I'm not so high on most of these players heading into 2020.
And that's kind of the point. When our enthusiasm for a player isn't rewarded, we move on. I'm as susceptible to it as anyone else.
But historically, that's not how player development works. We've been spoiled in recent years. The process has become so sophisticated that a surprising number of prospects do deliver on their full potential right away. But it shouldn't be the expectation. Success in baseball requires such precision — both a clear mind and finely-tuned mechanics — that it stands to reason players will need to adjust after experiencing the highest level for the first time. Often, we don't have the patience for it, allowing someone else to grab them at a big discount.
And for some of these players, it's not even performance-related. We're just burnt out waiting for them to get their chance and have become distracted by other upside plays.
It's fine, but the less desirable these players become, the bigger the payoff will be.
Kyle Tucker LF
HOU Houston • #30 • Age: 23
The Astros have refused to open the door for this guy for so long that I feel like Fantasy players have moved on emotionally, fatigued from two years of unrewarded hype. But Tucker hit .332 with 24 homers and 20 steals at Triple-A one year and turned in a 30-30 campaign the next. His four homers and five steals in a September audition last year proved he's ready for a bigger opportunity, and new management in Houston figures to give him one.
COL Colorado • #1 • Age: 25
Garrett Hampson's sleeper appeal is the same this year as it was last year, but the Fantasy-playing world seems to have adopted a "fool me once" mentality. A change to his timing mechanism may have unlocked his potential late in the year, though, and his minor-league track record still supports him becoming a high-average hitter with extra-base power that could grow into more at Coors Field. Even if it doesn't, his base-stealing prowess alone could make him a huge asset, and his playing time is no longer in doubt with the DH spot coming to the NL.
Nick Senzel CF
CIN Cincinnati • #15 • Age: 25
Nothing down deep in the data suggests Nick Senzel deserved better as a rookie. His mediocrity was earned despite it not being expected, which means all hope for improvement hinges on the pedigree that made him the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft and a top-10 prospect three straight years. He's the ultimate "blind faith" pick for 2020, just like Rafael Devers was for 2019, and we saw how that one worked out. The price tag justifies the gamble.
CHW Chi. White Sox • #34 • Age: 24
The hype began with Michael Kopech clocking 105 mph in the Red Sox system and grew with his inclusion in the Chris Sale trade. But then he needed Tommy John surgery before he got a foothold in the majors, allowing other pitching prospects to fill the hype void. You may even convince yourself you're seeing his minor-league numbers with more clarity now, absent the hype, but remember he turned the corner as a strike-thrower in the month leading up to his promotion two years ago, issuing just four walks compared to 59 strikeouts in 44 innings. He had a 1.84 ERA over that seven-start stretch.
TOR Toronto • #9 • Age: 25
Billed as the not-so-secret diamond in the catcher rough a year ago, Jansen hit .163 the first two months and never recovered enough to regain anybody's trust, actually losing at-bats as the season went on. But he's still the guy who hit .302 with 22 homers, 46 doubles and 85 walks compared to just 89 strikeouts over his final 666 minor-league at-bats, spanning two seasons, and he showed up to spring training with a new approach and new stance that yielded big results right away. With so little upside to be found at catcher anyway, we shouldn't be so quick to write him off.
Austin Hays CF
BAL Baltimore • #21 • Age: 25
Oh, the hype this guy got when, as merely a third-round pick, he hit .329 with 32 homers and a .958 OPS in his first minor-league season, climbing all the way to the majors. He has hit .242 with an OPS closer to .700 in two minor-league seasons since. But hey, the center field job is his now, and after returning to the bigs with four homers, six doubles and a low strikeout rate last September, those prospect evaluations are sounding pretty rosy again. Still, few will accept the argument that the tiny sample counts for more than the larger one, even if injuries likely contributed to Hays' struggles.
Austin Riley LF
ATL Atlanta • #27 • Age: 23
How they sneered when I called Austin Riley a sell-high candidate last June, after he had homered nine times in his first 18 games, but their complete indifference now seems like an ovecorrection. Yeah, he was miserable from that point forward, but he's a 23-year-old with a top prospect pedigree and a power stroke that isn't in doubt. He seems to have a grasp of the problem, saying he became preoccupied with the slider and was missing the fastball as a result, and he got off to a good start in the first spring training. It's a potential big bat in a deep lineup.
WAS Washington • #8 • Age: 22
If Carter Kieboom doesn't turn in a miserable performance as a hurried fill-in for an injured Trea Turner last April, he's probably the third hitting prospect off the board this year, maybe even going ahead of Gavin Lux. He's presumed to be the leader for the third base job, with the World Series champions deeming him a worthy replacement for Anthony Rendon, and offers a safe profile as a disciplined hitter with mid-level pop. Don't make so much of something so little.
STL St. Louis • #41 • Age: 25
The Cardinals just couldn't commit to Tyler O'Neill as an everyday player in the first 2 1/2 years after acquiring him from the Mariners, and so now that there's a clear opening in left field, everyone is focused on the next big thing, Dylan Carlson. Maybe Carlson beats him out, but he maybe he doesn't. Or maybe both end up playing thanks to the universal DH. But the bottom line is that O'Neill is hardly a lost cause at age 24 and has consistently delivered massive power numbers in the minors, including 26 homers in just 238 at-bats two years ago.
Luis Urias 2B
MIL Milwaukee • #2 • Age: 23
Luis Urias has traded in elite contact skills for an improved launch angle over the past couple years, and it led to a .315 batting average and .998 OPS at hitter-friendly Triple-A El Paso last year. But with basement-level quality-of-contact numbers in the majors so far, you can't help but wonder if it was a worthy tradeoff. More likely, though, it's just a case of 22-year-old needing more of a chance, and the Brewers acquired him intending to give him that chance — and in a better park, no less. They've basically awarded him the starting shortstop job already.
Jesse Winker LF
CIN Cincinnati • #33 • Age: 26
I was heading up the hype train for Jesse Winker going into last season, comparing him to Joey Votto, so when he failed to deliver on his second-half gains and stopped reaching base at an elite clip, my first inclination was to write him off as well. But he was coming off shoulder surgery, and the disappointment wouldn't have been so pronounced if he didn't sit so often against left-handed pitchers. Maybe playing time remains an issue after the Reds acquired a couple outfielders this offseason, but there is a newly opened DH spot, if you haven't heard.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #2 • Age: 25
Speaking of that newly opened DH spot, Dominic Smith becomes a prime candidate to fill it for the Mets, provided J.D. Davis settles into left field. He faltered in his first couple chances as the team's first baseman, allowing Pete Alonso to overtake him last year, but he's actually the younger of the two and was arguably the better prospect. And with irregular playing time last year, he finally began to flourish, showing more of the contact skills that defined his minor-league career while upping his power production for a .282 batting average and .881 OPS.