Written By: Matt Heckman
Follow Him on Twitter: @Heckman_Matt115
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter:@ProspectsWorldW
Every year a list of top prospects is released. Dynasty players intently read those lists trying to evaluate which guys are worth rostering down the line. Often these players are drafted onto fantasy teams and when they do not put up Ronald Acuna Jr level production fantasy owners are disappointed. I am guilty of this too having rostered Austin Riley in a dynasty format (Ottoneu fantasy baseball) and traded him away before his breakout year. In this article, I evaluate 8 players formerly on the top 100 list that struggled some in their first big league stints. These players have since graduated off of the top prospect lists and do not receive the same attention that they once did. The purpose of this is to try and decipher whether these players are still worth a roster spot, or if it is unlikely they will ever live up to the hype. The focus of this is on dynasty settings although regular redraft formats are mentioned throughout.
1. Jarren Duran-OF Boston Red Sox
During spring training, it looked like Duran changed his swing to unlock more power. Back in 2019, Duran was only hitting fly balls at under a 25% rate. During his brief AAA stint this season he was hitting flyballs almost 40% of the time leading to his promotion. His new success in the minor leagues did not carry over to the pros leading many to question who the real Jarren Duran is. According to Baseball Savant, Duran only hit a fly ball 20.6% of the time during his major league call-up. Couple that with a 35.7 K%, and his struggles are not surprising. He simply was not able to make solid contact with the fastball, and he struggled to make any contact with breaking balls. The question is whether there remains a reason for optimism. On pitches 95+ Duran’s hard-hit rate was 31.3%. I think that Duran’s desire to sell out for power is hurting his ability to make contact and catch up to big-league fastballs. If Duran wants to be able to make more solid contact, he is going to have to shorten his swing and settle for his ability to make contact and run the bases. While the idea of a 30 homerun 20 steal player was tantalizing, I think this is a lofty expectation. I think it is likely that best case scenario Duran is a .260 hitter who can steal 15 bags for you and hit 10-15 homeruns. The floor for Duran is similar to the floor we saw this year. A player who is going to strikeout a ton, not hit for power, and watch pitchers wind up and throw the ball right past him. I think it is likely he will be a fine player, but nothing to go out of your way for in terms of a dynasty outlook. Michael Taylor could be a reasonable comp in which case you are better off looking elsewhere. In addition, his lack of opportunity has to be considered. Verdugo is locked into a starting spot. With the acquisition of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kike Hernandez dominating the 2021 postseason, Duran will have to battle to find his way into the Opening Day lineup and may even start the season in AAA-Worcester. As somebody who spent a good amount of money on Duran in my dynasty league this past spring, I can honestly say that I am disappointed with the results.
2. Jarred Kelenic-OF Seattle Mariners
Kelenic entered 2021 as one of the highest touted prospects in baseball. After coming over from New York in the Edwin Diaz/Robinson Cano trade, Kelenic came into his own as a player and looked to be a “face of the franchise” type player. After getting called up, he really struggled. So much so, that the Mariners sent him back down to AAA. During that brief call up from May 13th to June 5th, Jarred Kelenic his just 0.096 with two homeruns. Despite the up-front stats looking horrendous, Kelenic had a solid launch angle of 17 degrees and showed very good plate discipline for a rookie getting his first taste of big-league action. He walked 9% of the time and appeared to be suffering from some bad luck with a .109 BABIP. After his call back up, things still were not perfect, but throughout much of September, Kelenic was able to carry an xwOBA well above league average. Some of that bad luck started to turn around and his plate discipline kept improving. With a tight launch angle throughout the entire season and a barrel rate of over 18% in September, it looks like Kelenic started to figure out big-league pitching. He is only 22 and is going to go through struggles that all 22 year old players go through (he is not Juan Soto), but at the end of the day, Kelenic still has all of the looks of a budding star. In dynasty formats, he is worth selecting high or trading for in salary leagues. The time to get in might be now as it is unlikely his value will ever be as low as it is now. In 2022 with a full time role it would not surprise me for Kelenic to hit around .250 with 25 homeruns and a walk percentage around 10%. In roto leagues, he can also provide you some value with his legs and ability to run the bases. The Mariners offense should continue to improve in 2022 and Kelenic figures to be a big part of that.
3. Matt Manning-SP Detroit Tigers
Manning is a part of the young trio of arms currently experiencing their first big league action in Detroit. Of the three, Manning’s struggles might have been the most evident. Throughout the minor leagues, Manning had two plus breaking pitches that led to a lot of strikeouts. During his 85 innings in the majors, Manning struck out under 15% of the batters he faced. Not only that but when he tried to throw his slider he got hit hard. Opponents hit .371 off of the slider and slugged .468. The pitch was worth -4.3 runs on the season. His fastball only averages 94mph so he is a pitcher who is going to need to lean on his breaking stuff to not get hit. Pitchers can get away without overpowering velocity in two different ways. They either do it with pinpoint accuracy like Adam Wainwright is still doing, or they have good spin rate. According to Baseball Savant, Manning has a 7th percentile fastball spin and a 27th percentile curveball spin. Nothing on his page stands out from a talent level. In terms of fantasy value, I am struggling to see how much is there with Manning. He does possess the ability to limit the long ball which can be helpful in certain formats like Ottoneu. I do think that the strikeout numbers will jump up a little bit, but I do not think he is a player that has a ceiling much above replacement level. If you have an opportunity to take a cheap shot on him in redraft leagues, or can get him for $1 somewhere he might be worth a shot. However, if he is somebody that you have to pay up for due to his previous prospect hype I would stay away.
4. Jazz Chisholm Jr.-SS Miami Marlins
Chisholm is another one of the young middle infielders that instantly catches your eye. Over the first month of the season, Chisholm hit over .300 with a high slugging percentage and was instantly picked up in almost every fantasy league out there. Even through May he was hitting .300 with a slugging percentage of .509. While this is nice, his underlying stats were less encouraging. Part of his sensational start was driven by a BABIP of .438. That is unsustainable for even the best hitters in the sport. In the months to follow his BABIP dropped to a much more realistic .288. The change was drastic as his average from June forward was .232 and he slugged under .400. Even with his middle infield eligibility these numbers are not playable unless you are in a deep league. Looking forward now, is Jazz Chisholm worth rostering in a dynasty league or redraft league? If Jazz is going to live up to his hype and charisma, he is going to need to learn to hit off-speed and breaking pitches. As the season went on, he started to see fewer fastballs and struggled to pick up the ball. Over the length of the season, Chisholm hit .298 off the fastball while hitting a poor .204 against all other pitches. In addition to this, he whiffed on nearly 40% of all non-fastballs. I that Jazz is too similar to Keston Hiura. Both are middle infielders who burst onto the scene providing huge fantasy results only to fall flat on their face when pitchers adjusted to their abilities. The nice part about Jazz is that even if he is not hitting, he can provide you with points on the basepaths which can be helpful in points leagues and especially category leagues. His 23 stolen bases in 124 games ranked 11th in baseball and that number figures to grow higher if he can stay healthy. He maintained a strong exit velocity throughout the season along with a 9% barrel rate. For 2022 and beyond Jazz is somebody I would like to take a shot on however, he is not somebody I am either trading a lot of assets for or somebody who I am overpaying for. The ceiling is high if he can cut down on the whiffs and learn to hit the breaking ball, but the floor is also extremely low. In category leagues, his value is boosted with the stolen bases, but not much after that is a guarantee. I would project Jazz to finish with a line around .240 with 20hrs and 25 stolen bases. If everything clicks, he could skyrocket into a top 5 middle infielder for fantasy, but I would set my expectations closer to replacement level.
5. Tarik Skubal- SP Detroit Tigers
During Skubal’s brief major league stint in 2020, he struggled with the long ball. After dominating the minors, his four seam fastball got hit hard. In 2021 he started to develop a sinker to help limit the damage. His four seam usage dropped from 59% to 43% in an attempt to help reduce the damage. While he was successful in reducing his HR/9 slightly, he still ranked last amongst pitchers with at least 140 innings. He was the only pitcher to average more than 2 long balls every 9 innings. 22 of the 34 homeruns he gave up were off of the four seam fastball. In leagues like Ottoneu or even roto leagues, it is hard to even consider Skubal unless this drastically changes. If Skubal is willing to continue to move away from his four seam fastball to a sinker approach he could have a lot more success. He has an above average changeup which he uses effectively to get whiffs against righties 50% of the time, and his slider ranked 26th in war across baseball. At the end of the day, Skubal has yet to reach double digits in K/9 which was his appeal throughout the minor leagues. If he moves toward a sinker approach the strikeouts will likely decrease even more. I think he provides some fantasy value, but his upside is capped as he will likely have to choose between giving up the long ball and striking batters out. He is a fine redraft player who could provide some value toward the back end of your rotation, but he is not likely to be somebody who is going to help win you a season or provide great surplus in dynasty formats.
6. Brandon Marsh- OF Los Angeles Angels
Brandon Marsh got his opportunity due to Mike Trout going down with an injury. There have never been questions about his defensive ability, but he has been inconsistent offensively throughout the minors. Unfortunately, fielding does not do much in the way of fantasy, so players need to analyze his ability to hit the ball. Starting with the good, Marsh had an excellent exit velocity and a max exit velocity that ranked him in the 86th percentile in baseball. Marsh exhibited great bat to ball skills barreling the ball up 10.9% of the time (this would have ranked between Jose Ramirez and Nick Castellanos). Marsh hit over .300 off of the fastball and even stole 6 bases while only being caught once. Looking at those numbers that sounds like a budding star. Then, you take a look at the bad and start to have some concerns. He whiffed on 43% of all off-speed and breaking balls thrown to him. He struck out 35% of the time and also carried a BABIP of .403. The encouraging thing about this is solid contact and good bat to ball skills are typically the hardest things to teach a player already in the big leagues. Marsh has had a history of running high walk rates in the minor leagues and there is little reason to believe he cannot adjust to major league pitching. If Marsh can adjust to big league breaking balls and add a little bit more lift to his swing, he could unlock some power and help improve his strikeout to walk ratio. I think that it is likely 2022 could be another rough year for Marsh, but that he does possess long term dynasty value. His glove will keep him in the lineup and he has the speed to help keep his floor above the water. If he can first focus on adapting to the pitch mixes he is seeing and then add more launch I think it is possible for him to hit .270 with 20 and 20 while providing a solid walk rate. In redraft formats, I would probably take a pass on Marsh, but if you are in a dynasty league he could be an excellent buy-low candidate with major upside.
7. Luis Patino- SP Tampa Bay Rays
When Patino got traded to the Rays it opened up even more upside for the young arm. The Rays can be viewed as pitching gurus always knowing how to get the best out of their young arms. In terms of fantasy in 2021, Patino was frustrating. He would be excellent, and then horrible while being used in different roles. I expect that for the most part in 2022 and beyond he will be used as a starter for the Rays. They have already started tweaking his fastball by changing his release point to gain more spin on the ball. He ranked in the 86th percentile in fastball spin and has above average spin on his secondary pitches. When looking for breakout pitchers I tend to focus on a player’s fastball. The majority of the time that is the pitch thrown with the highest frequency. Based on Fangraphs pitch values his fastball would have ranked as the 13th best fastball in baseball. Ahead of pitchers like Charlie Morton, Lucas Giolito, and Aaron Nola. Patino has already established his fastball at the big league level, and his slider has performed well. Opponents hit only .195 off the slider last year and whiffed over 33% of the time. The key to Patino’s future success is going to be developing a third pitch to go along with his first two. He threw a changeup 5% of the time and a curve 4.8% of the time last year. Neither pitch had much success. I think if Patino develops that third pitch he could be a top 20 fantasy starter for your team. The worst case scenario for Patino is that he does not, and he turns into a potentially elite reliever. Either way, I think the upside of a potential ace is enough to convince me to buy into Patino in both redraft and dynasty leagues. The floor of a solid to elite reliever won’t hurt your team either. He is definitely somebody I would keep on your radar.
8. Ke’Bryan Hayes- 3B Pittsburgh Pirates
Hayes battled injuries for a lot of 2021 leading to only 96 games played. He excelled defensively and has solidified himself as the Pirates third baseman of the future. The issue with this is that in order to be a viable fantasy option at third base you have to hit for both power and contact. It is such a deep position that Matt Chapman who put up a 101 wRC+ in over 150 games only ranked 20th at the position in Ottoneu. Simply put, if Hayes is going to have any value he is going to need to not only stay healthy, but improve his bat all around. Hayes possesses an above average exit velocity, but has shown an inability to get the ball in the air. His launch angle last season was just 2.6 as he hit a flyball just 25% of the time. To unlock more power, he likely needs to make a swing adjustment to increase his launch angle while pulling the ball more. Hayes has a good base with his plate discipline, lack of whiffs, and speed to add some stolen bases. If Hayes played in the outfield or middle infield, he would be a player I would definitely take interest in. I am just not sure if his power will ever develop leaving him as a replacement level player at a deep position. Steamer projects Hayes to hit 17 homeruns next season which feels like his best case scenario. I think that Hayes is likely to be around a .260 hitter with 15 homeruns and 15 stolen bases. Not a bad player by any means, but I am not sure how much higher his ceiling is in terms of dynasty. He is going to be a special big league player with how well he plays defensively, but his fantasy outlook is capped by his position.