2017 Early Season Dynasty/Fantasy Baseball Prospect Sleepers: Hitters Edition (and Jacob Barnes)

It is never too early to dig for underrated prospects. Here are the 2017 Early Season Dynasty/Fantasy Baseball Prospect Sleepers: Hitters Edition (and Jacob Barnes):

Phillip Ervin CIN, OF – I probably would have ranked Ervin very high had I been writing back in 2013, but let’s see if I can make up for it in 2017. He’s a former 1st round pick (#27 overall) who has displayed a plus power/speed combo at every level in the minors, and is now slashing .286/.352/.531, with 3 homers, 2 steals and a 10/5 K/BB in 14 games at Triple-A. Almost all of the damage was done in 2 games, so this may very well be a blip on the radar rather than legitimate improvement on making consistent hard contact, which he has struggled with in the past. Nevertheless, Ervin’s raw talent is too good to dismiss the hot start.

Colton Welker COL, 3B – Welker’s skills have completely carried over from his impressive rookie ball pro debut into full season ball this year. He is slashing .386/.440/.568, with 2 homers, 4 steals, and a 6/4 K/BB in 12 games at Single-A. This is a big, strong 19-year-old with a powerful uppercut swing that is made for today’s game, along with an obvious feel for contact. Tack on Coors Field to that profile, and Welker has a chance to blow up soon.

Jacob Barnes MIL, RHP – I mentioned Barnes on the podcast this the off-season and in my MLB Rookie write-up a few weeks ago, and he has continued to dominate since then. He notched his first save of the season last night, which came off back to back appearances where he struck out the side. I have no idea when/if Milwaukee will use him in the closer’s role, but he has the kind of elite stuff that can provide value in any league, regardless of his role.

Daniel Johnson WASH, OF – 5 homers in 13 games is going to get anyone noticed, and that is exactly how Johnson started his season at Single-A, along with a .354/.415/.708 triple-slash and 2 steals in 13 games. Taken in the 5th round of the 2016 draft, he was known as a toolsy, but very raw prospect, and if the early going is any indication, he might be starting to put some things together. Johnson has the talent to make an impact in any size league, but the 21-year-old is going to have to produce at higher levels before the hype can truly start rolling.

Daniel Brito PHI, INF – The power is showing up quicker than anticipated, as Brito knocked 3 homers with a 25% K rate in his full season debut. Known as a toolsy prospect with a good feel to hit coming into this year, it is quite possible Brito is already going about making the swing changes that is sweeping across all levels of baseball, although he is still hitting the ball on the ground about half the time.

Ryne Birk HOU, 2B – Birk put himself on my radar last year with his impressive pro debut, and he is off to another hot start at High-A this year, slashing .319/.365/.574, with 1 homer, 2 steals, and a 12/4 K/BB in 13 games. He hit well in all three years he played in the SEC, and A-Ball pitching has yet to slow him down, either. We are still talking about a very deep sleeper, being a 13th round pick without a standout skill, but don’t be surprised if you start to hear his name pop up more and more in the next few years.

Tyler Stephenson CIN, C – Stephenson is proving he is healthy after season ending wrist surgery last year, slashing .267/.365/.467 with 2 homers and a 14/6 K/BB in 12 games at Single-A. He was drafted as a power-hitting catcher in the 1st round of the 2015 Draft, and it is nice to see those skills showing up as he enters his 20’s. His ability to stick at catcher is still a question, but other than Chris Okey (who is struggling at High-A), there aren’t many other long term internal options for the position.

Khalil Lee KC, OF – Another prospect whose skills have carried over into full season ball, Lee is slashing .294/.368/.510, with 2 homers, 3 steals and a 16/5 K/BB in 13 games. He has a patient approach, lying in wait for a pitch he can smack with his powerful uppercut swing, so strikeouts will likely always be a part of his game. While there is still a lot of volatility here, the power/speed upside is worth taking a shot on in deep leagues.

Austin Hays BAL, OF/Ryan Mountcastle BAL, SS – Two Baltimore hitting prospects who I liked coming into the year and are off to good starts at High-A. Mountcastle stands at a broad 6’3’’, 195 pounds with a great feel to hit that got him drafted 36th overall in 2015. Hays was a 3rd round pick in 2016 who can do a little bit of everything, but doesn’t have one standout tool/skill. I would add Cedric Mullins in this group, but he has been getting talked up so much I’m not sure he is still underrated.

Edwin Rios LAD, 1B – I would be remiss not to mention that Rios is destroying Double-A pitching to start the year, slashing .352/.375/.593 with 3 homers and a 12/2 K/BB in 13 games. I don’t love his consistent lack of plate approach, but I have no doubt that the ball will jump off his bat with authority no matter what level of baseball he is playing. Rios would be better off if traded to an AL team with a DH, because it seems inevitable he will serve as a pinch hitter if he stays with Los Angeles.

By Michael Halpern (@MichaelCHalpern)
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

2017 Rookie/Prospect Sleepers for Fantasy Baseball Re-Draft Leagues

These players might not be the hot shot names who everyone is reaching for in fantasy baseball drafts, but they are the guys you pick-up mid-season and hope they get hot for a month while your starter is out with a sprained something (ankle, wrist, elbow ligament, etc …). Here are the 2017 Rookie/Prospect Sleepers for Fantasy Baseball Re-Draft Leagues:

Hunter Dozier KC, CI/OF – There is a pretty decent chance that Dozier is already better than Jorge Soler. Dozier certainly outhit Soler in Spring Training, with a 1.300 OPS in 22 at-bats vs. Soler’s .540 OPS in 49 at-bats. But if you want to ignore Spring stats, which is probably smart, Soler also failed to win an everyday job with his first club in Chicago, and that was with Kyle Schwarber out for the year with a knee injury and Jason Heyward out for the year with Fuck You money. I’m saying this to highlight that even beyond the obvious path to playing time, like injuries (Lorenzo Cain is already out with a “tight side,” whatever that means) and trades (Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Moose are all on expiring contracts), there is path to playing time just on performance alone. And if Dozier does get that playing time, don’t be surprised if he goes on a Ryon Healy-like run, although you should expect solid power with an average that won’t kill you.

Jacob Faria TB, RHP – The poor man’s Jose De Leon, Faria might be leading the charge for underappreciated change-up masters. Traditional scouts seem to devalue the change-up while pumping up the curveball, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about guys with nasty curveballs in the minors which suddenly disappear in the Majors (cough, Phil Hughes, cough). The sneaky pitchers who can change speeds and keep you guessing are always my favorites, and you don’t even have to compromise on size with Faria, as he stands a sturdy 6’4’’, 200 pounds. Strikeouts and homers will likely be his calling card early in his career, and that career could start after the first couple Rays starters go down.

Sam Travis BOS, 1B – Everybody is talking about the limited power upside with Travis, but he was already on his way to turning that around last season at Triple-A before tearing his ACL, hitting 6 homers in 47 games. This after hitting only 9 homers in 131 games in 2015. Along with the homer uptick, there was an uptick in strikeouts as well, so you can tell this was a conscious effort to hit the ball over the fence more, which he was relatively successful at in the early going. He has also maintained that power surge in Spring Training, jacking 3 homers in 44 at-bats. Travis is looking like that prototypical plus hit tool prospect who might be on the verge of taking off using an altered swing path and power hitting mentality. The only thing Red Sox fans need to worry about is that he boosts his value enough for Dombrowski to ship him off for a reliever rental.

Jesse Winker CIN, OF – Winker should be working on what Travis seems to be in the process of doing, which to be blunt, is hitting more homeruns. And Winker comes with an even more impressive plate approach and hit tool than Travis had. If any of Cincinnati’s shaky outfielders go down with an injury or fail to perform, Winker will be the next man up, and I expect for him to start hitting for more power in Cincinnati’s homer happy ballpark, and with MLB’s homer happy baseballs.

Tyler Jay MIN, Closer – I’m actually pumped about Jay’s permanent move to the bullpen for fantasy, because solid mid-rotation starters (which is what Jay’s upside was starting to look like) just don’t make much of an impact on winning fantasy leagues. But electric fastball/slider closer’s do. Have you seen what Minnesota’s so called back of the bullpen looks like? It looks exactly like Jay being the closer in T minus 3 months.

 Jesus Aguilar MIL, 1B – Milwaukee is not paying Eric Thames the type of money that says he can’t be benched. In fact, they are already trying him in the OF to increase his versatility. The last thing you want to hear about your fantasy player is that the team is trying to increase his versatility. They don’t bench guys anymore or demote guys to the minors, they “increase their versatility” now. Aguilar impressed the team enough that he made the opening day roster, and while he might not steal all of Thames at-bats right out of the gate, he is the leading candidate to be that waiver claim, Yangervis Solarte-like Spring Training breakout guy. Or maybe he gets cut by May. Either way, he will cost you nothing to acquire, while Thames is a favorite sleeper who many people are targeting.

By Michael Halpern (@MichaelCHalpern)
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

2017 Deep Dynasty Baseball Prospect Sleepers

This one is for all my 30 team Dynasty Leaguers out there who are in the 5th round of their prospect drafts and are looking for some legitimately exciting upside players to snag. In shallower leagues, they are prospects to keep your eye on for next season. And for paid prospect writers, they are guys to get some more damn video on, please, because Youtube has more, and clearer videos of the Lochness Monster than they do of Leonardo Crawford, Jose Almonte, and Ariel Sandoval. Even with the limited information, it is obvious that these players have the potential to at least put their names on the prospect map in 2017:

Leonardo Crawford LAD, LHP – Crawford signed with Los Angeles for a measly $47,500, most likely after some scout in the organization made the trek to Nicaragua in 2013 and hit gold after seeing the delivery and the kind of stuff that was firing out of this small 15-year-old’s left hand. It almost makes me want to hop in a single engine Cessna myself to some lightly scouted area of the world Albert Brooks in The Scout style. Since joining the Dodgers organization, all Crawford has done is dominate. In his pro debut in 2015, he put up a 1.41 ERA with a 74/10 K/BB in 63.2 IP in Dominican Rookie Ball. Then he was so dominant to start 2016 in the Arizona Rookie League, the lightly touted 19-year-old forced his way all the way up to full season A-Ball, not missing a beat with a 2.20 ERA and 24/9 K/BB in 28.2 IP. He saved his best work for the postseason, where he threw a 1 hit, 8 strikeout gem in 5 IP to even the Championship Series at one game apiece. Just read about his manager raving about the kid after the game to see the kind of pitcher he is. He doesn’t have the huge fastball right now, but his maturity is well beyond his years, using his advanced command and off-speed pitches to keep hitters guessing at the plate. I highly doubt there will be many pitchers better than Crawford in the last round of deep prospect drafts. I also talked about him on the Razzball Prospect Podcast: Los Angeles Dodgers.

Jose Almonte TEX, OF – Texas signed the 6’3’’, 205-pound Almonte for $1.8 million back in 2013, and since then he has been largely forgotten about after hitting under the Mendoza Line (.200) in 2014 and 2015 in Rookie Ball. But the improvements he made last off-season pushed him all the way to up to Single-A this season, and he put up an impressive triple-slash of .278/.343/.444 with 8 homers, 8 steals, and a 56/8 K/BB in 57 games. Like a lot of my favorite sleepers, bat speed and raw power are his greatest strengths, while contact and plate approach are areas he needs to improve upon. He has a reputation for being a student of the game and a tireless worker, so I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt there. Considering the raw talent and production as a 19-year-old at Single-A, Almonte is one I’m looking forward to grabbing in my 30-team league.

Ariel Sandoval LAD, OF – Finally a guy that actually has some recent video on him. Sandoval signed with Los Angeles for $150,000 in 2013. After a strong season in Rookie Ball last year, he split his time between Single-A and High-A in 2016, where he slashed .238/.286/.408, with 14 homers, 14 steals, and a 136/26 K/BB in 129 games. As you can see, the hit tool and plate approach are still very raw, but he is a good athlete with plus speed, good bat speed, and plenty of pop in his bat. If he can improve on those contact numbers, a legitimate breakout is very possible in 2017. This is a potential 5-category producer down the line.

By Michael Halpern (@MichaelCHalpern)
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Chris Iriart, 2017 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Sleeper

With an increasing number of eyeballs focused on finding fantasy baseball prospect sleepers, it can be hard staying ahead of your competition in Dynasty Leagues, but it seems I have stumbled upon a niche underrated asset class of prospects – those who took 93 MPH fastballs to the face in June. If this was Razzball, I would make a “balls to the face” joke here, but it isn’t, so I won’t. I have already gushed about Chase Vallot in a Breakout/Sleeper post back on June 1, and then again in a Top 10 Breakout Ranking a few weeks later. Here is the picture of the aftermath of that 93 MPH fastball to the face to jog your memory. Unfortunately for Chris Iriart, 1B, Oakland Athletics, he now joins Vallot in this ill-fated group.

On June 2, 12 days before Vallot took one to the dome, Iriart met the same fate. He posted an eerily similar twitter picture and caption to prove it. The injury came at an inopportune time (as if there is ever an opportune time to get hit in the face), as Iriart was just starting to get comfortable in pro ball. In May, he slashed .253/.355/.484 with 5 homers and a 29/13 K/BB in 28 games at Single-A. This was coming off a cold start to the season and a poor pro debut in 2015 as a 12th round pick. The injury could have easily derailed his season, but after sitting out a few weeks and shaking off the rust in July, he went on an absolute tear to end the year. He slashed .275/.378/.624 with 10 homers and a 31/14 K/BB in his final 30 games, which included a 16-game promotion at High-A. He is not one of these old for their level guys, either, as he played the entire season at 21 years old, which is age appropriate for A-Ball.

What makes the mid-season breakout even more exciting is that it did not come completely out of left field. Iriart was an absolute masher in college, first destroying the Orange Empire Conference (not a joke) his Sophomore year, before transferring into Division 1, American Athletic Conference, without so much as a hiccup, slashing .302/.415/.573 with 15 homers and a 69/28 K/BB in 63 games his Junior year. He has plus raw power, plus bat speed, and a very direct path to the ball swing. All of the ingredients are there. Having an October birthday, he was also one of the youngest players in his draft class, so it is understandable that he would struggle in his first taste of pro ball more than players who are 6 months to a year older than him (not even taking into account Seniors).

The risks here are mostly obvious. At 6’2’’, 230 pounds he is big bodied, 1B only prospect without any projection remaining. He struck out 26.6% of the time this year, although he paired that with a decent 9.6% walk rate, and both of those numbers improved in his late season High-A cameo. He will also be headed to the spacious Oakland Coliseum, and Oakland has a number of similar prospects/young players ahead of him, like Ryon Healy, Matt Chapman, Renato Nunez, and Matt Olson.

Iriart is being hyped just about nowhere other than the deepest of Oakland A’s fan blogs, but he deserves more national attention. He will get it if he continues to hit well next season, which is why now is the time to buy in super low. I will give him a prime projection of 69/23/80/.259/.319/.449/1 with room for much more if he can cut down on his strikeouts.

By Michael Halpern (@MichaelCHalpern)
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Wladimir Galindo, 2017 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Sleeper

W’s that are pronounced like V’s, J’s that are pronounced like H’s, and even silent B’s too (thanks Austin Gomber)! Life was much easier when I was only writing and not podcasting. Now I’m expected to know the intricacies of several languages around the world and have enough knowledge of the derivation of these names to consistently pronounce them correctly. I’m sure I’ve already butchered Wladimir Galindo’s name on the two podcasts I’ve spoken about him (most recently on the Razzball Prospect Podcast: Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds), but luckily for you, I’m only writing about him today.

As a 19-year-old for the entire season at Low-A, Galindo, Chicago Cubs, triple-slashed .243/.337/.462 with 9 homers and an 81/33 K/BB in 66 games. What’s most exciting is the major improvement he made in the second half of the season. From July 28 through the end of the season (33 games) he slashed .273/.389/.504 with 5 homers and a 34/22 K/BB. His strikeout rate improved from 34% in the first half to 23% in the second half and walk rate spiked from 8% to 15%.

6’3’’, 210-pound 19-year-olds (now 20) with plus bat speed and plus raw power who put up those kinds of numbers don’t usually fly this far under the radar. The numbers look even better when you dig deeper. He led the Northwest League with 32 extra-base hits, and did all of this while playing in an extreme pitcher’s park, slashing a paltry .172/.278/.293 at home and .305/.389/.611 on the road. He has also hit well in every year of his career, putting up an OPS of .818 in 2014 (66 games) and .922 in 2015 (19 games). It is not hard to see how a major breakout could be right around the corner, if it hasn’t happened already.

The main question about Galindo, and a major reason why he will never be ranked as high on real life lists as he should be on fantasy lists, is where he will ultimately end up defensively. He is at third base right now, but might end up in a corner outfield spot, or worse, at first base. Regardless, this is an exciting enough bat to play at any position. The other obvious risk is that he is still very far away from the bigs. While Low-A is definitely a step up from Rookie Ball, it still isn’t full season ball, and many consider it a glorified rookie league.

Galindo hasn’t been completely off the radar. I wrote about him back in August in my Week 20 Fantasy Prospect Rundown, John Sickels just ranked him 14th on his Chicago Cubs Top 20, and Baseball America had him 10th on their Northwest League Top 20 (one spot below my boy Heath Quinn). Even with those accolades, I believe he is still being massively underrated, especially in fantasy baseball, and very likely could crack my Top 100 in early February. In his prime, I will give Galindo a projection of 77/24/88/.260/.335/.470/3 with a 2020 ETA, and is someone I would not let fall through the cracks in upcoming prospect drafts.

By Michael Halpern (@MichaelCHalpern)
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Reviewing My 2016 Fantasy Baseball Dynasty League Prospect Sleepers Post

Now is as good a time as any to review my 2016 Fantasy Baseball Dynasty League Prospect Sleepers post from last off-season. Let’s get right to the meat of this thing (in order of where they ranked on the original post):

Intro) Trevor Story COL, SS – By the time I collected all of my favorite sleepers into one post, Story was no longer a sleeper. He was dominating Spring Training and exploding up fantasy baseball draft boards. But when I ranked him 30th overall on my off-season top 100 in early February, he was barely getting any love at all in the prospect world, going completely unranked on Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus’ Top 100’s. Story went on to dominate the majors until a thumb injury ended his season, and he currently stands as my best prospect sleeper pick.

1) Bobby Bradley CLE, 1B – Dropped from 18th on my off-season list, to 28th on my End of Season Top 35, but basically maintained in High-A this season what made me love him so much in 2015. Double-A will be the first real barometer on how this call is going to play out.

2) Derek Fisher HOU, OF – Double-A and Triple-A pitching wasn’t any more of a challenge to Fisher than A-Ball pitching was. He started showing up in the back of some mainstream mid-season prospect lists, and his value certainly took a jump this season. While the ultimate test will be how he handles MLB pitching, he was already cashed in as a trade chip in two of my dynasty leagues from owners who bought on the cheap last off-season.

3) Josh Hader MIL, LHP – From unranked on Baseball America’s off-season top 100, to top 25 on their mid-season list. I don’t mean to keep harping on mainstream lists, but so much of a prospects objective value in fantasy leagues is determined by where they rank on these lists. In one dynasty league, owners were trying to pry Hader (7 years of team control) from me all season as a centerpiece in deals for guys like Max Scherzer and Todd Frazier (expiring contracts).

4) Tom Murphy COL, C – Graduated from a dynasty league sleeper last off-season, to a redraft league sleeper this off-season. If you like to wait on catcher, which you should, Murphy is a prime late round target.

5) Alen Hanson PIT, 2B/UTIL – We come to my first miss. Not only did Hanson get no at-bats while Jung-ho Kang was out early in the year, like I thought he would, but he showed no improvement repeating Triple-A this season either. It also looks like he is headed for a utility role early in his career, which can be annoying in fantasy leagues where he will have to take up a roster spot. I still like Hanson and would hold if I owned him, but his value is undeniably lower than where it was last year.

6) Willie Calhoun LAD, 2B – Was named MVP of the Arizona Fall Stars Game. Just watch the videos in that link of his perfect day at the plate to see why I’ve been hyping him for about a year now.

7) Harrison Bader STL, OF – Bader impressed at the Fall Stars Game too, smacking a double to the wall in his first at-bat, and tacked on another well hit single his next time up. Like Calhoun, he showed up on the back of some mid-season top 100 lists, and I was able to use him in a trade (plus a lot more) that netted me 4 cheap years of Yu Darvish.

8) Jacob Faria TB, RHP – Performance slightly declined across the board at Triple-A this year. Homer and walk rates were up while strikeouts were down. I don’t think his value is significantly different from where it was last year, but considering he will be going at it in the AL East, I’m concerned I was a bit too high on him in the first place.

9) Jack Flaherty STL, RHP – Value remains basically identical to last off-season. Hasn’t added the extra velocity that many projected when he was a “projectable” high school starter, but there is plenty of time for that to still come. Like Bradley, what he does at Double-A next year will be telling.

10) Justus Sheffield NYY, LHP – Will be leaving the comfy confines of Progressive Field and the AL Central for Yankee Stadium and the AL East. Everything else is more or less the same as last off-season, but he is a bit higher profile now that he was involved in that blockbuster trade for Andrew Miller. Clint Frazier and Sheffield probably won’t have any added pressure on them to perform, none at all.

11) Tyler O’Neill SEA, OF – I’ve been patting myself on the back for being so high on O’Neill last off-season, but it turns out I was still too low. He significantly improved both his hit tool and plate approach this year at Double-A, and has been equally impressive in the Arizona Fall League. After being unranked everywhere in the off-season, he was all over traditional mid-season lists.

12) Austin Byler ARI, 1B – My bad. At least he was ranked last on this list 😉

By Michael Halpern (@MichaelCHalpern)
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Garrett Stubbs, 2017 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Sleeper

Catchers are not supposed to be 5’10’’, 175 pounds, which is why the 5’10’’, 175-pound Garrett Stubbs, Houston Astros, will never get respect on traditional prospect lists. He looks a lot like Brett Gardner at the plate, and Gardner was called a “4th outfielder” while he was actively putting up 5 and 6 WAR seasons in the Major Leagues (a lot of that being defense). Odd Yankees rant aside, the point is that little guys get no respect even when they are dominating, and that is exactly what the 23-year-old, lefty hitting Stubbs did at High-A and Double-A this season, dominate.

Stubbs started his season off at High-A Lancaster in the Cal League where he slashed .291/.385/.442, with 6 homers, 10 steals, and a 37/29 K/BB in 55 games. The power breakout was great to see, as he hit only 2 homers in his entire 4-year college career, and none in his 36-game pro debut in A-Ball in 2015. He was then promoted to Double-A on July 5th, and he took his game to another level, slashing .325/.401/.517, with 4 homers, 5 steals, and a 11/14 K/BB in 31 games. What makes the moderate power outbreak so exciting is that he was able to maintain, and even improve upon his already excellent contact skills and plate approach. In Stubbs’ aforementioned pro debut, he struck out a total of 5 times to go along with 21 walks in 145 plate attempts, and now you can add an 8% walk rate and 10% BB rate at Double-A to that resume. The guy can flat out hit a baseball. He is also a smart baserunner with about average speed, as evidenced by his 15 steals this season and the 20 bags he stole his senior year at college. If you liked what J.T. Realmuto gave you at catcher this year, Stubbs might be able to do something similar down the line.

There are a few red flags to his profile. Like Gardner, especially early in his career, most of Stubbs’ power is of the pull, wall scraping variety. Here is a video of him hitting his final homer of the season on the road, and another of him hitting a walk off double at home. Notice that you have likely played in softball games where it was harder to hit homeruns down the right field line than it is at Houston’s Double-A home field. And Stubbs played in a miniature ballpark at High-A in the Cal League too, so even the moderate power outbreak might be a little deceiving. Scouts do give him high marks on his defense and ability to stick at catcher, but there are concerns his slight build will prevent him from handling the rigors of catching 120+ games in the majors. The most obvious red flag is that he has been considered a bit old for his level the past two seasons, although being 23 at Double-A is not too much of a crime.

Stubbs has a very short, quick swing to go along with a patient approach. There might not be much more than 10-12 homer power, but tack on 10-12 steals and a solid batting average, and that makes for a likely top 12 catcher in fantasy leagues. There is really nobody currently in Houston’s organization that is blocking him from playing time if he continues to excel, and even if he can’t start a full season behind the plate, he has the athleticism to handle 2B and/or OF on days he isn’t catching. I can see a scenario where he catches about 60-80 games and gets another 30-40 games in at other positions. For 2017, I think Stubbs will at best get a cup of coffee in the 2nd half, but in his prime, I will give him a projection of 76/12/57/.273/.348/.391/11. I ranked him within my top 10 minor league catchers on the Catcher Episode of the Razzball Prospect Podcast, and he is someone I would target late in off-season prospect drafts if I was looking to add an almost MLB ready catcher to my system.

By Michael Halpern (@MichaelCHalpern)
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

2016 Fantasy Baseball Trade Deadline Deep Prospect Sleepers

I was hoping to be able to link to the first ever Razzball Baseball Prospect Podcast today, but Ralph and I got Murphy’s Law’d trying to record it. And not Daniel Murphy’s Law, who has had everything go right for him since last season’s playoffs, but Edward Aloysius Murphy’s Law, which is the one that says, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” We are going to give it another shot tomorrow, and hope to have it posted by Saturday. In the meantime, let’s talk about some prospect sleepers who were traded at the deadline and deserve more respect in the fantasy world. These aren’t fringe top 100 guys, but are players you should be keeping your eye on, or picking up if you are in especially deep leagues.

Max Wotell CIN, LHP – A 3rd round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, the 6’3’’, 195-pound Wotell is your prototypical projectable teenage pitcher. The first thing you should know about him is his awesomely funky left-handed delivery, which makes Josh Hader’s funky delivery look textbook in comparison. He throws a live low 90’s fastball that can get on hitters in a hurry, and can break off some nasty sliders too. In 40.1 Rookie ball innings, he has racked up 47 K’s (31 K in 29.2 IP this season). There are still some control issues (3.6 BB/9) and he needs to develop his changeup, but he wouldn’t be such a deep sleeper if everything was already perfect. If you missed out on Thomas Szapucki, Wotell can be the next “out of nowhere” hard throwing lefty starter to pick up steam in a hurry.

Lucius Fox TB, SS – Fox is not so much a sleeper as he is a buy low candidate. He signed for $6.5 million in the last international free agent signing period after manipulating the amateur player rules. He was born in the Bahamas, played high school ball in Florida, then moved back to the Bahamas. Dare I say, he was sly like a Fox. As you can probably tell by the signing bonus, Fox is an elite athlete with great bat speed and plus speed, but he made this list for a reason, and that reason is the poor numbers he has put up this season in Single-A. He is slashing .207/.305/.277, with 2 homers, and a 76/37 K/BB in 75 games. The silver lining is that he just turned 19 years old on July 2nd, and he has still managed to steal 25 bags. Like Tampa Bay, if you want to bet on his elite raw talent, now is the time to buy.

Erik Swanson NYY, RHP – The deepest sleeper on the list, the 22-year-old Swanson was drafted as a reliever in the 8th round of the 2014 draft. He transitioned into a starting role this season, and the early returns have been promising, putting up a pitching line of 3.43/1.25/78 in 81.1 IP at Single-A. He is built like a bulldog at 6’3’’, 220 pounds, and he throws an easy mid-90’s fastball to go along with a developing curveball and changeup. He looks like a dead ringer for John Lackey on the mound, who also happened to be a bit of a late bloomer, not truly breaking out in the majors until he was 26 years old. Swanson may very well top out as an Adam Warren-like jack of all trades, but he has some good stuff and his true upside is still unknown due to his recent role change. Keep him in the back of your mind.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Isan Diaz, 2016 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Sleeper/Breakout

If you keep your ear to the prospect ground, you might have heard the name Isan Diaz, Milwaukee Brewers, being bandied about recently. Where is this hollowed “prospect ground” I speak of? You can start with John Sickels’ awesome site Minorleagueball.com. Then, make sure not to miss Eric Longenhagen’s great prospect chats every Monday on Fangraphs. Last but certainly not least, Keith Law’s personal blog, The Dish, is a must read for prospect hounds, especially his weekly chats. All of these pillars of the prospect community have spoken this man’s name in recent weeks, and it is time for me to jump on the Isan Diaz bandwagon (I’ve actually been planning on writing this post for like a month now, but hearing the groundswell of hype he has gotten recently has inspired me to finally do it).

The 5’10’’, 20-year-old Diaz is a small second baseman, which means he needs to put up a herculean effort in the minors to even sniff top 100 prospect lists. Small second baseman are discriminated against so much in the prospect world that the U.S. Supreme Court should declare them a “protected class.” What Diaz has done in the last two months at Single-A is forcing people to take notice, though, putting up a slash line of .316/.393/.579 with 5 homers in June, and then following that up by slamming 7 homers in July with a .340/.429/.701 triple-slash. He has a very quick, compact swing that packs a wallop, and has a plan at the plate too, walking over 10% of the time. There is also a little speed here, swiping 10 bags, but he is far from a speed demon, so the stolen base totals should always be modest.

Like a lot of my favorite prospect sleepers, Diaz has some strikeout issues, striking out 24.7% of the time. And as good as he has been in the last two months, he was equally as bad in the first two, OPS’ing .654 in April, and .559 in May. Defensively, while he has played more SS in his career than 2B, he has played almost exclusively at 2B in the last month, and most scouts believe 2B will be his ultimate home.

Small second baseman can’t get no respect, but Diaz is doing his best to overcome that bias. If he finishes the season anywhere close to as strong as he has played in the last two months, there is no doubt he will crack the back end of top 100 lists in the off-season. In his prime, I will give him a projection of 80/18/74/.265/10, and if he can improve his K rate, there is room for much more.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Yu-Cheng Chang, 2016 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Sleeper/Breakout

Yu-Cheng Chang did not crack my Top 100 Mid-Season Fantasy Baseball Prospect Rankings and I haven’t mentioned him in any of my Weekly Prospect Rundowns. That is how much of a sleeper he is. Even the guy writing this sleeper article (me) is sleeping on him. But 20-year-old shortstops with a .267/.336/.488 triple-slash, to go along with 10 homers and 9 steals in High-A, do not get slept on for long. So it’s time to dig deeper and see what Chang is all about.

Chang was one of the top Asian amateur free agents in 2013, signing with the Cleveland Indians for $500,000. He immediately proceeded to rip up Rookie-Ball in his professional debut in 2014, slashing .346/.420/.566 with 6 homers and 6 steals in 42 games. Last season was a different story, though, and it completely halted any and all hype that he built up from the year before. Chang slashed .232/.293/.361, with 9 homers, 5 steals, and a 103/27 K/BB in 105 games at Single-A. Combine the poor numbers with the fact that he didn’t really have a standout tool, and everyone was rightfully down on him coming into this season. But as you know from my opener, he has turned things around this year, and we are starting to see the player he is going to become.

Chang has quick bat speed and a level swing that allows him to hit the ball with authority to all fields.  He will never be a true power hitter, but I can see him perennially hitting in the mid-teens. Along with his power, he has improved his K rate by 2.3% (21% on the season) and his BB rate by 3.4% (9.5%). His speed grades out as above average, so he should steal his fair share of bases, as well. The biggest downside is that he is likely to be moved off SS, especially if he stays with Cleveland (hello, Francisco Lindor), with 2B, 3B, and CF all possibilities down the line.

I don’t think Chang will ever become a star, but he can end up being a very solid 5-category producer at a valuable position. I will give him a prime projection of 84/16/78/.271/12. You can likely pick him up now for nothing, even in deep leagues, but once he reaches Double-A and continues to hit well, it might not be that easy.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)