Opening day isn’t a finish line.
It may feel like it after the weeks of draft prep -- finally, a payoff! -- but more and more, Fantasy Baseball owners are coming to realize that some of the most impactful players in any given season won’t start out on a major-league roster.
We’ve learned from past successes, of course. There was Trea Turner and Gary Sanchez just last year -- shoot, Michael Fulmer, for that matter. And then you have older examples like Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig and Carlos Correa. Chances are there was someone in your league he stashed each of those players ahead of time, and that someone was richly rewarded.
Prospects matter -- the ones within spitting distance, anyway -- because all of them, every single player earmarked for a prominent role before even reaching the majors, has a chance to become an impactful one in Fantasy.
Obviously, most of them won’t, at least not right away, but to give yourself the best chance of landing the ones who do, you have to cast a wide net. And to do that, with roster limitations being what they are, you have to narrow your focus to just a few at a time.
That’s where I come in. Periodically throughout this season, I’ll submit the names of five prospects who I think are good enough and close enough that you may want to consider stashing them in standard redraft leagues. The five will change based on the latest rumblings (or one of the previous five graduating, obviously), and that should be your cue to swap out one stash for another.
But prospecting isn’t just for redraft owners, of course. With each Prospect Report, I’ll also identify five prospects who aren’t as close but are noteworthy for some other reason, usually performance-related. Some of them will be well-known prospects themselves, but not all. Check in regularly, and you dynasty league owners might even happen into a sleeper or two.
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Julio Urias, SP, Dodgers
2016 majors: 5-2, 3.39 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 77 IP, 31 BB, 84 K
2017 spring: 1-0, 3.24 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8 1/3 IP, 4 BB, 9 K
Whether or not Urias would begin the year in the big-league rotation was a decision the Dodgers put off all spring, presumably because they weren’t sure what they had in injury returnees Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood. He’s being sent down mostly because he’s working with a finite number of innings that the Dodgers would rather enjoy later in the year, which is itself a concession that he’s one of their best five. He averaged 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings as a 19-year-old last year, compiling a 1.26 ERA over his final seven appearances, so he won’t have to prove himself when he finally does get the call.
Yoan Moncada, 3B, White Sox
2016 minors: .294 BA (405 AB), 15 HR, 45 SB, .918 OPS, 72 BB, 124 K
2017 spring: .317 BA (41 AB), 3 HR, 0 SB, 1.074 OPS, 5 BB, 14 K
Moncada’s detractors (who exist mostly because of a poor 19 at-bat showing in the majors last year ... harumph) spent most of spring training handing out I-told-you-sos. The prize of the Chris Sale deal once again looked utterly overmatched against major league- caliber pitching. But then about halfway through -- 19 at-bats, to be exact -- he went off, redeeming his numbers and leaving the rest of us counting down the days until his arrival. The White Sox have nothing to play for, so they’ll have no trouble fitting him into the lineup if they’re not playing the service-time game. Given his minor-league progression so far, he well force the issue.
Bradley Zimmer, OF, Indians
2016 minors: .250 BA (468 AB), 15 HR, 38 SB, .790 OPS, 77 BB, 171 K
2017 spring: .358 BA (53 AB), 3 HR, 4 SB, 1.084 OPS, 5 BB, 13 K
Perhaps no prospect improved his stock more this spring than Zimmer, who mostly just regained what he lost last year. His 2016 was one of pure development, though. He reworked his swing to improve his bat path and create more loft, upping his potential as both a contact and power hitter, and it finally began to pay dividends with the big-league staff watching. “Make us call you up” was the message Terry Francona gave Zimmer upon sending him down, so the Indians are looking to hand the reins to the 24-year-old, potentially their most exciting homegrown hitter since Grady Sizemore.
Cody Bellinger, 1B, Dodgers
2016 minors: .271 BA (410 AB), 26 HR, .872 OPS, 60 BB, 94 K
2017 spring: .207 BA (58 AB), 2 HR, .639 OPS, 8 BB, 20 K
Bellinger got plenty of buzz this spring but didn’t do much to shorten his timetable, striking out more than every third at-bat. It’s especially notable because his contact rate in the minors last year was encouraging for a prospect mostly regarded for his power. Adrian Gonzalez’s elbow injury, which dates back to the start of a camp, is a present reminder of 34-year-old’s place on the aging curve, and the Dodgers did give Bellinger some exposure to the outfield just in case Andrew Toles and/or Yasiel Puig doesn’t pan out. If he distances himself from his spring performance at Triple-A, Bellinger will remain on the fast track.
Jose De Leon, SP, Rays
2016 minors: 7-1, 2.92 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 86 1/3 IP, 20 BB, 111 K
2017 spring: 0-1, 17.18, 1.91 WHIP, 3 2/3 IP, 3 BB, 3 K
Some prospect evaluators have grown disenchanted with De Leon, citing a drop in velocity and lackluster performance against major-league hitters between last September and this spring. But his strikeout rate at Triple-A Oklahoma City last year was as impressive as it gets, and he has none of the control issues you’d expect for a young bat-misser. The Rays have a good track record with pitchers and most certainly view Matt Andriese as just a placeholder for the player they acquired straight-up for Logan Fosythe. At 24, De Leon just needs to continue doing what he does to get another shot.
Five on the periphery
(These are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Lewis Brinson, OF, Brewers
2016 minors: .268 BA (406 AB), 15 HR, 17 SB, .773 OPS, 21 BB, 87 K
2017 spring: .294 BA (34 AB), 2 HR, 1 SB, .973 OPS, 4 BB, 7 K
Brinson’s spring numbers look even better when you consider he homered twice in an exhibition game prior to the start of Cactus League play, and his minor-league numbers look even better when you consider he hit .382 with a 1.005 OPS after coming over from the Rangers in the Jonathan Lucroy trade. The athletic marvel has greatly improved his contact rate the last couple years and doesn’t have much more developing to do, but he may need a Ryan Braun trade to open the door for him.
2016 minors: .279 BA (488 AB), 15 HR, 16 SB, .810 OPS, 68 BB, 129 K
2017 spring: .383 BA (60 AB), 5 HR, 2 SB, 1.191 OPS, 6 BB,17 K
Happ never had a chance of cracking the opening day roster, but his loud performance kept him with the big club through the end of March, presumably moving him up the injury replacement queue even though he has just half a season of Double-A play to his name. Apart from injury, the 22-year-old is blocked at every turn, but with exposure to both the infield and outfield, he’s the heir apparent to 36-year-old Ben Zobrist and could provide similar production -- maybe even a little more power -- when his time comes.
Reynaldo Lopez, SP, White Sox
2016 minors: 5-7, 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 109 1/3 IP, 35 BB, 126 K
2017 spring: 0-0, 3.72 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 19 1/3 IP, 5 BB, 14 K
Lopez nearly forced the issue this spring with an abrupt turnaround midway through. Incorporating the famed Don Cooper cutter into his arsenal, he compiled a 1.50 ERA over his final four starts, allowing a combined nine hits in 18 innings, but of course it’s his triple-digit fastball that will make or break him. One of James Shields, Derek Holland and Miguel Gonzalez will crumble sooner than later, so it’s mostly of question of how prepared Lopez is to contribute in Fantasy when that time comes. His 11-strikeout effort against the Braves last year inspires some confidence.
Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees
2016 minors: .270 BA (478 AB), 11 HR, 21 SB, .775 OPS, 58 BB, 110 K
2017 spring: .448 BA (29 AB), 2 HR, 0 SB, 1.400 OPS, 2 BB, 6 K
Torres is one of those prospects whose minor-league numbers greatly understate his upside, but he may have started to close the gap this spring, even causing some media types to wonder if he was ready to step in after Didi Gregorius strained his shoulder in the World Baseball Classic. Only 20, Torres could use a few at-bats at Double-A at least, but he has star potential and may be one of the top five prospects to own in a dynasty league.
Tyler Beede, SP, Giants
2016 minors: 8-7, 2.81 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 147 1/3 IP, 53 BB, 135 K
2017 spring: 2-0, 2.03 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 13 1/3 IP, 4 BB, 10 K
Do we really need to see more from Matt Cain at this point? Is Ty Blach any kind of long-term solution? The inevitability is Beede, the 14th overall pick in the 2014 draft, entering the Giants starting rotation sooner or later, and he had a respectable audition this spring. The 23-year-old has worked hard to revamp his delivery and reconfigure his arsenal over the last couple years and may not have shown us the full extent of his bat-missing potential as a result. At this point in time, though, proximity is his greatest asset.