Prospects are hard to figure out. Just two weeks ago fantasy baseball owners were spending upwards of 30 percent of their FAAB amount to land Carter Kieboom. Players were spending upwards of 10 percent on Luis Rengifo. Yet both were optioned back to Triple-A Tuesday. Even the biggest can’t miss prospect in recent history, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who cost a lot more than some FAAB, has disappointed to start. I am sure Vlad is going to be okay, but owners of many top prospects are unhappy right now. You cannot go back and undo the amount you bid on those players, but like anything in life we need to try and learn from this.
The excitement around Carter Kieboom, I believe, was partially tied to his teammate. Last year, the Nationals, called up Juan Soto at 19 years old. He had played just eight games at a level higher than Single-A. Still, fantasy owners got plenty excited and paid a high price to add the youngster. He rewarded them by hitting .292/.406/.517 with 22 homers, five stolen bases, with 77 runs and 70 RBI, in just 116 games. I do believe that when the Nats were calling up their new top prospect Kieboom, many had visions of adding the next Soto. Rengifo was not nearly as hyped as Kieboom, but he still cost a decent amount of FAAB. Fantasy owners got a .185 average, one run, and one RBI from him for their money.
One lesson learned should be that top prospects are tough to figure out. I am not a “until we see it at the big leagues we can not believe it” guy. Between scouts, the many minor league stats we have access too, plus the great prospect writers on twitter and the fantasy community paying closer attention than ever to them, I think we know more about prospects than ever before. We are able to project which prospects will be impact players at the major league level, but I think the question becomes: Is there any way to tell how a prospect will do immediately upon being called up?
Projecting the Immediate Success of Top Prospects
By now, you likely know that I am a numbers guy. I base basically every fantasy decision on the numbers and it is the way I give my advice. However, I am not a numbers guy that believes the human element is not a part of the game. As someone who played baseball my whole life (if it was any good is up for debate), I will fully admit there is a human element, at least in my experiences. However, the reason I am a numbers guy is because we cannot quantify the human element. We cannot get inside the head of these players, which is why I never try too. We do not know how a young prospect will handle the call-up.
Perhaps they can come up and set the world on fire like Soto. Or perhaps they feel nerves and some pressure and before you know it they are off to a slow start and sent back down. I am not saying this is what happened to Kieboom, since again, we cannot get in their heads. Why some top prospects can play extremely well right off the bat and why some need some seasoning first – even Mike Trout, the goat, struggled the first time he was called up- is one of the biggest questions in fantasy baseball. Since we do not know the exact answer, I think we need to ask some important questions when evaluating a prospect and deciding what to bid on them.
Bidding on Top Prospects
The first question is: What is the prospect’s ceiling? This one was a slam-dunk for Kieboom. Many thought he could be the biggest waiver wire add of the season. Kieboom was hitting .379 with a .506 OBP and a career-high .258 ISO to start the season in Triple-A. The upside there was a potential league-winning upside.
This should be the first question you ask with a prospect because it is the most important one. The upside was not the same with Rengifo and that is why he cost a third of the price. The ceiling is what everyone shoots for and given the amount of unknown with prospects, the ceiling had to be there to bid heavily on the unknown. The reward has to at least, in theory, match the risk.
The second question that I always ask myself about a prospect: Is he on a team trying to win? You may be surprised at this question, but it is vital. Teams that are not competing typically tend to give their young prospects a long leash. Since they are not competing, they can get the young kids some seasoning and see what they have in them. If Kieboom was on say the Royals or White Sox, he wouldn’t have been sent down this week, at least I don’t believe he would have been. Competing teams have a lot less patience for youngsters trying to figure things out and instead use the minor leagues for that. That was a concern I voiced about Kieboom. If he did not hit right away would the Nationals, who are in a very competitive divisional race, give him the time he needs to figure it out? We now know that the answer is no, but this is a lesson that should be applied going forward.
The third question I always ask is: Does he have positional competition? This is the third question because I always believe if a prospect hits, a team will find a spot for him. However, we have seen countless youngsters be blocked by veterans. Another concern I did voice with Kieboom was the infield depth of the Nats. If their infield is healthy when Trea Turner returns, the only real logic spot for Kieboom was at second, yet the Nats have Brian Dozier, meaning that Kieboom would have to at the very least, outperform the veteran to maintain that job. Again, this is the last question I always ask, but as a general rule, the less positional competition a prospect has, the better you should feel about bidding on them.
If after answering those three questions I believe a youngster has a very high ceiling and will be given the opportunity, that is the perfect combination and I will spend up. If any of the answers give me hesitation, I tend to lower my bid and miss out. But, I will fully admit that my system is not flawless. Often, I do not feel confident enough to bid 30-plus percent on a prospect. In the case of Kieboom, I was bidding 20 percent in my leagues and got no shares. If he was this year’s Juan Soto I would be kicking myself, just like I was when I missed out on the real Soto last year. In one scenario, I did not set myself in a huge hole this season spending a large chunk of my FAAB on a player I cannot even start right now. On the other, I would easily have traded 30+ percent of my budget last year to have Soto.
Some top prospects are going to hit and some are going to miss, especially initially. It comes down to this for me: we simply do not know how a prospect will perform once he gets the initial call up. I know that you come to read my articles for me to give you advice and tell you if I think about a player. But I, or anyone else for that matter, would be doing you a disservice if they simply said that we can tell which prospects will be Soto and which will be Kieboom. We can take our best-educated guesses, but top prospects have shown us time and time again that they are fickle beasts.
Tell me what you think of my approach and how you attack the top prospects on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.
Michael Florio is the winner of the 2018 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year and was a finalist for the 2017 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year. He has hosted video/radio shows, written for a number of print and web publications including the AP, NY Daily News and much more!
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