When we think about prospects making an impact in fantasy baseball, we tend to focus on dynasty leagues. However, MLB ready prospects can make an impact in redraft leagues! Just because a player hasn’t yet debuted doesn’t mean they cannot end up as key contributors for their respective teams, as we’ve seen from plenty rookie of the year candidates previously.
Early in drafts, taking a prospect can be a risky proposition, especially when they aren’t guaranteed playing time. However, later in the draft, prospects can provide a lot of upside to your fantasy team, especially in deeper drafts. Rather than selecting a part-time player or an uninspiring veteran, under-the-radar prospects can be the superior alternative.
Today, we’re not going to focusing on the premium prospects being selected in drafts: Bobby Witt Jr., Adley Rutschman, Josh Jung, Julio Rodriguez, Riley Greene, and others. Rather, we’re going to focus on under-the-radar prospects who might not be getting a lot of hype, but the overall polish of their skillset makes them likely to succeed should they earn a promotion early in the 2022 season, as they should. Don’t look now, but consider these prospects to even be dark-horse candidates for a Rookie of the Year award! Who are these late-round diamonds in the rough? Let’s find out!
ADP data via NFC.shgn.com (Drafts since January 1.)
Stats via FanGraphs.
Roansy Contreras (PIT, SP)
As the general manager of the Pirates, Ben Cherington has made an extensive amount of trades to boost the team’s farm system. He may have not known it at the time, but his trade of Jameson Taillon to the Yankees would provide him with his biggest coup.
That would be Roansy Contreras, who has developed into a potential front-line starter for the Pirates. After he posted just a 21.1% strikeout rate at Single-A in 2019, you wouldn’t have expected that. However, Contreras was a completely different pitcher in 2021. In 54.1 innings at Double-A and 3.2 innings at Triple-A, he had a 35% strikeout rate, as well as an absurd 29.5% K-BB ratio. Couple that with a 47.5% ground ball rate allowed and a 15.3% swinging-strike rate in 2021, and he was the complete package. Remember: He did this as a 21-year-old!
Since Contreras made his MLB debut late in September with three innings pitched, we were able to get a glimpse into the potential he offers with his pitching arsenal. In that outing, he was sitting 96 mph with his fastball, while he featured two breaking balls in his slider and curveball. Both earned plus grades from FanGraphs, and the slider stood out in particular:
Roansy Contreras, Nasty 85mph Slider. 😨 pic.twitter.com/BVS60rcJTK
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 30, 2021
With a four-pitch mix consisting of three above-average (slider, curveball, fastball) pitches, as well as plus command, Contreras has all the makings of a productive starting pitcher for years to come. The Pirates currently have a lot of question marks with regards to their rotation depth, and with Contreras already on the 40-man roster, we could see him debut early in the regular season. If so, based on his talent and his production despite being young for the level, he should hit the ground running. If you want to potentially back your way into this year’s Alek Manoah, make sure to have Contreras on your radar.
Jose Miranda (MIN, 3B)
Let’s stick with recent prospect breakouts, shall we? In 2019, Jose Miranda posted a 98 wRC+ at High-A, with a .248/.299/.364 slash line and just 8 home runs in 478 plate appearances. At that point, he was essentially written off by most in the prospect industry, and for good reason — that was quite an underwhelming season.
Then 2021 happened. In 591 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A, Miranda boasted a 158 wRC+, as well as a .344/.401/.572 slash line. That’s quite the turnaround from one minor-league season to the next, and if it sustains, we could be looking at the complete package. With prospects, we look for hitters who can either showcase power or have strong bat-to-ball skills. Well, Miranda has both!
Usually, when you have a major power uptick, as Miranda did (.116 ISO to .228 ISO), you’d expect an uptick in strikeouts; contact quantity is usually sacrificed for contact quality. However, this did not happen. Miranda struck out just 12.5% of the time last year, while his swinging-strike rate of 8.8% also ranked comfortably above-average. Thus, there is a strong chance he can maintain his power while also continuing to hit for average, making him the complete offensive performer.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 22, 2021
Heading into this season, ATC projections peg Miranda for a .271/.316/.440 slash line, as well as a 104 wRC+. Steamer is even higher on him, projecting a 113 wRC+ and a .282/.329/.459 slash line. That is quite impressive for an incoming rookie. Miranda might not provide you with a lot of speed, but his ability to hit for enough power while showcasing an above-average batting average thanks to his strong bat-to-ball skills make him stand out at a lackluster third-base position. Should there be an injury, Miranda would be the first bat called upon in Minnesota, while the team could also look to platoon him with a left-handed bat, such as Trevor Larnach. Simply put, there is a path to playing time, and the offensive skills are there. As a late-round stash, you could do a lot worse!
Juan Yepez (STL, 1B)
Remember when Matt Adams was on the Cardinals? Adams was a nice offensive producer for St. Louis, but his greatest contribution came with a very famous postseason home run for Cardinals fans:
However, Adams may have left one last parting gift for the Cardinals. When he was traded to the Braves in 2017, Atlanta sent a young first base prospect named Juan Yepez. At the time, this seemed to be a very minor trade, but when it’s all said and done, it could turn out to be an absolute steal for St. Louis.
Unlike the prospects on this list, Yepez’s breakout didn’t start in 2021. As a 21-year-old at High-A and Double-A in 2019, he posted a 129 wRC+ in 275 plate appearances. That being said, for a corner infielder, the power (.178 ISO) wasn’t where it needed to be. Plus, his production came in a small-sample size; it’s hard to buy into a first baseman with limited power without a large track record.
That made the 2021 season crucial for Yepez, and he delivered. In 77 plate appearances at Double-A and 357 plate appearances at Triple-A, he raised his wRC+ to 154, posting a .286/.383/.586 slash line in the process. That’s right; he posted a .300 ISO, which is certainly elite. Meanwhile, with an 11.8% walk rate and an 18.9% strikeout rate, he demonstrated strong plate discipline statistics for a slugger, adding another skill to his profile.
What also works in Yepez’s favor is his overall batted-ball trajectory. In 2021, he had a 54.3% pull rate, as well as a 45.9% fly ball rate. Both of these marks are well above-average and work well for a power hitter: Pulling the ball and hitting a lot of fly balls is a great way to overachieve your expected power numbers. This makes me much more confident in Yepez’s ability to hit for power at the next level, while his ability to make enough contact is encouraging from a batting average perspective.
Set to be 24 years old in February, the time is now for Yepez to make his push onto the Cardinals lineup. He’s already on the 40-man roster, and should there be a universal designated hitter, could be in line to take that role. That’s his path to playing time with all four corner spots currently locked up in St.Louis, yet if you believe in the universal designated hitter, the time to buy into him is now. If there are any indications that not only is it coming, but he’s going to get that role, then his stock could rise notably. Fangraphs Depth Chart projections have him slotted for a .251/.319/.463 slash line (.212 ISO) with a 112 wRC+. That sounds appealing after pick #500 to me!
Steven Kwan (CLE, OF)
2.6%. That was Steven Kwan’s swinging-strike rate last season. On the 20-80 scale, that could be rounded up to a 75, which is incredibly impressive. When you google “hit tool” in the dictionary, the 24-year-old’s picture should come up.
Between Double-A and Triple-A, Kwan walked (10.6%) more than he struck out (9.1%). Among minor-league hitters with at least 300 plate appearances, his BB/K ratio (1.16) ranked fifth. Meanwhile, not only did he have the lowest swinging-strike rate, but it was nearly half of the hitter’s behind him (5%); the gap between Kwan and second place is the same as the gap between second place and 51st place. That is simply absurd.
If his plate discipline and contact skills were all he was bringing to the table, Kwan could be a valuable big-leaguer. However, he also had a major power breakout in 2021. He nearly doubled his isolated power (.199 ISO) from 2019 (.102 ISO), while he posted a 154 wRC+ and a .328/.407/.527 slash line. He only stole six bases, but the offensive profile is certainly quite intriguing.
All projections have Kwan slotted in to provide an above-average batting average, with ZiPS believing he’ll hit .287. Meanwhile, in the right situation, he can also provide a few stolen bases, with some power upside as well. At the very least, though, the floor is quite high, with his contact skills providing him with a strong batting average. Plus, with the poor state of Cleveland’s offense, it’s hard to not see him making an MLB impact, perhaps as soon as Opening Day. He’s not someone who is going to likely “wow” you, but his offensive floor is as high as it can get for a minor-leaguer, in my opinion. While he’s still an afterthought in drafts, take advantage!
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)