Written by: Adam Ehrenreich (@mel_reich)
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Being a site that analyzes prospects, we know the market is always looking for the next shiny new toy. Some players seemingly add or lose luster on an everyday basis. The reality is, young players are a volatility index. A breakout campaign could be a fluke. A bad season could be simply be a prolonged slump. We need time to know if these gains/losses are genuine, but we often aren’t afforded that luxury if we hope to ‘get in’ on players at the ground floor. Here’s a list of players to keep an eye on as post-hype sleepers in 2019. Whether you play in a dynasty, a season-long league or something in between, these guys should be viewed as strong buy-low options.
Mike Zunino – Tampa Bay Rays – If September rolls around and I am virtually out of contention in a dynasty format, I tend to take some fliers on post-hype guys. Zunino was one of my picks this past season. Little did I know he would be traded to the AL East, which is a hitter’s paradise. Now, I’m all over the former power hitting prodigy. The 2017 stat line of .251/25/64 is that of a top-10 fantasy catcher, and I think he’ll get back to that in 2019 after struggling last season.
Carson Kelly – Arizona Diamondbacks – The PCL is a dangerous league in the prospect game, and many people believe that Carson Kelly’s 2016 breakout was a product of the hitter-friendly confines (as was the fantastic encore performance in the minors in 2017). As the former heir to Yadier Molina’s throne in St. Louis, Kelly has the skills behind the plate to stick in the major for a while. Time will tell if his bat eventually translates, but the opportunity will be there after he was traded to Arizona.
Peter O’Brien – Miami Marlins – The home run king of the minors for years, O’Brien was supposed to be the future first baseman for the Diamondbacks. Fast forward to 2017 (after averaging 27 home runs per season from 2012-2016), O’Brien ended up spending the whole season in the minors with four different franchises. The future looked like a career as a back-and-forth DH, but O’Brien has seemingly landed in a perfect scenario in Miami. Longtime first baseman Justin Bour is now in Anaheim, and the Marlins are not going to contend. Miami is inclined to give O’Brien at-bats until he breaks, and I think we might see the epitome of a post-hype season. The 30 home run mark is not out of reach. Let’s just hope Neil Walker doesn’t get in the way.
Ryan O’Hearn – Kansas City Royals – O’Hearn could be a better version O’Brien, considering the enormity of his small sample, big league success last season after consistently posting above average wRC+ numbers throughout his minor league career. Whether O’Hearn (somewhat) sustains his success from last season could be the difference between AL-Only and Mixed League relevance.
Honorable Mention: C.J. Cron, Ronald Guzman
Jonathan Villar – Baltimore Orioles – Villar is a formerly-hyped Houston Astros prospect thought to be the next premium base stealer at the big league level. The power that showed up in 2016 (Villar was a Brewer) was a shock, and after crashing back to earth in 2017, this past season was quite promising. I think a trade to the rebuilding Orioles was the fresh start Villar needed, and big things are in store in 2019. There’s 15 HR/40 SB-upside here.
Adam Frazier – Pittsburgh Pirates – Frazier has hit at practically every stop he’s made throughout his professional career, including batting .280 thru nearly 1000 plate appearances at the big league level. Playing time should be his to keep in 2019, and I think Frazier will catapult his way into the conversation for a batting title. We could be looking at the next Daniel Murphy in the AVG department. Let’s see if the power develops.
Rafael Devers – Boston Red Sox – I am all in on Devers this season. He will likely show up in many of my posts leading up to Opening Day 2019. Devers was ridiculously hyped prior to his arrival in Boston; after a mediocre first full season at baseball’s top level, he was dismissed by some in the fantasy community as someone who just may not be all that. Needless to say, at 22 years old, there is a lot ahead for this young man. After batting .311 with 20 homers and 60 RBI in 86 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017, he was subsequently promoted and perceived as the boost Boston needed for the playoffs. He responded by batting .284 with 10 homers and 30 RBI in 58 games at age 20. That’s a total of 30 homers and 90 RBI with a blended .299 batting average. At age 20. Pitchers adjust in hitters’ sophomore seasons, often forcing batters to go back to the drawing board and rethink their offensive strategy. I think season three of Rafael Devers at the big league level is going to be special, perhaps to the extent we see the third baseman being drafted near the first round in fantasy drafts next season. Allow me to stick my neck out: Devers batting over .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBI could eventually become the norm. Offensively, he’s the next Nolan Arenado! Here. We. Go!
J.P. Crawford – Seattle Mariners – The former first round pick for the Phillies quickly became a top prospect on many boards. With a strong hit tool, speed and defensive wizardry, Crawford was viewed as a player who could eventually become one of the best shortstops in the game. He debuted in the big leagues in 2017, yet he’s only managed 3 home runs in 225 plate appearances while slashing a modest .214/.333/.358. Traded as part of the return for Jean Segura, Crawford gets a fresh start in Seattle where he is the focus of an unexpected rebuild. I am very excited to see what some fresh air could do for Crawford’s career. Stay tuned.
Kevin Newman — Pittsburgh Pirates – Another former first round pick, Newman is a speed-and-average middle infielder who has a shot at a starting role in Pittsburgh this season. After a huge 2016 campaign between A+ and Double-A, Newman came back to earth in 2017 before experiencing a resurgence in 2018 for 109 games in Triple-A. Newman had a line of .302/4/35/28 in his time in Indianapolis last season before being promoted to The Show. His 97 plate appearances didn’t show well, but his defense and track record are enough to maintain the intrigue. Newman will be someone to monitor moving forward.
Austin Meadows – Tampa Bay Rays – The fantasy community waited for the Pirates to make room for Meadows for what seemed like a decade, yet they continued to bring in band-aids instead of turning to the future. Traded with Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz to Tampa Bay last summer, Meadows’ potential can now be re-imagined as he gets a fresh start while playing in the AL East. As mentioned earlier with Mike Zunino, swinging your bat in that division is never a bad thing. Meadows has a chance to soar this year.
Brett Phillips – Kansas City Royals – Another case of a change of scenery boosting a post-hype player, Phillips was highly touted but fell out-of-favor in Milwaukee when the organization went into win now mode, signing Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. With multiple organizational options capable of eventually replacing Ryan Braun, Phillips was sent to Kansas City in the Mike Moustakas trade. He might be the odd-man out of the Opening Day roster because he still has options left, but I think Phillips is destined to make an impact at the big league level at some point this season.
Raimel Tapia – Colorado Rockies – #FreeRaimelTapia is highly touted for his speed, hit tool and defense, but the Rockies hate playing their youngsters. The outfielder has a real chance to finally take hold of consistent playing time this season, barring a trade for a veteran between now and Opening Day (please go away, Carlos Gonzalez). In his age 20-to-22 seasons in the minors (2014-2016), Tapia averaged a slash line of .319/9/64/27 in 517 at-bats per season. It would also be a shame if I didn’t mention the following season, when, in 277 minor league at-bats, Tapia hit .369. If Tapia can simply get anywhere close to 500 at-bats at the big league level in 2019, we could be in for a special breakout season.
Lewis Brinson – Miami Marlins – How quickly we forget. When Brinson was dealt to the Marlins, my first text to a pal of mine was “Free Lewis Brinson!” Now, he’s seemingly an afterthought and at-risk of becoming a career Quad-A player. It’s amazing how fast we forget the hype. If you know the track record, you’ve seen enough potential from Brinson to understand it’s not the time to give up on him. He’ll likely be available in your redraft league on Opening Day, so make sure you monitor his progress closely
Shane Bieber – Cleveland Indians – After flying through the Indians system, Bieber came up to the majors with moderate hype. On the outside-looking-in, his first taste of the big leagues didn’t go well: a 4.55 ERA and 1.34 WHIP from a pitcher who doesn’t possess overpowering stuff isn’t exactly a good sign. But the underlying analytics are more promising (3.30 xFIP and unlucky .356 BABIP), and the right-hander should positively regress in 2019. Acquire stock while you still can.
Collin McHugh – Houston Astros – More of a super sleeper than a post-hype guy, McHugh may finally make his long-awaited return to the starting rotation in Houston (though the signing of Wade Miley clouds that picture to an extent). The strikeout rate has continued to rise as he’s gotten older, which could be a result of experience and analytics that steer pitch usage. McHugh has become known for his spin rate wizardry, and it would be fun (for you and potentially your fantasy team) to see him back on the mound for 6+ innings at a time.
Drew Smyly – Texas Rangers – After Smyly’s fantastic run from 2012-2015, the southpaw came crashing to earth in 2016 with Tampa Bay before missing the past two seasons due to injury. Finally back healthy and now with the Rangers, Smyly could be diamond in the rough who plays a huge role for your fantasy rotation in 2019. I’m not in love with the fact the’s pitching from the launchpad in Arlington, but with a career 8.7 K/9 and 3.74 ERA, Smyly will be a valuable commodity this season if he can simply remain healthy.
Adam Conley – Miami Marlins – I have been a big Adam Conley fan for a while now. It’s been a long, winding road for the 28-year-old, bouncing between Triple-A and Miami since 2015. After beginning last season in New Orleans, Conley returned to the big leagues as a reliever and had some streaks of dominance in 52 appearances. He enters 2019 as the setup-man to Drew Steckenrider, but don’t be surprised if Conley finishes the season with 20+ saves.
Honorable Mention: Luke Weaver, Michael Pineda
Follow P365 contributor Adam Ehrenreich on Twitter! @mel_reich
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer Bob DeChiara and USA Today Sports