NL Prospects Update for Fantasy Baseball
Each Thursday, I will provide an update on a handful of National League prospects as they develop in the minors and work their way towards fantasy-relevance in the big leagues. Most of the guys I profile are (and should be) owned in dynasty leagues, as they are all players who showed up at the top of pre-season prospect lists. Fantasy owners love prospects.
We love to show off our knowledge and be the first one to hit the waiver wire and jump on a guy who gets called up. Sometimes these moves pay off and sometimes they don’t. The thing to remember is that prospect-hunting is a risky proposition. We’ve been spoiled by the debuts of Harper, Trout, Machado, Fernandez and others, but very few call-ups actually perform at that level immediately.
That said, since Minor League games haven’t begun yet, I’ll begin this week by throwing out the names of four guys who I think will have an impact this season in the National League. They are four, among others, that I’ll be keeping my eye on and providing updates on in future articles as the season advances.
Robert Stephenson, SP, Reds
Watching the Reds-Cardinals game on opening day, Johnny Cueto took a ball off his hand, reminding me of how fragile he has been the past few years and how fortunate the Reds have been to get the pitching that they have from this staff. Last year, the Reds had to reach for Tony Cingrani as their fifth starter and got great results, but I have serious doubts that he can continue that success as a starter. At some point this season, the Reds will once again need to reach for a starter and it will likely be top prospect Robert Stephenson. Stephenson has been assigned to double-A Pensacola where he struck out 18 men in 16-plus innings last season. Stephenson has two plus pitches, a fastball and a curve, plus a developing changeup. He needs to develop better command and master his change before he can ascend to front-line major league starter status, but it shouldn’t take him long to do that in AA. When he does get the call, expect about a strikeout per inning and an ERA in the mid-3’s.
Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Cubs
Baez could be the most-hyped player in the minors and should be on everyone’s fantasy radar should he get called up this season. The good: he hit .282 with 37 home runs, 34 doubles and 111 RBIs in 130 games between Class A Daytona and double-A Tennessee in 2013. The bad: he committed 44 errors. Baez’s bat is Major League-ready. He pounded five homers in Spring Training, most of the moonshot variety. He will begin this year at triple-A Iowa where he may continue to work at second base – which would seemingly be his quickest path to the majors. He would be an immediate upgrade on offense over the Luis Valbuena/Darwin Barney time share at second base for the Cubs – though he could eventually settle in at shortstop or third, depending on the Cubs’ plans. All he needs to do is find some consistency in the field and eliminate a bit of the swing-and-miss in his game (he swings at everything) and he will immediately become an impact fantasy bat at an infield position.
Noah Syndergaard, SP, Mets
When any pitcher posts a 11.5 K per nine rate to go along with just two walks per nine in double-A, that’s going to raise some eyebrows and shoot him up the prospect lists. That’s what Noah Syndergaard did last year. The 21-year old righty will be the third top Mets pitching prospect to hit the majors in the past three years, joining Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. Syndegaard should slot right in with those guys, forming one of baseball’s best young rotations next season. As for this year, Syndergaard will begin the season at triple-A Las Vegas. His repertoire includes a hard fastball with pinpoint command and a killer hammer curveball. There was talk of him developing a slider this season which, if effective, might raise him to Matt Harvey levels. The back end of the Mets’ rotation offers little resistance to his advancement.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates
Polanco should get a call-up to the Majors this year, reportedly after the super-two deadline in June. When he arrives, the Pirates will have the slickest fielding outfield in the National League, but how will he help in fantasy? Polanco projects as a “five-tool” player, though not all those tools will develop immediately. He’ll probably be more of a steals and runs scored guy this season, while his power will develop later. He will begin the year in triple-A Indianapolis.
If anyone has any suggestions on other prospects to profile in future articles, I am always available via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @baseballscotty.