It is a pivotal Fantasy baseball season for numerous former top prospects. While not every player hits the ground running when they get that first cup of coffee, after a few seasons you would hope to see progress. Each of these players had taken a step forward in the second half of last season (except one and are now looking to make an even bigger splash. Their Fantasy owners are hoping for the same. What should you expect from these top prospects in 2017 and beyond?
- Byron Buxton, OF, Twins – In his first 326 at-bats, Buxton hit just three home runs. During the last month of the 2016 season, he crushed nine homers. That helped salvage an otherwise pedestrian 2016. Buxton has holes in his swing, making that strikeout rate a scary sight at 35-percent. He stole 10 bases and there is plenty of upside in that department moving forward. The home run power is still developing despite the late-season binge and anything more than 15-18 HRs would be a surprise this year. Buxton still has a massive Fantasy ceiling, but a true breakout isn’t happening just yet. There are too many weaknesses in his game. He could be a useful player even if he only manages to bat .250, but his ultimate value might be via trade. While his name does not carry the same weight it did a few years ago, if Buxton can get in any type of groove early on, he could fetch a quality return. It is a pivotal season for his value, as a stagnant season will cause him to dip further in the dynasty/keeper ranks.
- Dylan Bundy, SP, Orioles – Bundy was an instant elite prospect, marching through the minors in 2012 and even getting a quick sip of java that September. He was just a year removed from high school and not yet 20 years old. He needed Tommy John surgery in 2013, and Bundy has been working himself back ever since. Last year, he made some encouraging strides, including pitching more than 100 innings for the first time in his young career. Bundy’s been around a long time, but he’s only 24 years old and still possesses shutdown stuff. The key for 2017 is having a healthy year. If he can turn in 150 quality innings, we could have a real breakout next season. He’s not as expensive as he was, say back in 2012, but he’s also not as cheap as he was a couple years ago either. Inquire within, but make it quick. He is already off to a great start; he held the Blue Jays offense to four hits and one earned run with eight punchouts in seven innings of work on Wednesday.
- Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers – Unlike the rest of this list, Puig did not enjoy second half success in 2016. In fact, he hasn’t been enjoying much (on the field) in the past couple years. For a player with his type of talent, which is of the Top 25 Fantasy variety, owners have expected more. It seems that the Dodgers organization might be soured on him just as much as Fantasy owners haveHe does not appear to be a full effort player and one that could have some issues between the ears as well. A player that should easily hit .300 with at least 20-25 HRs and steal a handful of bases, Puig has already teased us with that type of elite production. The past couple years, though, his stock as dropped considerably. The best thing to hope for here is a change of scenery, although he is off to a fast start thus far. If he is truly refocused and flipped the switch back on, we could have a major value on our hands.
- Marcus Stroman, SP, Blue Jays – The questions around Stroman leading up to and after the Draft were about his 5’9”, 185 lb. frame. Could he hold up as a starter or would it make sense to convert him to a high leverage reliever right from the start? The Blue Jays chose to go the starter route and it looks to be the correct move. Expectations for Stroman have always been high, but he’s never had ace qualities. He surpassed 200 innings last year, but his strikeout rate was an average 7.32 K/9 and his ERA was 4.37. However, he turned a corner in the second half last year and if those improvements were permanent, he’s a solid mid-rotation arm. Perhaps his K-rate improves a bit, but he’s never going to be dominant in that regard. I’m a fan of the talent for Fantasy purposes, but it always seems like Stroman’s value exceeds his ceiling. If he has a strong April, it is time to go shopping and see what kind of return you can get.
- Kevin Gausman, OF, Orioles – Gausman has been billed as a potential ace since being drafted in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft. He has been a rollercoaster ride of potential and mixed results in the majors. Last year, he had career highs nearly across the board, including 30 starts and 179.2 innings pitched. He had a strikeout rate near nine and a 3.61 ERA. He is making gradual improvements so expecting a major leap in 2017 is premature. He has been undone by the long ball throughout his career and his pitch selection is questionable at times. Gausman may not look like a future frontline starter, but he could be a strong SP3 who gives you a strikeout per inning and a mid-threes ERA. That is still a valuable return from a frustrating player to own thus far.
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