Through two seasons in the Minors (2018: Rookie-level; 2019: Single-A), Liberatore fired 111 innings of 2.59 ERA ball, holding opposing hitters to a .224 batting average while striking out just over one batter per inning. Liberatore is not in that same category as Rodriguez and Gore, but through my eyes, he’s very close — much closer than many scouts would like to believe — and his stuff is only going to get nastier as his body fills out and he adds velocity. Don’t be absolutely unwilling to move him in dynasty formats, but don’t seek out the opportunity, either. Pack.
Well, what do you know — three prospects and all packs. It would almost appear that I drew it up that way, seeing as I hand-picked the third and final prospect myself in this installment (I am a Razzball reader, after all). These three players are all guys I’d be thrilled to own in deep dynasty formats; prospects worth building around in any format.
As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs