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.