The National League is loaded with outfield prospect talent. The league, and position, are home to the top prospect (in my opinion) in all of baseball. The outfield is a pu pu platter of offensive statistical goodness. In addition to the spread of statistical contributions that can be found here, there is talent spread across all levels of the minor league and development ladder.
Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins, 20 years old
In short, Yelich can hit. He also projects to do so as he moves up the ladder. His plate discipline is sound, and even with a patient approach that involves working counts and getting to two strikes, he was able to strikeout out in fewer than 20 percent of his plate appearances. He didn’t hit for a ton of power last year, but some scouts think he’ll approach 20-25 home runs annually. He’s not a burner, but he has average to slightly above average speed, and the base running smarts to make the most of it. His efficiency in stealing 32 bases was excellent, as he was caught just five times (86.5 percent stolen base rate). Though he has just over 500 professional at-bats under his belt, his advanced approach could allow him to move through the Marlins system quickly. Yelich spent all year in Low-A in 2011, but may not spend the entire year in High-A if he keeps hitting at the rate he is.
Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins, 21 years old
Yelich wasn’t the only outfield prospect in Greensboro last year. He shared the outfield with Ozuna, a slugging prototypical right fielder. Ozuna’s a classic slugger, walking in 8.3 percent of his plate appearances and striking out in 21.9 percent of them while hitting .266. Prior to last season, strikeouts were a big problem, as he struck out over 30 percent of the time in the Short-Season New York-Penn League. He’ll need to sustain his gains there in 2011 if he hopes to navigate the upper minors. His raw power, which is plus or better, will keep him on fantasy radars as long as he keeps from stalling out in the minors. In addition to his power, Ozuna is an above average runner that stole 17 bases in 19 attempts, and could contribute to that category in the majors as well.
Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets, 18 years old
The Mets strayed away from their recent draft strategy of passing on high risk, high reward players when they selected Nimmo in the first round of the 2011 amateur draft. Nimmo went to high school in Wyoming, which doesn’t offer high school baseball, thus all of his playing experience came in American Legion and showcase circuits. He is a big time athlete that shows more poise and polish than one would expect from a player with his limited playing time against top prep competition. That said, he’s still very raw, and will need time to develop. He lacks the juicy tools grades of fellow prep draftee Bubba Starling, but he grades average across the board and could be a five-category fantasy contributor if it all comes together for him. Nimmo will have a chance to earn a full season league assignment.
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 19 years old
Harper is, in my opinion, the top fantasy baseball prospect. He has 80 grade power now. He is way ahead of the learning curve, and seems to have a legitimate chance at breaking camp with the Nationals. At this point in his development, he is an above average runner that stole 26 bases in 33 chances. Harper is expected to lose a step as he ages, but it won’t matter, players that can be penciled in to hit 40 or more jacks in a year with a solid batting average don’t grow on trees. Harper strikes out enough that hitting .300 may be a challenge, namely in the early going, but I’m not ready to say it’s out of his reach during his peak years. He went nuts in the Arizona Fall League (AFL), hitting .333/.400/.634 with six home runs in 105 plate appearances. At worst, he looks like an early season summer promotion candidate to me, and I’m starting to buy into the whispers that he’s getting a legitimate shot at being in the Nationals Opening Day plans.
Brian Goodwin, Washington Nationals, 21 years old
Goodwin was a supplemental first round selection in the 2011 amateur draft. His standout tool, though far from his only tool, is his plus-plus speed. He showed a willingness to work walks in his two year college career that was split between the University of North Carolina his freshman year, and Miami Dade Junior College his sophomore year. Goodwin is still learning to tap into it, but he has enough power to suggest he’ll be capable of hitting around 20 home runs in the majors yearly. Without professional experience, Goodwin is a tools based gamble at this point in time. He’ll start his path to the majors in Low-A this year.
Brett Jackson, Chicago Cubs, 23 years old
The Cubs selected Jackson with the 31st pick in the 2009 amateur draft. He fell into their laps largely because other teams questioned whether his hit tool would be good enough to succeed at the highest level. Thus far, the Cubs are being rewarded for taking the gamble. Jackson showed off power and speed, going 20/20 exactly (20 home runs and 20 stolen bases) in 512 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A. He doesn’t give away at-bats, working walks at a very high rate (13.2 percent walk rate in 780 plate appearances at the Double-A and Triple-A levels combined). The factor limiting Jackson’s upside the most is, you guessed it, struggles with making contact. He has struck out in over a quarter of his plate appearances at Double-A or higher. That rate ballooned into the danger zone in Triple-A, where he struck out in nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances. It won’t get any easier for him when he is challenged by major league pitching. All three starting outfield spots are accounted for with the Cubs, but Jackson should still reach the majors sometime early in the summer.
Matt Szczur, Chicago Cubs, 22 years old
Szczur is a bit of a polarizing prospect. On one hand, he’s a great athlete that demonstrated such playing college football. On the other hand, his split sport dedication leaves him a bit behind the development curve as a 22-year-old that had struggles in High-A. Those that believe in Szczur think that now that he’s concentrating solely on baseball, his development will speed up drastically. Those that are more skeptical question whether his athleticism translates as well to baseball as his supporters think, and believe that his poor approach will limit his offensive potential. One thing his supporters and detractors do agree on is that he has off-the-charts work ethic and makeup. If Szczur fails to make an impact in the majors, it won’t be for lack of trying. He’s a tough prospect to get a gauge on, but I’d play it cautiously with Szczur and make him show me more before I invest heavily in dynasty or keeper leagues.
George Springer, Houston Astros, 22 years old
Springer has loud power and speed tools. The biggest question hovering over his head is whether or not he’ll make enough contact to make the most of his other tools. He made huge strides reducing his strikeout rate between his sophomore and junior years, and the Astros have to hope that it is a sustainable gain. He got his feet wet in the Short-Season New York-Penn League in 2011, and he’ll take aim at Low-A pitching start 2012.
Domingo Santana, Houston Astros, 19 years old
Santana was one of the pieces the Astros received in return for Hunter Pence. While the others in the deal garnered most of the headlines, Santana was a nice get for the rebuilding Astros as well. He has impressive power that truly took off after joining his new organization. He hit five of his 12 home runs in 2011 in just 76 plate appearances with the Astros organization, as opposed to seven in 391 plate appearances while with the Phillies organization. While the sample is miniscule, it is also promising to see that he reduced his strikeout rate from an unacceptably high 30.7 percent mark with the Phillies minor-league club down to 19.7 percent with the Astros minor-league club. He’s still raw at the plate, and strikeouts may always be a part of his game. If he makes enough contact, his power will carry him to the majors, where he’ll be a fantasy commodity. He’ll move up a level and begin 2012 in High-A.
Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates, 19 years old
Many viewed Bell as unsignable, but the Pirates threw caution to the wind and ended up inking him to a record signing bonus for a second-round selection ($5 million). Bell is a switch hitter that profiles to hit for power and a high average, and draw walks. That’s the mix of a heart-of-the-order bat. He was drafted as an advanced high school bat, and should begin his pro career at full season Low-A West Virginia. There is no incentive for the Pirates to rush him. Don’t expect to see him in the majors until late 2014 or 2015 at the earliest.
Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates, 23 years old
Marte is an athletic outfielder that hit for a very high average at the Double-A level in 2011. He needed to, because he’s impatient and works few walks. He has enough power in his bat to expect him to hit average home run totals (high teens). Marte has above average speed, but needs to refine his base stealing skills. When he does, he should be able to best 20 stolen bases yearly. He’ll open the year in Triple-A, and should reach the majors over the summer.
Robbie Grossman, Pittsburgh Pirates, 22 years old
It is bit perplexing that the Pirates didn’t opt to challenge Grossman at some point in 2011 with a promotion to Double-A. Regardless, combining his outstanding play in High-A with a big AFL showing, where he hit .375/.422/.625 with seven home runs, six stolen bases, 20 walks, and 18 strikeouts in 126 plate appearances, and you have a prospect on the rise. Some scouts consider him a bit of a tweener in the outfield. Not enough range for center field, and not quite enough bat to profile well in the corner. There is also some concern that his walk rate will go down substantially as he faces better pitching that won’t fear his modest power. Also, be careful just looking at his raw stolen base totals. He hasn’t been an efficient base stealer (50 percent stolen base rate in the AFL, 70.6 percent at High-A in 2011), and is just an above average base runner, not a burner. Opening 2012 in Double-A will be a real test. If his walk rate remains high, and he continues to hit for a bit of power and chip in a bit of speed, he’ll have a chance to reach the majors in 2013. His ceiling is as more of a glue guy that gets bonus points in leagues that count on-base percentage (OBP) than a future fantasy star.
Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals, 19 years old
Taveras is a young prospect that simply knows how to hit the ball hard. He barrels everything up, and projects to hit around .300 annually. Taveras isn’t going to be much of a base stealer, and scouts are mixed on his power potential. Some see a guy that will only hit high teens to low twenties home run totals in his peak years, while others think he’ll hit a few more than that. He’s a disciplined hitter that walks at a reasonable rate, doesn’t strike out often, and will hit a bunch of doubles. He’ll probably start the year in High-A, and will have a chance to hit his way to Double-A before season’s end.
Tim Wheeler, Colorado Rockies, 24 years old
Caution is in order with Wheeler. He doesn’t hit lefties well, and has a swing that will leave him susceptible to high strikeout totals. Wheeler projects to hit for above average power, but it should be noted that his home ballpark, Tulsa, increased home run production by 11 percent in 2011 according to ballpark studies done by Jeff Sackman and Dan Szymborski at Baseball Think Factory. He’s got above average speed, and has bested 20 stolen bases in consecutive seasons, but has a sub-70 percent success rate during that time frame. He’ll start the year in Triple-A and could see the big leagues late in the year, but it is difficult to envision him making a splash in 2012 with so many outfielders in front of him in the playing time pecking order.
Rymer Liriano, San Diego Padres, 20 years old
For the second year in a row, Liriano started at a minor league level he wasn’t prepared for, was over matched, and was demoted to a more appropriate level. This past year, though, he really flourished in Low-A, hitting for a high average, working walks, ripping extra base hits and stealing tons of bases. He’ll almost certainly fill out and lose a step as he physically matures, but his stolen base line is so high right now, he’ll still move the needle on the category in the future. He’s expected to turn some of his doubles into home runs as he gets stronger and should hit 20-plus annually. Liriano has a very high ceiling, and if everything comes together for him, he’ll be an early round pick in fantasy drafts. He’ll take another crack at High-A pitching, where he should fare much better this go round. Just how well he plays there will determine how quickly he ascends the minor league ladder.
Gary Brown, San Francisco Giants, 23 years old
Brown terrorized pitchers in the High-A California League. His calling card is his speed, which grades out in the 80 range on the 20-to-80 scale. He makes a lot of contact, and flashed gap power that could lead to double-digit home run seasons in the majors. He doesn’t walk a lot, but did improve upon his college rate. Brown will also help offset his low walk total by hitting for a high average, which is what fantasy owners are most concerned with anyways. He should be able to get on base enough to profile as the Giants future leadoff hitter, perhaps as soon as 2013. He’ll start the year in Double-A.
Josh is a graduate of SUNY Cortland's Sport Management program, and an aspiring fantasy writer. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad. You can also follow his work at The Hardball Times and follow him on Twitter (BChad50).
Want to write for the Cafe? Check out the Cafe's Pencil & Paper section!