Each week I will look back at my prospect rankings from last year and examine the top performers, as well as those who did not live up to my lofty expectations. In every case, it’s not my rankings that were wrong, but the player who did better or worse than they should have. I’m kidding of course; I’ve got my share of hits and misses, but this series is really about looking forward and what players to target and who to cash in on if you can.
While last year’s top outfield prospects under-performed for the most part, it was still a good year for the position as eight of last year’s highest ranked players graduated. With that many graduates, there will surely be a lot of movement in next year’s list, but the number one guy will remain the same as Byron Buxton fell one at-bat short of losing his eligibility. Like Buxton, the prospects that got time in the majors last year hardly lived up to their potential. As good as 2015 was for the influx of young talent, it was not “the year of the rookies” in the outfield.
The Graduates (2015 rank in parenthesis)
(2) Jorge Soler, Cubs: Soler is the best place to start as far as disappointing debuts go. I’ve been driving the Soler fan-club bus for the past couple of years, but it fell off of a cliff in 2015. His ISO fell to .137 (down from .281 in 2014), and he struck out 30% of the time. He swung at more pitches out of the zone, and made a lot less contact when he did. It was without a doubt a frustrating season for Soler and for his owners. Then the playoffs came, and we saw the same Jorge Soler we did in 2014; he went 9-19 with 3 home runs as well as 6 walks. I’m buying another bus and I’m getting back in the driver’s seat.
(video courtesy of mlb.com)
(3) Rusney Castillo, Red Sox: Castillo had a tough go in 2015 as well, with just a .253 AVG and a .106 ISO, looking less likely to contribute power than when he hit a pair of home runs in just 36 at bats in 2014. He spent a lot of time in AAA last year, but played pretty regularly after he came back up at the end of July. He hit .338/.369/.525 in August as he righted the ship and was a popular pick-up, but collapsed once the clock struck Sept, hitting .194/.236/.252 over the seasons final 5 weeks. I’m not buying any buses here, but I think he can put together a season with double-digit home runs and stolen bases moving forward.
(4) Joc Pederson, Dodgers: Great News: Pederson hit 27 home runs in his major league debut with an incredible 15.7% walk rate. Not so Great News: From July 1st on, Pederson hit .170 with just 6 HR in 218 at bats. There is a lot to build on with Pederson and I am not concerned about his horrible second half. If anything it creates a window to buy that wasn’t there 10-12 months ago.
(6) Yasmany Tomas, Diamondbacks: Like Pederson, Tomas collapsed in the second half, hitting .208/.228/.325 after a first half line of .313/.351/.448. More concerning than the decline is the total lack of power from Tomas which was supposed to be his calling card. And if that doesn’t make you concerned enough, for good measure let’s throw in a 4% walk rate with a 26% strikeout rate. On the plus side, he managed to hit .273 for the season, hardly embarrassing himself against big league pitching in his first go around. More power is likely to come, and I would hold him as his value is probably at his lowest. His spray chart provides some optimism as he’s not your typical pull-happy young power hitter.
Other Graduates: (8) Dalton Pompey, Blue Jays, (18) Steven Souza, Rays, (19) Stephen Piscotty, Cardinals, (20) Michael Taylor, Nationals.
(17) Austin Meadows, Pirates: Andy Germani ranked Meadows as the 25th top prospect overall in his midseason rankings, while I called him a player on the rise in my preseason ranks. An injury-filled 2014 hurt his development time, but this year in his first full healthy pro season Meadows hit .307/.357/.407 in High A. He earned a late promotion to AA, where he went 9-25 with 2 doubles, 3 triples, and a stolen base. Now that he’s healthy, expect Meadows to move quickly through the system – even if the Pirates have no real need for outfield help. Meadows’ excellent speed, line drive power and advanced approach at the plate make him a top five outfielder heading into 2016.
(16) Aaron Judge, Yankees: Judge is a beast standing 6’7″ and weighing 275 lbs. He has a ton of raw power as well as a pretty decent approach at the plate. He saw time in AAA last year, leaving him just a hop, skip, and a jump from the major leagues. Like other big players, he’s got some holes in his swing, resulting in a 26.7% K rate last year. Here’s a look from the fine folks at Baseball America that clearly shows the power, swing and the physical specimen that is Aaron Judge:
(22) Nick Williams, Phillies: I’ve always liked Williams and had him as my 89th best prospect heading in to 2015. With a 4% walk rate and a 29% strikeout rate, it was tough to rank him a lot higher despite the scouting reports. Fortunately, Williams took a step forward in 2015 – a very big step forward. Williams hit .303/.354/.491 in AA this year between the Rangers system and on his new team, the Phillies. He also improved his walk rate to 7% while he cutting his strikeout rate to 19%. The Phillies stocked up their farm system with the trade of Cole Hamels, and none are likely to produce as much as Nick Williams.
I’m not prepared just yet to call anyone from last year’s list a “faller”. While (13) Alex Jackson, Mariners struggled mightily, he was just 19 years old, and with all of the graduates he won’t likely slide too much. He hit for power once he went back to low A midway through the season and has too much talent to be overly concerned.
With 6 of last year’s top 8 outfield prospects graduating, and 9 of the top 25, next year’s Top Outfield Prospect List will be pretty forgiving to those that had a tough season in 2015.
The New Faces
Brett Phillips, Brewers: Phillips was the headliner in the package that the Brewers received from the Astros for Carlos Gomez. He has good speed to go along with some developing power. He is a toolsy-type player that may not do enough of anything to be a star, but could do just enough of everything to be a very valuable fantasy asset. The Brewers may have traded a five tool talent in Carlos Gomez, but they got one back in Brett Phillips. Here’s a look from minorleagueball at a late home run last season:
Bradley Zimmer, Indians: With 16 home runs and 44 stolen bases, this first round pick from 2014 broke out in a big way this year. Zimmer is another five-tool talent with the potential to go 20/20 with outstanding centerfield defense. Zimmer debuted on our 2015 Midseason Prospect List, with Andy Germani slotting him in at #16 overall. That aggressive ranking put him among the game’s very best prospects.
Video Courtesy of Baseball America
And the 2015 draftees, Daz Cameron, Astros, Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox, and Kyle Tucker, Astros:
Following their selection of Alex Bregman, the Astros drafted two 18-year-old outfielders with baseball pedigrees in the 2015 draft. Daz Cameron went in the supplementary round after they nabbed Kyle Tucker with the 5th overall pick. Tucker is the younger brother of current Astros outfielder Preston Tucker. Kyle has the better approach at the plate and should develop the power as he fills in his big 6’4″ frame. Daz Cameron is the son of Mike Cameron and has a that toolsy skill set that teams and prospect lovers look for. They’re both a few years away, but that is an incredible infusion of talent for the Astros.
Benintendi hit .313/.416/.556 across two levels in his debut this year, striking out just 24 times in 198 at bats. He chipped in 11 HR and was voted the best pure hitter among the 2015 draft class according to a Baseball America survey. At 21 years old, he’ll move quickly through the Sox system.
Next, I will take a look at pitching prospects that have climbed or fallen before I start compiling the 2016 position rankings.
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