Prospect Bounce-Back Candidates to Target in 2018
When trying to construct our fantasy teams, we are always looking for a bargain. Sometimes that means we are targeting young players who might make their debut, and sometimes that means we are targeting players who struggled the year prior that just might return to prominence. The inclusion of the Comeback Player of the Year award reinforces this concept and seeks to recognize the MLB talent that has overcome either injuries or poor performance. Sometimes minor league failures and numbers don’t tell the whole story, just like with Major Leaguers, and if we can look at Mickey Moniak’s minor league numbers and see the light at the end of the tunnel, the reward will be even sweeter.
So let’s apply that concept to some rookies and take a look at a few players whose stocks have fallen a bit in the eyes of many fantasy analysts and see if there might be a bargain to be had. The rankings for my top 100 prospects list are being taken from MLB.com, so obviously other sites may have these players higher or lower depending on their own evaluations.
Mickey Moniak, OF – Philadelphia Phillies
Most scouts and analysts feel that the Phillies taking Moniak as the first overall talent in the 2016 draft was a bit of an overdraft. He was largely regarded as a solid fielding high school player with a potential plus-plus hit tool and solid speed. Everyone knew the power was likely capped, but a mediocre showing in 2017 didn’t do much to make the Phils seem like they knew what they were doing here. Through 500+ plate appearances, Moniak totaled only five home runs, 11 stolen bases (with a terrible 60% SB%), and a .236/.284/.341 slash line. He walked only 5.5% of the time and struck out 21.4% of the time. For a No. 1 overall pick, that is what you would call a major disappointment.
It isn’t all bad here, however. It’s worth pointing out that Moniak is only 19 years old and was playing against much older competition in the minors. Sometimes young guys take to professional ball like a fish to water, and other times … well, this is one of those other times. Scouts are raving about his work ethic, and his fielding was solid enough that most agree it will come along to be better than average. We may not be looking at the next Mike Trout here, but is it too much to think he becomes a reliable Major League center fielder? He was taken so high in the draft because he has plenty of tools (well, that and some slot money adjustments), and those tools are still present.
Moniak is currently sitting in the 29th spot on the top 100 prospect list, down a few spots from No. 24 last year. Ahead of him on the list are guys like Kolby Allard, Leody Tavaras, Brendan McKay, and even Austin Meadows, all of which have enough question marks to warrant a discussion about their placement on the list. If you are a team that is a few years away from competing, it’s worth shooting a trade offer to see how the owner values Moniak. If you can give up a major league veteran or two to acquire him, it’s probably worth it thanks to his high talent level.
Corey Ray, OF – Milwaukee Brewers
I’ll admit that I wasn’t too high on Corey Ray from the outset, and after posting a solid if not unspectacular debut season in 2016, Ray logged in on the top prospects list at number 27. After another trying year in the minors, he has slipped to number 59 and has been much lower on several lists that I have seen. Although his minor league numbers don’t look great, it’s not hard to envision a return to grace from a guy with a ton of raw talent.
Ray was considered a toolsy but raw player in his draft and obviously was thought highly of, as he was taken fifth overall by the Brewers. He was expected to play a premium up-the-middle position by occupying center field, and, at 22 years old, the hope is that he would acclimate quickly and show what he can do. Ray’s minor league journey has produced an ISO in the .135 range, and though his 34 stolen bases are nice, he has also been caught 32% of the time. So if the power isn’t playing up, the speed is raw, and he’s also striking out way too much (31% of the time this past season), where are the positives?
You can point to the walk percentage increase this season as a reason for optimism, as he took a free pass 9.5% of the time. You can also point to his fielding capabilities. He’s certainly no Billy Hamilton, but he has enough talent right now to manage a capable center field. The complete truth of the matter is that there aren’t a ton of stats to back up a complete return to top prospect status. However, a guy with his kind of tools showing at least a little bit of ability warrants a longer look. And with the Brewers working some good magic lately as far as getting the most out of their prospects (see: Monte Harrison), there is light at the end of the tunnel. I wouldn’t blame you entirely if you took a pass on Ray, but with his stock plummeting, he’s the perfect guy to take a cheap flyer on if your minor league team needs some talent.
Tyler O’Neill, OF – St. Louis Cardinals
Tyler O’Neill was swapped last season from the Mariners to the Cardinals for rotation-filler Marco Gonzales. It was the right move for both teams, as the Cardinals had some pitching depth but needed to get a solid offensive prospect back. Now, it’s painfully obvious that O’Neill isn’t going to be winning any batting titles with his poor hit tool, but he does boast prodigious power and an ability to take a walk. He hit 31 home runs in the minors last year and even managed to steal 14 bases while getting caught only twice. Although he does strike out too much, as long as he keeps the strikeout rate under 30%, then he’ll do just fine in this K-heavy climate. And while he did manage to hit .293 as recently as 2015, his 2016 mark of .250 should be considered about right for the hard-swinging righty.
Because of the fall-off in batting average, O’Neill’s stock has taken a bit of a hit going into this season. In the 2016 top 100 list, he swatted his way into the number 60 overall spot, and then saw his position drop to number 87. This is a bit baffling to me for a number of reasons. O’Neill played most of last season in a stadium (Chaney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington) that is not helpful to right-handed power hitters. Plus, high-power, low-average guys are really coming into their own in the Major Leagues. In my mind, his combination of youth, age, power, and speed all far outweigh the negative of the swing-and-miss tendencies.
Some comparable players to his skillset include Dodgers phenom Cody Bellinger, Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, and Rangers slugger Joey Gallo. Obviously, all but Bellinger really struggled their first time through their taste of the Majors, but look at the level of success they have had otherwise. Even Gallo still managed to put up a positive WAR despite his nearly sub-.200 batting average. One negative is that with his trade to the Cardinals, O’Neill has suddenly been thrust onto a team with a ton of outfield depth. As of right now, his path to playing time isn’t too clear. That said, it’s actually pretty confounding to me how little attention is given to the 22-year-old. I’m personally going to making a push to trade for O’Neill in my fantasy league, and it’s in your best interest to do so, too.