2016 Top 100 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Rankings: 16-40

Prospect ranking season is finally here! We start in reverse, reverse order this year. Most people would start from 100, and count down to 1. But not here at Imaginary Brick Wall, where we turn traditional logic on its head … and then flip it back around again.

It should be noted that these rankings are for dynasty leagues, not for just 2016. Proximity to the majors is favored, but upside is still highly valued.

2016 Top 100 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Rankings: 1-15

16) Brad Zimmer CLE, OF – 20/30 potential. Numbers dropped off after reaching Double-A last season, but was playing through a hairline fracture in his foot. Prime projection: 88/21/87/.270/25

17)  Joey Gallo TEX, 3B – Sooooooo many homers. Soooooooo many strike outs. Prime projection: 80/38/100/.242/5

18) Bobby Bradley CLE, 1B – Only Reed and Gallo have more power potential than Bradley on this list. Prime projection: 80/33/110/.253/4

19) Nomar Mazara TEX, OF – Rangers paid over $5 million to sign Mazara when he was 16 years old. All the talent in the world. Projects for above average contact and power. Prime projection: 89/24/104/.293/4

20) Derek Fisher HOU, OF – Wrote a Derek Fisher, 2016 Fantasy Prospect Sleeper post. Prime projection: 84/22/81/.270/17

21) Josh Hader MIL, LHP – Started to receive some hype after his fastball averaged 97 MPH in the Arizona Fall League. Big lefty. Reminiscent of Chris Sale. Prime projection: 3.31/1.18/193 in 190 IP

22) Tim Anderson CHW, SS – If I was breaking this up into tiers, this would be the beginning of the SS tier. But I’m not breaking this up into tiers, so this isn’t the beginning of the SS tier. Prime projection: 90/9/59/.277/31

23) Trea Turner WASH, SS – MLB ready, but will Stephen Drew and Danny Espinoza prospect block him? Plus speed and contact, with a little pop. Prime projection: 95/8/51/.282/28

24) Brendan Rodgers COL, SS – Oozing with potential. Can’t help but drool at the possibility of a power hitting SS playing half his games at Coors. Still a long way off, though. Prime projection:  89/25/100/.280/7

25) Dansby Swanson ATL, SS – #1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Slightly above average power and average speed. Better in real life than fantasy. Prime projection: 87/17/79/.286/14

26) Alex Bregman HOU, SS – #2 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Climbed all the way to High-A in his first year of pro ball, triple-slashing, .319/.364/.475. Prime projection: 92/15/74.293/15

27) Orlando Arcia MIL, SS – Another SS who would rank higher if this wasn’t a fantasy ranking. Broke out at the plate in 2015. Prime projection: 82/10/70/.274/25

28) Carson Fulmer CHW, RHP– 3rd pitcher selected, but best fantasy pitcher in the 2015 draft. Elite strikeout potential. Prime projection: 3.43/1.19/200 in 190 IP

29) Max Kepler MIN, OF – The big German had a monster 2015, putting up a .947 OPS in Double-A, with 9 homers and 18 steals. Prime projection:  85/18/85/.293/16

30) Trevor Story COL, SS – 20/20 season last year, splitting his time between Double-A and Triple-A. Gets the Coors Field bump. Prime projection: 79/20/83/.258/14

31) Gary Sanchez NYY, C – Wrote about him in my New York Yankees Top 5 Fantasy Prospects article. Prime projection: 67/22/83/.280/4

32) Tom Murphy COL, C – If I told you there was this major league ready catcher, with tons of power, and will play half of his games at Coors Field, is that something you would be interested in? Prime projection: 65/25/85/.259/4

33) Alen Hanson PIT, 2B – Wrote a Alen Hanson, 2016 Fantasy Prospect Sleeper post. Prime projection: 84/13/70/.277/25

34) Aaron Judge NYY, OF – Wrote about him in my New York Yankees Top 5 Fantasy Prospects article. Prime projection: 75/26/90/.260/7

35) Victor Robles WASH, OF – The scouts are slobbering all over this kid. The numbers back up the praise, triple-slashing, .352/.445/.507, in the lower levels of the minors last season. Prime projection: 96/14/75/.304/30

36) Kolby Allard ATL, LHP – Injury concerns be damned! This kid is the real deal. Was the 1st prep arm selected in the 2015 draft. Stuff draws comparisons to Clayton Kershaw. ETA is 3-4 years down the line. Prime projection: 3.25/1.09/210 in 195 IP

37) Anderson Espinoza BOS, RHP – Another teenage arm who could be on the fast track to the majors. Drawing comparisons to Pedro Martinez. Prime projection: 3.35/1.11/198 in 190 IP

38) Jorge Mateo NYY, SS – Wrote about him in my New York Yankees Top 5 Fantasy Prospects article. Prime projection: 87/9/50/.275/42

39) Brett Phillips MIL, OF – Power/speed combo. Hard-nosed player whose tools play up. Prime projection: 86/17/76/.275/19

40) John Lamb CIN, LHP – Sleeper alert! Poor man’s Steven Matz. Will start 2016 in the Reds rotation. Put up a pitching line of 2.67/1.17/117 in 111.1 IP in Triple-A last season. Prime projection: 3.42/1.18/190 in 190 IP
2016 Top 100 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Rankings: 41-70

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

2016 Top 100 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Rankings: 1-15

Prospect ranking season is finally here! We start in reverse, reverse order this year. Most people would start from 100, and count down to 1. But not here at Imaginary Brick Wall, where we turn traditional logic on its head … and then flip it back around again.

The top 15 hold few surprises. These are all highly sought after players, who are getting hyped to death. The fun really begins the deeper into the list we go. But today it is all about the elite of the elite. It should be noted that these rankings are for dynasty leagues, not for just 2016. Proximity to the majors is favored, but upside is still highly valued. With that in mind, here are the 2016 top 15 fantasy baseball prospects:

1) Corey Seager LAD, SS – Triple-slashed, .337/.425/.561, with 4 homers, and 2 steals in his first 113 MLB PA. Prime projection: 95/22/105/.300/8

2) Byron Buxton MIN, OF – Struggled in his first taste of the majors, but the tools and upside are still enormous. Prime projection: 105/15/80/.285/34

3) Yoan Moncada BOS, 2B – After a slow start to his stateside career, he absolutely tore up Single-A in the 2nd half. Sox paid $63 million to get this kid for a reason. Prime projection: 98/17/89/.280/30

4) Lucas Giolito WASH, RHP – Electric, top-of-the-rotation stuff. Struck out 131 batters in 117 IP in 2015. Prime projection: 2.91/1.03/226 in 210 IP

5) Tyler Glasnow PIT, RHP –  If you missed on Giolito, Glasnow is one hell of a consolation prize. Struck out 136 batters in 109.1 IP last season. Still needs some work repeating his delivery. Prime projection: 2.98/1.12/230 in 205 IP

6) A.J. Reed HOU, 1B – Wrote about him in my Finding the Next A.J. Reed article. Prime projection: 89/32/117/.282/3

7) Julio Urias LAD, LHP – Pitching prodigy in the truest sense of the word. As an 18-year-old, he climbed all the way to Triple-A last season. Easily might end up the best pitcher on this list. Prime projection: 3.10/1.09/211 in 200 IP

8) Andrew Benintendi BOS, OF – The best college bat in the 2015 draft. Didn’t miss a beat once reaching pro ball, triple-slashing, .313/.416/.556, hitting 11 homers, and stealing 10 bases in only 54 games. Prime projection: 90/23/100/.291/15

9) Lewis Brinson TEX, OF – Adam Jones 2.0. Put up a 1.004 OPS last season, and cut down on his strike outs. Legitimate 20/20 potential. Prime projection: 93/28/101/.274/17

10) Steven Matz NYM, LHP – Wrote about Matz in my Matz vs. Severino article. Prime projection: 3.33/1.16/188 in 195 IP

11) Alex Reyes STL, RHP – Fastball can reach 100 MPH. 13.6 K/9 last season. Poor command makes him riskier than the guys ranked above him, but still holds elite upside. Prime projection: 3.35/1.20/240 in 210 IP

12) Jose Berrios MIN, RHP – A bit undersized at 6’0’’, 185 pounds, but the numbers are undeniable. 2.87/1.05/175 in 166.1 IP split between Double-A and Triple-A. Plus command and control. Prime projection: 3.39/1.09/190 in 200 IP

13) Blake Snell TB, LHP– Put up a minuscule 1.41 ERA, striking out 163 batters in 134 IP last season. Rays have a strong history of developing starting pitchers. Prime projection: 3.36/1.15/209 in 198 IP

14) Jose De Leon LAD, RHP – Enjoyed a huge breakout in 2015, putting his name on the prospect map. Only Glasnow and Reyes have higher strikeout upside than De Leon on this list. Prime projection: 3.41/1.14/220 in 190 IP

15) J.P. Crawford PHI, SS – Would rank higher if this wasn’t a fantasy ranking, due to his plus defense and plate discipline. Projects for average power and above average speed. Prime projection: 100/12/62/.289/22
2016 Top 100 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Rankings: 16-40

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

Zach Galifianakis, Baskets

Zach Galifianakis is known for his off-beat, dark style of comedy. What makes him truly great is his ability to relate and endear himself to the audience, even when playing the most bizarre of characters. But he lets the audience only get so close. He reveals only a small sliver of what is actually behind his veneer of comedy. It is this quality that can lead people to label Galifianakis the quintessential “sad clown.” And in Zach Galifianakis’ Baskets, he makes this a reality.

Baskets is a dark comedy, centered around the life of an aspiring clown. Or, as Galifianakis’ character would tell you, he has “a passion for clowning.” Nobody in his life believes in him, though. His classical clown teacher mocks him, calling him “Bozo” and “Ronald McDonald.” His girlfriend constantly puts him down, derisively remarking, “you are not a clown.” But he refuses to give up on his dream, and eventually lands a job as a rodeo clown.

In classic Galifianakis style, he somehow makes all of this very relatable. You do not need a passion for clowning to find common ground with this show. Baskets focuses on themes like following your dreams, brushing yourself off after getting knocked down, and the perseverance it takes to reach your goals. All presented with that signature Galifianakis charm.

Galifianakis is not the only thing Baskets has going for it, either. Louis C.K. is the co-creator, writer, and executive producer. You can certainly see his fingerprints all over the show. Louie Anderson plays the role of Galifianakis’ mother. Yes, you read that right, his mother. And he is shockingly perfect in the role. Lesser known actress, Martha Kelly, plays Galifianakis’ insurance agent. The interplay between Kelly and Galifianakis is absolutely hysterical. I hope to see more of that duo as the show progresses.

If the early returns are any indication, FX has a major hit on their hands with Baskets. Zach Galifianakis and Louis C.K. have combined to form a comedy powerhouse that has just begun to tap into the potential of what this show can become.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

Finding the Next A.J. Reed

If you did not acquire A.J. Reed before the hype train started to roll last season, you’re shit outta luck. After being largely ignored by the fantasy community in 2014-15, Reed is a highly sought after commodity in 2016. He was the first player taken in my fantasy league’s prospect draft this year. While it might be too late to get Reed, it is not too late to go search for the next A.J. Reed.

Reed was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft. He was a bat-first prospect who raked in college, and most importantly, raked right from the get-go in professional ball. Splitting time between Low-A and Single-A in 2014, Reed triple-slashed, .289/.375/.522, and hit 12 home runs in 68 games. That is the blueprint we are looking for. We want bat-first prospects who were not first-round picks, but exceeded expectations once reaching pro ball. There are three names who fit this criteria, and each could be had for almost nothing in most leagues.

Willie Calhoun LAD, 2B/OF – Calhoun was drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 draft. Playing for Yavapai Junior College last season, he triple-slashed a ridiculous, .432/.520/.952, and hit 31 home runs in 63 games. Considering the weaker talent in Junior College, it was fair to wonder how his production would translate against tougher competition. We don’t have to wonder anymore. Calhoun triple slashed, .316/.390/.519, and hit 11 homers across three levels of the minors. He actually got better as he rocketed through Los Angeles’ system, putting up a .943 OPS in High-A. He struck out only 38 times, and walked 35 times in 73 total games. He is currently a second baseman, but is extremely raw there. He will likely end up in the outfield. Overall, Calhoun has shown elite contact skills, to go along with his elite power. Target in all leagues, before it is too late.

Harrison Bader STL, OF – Bader was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft. Playing for the University of Florida, a big time Divison 1 program, he triple-slashed, .297/.393/.566, and hit 17 homers in 67 games. There were questions about whether his power would translate to wood bats. There aren’t questions anymore. Doing almost all of his damage in Single-A, Bader triple-slashed, .311/.368/.523, with 11 homers, and 17 steals in 61 games. St. Louis has recently drafted prospects who display plus bat speed and exit velocity, and Bader is no exception. He has good contact skills, above average power, and opportunistic speed. This is a potential 5-category producer down the line.

Austin Byler 1B, ARI – Byler is the player who most resembles A.J. Reed, and is also the most risky. He is a slow-footed first baseman, with lots of strikeouts, walks, and power. Byler was drafted in the 11th round of the 2015 draft. Playing for the University of Nevada-Reno, he triple-slashed, .328/.507/.652, and hit 14 homers in 56 games. Then, as a 22-year-old in rookie ball, he launched 15 homers in 66 games, putting up a 67/50 strikeout to walk ratio. Much like the questions Reed faced in 2014, Byler will need to prove he can consistently tap into his power in the upper levels of the minors. While Byler is the one most like Reed, he is also the one I am most cautious on, as he has not advanced above rookie ball. The power is undeniable, though, and he is worth a look in deeper leagues.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

2016 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 20 Catchers

Nothing says fantasy baseball is back like rankings season. We start with the historically weak hitting catcher position. Their projected numbers will make you pine for the PED era.

2016 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: First Base/Second Base/Shortstop/Third Base/Outfield(Top 25)/(Top 50)/(Top 75)/Starters(Top 25)/(Top 50)/(Top 75)/(Top 100)/Closer/Top 250 Overall

1) Buster Posey SF – Best catcher in baseball, in real life and fantasy. 2016 Projection: 73/21/90/.312/2

2) Kyle Schwarber CHC – Great ballpark. Great line-up. 16 homers in only 273 PA in 2015. 5 homers in 31 postseason PA. 2016 Projection: 71/27/89/.254/4

3) Brian McCann NYY– Not a sexy name anymore, but still a lock to launch 20+ homers hitting in Yankee Stadium. 2016 Projection: 62/24/81/.240/0

4) Salvador Perez KC – Perfect mix of upside and reliability. 2016 Projection: 60/20/75/.270/1

5) Travis D’Arnaud NYM – Don’t let the French name scare you off, D’Arnaud has elite power upside for a catcher. He hit 12 homers in 268 PA last season. With improved health, 2016 could be his coming out party. 2016 Projection: 59/23/70/.264/1

6) Russell Martin TOR – Old reliable. Great ballpark. Great line-up. 2016 Projection: 70/18/72/.260/5

7) Devin Mesoraco CIN – After injury plagued 2015, expected to be fully healthy for next season. Prime bounce back candidate. 2016 Projection: 56/20/69/.255/1

8) Jonathon Lucroy MIL – After poor 1st half, Lucroy triple-slashed .289/.347/.461 post all-star break. Should be back to normal self for 2016. 2016 Projection: 54/14/64/.280/3

9) Matt Wieters BAL – Wrote a Matt Wieters, 2016 Fantasy Sleeper post for him. 2016 Projection: 62/21/75/.270/0 – (Update: Wieters is experiencing soreness in his elbow but is expected to be ready for opening day. Here we go again …)

10) Wellington Castillo ARI – Absolutely exploded once he was traded to Arizona in 2nd half of the season, hitting 17 homers in 80 games. 2016 Projection: 51/19/70/.250/0

11) Yan Gomes CLE – Hit 9 homers in 56 post all-star break games after healing from a sprained MCL. 2016 Projections: 51/20/70/.243/0

12) Stephen Vogt OAK – 14 homers pre all-star break. 4 homers post. Who is the real Stephen Vogt? 2016 Projections: 55/17/67/.253/0

13) Derek Norris SD – Hit .233 with 11 homers in 85 pre all-star break games. Then hit .278 with 3 homers after the break. 2016 Projection: 62/14/62/.260/3

14) Yasmani Grandal LAD – .927 OPS pre all-star break. .498 OPS post. His opening day status is in question after experiencing soreness in his forearm. 2016 Projection: 50/17/60/.244/1

15) Blake Swihart BOS – Young catcher with upside, but not enough power to completely buy in for 2016. A considerably stronger Dynasty league option. 2016 Projection: 59/11/57/.259/5

16) J.T. Realmuto MIA – Another upside pick. Stole 8 bases in the majors last season, after stealing 18 bags at Double-A in 2014. 2016 Projection: 54/9/50/.263/9

17) Wilson Ramos WASH – Safer option than Swihart or Realmuto, but without the upside. 2016 Projection: 47/16/61/.258/0

18) Nick Hundley COL – No surprise he had a breakout season in 2015 playing at Coors. He still hit only 10 homers, though. 2016 Projection: 53/11/56/.279/3

19) Miguel Montero CHI-NL – Should have the starting job to himself, depending on Schwarber’s development. Willson Contreras is also lurking. 2016 Projection: 43/15/60/.255/1

20) Francisco Cervelli PIT – Will hit for a high AVG and not much else. 2016 Projection: 54/8/47/.284/1

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

Man vs. Crane (a huge bird)

“I’m telling you, Mike, golf sucks,” my dad says, as he quietly laughs under his breath. “Just come with me to play basketball like you usually do.”

“Don’t listen to that,” my brother-in-law, Jay, quickly fires back. “It’s going to be a beautiful day. We’ll bring some brews, ride around in a golf cart … you’ll love it.”

I never played a single hole of golf in my life. I have been to miniature golf courses and driving ranges, of course, but never played a round of golf. People seemed to absolutely love it, though, abandoning their families for entire weekends to play. I’m in Florida for Christmas break, and will probably never get a better opportunity to give it a shot than now. So against my father’s advice, I decide to hit the links.

“Alright, what the heck. Let’s golf,” I announce to the room. “Worst case scenario, I don’t like it and never play again, right?”

“Awesome. See you at 6 AM tomorrow morning,” Jay flippantly remarks.

Right from the start, I feel completely out of place. I am dressed in my Jordan basketball sneakers, Jordan basketball shorts, and a collared t-shirt (what, I’m not an animal), while my appropriately dressed brother-in-law is decked out in full golf gear. My sister and our friend, Ally, tag along as well, probably sensing they do not want to miss this impending disaster.

The first nine holes go about as well as you would expect it to go for a first-timer. Swings and misses, chunks of grass flying everywhere, shanks, etc … I start to just throw the ball from the tee. By the 10th hole, I call it quits to just hang out in the golf cart and sip some beer. That is until we reach the fateful 18th hole.

“You gonna play the 18th hole?” my sister taunts me from her golf cart.

“I guess so. Maybe I can finish this outing on a strong note,” I optimistically call back.

With a determined look on my face, I grab my driver, and step up to the tee. I clear my mind, pull the club back, and … shank. I smack the ball way off to the right side. It lands at the foot of a tree, right in the middle of this mini garden.

“Just take a mulligan,” Jay calls out.

“No can do. Gotta play the ball where it lies,” I respond. I am a man of principles, if nothing else.

I walk over to my ball, in the middle of this garden, and prepare to hit my way out of this conundrum. Jay, Ally, and my sister all gather around me to watch from a safe distance, with mocking looks on their faces.

This feeling of dread comes over me all of a sudden. I notice this small Crane (bird) about five feet away, just staring at me. And then I hear it.

“Cuh Caw! Cuh Caw! Cuh Caw!” comes a screeching battle cry from somewhere behind me.

I quickly turn around to see a giant, four-foot Crane swooping down from the sky, unmistakably aiming right for me. Her face adorns a blood red crown, as if she is wearing war paint.

I completely freeze, but mentally I am preparing to fight. The golf club being my only hope, I get ready to knock this thing back to where it came from when it gets in my wheelhouse (I’m much better at baseball than golf, thankfully). The last thing I want to do is hurt an animal, though, so I plan to hold off for as long as possible. The giant Crane lands just a few inches in front of me. She expands her enormous, five-foot wingspan in an extremely threatening manner, clearly letting me know it is time to leave. I very cautiously turn my back to the enormous bird, and slowly start to walk back toward the safety of my family and friends.

“It’s going to start pecking at your legs!” Ally cries out in terror, as they all run as far away from me as possible.

I fearfully peak behind me to see what is going on. The Crane, right on my heels, immediately unfurls her wings again, and starts to launch herself in flight right at me. Fuck the cautious approach! I put the jets on and sprint the hell out of there. After reaching the open fairway, I get the courage to turn back around. The Crane is holding her ground at the very edge of the garden, wings fully spread in a final warning. I drop to my knees in relief. Jay, Ally, and my sister fall to the ground as well, cackling uncontrollably in hysterical laughter.

“Get me out of this hell hole!” I yell to nobody in particular.

When we finally get back to the house, my dad is standing right by the door with a small smile on his face. “How’d it go?”

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

NFL Playoff Picks: Championship Round

The NFL Championship Round kicks off this Sunday, matching up the 1 vs. 2 seeds from each conference. I got back on track last week by going 2-1 in the Divisional Round, tying my Pittsburgh Steelers pick. That puts my overall record at 3-4, as I look to climb above the .500 mark.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Spread: NE -3

Denver: Brady vs. Manning! Kind of. Peyton Manning is a shell of his former self, but he still has the beautiful football mind to make enough plays to win. It will once again be Denver’s ground attack and #1 ranked defense that will need to carry this team.

New England: Tom Brady is still in top form, leading New England to the AFC Championship game for the 5th year in a row. By losing to the Miami Dolphins in Week 17, though, New England handed home field advantage to Denver. They will now be forced to fly cross-country, into the thin air of Denver, if they want to return to the Super Bowl.

The Pick: Take Denver plus the points. They are playing at home, have the best defense in football, and getting the 3 points is just gravy.

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
Spread: Car -3

Carolina: People still do not get it. Carolina is the class of the NFL this season. They needed to play full throttle for only one half last week in order to beat the Seattle Seahawks. They are healthy, having fun, and it will take a herculean effort to beat them at home.

Arizona: If anybody is up to the challenge of taking Carolina down, it is Arizona. They have the #1 ranked offense and #5 ranked defense in the league. They are coming off a hard fought victory against the Green Bay Packers last week, in a game that became an instant classic. But Arizona will have to play much better this week if they plan on knocking Carolina off.

The Pick: Keep riding Carolina and be glad you only have to give 3 points.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

New York Yankees Top 5 Fantasy Baseball Prospects

First, it was the “Big Three” (Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy). Then, it was the “Killer B’s” (Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman). And now … the fans don’t nickname Yankees prospects anymore. But this current group might finally be the one to form the next Yankees core. Luis Severino and Greg Bird both impressed last season, as the first wave of this Yankees youth movement. Both also exhausted their rookie eligibility. Severino will begin the season in the Yankees starting rotation, while Bird is likely to start the season in AAA, waiting his turn behind Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Severino and Bird are just the tip of the iceberg, though. Here are the top 5 New York Yankees prospects for 2016:

1) Gary Sanchez C – “I’d like to unleash the Kracken,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters earlier this offseason, referring to Sanchez. Sanchez absolutely destroyed the Arizona Fall League in 2015, putting up a .982 OPS, and crushing 7 homers in only 22 games. This was coming off a season where he hit 18 homers in 93 games, splitting time between AA (58 games) and AAA (35 games). His defense continued to improve as well, to the point nobody doubts he can stick at catcher anymore. This is a bat-first, power hitting catcher. It doesn’t get much juicier than that.

ETA: 2016
Prime Projection: 67/22/83/.280/4

2) Aaron Judge OF – The 6’7’’, 275-pound Judge is more Judge Dredd, than Judge Judy. There is no question about his raw power. Splitting time between AA (63 games) and AAA (61 games) in 2015, Judge launched 20 homers and stole 7 bases. Strikeouts are a real concern, though, as he struck out 144 times in 124 games. His numbers also tanked when he reached AAA, triple-slashing a measly .224/.308/.373. But the home run upside is too much to ignore, and even if he always struggles to make contact, the power is not going anywhere.

ETA: 2016-17
Prime Projection: 75/26/90/.260/7

3) Jorge Mateo SS – Mateo stole 82 bases in two levels of A-ball last season. He hit only 2 homers, but his 6’0’’, 188-pound frame leaves room for more in the future. With the 25-year-old Didi Gregorius firmly entrenched at SS, and 25-year-old Starlin Castro at 2B, Mateo does not have a clear path to playing time with the Yankees. Although, the Yankees did reportedly offer Mateo in a trade for Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline last season, so he might be on a different team by the time he is major league ready anyway. Mateo has the upside to be a 5-category stud, but he has yet to play above A-ball, and his power has not shown up yet.

ETA: 2017-18
Prime Projection: 87/9/50/.275/42

4) James Kaprielian RHP – The Yankees drafted Kaprielian with the 16th overall pick in 2015. He is a fast moving, high floor college pitcher. Kaprielian throws a traditional four-pitch mix, sitting in the low to mid 90’s with his fastball. He projects as a mid-rotation starter, with good, but not elite strikeout numbers. Yankee Stadium and the AL East will not do him any favors either. If this write-up makes him seem safe and boring, that is because he is.

ETA: 2016-17
Prime Projection: 3.66/1.27/175 in 195 IP

5) Rob Refsnyder 2B – Refsnyder was prospect blocked last season by Stephen Drew and his .201 batting average. After Drew signed with the Washington Nationals this offseason to prospect block Trea Turner, it seemed like Refsnyder would finally get a real shot to win the second base job. But not so fast, the Yankees went out and traded for Castro. So it is back to AAA for Refsnyder. Refsnyder has an elite K/BB ratio, with average power and speed. All it would take is one injury to Castro, Didi, or Headley, to open up a spot on the major league roster for Refsnyder next season. He is also a prime candidate to be traded to a team with an opening at second base.

ETA: 2016
Prime Projection: 75/15/67/.285/12

Honorable Mentions: Wilkerman Garcia SS, Domingo Acevedo RHP, Ian Clarkin LHP, Brady Lail RHP, Tyler Wade SS

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

Derek Fisher, 2016 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Sleeper

Let the Houston Astros’ Derek Fisher be a lesson to us all. Search Engine Optimization is a real concern when naming your baby. If you want any of your child’s accomplishments to be found on the internet (if you can’t find it on Google, did it ever really happen?), your child better not share his/her name with a more popular person. Google’s Derek Fisher is a 5-time NBA champion, and current head coach of the New York Knicks. Conversely, the 3rd Google hit is a headline that reads, “Matt Barnes drove 95 miles to ‘beat the s—t’ out of Derek Fisher.” SEO giveth, and taketh away. Either way, Fisher’s uncontested reign atop Google’s rankings might be coming to an end, because 2016 will be the year the Astros’ Derek Fisher starts to climb his way up the ranks, and cements his status as a future fantasy star. Which makes now your last chance to buy at a good value.

Fisher was drafted by the Astros with the 37th overall pick in 2014. He only slid that far because he was coming off a down senior season, and was demanding a large signing bonus. While he hit only 17 homers in 155 career college games playing OF for the Virginia Cavaliers, the Cavs are known to have an extreme pitchers’ park. The 6’3’’, 207-pound Fisher had all the physical tools to eventually tap into his plus raw power, to go along with his already plus speed, and hitting ability. And that is exactly what happened for Fisher in 2015.

As a 21-year-old outfielder splitting time in Single-A (39 games) and High-A (84 games), Fisher triple-slashed .275/.364/.483, with 22 homers and 31 steals. He reinforced this breakout against tougher competition in the Arizona Fall League, triple-slashing .254/.397/.424, with 2 homers and 3 steals in 17 games. As his OBP numbers reveal, Fisher has a strong command of the strike zone, drawing a walk in 11.6% of his plate appearances last season. He is going to start 2016 in AA and should see AAA by the end of the season, with a 2017 ETA for the majors.

But it is not all rainbows, there are some risks here as well. The power breakout came with an increase in strikeouts, as he struck out 132 times in 123 games. Both the California League (where he did most of his damage last year) and the Arizona Fall League are notorious hitters’ leagues. While the Astros’ home ballpark, Minute Maid Park, favors hitters, there is a decent chance Fisher is traded this season to bolster an already strong Astros team. Underscoring this, it was reported that Fisher was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies earlier this offseason in the Ken Giles deal, before word spread that it was Mark Appel who would be on the move, not Fisher.

These are minor concerns in the inherently uncertain world of baseball prospects. If Fisher can come anywhere close to repeating his 20/30 season in AA/AAA this year, the buy window will be slammed shut. In his prime, Fisher projects to hit about .270, with 20-25 homers and 15-20 steals. He holds even more value in OBP/BB leagues.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

NFL Playoff Picks: Divisional Round, Day 2

Day 2 of the NFL Divisional Round kicks off this Sunday, matching up the 1 vs. 6 seeds from each conference. I am looking to bounce back after going 1-3 in the Wild Card Round.

Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
Spread: Car -1.5

Carolina: I have never seen a team that went 15-1 in the regular season, and a quarterback who accounted for 45 combined passing and rushing touchdowns, get such little respect. Carolina outscored their opponents by 192 points. That is 12 points per game. They are the Golden State Warriors of the NFL.

Seattle: Seattle successfully transitioned from a run first attack, to a passing attack this year. Or, in other words, the transition from it being Marshawn Lynch’s team, to Russell Wilson’s team, is complete. It will once again be their defense, though, that will be the key to their success.

The Pick: Take Carolina and gladly give the 1.5 points. Blair Walsh let Seattle off the hook last week, but they will not be so lucky again.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos
Spread: Den -7

Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh was all set to make a Super Bowl run before they started dropping like flies. First it was Le’Veon Bell. Then it was DeAngelo Williams. Now Antonio Brown has been ruled out for Sunday, and Big Ben’s effectiveness is in serious question with a shoulder injury. This is not your father’s Steel Curtain Steelers D, so the injuries on offense might be too much to overcome.

Denver: Denver has quarterback questions of their own, having just handed the reins back over to Peyton Manning in the 2nd half of the final game of their season. They will likely continue to rely on their run game to carry the offense. But it is their #1 ranked defense that has really been the backbone of this team all season, and will have to stymie Pittsburgh’s passing attack in order to advance.

The Pick: Take Pitt plus the 7 points. I think Denver will win this game, but do not have the offensive firepower to cover the spread.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com