Fantasy Baseball: Under the radar AL West prospects

In this series of articles, we are concentrating on one prospect from each MLB team. But instead of choosing the best-known or highest-profile prospects, we want to introduce you to the team’s less heralded minor leaguers.

Everyone playing fantasy baseball knows the names of Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito as two of the highest profile prospects likely to reach the majors this year. You will not find them in this series of articles, as we continue to uncover some of the lesser-known prospects that could impact fantasy baseball in 2017.

It is not easy to keep on top of all of the most relevant players in the minor leagues and so many publications saturate us with information on prospects that are several years from reaching the highest level of the game.

The top prospect within the Braves’ organization is arguably outfielder Kevin Maitan. He is an excellent prospect and has the potential to be a perennial All-Star. He will, however, be just 17-years-old for the whole of the 2017 season, so there is a whole lot that can change before he eventually reaches the majors. Currently, his ETA is 2020. Maitan is a must-add in dynasty leagues but if you want to win in 2017, you need to know about players that will contribute this year.

Here are five players for your consideration.

Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Angels: Nate Smith

Left-handed starting pitcher picked by the Angels in the eighth round of the 2013 draft, Nate Smith has made 50 starts across Double-A and Triple-A over the last two seasons with a 4.25 ERA. He spent the whole of 2016 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League as a 24-year-old. This season, he will be a starter for the Salt Lake Bees in Triple-A and has been added to the 40-man roster with the expectation of a 2017 Major League debut.

Smith is the No.4 prospect, which is not as great as it sounds as the Angels’ farm system is the fourth worst according to ESPN’s Keith Law.

MLB Pipeline scouting report:

Smith has success largely with average stuff across the board. His fastball will touch 90-91 mph, but it plays up because of his command and his ability to mix in his secondary pitches effectively. His changeup is his best, his one above-average pitch that serves as his top out pitch. His slider has improved and is now his better breaking ball, but he’ll still mix in a big, loopy curve as well.

The 25-year-old made two appearances in Spring Training with five strikeouts over four innings but his start to the regular season was delayed by one month on the DL with a forearm strain. This was frustrating for a pitcher who was shut down with elbow tendonitis in September when he was on the verge of a call-up to the big leagues.

His 2017 debut for the Salt Lake Bees was impressive. The left-hander tossed 5⅓ scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out four.

The Angels’ rotation is fragile with Garrett Richards, Nick Tropeano and Andrew Heaney all on the 60-day DL and Tyler Skaggs on the 10-day DL. Currently, Alex Meyer, J.C. Ramirez, and Jesse Chavez are holding down the spots not occupied by established starters Matt Shoemaker and Ricky Nolasco. There is a great opportunity to join the rotation if Smith can string together a series of good starts in the PCL.

ETA: 2017

Fantasy impact: Without the option of reaching back for extra MPH, Smith may never be a top fantasy option at starting pitcher but he has control and a good mixture of pitches which would work well at the back of the Angels’ rotation. Pitching in front of the elite outfielders assembled in Anaheim (Mike Trout, Ben Revere, Kole Calhoun and Cameron Maybin) will obviously help.

Astros

Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Astros: James Hoyt

The 6-foot-5 right-handed reliever had one of the most unconventional paths to the big leagues of any Major League player. Undrafted out of college, he worked a variety of jobs including boat rental in San Diego and was playing in the Independent Leagues when the Braves signed him for $500 as a 25-year-old.

He played for two years across three levels of the Braves’ system, striking out 182 batters over 142 innings with an ERA of 3.61 ERA, before being traded to the Astros as a ‘throw-in’ as part of the Evan Gattis deal.

Hoyt made his Major League debut last season as a 29-year-old but failed to reproduce the results he had enjoyed in the minors, allowing 11 runs on 16 hits over 22 innings. The elite strikeout rate remained, with the right-hander striking out 11.50 SO/9.

MLB Pipeline scouting report:

A rare reliever with three distinct plus offerings, Hoyt led the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with 29 saves last year while inducing strikeouts or groundouts from 69 percent of the batters he faced. His mid-90s fastball features running life, his mid-80s slider can be a wipeout pitch and his upper-80s splitter is almost impossible to lift.

Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch was close to tears when he announced that Hoyt would not make the Opening Day roster, despite a good showing in Spring Training, striking out 14 over 11 ⅓ innings in 10 appearances.

Hoyt started 2017 with five scoreless appearances in Triple-A for the Fresno Grizzlies, forcing the Astros’ hand to jump him up to majors to reinforce their already stacked bullpen. In his first five appearances he racked up 16 strikeouts in just 6⅔ innings, that’s 21.6 SO/9.

ETA: 2017

Fantasy impact: With Ken Giles as the closer, backed up by the elite talents of Luke Gregerson, Will Harris and Chris Devenski, the chances of save opportunities look limited for Hoyt. However, the closer job is the most volatile in the business and while Hoyt continues to fire the ball past batters, he will be in the mix if/when a change comes.

. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Athletics: Norge Ruiz

The likelihood of right-handed pitcher Norge Ruiz impacting the fantasy landscape in 2017 looked higher when he signed with the Oakland Athletics in December than it does now, due to ongoing visa issues. According to Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, the Athletics “hope to have the issue solved quickly” but every week that passes without Ruiz pitching in the United States, reduces the chances of MLB crowds seeing him in action this season.

On an optimistic note, he is a polished pitcher and will not need much tuning to get ready for a big league debut. Ruiz is ranked as the No.15 prospect in the Athletics’ organization, although until he reaches stateside, the prospect evaluators are working with limited information.

Having won Rookie of the Year honors as an 18-year-old in Cuba and then accumulating 249 strikeouts with a 2.54 ERA over 55 starts during the next three years, Ruiz was ranked No. 3 of the top 30 international prospects for 2016-17. He signed with the Athletics for $2 million in December 2016.

Scouting report from Ben Badler of Baseball America:

Ruiz has solid stuff across the board that plays up because of his advanced feel for pitching, keeping hitters off balance with a wide repertoire of average to above-average pitches. Ruiz doesn’t overpower hitters, sitting at 89-92 mph and touching 94 with a lively fastball that helps him get groundballs. He has a plus changeup and his slider can flash above-average as well but tends to flatten out on him, with a splitter mixed in as well.

The Athletics rotation could benefit from an injection of new talent. Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton combined for an ERA north of 5.00 in their 10 starts in April.

ETA: 2017 (although this window is closing)

Fantasy impact: The Athletics have a good reputation for developing starting pitchers and they were successful in enabling fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes in his transition to MLB. Ruiz will benefit from pitching in the favorable surroundings of the Oakland Coliseum, a ballpark renowned for having the largest foul territory. He has been a starter for all of his career and the Athletics will want to maintain him as a future fixture in their rotation rather than another bullpen arm.

Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Mariners: Andrew Moore

The 22-year-old starting pitcher is the No. 4 prospect in the Mariners’ organization. They drafted him in the second round of the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft from Oregon State University.

In 2016, his first full season as a professional, the right-hander threw a heavyweight workload of 28 starts, split between High-A and Double-A. He had a 12-4 win-loss record with 2.65 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 133 strikeouts over 163 innings (7.30 SO/9).

MLB Pipeline scouting report:

Moore has a preternatural feel for pitching, which in turn allows his entire arsenal to play up. The right-hander’s fastball is merely average, registering at 89-92 mph, but features a high spin rate that nets him whiffs within the zone and sets up his above-average, fading changeup. He also will mix in a curveball and a slider, although neither breaking ball projects as an out pitch at the highest level. Throwing strikes has long been Moore’s greatest strength, and he boasts the best control and command among Mariners pitching prospects.

When Hisashi Iwakuma hit the DL, he joined Felix Hernandez, Drew Smyly, and James Paxton, meaning that 80% of the Mariners’ Opening Day rotation were injured. Even with the increase of DL usage this season, no team’s pitching staff has suffered more than the Mariners.

Moore is not on the Mariners’ 40-man roster, so easier options will be promoted to the big leagues ahead of him. However, he is expected to be a fixture in the Mariners’ rotation for years to come, so look for Moore to make his Major League debut this season as the Mariners pursue their legitimate postseason ambitions.

He made four appearances in Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, allowing five runs on eight hits over 10 innings, with eight strikeouts. Moore started 2017 with six starts for Double-A Arkansas Travelers before a promotion to the Tacoma Rainiers in the hitter-friendly PCL.

ETA: 2017

Fantasy impact: Moore is the most advanced pitching prospect in the Mariners’ organization. He is a finesse pitcher and a strike thrower, two traits that will translate well into the majors and fantasy baseball. He will call the pitcher’s haven that is Safeco Field home. It ranks in the top-5 of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks.

Rangers

Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Rangers: Andy Ibanez

The Cuban was regarded as a bargain when the Rangers signed him for $1.6 million in 2015. In debuted in the Cuban National Series as an 18-year-old and over the next three years, Ibanez hit .283 AVG with .482 SLG. He connected for 60 doubles, 14 home runs and he walked 71 times to 119 strikeouts.

He was the youngest player to represent Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, on the roster that included Jose Abreu, Yuli Gurriel, and Yasmany Tomas.

The 24-year-old is one of the best infielders in the minors. He ranks as the No. 12 prospect within the Rangers’ organization according to MLB Pipeline, although Baseball America is more positive with their ranking of No.5.

Ibanez played both Single-A and Double-A last season, splitting time between second base and third base. He slashed .285/.355/.449 with 13 home runs and 15 stolen bases.

Scouting report courtesy of MLB Pipeline:

A bat-first infielder, Ibanez has a compact right-handed stroke that produces line drive after line drive. He doesn’t try to do too much, focusing on using the middle of the field while controlling the strike zone. He has a knack for barreling the ball but most of his power comes to gaps in the form of doubles rather than home runs.

Despite appearing in nine Spring Training games, Ibanez only received limited time at the plate, going 4-for-12 with one home run. Adrian Beltre, Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor are securely entrenched in the Rangers’ lineup, with former top prospect Jurickson Profar waiting for another shot at the big time. Ibanez will need a trade or further injuries to the roster to open up playing time opportunities for him.

He is ready for the big leagues now, so it is possible that his debut comes in the colors of a different team, especially if the Rangers are in contention and need to strengthen other areas.

ETA: 2017

Fantasy impact: Ibanez is not a flashy player but he has consistently shown the ability to make contact and he likes to take a walk. Expect the 24-year-old to be a solid fantasy baseball contributor as soon as he reaches the big leagues.

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The AL West is a competitive division with the Houston Astros, the preseason favorites, starting the year in dominant fashion. With six weeks of the season in the books, there is nothing to choose from between the Rangers, Angels, and Mariners.

All five of the players featured in this article are expected to make a contribution to their team this season, so ensure you keep them on your radar.