Every dynasty player has been guilty of over-evaluating certain prospects. Two prospects that come to mind for me are Luis Patiño and Gavin Lux. Many in the industry were high on those players and I bought into the hype. Both players are still young and have time to pan out, but right now their prospect evaluation seems incorrect. There is always going to be volatility in prospects and nobody’s projections are going to be flawless. Most 2023 prospect lists have been published providing a good understanding of where many in the industry stand on prospects from around the league. The question remains: Which prospects are being valued too highly? This article looks at three prospects that are being overvalued in dynasty leagues and have a chance to be disappointing this year.
Disclaimer: This is a bold prediction list. I do not think that any of the three players mentioned below are bad, but that they are being valued too highly. Now might be the perfect time to sell high on these three guys. The beauty of prospect analysis is that we have no idea who is right until they prove themselves at the Major League level.
2023 Prospect Busts
Jackson Merrill: SS, San Diego Padres
This pick might upset people the most. Remember though, this list is not indicative of how much future Major League value these players have. Rather, this is a list of which prospects are going to bust from a fantasy baseball perspective. Merrill has been one of the most talked about prospects in baseball this off-season. After going in the first round of the 2021 draft, Merrill dominated both the Complex League and Low-A to the tune of a .339 average in 55 games. He will turn 20 years old in April but has already appeared inside the top 20 on both FanGraphs and MLB.com’s top 100 prospect lists. This is too lofty for a player with 45 career games played above the Complex League level. Sell high on Jackson Merrill while the hype is at its peak.
With Merrill standing tall at 6’3”, many believe he has the potential for a power breakout. However, this has never been who Merrill is. In 370 professional plate appearances, Merrill has hit a total of six home runs. This is a 10/600 pace which is well below the league average. In FanGraphs’ most recent update, he has a future game power grade of just 40. Due to the volatility in prospects, it is important to chase upside. Overvaluing a player with 40-grade game power is not a winning strategy. To be a top-hitting prospect, having at least average power is essential to long-term dynasty value. Without this Merrill will always be a better real-life player than a fantasy player.
Part of the issue with projections is that it fails to consider how changes to a player’s game can negatively impact their current strengths. Merrill is a slap-hitting, contact-first shortstop. This is part of what makes him such a valuable real-life asset. He makes excellent contact and has a solid understanding of the strike zone. If you want to project a power breakout, you have to think about how this could impact his current profile. Merrill possesses a rare ability to use all parts of the field. He has posted an opposite field percentage of at least 34% at every level he has touched. Last year, there were seven Major League players with at least 200 plate appearances to post an Oppo% greater than 34%:
Not a single player on that list posted more than 12 home runs (even LeMahieu who gets to play in Yankee Stadium), and the average slugging percentage was .321. Power hitters generate high home run totals by tapping into their pull-side power. Merrill’s strength is his ability to make contact which includes his willingness to take pitches the other way. Projecting a power breakout includes projecting Merrill to completely change his approach at the plate which could be detrimental to his long-term value.
Part of the other issue with a power breakout is the swing change that it would require. Merrill has continued to run high-ground ball rates in the Minor Leagues which is part of the reason he has posted low home run totals. Some people who saw Merrill play in the AFL indicated that he appeared to be trying to launch the ball more. However, the AFL is an extremely small sample size. If Merrill is ever going to hit more than 10-15 home runs, then he will need to prove that increasing his fly ball percentage will not impact his ability to make contact at the plate.
In 2022, 118 MLB hitters posted a strikeout rate under 25% while also posting a ground ball rate of over 45%. Their average BA was .251 with an average slugging percentage of .371. Without a swing change, Merrill is always going to struggle to hit for power and he could even see his batting average come falling. The .401 BABIP from last season is bound to regress. Regardless of his speed and contact skills, .401 is unsustainable.
This brings us to Merrill’s ceiling. What is a realistic ceiling for Jackson Merrill? Without a power outbreak, we are probably looking at around .285 with 10 home runs and 15 stolen bases. That would be solid Major League production, but far from a fantasy star. If Merrill can add power to reach his ceiling of 20 home runs, his average could creep down to around .265 and the stolen bases drop closer to ten. 2022 Jeremy Peña could be a could comp for if Merrill is able to increase his power.
The issue I have with Merrill has nothing to do with his real-life value to the Padres’ organization. The issue is that throughout this off-season, many dynasty players have begun valuing him as a top-15 dynasty asset. This is not indicative of his true outlook for most leagues. He is a great contact hitter with average speed and below-average power that will need to undergo a complete profile transformation to ever be a top-50 fantasy player. The odds of this happening are low, and you should be selling high on Merrill right now.
Tyler Soderstrom: C/1B, Oakland Athletics
Oakland’s 2020 first-round pick followed up an excellent professional debut with a 28-home run campaign in 2022. Last season, Soderstrom worked his way from High-A all the way to Triple-A for the final nine games. Although his wRC+ dropped with each promotion, he appears to be knocking on the Major League door. Catcher prospects with high offensive upside always catch the eye of the dynasty community and Soderstrom is no exception. He has continued to rise through prospect ranks working his way inside the top 40 of MLB.com and FanGraphs’ prospect ranks. The community is pushing Soderstrom too high and now is the perfect time to sell high.
There is no denying the power in Soderstrom’s profile. He has posted an HR/FB of at least 21% at every level of the Minor Leagues which is one of the stickiest statistics for Minor League players. He has consistently posted excellent exit velocities including an average EV of 94.58 mph while at Triple-A.
What is not to like about a power-hitting catcher? Well for starters, there is an increasing likelihood Soderstrom does not stick at catcher long-term. Oakland has Shea Langeliers and Soderstrom’s defense is suspect at best. Last season Soderstrom played more first base than he did catcher signaling a position switch is likely. Replacement value is much higher at first base than at catcher so any position change would lower his value. Last season there were six catchers to hit 20 home runs meanwhile, there were 16 first basemen to hit at least 20 home runs. There is no issue with a top-40 ranking if Soderstrom remains at catcher, but the odds of that are low. His power carries less value with the position change to first base.
To justify a high ranking as a first baseman, a prospect needs to have a plus-hit tool to go with their power. Soderstrom’s hit tool is below average with major flaws that could be exploited as the competition increases. Between all three levels, he struck out over 26% of the time. The worst of the rates was 34.2% at Triple-A. He gets himself into trouble by being overly patient at the plate. Patient approaches in prospects do not usually concern me, but with the high strikeout rate often comes high walk rates. However, Soderstrom only walked 7.2% of the time last year. The combination of high strikeout and low walk rates makes me skeptical of Soderstrom finding success with his current approach.
High ground ball rates amplify my concerns over Soderstrom’s hit tool. Like Merrill, Soderstrom will need to get the ball in the air more if he ever wants to reach his full potential. Soderstrom can mask his ground ball concerns with gaudy home run rates, but they could still lead to low batting averages.
There are plenty of first basemen in baseball who can hit lots of home runs with mediocre averages. Soderstrom is being valued as a catcher in prospect circles despite a high likelihood of his long-term position being first base. Do not fall for this trap and sell Soderstrom while the value is at its peak.
Junior Caminero: SS/3B, Tampa Bay Rays
Junior Caminero is another off-season prospect darling for this year. Virtually not talked about for most of the regular season, Caminero has been thrust into the limelight. The Rays acquired him last off-season from Cleveland in a move that went virtually unnoticed at the time. He proceeded to bat .314 in 62 games between the Complex League and Low-A. On top of that, he hit 11 home runs with 12 stolen bases. Originally signed as a shortstop, Caminero primarily played third base last season which is where he will likely settle in. Although he was left off MLB.com’s top 100 and only ranks 105 on Fangraphs’, the hype is still at an all-time high in most dynasty baseball circles. He is one of the most popular breakout picks for the 2023 season, but there is reason to start pumping the brakes on this hype train.
Part of the lure to Caminero has been his ability to make hard contact. Featuring a big leg kick and excellent bat speed, Caminero makes the most of his 5’11” frame and has 30 home run upside. So, why is he going to bust?
The same ground ball issue for Merrill exists in Caminero’s profile. A low launch angle prevents Caminero from ever being a true home run hitter. His ground ball rate during the 2022 season was around 49% which will require a swing adjustment. Yes, Caminero was on a 24/600 pace last season even with this ground ball rate, but most of this was fueled by a 25 HR/FB% during his 26 games at Low-A. Caminero’s DSL rate was 19% and down at just over 12% at Tampa’s Complex League. Once his home run rate comes back down to earth, Caminero likely settles into the 20-home run range.
Another issue that exists in Caminero’s profile is his aggressiveness at the plate. Although his contact skills are above-average, Caminero is a free swinger at the plate. He posted a 31% chase rate last year which is below the league average. His strikeout rate jumped from 13.6% at the complex to 18.8% at Low-A. This is cause for concern as the competition is only going to get tougher. As Caminero continues to garner more attention, opponents will have a plan for how to get him out. Caminero loves the ball middle in where his open stance and big leg kick can do the most damage. His aggressiveness can get him into trouble as pitchers exploit this with the breaking ball down and away out of the zone. This weakness could result in more struggles as he continues to progress through Tampa’s system.
The final concern with Caminero’s profile is projecting how his body will fill out. He is still so young at just 19 years old and there is plenty of room for him to fill out his frame. While adding muscle and mass is a good thing for his power outlook, he will likely see his speed start declining. Last season he was on a 27/600 steal pace but is more likely to settle into the 15-steal range in the future.
Caminero’s hype train has officially left the station at this point, making now the time to sell high on him. Through the power of social media, groupthink is too common in this industry. One analyst picks Caminero as a breakout and everybody else does not want to feel left out. Caminero has plenty of talent in his profile, but there are concerns being overlooked when many are guaranteeing a breakout in 2023. Pump the breaks on him until he shows success at a level above Low-A.
Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)
Soderstrom up to this point in his career looks as sharp as how Matt Olson did for Oakland in the minors. Considering how Oakland gives these lower graded prospects the time of day, gives Soderstrom a good chance to follow in Olson’s shoes.