Written by: Andrew Lowe (@ALowe710)
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
It’s prospect list season, and they’re popping up all over, including here at Prospects 365. I am not one for rankings though. For those new to Prospects 365, I focus more on the thought processes behind dynasty fantasy baseball. Here, I will talk about the concept of being a year too early with a prospect or young, active player.
At one time or another, we’ve all been too early on a player. Heck, some of us have been too early on our entire team. We’ve also seen it plenty of times in professional sports: an organization’s owner or central decision maker overestimates a team’s competitiveness and things happen that derail the lofty goals set for a season. The team that “wins the offseason” often disappoints (*cough* 2018 San Francisco 49ers *cough*) for one reason or another.
While it sucks when that happens, what often goes unspoken about is the fact the team has actually put themselves in position to compete the following year. A decision maker who’s worth his weight doesn’t often acquire a player who is only capable of helping that team for one season; instead, they acquire veterans who will maintain their value for multiple seasons while the team’s young core comes of age.
Last season, I was felt like I had an outside shot at the playoffs in the fantasy league I discuss in my articles. I had several prospects slated to debut. Blake Snell broke out, an Anthony Rendon’s elite production served as the catalyst for my offense. I was aggressive in trades and the free agent market, eventually adding Max Muncy and others to my active roster.
But things happened, as they often do. Brent Honeywell, a prospect I was banking on making an impact for my active roster, underwent Tommy John surgery. Some debuting prospects struggled. I missed the playoffs.
Despite this, I still see the light at the end of the tunnel. I got a high draft pick, have an active roster full of young players, and have several prospects a season closer to helping. While 2018 was not fruitful, I am now loaded with more weapons and feel I am in an even better spot in 2019 and beyond.
Being a year too early on a player is sometimes deflating. You get hyped up when you snag that sleeper you’ve been dreaming of at the perfect spot of your league’s draft. Awesome! But then he sputters.
The next season, you are wary of his pitfalls and avoid him. He blows up and becomes a star for one of your rivals. Simply put, you were just a year too early. It happened to me with Jose Ramirez at the beginning of 2016; I ended up dropping him too early only to watch him explode over the next three seasons as he effortlessly became one of the best players on my rival’s active roster.
I’ve also been too early on players in other fantasy sports like basketball (hello, Al Jefferson) and football. Those sports offer less margin for error, mostly because 95% of drafted players make a team’s active roster. In dynasty baseball, you can often afford to be more patient. This beautiful sport is built in a way so that fantasy owners hold players – usually prospects – for several seasons while they develop in the minor leagues. You don’t actually get the benefit of production until those players ascend to the big league level. Instead, you experience the developmental process of prospects, often reaching the highs and enduring the lows together.
It is good to be a year too early on a prospect. Being a year too early on a prospect is just catching them in a valley. Buying low. Quite often, it means a rise in value is on its way. You can then turn a tremendous profit or receive big production. And in most fantasy leagues, since you bought low, a prospect never nearing their potential means you can simply drop the prospect and nab ‘the next big thing’.
Looking over some rankings, I have seen some lists that seem to a year too early on purpose. M-Rod is really early on George Valera, despite the teenager playing just six professional games last summer before sustaining a hamate injury that required surgery. No one else seems to be quite as high on Valera as M-Rod. And it’s not that the outfielder isn’t worthy of the uber-bullish ranking, but that’s what I would call being early.
To be clear, I am a “couch scout” or whatever you’d like to call it. I don’t really go to minor league games and watch these players. But I read an enormous amount of information from the people who do; in turn, I feel I have a good idea of the many intricacies associated to prospects, both individually and holistically.
With that disclaimer, I am going to provide you with a prospect that I am a year too early on, just like I told you about Oneil Cruz last season.
First, here are a couple of prospects that were considered for this article: Geraldo Perdomo, Juan Pie, and Aaron Bracho. Perhaps that trio is more your speed or style, and I encourage you to look into them.
I feel like the prospect I’m about to tell you about is equipped to be rostered in a league like mine: a deep, 20-team dynasty league. Those of you in shallower leagues (with only a moderate amount of keepers) may not need to consider this prospect for a season or two. My year-too-early prospect this year is…
Jackson is an athletic infielder who has shown above average tools across the board. If you’re in a First Year Player Draft, target him. Luckily, acquiring Jackson this preseason won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Also, with future hindsight, acquiring him in 2019 might be ‘a year too early’. Why?
Jackson was a second round pick out of high school (in Alabama) in the most recent MLB Draft. He was selected by the Angels, a West Coast organization with a system that 1) is improving but not yet elite and 2) is littered with uber-athletes like Jordyn Adams and Jo Adell who will receive most of the publicity within the Angels’ farm. I think Jackson will fly under the radar until he really forces his way into the spotlight.
Coming from an Alabama high school – not exactly a baseball hotbed of talent – means that he has not regularly seen quality pitching. He struggled at Area Codes the summer before his senior year. Being so young, he’s got a thin, wiry frame with room to put on good weight. Of course, that will take time. It would seem Jackson has a long road of development ahead of him, and some players in your fantasy league won’t have the patience to keep the shortstop on their roster for the next three or four seasons as the teenager ascends the many levels of the minor leagues.
While Jackson dominated the high school circuit in Alabama, that competition is not comparable to what Jackson will face in pro ball. After reading this story on The Athletic about Jackson, you can tell why that will likely be an issue in the early stages of the infielder’s career. The elite stuff of other top high schoolers gave him trouble because he doesn’t yet see the ball well. To that point, he struck out in 30.9% of his plate appearances last summer in Rookie Ball. He’s still adjusting to wearing contact lenses while playing, so following that rate will be interesting this season.
Along with the strikeouts, Jackson utilized a simple plate approach (Pull% >50% and LD% <20%) that would be easy for advanced pitchers to exploit. But he also displayed a lot of power, hitting 7 home runs and 10 doubles en route to a .237 ISO in 191 plate appearances. It would be easy to write-off the power output as a side effect of the hitter-friendly environments that the Arizona Rookie League and Pioneer League provide. I counter with this spray chart (h/t Prospects Live’s @MinorGraphs).
Those blue dots were monster home runs; two of them were hit over 440 feet. But focus on those two pink dots close together in right field. Those were home runs that were hit 431 and 432 feet. That is some serious opposite field power and it’s clear Jackson can hit the ball hard to all fields. That notion should give Jackson needed confidence to diversify his batted ball profile more to the opposite field as he continues to face better pitching.
Back in 2015 in a scouting report on David Dahl, FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel said “It may take a few years, but advanced, talented hitters with a natural opposite field stroke will often outhit their raw power at maturity (even with a line drive approach) due to how much hard contact they make.” That is what I would expect from Jackson in the future. It may take a few seasons for him to fill out physically (though he’s already an upper-echelon athlete) and to fully-adjust his eyesight. But don’t worry: if you acquire Jackson now and he stalls in 2019, just be patient – you may just be a year early.
Follow P365 contributor Andrew Lowe on Twitter! @ALowe710
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer Freek Bouw and Phrake Photography