Well holy guacamole cannoli, was 2015 an fascinating year for prospect fans! A few of the names gracing last year’s list are now among the MLB elite, and many others were also very good. Yeah, that’s probably not gonna happen again for a while. Compared to last year, this year’s top hitters list lacks a lot of the traditional high-end prospect talent after so many graduations in 2015. However, there are plenty of impact players on the cusp of regular playing time as well as some intriguing international signees that can help you win your redraft league. So buckle up, it’s prospect time with Ben Pernick!
This is a list of the top 25 hitting prospects based on predicted stats for 2016 ONLY. This list does not take into account long term keeper value, contracts, defensive value (except as it relates to playing time).
1. Corey Seager (SS/3B, LAD) – I think Seager is a great prospect. HOWEVER, let the record show that I think he is also being overrated for his production in a limited major league sample size. His upside for hitting for average and power is high, but for 2016 he will likely have similar, but slightly weaker numbers than his older brother Kyle. That makes Corey valuable, just don’t get carried away, it’ll hurt the perennially underrated Kyle’s feelings. In leagues where Seager gets SS eligibility, he gets a huge boost.
ETA – Opening Day Projection: 560 PA .271 AVG, 16 HR, 3 SB
2. Byung-Ho Park (1B, MIN) – Yes, I’m gung-ho for Byung-Ho! Whereas Seager is a relatively safe bet to produce, Park is a higher upside gamble, that comes with a much bigger bust risk. As evidenced by his KBO stats, he has BIG power, but also struck out 170 times in the Korean league. However, he has great bat control and a simple swing that should translate well, has a bit of speed, and takes a fair amount of walks. Sure, his downside is Kennys Vargas part 2: Electric Boogaloo, but my upside comp is (mid-career) Nick Swisher, which is useful for a fantasy squad, especially in OBP leagues and leagues that don’t penalize strikeouts.
ETA – Opening Day Projection: 540 PA, .246 AVG, 26 HR, 4 SB
3. Hyun Soo Kim (OF, BAL) – Not that Byung-Ho’s signing exactly lit the fantasy world on fire, but Kim’s signing barely made a spark in the news. While he’s not nearly the high-slugging upside play, Kim has a solid portfolio of all-around skills that make him a safer investment. He does have a good bat with decent power with good plate discipline, and a touch of speed. Nick Markakis is a common comp for his balanced skill set. Barring another major move, Kim looks to have the inside track to the leadoff spot, with a studly cast behind him and a favorable hitter’s park. He may not be flashy but could be the sleeper that helps you win your deep league.
ETA – Opening Day Projection: 580 PA, .271 AVG, 16 HR, 6 SB
4. Byron Buxton (OF, MIN) – Buxton did reach the majors, but small sample size or not, he was horrific in just about every measurable way. Although some slack can be given due his young age and readjusting after injury, it’s pretty clear at this point that he isn’ t the second coming of Mike Trout. But he has excellent speed and enough power to not drain there. But his lack of plate discipline makes him no sure bet to produce. Long-term, he may be the brightest star on this list, but it seems iffy that he puts it all together in 2016.
ETA – Opening Day Prediction: 510 PA, .249 AVG, 9 HR, 21 SB
5. Adam Duvall (1B,/OF CIN) – I clamored for Duvall to get a chance last year and was mildly satisfied that they eventually gave the then-26-year old a chance. Now 27, he’s not a traditional prospect, but after mashing in back-to-back years at Triple-A, he’s got nothing left to prove and see if he can stick in the majors. While his bust risk is high, he could easily hit 20-25 Homers with a K rate below 30%, and while he lack’s Park’s plate discipline, he does have intriguing dual-eligibility. Due to lack of prospecty sheen, could be among best late-game gambles for redrafts.
ETA – Opening Day Projection: 510 PA, .234 AVG, 23 HR, 2 SB
6. Hector Olivera (3B, ATL) – The oldest “prospect” to grace this list, Olivera was able to hit whenever he was healthy, but that was a BIG “whenever”. I guess that expression works better with “if”. While he didn’t exactly earn his starting role, he has one now, and IF he can stay on the field he has high batting average upside, with a possibility for good power too. I think the other projections oversell his power and undersell his AVG. But he should be a solid NL-only back-end play, though he lacks keeper upside.
ETA – Opening Day Projection: 510 PA, .284 AVG, 10 HR, 3 SB
7. A.J. Reed (1B, HOU) – My semi-bold prediction is that on a rate basis, Reed outproduces Seager. The only problem is it’s unlikely Reed will get a full season of ABs, which reduces his impact. But then again, that was a big knock on Kris Bryant before 2015 and he made them eat their sour words. And like, bad sour, not Warheads sour. While Reed may not quite have THAT amount of talent (especially with baserunning), his combination of pure hitting, power, walks, home park and supporting cast make him an excellent prospect stash, though I think 2017 will be his big breakout campaign.
ETA –June Projection: 410 PA, .266 AVG, 15 HR, 0 SB
8. Trevor Story (SS, COL) – Well this Story just got more interesting. Despite a captivating minor league campaign which saw the 23-year-old go 20-20, the Rockies opted to keep him in the minors and then acquired Jose Reyes. The twist is that Reyes is now facing a domestic violence charge, and given the new rules and precedent set by the Chapman suspension, a punishment should be forthcoming. While he still has strikeout issues making him a high bust risk, Story could reap the benefits of the thin Colorado air and be a great fantasy SS even if he’s not as good in reality. Cool Story, bro.
ETA –June Projection: 350 PA, .248 AVG, 12 HR, 9 SB
9. Trea Turner (SS/2B, WAS) – Trea turned some heads last year with an explosive start to the season that continued in a strange trade from the Padres to the Nationals. While he lit up the minors with a batting average in the .320s, the 22-year old only currently has 5-10 homer power, a high K rate, and flopped in his majors debut. But he actually had a great contact rate despite the Ks and his 70 grade speed means he could get 20-25 SB over a full season. He’s currently blocked by Steven Drew and Danny Espinosa, which is my way of saying he’ll be up by June barring injury or implosion.
ETA – June Projection: 390 PA, .263 AVG, 4 HR, 19 SB
10. Orlando Arcia (SS, MLW) – Unlike the city in Florida, this Orlando is actually great. Not only did he hold his own on the jump to Double-A, he actually increased his power to 4 HR to 8 HR, giving hope that he may be a rare 5-tool shortstop. His speed and defense are still his carrying tools, but he does have star upside and one of the safest bets to be a productive major leaguer at only 21 years old. He’ll start in the minors but should be up for good come June.
ETA – June Projection: 360 PA, .271 AVG, 5 HR, 13 SB
11. Nomar Mazara (OF, Tex) – Nomar is less likely than Gallo to get the first call-up to the majors, and with his lack of flexibility, the Desmond signing hurts Mazara more than Gallo. But I can’t predict the future but I do believe Mazara’s high floor and pure hitting skills will lead to him seizing his major league opportunity and being a fantasy contributor. He’s only 20 so they may choose to let Nomarinate in the minors for one more year, but with his polish I think he’s major-league ready and soon will be Mazaramazing.
ETA – July 290 PA, .276 AVG, 11 HR, 1 SB
12. Andrew Benintendi (OF, BOS) – Every year, some guy makes it to the majors that nobody projected to reach the majors so soon. It’s why I didn’t have Correa and Russell on my lists last year and I’m not going to make the same mistake again, because I think Benintendi could definitely force his way up. The Boston OF is stacked, yes, but injuries happen and Castillo is no sure thing. Benintendi is the total five-tool package and should move quickly, and while the odds are stacked against him, he could outperform many on this list if he gets his shot early.
ETA – Late July/August Projection: 250 PA, .284 AVG, 8 HR, 6 SB
13. Joey Gallo (3B/OF, Tex) – He has video-game level power, and video-game contact skills if that video game is Wii Pin the tail on the Donkey. It probably comes with a blindfold, I don’t know. He’s still young but has only shown the ability to cut Ks down to a reasonable level once in early 2014. The Desmond signing hurts his odds, but it’s likely for the best as he really needs to work on making more contact or he’ll be nothing more than Russell Branyan. He’s still young enough to change that, though. Good luck, gamblers.
ETA – Mid-June Projection: 360 PA, .223 AVG, 18 HR, 1 SB
14. Nick Williams (OF, PHI) – While he may have the least upside out of the Texas outfielder Trio (along with Mazara and Brinson) Williams had an incredible 2015 with Texas and then Philly, hitting for power, speed and average. The problem is, the numbers masked his still-somewhat-shoddy plate discipline which makes him a high bust risk unless he can improve it in Triple-A. The Phillies OF may be a sad mess but Williams will still likely have to wait until June or July.
ETA – Mid-June Projection: 340 PA, .239 AVG, 10 HR, 7 SB
15. J.P. Crawford (SS, PHI) – It wasn’t the flashiest campaign, but Crawford faced a big jump in Double-A and upped his walk rate to 12.1% and lowered his K rate to 11.1. He’s one of those guys where his real-life value vastly outweighs his fantasy value due to his plate discipline and defense, but he could always have a Lindor-esque breakout upon reaching the show. I’m more bullish than the projections here, probably because I’m a sucker for high walk, low K hitters like JP.
ETA – July Projection: 300 PA, .261 AVG, 7 HR, 5 SB
16. Max Kepler (OF/1B, MIN) – Kepler put together an out-of-this-world campaign last year, with a high batting average, elite plate discipline, speed and solid power. While he is not young for a prospect at 23, the German still has greater potential not yet fully untapped, much like a fine Hefeweizen. I’m more bullish than Steamer and think he beats the odds and carves out a role and becomes a regular by season’s end, and a sleeper in OBP leagues.
ETA – July Projection: 340 PA, .273 AVG, 7 HR, 9 SB
17. Jose Peraza (SS/2B/OF, CIN) – Going into 2015, Peraza was probably overrated based on his punchless slap-hitter profile, but there’s some overcorrection going on now. He’s still a fine prospect and is now underrated, since he still has great speed even without the crazy minor league SB totals (60 in 2014 to 36 in 2015). His high-contact low-walk approach makes him a much better get in AVG. leagues than OBP leagues, but he should find a role in Cincinnati. However, his versatility, while a plus, means he might be a super-utility and pinch-runner that’s tough to play in non-daily leagues.
ETA – June Projection: 260 PA, .268 AVG., 2 HR, 19 SB
18. Mallex Smith (OF, ATL) – Here’s the guy who could steal Peraza’s thunder… sorta. The 2015 minor league leader in Stolen Bases, he has the best speed currently in the minors, with an 80 grade, and he also walks more than Peraza. The downside is he’s not actually a great fielder, he has near-zero power, and his high-average hitting isn’t sustainable. If he gets the At-bats, he can be a monster in SBs, but that’s all you should be expecting from him. But since he lacks the hype Billy Hamilton had, he could be…a STEAL.
ETA – June Projection: 230 PA, .249 AVG., 1 HR, 26 SB
19. Jon Singleton (1B, HOU) – After a dismal 2015 campaign, Singleton provided hope in the early going with a power-packed red-hot start to the season, which promptly cooled down to reveal him as the same as he ever was. The talking heads of the organization say he’s the likely opening day 1st baseman, but he’s expected to lose his job once Reed is ready (once the Astros can save some cash). But hey, Singleton has a chance not to blow it and hold on to the role for the rest of the year, so there’s that. Maybe third time’s the charm? Anybody?
ETA – Opening Day Projection: 360 PA, .221 AVG., 16 HR, 2 SB
20. Jesse Winker (OF, CIN) – Not the sexiest prospect due to no loud tools, but great plate discipline and average bat and higher future power upside makes a solid regular. You could make a solid case for him and Kepler trading spots, sinceI think Winker’s not going to have trouble cracking the roster.
ETA – August Projection 270 PA, .259 AVG., 11 HR, 1 SB
21. Dansby Swanson (SS, ATL) – The Braves acquired the #1 pick via a heist for Shelby Miller, and I bet they celebrated with steak and a single barrel scotch whiskey. While he only played a bit in low-A, the 21-year old is major-league ready with a plus bat, great plate discipline, and solid all-around game. While it seems crazy due to his lack of pro experience, he is fully expected to break through to the majors relatively soon. Also his name is Dansby, which is neat.
ETA – July Projection: 230 PA, .279 AVG., 7 HR, 5 SB
22. Socrates Brito (OF, ARZ) – He had a great minor league campaign last year, with a .300 AVG., an improved, 16.1% K rate, 9 HR, 20 SB, but most impressively, the name “Socrates”. He has a chance to beat out Tomas for the left fielder role, but the smart money’s on him starting in the minors and winning the role if Tomas falters. It’s no sure thing as Tomas does have money tied up in him and the D-Backs are a frustrating franchise. Hopefully he’ll get them to employ the Socratic method.
ETA – July Projection: 290 PA, .264 AVG, 6 HR, 9 SB
23. Gary Sanchez (C, NYY) – Sanchez has been suffering with a serious case of prospect fatigue. Not that he’s tired, just people are tired of hearing about him for so many years. So many will miss that Sanchez actually made big strides in his development and is nearly major-league ready. The problem is McCann is still entrenched at C, though one more injury could shift McCann and give him his big break. It’s frustrating that he looks to be the backup catcher instead of taking over full-time duty from the minors, but he’s one of the best backup catchers you can get, making him a great target in daily and/or 2-catcher leagues.
ETA – Opening Day Projection: 230 PA, .249 AVG., 9 HR, 2 SB
24. Lewis Brinson (OF, TEX) – This may go down as one of the more controversial grades, and I get that. He had an excellent all-around 2015 campaign, in which he flashed power and speed, improved his K problem, and even hit for strong average. But he’s still so toolsy that he could still benefit from more time at Triple-A. I doubt he gets serious playing time, but if DeShields flops he could take over in center
ETA – August Projection 180 PA, .241 AVG., 6 HR, 4 SB
25. Tim Anderson (SS, CHW) – He has speed, and some budding power, but I’m not as convinced as some that he can hit for high average with his low walk rate and high K rate. Some feel he has star upside, I see more of an Erick Aybar-type (who was speedy earlier in his career, don’t forget). He had a better opportunity for PT before the Rollins signing but it shouldn’t slow him down Tiny Tim too much.
ETA – August Projection 190 PA, .261 AVG., 2 HR, 9 SB
26. Alex Bregman (SS, HOU) – Great bat, probably a 2017 call-up, though could likely succeed in the majors now if not blocked.
27. Aaron Judge (OF, NYY) – Big guy with big power upside, and he did reach Triple-A, but he needs more time at the level to cut down on Ks.
28. Willson Contreras (C, CHC) – Improved his plate discipline, the bat is probably about MLB-ready but defense may delay his arrival.
29. Hunter Renfroe (OF, SD) – A power-first prospect really isn’t a great fit to play half his games at Petco, but he’s likely closer to the majors than Margot.
30. Richie Shaffer (3B, TB) – A late bloomer prospect at 24 with little opportunity on the roster, but the power is real and just needs to cut down on Ks more to become a major league 20-25 HR bat.
Manuel Margot (OF, SD), Trey Mancini (3B, BAL), Robert Refsnyder (2B/SS/3B, NYY), Josh Bell (1B/3B, PIT), Balbino Fuenmayor (WOO!) (3B, KC)