This list would have been a lot easier if I could have just included Derek Fisher, Josh Hader, Willie Calhoun, Harrison Bader, and Tyler O’Neill. Unfortunately, I already had all of them ranked on my off-season Top 100 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Rankings (#20, #21, #43, #51, and #78, respectively), and also in my pre-season Top 12 Dynasty League Prospect Sleepers post. Plus, all of these guys are starting to get their fair share of hype, so it is time to dig deeper and focus on the next group of up and comers. Here are the 2016 Mid-Season Top 10 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Breakouts:
1) Chase Vallot KC, C – I might have jinxed Vallot, because since I wrote a Chase Vallot, 2016 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Breakout post earlier this month, he has had one freak injury after another. Here is the Cirque du Soliel, acrobatic collision at home plate that he had the same night I wrote the breakout post, which resulted in a two week back injury. And here are the nasty results of taking a 93 MPH fastball right to the mouth on the very first day he returned from the back injury this week. Selfishly, these injuries might actually help fantasy owners who have off-season prospect drafts, because it will keep his overall numbers down.
2) Christin Stewart DET, OF – I’ve been kicking myself for not being higher on Stewart in the off-season, as he was literally right in my favorite prospect sleeper wheelhouse. He triple-slashed .311/.443/.633 with 15 bombs his junior year of college before being drafted 34th overall by Detroit in last year’s draft, and then he crushed 10 dingers directly upon reaching pro ball. It’s been more of the same this year, as he is slashing .239/.389/.509, with 16 homers, and a 69/48 K/BB in 65 games at High-A. He will likely never hit for a high average, but 20+ homers with a good OBP is a fair expectation once he reaches the majors.
3) Travis Demeritte TEX, 2B – I wrote a Travis Demeritte, 2016 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Breakout post way back in the first week of the season, and he has continued his assault on High-A pitching since then. He is slashing .253/.342/.549, with 16 homers, and 10 steals in 64 games. His 90/33 K/BB is a bit concerning, and he will definitely need to cut down on his K’s some, but Demeritte is like the 2B version of Trevor Story.
4) Dylan Cozens PHI, OF – As I’ve mentioned a few times in my Weekly Prospect Rundowns, Cozens does not possess that super quick, direct path to the ball swing that I love. There probably isn’t much he can do about that, seeing as he is 6’6’’, 235 pounds, and oftentimes tall guys inevitably have long swings. He also plays in a hitter’s park, his K numbers have ballooned this year, and he might ultimately end up at 1B. Having said that, the numbers he is putting up right now are undeniable, slashing .294/.371/.595, with 19 homers, and 13 steals in 65 games at Double-A. He deserves a high spot on this list.
5) Josh Ockimey BOS, 1B – Ockimey is like the Babe Ruth of Twitter, constantly calling his shot. On February 4th he tweeted, “This is the year,” and then just a few weeks ago he tweeted, “Underrated temporarily for the moment.” Maybe it is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy sort of thing, because the 20-year-old Ockimey’s breakout is very real. He is slashing .285/.424/.500, with 9 homers, and a 59/49 K/BB in 58 games at Single-A. Barring a trade, he has the inside track to be Boston’s 1B of the future.
6) Ronald Guzman TEX, 1B – Here is what I wrote about Guzman in my Week 6 Fantasy Prospect Rundown, “The Rangers paid the 6’5’’, 205 pound Guzman $3.5 million back in 2011, and it is just now starting to pay off in a big way. Guzman is slashing .319/.382/.529, with 5 homers, and a 29/10 K/BB in 32 games at Double-A this season. He has a sweet lefty swing and has always had a reputation for being a pure hitter. He doesn’t have huge power right now, but I don’t think it is a stretch to assume it will come as he continues to age and get stronger. You don’t have to squint all that hard to see Nomar Mazara-lite here, and Guzman is another excellent deep league sleeper.” He has continued his strong season since then, and is now slashing .287/.355/.498 with 9 homers in 62 games. Considering his $3.5 million price tag, I assume the Rangers are definitely going to want to give him a real shot.
7) Eloy Jimenez CHC, OF – Jimenez was another highly touted International free agent, signing for $2.8 million with the Cubs in 2013. He always had super quick bat speed and prodigious raw power, and it is starting to really show up in his numbers this year, slashing .332/.370/.526, with 8 homers, and 4 steals in 62 games at Single-A. His 62/15 K/BB is pretty weak, so I doubt he keeps up the high average, but this is just the beginning for the 19-year-old Jimenez. He might end up ranking higher than a few of the guys ranked above him on this list in my mid-season top 100.
8) Mitch Keller PIT, RHP – Keller was the 64th overall pick of the 2014 draft, and after showing promise in his first year of pro ball, he struggled with a forearm injury last season. This season has been an entirely different story, as Keller has displayed insane command with a minuscule 0.9 BB/9, to go along with a pitching line of 2.42/0.81/76 in 67 IP at Single-A. He only throws in the low 90’s, but he does so with an extremely easy and repeatable delivery. He also gets a bump for being in a great situation for pitchers in Pittsburgh.
9) Chris Shaw SFG, 1B – Shaw has cooled down a bit since his smoking hot start, but the overall numbers still look good, slashing .273/.340/.517 with 13 homers in 62 games at High-A. Full credit goes to “The Baltimoron” for scoping him out in the comments section of my Finding the Next A.J. Reed article. I would still be a little cautious, though, because San Francisco has one of the top pitcher’s parks in the majors.
10) Phil Bickford SFG, RHP – Bickford is an absolute strikeout machine. He struck out 166 batters in 86.2 IP in JuCo last season, and he carried that success over to pro ball, putting up a line of 2.70/1.07/69 in 60 IP at Single-A this year. He also has solid control (2.2 BB/9). He does have a high effort delivery that creates some bullpen risk, but in fantasy baseball, I don’t really care about a pitcher having a safe (low K) floor. I’ll take the high K’s and bullpen risk.
*) My 1-year-old Nephew – I just got him to start throwing food with his left hand. Is it probably a little too early to call him a 2016 fantasy baseball prospect breakout? … No, the kid is already making adjustments at 13 months old!
Honorable Mentions: Dan Vogelbach, Drew Ward, Ronald Acuna, Rhys Hoskins, Chris Paddack, Anthony Banda, Mike Soroka, Ryan O’Hearn
By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)