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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.