Written by: Marc Rodriguez (@MRodProspects)
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One of the most gratifying experiences in dynasty fantasy baseball is nabbing a low-level, non-Top 100 prospect right before he blossoms into a stud. Staying one step ahead of your league mates is as imperative as it is satisfying. Doing so means taking advantage of a cost-free opportunity to acquire an asset that will accrue value over time, if done correctly. Whether your Dynasty squad is in “win now” mode or at the beginning of a full rebuild, whether your league’s prospect pool is deep or shallow, outmaneuvering your competition will always provide you with increasingly advantageous situations. In the Twitter era, information on prospects is in abundance and your window for being first on an elite prospect is smaller than ever.
While none of the information stated above is particularly revelatory, figuring out how to identify these prospects and when to grab them in your specific league setting is a more ambiguous endeavor. For me, the biggest indicators are age-adjusted production, overall tools and plate discipline. Prioritizing high BB%, acceptable K% and projectable tools is a simplified way to break down what to look for in a low-level prospect. I need someone with a bigger brain to develop some sort of model to test and quantify this, but this focus has yielded me prospects like Robles, Devers, Eloy and Soto to name a few.
Since every prospect is unique, this is far from a one-size-fits-all solution. For example, Eloy and Devers showed signs of a breakout by hitting for average and power while maintaining a sub-20% K-rate in their first taste of A-ball. The BB% for these two never jumped off the page, but the combination of contact and power was evident early. On the other hand, Juan Soto hinted at his meteoric rise with his 10.4 BB% and microscopic 8.3 K% in an injury-shortened-sample last season. Soto’s power was purely projection until this year. But his physical tools coupled with the fantastic plate discipline made his ascension likely, if not inevitable. What these guys all have in common is that they showed these signs while being amongst the youngest players in their respective leagues.
One of my biggest prospect crushes right now is showing some of these early indicators: enter Tirso Ornelas. It’s easy to get lost in the comically deep farm system of the San Diego Padres, but Ornelas has set himself apart from the beginning. The first thing you notice about Ornelas is his size and tools. Currently listed at 6’3 200 lbs, Ornelas showcases a silky smooth left handed swing and a frame that projects added strength as he matures. That added bulk will likely force him to a corner OF spot, where he should be able to stick given the early returns on his athleticism. Padres manager Andy Green stated recently that Ornelas “runs better than you’d expect him to” for such a big guy. We aren’t particularly concerned with his defensive ability as dynasty leaguers, but it’s nice to know that shouldn’t be an obstacle in his development.
Green went on to gush about the young outfielder, “In my estimation, he’s one of our top outfield prospects. He’s got power, but he also has plate discipline. He walked at a 17 percent clip in the minor leagues last year in his first year of baseball. That doesn’t happen very often. It’s a lot easier to have that skill set intrinsic to you than to have it implanted into you…We’re very excited about him for the future.” Plate discipline is a skill, one that I believe should be graded and slapped onto each prospect’s Fangraphs page, and Ornelas has it. Green’s comments about an 18 year-old international signee like Ornelas also illustrates the impression Tirso has made on his organization’s front office. Ask around the prospect chats of Baseball America, Keith Law, Eric Longenhagen – or dive into the YouTube clips of his at bats – the prevailing sentiment is that the reviews are glowing on this kid.
Before a recent mini-slump, Ornelas’ numbers looked like this:
Even after a string of 0-fors, Ornelas’ BB% sits at a comfy 10.7% on the year. He has also hit 43% of his balls to the opposite field, which is good for Top-10 in the Midwest League. These are all signs of a well-rounded hitting approach. And just to drive this point home, he is doing all of this as the 2nd youngest player in the entire league, at 18 years of age. On his current trajectory, Ornelas has a future as a high-contact, high-OBP hitting prospect with developing power. If I’m going to buy into any young hitter, it’s almost always going to be because I expect him to put up above average on-base percentages. OBP is the foundation of a good hitter because it minimizes slumps and gives hitters more opportunities to fill up the box score for your fantasy team.
So, when do you race to your leagues minor league transaction wire to add a guy like Tirso Ornelas? The answer to that is largely dependent on how deep your league’s minor league pool is. I play in relatively shallow dynasty leagues where ~120 prospects are owned and I haven’t pulled the trigger yet. Committing a roster spot to an 18 year-old in shallower leagues is a more costly time commitment than may be necessary, especially if you are competing for playoff spots today. In settings deeper than that, I think the time is now. This is not to say that I think he’s the next Eloy Jimenez. I simply believe he’ll accrue value and if the cost is nothing, I’m interested. I’ll have him as a backend Top-100 prospect next time around and if he progresses as I expect, it will only be a matter of time before Ornelas is a consensus Top 100 guy with a chance to be more down the road.
More Mining – Prospects I’m keeping tabs on who show similar signs of future success (also known as close your eyes and point at the back half of the Padres Top 30).
Jeisson Rosario, 18, Padres OF (.277/.436/.337, 20.9 BB%, 22.4 K%) – Rosario is another very young OF who has the defense to stick in CF and elevate his real-life prospect stock. He is walking at a ridiculous 20.9% rate this year, proving he has a chance to match that value on the offensive side of the ball.
Esteury Ruiz, 19, Padres 2B (.274/.343/.492, 8.8 BB%, 26.3 K%) – Ruiz has showcased his huge fantasy potential while smashing five homers to go along with a tidy slash line. He has plus raw power and could be a coveted slugging middle infielder if he can stay on the dirt.
Gabriel Arias, 18, Padres SS (.208/.275/.242, 7.6 BB%, 29.5 K%) – The numbers aren’t there yet for Arias, who is only a few weeks older than Ornelas. However, he looks like a stud defensively at SS, which could vault him up rankings if the offense can catch up. Fangraphs gives him future 55/50 grades for his hit/power.
Yasel Antuna, 18, Nationals SS/2B/3B (.203/.275/.281, 8.5 BB%, 27.5 K%) – Like Arias, Antuna is more projection than production right now. He walked nearly as often as he struck out in 200 PA’s in the GCL last season, so I expect those rate stats to improve over a bigger sample. Keith Law believes (insider) he has the biggest upside in the Nats’ system after Robles and Soto.
Carter Kieboom, 20, Nationals SS (.268/.381.443, 14.8 BB%, 17.6 K%) – Kieboom is a more well-known commodity in fantasy circles, but I wanted to mention him because I think he is a Top 50 prospect right now. Scouts seem split on whether he can stay at SS, but his bat will easily profile at 2B or 3B. He has a great approach, makes plenty of contact and shows power to all fields. If you can acquire him now before the hype catches up, do it.
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Featured image courtesy of Zimbio