Every Friday I will take a snapshot of this year’s current crop of prospects at each position relative to how they were ranked a year ago. I’ll examine the top performers – those who did not live up to our lofty expectations, and the key graduates. Our rankings last year were compiled by Andy Germani and myself, and I know we have our fair share of hits and misses. The point of this exercise, though, is to highlight players to target heading into 2017, as well as those to look at moving while they still have name value.
While there were only four graduates from last year’s Top 25 Outfield Prospects , there were eight outfielders who saw time in the majors in 2016. As great as Buxton, Dahl, and Mazara are likely to be, this year’s graduates could be just as exciting. It only stands to reason that there would be a steady influx of outfield talent each year, and it’s safe to say that next year will be no different. Besides the players listed below, there are quite a few other climbers and new faces for 2017; this year’s list is going to look quite a bit different.
(2016 rank in parenthesis)
(1) Byron Buxton, Twins: It feels like Buxton has disappointed fantasy owners for a long time, but a quick check shows that he is still just 22 years old. After another up and down season, Buxton turned things around in his return to the majors in September. From that point on, he hit .287/.357/.653 !! He still struck out too often at 33.6% during that stretch, but he finally showed the talent that made him the #1 overall prospect in baseball since 2015. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, it is too late to get back on the train as his current owner no doubt feels that their patience is finally being rewarded. For redraft leagues, feel free to draft with confidence; this may be the only chance to ever get him cheaply again.
(3) Nomar Mazara, Rangers: Mazara came up to the big leagues in early April and had tremendous success before struggling in the second half. Overall, his numbers look fairly pedestrian until you take note that he was just 20 years old for most of the season. It was easy to get excited early as he hit .282/.330/.420 by the All-Star game with just a 15.8% K rate. He was everything he was cracked up to be; that is until he stumbled after the break. Chalk it up to his youth, the league getting a better read on him – chalk it up to whatever you like. Just be warned, Mazara is mature beyond his years and will produce closer to his first half numbers moving forward.
(T7) David Dahl, Rockies: While Mazara will be knocked down draft boards in 2017, Dahl is going to be picked up aggressively in all leagues. And why not? Dahl hit .315/.359/.500 in his 63 big league games last year, with 7 home runs and 5 stolen bases. He’s also just 22 years old and will play half his games in Coors Field. I don’t think he hits .315, but he can go 20/20 while flirting with .300 and I wouldn’t bat an eye. This is a supreme talent in a great situation, and if you’re holding him in a dynasty or keeper league, congratulations.
Other Graduate: Max Kepler, Twins (18)
(9) Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox: We loved Benintendi last year, but all he did in 2016 was conquer High A, AA, and prove himself capable in the major leagues. The combination of speed, developing power, and plate discipline makes Benintendi a potential 5 category contributor. In points leagues he’s even better! He should start 2017 as the starting left fielder for the Red Sox, with the sky as his limit. While it’s not a huge leap from #10 up in the rankings, it would be hard not to note him here as he’s in consideration as the #1 overall prospect in baseball right now. Here’s a look at his first big league home run courtesy of SwaggyPGames; there will be many more to come.
(12) Clint Frazier, Yankees: There were plenty of lower-ranked prospects that have moved up the rankings , but it looks like I’m calling out the big guys. It’s hard to avoid them, especially as they climb into the top five outfielders in baseball. Frazier struggled in his AAA debut with the Yankees last year, but it’s hardly a concern with this 5-tool talent. He’s just a natural talent that just needs to hone in the strikeouts in 2017. I think he needs more time in the minors, but the Yankees look to have a very talented center-fielder (or left-fielder) of the future. The Yankees gave up Andrew Miller to acquire Frazier, and he’s no Miguel Cabrera (the man they got in return) – Frazier may make sure he’s a footnote to Andrew Miller’s outstanding career as well.
(10) Manuel Margot, Padres: Margot has quickly become one of my favorite young players, as he’s just such an exciting player to watch. He combines speed with plate discipline and will look to lead off for the Padres for the foreseeable future.
Margot went just 9-37 in his September call-up with San Diego in 2016, but that included 4 doubles, a triple, and 2 stolen bases. He’s a force on the base-paths and with his ridiculous ability to make contact, he should have plenty of opportunities to wreak havoc. There’s some power here too, and I look for a future 15 HR/ 30 SB type player – yes, I’m that “all-in”.
(6) Nick Williams, Phillies: I’m not sure that Williams has knocked himself completely off this year’s Top-25 Outfield Prospects, but he sure didn’t help himself in 2016. He did manage 13 home runs in AAA, but it came with a 3.6% walk rate and a 25.8% K-rate. He’s always been a free-swinger, and frankly his hit tool allowed him to get away with it through the minors. After hitting .258/.287/.427 in AAA, it’s time for him to tone things down. The good part is that he just turned 23, and another year in AAA might do wonders for his long-term outlook. I still like the player, but he’s not ready, and he needs to get back on track before I will rank him aggressively again.
(T15) Jesse Winker, Reds: I’m not sure how you knock a guy for hitting .303 in AAA, especially when it came with a .397 OBP and as many walks as strikeouts. I’m going to try though. First, there’s no doubt that Winker can hit for average; he’s been doing it throughout his five-year minor league career. The high walk rate is encouraging, but the question is: with little speed, and the lack of displayed power, what exactly are we getting for fantasy?
Now, I don’t doubt that there’s some power there. Maybe he can hit 15 home runs down the road while hitting .300. But that to me looks like a best case scenario, and it sure doesn’t amount to much if it slips to 10 home runs with a .280 average. OBP leagues should hold, but it’s not a bad time to sell high if you can otherwise.
(T15) Daz Cameron, Astros: Cameron broke his finger in July, so it’s hard to say how things could have went for the first-round talent from 2015. As is, we can just look at what he had done, hitting .212/.276/.321 between Low A and A ball last year in 156 at bats. He did steal 12 bases and is still an exciting young talent, but he has no business in the top-25, let alone top-15 like last year yet. If you can buy low I wouldn’t argue, but I’m not out targeting him.
The New Faces
Eloy Jimenez, Cubs: Jimenez is another guy I went in early on, ranking him in the Top 25 Outfielders heading into 2015. Regrettably, he was left off of our list last year, but this is the real deal here. Jimenez has ridiculous power, and at just 19 years old he hit .329/.369/.532 in A ball last year. He’s showing off his skills in the AFL now after putting on quite the display in the Futures Game.
Jimenez could move relatively quickly and add to the Cubs embarrassment of riches as soon as 2018. He could already be a top 10 prospect in all of baseball.
Ronald Acuna, Braves: It says quite a bit when a player misses over three months of the season with a thumb injury and still turns into a major climber on prospect lists. All he did in his 180 at bats in 2016 was hit .311/.381/.432 as an 18-year-old in Class-A. He hit four home runs and stole 14 bases. The Braves have an incredible farm system and Acuna was under the radar; that’s no longer the case. With plus speed, developing power, and a very good approach at the plate, he’s made his mark in 2016. With a continuation of his success next year, Acuna could really skyrocket up prospect lists.
Hunter Renfroe, Padres: Renfroe made a big splash in his big league debut, hitting .371 with 4 home runs and 14 RBI in just 35 at bats. This came on the heels of 623 AAA at bats where he hit .310 with 36 HR, 39 doubles and 7 triples. There is no question about the power, but his aggressive approach (3.9% BB rate in AAA) and some length in his swing raises some concern over how much he’ll hit in the majors. He’s never going to be a big on-base guy, but the power is very real, making him a threat to hit 25+ home runs as early as 2017. I prefer the Margot-type prospects, but if I’m the Padres I am pretty excited to have both of these young building blocks in the outfield.
Next week I will take a look at some big league arms, before resuming this feature in two weeks with the SP prospect movers.
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