Always looking for the “next big thing”, I have a lot of experience scavenging the minors for the next impact fantasy baseball prospects. I’m hoping to use this weekly space to provide owners with some targets and big-picture tips throughout the 2018 campaign. Since few prospects make an impact in their rookie season, I will usually focus on keepers for the future.
We all want to find the next Albert Pujols, the guy who seemed to come out of nowhere and built a Hall of Fame career, starting with his rookie campaign where he bashed his way to .327/37/130 while qualifying at three positions.
Unfortunately those guys don’t grow on trees, otherwise they wouldn’t be called generational players. Ronald Acuna is probably that next guy (minus the position flexibility), but he likely isn’t available in your league since the hype surrounding him is so great. Which is the problem…
So who is available in your league? Well it mostly depends on the number of teams, roster spots per team and the rules your fantasy league utilizes. I usually play dynasty leagues, since it allows me to grab youngsters, follow them up to The Show and then help lead me to the title. You usually have to take a few risks along the way, but there are ways to minimize those risks and still profit from keen pickups.
Power Outage at First Base
Looking back, it always seemed like every MLB team had a masher at first base. You know, the guy who looked more like an offensive lineman than a baseball player and they seemed to grow on every Major League tree. That guy could catch well enough to not hurt your team at 1B, but probably was better suited for the DH role. What he brought to the table was a slugging percentage around .600 and the homers and ribbies that was the nucleus of your fantasy lineup.
Today it seems like power hitting first basemen are few and far between, and deeper leagues mean getting creative on finding your guy. Often, MLB teams will move a third baseman who isn’t quick enough to handle the hot corner or an outfielder who doesn’t have tracking ability or speed to first base. So scanning the lower minors for true first basemen isn’t always the answer. Players usually end up playing at least part time at 1B by the time they get to the upper end of the minor league system, so there are signs of where they are likely to end up.
Bobby Bradley (Indians) and Ryan McMahon (Rockies) are the guys you probably know about. Bradley will be a better power threat but McMahon will post a better average. Both will be studs and should not be on your waiver wire if you can keep them for the next few years. McMahon has been sitting on the Colorado bench this season and has struggled in his few at bats so far (1 for 20, 10 K) so maybe his owner is souring on him. It could be time to move in with an offer. Bradley is in Double-A, so he will not be up until next year in all likelihood.
Other guys with notable names are Brendan McKay (Rays), Nick Pratto (Royals), Pavin Smith (Diamondbacks) and Evan White (Mariners). They are all highly touted but are too far down the minor league pipeline to help you in the next few years. Guys that far away can sometimes go off the rails and not pan out, so I like to focus on players in Double-A or higher. Three guys I like are Peter Alonso, Ronald Guzman and Josh Naylor.
Peter Alonso is going to have to navigate a minefield to get the starting first base job in Queens. But even though he has an aging Adrian Gonzalez and a young Domonic Smith ahead of him, he should be the New York Mets starting first baseman by 2020. He doesn’t walk or strikeout much and is a good contact hitter. Think of him as a right handed Eric Hosmer with fewer stolen bases.
Ronald Guzman is the closest to the Majors. He started the season playing at Triple-A Round Rock and was called up to the Texas Rangers for a short time to fill in for injuries. But, he is also the least likely to develop into a power monster. He’s a power alley hitter who will hit for a good average. Consider him along the lines of Mark Grace.
Josh Naylor is the mystery man of this group from the San Diego Padres organization. His body shape is a little un-baseball-like in that he’s under 6 foot but tilts the scales over 250, but he hits big. His batting practice shows are legendary, but he needs to be more selective to realize that power in games.
Early indications are that this might be the season where he puts it all together so stash him now before one of your league mates beats you to the punch. If he realizes his ceiling, he’ll post vintage Adrian Gonzalez-like numbers.
Patience But Not Indecision
Some of the worst advice available comes from those who recommend sitting on a fantasy squad for several weeks before making major moves. Owners who draft and then wait to see how things pan out are cautious not to overreact, but they also miss out on the breakout players.
Saving a roster spot or two for the guy who might blossom is always advisable. You don’t have roster space for all the potential breakout candidates, so you have to be very selective. You have to also be willing to cut bait on guys who don’t progress the way you need, so don’t get too attached.
Tip of the Week
If you need a first baseman right now, you might be able to pry Jose Martinez away from his owner. He’s off to a hot start and this is for real (think of a JD Martinez-like late bloomer). Make sure you throw the recent injury into your trade discussions as well as sharing playing time with Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko as reasons your league mate needs to trade Martinez to your team.