Fantasy Baseball 2017: Impactful Hitting Prospects

Sep 27, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (2) reacts after striking out in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field. The Braves won 7-6. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 27, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (2) reacts after striking out in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field. The Braves won 7-6. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Fantasy baseball prospects are your key to getting value in your draft. Here are a few elite hitting prospects expected to break camp and start contributing from Opening Day.

Some fantasy baseball players love prospects. It is easy to overrate the potential of a player who crushed in the minors but has yet to see a Major League breaking ball.

However, it’s easy to bee too eager about the idea of the rookie panning out. Remember, they are unproven players. Keep a realistic expectation and all should work out.

Tip No.1: Don’t overrate prospects.

Don’t be the guy in your league who enthusiastically drafts Yoan Moncada, Austin Meadows, Gleyber Torres and Rafael Devers, only to be surprised when you have fallen out of contention by the All-Star break.

Moncada is great and might get a midseason call-up, but if the White Sox decide not to rush him, the Cuban could be left to develop in Triple-A all season. He is currently drafted one spot behind the Yankees’ DH Matt Holliday. One of those two is almost guaranteed to hit 20 homers and drive in 70 runs. The other might make absolutely no contribution to fantasy leagues this season.

Tip No.2: Don’t underrate prospects.

Too many people focus on last year’s stats, which allows the players with only limited Major League exposure to slip down draft boards. Last season, Corey Seager was the number one prospect and the starting shortstop for the Dodgers. His path to everyday playing time was unhindered, yet many people let him fall round after round.

If you think you don’t need to know about prospects this year, just take a look at what the 2016 rookies did.

Former prospect Gary Sanchez in action
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Players from across the prospect map helped impact fantasy teams last season, from Corey Seager, the pre-season number one ranked prospect, to Aledmys Diaz who was on no-one’s prospect list.

All-rookie lineup in 2016
C Gary Sanchez
1B Tommy Joseph
2B Trea Turner
3B Alex Bregman
SS Corey Seager
OF David Dahl
OF Keon Broxton
OF Nomar Mazara
UT Trevor Story

BENCH Aledmys Diaz
BENCH Willson Contreras
BENCH Ryon Healy
BENCH Tim Anderson
BENCH Tyler Naquin

These players helped win many fantasy leagues last season.

We have selected five prospects that will impact fantasy baseball teams in 2017.

Prospect Andrew Benintendi in action
Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The 22-year-old Andrew Benintendi slashed .295/.359/.476 with two home runs in 34 games in the majors last season and is expected to be the Red Sox’ Opening Day left-fielder.

Benintendi has a mature approach at the plate, hitting .312 AVG over two years in the minors with more walks than strikeouts (74BB:63SO). An impressive feat for a young player and one that will help with the adjustment to Major League pitching.

He is currently the 37th outfielder off draft boards, going 126th overall.

Benintendi is projected for 14 home runs and 12 stolen bases, with 70 runs and 66 RBI. He is expected to bat second in the potent Red Sox’ lineup that led the majors with 878 runs last year. With his speed and on-base abilities, it is easy to picture a scenario of Benintendi scoring 100 runs while hitting ahead of the imposing trio of Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Hanley Ramirez.

Mike Trout and Mookie Betts were the only outfielders last season to hit 20 home runs with 20 stolen bases and post a batting average above .300. Andrew Benintendi’s skill set suggests that he has the potential to match that feat.

The Rookie of the Year favorite is hitting .324 in Spring Training with two home runs.

Prospect Dansby Swanson in action
Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The first overall pick from the 2015 draft, Dansby Swanson, played 38 games for the Braves last season to establish himself as their shortstop for the foreseeable future.

Swanson slashed .302/.361/.442 with two home runs and two stolen bases. He is projected for double-digits in both home runs and stolen bases this year, with 74 runs and 60 RBI.

Although he hit from the eight hole last season, Swanson is expected to bat second in the Braves lineup, ahead of Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp. This could result in 100 extra plate appearances.

The 23-year-old hit .333 in High-A at the start of 2016, before progressing to Double-A where the power continued with doubles, triples and home runs. In August, after less than 500 at-bats in the minors, he jumped to the majors. Despite the rapid promotion, Swanson never looked overmatched.

At pick 176, Swanson is the 17th shortstop off the board, between Elvis Andrus and Tim Anderson. It looks inevitable that he will outperform his ADP.

Prospect Josh Bell in action
Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /

In July 2016, Josh Bell sent a pinch-hit, Grand Slam out of PNC Park. It signified the much-anticipated arrival of the Pirates’ slugger.

Although Bell has not yet reached the power potential that has been projected, he hit a career-high 17 home runs last season between Triple-A and the majors.

More suited to points or OBP leagues, Bell has impressive patience at the plate. Across all levels over the last two years, he has walked 143 times to 158 strikeouts. Power and patience are keys to long-term success in the majors.

Although he doesn’t profile as a power first baseman in mixed leagues at the moment, Bell will be an ideal corner infielder.

Despite Bell being one for the NL Rookie of the Year favorites, he is being overlooked in drafts.  His current ADP of 329 looks to offer the potential for considerable value.

The first baseman underwent an operation to remove a loose body from his left knee with an initial prognosis of 2-4 weeks, putting Opening Day in jeopardy. He has already played a handful of games in Spring Training, so draft the 24-year-old with confidence.

Prospect Hunter Renfroe in action
Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

In 2008 Nelson Cruz was the MVP of the Pacific Coast League. In 2016, the award went to the Hunter Renfroe. It is not unrealistic to see a Nelson Cruz-like career as the ceiling for the Padres’ outfielder. The 25-year-old hit 30 home runs with 34 doubles and 105 RBI, which earned him a promotion to the majors in September.

The 25-year-old dominated Triple-A, hitting 30 home runs with 34 doubles and 105 RBI, which earned him a promotion to the majors in September.

Renfroe hit four home runs and slugged .800 in an 11-game cameo. These weren’t cheap home runs either; they came off Madison Bumgarner, Kenta Maeda, Jose de Leon and Louis Coleman.

The former first-rounder has a strikeout rate over 20% and a walk rate below 5%, so will need to keep making contact to avoid extended slumps or even demotion back to Triple-A.

Renfroe is expected to be the Opening Day right-fielder for the rebuilding Padres, and they should be patient to let him learn on the job.

He could return 20+ home runs with double-digit stolen bases in his first full season in the majors, providing excellent value for his 230 ADP. Of course, with the hit or miss approach, he could bat .180 and be back in Triple-A by June.

Prospect Mitch Haniger in action
Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Everyone’s favorite sleeper Mitch Haniger did not appear on any top-100 prospects lists this season but could be the Rookie of the Year if he can start April like he finished September.

The Mariners were very keen to acquire Haniger and his game-changing power in the offseason. Their GM Jerry Dipoto compared Haniger to another “late bloomer” Kole Calhoun that he had under his control at the Angels.

"We had a guy like that in Anaheim, Kole Calhoun, who has turned out to be a hell of a ball player. I think Mitch Haniger has a lot of that ability as well."

Haniger demolished Triple-A pitching with 20 home runs in half a season of games and a .341/.428/1.098 slash line. He continued to slug when he reached the majors with five home runs in a 24-game stretch for the Diamondbacks in September.

The 26-year-old will be the Mariners’ right fielder on Opening Day, probably hitting sixth behind the powerful trio of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

He has an ADP of 363 but I have seen him taken with pick 200, so you may need to reach if you want Haniger’s power on your team.

Former prospect Tyler Naquin in action
Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Sometimes the prospects that make the biggest impact are ones that you least expect.

Last season, the Indians entered Spring Training with a question mark over Michael Brantley’s health. Tyler Naquin grasped the opportunity to get a spot on the Indians’ Opening Day roster.

He smacked 14 home runs in his first season in the majors with an exceptional .372 OBP, and played in the World Series. No-one saw that coming last April.

Next: Why you should take Paul Goldschmidt second