When it comes to the MLB amateur draft, fantasy owners don't care about slot bonuses or worry so much about signability issues, college commitments or agent Scott Boras. All they want to know: Who are the top players to consider for long-term keeper or dynasty leagues?
It's strictly about the talent as it relates to their fantasy potential, and that ranking doesn't match up with where the players are actually selected in the draft. And it's not necessarily about which players might reach the big leagues the fastest, although that is a factor. We do want to balance upside with a little bit of how close a player is to being ready for the big leagues.
It's widely considered to be a down year for hitting prospects, relatively speaking, but if you want to beef up your pitching staff for the long term in your keeper league, you'll have a lot of options. Question marks seem to be more plentiful this year, even for an enterprise that by definition already has a lot of them, and with some leagues even holding special supplemental drafts because of Stephen Strasburg, figuring out this draft is as important as ever, in some cases.
Note: Keith Law has seen far more of these players than I have this year, as he's been crisscrossing the country racking up the frequent-flier miles to get dialed in on the draft prospects. I haven't seen as many amateurs this year as I have in the past since I've been concentrating more on the minor leagues. So please bear that in mind, as Keith (along with Jason A. Churchill), took our draft coverage to yet another level this season.
Some of these players I have seen, but I've been doing a lot of working the phone talking to scouts and other personnel (and being very thankful for rollover minutes) who've had to make decisions on these players to find out what they've seen and what they think. So this is just one man's informed opinion, partially based on a lot of other insider opinions.
Remember, it's a different type of list for fantasy purposes, so that means a player like Jiovanni Mier -- a great glove with a questionable bat -- moves down, while some college closers like Billy Bullock move up. With all that in mind, here are the top 25 fantasy players as I see them right now:
1. Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals: Rather than add too many words to the plethora already written about him, let me just say quite simply that a pitcher like this comes along maybe once a decade, if that often, and once he signs, he's going to move through the system quickly. Those who went to see him this year not believing the hype were convinced when they actually saw him pitch. The scary part? He put up his ridiculous college numbers with just a fastball and a breaking ball because he didn't need anything else, but he still has a solid changeup in his back pocket to bust out against professional hitters. The Nationals have already hinted he's going to get some minor league time despite the assertions of many scouts (including me) that he's ready for the big leagues from day one, so while he likely won't see big league time this year, bet on him to be in the rotation on Opening Day next season. I was asked in a chat recently whether I would take him over other young stud pitchers such as Tommy Hanson or David Price right now, and there is absolutely no question in my mind that I would.
2. Dustin Ackley, OF/1B, Mariners: Ackley is clearly the best hitter in this draft. He has the bat control and quick wrists to hit for average, and also has developing power and great speed. We're talking about a player who can hit .300 and be a 20-homer, 20-steal player, and 20 might be on the low end of his steals potential. Even better news, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told the team Web site after the draft, "He's not going to be that far away. We think it will be a short period of time before he's a big leaguer."
3. Tyler Matzek, SP, Rockies: Coors Field or not, this is the second-best pitching prospect in the draft, in my mind. He has a mid-90s fastball with movement, three potential big league secondary pitches that are average or better, and a clean delivery that makes it easy to project plus command. He is very advanced for a high school pitcher and has all the weapons he'll need. He has also shown the ability to throw all his pitches for strikes. It's just going to be about finding consistency for him, especially repeating his delivery. I'm not the first to draw comparisons between him and Clayton Kershaw, but it applies. The Rockies whiffed when they passed on Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer and Kershaw, among others, to select pitcher Greg Reynolds second overall in 2006. They didn't whiff this time.
4. Drew Storen, RP, Nationals: College closers are getting more attention than ever in the draft, and players such as Ryan Perry and Brandon Morrow have been able to ascend to the big leagues quickly as late-inning relievers. So fantasy owners should take notice when a team like Washington selects Storen, given the Nationals' glaring hole in the ninth inning all season long.
Storen has prototypical closer's stuff with a sinking, mid-90s fastball and a tight slider that he can throw for strikes, and he could arrive to the Nats quickly. Huston Street spent just 21 games in the minors the year he was drafted before saving 23 games the next season in Oakland. The Nationals themselves had Chad Cordero in the minors only 19 games before he registered 14 saves for them in the big leagues in his first full season. It can happen, especially as they've already signed him. This is a conditional placement for fantasy players, assuming he remains in the 'pen and has a chance to take the closer role by next season. A number of teams were reportedly intrigued enough with his easy delivery to consider converting him from closing in college to starting as a pro if they selected him, as the Blue Jays did with Brett Cecil and the Twins did with Carlos Gutierrez, among others. But all indications are the Nationals want him on the mound in the ninth.
5. Jacob Turner, SP, Tigers: He throws the hardest fastball in the draft of anyone not named Strasburg, dialing it up to 98 mph with minimal effort and clean mechanics, and even when his heater sits in the low 90s to mid-90s, it appears to get to hitters quicker than they expect. Couple that with a big, sweeping curveball and an improving changeup, and there is a huge amount of upside. Turner still needs to work on the command of his secondary stuff, so he might not be ready for the big leagues that quickly, but he's a potential ace at the top of a big league rotation, and the Tigers haven't been shy about promoting their best arms.
6. Zack Wheeler, SP, Giants: The Giants have had a good track record when drafting pitchers lately, and Wheeler should continue that run. Tall and still projectable, Wheeler hits the mid-90s consistently and uses his frame well to pitch downhill with sink. His slider is a potential plus pitch, and while his change has been inconsistent, he is reportedly starting to get some sink on it. His smooth, easy arm action is also a plus, and he could move fast for a high school pitcher.
7. Matt Davidson, 3B, D-backs: I talked to one scout who went as far as to say Davidson might be the second-best hitter in the draft behind Ackley. He gets great leverage in his swing, squares the ball up consistently and has power to all fields. He should hit for both average and power, but may need to move across the diamond.
8. Bobby Borchering, 3B, D-backs: As you can tell from the draft position, most evaluators had Borchering higher than Davidson, but the D-backs wound up with both of them so they'll be set either way. A big switch-hitter with power from both sides, he gets a big load to maximize that, but also has good bat speed and pitch recognition. That kind of bat and the ability to stay at the hot corner will be a very desirable fantasy asset.
9. Mike Leake, SP, Reds: Leake's command of a four-pitch mix, along with a potential out-pitch curveball and the ability to make his fastball cut or sink could help him move through the minors fairly quickly.
10. Grant Green, SS, Athletics: There's no question Green has a big league bat; the question is if he can stay at shortstop. He's short and quick to the ball, but he tried to open his swing up a bit too much this year to hit for more power and struggled at times. However, he has the capability to contribute across the board in fantasy if he can refine his good defensive tools into more consistent play at short.
11. A.J. Pollock, OF/2B, Diamondbacks: Pollock blends a solid approach at the plate with a good knowledge of the strike zone and great athleticism along with the potential to move quickly through the minors. His ability to hit for average and provide steals will be attractive, especially if he plays second, though the D-backs plan to start him off in the outfield. One scout likened him to a "poor man's Nate McLouth."
12. Rich Poythress, 1B, Mariners: "Born to DH," in the words of one scout, but he has the power bat you expect out of that position. His pop is effortless, as his huge strength generates good bat speed, and his patience will make him tough to pitch to. Poythress may not hit for a big batting average -- though it should be just fine -- but the balls are going to leave the yard. Power and patience are skills that work in fantasy.
13. Aaron Crow, SP, Royals: Crow showed that the stuff that made him the ninth pick in last year's draft is still there in the independent leagues, hitting the high-90s again (though he reportedly struggled with his slider). He is as close to being ready for the majors as any player not named Strasburg, but some scouts say his delivery may not lend itself to consistent command.
14. Shelby Miller, SP, Cardinals: More raw ability than anything right now, Miller's arm strength is his No. 1 asset; he dials his heater up and pairs it with a curveball that projects as a plus pitch. He's going to need to develop a third pitch and improve his command, but the Texas high schooler has time to do that, and his ceiling is very high.
15. Matt Purke, SP, Rangers: Purke's potential ranks up there with any other southpaw in the draft, and he can hit the mid-90s with natural lefty tail. But he will need time to develop his secondary stuff since his breaking ball and changeup are inconsistent and need work, and there are questions about his durability. This is very much a pick for the future, because his ceiling is a top-of-the-rotation starter.
16. Mike Trout, OF, Angels: More than one scout had Trout ranked as a 60 or higher on the 20-80 overall on their draft boards, which is a player who can make multiple All-Star teams. Trout's intangibles and makeup are off the charts; he's the kind of player who will squeeze every last bit out of his tools. There's significant speed to steal bases, and he's shown power with wood bats that will just need a little time to develop. He still needs to cover the outer half of the plate better and learn to go the other way, but there is a lot to like here it you can wait for him to mature.
17. Alex White, SP, Indians: White has a heavy ball that he can dial up to the mid-90s when he throws his four-seamer. He needs to have more consistent command, especially with his slider, which will back up on him and is more of a chase pitch than one he throws for consistent strikes. His splitter has become arguably his second-best pitch this year, and the Indians have already said they will develop him as a reliever.
18. Max Stassi, C, Athletics: By many accounts, Stassi is the best-hitting catcher in this draft, and coupled with enough defensive skills to stay behind the plate, that should draw attention from fantasy owners, though the high schooler will take a little while to develop.
19. Donovan Tate, OF, Padres: Tate has absolutely ridiculous tools and athletic ability and has the biggest upside of any player in the draft, but his work ethic has reportedly been suspect, and more than one scout has said to me that at the end of the day, he's just not going to be able to make enough contact and will chase too much stuff in the dirt. Big risk, big reward.
20. Kyle Gibson, SP, Twins: A stress fracture in Gibson's forearm is a concern, but unlike other types of arm injuries, this one is fairly certain to heal and likely won't be an issue going forward. The life on it makes his low-90s fastball play up, and his slider and change are both plus pitches that he can command. He should move quickly when he's healthy.
21. Rex Brothers, P, Rockies: This is more of a speculative play since a few scouts think Brothers can be a very good closer with his high-90s fastball and hard slider; closing would limit his command and control issues and minimize his lack of feel for a third pitch.
22. Jared Mitchell, OF, White Sox: He's a little behind developmentally due to his college football career, but Mitchell is arguably the best athlete in the draft and has the ability to create havoc on the base paths, which is always useful in fantasy play. His power is also developing, as he's starting to get backspin on the ball and a little more loft in his swing. He has excellent bat speed, and the White Sox think they can clean up his swing mechanics a bit to make his bat a little less of a question mark. Sure, there's a chance he becomes another Reggie Abercrombie or Charlton Jimerson, but the power/speed combination is tantalizing if you want to take a chance.
23. Levon Washington, OF, Rays: Wheels, wheels, wheels. That sums up the reason fantasy players should have an interest in Washington. Game-changing speed, along with a quick bat, could be a combination that nets him a lot of major league stolen bases eventually if you're willing to wait for the high-school hitter to mature.
24. Reymond Fuentes, OF, Red Sox: Though he's a cousin of Carlos Beltran, Fuentes' game projects to be more like Johnny Damon if he can continue to fill out his body and add strength. Even if the power never gets much above gap level, Fuentes is one of the fastest players in the draft and has the quick bat to hit for average and lace extra-base hits all over the place. He is a ways away, but the speed upside is especially intriguing.
25. Billy Bullock, RP, Twins: The heir to Joe Nathan in the ninth? The college closer has the necessary short memory and the power heater to succeed in the role, though he'll need to refine his slider and keep the ball down a bit better.
Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.