Dynasty Dugout: Top Prospects’ Path to 2018 Fantasy Stardom
The World Series is over, so I guess we can stop talking about baseball. WRONG! Does baseball season ever really end? There might not be any Major League games going on, but baseball is a year-round cult for us diehards. You’ve got the Arizona Fall League, a slew of winter leagues, hot stove season, the winter meetings, and then before you know it, spring training is starting and the sport we all love so much is back for another nine months of games. So, I don’t give two bleeps that the season is over. You’re getting a November edition of Dynasty Dugout, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Well, unless you close out of this article right now. But don’t do that, there’s good stuff to come. I promise. Especially for those that love prospects like I do.
Out of everything I just mentioned, the hot stove season has the most substantial impact on fantasy baseball for the 2018 season. Free agent departures, signings, and trades can have a major impact on the fantasy baseball landscape, especially from a prospect perspective. Below are a handful of top prospects that should find their way into their parent club’s lineup/rotation early in 2018 for one of a few reasons.
Also, before I get going, I wanted to quickly mention the unfortunate passing of Roy Halladay. In his 16-year career, “Doc” was an eight-time all-star and won two Cy Young awards. He was one of my favorite pitchers to watch and a surefire Hall of Fame inductee in my book. Rest in peace, Roy. The baseball world has lost not only a great pitcher, but a great human being, as well.
Prospects to Watch Early in 2018
Ronald Acuna (OF – ATL)
Path to Opening Day Spot: Atlanta trading Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis
Where else should we start than with the hands-down king of the fantasy prospects? Acuna is a fantasy owner’s dream wrapped in bacon and topped with gravy. Maybe even add a dash or two of hot sauce, because this kid is really freaking special. In 557 at-bats in 2017, Acuna mashed to the tune of a .325/.374/.522/.896 slash line with 21 home runs and 44 stolen bases. He even managed to get better after each promotion to a higher level, as shown below.
Want more than just slash line? You got it. Coming right up.
Acuna has also dominated so far in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .319 with five home runs, two steals, and a 1.004 OPS in 69 at-bats. The Braves don’t have any impending free agent outfielders, but there’s a good chance either Nick Markakis or Matt Kemp get peddled off this offseason to make room for the soon to be 20-year-old wonder kid. Acuna is the kind of player you don’t just fit in where there’s a spot. You MAKE room for him at all costs.
Stay on your toes in the middle rounds because that’s what it’s going to take to get him on your roster. A strong spring could even vault him into the top 60-75 picks, too. Some might say that’s too high for a rookie. I say it’s totally worth it.
Victor Robles (OF – WAS)
Path to Opening Day Spot: Jayson Werth leaving via free agency
It’s been seven long years, but the Jayson Werth contract has finally expired. It couldn’t happen at a better time either, as one of the top outfield prospects in the game is firmly knocking on the door to stardom. The Nationals have right field and center field occupied by Bryce Harper and Adam Eaton, respectively, but with Werth’s departure, left field is wide open. Maybe I should’ve used “was” instead of “is” in that last sentence because, barring a moronic move by the Nationals, left field is now Robles territory in D.C.
ICYMI: Last night Victor Robles won the Fall Stars Game MVP Award!
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) November 5, 2017
Though he could muster only 23 at-bats, Robles dazzled in the Arizona Fall League. He managed to crank two homers, swipe three bases, and his .945 OPS isn’t anything to scoff at, either. Yes, it’s an incredibly small sample size, but that just goes to show what type of fantasy dynamo Robles can be. He profiles as a 20/40 player in his prime with averages north of .300 annually. Be ready to pounce in the first 150 picks if you want to secure Robles’ services in 2018.
Gleyber Torres (SS/3B – NYY)
Path to Opening Day Spot: Todd Frazier leaving via free agency
If it wasn’t for mid-season Tommy John surgery, Gleyber Torres would already be up manning third base in the Bronx. The 20-year-old Venezuelan native played short for his entire minor league career before the Yankees moved him to the hot corner in Triple-A in mid-2017. This had nothing to do with Torres’ defensive performance. Current Yankees shortstop, Didi Gregorious, was performing very well both offensively and defensively, and the Yankees were getting absolutely nothing out of Chase Headley at third. After Torres went down, New York added Todd Frazier via trade to fill the gaping hole at third. However, he’s now a free agent, which opens the hot corner back up for the Yankees’ prized prospect.
This is the Evil Empire we’re talking about, so we can never rule out a big free agent signing (cough, cough, Mike Moustakas), but they seem content with their current youth movement, and Torres is not run-of-the-mill prospect. He’s regarded as one of the top five prospects in the game with a high offensive ceiling. Torres possesses a plus hit tool and should post several 20/20 seasons in his career.
The power is lagging a little behind, but it’s expected to grow as Torres continues to fill out. As long as the Yankees don’t fill third base, Torres should take over sometime before the summer. There’s also a chance for opening day assuming his rehab continues to go well. If it looks like the wait for his debut won’t be too long, pounce on Torres in the later rounds of 2018 drafts.
Eloy Jimenez (OF – CHW)
Path to Opening Day Spot: The White Sox outfield is bad
Ok, I’m cheating a little here. The White Sox don’t have any big name free agents leaving town, or many big names at all, but there’s going to be more than one opening in their outfield due to plain and simple lack of talent. If the 2018 season started today, Avisail Garcia, Adam Engel, and Nicky Delmonico would be patrolling the outfield in the south side of Chicago. Garcia is a fine player, but the other two don’t have overly high ceilings. You know who does have an incredibly high ceiling, though? Eloy Jimenez.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) August 27, 2017
When it comes to raw power, there might not be any prospects in the minors with more than Jimenez. Some scouts have even thrown around Giancarlo Stanton comps. And when a Stanton comp gets brought up, we sit down, shut up, and pay attention. After a slow start (for him) to the season, Jimenez really took off after being traded to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana deal. In 178 at-bats between high Single-A and Double-A, he hit .348 with 11 home runs and 33 RBI. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. Jimenez profiles as a 40+ home run, middle-of-the-order masher.
A strong start to 2018 could land him with the White Sox around June. His upside is definitely worth a stash with a late-round selection. Worst case scenario is that he struggles and doesn’t get called up until September. I’m betting on the former.
David Dahl (OF – COL)
Path to Opening Day Spot: Carlos Gonzalez leaving via free agency
What the heck happened to Carlos Gonzalez this season? With the exception of an injury-shortened 2014, Cargo had belted 20 home runs and had an OPS north of .855 every season since 2010. This season, all he could manage was 14 homers and a .762 OPS. Early indications are that the Rockies are highly unlikely to offer him a 17.4-million-dollar qualifying offer, so now there’s a hole that needs to be filled in the Rockies outfield. I think I know the perfect player to fill that void, too.
Everyone remember a fellow by the name of David Dahl? Let me refamiliarize you with the young Rockies outfield phenom in waiting. He’s technically no longer a prospect, but the upside here is too big to not include in this article. Dahl missed the entire 2017 season with a rib injury that seemed to drag on and on and on. First, he was due back in May, then July, then suddenly it’s September, and Dahl still wasn’t ready to go. It’s a shame, really. Dahl possesses a tantalizing blend of power and speed but has only been able to showcase it for 222 Major League at-bats.
It’s a simple equation, really. You take power, add in some speed and batting average, and sprinkle in half a season at hitter’s haven Coors Field, and you have a fantasy star waiting to happen. Proceed cautiously in early drafts since he isn’t guaranteed a starting spot, but monitor his progress closely. If he wins a starting job, you’re going to want Dahl on your fantasy roster. Trust me.
Alex Verdugo (OF – LAD)
Path to Opening Day Spot: Andre Ethier and Curtis Granderson leaving via free agency.
So close, Los Angeles. So close. Hey, it was a heck of a run, though. The bright spot for Dodgers fans is the fact that they still have one of the top farm systems in all of baseball, headlined by 21-year-old outfielder, Alex Verdugo. Unlike other prospects on this list, Verdugo’s fantasy ceiling isn’t extremely high. However, he’s one of the most polished hitting prospects in the minors and should have a rather easy time making the transition to the bigs.
Like I just mentioned, Verdugo’s best asset for fantasy is his 60-grade hit tool. In 1,612 minor league at-bats, he’s registered a .305 average and a clean .800 OPS. Both his power and speed are average tools. He won’t kill your team in those categories, but don’t expect a 30/30 season at any point in his career. The best comparison I can think of for him is a young Nick Markakis with more speed.
The Dodgers recently declined Andre Ethier’s option (surprising, I know), which leaves a potential opening for Verdugo to crack the starting lineup early next season. His 2018 lineup spot is far from guaranteed, but he’s definitely got enough upside to warrant a flier in drafts next spring.
Walker Buehler (OF-LAD)
Path to Opening Day Spot: Yu Darvish leaving via free agency
Verdugo isn’t the only elite prospect on the verge of becoming a lineup/rotation fixture out in Hollywood. Mid-season acquisition, Yu Darvish, is a free agent and likely to command a hefty contract. The Dodgers can obviously afford to keep him, but there figures to be plenty of suitors lining up for Darvish’s services. Geez, say Darvish’s services five times fast. What a tongue-twister.
In 88.2 innings across three levels, Buehler compiled a 3.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and a crazy good 12.7 K/9 rate. That success earned him a cup of coffee with the Dodgers in September, where he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. The control is a little spotty, but Buehler has a legit four-pitch arsenal. He pairs a mid-90’s heater with two plus breaking balls and a developing change-up. As long as his control doesn’t implode, Buehler has top-of-the-rotation upside. If he wins a rotation spot next spring, he becomes a highly recommended upside pick in the later rounds.
Thank you for reading another edition of Dynasty Dugout on Fantrax. I hope you can use this article to your advantage and get a leg up on your fellow league members. Got a question about a player not covered here? Ask in the comments below or follow me on Twitter @EricCross04 and ask there.