Trade Your Prospects

A big fuss has been made over the Royals considering dealing their top prospect, Wil Myers, for starting pitching help. And the fuss is for good reason. On the field, Jeff Francoeur‘s totally unexpected demise left the Royals with a gaping hole to fill in right field. That reality coupled with owner David Glass’s frugalness – read the second half of this excellent bifurcated piece by Rany Jazayerli – has left many wondering why the Royals would trade almost seven seasons of a potential all-star right fielder for two years of an aging pitcher with a mortgage. But, the game played on natural grass is far different from the one that requires a username and password. Today, I’m here to tell you trading your prospects isn’t only okay, it’s encouraged in many formats.

The Simple Truth
Most prospects fail. According to a study by Scott McKinney, 70% of all prospects fail to a win and a half during their team controlled years. Moreover, just 22% of position players and 10% of pitchers average above two and a half wins. Only you know how deep your league is but in all likelihood most prospects will never perform well enough to start for your team because fantasy leagues have a much higher replacement level than Major League Baseball.

The Present Value of a Prospect
With the first overall pick of the 2012 Rule 4 draft the Houston Astros selected Carlos Correa. Correa has fantastic tools, ranked first on Mike Newman’s Best Shortstops of 2012 and Bullpen Banter’s 2013 Houston Astros lists, and will be a consensus top 25 prospect this winter. That’s great news for the rebuilding Astros, but Correa is a 17-year-old in the Appalachian League and will not likely help your team within the next several seasons. While Correra’s ceiling is sky high, if you adjust his future potential performance with a reasonable failure rate and his distance from the Major Leagues you should be left far less excited.

Leagues employ many mechanisms to add prospects into their ranks. Whether through a draft(s), waiver wire, keeper designation or another protocol most leagues allow you to replenish your system quickly. Take advantage of your leagues’ rules to ensure you continue to develop valuable assets.

An Anecdote
As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t play much fantasy baseball. I’m in one league. I only joined because the league was really deep; included walks and total bases; and I preferred to use my prospect knowledge for personal glory instead of aiding my friends’ conquests. Two seasons ago, following an early exit from the playoffs and Manny Ramirez‘s suspension, I was left with little depth in my outfield. Unsettled, I quickly worked out a deal with my friend Scott for Andrew McCutchen. The price? Jurickson Profar, Carlos Martinez, Casey Kelly, Jarrod Parker and the third overall pick in our 2012 Rule 4 Draft who we both knew to be Dylan Bundy. That’s a massive haul for Scott, but since the trade McCutchen has been a top fantasy performer and only Jarrod Parker has cracked his lineup. It looks like things may turn out well for both of us as Profar, Bundy, and Kelly could have great fantasy impact in 2012. The operative word, however, is “could.” Two years later Scott has finally added projected Major League talent to his roster, but whether they surpass the league’s high replacement level and become valuable commodities cannot be assumed. To be honest, I hope this deal works out for Scott too, but there are many owners I’ve done similar fair trades with which have not been so fortunate.

Do it!
Trading highly ranked prospects who are years away from beginning their Major League career can be your ticket to adding that final piece to your roster or accelerating a rebuilding process. If your league allows you to quickly replace talent you have moved, you’d be foolish to hold onto players for long.

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Formerly of Bullpen Banter, JD can be followed on Twitter.

15 Responses to “Trade Your Prospects”

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  1. Scott Clarkson says:

    Amen to this.

    Sell your flawed prospects before they go all Brett Jackson on you….alarming K rates/lack of discipline at the milb level are just that: alarming.

    Sell you Pitching Prospects that haven’t dominated for a full season at AA yet
    (see Meyer, Alex for a real life example)

    Sell your speedy OF prospects and non-elite power OF prospects: OF’s w/ some pop/some speed grow on trees and are the easiest thing to find on the wire offensive-wise.

    Sell your catching prospects: they may not get serious PT until they turn 26 (See Mesoraco, Devin)

    Sell your 1B prospects: how many actual 1B prospects are there? 1B are made at the MLB level from other failed defensive homes.

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  2. Jose says:

    I draft the prospects who I think are going to get the most press over the next year. If other owners are aware of them, I’m more likely to make a deal.

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  3. jcxy says:

    This is a really nice piece about the present value of prospects for fantasy purposes.

    What’s interesting as well is that Rany wrote an article last year in Grantland about how we’re in a “prospect bubble” and the smart GMs, like AA, are turning prospects into Sergio Santos, Trevor Cahill, and Mat Latos. I don’t think he’s wrong with this general idea so I wonder how much 2012 has changed his opinion as it relates to Myers–specifically the immediate success of Trout and Harper. Perhaps he sees a trend in younger players being more impactful than in previous generations?

    It’s also possible that he’s simply underwhelmed by the names on the table. As he notes, Shields and Lester have associated red flags. But then, so did Cahill, Latos and Gio, right? It’s expensive to trade for quality major league pitching…

    Finally, maybe his (earned) hate of Francoeur is just coloring his vision.

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  4. James says:

    I like to stock up on elite SS type prospects. They are athletic, and may possibly grow into corner power guys. Currently have Profar, Bogaerts, and Brad Miller. Machado added to Roto team last season. I would only consider moving one of these guys for a key player after Allstar break if I’m in contention for a top spot. Injuries play huge and also waiting allows the weed out of MLB players in decline. Prices may drop as well as increase with a career year.

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  5. Jay Stevens says:


    I traded Kevin Gausman and Bubba Starling for Yu Darvish in AL-only Scoresheet league this year. Gausman is close and has a high floor, but he’ll probably never be as good as Darvish is now. I treat prospects in Scoresheet like a form of cheap currency. They don’t count against roster size and are often picked up in rounds that don’t yield everyday talent (late 30s, supplemental rounds). So their cost is relatively cheap, yet they’re great commodities for trades with rebuilding teams.

    That said, there is an art to finding useful players in prospects, especially in deeper leagues.

    In Scoresheet, for example, a great strategy is to grab rookie relievers in supplemental draft rounds called up mid-season. Your average rookie reliever has a much less steep learning curve than a position player or a starter (that is, they’re more likely to be good right away), and they often fail to get the innings to lose their rookie status for the next season. The next season, then, they don’t count against your roster size, and you’ve got a “free” extra arm in your ‘pen.

    Also, grabbing good rookie SPs in AA with some time in AAA — they’re the ones likely to see playing time the next year. I grabbed Jarrod Parker this way. College pitchers and batters, too, are good targets for production. They’re more projectable and come up quicker. And there’s something to be said for the elite prospects…Mike Trout, Bryce Harper. Bundy? Profar? Myers?

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  6. dylanbundy says:

    The REAL simple truth is that fantasy baseball prospects aren’t the same as baseball prospects. I’ve never heard of prospects out of the top 100 being worth anything in fantasy. Usually we’re talking about top 25 or top 50 prospects. These guys fare MUUUCH better than the average prospect. Top 25 prospects had like 1/3 chance to be an all-star in 2005.

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    • Siddfynch says:

      I agree with the first and third sentences, but the second is too strident to ignore. With care, you can find guys like Freese, Allen Craig, Wang, Cano, Pablo Sandoval, just off the top of my head. The top prospects definitely contribute more to fantasy roster, but unrated ones are plenty well represented. The key under exploited criteria here are guys who have positional questions, or who clearly rake, but are considered too old to be sexy.

      Additionally, “failed” prospects who were rated highly initially and then dropped out of the top 100 are a fantasy gold mine and also fall into this category to me.

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  7. James says:

    If McCutchen hadn’t gone off this year and instead maintained something closer to his 2011 numbers of 23/87/89/23/.259 would it really be a big win to obtain him for Profar, Parker, Kelley, Martinez, and Bundy?

    I think your trade “win” had more to do with McCutchen taking a big step, which not every player does, rather than the quality of the prospects you gave up. Those prospects all have a chance of being good MLB players and good fantasy players, they wouldn’t be worth giving up for an above average OF like Cutch was in 2011.

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  8. Tak says:

    I think part of the fun in fantasy is having a few top prospects that could become stars. For example, I have Jameson Taillon and I hope that in five years I can brag, “I told you in 2011 that he was going to be huge!” That said, many do fail and you might win by trading them away.

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  9. Matt says:

    If McCutchen helped you win a title or some cash, JD, then I think it’s a solid trade because you took advanatge of the immediate returns offered by the major league player.

    However, if adding McCutchen simply kept your active roster looking nicer for a season or two but you didn’t actually win anything, then I think this trade could bite you in the ass. Unless my team was ready to win right now and I had a glaring OF hole, I want the careers of those 5 prospects more than I want McCutchen’s career.

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  10. Matt says:

    While I agree with the general premise of the article – that you shouldn’t overvalue prospects in fantasy – as other commenters have pointed out, there is a difference between “a prospect,” and “a top 20 prospect.”

    The keeper league I play in has 6-man benches and no minor league rosters. Thus, any prospects on your squad are burning bench spots. Some guys dig deep, but for the most part the MiLB rostered guys are almost all “can’t-miss” prospects. Which means many of them will miss, of course, but that quite a few will become incredibly valuable cost controlled all stars.

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  11. kab21 says:

    I am completely in trade your prospects camp. I have traded almost all of my prospects for productive vets and I haven’t been burned too bad yet for it while consistently being in the playoffs or just outside. The only prospect that has made it up to my roster is Yonder Alonso and that is mostly due to him being unliked by other owners for the last 2-3 seasons.

    My league is significantly more prospect heavy than most since it’s a 24 tm league with 15 MiLB’ers plus anyone else you carry on the MLB roster. The only problem that I’ve run into is that my team is getting pretty old and lacks star power. We’ll see if this is the year that I hang onto my top prospects since they include Myers, Bogaerts, Harvey (almost a prospect) and Skaggs. Everyone else (several top 100 guys) is available if I need a veteran (not many needs).

    worst trades that I remember and these arguably could have been worth it:
    JZimmerman (tears are flowing), Mejia, Singleton and Dwyer for Haren two years ago but I got 2nd that year.
    Middlebrooks for a veteran scrub 2-3 yrs ago. I have almost nothing at 2B/SS/3B now.
    Gary Sanchez for Carlos Quentin 1.5 yrs ago

    best that I remember:
    JMontero, Billingsley and Drabek for Votto and Holland 3 yrs ago – awesome
    Adrian Salcedo, Joe Benson and someone else for Cuddyer 2 years ago
    2nd rd 1st year draft pick for Scutaro 2 years ago – basically I gave up nothing for a productive MI’er
    Daniel norris and jose Campos for Allen Craig 1/2 year ago

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  12. Kyle Murray says:

    I don’t know how to feel about this, I’m pretty greedy when it comes to trading prospects.

    For example, in a 20-team keeper (keep 25 of 29) I’ve gotten an offer in which I give Profar and Taillon for Aaron Hill and James Shields. I already have Howie Kendrick at 2B, and my rotation right now is Zimm/McCarthy/Gallardo/Fiers/Edwin Jackson with Taillon and Taijuan Walker as prospects. I just feel that Profar is too good to trade for two guys who are going to regress.

    What do you guys think?

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    • SKob says:

      Top prospects should only be dealt in fantasy for drastic improvements. If you are filling a major hole with a top tier talent, say good-bye to Profar! Shields and Hill are not good enough. The author gave up a ton for McCutchen, but that was last year. Would he do the same right now with those players being so close to MLB ready and after Bundy’s dominance last year? Who knows, but McCutch is a top 20 talent. Shields is barely a top 20 pitcher if he is at all and who knows what Hill is going to give you! NO WAY!

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