For Fantasy players, prospects are a passion and a plight. This time of year, we scour lists from Baseball America, MLB.com, magazine annuals and numerous websites that claim to have that crystal ball. The reality is that each season’s top 100 list includes a logjam of bums who will never make an impact on your team or their MLB employer. Do the names Rick Ankiel, Paul Wilson, Brandon Wood, Joba Chamberlain & Jesus Montero sound familiar? They should because, over the last 20 years, they’ve each been one of the top three prospects in baseball.
In our ongoing quest to find talent, we look at pedigree (in terms of draft position or contract), athleticism, roster opportunity, scouting reports and statistics. One of those statistics should be Major League Equivalents (MLE’s). Originally outlined in 1985 by Bill James, the concept is to evaluate minor league statistics and create a reasonable expectation of how they would correlate to major league performance. A number of analytic sites have formulas in place to determine these outcomes and while no one statistic is carved in granite, it’s another item for your Fantasy toolbox.
Looking back at some of the surprising players from 2016, it’s interesting to see what their MLE’s looked like from 2015. It’s a reasonable guess that these guys weren’t highly valued in your Draft last Spring, but they turned out to be the kind of bargains that help win leagues…
> Keon Broxton, Brewers OF – Not a top prospect and already in his age 26 season, the ’15 minor league numbers showed the potential for 30+ SB’s. He had 23 SB’s in 75 games last season.
> Adam Duvall, Reds OF – Another late bloomer, his 2015 MLE’s showed a poor batting average but the equivalent of 28 HR’s. In 150 games with Cincinnati, he hit .241 with 33 HR’s.
> Ryon Healy, A’s 3B – His projected 7 HR’s in AA from ’15 wasn’t that impressive on the surface, but a predicted 82% contact rate jumped off the page. After getting called up in ’16, he hit .305 in 269 AB’s with 13 HR’s.
> Travis Jankowski, Padres OF – His lower minors equivalents for ’15 included 23 SB’s, 82% contact rate and 9% walk rate. After 30 SB’s in San Diego last year, he may have earned a starting job.
> Tyler Naquin, Indians OF – The ’15 MLE’s showed 6 HR, 11 SB’s & a .272 BA. In 321 AB’s for the Tribe last season – 14 HR’s, 6 SB’s, .296 BA.
> Ryan Schimpf, Padres 2B – At A-Ball in ’15, he projected a lousy BA, but 20 HR’s and a 10% Walk rate. For the Friars in ’16 – .217 BA & 20 HR’s in 276 AB’s.
Wouldn’t you have loved these six guys at single-digit prices in an auction or late round picks in a snake? As we head toward the 2017 season, let’s look at some top prospects with solid MLE’s along with a few that might be flying under the radar. The number represents where they are on the current MLB.com top 100 prospect list.
> Cody Bellinger, Dodgers 1B (#32) – This is the guy they wouldn’t give up to get Brian Dozier. At age 21, his MLE’s showed 24 HR power.
> Lewis Brinson, Brewers OF (#14) – Only 22, he’s already displaying a nice power / speed combination (13/12).
> Willie Calhoun, Dodgers 2B (#87) – Built more like a fire hydrant than a middle infielder, he projected 26 HR’s at AA.
> Dylan Cozens, Phillies OF (NA) – A 235 lb. former football player, he projected 37 HR’s & 17 SB’s at AA.
> Dustin Fowler, Yankees OF (NA) – Not even in the top ten on the Bronx Bombers list of prospects, he still projected 13 HR’s, 25 SB’s and a .271 BA at AA.
> Manny Margot, Padres OF (#26) – Projected 21 SB’s and a 86% contact rate at AAA and should be the starting CF in 2017.
> Austin Meadows, Pirates OF (#9) – Intriguing power/speed (10/15) CF at age 21.
Last year at this time, this column touted two guys who were not in top 95 prospects…Trevor Story & Max Kepler. Hope they were on your team.