The 2016 MLB Draft will be held on Thursday, June 9, 2016, and for fantasy baseball, that means a huge influx of talent is about to join the player pool. For fantasy, I generally prefer college over high school players, because most fantasy leagues have limited space for minor leaguers and there is a greater incentive for them to quickly reach the big leagues. Value can also change post-draft depending on what team/ballpark a player gets drafted to. For example, you should upgrade hitters drafted by Colorado and downgrade pitchers. How players perform once reaching pro ball can also have a big impact on their value. With that in mind, here are the 2016 Top 30 MLB Draft Fantasy Baseball Prospects:
Update – Updates will be in italics in places where the rankings have changed. All stats have been updated, as well.
1) Kyle Lewis Mercer, OF – Elite bat speed, power, and athleticism is just about all that you can ask for in a top fantasy prospect, and Lewis possesses all three. The 6’4’’, 195-pound Lewis jacked 20 homers this year (17 last year), and he is triple-slashing .395/.535/.731 in 61 games in the Southern Conference this season, a middle of the pack D1 conference. I wouldn’t be surprised if that 195-pound weight is outdated, though, because Lewis is built like a solid rock, and when he steps up to the plate, he does so with bad intentions. Just check out this quick video to see the talent we are dealing with here. There are a lot of moving parts in his swing, and he is still a bit raw, but I don’t even think those things are negatives. He is only 20 years old, and if he is this good already, imagine how scary good he can be with continued refinement and improvement. Lewis is the guy I want with the top pick in fantasy drafts.
2) Corey Ray Louisville, OF – Ray presents the best power/speed combo in the draft, as he is slashing .320/.396/.575, with 15 homers, and 39 steals in 59 games in the ACC, one of the best conferences in D1. He has top end bat speed, athleticism, and base running ability, and he is a 5-category producer who is bound to hit atop a Major League lineup in a few short years. He doesn’t have the physicality of Lewis, but considering the tougher competition he has faced, and more well-rounded production, I can see a case for Ray being #1 overall, as well.
Update – Craig gets bumped up over Collins because I like his bat a little bit more. He strikes out less, has a higher ISO the past two seasons, and is out OPS’ing Collins 1.303 to 1.170 this season. My only reservation is that Collins has a chance of sticking at catcher, so if you highly value positional scarcity, I can see sticking with Collins at #3.
3) Will Craig Wake Forrest, 1B/3B – Craig is an “unathletic,” poor defensive player who just destroys the highest levels of D1. He has blindingly fast bat speed, and is triple-slashing .392/.537/.766 with 16 homers in 52 games in the ACC. At 6’3’’, 235 pounds, Craig has been criticized for his soft body and speed that you can time with a sundial, but actually being able to hit is much more important than just looking the part; Craig is in the mold a Lance Berkman. Ignore his relatively low ranking on real draft lists due to his defensive concerns, Craig should be treated as one of the top hitters in this draft class for fantasy baseball.
4) Zack Collins Miami, C – Collins smashed 11 homers as a 19-year-old freshman in the ACC in 2014, and he has kept raking since then. He is slashing a ridiculous .364/.540/.630, with 12 homers in 54 games this season, and there are no questions about his advanced bat. The only question is if the 6’3’’, 225 pound Collins can stick at catcher, but for fantasy, that would just be icing on the cake. Being able to mash is much more important, and he can obviously mash. Once again, ignore his relatively low ranking on real baseball draft lists, Collins is the type of fast moving college hitter who can pay dividends for your fantasy team very quickly.
5) Nick Senzel Tennessee, 3B – Senzel would rank even higher if not for his moderate home run power, but he is still one of the most advanced college hitters in the draft, and he has some speed, as well. He is currently dominating the best conference in D1, slashing .352/.456/.595, with 8 homers, and 25 steals in 57 games in the SEC. He has displayed more raw power in batting practice than in games (don’t we all), and he has a good chance of sticking at 3B. If you want a fast moving, safe college bat who should provide solid numbers across the board, Senzel is your man.
6) Riley Pint HS, RHP – If I’m taking a risky high schooler, I’m going all the way, and taking the riskiest of them all. Pint has by far the most electrifying stuff in the draft (skip to the 45 second mark), and it is not just his upper 90’s heater with great movement, but also his excellent, deceptive changeup. His biggest problems are that his delivery is a bit of a mess, and his control and command are all over the place, but safe high school pitcher is an oxymoron to me, anyway. The 6’4’’, 210-pound Pint has raw ability that you can’t teach, and after the top college bats are off the board, I want the player with the highest upside and most freakish talent.
7) A.J. Puk Florida, LHP – A.J. Puk sounds like the name of a bad guy in a Mighty Ducks movie, and he has the size to fit the role too, standing a gangly 6’7’’, 230 pounds. His best pitch is a mid-90’s fastball that has good deception and swing and miss ability, and he pairs that with an inconsistent slider and changeup. He strikes out a ton of batters (12.34 K/9), but it comes with serious control and command issues (4.25 BB/9). Puk is a high risk, high reward college pitcher who tops out as a strong #2 fantasy starter, and bottoms out as a guy who just can’t command his pitches well enough to remain an effective starter.
8) Jason Groome HS, LHP – The 6’6’’, 220-pound Groome is known for his devastating curveball that he already has good command over. He also throws an effortless low 90’s heater that he can dial up to the mid-90’s at times, along with a still developing changeup. There is no denying that if you were going to build a pitcher from scratch, he would look something like Groome, but without the no doubt upper 90’s heater, and considering the development time and inherent risks with high school pitchers, I can’t place him higher than 8th.
9) Anfernee Grier Auburn, OF – Grier looks like he has two tree branches for arms, and he uses that power to absolutely crush the baseball. He is the breakout college player of the 2016 class, and is slashing .366/.457/.576, with 12 homers, and 19 steals in 56 games in the SEC so far this year. There are some strikeouts in his profile, but the power/speed combo is too much to ignore, and Grier has the potential to be a fantasy stud. He is also almost a full year younger than many of the other college prospects, as he is not turning 21 until mid-October.
Update – The two best high school bats in the draft each move up two spots, and a third, Trammell, moves up 5 spots to come join them. I’m very cautious when it comes to high school hitters, but at some point you have to take a shot on that enormous upside.
10) Mickey Moniak HS, OF – Moniak is considered the best pure high school hitter in the draft. He has a loose and easy swing that sprays line drives all over the field, and he pairs that with plus speed. While his slight build leads to some questions about his ultimate power potential, Moniak is a good bet to hit for high average with 15+ steals. If he bulks up and adds more power down the line, he can truly be a special player.
11) Nolan Jones HS, SS/3B – The 6’,4’’, 200-pound Jones has a quick swing that is geared for both average and power. He is one of the best athletes in the pool, and he recently gained 30 pounds of muscle. He is likely to end up at 3B long term, but the bat profiles just fine there. If you are looking for an upside power hitting corner infielder, Jones is your guy.
12) Taylor Trammell HS, OF – Trammel very well may be the best pure athlete in the draft. He could have played college football after rushing for 2,479 yards and 36 touchdowns on route to winning Georgia’s Offensive Player of the Year Award this season, but he chose baseball instead. His best tool is plus, plus speed, but the bat has potential too, displaying vicious bat speed (54 second mark) and the ability to hit for both average and power. He is higher risk than even your typical high school player, because he is still raw after splitting his focus between football and baseball, but he has the potential to end up the best player in this draft. I’ll take the risk at this point in the rankings.
13) Ian Anderson HS, RHP – Anderson doesn’t have the upper 90’s fastball, either, sitting 91-95, but he has an advanced feel for pitching and can already throw 3 above average pitches in any count (fastball, changeup, curveball). This video at the 25 second mark is a great example of his easy, repeatable delivery, and how he can throw all of his pitches with the same arm speed and arm angle. He has a projectable frame, and if he gains velocity as he ages, he can become a legitimate fantasy ace.
14) Dakota Hudson MISS ST, RHP – Hudson is your typical low risk college starter who can reach the Big Leagues in a hurry. He is a sturdy 6’5’’, 205 pounds, with a 92-96 MPH fastball, and a MLB ready hard curveball/slider. There isn’t even much projection left to see a mid-rotation starter with some strikeout ability, but don’t expect a true difference making fantasy starter.
15) Heath Quinn Samford, OF – The 6’3’’, 220 pound Quinn can flat out hit. He loads his hands well and creates excellent bat speed with his swing. It has resulted in him absolutely dominating the Southern Conference for 3 straight years, doing his best work this season, slashing .343/.452/.682 with 21 homers in 61 games. While the Southern Conference is only a middling D1 conference, Quinn also performed very well in the Cape Cod League last year, slashing .317/.384/.486 with 4 homers in 39 games. He might not be able to completely keep up his mammoth homerun power on the next level, but he has some to spare, and I might actually be a little too low on him at #15.
16) Eric Lauer KENT ST, LHP – Lauer might be the safest college pitcher in the draft. He has absolutely dominated the MAC, putting up a pitching line of 0.69/0.74/125 in 104 IP. He throws a traditional 4 pitch mix, but his fastball sits in the low 90’s, and he doesn’t have a real put away pitch. If he threw his fastball in the 93-96 MPH range, he might be the top pitcher in the draft, but without that big fastball and/or put away pitch, I can’t justify ranking him higher. If you hear reports of added velocity at any point before the draft or into his professional career, I would jump on Lauer very quickly.
Update – Three rock solid college bats move from #21-23 to #17-19. I don’t think any of these guys are going to turn into stars, but you know I love me those fast moving college hitters. I couldn’t resist.
17) Bryan Reynolds Vanderbilt, OF – Reynolds is a high floor, low ceiling college bat who hit very well in the SEC this year, slashing .335/.462/.615, with 13 homers, and 7 steals in 60 games. He strikes out a bit too much, and while he does have opportunistic speed, he is far from a burner. Reynolds is a nice college bat to scoop up at this point in the rankings.
18) Matt Thaiss Virginia, C – Thaiss is an elite contact hitter, striking out only 14 times and walking 36 times in 57 games in the ACC. He has some power too, hitting 10 homers last season and 10 this season playing his home games in a pitcher’s park. There is some concern that he won’t be able to stick behind the plate, but he has one of the most advanced bats in the draft, and should be a fast mover.
19) Chris Okey Clemson, C – Okey is a good bet to stick at catcher, and he has a strong bat as well, slashing .330/.450/.577 with 12 homers in 60 games in the ACC. He is a strong dude, and while he doesn’t project to be a star, it is not hard to imagine him becoming a top 12 fantasy catcher in what has become an especially weak offensive position.
Update – Perez cracks the top 20. He is a sure bet to stick at SS, has elite speed, and the raw potential is there for him to become a good hitter. The risk is worth it at this point.
20) Delvin Perez HS, SS – Perez looks like a sure bet to be an exciting, above average shortstop, but there are questions surrounding his bat, which is not what fantasy owners like to hear. He has plus, plus speed and he does have the raw talent to figure it out at the plate, so Perez still cracks the Top 20.
21) Blake Rutherford HS, OF – I have to admit that I am not the biggest Rutherford fan. He is a year older than many other players from his high school class and he did not take a step forward in the power department this year. He is obviously immensely talented and the guy can hit, so I readily admit that I might end up being too low on him.
22) Braxton Garrett HS, LHP – Garrett is like the less advanced version of Lauer, except with higher upside being that he is 2 years younger. He throws a low 90’s heater that he pairs with a plus curveball and developing changeup. If you prefer the upside of Braxton over the safety and proximity to the majors of Lauer, I can see swapping them in the rankings.
Update – Sheffield falls from #16 to #23. Carson Fulmer’s struggles might be jading my opinion of Sheffield too much, but they are both small right handed pitchers from Vanderbilt with a high effort delivery and some control problems. I still like him (and Fulmer too) but there is definitely risk here despite his dominate college stats.
23) Jordan Sheffield Vanderbilt, RHP – Sheffield is a small right handed pitcher with nasty stuff and a high effort delivery. He is dominating the best conference in D1 right now, putting up a pitching line of 2.73/1.17/107 in 95.2 IP. He has a strong 3-pitch mix and baseball bloodlines (Gary Sheffield is his Uncle). I might be falling into the same trap that many others have in undervaluing small right handed pitchers, but he has some control issues (3.28 BB/9) and there is injury and bullpen risk, as well.
Update – One of my favorite deep league fantasy sleepers in this draft, Dawson turned it on even more of late, and I can’t help but to bump him up to #24.
24) Ronnie Dawson Ohio St, OF – Dawson has an intriguing power/speed combo, slashing .329/.423/.617, with 13 homers, and 20 steals in 62 games in the Big 10. He hit well from his very first year in college, and with his power explosion this season, I would prefer to take a shot on him rather than one of the many upside high schoolers still on the board.
25) Matt Manning HS, RHP – The 6’6’’, 185-pound Manning is the son of former NBA player Rich Manning. His best pitch a big fastball that sits in the mid 90’s, with recent reports having it all the way up into the upper 90’s. He pairs that with an inconsistent curveball and changeup. Manning is your prototypical projectable high school starter, and I can see wanting to bet on his big frame and big fastball.
26) Alex Kirilloff HS, OF – His best tool is his plus raw power, which is exactly what fantasy owners like to hear. He won the 2015 Home Run Derby at the Perfect Game All-American Classic, and if you are looking for a lottery ticket power bat, Kirilloff if your guy.
Update – Wentz was not able to hold the added velocity he displayed earlier this year, and reports have him sitting in the high 80’s now. This is just a reminder of how volatile these high school pitchers are. He drops to #27.
27) Joey Wentz HS, LHP – Wentz is another high upside high school pitcher in a draft jammed packed with them. He has an easy, athletic delivery which he fires a 90-95 MPH fastball from, and he pairs that with an above average curveball and changeup. He is also a good enough power hitting first baseman that he is considered a legitimate prospect there too. In other words, the guy is an elite athlete who can do anything on a baseball field. There is some risk here as with any high school pitcher, but Wentz has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter.
28) Forrest Whitley HS, RHP – The 6’7’’, 250-pound Whitley throws a low 90’s heater, power curveball, and developing changeup. There isn’t much projection left, but he already has the build of a workhorse starter, and the raw stuff to go with it, too.
Update – I was already low on Lowe, but he keeps dropping to #29 because he isn’t as consistent as some of the high school players ranked above him.
29) Josh Lowe HS, 3B/OF – Lowe is one of the best athletes in the draft and he displays plus raw power and speed. The skills aren’t completely refined yet, but his upside is as high as anybody’s.
* Cal Quantrill Stanford, RHP – Quantrill might have been the top pitcher chosen in the draft if not for needing Tommy John surgery in March 2015. Before the surgery, he threw a traditional 4-pitch mix with his plus changeup being his most dangerous weapon. His dad is longtime Major Leaguer Paul Quantrill. If you want to bet that Quantrill can fully recover from the surgery, I can see slotting him as high as #16.
By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)