Top 100 Prospects: Better in Reality than Fantasy

In case you haven’t noticed, the past few weeks have brought the unveilings of many of the baseball industry’s most respected and reputable Top Prospects lists. As is, these make for good discussion and great debate, but there’s also a difference between evaluating prospects for real life Major League Baseball and evaluating them from a fantasy baseball perspective. With four Top 100s available for perusal, it’s time to focus on the latter.

This week, we’ll highlight some prospects who are top-of-the-class elite — in fact, each is included in all four of the Top 100s — but actually might be overrated in fantasy compared to reality, given where they stand in these rankings.

For a look at the other angle — Top 100-caliber prospects who are underrated in fantasy compared to reality — you can find it here.

Before getting into the names, here’s a quick review of the methodology I used.

Through the first week of March, these four Top 100 Prospects lists have been released:

1) Baseball America’s Top 100

2) Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101

3) ESPN.com’s Top 100

4) MLB.com’s Top 100

I dissected and parsed all four sets of rankings and identified the prospects who appeared on all four. I found 75 common prospects, which is about what I’d expected, giving me the best of the best.

From there, I took the average rankings of those 75 prospects and sorted them from best to worst. For this week’s column, I focused on the first half of my list of 75 and picked out a batch of prospects who could be overrated in fantasy compared to reality.

Jurickson Profar, Rangers SS/2B
Average Ranking: 1.0 (No. 1 overall out of 75)
Why He’s Better in Reality: Let’s just get this one out of the way, shall we? Look, I’m in no way saying Profar is undeserving of being the top prospect in baseball, but what I am saying is there’s at least a chance that the guy who is the unanimous No. 1 overall prospect might be a little-bitty, teensy-weensy overhyped in the realm of fantasy impact. Put it this way: Profar is a switch-hitter who plays great up-the-middle defense and has an uncanny understanding of the game for a 20-year-old, all of which makes him an exciting and fascinating player — in real life. For fantasy, Profar obviously has value because 1) he plays a scarce position (shortstop), 2) he could earn multi-position eligibility (short and second) while the Rangers figure out what to do with Elvis Andrus, 3) his quality mix of contact skills, pop and speed could lead to .300 averages and 15-15 (or perhaps 20-20 seasons) in the near future, and 4) he has a hitter-friendly home park. (Did I just talk myself out of this argument?) But here’s the bottom line: Profar does everything well but may not be elite in any one category, so he’s likely to have a season where he hits, say, .275 instead of .300, or a year where he manages only 14 steals, or a campaign with less than 60 RBIs. Still a no-doubt starting SS in all formats? Yes. Guaranteed super-duper Top 10 draft pick? Maybe, maybe not. Profar is a headier player (again, a real-life trait), but the name I keep coming back to for a fantasy comparison is Starlin Castro.

Tyler Skaggs, D-backs SP
Average Ranking: 12.8 (No. 10 overall)
Why He’s Better in Reality: Skaggs gets extra rankings love for being almost MLB-ready as well as being far and away the top left-hander among pitching prospects (the next two are Danny Hultzen and Max Fried). He’s also always been young for his level, as evidenced by his debut late in 2012, just a month after turning 21. Skaggs has racked up the whiffs in his minor league career (nearly 10 K/9), but his K rates have dropped while his hit rates have increased as he’s risen to the high minors, mainly because he doesn’t possess a killer fastball and relies more on a dynamite curve and good pitchability. Skaggs is going to be a No. 2 or 3 starter for the D-backs, and soon, but to become a real fantasy stud, he’ll need to curtail his fly ball tendencies and occasional bouts with home runs, especially at Chase Field.

Miguel Sano, Twins 3B
Average Ranking: 13.3 (No. 11 overall)
Why He’s Better in Reality: Consider this more of a warning than an attack on Sano. Rankings fawn for power, and Sano has that and then some. There are, though, potential red flags: First, he may ultimately have to move to either first base or corner outfield, which would push his positional value down; and second, there’s obvious risks with a player who is still only 19 and has struck out in 26% of his plate appearances, none of which have come north of A-ball. Sano did show improved patience, as his 15% BB rate indicates, although it’s fair to wonder how much of that was due to low-level pitchers simply avoiding a guy with arguably the most raw power in the minors. If Sano figures everything out, he’s going to live up to this ranking from a fantasy perspective — a 40-homer monster, anyone? — but he’s got a ways to go to get there.

Travis d’Arnaud, Mets C*
Average Ranking: 14.5 (No. 13 overall)
Why He’s Better in Reality: Catchers are inherently more valuable in real life, given their role on defense and importance to the pitching staff. Combined with the fact that d’Arnaud, 24, has shown a propensity to miss chunks of time with various injuries, not to mention, he’ll be hitting in pitcher-friendly Citi Field half the time, it’s not hard to see some downside. d’Arnaud should become a starter-worthy fantasy catcher and will have more value in NL-onlies, but he probably won’t be the next Buster Posey.
*Fellow RotoGraphs prospecter Al Skorupa has more on d’Arnaud as an overrated fantasy option for 2013.

Francisco Lindor, Indians SS
Average Ranking: 14.8 (No. 14 overall)
Why He’s Better in Reality: By all accounts, Lindor rates extremely high for his defense, plate discipline and game awareness. Do you play in a league that includes those categories? On the plus side, the 19-year-old will stick at shortstop, so that gives him a boost for position scarcity. He also makes enough hard contact to rack up doubles and flirt with double-digit homers, and there’s potential for 20-30-steal seasons. Lindor will have more value in leagues that use OBP instead of batting average, as he sported an 11% BB rate in his first full pro campaign, but he’ll be more solid than star.

Nick Castellanos, Tigers OF/3B
Average Ranking: 29.3 (No. 27 overall)
Why He’s Better in Reality: Castellanos’ conversion to the outfield is the primary reason for his inclusion here. Even if he hasn’t yet shown prototypical third base power, the 21-year-old profiles better at the shallower hot corner than he does in the outfield. Either way, though, it looks like Castellanos is going to really have to hit for high averages (i.e., .290-plus) to become a startable fantasy player in mixed leagues, as much of his pop so far has come in the form of doubles, not homers, and he won’t contribute in steals. Unless the over-the-fence power comes — and it still could — Castellanos is likely to be more of a quality AL-only play.

Albert Almora, Cubs OF
Average Ranking: 30.8 (No. 28 overall)
Why He’s Better in Reality: Read a scouting report on Almora, and invariably you’ll come across words like “instinctual,” “polished” and “makeup.” Many of the reasons Almora rates so well in prospect rankings are due to those intangible factors and his plus defense. Now, he’s only 18, so let’s not judge Almora too quickly — even on something like two walks in his first 145 PAs as a pro — as his performance in his first full season will provide a baseline to work with.

Jackie Bradley, Red Sox OF
Average Ranking: 32.5 (No. 31 overall)
Why He’s Better in Reality: Bradley, 22, fits the profile that’s already been outlined ad nauseam here — great up-the-middle defense and no real flaws at the plate — which often winds up being somewhat disappointing in fantasy. He should be worth 4-5 WAR in his prime, but don’t mistake WAR for fantasy value. If Bradley scores 90-100 runs while topping out in the low double-digits in homers and around 25 stolen bases, he’s a third outfielder, but any additional help in batting average could be dependent on maintaining high BABIPs. The 15% BB rate he displayed in his first full year could make him more than just useful in OBP leagues, though.

Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals RP/SP
Average Ranking: 46.3 (No. 42 overall)
Why He’s Better in Reality: At No. 42 out of 75, Rosenthal ranks just outside the first-half cutoff, but he’s close enough to bring up for discussion. The problem? His role. If given a chance to start, the 22-year-old righty’s fantasy value could be as hot as his triple-digit heater. But if Rosenthal, who’s on the outside of the Cards rotation and looking in, stays in a relief role — and is too good there — then he’ll need to be given the closer’s job at some point to be worth much in fantasy.

Austin Hedges, Padres C
Average Ranking: 46.5 (No. 43 overall)
Why He’s Better in Reality: The 20-year-old Hedges is defined by his defensive wizardry behind the dish, and while he was better than anticipated with the stick, it’s the glove that gets the love on prospect lists. A .279 average, 28 doubles and 10 homers in just 337 at-bats in is nothing to sneeze at, so maybe there’s more than expected, but let’s see if Hedges’ bat plays up as he moves up. Petco, should he get there, certainly won’t do him any favors.




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Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11


27 Responses to “Top 100 Prospects: Better in Reality than Fantasy”

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  1. John says:

    LOVE the concept of this column, but I don’t understand the value of including guys like Profar on the list. I get that his game is worth more than fantasy stat categories, but it’s not like he isn’t hyped, being basically the #1 prospect in the game across the board. Guys I would expect on this kind of list are Hedges, or no. 3 ceiling starters with a really high floor as well, or even Rosenthal, since he’s headed to the pen.

    I don’t know… maybe that’s me just wanting this column to be about something other than what it actually is about. I still really like the concept, and you did get the kind of guys I was expecting on there, too.

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  2. Stuck in a Slump says:

    When I read your reasoning for Jackie Bradley I couldn’t help but think of Aaron Hicks, a guy that can steal 20-30 bases, and hit 10-15 HR’s with a batting average that wont kill you, but doesn’t help either and looks like he may lead off for the Twins.

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    • Jason Catania says:

      Stuck in a Slump: I’ve said this before, and I’ve heard the fellas at Fake Teams use the same comp on Jackie: Denard Span.

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      • Stuck in a Slump says:

        I would hope that Aaron Hicks would be a better fantasy value than that…

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      • Jason Catania says:

        Not so sure. Hicks has a little more thump, but I’m not sure I see Hicks ever being more than an OF 3 at his peak. I always felt fantasy owners liked Span a little too much, and that a lot of his value is tied to BABIPs, which we know vary year-to-year. Hicks and Bradley could be similar.

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      • Cliff says:

        Denard Span seems like a bad comparison if you ask me. At both the minor league and major league level, Span has never hit more than 8 HR in any one season. In the bigs, the year he hit 8 HR, he had 578 ABs….last year, Hicks had 13 HR in 472 ABs. I dont think Span has ever been seen as much of a fantasy asset in anything smaller than 12-14 team leagues. I think Hicks could be a .270/90-100/15/25 type player with the chance at a 20/20 season or 2 thrown in the mix.

        For me, guys like Alex Gordon(minus a little power/hit tool and add a little speed), Drew Stubbs(with better average), Maybin(maybe less speed), and last but not least, i think i hit the jackpot on this one…..THE FLYIN HAWAAIN SHANE VICTORINO!!!

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      • Cory says:

        Bradley seems like Gerardo Parra/Adam Eaton type.

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    • Jason Catania says:

      Cliff: This is my mix-up. I actually meant to compare Hicks to Fowler and Bradley to Span. I think that might be a little closer. I do like Hicks-Victorino in many respects, too.

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      • Stuck in a Slump says:

        Thanks Jason and Cliff for helping to clear that up for me, I appreciate the insight.

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  3. Shawnuel says:

    Nice and I couldn’t agree more with Profar. I was REALLY excited to pick him up in my farm system 3 seasons ago when no one else in the league had even heard of him (Huh?????….Jerkson??? Giggle/gufaw/titter). Anyway, I just traded 4 seasons of Profar at $1 for 2 seasons of Jason Heyward at $1. 3 of Kenley Jansen at $5 and 4 of Adam Eaton at $2. Can’t see Profar playing all that much this season and expect his numbers to be closer to the .275, 14, 60 that you mention for his first two full seasons.

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  4. Sean says:

    In general, most up-the-middle prospects (C, SS, CF) that are glove-strong are likely to fall into this category.

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  5. james says:

    I cashed in profar at this point too, in a full team dynasty i traded Profar, ian desmond, and a Kuroda for Bourn, CC sabathia and AGon. Exactly what my team was missing all last season, a 1b and an ace (and bourn will stay on my team for less than a month since i only took him to get additional value).

    THe smart owners look at profar and see a guy with .300 20/20 potential, that is Derek Jeter for much of his career. We know that, and know that Jeter was an over rated 4-6th rounder most of his career. So why not deal him now when we see the upside is only a 4th round fantasy player (and in my case i grabbed 2 guys that go in the 4th and a guy that goes in the top 100)

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  6. LexDiamonds says:

    I think your look at Hedges is off.

    Simply, in prospecting there’s a lot of value attached to Hedges’ ability to stick at catcher. He’s not a guy like Wil Myers or Tyler Austin who will be forced off the position because of defensive inability.

    Wilin Rosario, of career .300 OBP fame, is a top-10 catcher because he can receive and provides some pop with the stick. I don’t think anyone reasonably expects Hedges to be an all-star caliber bat, but if he can be league-average at the plate, he’ll still be very good value as a catcher.

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    • Jason Catania says:

      LexDiamonds: That’s kinda my point, though. If he’s ONLY league average at the plate for a *catcher*, I don’t think Hedges is all that valuable in fantasy.

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      • Sean says:

        Agreed. You grab him now in a dynasty and you are waiting multiple years to get league-average production. There are some formats where that is useful (like a 30-team dynasty or a two-catcher league) and some where it is less useful (10-12 team mixed).

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  7. brian fawcett says:

    As a scoresheeter, which is a much closer approximation of real world baseball–OBP and defense, particularly in CF and up the middle are important elements of the SIM–this will have far less impact. Interesting stuff, nonetheless, so thanks.

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  8. Ray says:

    I own Sano in an AL-only keeper, and have read that he made improvements at the plate as the season wore on last year after a midseason slump. I can see a Stanton-like progression for him as far as plate discipline.

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  9. Wade8813 says:

    Thanks for the article!

    One correction though – catchers aren’t always in this category. Some like VMart are worth more in fantasy. They’re not very good behind the plate and won’t see much time there, but they still qualify, which is all we need.

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  10. Matt says:

    Yeah, the chances of Profar developing into a perennial top 10 pick are pretty slim.

    If I had him on my roster (keeper league) I’d definitely be looking to cash him in right now.

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    • majnun says:

      I agree, but if he turns into what starlin Castro is doing offensively… That’s a hell of a fantasy player. I get that that would be a “disappointment” but only to a crazy person

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  11. astrosfanatic says:

    For those stuck on Profar, just take a look at Nick Franklin. Practically the same player with a lot less hype. I think Profar is going to be a bust at the MLB level, but that is more of a gut feeling than based on statistics.

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  12. Curtis says:

    Pretty unrelated, but I feel like J.R. Graham was missed in a lot of these prospect lists. If he doesn’t lose his eligibility by next year it wouldn’t suprise me to see him in the top 50

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