Fantasy

Dynasty Dugout: Undervalued MLB Prospects

A.J. Puk

Last week in Dynasty Dugout, we took a look at some top MLB prospects whose perceived value outmatches their on-field performance. This week we flip the script and look at several prospects that should be valued higher than they are currently. Acquiring potential stars at a discount is what dynasty league champions are made of. The four players below are all considered good prospects and are ranked in the top 100 by MLB.com, but what they’re accomplishing on the field should make them more desirable commodities very soon.

A.J. Puk (SP – OAK)

He’s a tall, lanky left-hander that throws hard and strikes out a lot of batters, but has some control issues. Does that remind you of anyone? Okay, I’m not saying A.J. Puk is going to turn into the second coming of Andrew Miller. However, there are plenty of reasons to get excited about the young lefty out of the University of Florida.

Oakland drafted Puk sixth overall in the 2016 amateur draft. It was thought he could advance through the system rather quickly as long as his control progressed. His plus fastball currently sits in the mid-90’s, and can go higher than that on occasion. Puk’s slider is also a plus pitch for him and one he uses to get a lot of strikeouts. Those two pitches are a huge reason why he has a 14.4 K/9 rate this year and 13.1 for his career.

The development of Puk’s changeup and control will determine if he’s a starter or reliever long-term. His current 3.64 BB/9 isn’t terrible, but control issues have been an issue for him dating back to his collegiate career. In each of his three seasons at the University of Florida, Puk’s BB/9 was north of four, including 4.52 during his final season as a Florida Gator.

The fact that his walk rate has improved so far in pro ball is encouraging. If he can continue to improve his control and changeup, this could be a fantasy ace waiting to happen. The spacious confines of Oakland will certainly help, too. He’s currently the No. 57 prospect on MLB.com, but I would take him over a lot of the pitchers ranked ahead.

Derek Fisher (OF – HOU)

If you’re a fantasy owner like myself, that loves multi-category juice, then I’d recommend taking a long look at Houston Astros outfield prospect Derek Fisher. In each of his first two full minor league seasons, he has been in the 20/20 club and is only getting better.

In 2015, while he was in Low-A and High-A, Fisher hit 22 home runs and stole 31 bases. He followed that up in 2016 with another 21 and 28, respectively, in the higher levels of the Houston farm system. This season has been the same story, and then some. Through 240 at-bats, he’s already blasted 16 long balls to go along with 12 steals. That’s some serious category power.

The one area that has kept him from being an elite fantasy hitting prospect is his lower batting average. Coming into this season, Fisher was a .271 career minor league hitter and only hit .255 last year. He has done his best to erase those concerns so far in 2017, hitting .333 so far. It’s not just his batting average that has improved, either. His walk rate is up 1.7% and his strikeout rate is down 2.4% this season compared to 2016. Those are small numbers, but it’s a positive sign for any young player.

The Astros currently have a full outfield, but there’s nothing really blocking Fisher from getting the call later this season. George Springer is entrenched in center, but Fisher profiles as more of a corner outfielder anyways. Houston has been using a combination of veterans Carlos Beltran, Nori Aoki, and Josh Reddick in the outfield corners, with Evan Gattis filling in at designated hitter. Beltran spends most of his time at designated hitter, and Gattis mostly splits time between designated hitter and backing up Brian McCann behind the plate.

So when you really look at it, it’s only Aoki and Reddick blocking Fisher. In all fairness to them, they’re not the types of players that will hold a top prospect like Fisher back for very long. As soon as a spot opens up, expect Fisher to get the call. If he keeps hitting like this, he might just overtake Aoki in left field anyway.

If Fisher is available in your league, go get him. You could probably get him at a reasonable pricegiven that he’s not a big name prospect. This is a guy you’re going to want on your fantasy teams for this year and beyond.

Raimel Tapia (OF – COL)

It seems that every season Colorado has one of the top offenses in the majors. Part of that success is aided by the thin air at Coors Field, but the Rockies have developed a lot of really good hitting prospects over the years. From veterans Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon to youngsters David Dahl and Trevor Story. There’s offensive talent all over this organization. It seems Colorado has another young hitting star on their hands with 23-year-old Dominican speedster Raimel Tapia.

Tapia has the prototypical leadoff hitter skill set, and that’s the one thing Colorado has needed since Dexter Fowler left town. All he’s done ever since he arrived in the United States is hit at a high level. In his very first season in rookie ball, Tapia hit a stellar .357, en route to the league’s MVP. Overall he has hit .320 overall in his minor league career.

The other area where Tapia excels is in the stolen base department. To go along with that high average, he has averaged 27.3 stolen bases per season over the last three years. He doesn’t profile as an elite speedster but has the wheels to steal 30+ bags annually.

Entering the season, MLB.com ranked Tapia as the 90th best prospect overall. That seems a tad low. His abilities as a hitter and on the base paths, plus the Coors Field factor, should allow him to turn into a very good fantasy outfielder. He’s currently up with the big club but has mostly been warming the bench. If you like speedy leadoff hitters that can provide a hint of pop, then Tapia is a prospect you should covet in dynasty leagues.

Ronald Acuna (OF – ATL)

Another minor leaguer with the perfect skillset to be a solid major league leadoff man is Atlanta Braves farmhand Ronald Acuna. There are a lot of similarities between Acuna and the previously mentioned Tapia. Both can hit for a high average, steal a bunch of bases, and provide a touch of pop, as well.

Still only 19-years-old, Acuna has already advanced to Atlanta’s Double-A affiliate in Mississippi. He certainly hasn’t looked overmatched by the advanced competition. Through his first 125-at-bats at the level, Acuna has hit an impressive .336 with four homers, 15 steals, and a .908 OPS. Not too shabby for the young Venezuelan speedster.

There are some reasons to expect some slight regression, however. His BABIP this season has been incredibly high at both of the levels he’s played at. In Single-A it was .411 and has risen to .432 so far at Double-A. Those marks will be difficult to maintain over a full season. There’s no need to panic too much here, though. Acuna should still be a solid .300 hitter at the big league level.

While he might not hit for quite as high an average as Tapia, Acuna should provide a little more speed overall. He already has 59 steals in just 681 career minor league plate appearances. His knack for getting on base should allow him to be an elite stolen base threat once he breaks into the Atlanta lineup.

The fantasy arrow is pointing up for Acuna, so now is the time to buy. Even though he’s only 19, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him debut before the All-Star break next season.

Thank you for reading another edition of Dynasty Dugout. Check back next Tuesday as I breakdown the MLB Amateur Draft from a fantasy perspective. Have a prospect I didn’t cover? Feel free to ask me in the comments section on @EricCross04 on Twitter.

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