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For most minor league outfield prospects, 2017 was generally a good year across the board for them all. Many prospects continued to trend upward in their fantasy value, with some putting up very impressive numbers.

Some outfielders though stumbled slightly on their journey to the majors, and because of the success of other players, their failings were amplified as a result.

For these six prospects, 2018 will be a big season for them as they try to either build upon their successes or rebound from their failures.

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Prospect Stocks Rising

Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox

Traded to the White Sox from the Cubs in the Jose Quintana deal, Jimenez had a .312 average between High-A and Double-A in 2017, setting career-highs with a .379 on-base percentage and a .568 slugging percentage. He also set a career-high with 19 home runs, surpassing his 2016 total of 14 HR in 99 fewer at-bats. What shows the most promise for Jimenez however are his walk and strikeout rates. While not much, Jimenez did lower his strikeout rate from 20.3 percent to 19.5 percent in 2017, and he nearly doubled his walk rate from 5.4 percent to 9.5 percent.

These signs of improved plate discipline bode well for Jimenez, especially if he is able to translate that into more HR. Currently it looks like Jimenez will start the year in the minors, but if he gets off to a hot start he could be one of the first options the Sox call on if an outfield spot opens up due to injury.

Oscar Mercado, St Louis Cardinals

It was a breakout season for Mercado in 2017 as he set career-highs in just about every major category with the Cardinals' Double-A affiliate. He hit .287 with a .341 OBP and a .428 SLG — all career-highs — with 13 HR and 38 stolen bases. Mercado has shown plenty of speed throughout his career, averaging 38 a year, but his 2017 HR output nearly doubled his previous career total of eight.

The Cardinals have a loaded outfield at the moment after acquiring Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins, so Mercado has some time to work on improving his plate discipline before an opportunity to be called up arises. If Mercado can cut back on the strikeouts and maintain this newfound power, he could become one of the top fantasy options for owners looking for steals.

Austin Hays, Baltimore Orioles

Just over a year after hearing his name called in the third round of the 2016 Draft, Austin Hays earned a September call-up to the Orioles after destroying pitchers in the Carolina and Eastern Leagues. Hays' quick rise to the majors came after he hit .329 with a .593 SLG — the highest in the entire Baltimore organization in 2017. He hit 32 HR and 32 doubles between the Frederick Keys and Bowie Baysox, all while maintaining a relatively low strikeout rate of 15.1 percent.

While it would be nice to see Hays increase his walk rate from a very low 4.4 percent, all of his numbers so far make it appear that he is a potential All-Star in the making. As of now, Hays looks like he will be the fourth outfielder for the Orioles out of Spring Training, and it is entirely possible that he could be vying for a starting job by as early as June or July.


Prospect Stocks Falling

Braxton Davidson, Atlanta Braves

A former first round pick for the Braves, Davidson has puzzled some with his struggles at the plate through four seasons in the minors. Davidson led the entire Braves organization with 84 walks in 2015, and has averaged 63 walks a season while maintaining a career 15.4 percent walk rate. His problem though is that he may be too patient at the plate, as he has also averaged 129 strikeouts per year and holds a career 31.7 strikeout rate.

When he was drafted, Davidson's power was what many thought would be his biggest strength and when he does hit the ball he shows that power potential is still there. He's averaged 20 doubles and nine HR over the last three seasons, and if he can start better recognizing pitches to drive he could become one of the better prospects in the Braves system. As it stands now though, Davidson will need to show a significant improvement in 2018 before his value plummets even further than it has.

Mickey Moniak, Philadelphia Phillies

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, Moniak's numbers took a dive across the board in his sophomore season after making the jump from the Gulf Coast League to the South Atlantic League. Strikeouts were the big problem for the 19-year-old, as his strikeout rate increased from 18 percent in 2016 to 21.4 percent in 2017. The increase in strikeouts led to his batting average dropping 56 points to .236, while his .284 OBP and .341 SLG were both down more than 55 points from 2016. Another concern for Moniak was his tendency to hit a lot of ground balls. He was able to slightly lower his ground ball rate from 51.7 percent to 47.6 percent, but it was still among the highest rates in the South Atlantic League.

It is way, way too soon to label Moniak as a "bust," but the strikeouts are a concern that fantasy players should keep an eye on. If he can cut down on his ground balls and strikeouts in 2018, he should see his fantasy value return to where his potential says it should be.

Blake Rutherford, Chicago White Sox

Another prospect the White Sox acquired in a mid-season trade, Rutherford hit a sophomore slump in 2017, which saw his batting average drop 91 points to .260 and his OPS drop 312 points to .674. He hit 25 doubles between the Chicago and New York affiliates in the South Atlantic League, but in 310 more plate appearances than in 2016 he only slugged two HR — one fewer than his 2016 mark. On a positive note, Rutherford was able to reduce his strikeout rate from 23.1 percent to 17.3 percent, but he also saw a slight decrease in his walk rate, from 10 percent down to 8.6 percent. A reduction in both his walk and strikeout rates suggests that his struggles might come after making contact, a theory that is supported by his 51.9 percent ground ball rate in 2017. While it was lower than his 56.1 percent rate in 2016, it is still on the high side if he wants to succeed in the majors.

Much like Moniak, it is considerably early to be panicking over Rutherford's numbers. With another season under his belt he could very well have a good year in 2018 and see his fantasy stock go back up. But for now, until he is able to show those improvements he is on a slight downward trend when it comes to his value for fantasy owners.


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