5 Prospects Who Could Make an Immediate Fantasy Baseball Impact
September is a great time for baseball. After five months of games, it’s a mad dash to the finish line. As playoff races heat up, each game becomes more important than the last, setting the stage for October baseball.
There’s another reason, though, to be anxious for September to roll around. MLB rosters expand each year on September 1, giving teams the chance to call up their top minor league talent and give them their first glimpse into big league baseball.
This has already been a year of remarkable young talent, with Carlos Correa, Noah Syndergaard, Joc Pederson, Miguel Sano, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Andrew Heaney among those previously top-ranked prospects who have made their debuts this season and instantly produced at a high level.
Let’s take a look at five more prospects who have recently been called up, or will likely join the big league team when rosters expand next week, and assess their chances of becoming fantasy relevant over the season’s final month.
Even if these players struggle early on -- don’t let Sano, Correa and the crew fool you, most rookies do struggle early -- they’ll be worth monitoring for 2016.
Trea Turner, SS, Washington Nationals
Since being selected with the 14th overall pick of the 2014 MLB Draft, Turner has dominated at every level of the minor leagues, culminating in last week’s call-up to the Washington Nationals. Turner was tabbed as a defense and speed shortstop prospect -- and he’s definitely delivered with his legs -- but his bat has been a pleasant surprise.
Turner, 22, started 2015 in Double-A, posting a .322/.385/.471 line. He just kept on producing after a promotion to Triple-A, slashing .314/.353/.431 in 205 plate appearances before receiving the call from the Nationals. His speed is definitely an asset, too, as he’s swiped 29 bases in 116 games.
It’s unclear how much he’ll play down the stretch for a Nationals team in the thick of a playoff race. Washington already had a crowded infield with Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Desmond has been one of the game’s better hitting shortstops prior to this season, but he’s struggled to a .229/.279/.384 line.
As of Thursday, in four games with the Nationals, Turner has yet to start, logging four plate appearances as a substitute. If he’s not playing regularly, he’s not going to make much of a fantasy impact. If he does start getting regular at-bats, he’ll be an intriguing batting average and speed player at a thin position.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Brother of Seattle Mariners’ Kyle Seager, Corey is rated as the game’s top prospect by ESPN Insider Keith Law and Baseball America. A first-round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Seager didn’t really take off until 2014, when he posted a sparkling .442 wOBA in High-A ball and followed that up by finishing the year in Double-A, where he hit to the tune of a .407 wOBA.
He started 2015 in Double-A, which he made a joke of, mashing to a .471 wOBA in 86 plate appearances. That earned him a quick promotion to Triple-A, where he currently resides. In 421 plate appearances at the minors' highest level, Seager has a .277/.330/.445 slash line with a .341 wOBA and 12 home runs.
Seager is a near-lock to be the Dodgers 2016 Opening Day shortstop, but it’s uncertain if they’ll get him a cup of coffee this year. He could follow a path similar to the way Boston handled Xander Bogaerts, calling him up late in the 2013 campaign, giving him regular at-bats and keeping him in the lineup in the postseason.
It would probably behoove the Dodgers to do such a thing, considering Jimmy Rollins and his -1.05 nERD -- which is the number of runs contributed per game relative to a league-average player -- isn’t getting it done.
If Seager gets the call and gets regular playing time, he’s immediately worth rostering, considering the lack of options at shortstop. His bat will allow him to make an immediate fantasy impact.
Hector Olivera, 3B, Atlanta Braves
Olivera, a Cuban defector, is about as much of an unknown as a top prospect can be in this day and age. He’s also a lot older than most prospects as he turned 30 last spring.
Atlanta acquired him as part of its deadline swap with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s covered every level of the minor leagues this year, from rookie ball to Triple-A, but he’s only logged 114 plate appearances in 30 games, with just 52 of those plate appearances coming above Single-A. The scouting reports on him peg him as a questionable defender with a plus bat. He’s hit .283/.333/.377 in hit cross-country minor league tour.
He could probably use more seasoning in the minors -- and he may get some more time down there in 2016 -- but with Atlanta not playing for much down the stretch, they’re fully expected to call Olivera up on September 1. They probably just want to see what they have. I can't blame them; I'm also intrigued.
Olivera seems like the one hitter on this list who is most likely to get regular at-bats from the get go. He’s also the most raw and unknown of the three -- funny how that works. Third base is shallow, so it’s worth stashing him and seeing how he does. He may be able to contribute in the fantasy playoffs.
Steven Matz, SP, New York Mets
This one is kind of cheating, since Matz made his debut back on June 28. Still, he’s only started two games in the bigs. He was pretty darn good in those two outings, giving up just two runs and seven hits while fanning 14 over 13 ⅔ innings.
Matz had been on the shelf because of a lat injury, but he’s back pitching in the minors. The Mets are planning to call him back up for a September 2 start against the Philadelphia Phillies, making him an immediate must-start in fantasy. New York may opt to keep him in the rotation and go with a six-man rotation down the stretch, which is what they were doing during his initial call-up.
The only negative with Matz two big league starts is his lowly 36.7 percent groundball rate and his walks-per-nine-innings mark of 3.29. Obviously, two starts is too small of a sample size to take away any meaningful data, but his walks per nine was over 3.00 in 90 innings in Triple-A this season.
It’d be wise to play matchups with him, but he’s definitely worthy of a roster spot.
Jose Berrios, SP, Minnesota Twins
With the overachieving Twins hanging on for dear life in the wild card race, it’s a little surprising they haven’t yet called up Berrios, their top pitching prospect.
It’s especially odd considering how aggressive Minnesota was with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. It’s not like their rotation is doing well, either. No starter -- except for Phil Hughes (3.86), who’s on the disabled list -- has a FIP below 4.00. As a team, the Twins rank 25th in FIP.
Berrios is probably worth a shot at this point.
Since being taken with the 32nd pick of the 2012 MLB Draft, Berrios, 21, hasn’t posted an FIP higher than 3.65 at any level. He’s split his season between Double-A and Triple-A. In 90 ⅔ innings at Triple-A this season, he sported a superb 3.09 FIP, which is followed up with a 3.12 FIP in 57 ⅔ frames in Triple-A, along with a shiny 1.87 walk rate.
Berrios doesn’t quite have the name recognition of Matz, at least among the average fantasy player, so depending on your league size, you may be able to stream him in favorable matchups instead of committing an entire roster spot solely to him.