I don’t have some big introductory explanation here. I trust you grasp the premise and intend to skip this paragraph, but if I still have your eyes for the moment, I’ll say I imagine a start-up build for a 15-team, 2-catcher dynasty league when parsing through the lists and try to explain when a player’s value varies based on settings. If you’re in a contention window, your rankings should look a bit different than they’d look on the front end of a rebuild. I’ll flag some players along the way for whom the disparity in value can get especially large from build to build.
In case you missed it, here’s a link to the Top 10 Prospects for 2021 Fantasy Baseball.
Format: Position Player | Team| Age on 4/1/2021 | Highest level played | ETA
After reading this article, give yourself a moment to send an offer out for Corbin Carroll. He had some hype for a minute before this minor league season shutdown, but he’s still toward the back end of many top hundred lists.
Just because it gave me a smirk, here’s what I wrote about Carroll on last year’s list, “I could definitely see myself caroling with Corbin this Christmas. He figures to fall outside the top five in most First-Year-Player drafts in dynasty leagues, and I think that’s that windfall profit born from a phat draft class. Man, I haven’t seen phat in a long time. What happened to phat? Anywho, Corbin Carroll is skinny and brings plus-plus speed along with a plus hit tool and burgeoning power. His outstanding professional debut gave us a taste of his elite fantasy profile.”
He also offers above average big league exit velocity readings, which matters to me when evaluating a player some thought was too small to do real damage in the batter’s box.
Speaking of smallish players I’ve liked for a long time time, here’s what I wrote about Vidal last September in an article titled Season of the Brujan:
“Last speed thought of the day: Tampa Bay 2B Vidal Brujan will run wild against the league’s premium catching talent and should be owned in pretty much all keeper leagues where steals matter. With a strong Fall League performance, he’ll elbow his way into my top five overall prospects. It’s rare enough for a 40-steal player to enter our game. Even rarer to find one who hits enough to earn himself regular playing time. Rarer still to find one who speaks five languages.
I mention this last piece because language learning requires the same determination needed for the grind of baseball. You’re going to make mistakes. Might look like an idiot. Might often feel dumb. But you have to keep putting yourself out there. And as long as you stay positive and focus on the long term, you can improve a little bit every day. In 2014, Tampa signed Brujan out of the Dominican Republic for $15,000. He was illiterate at the time. Now: five languages.
Brujan is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December, so he’ll be on the Rays’ 40-man roster when next season starts. Just a phone call away in Triple A. He’s within reach of the dream he shared with his father, who died in early 2018. As he explained to MLB.com’s Juan Toribio this Spring: ‘I promised my dad that I was going to get to the big leagues in either 2019 or 2020. It’s a moment I’ve been dreaming of. I won’t be content with anything until I get up to the big leagues.’”
Only thing different now is we’ve been living in Pandemic World for a long time, so Brujan didn’t play in AAA but did spend all season at the training site and has been making headlines for his winter ball play this off-season. I wouldn’t rule out a Kevin Kiermaier trade leading to some time in center for Brujan.
In 1966, Boris Karloff made his animated debut as Mr. Grinch and even sang that stink stank stunk song. Very cool. Weirdly underrated film somehow—background noise to the Holiday season. Every grinch since has been several orders of magnitude less interesting. In 2020, Alex Kirilloff made his big league debut in the MLB playoffs. Also cool. Totally insane, if you ask me, but nobody did. Because Minnesota lost early, and because few people follow early round playoff baseball, Kirilloff has been weirdly underrated early this draft season.
Perhaps I’m totally misreading the situation, but if the season started today, I think Kirilloff would be in the lineup. The team let Eddie Rosario walk partly because they have Kirilloff in the queue. He’s battled injuries throughout his career, so his stats don’t tell much of the story here. If he’d been healthy, we might be looking at a top 150 redraft hype train. I think he’s every bit the fantasy prospect Gavin Lux was last draft season.
A power speed blend who struggled to get started in 2020, Dylan Carlson represents one of the most intriguing buying opportunities in 2021 fantasy baseball. After slashing .200/.252/.364 across his 35 regular season games, Carlson settled into the middle of the playoff lineup and went .333/.571/.444 in his 14 postseason plate appearances. Samples don’t get much smaller than either grouping here, and that’s kind of the idea here. We have not seen the version of Carlson we’ll get next season, but I think it’s safe to say his On-Base Percentage will settle somewhere between .252 and .571. The midpoint here is about .410, which is too high but a much more accurate representation of the skillset than .252. I think he’s a 20/20 type who hits about .275 as early as 2021.
Witt reportedly impressed at the training site, facing pitchers with much more professional experience than himself. He took multiple at bats against every pitcher at the site: Asa Lacy, Daniel Lynch, Jonathan Bowlan, Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic, Austin Cox and more. He’s already posted big league quality exit velocities. Evaluators are confident he’ll be a plus defender at short and remain a plus runner throughout his twenties. The primary question for the #2 overall pick in the 2019 draft is the hit tool, and if reports from the training site have any validity, he might be a little underrated in that area. I’ll really believe that when I see it in the statlines, but I’m higher on Witt this year than I was last on the strength of glowing reports.
If you’ve been visiting this space for a while, you might know I’m in Baseball Love with Luis Matos, who’s seen a nice uptick in stock price since I ranked him second on this list last year. Twitter has been kind to Matos, who regularly posts videos of himself working out in the cage or smashing a batting practice home run, displaying the ultra-fast hands and squeaky clean stroke that first captured my baseball heart. He’s also a plus runner with plus plate skills who’s plus on defense. Yikes. Have you ever seen Attack on Titan? The beginning part where the giants are just terrorizing humanity, chomping them into serrated bits? Just wondering.
17. OF Hedbert Perez | Milwaukee Brewers | 17 | NA | 2024
An intoxicating blend of power, speed and baseball skill, Perez spent 2020 at the big club’s training site, making him one of the youngest players to see major league adjacent pitching this year. Few things in minor league baseball excite me as much as Hedbert’s bat speed. I think he could still be acquired for a reasonable fee in most dynasty leagues. He’ll be a consensus top 50 prospect sometime soon, so I’d make a few offers before the minor league season starts.
Click here to watch an interview with the man himself.
If you wanted to build a snowman center fielder in a lab, I’d introduce you to my good friend, Doctor Moreau, who might invite you to his island, which, while perhaps not the world’s safest place would be somewhat shielded from covid. Then I might suggest Kristian Robinson as a physical model for a center-fielding baseball player. I’d be willing to bet he winds up King of that island after a couple hours. He’s listed at 6’3” 190, and that seems fair. His hips explode through the zone on his swing, and he runs like the wind. People have projected he’d lose speed as he aged, but I think that’s more paint-by-numbers projection than anything I’d buy stock in. Most guys do lose speed as they fill out and age and build up to their man strength. K-Rob is more wide receiver than linebacker though, and I think he’ll stay svelte and fast throughout his early prime. True 30/30 potential with the kind of bat speed that should allow him to hit for average.
The third overall pick in 2016, Anderson struggled to consistently repeat his delivery and stay in the strike zone on his way up the development chain, but that’s not uncommon for a high school draftee facing older hitters every step of the way. Anderson maximizes his 6’3” frame to create the kind of extension that lets his arsenal play up, especially his double-plus, high-80’s change up, which is partly why it took awhile for him to master the delivery. It all came together in 2020, seemingly at the training site, which lends a little credence to my supposition that the site work has been excellent for pitchers with a little wonk in their windup. It’s hard to stay focused on process and improvement when the results feel real on the scoreboard, but the controlled scrimmage environment of 2020 enforced a different sort of focus. Anderson’s postseason debut was downright drool-inducing: 9 Ks, 2 hits, 2 walks, 0 runs in 6 innings against the faded Reds. He could combine with Max Fried and Mike Soroka to make Atlanta the envy of every team in the league.
Something to note: pitching is for contenders.
If you’re on the front end of a long-term rebuild, I recommend scrolling right on past every pitcher in the top 100. The math gets a little fuzzier in start-up drafts. If the minors and majors are drafted separately, abomination though that format is, I’m likely to snag a few ready-now arms over medium-hype bats. During an auction or draft that combines the whole player pool as dynasty baseball was built to do, I’m collecting as many top-end bats as I can and planning to waiver and trade my way to a competent pitching staff.
Prospect Hobbs peered into the once and future Sixto back on July 9:
“I love Sixto, I want me some Sixto, but Sixto is a paradox. Four plus pitches (depending on your assessment of the slider), velo that sits mid-to-high 90s and some pretty impressive command for a young gun. Yet, the career K/9 sits at 7.9, which takes into account an 8.5 K/9 in 103 Double-A frames last year. That’s obviously surprising, because Sanchez commands all of his offerings — a four-seam fastball, two-seamer with sinking action, changeup and slider — remarkably well for his age (1.7 career BB/9). The four-seamer is plus-plus, while the changeup is a plus pitch as well and you can argue the slider is anywhere from slightly above average-to-plus, although it’s still developing (out of his arsenal, I’ve seen him miss with the slider out over the plate the most). Through 335 1/3 Minor League innings, just 103 of those came at Double-A — and those were in the pitcher-friendly Southern League. All of this leads to the begging of the question, can Sixto be a 9.0+ K/9 arm for your fantasy team in the future?
The answer is yes. The stuff is too good and with elite command comes the ability to pinpoint pitches both in and out of the strike zone. The latter is something Sanchez needs to begin to do more frequently, and I don’t think any fantasy owner would complain about the BB/9 rising anywhere from 2.0-2.9 if he’s able to push his strikeout rates to 9.5+. It’s definitely possible and although some ‘perts’ might argue otherwise, I don’t believe his average strikeout numbers are due to a lack of deception or life on his fastball.”
The only thing that’s changed since then is baseball folks calling Sanchez “Baby Pedro” and ranking him as the best pitching prospect in baseball. Chalk one up for the natural.
21. SS Jeter Downs | 22 | AA | 2021
The primary return for Mookie Betts, Downs has a lot to live up to, but when you’re named Jeter because Derek, you’ve probably been facing wild expectations your whole life. This Jeter appealed to the Red Sox partly due to a sizzling finish in 2019 that saw him slash .333/.429/.688 in AA. That line represented just 12 games but reflected the growth Downs showed throughout that season, when he stole 23 bases and hit 19 home runs across 107 games in high A. The only tool that’s not plus is defense, which is just fine for our purposes.
Enrique Hernandez’s arrival in Boston might create something of a buying opportunity for Downs, but I doubt it impacts his timeline in any rank-altering manner.
22. LHP MacKenzie Gore | 22 | AA | 2021
One of the bigger prospect miseries mysteries of 2020 was what happened to Gore at the training site. Perhaps the Pads simply didn’t want to start his service clock in a shortened season. Perhaps Gore was inconsistent enough that the front office thought he’d struggle if given the chance to face big league bats. Probably it was some combination. When he’s right, Gore is the best left handed pitching prospect in baseball thanks to a deceptive delivery that precedes plus command of four plus pitches (fastball, slider, changeup, curveball). One worry I have is that none of these pitches has the raw traits to dominate. His profile isn’t all that different from Brendan McKay’s in that way. He’s an elite prospect because he has elite pitchability with a diverse pitch mix. His stuff is excellent, certainly, but it might take him a while to learn how to best employ that stuff against the world’s best hitters.
23. RHP Triston McKenzie | 23 | MLB | 2020
The nickname “Sticks” is cool, in my opinion, and it’s exceptionally fitting for McKenzie, who will likely add muscle as he ages because if he goes the other way, he could become two-dimensional or, if he listens to Radiohead, disappear completely, something he almost did in 2019 when a series of muscle-related injuries sidelined him the whole season.
Cut to 2020, and we find Sticks striking out ten Tigers in his debut, allowing just two hits in six innings. His other few turns followed a slightly different storyline. He dominated the Royals in his third start (6 IP, 0 R, 6 K, 0 BB, 3 H) but didn’t last beyond the fifth inning in any of his other four starts. Small sample caveats are loud here, but we haven’t seen much McKenzie of late, and my lasting impression in the moment was that he’d been great in 2020, so it’s interesting to see he was only fantasy-good in two of six starts. I’m definitely buying in redraft leagues given his impressive four-pitch mix (fastball 53.3%, slider 20.2%, curveball 16.5%, change-up 10%), but his price feels incredibly high in my few dynasty leagues. If you’re in one where he’s still available at a reasonable price, I suggest making an offer. McKenzie seems poised to go one of three ways in 2021: 1) typical Cleveland fantasy success story with even better raw stuff than many of their find-an-aces; 2) injured; or 3) too small to handle a starters’ workload.
Click on the following link to read Grey’s thoughts on the matter:
24. SS Nick Gonzales | Pittsburgh Pirates | 21 | NCAA | 2022
I thought Gonzales would go off the board before the seven spot in the 2020 draft, but the Orioles’ selection of Heston Kjerstad created a domino effect that left Gonzales on the board for the Pirates. Yarr! They announced him as a shortstop on draft night and will likely develop him there, although most scouts think he’s a better fit at second base. It’s better for our game if he lands there, but I don’t care much where he plays. He’s always hit well, with both aluminum (or vibranium or whatever they make bats with these days) and wood.
I didn’t think he’d go earlier because he hit five home runs in one day this year. I thought he’d earned it by slashing .351/.451/.630 across 153 at bats in the Cape Cod League, where his seven home runs helped him take home the league MVP.
Oh and did I mention he steals bases? He’d swiped four in 16 games by the team the NCAA season ended. He’d also hit 12 home runs in those 16 games. 82 plate appearances. New Mexico plays at elevation, and Pittsburgh is tough on righty power, so there’s plenty of reason to doubt his ability to produce power in that park, but I’ll bet on him where I can in dynasty leagues and try to buy via trade if he starts out slow.
Here’s a snippet that Fantasy Master Lothario Grey Albright himself wrote this week in his Ke’Bryan Hayes, 2021 Fantasy Outlook:
“In Ke’Bryan Hayes’s big month of September, he had a 25% HR/FB and would need to continue that to come close to a 5-homer per month guy. His minor league numbers speak more to a 3-homer per month. Small quibble maybe, but over a six-month season, he’s more of a 18-homer guy vs. 30 homers. Thankfully, he doesn’t just homer. In fact, if you read that a year ago, you’d think he did everything but homer. While not an extreme blazer like Trea Turner or someone obscenely fast, Hayes isn’t a complete dud for speed either. He’s a 55-grade speed guy, which should translate to 10+ bags, maybe 20 if he feels like putting on a show like that boastful showoff, Itch.”
Oof. Shots fired. Luckily I’m so quick I can dodge a bullet. Or could. Maybe. I hope I’ll never find out.
I mentioned the righty power problems in Pittsburgh, but they can be overcome more easily by dead pull hitters because so many blasts die in left center field (383’ power alley jutting out to 410’ in left center). The eye test, limited as it is thus far, tells me Hayes hits blasts a little like his father did, hunting fastballs he can yank down the line. If he can figure out how to replicate that, he has a chance to pay out on his current perceived value, but that’s a rare skill to master. Mookie Betts is the only guy who comes quickly to mind.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.