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.