Welcome back fantasy baseball eficionados! As our season is winding down, hopefully you are all gearing up for your playoff runs to the 'ship! I'm here today to answer many people's biggest question this time of year as the calendar flips to September: What prospects are getting called up for the annual "cup of Joe" September audition? First of all, I want to talk to all the Gregory Polanco owners out there. Settle down! Seriously, stop freaking out. He will be back up September 1. If he's not up, I'll eat my hat and give you your money back for this blog post. How's that for putting it on the line: promising to eat my hat when no one can ensure that I actually did and giving money back for a free blog post.
Anyway, let's get back to the prospects on their way up to the majors September 1, when all rosters expand from 25 to 40, freeing teams up to "waste" roster spots on younger, unproven players that they can't use earlier in the year. I'm going to give you some names of players that should be up and what you might be able to expect from them in MLB. Let's just say that with the promotion of Jorge Soler this past week, the well of top prospects is a little dry, especially position players. I'll do my best to highlight the names of guys that will be useful to you, whether you are in a shallow league or a deep one.
Sadly, Kris Bryant, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and other super exciting prospects won't be called up this September either due to injury, or in Bryant's case, financial considerations, so we are left with some interesting names, but few elite options.
Let's do a full twisting double in the pike position and dive in!
Joc Pederson, LAD OF
There's really not much analysis needed here. Pederson is ready to play CF for the Dodgers right now after tearing up AAA with a 30 HR, 30 SB season. He has a .304/.434/.590 slash line. He has a massive 17.8% walk rate, but a somewhat worrying 27% strikeout rate. Nonetheless, he's ready and has more fantasy value than anyone else on this list except....he won't have much playing time when he is called up. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has already stated that he will not be playing Pederson very much. LA already has four capable outfielders, so Pederson will probably only start one or two games per week, unless there is an injury. Pederson has massive upside if he gets regular playing time, but beware, he may have an adjustment period like George Springer did, since he has similar strikeout issues. Sigh, if only he could get a full-time job this year. That will have to wait until next year. Those in very deep leagues may take a flier on him or if a Dodger outfielder goes down, everyone should pick him up.
Francisco Lindor, CLE SS
Many thought Lindor would be called up earlier this summer, but that didn't happen despite the Indians trading away their starting SS, Asdrubal Cabrera. Now that it is September, there is a very good chance he will get the call. Lindor's primary fantasy contribution is speed. He has 28 steals in the minors this year and has put up decent numbers in AAA (.278/.305/.382 with 4 homers) in 33 games, but his walk rate has plummeted from 10% to 4%. His strikeout rate is OK and probably won't be an issue. Unfortunately, that line is not world-beating and he probably will offer little offensively in September. He doesn't have much power, but the speed is above average and he has good contact skills, so he could hit for a decent average eventually. I would guesstimate his line for September like this: .260/.300/.360 with 5 steals, 10-12 runs, 5-7 RBI and 1-2 homeruns. If that is useful for you, he should get regular playing time at SS assuming he gets the call, so you can take a chance on him and get some late-season shortstop help.
Noah Syndergaard, NYM SP
This one is unlikely, since the Mets have indicated that his injury earlier this year will delay his promotion and likely pushes it into next year. But, I'm an optimist and think that he doesn't have much to prove at AAA anymore. In order to see this though, you have to look past his ugly ERA and WHIP at his excellent strikeout rate (9.77 K/9) and walk rate (2.97 BB/9). The ERA and WHIP (4.85, 1.5) are inflated by playing in an extreme hitter's park in an extreme hitter's league (the PCL), as evidenced by a sky-high .379 BABIP against him. Las Vegas, where he currently pitches, is one of the most extreme hitter's parks in all of baseball, so look past those ugly numbers. You will see that he has mid-90s velocity and a 10.5% whiff rate and scouts rave about his plus fastball and potential for plus changeup and curve. My advice: if he gets called up to start games for the Mets, you need to pick him up. He could contribute right away and show why he was a top-10 prospect coming into the season on many lists.
Alex Meyer, MIN SP
I have already detailed my thoughts on Meyer in this post. Not much has changed since then and it is fairly likely that we will see him in Minnesota this September. The upside is still that of a #1 or #2 pitcher, but walks have been an issue for him this year and I expect that to get a little worse in the majors. If you want strikeouts and can stomach the walks, he's worth a flier when he's up and assuming he gets 4-5 starts.
Maikel Franco, PHI 3B
Our first hitting prospect! This Phillies third baseman has shown great potential, but has had a very up-and-down season in AAA. He has a disappointing line of .255/.296/.429 this year with a respectable 16 homers and 75 RBI. He has an average strikeout rate (good) but a below average walk rate (bad), which keeps his OBP a little too low. His ISO is OK at .174, but it is much lower than his ISO at A and AA (.277, .224, respectively). His BABIP is not out of line at .275, but he needs to hit more flyballs and line drives to tap into his raw power. He is currently hitting only 18% line drives and 25% flyballs at AAA. As a power hitter, he should be hitting 30-40% flyballs and 20-25% line drives. HIs pop-up rate is 11%, which needs to come down to 8% or less if he wants to keep his average respectable.
He has been on fire in August, with 7 homers, a .310 average and a .600 slugging. On the down side, he hasn't walked once this month! He has a history of poor walk rates, so don't count on a good OBP in the majors yet. That said, 3B is a minefield this year for fantasy, and he could bolster the power production in your hot corner spot if you are desperate. At least his low K-rate should help keep his average in the .250-.260 range. I would anticipate about 4 homers, some RBI and R, a good slugging percentage, maybe one steal, and a .300 OBP in September. If that sounds useful for you in your 3B slot, pick him up once you confirm he will be playing (Cody Asche is currently playing 3B for Philly, but Franco is their future 3B).
Daniel Norris, TOR SP
Another pitching prospect. This one emerged out of nowhere this season climbing quickly from advanced A ball to AA and AAA in one season! He was not on many top-100 prospect lists going into the year, but has been destroying batters this year at all three levels. His K-rate has actually increased at each level (10.3 K/9, 12.3, 15!!!!). He has also exhibited good control at each level (his 4.29 BB/9 at AA was a little high, though). He posted a 1.91 FIP at A ball and 2.25 FIP in 20 innings at AAA.
The Blue Jays have more or less come out and said he will be up with the major league club in September. Never mind, the latest reports show them shutting him down on his innings limit, with no callup. Frowny face.
In dynasty leagues, now (and early next year) is your chance to snatch him up while he is still cheap before he becomes a starter next year. For what it's worth, Keith Law at ESPN thinks the Jays have rushed his development and that his amazing numbers are partially a result of only going through each league once, never having to face the same opponents multiple times. He is worried that major league hitters will be able to figure out his stuff more quickly. I still believe that the scouting report on him is correct and he will become a #2 or 3 starter with a plus lefty fastball, plus curve, and average changeup. The control problems that have bothered him in the past have been reduced this year and he looks like he has really improved. The strikeouts are legit (16% whiffs at AAA!) and even if the control is a little shaky, he is still worth the investment in the long term, but unfortunately, it doesn't look like we will get to see him in the majors this year. Again, frowny face.
Marcus Semien, CHW 2B/3B
Now we get to a lower tier prospect getting the call. Semien struggled in his first big-league action earlier this year with a .218/.287/.327 line and a scary 31.5% strikeout rate. He played in 43 games before being sent back to AAA. He has been much better since then in AAA with a .271/.384/.495 line and 13 homers and 7 steals. He is carrying excellent walk and strikeout rates as well. This excellent line isn't even aided by a high BABIP, since his is only .291. He did similarly well in AAA at the end of 2013, so he has done this before. If he can translate his walk and strikeout rates to the majors, along with the average power and speed, he could be a useful utility guy like a Zobrist or Prado, since he is eligible at both 2B and 3B and possesses some of the same skills. He is on a much lower tier of prospect than those above him on this list because he hasn't shown he can carry his AAA numbers into the big leagues.
If you are desperate for infield help (especially at that hot corner), he is worth taking a chance on. He will probably play mostly 2B when he is called up after the White Sox traded away Gordon Beckham, their primary 2B. He could also fill in for Connor Gillaspie on his off days at 3B. What's my predicted September line that you are impatiently awaiting? I'm glad you asked. It looks like: .240/.320/.380 with 1-2 HRs, 1-2 SBs, and some decent runs scored.
Wrapping it all up
So, here's a list in the order of the fantasy impact of these guys the rest of this year. This list assumes that all of the prospects will be called up and that they will play most or full-time. Thus, Pederson is knocked down by his lack of playing time, but Syndergaard is not knocked down for his unlikely promotion. If a guy doesn't get called up, simply take him out of the list and move to the next one.
1. Maikel Franco
2. Noah Syndergaard
3. Francisco Lindor
4. Alex Meyer
5. Marcus Semien
6. Joc Pederson
This list was tough to make because all of these guys aren't likely to have a big impact so they are all in a big clump and it is tough to differentiate between them. I could be talked into several different orders, and Pederson shoots to the top if he gets regular at-bats.
If you disagree with any of my thoughts, let me know in the comments or hit me up on Reddit. Also, let me know if you think of any prospects likely to come up that I missed. I would be happy to provide my thoughts for you if you are considering them. As always, see you next time and Tschus!