Over the last several weeks, we’ve looked at the top-20 prospects for 2015, the international players who are coming aboard and some off-the-radar sleeper types. Now we’ll turn our attention to the "tools," players to target in dynasty leagues for certain categories. First up: POWER.
There was a well-publicized league-wide power outage in 2014. In fact, it was the first season since 1995 that the league as a whole scored fewer than 20,000 runs. Fantasy owners aren’t the only ones who are concerned. New commissioner Rob Manfred has publicly discussed measures to “inject” more offense into the game. I’m sure he would like to have those words back, given the free association most baseball fans make between “injections” and “offense.” But the message remains clear. In the face of a larger strike-zone, defensive shifts — at least theoretically, and pitchers with ever faster fastballs, one of the game’s most thrilling moments is becoming more and more rare. Look at the amount of 25-plus home run hitters since 2010.
It’s a very small sample, and this chart isn’t a feat of statistics, but you get the point. As mashers begin to go the way of the Dodo, the rare birds with big-big power are all the more important.
In the list below, players will be organized by their power grades on the 20-80 scale. For those unfamiliar with scouting parlance, the 20-80 scale is the system scouts use to compare a player’s tools relative to major league average. 50-grade is average. Anything above is above average, and anything below is below average. Here’s a rough guide to translating power grades to home run totals (in the current offensive context, of course):
Next week we’ll look at five more players, the criterion being that each player on the list projects to have power that grades 65 or higher.
1. Joey Gallo, 1B/3B, Rangers (Age: 21)
Power Grade: 80
Gallo has been on the map as one of baseball’s most promising power hitters since being drafted 39th overall in 2012. He’s hit moonshots at every stop, polishing off consecutive 40-homer seasons in 2013 and 2014. But, it wasn’t until this past season that Gallo made his way up prospect lists.
His strikeout totals have been nearly as prolific as his home runs. Concerns over contact have called into question the ultimate utility of his power. In 2013, Gallo struck out in 36.8 percent of his plate appearances between Rookie ball and Low-A. In 2014, he was promoted to High-A Myrtle Beach, where he posted a career best 26 percent strikeout rate and was promoted to Double-A Frisco for the season’s second half. In Double-A, he continued to punish mistakes, hitting another 21 home runs, but also struck out nearly 40 percent of the time.
Gallo has some of the best bat speed around, but his swing gets long. He should be able to square up major league fastballs, but it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll look like a blindfolded kid trying to swat a piñata against off speed pitches. He showed improvement in pitch recognition in 2014, something he needs to build on to be successful at the highest level. He’s got development left, so it’s unlikely we see him in 2015.
ETA: Mid 2016
2. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Cubs (Age: 23)
Kris Bryant is one of the sexiest names in baseball this spring, and for good reason. For his minor league career, he owns a devilish .327/.428/.666 triple slash with 52 home runs in 174 total games. That’s a home run every 14 plate appearances. He was Baseball America’s minor league player of the year, and he’s undoubtedly the top prospect fantasy prospect for the 2015 season. The Cubs will probably hold him down for April, and barring an injury or catastrophic underperformance, Bryant will be with the big team for the better part of the season.
Like Gallo, Bryant strikes out a whole lot. He struck out in 27.3 percent of his plate appearances in 2014. He does, however, have an excellent approach at the plate and he’s often praised for his ability to make adjustments. Good major league pitching could expose him, although his excellent make up should ensure that he continues to adapt.
ETA: Early 2015
3. Miguel Sano, 3B/1B, Twins (Age: 22)
This time last season, we were chomping at the bit for a Miguel Sano debut. Unfortunately, the young third baseman needed Tommy John surgery, setting his timetable back another year. Sanó is one of the best power-hitting prospects to come out of the Dominican Republic in a long time, and the big fella was even the subject of the documentary “Pelotero” as a 16-year-old phenom. In 2013, between High-A and Double-A he launched 35 home runs, and there’s no reason to believe that a new UCL will impede his ability to find his top-of-the-charts power. The worry, instead, will be whether or not he shows enough arm strength and accuracy to stick at third base. If not, he could be moved to first base sooner than later which puts a damper on his fantasy value. Like most of the hitters on this list, he's got an advanced approach at the plate with more than a little swing and miss.
ETA: Late 2015
4. Aaron Judge, Yankees (Age: 23)
Judge was a bit of mystery heading into the 2013 draft, lasting all the way until the 32nd pick. Listed at 6-foot-7, 255-pounds, Judge has the strength of an ox, but, oddly enough, he wasn’t much of a home run hitter until his junior year of college. In his first year of pro ball in 2014, he hit just 18 home runs in 131 games. That’s not bad, especially considering half those games were played in the SALLY — a league with a reputation for tampering with power numbers. But it's not what you expect from a player 80-grade raw power. The funny thing about Judge is he plays the game like a much smaller man. In batting practice, he puts on Pink Floyd-style laser shows, but in games doesn’t swing for the fences. Typical of a Yankee prospect, he is picky at the plate too. If qualified, he would have led both the SALLY and Florida State Leagues in walk-rate last season. If he translates his raw pop into home run totals, look out. We could be looking at a guy who hits 30-plus home runs with very strong on-base percentages.
ETA: Mid 2016
5. Jorge Soler, Cubs (Age: 23)
We looked at Soler a few weeks ago and discussed his massive power and spotted injury history. System-mate Kris Bryant will likely hit more home runs, but Soler is may hit harder home runs, like ones that are still rising as they leave the park. Soler has just as much raw power as anyone here, but he may wind up hitting the fewest home runs. There are still questions about whether or not his aggressive approach will ultimately lower his home run ceiling. His skillset looks a whole lot like fellow Cuban national Yoenis Cespedes; if we're lucky, they will face off in a home run derby some day.
ETA: Opening Day
Part 2 Coming Next Week! Find me on Twitter @WordSmithSilva