Catching the surprise prospects before they make the jump (or at least before the headlines) is a major key to success in any fantasy league. Last year, anyone who was able to snag guys like Matt Duffy or Jung-ho Kang got quite the return on their investment, considering they were mostly late round steals or waiver wire grabs.
Finding these kind of sleepers is, by definition, not easy. But thanks to an ever-increasing wealth of data from every level of the sport, we can dust off some of the mystique that has surrounded finding these gems in years prior. We can use park factors, batted ball profiles, advanced linear metrics, and some teams even offer us PITCHf/x data. So with all this at hand, we can start to see who is flying under the radar from the bigger prospect sources like Baseball America, Keith Law, and Baseball Prospectus.
So to find these guys, let’s think about what we need to look for. Age relative to level helps reduce error on guys who are feasting on less developed pitchers. Discipline rates tend to stay pretty consistent, and young players without good eyes often flame out. A power hitter without success against a certain pitch will have a hole too big to fix when the caliber of competition can just keep going back to the well. And the list goes on.
So without further ado:
Ben Gamel OF Yankees
Gamel has had his prospect light overpowered by the likes of Greg Bird, Rob Refsnyder, and Aaron Judge, but he’s a darn fine prospect in his own right. He has a crowded outfield to break into, but talent will play (whether that involves a position swap or a trade). He managed to win the International League (AAA) Rookie of the Year award at 23 years old, by hitting for a .300 average with a solid .174 isolated slugging. He has average to plus strikeout and walk stats throughout his career which also helps us believe in his bat sticking.
Although he has been left off of major top 100 prospect lists, he managed to find himself at number 55 for the KATOH prospect forecaster by Chris Mitchell of FanGraphs. While not a perfect system, it’s been fairly accurate so far and is also the current gold standard for prospect projection systems.
Gamel seems to have been overshadowed by other, higher ceiling players in the Yankees’ farm, but he deserves his own recognition. Strong contact with decent power, plus a chance to steal double digit bags; he’s got a bright future.
Socrates Brito OF Diamondbacks
If the talent doesn’t catch your eye, at least his name can. Brito has proven himself to be more than a gimmick, with a second strong offensive campaign as a 22-year-old in AA ball. He shows off blazing speed, and he’s cut back on strikeouts for four consecutive minor league seasons despite moving up a level in each. He has hit around .300 the past two years, and while his BABIPs have been high (around .340), they aren’t so crazy as to become worrisome. He’s improved his bat every season, spreads the ball around well, and his fast feet can help him continue to beat regression.
Brito is a big guy, listed at 6’1 and 200 pounds, but watching him run makes you think that his organization was a little generous in their profile on him. What makes him really exciting is the possibility of him using that frame to fill out a little and start to tap into the power that he’s flashed. Brito only knocked out 19 bombs over the past two seasons, but his isolated slugging has increased.
He’s also on an upward climb in fly ball percentage. There seems to be a concentrated effort to get his power out, and he’s been rated as plus to even better by some evaluators. Brito is an exciting prospect for speed and contact, but some blossoming power could make him truly electric.
Renato Nunez 3B Athletics
Picking Oakland prospects to develop well almost seems to be cheating, but despite consistent production and awesome power, he hasn’t caught on to any top 100 list. He’s hard to miss in game, a tall, looming figure who is still filling out his physical frame. And when he makes contact, you know it.
Nunez knocked out 18 bombs last season with an isolated slugging of .202, a monstrous number for a 21-year-old in AA. His .278 average is a little lower than some more elite prospects, but a little bad luck (.283 BABIP) and a low strikeout rate (15.9%) quell much concern over his contact. His average may not ever reach .300 at the major league level, but he has easy 25+ homer potential which negates any loss in average.
His defense at third base is questionable, and we may end up seeing him forced to move over to first or the outfield, where he will lose some premium position value. But the bat is legit, and quite frankly, most fantasy leagues don’t really care if his range isn’t spectacular. Nunez has slugger written all over him, and that’s what is important.
Gavin Cecchini SS Mets
The brother Garin probably has people wary of the younger one. Garin Cecchini, with the Red Sox, was primed to be the third baseman of the future in Beantown, thanks to amazing contact and bat control, and then something goofy happened. His strikeouts shot up, the power potential never even creeped to average, and now he’s just clinging on hoping for another chance in Milwaukee.
But everything Garin did well, Gavin is doing better. At 21 in Double A, Gavin hit for a 139 wRC+ while striking out just 11% of the time. His isolated slugging of .125 is below average, but it’s still actually good for his position, and at such a young age we can expect it to develop more. He’s still a primarily grounder type hitter, but his fly ball percentage exists high enough that he could grow into double-digit homers.
His quick movements and sharp baseball IQ will allow him to stay at short, and makes his plus contact and average at best power play up big time. He’s very polished in the mental state of the game, something that was lacking from the scouting reports of his brother, and lets up believe he really does have what it takes to make it to the Show, and have success while he’s there.
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