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Farm Futures: Top 10 Prospects: AL Central

James Anderson

James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius/XM radio. He also hosts the RotoWire MiLB/NBA/CFB Podcasts.

For the next five weeks we will be releasing the top-10 prospect rankings in each organization, continuing this week with the teams in the American League Central. These rankings will be updated throughout the course of the season on Rotowire.com when players switch organizations, lose their rookie eligibility, or when a player’s development dictates a change in where they are ranked within their team’s system. These rankings are intended for dynasty league owners, as many of the players mentioned will not contribute in 2015. Please feel free to start a dialogue in the comments section below, or @RealJRAnderson on Twitter.

Rank, Name, Position, Age, Projected Level For Start Of 2015

WHITE SOX

1. Carlos Rodon, LHP, 22, Triple-A
2. Tim Anderson, SS, 21, Double-A
3. Micah Johnson, 2B, 24, Majors
4. Francellis Montas, RHP, 21, Double-A
5. Tyler Danish, RHP, 20, Double-A
6. Spencer Adams, RHP, 18, Rookie Ball
7. Jacob May, OF, 23, Double-A
8. Micker Adolfo, OF, 18, Rookie Ball
9. Trey Michalczewski, 3B, 19, High-A
10. Michael Ynoa, RHP, 23, Double-A

Overview:

There are only five or six players in this system who should be considered in most dynasty leagues, but Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon could challenge any organization’s top hitter/pitcher duo in terms of upside. Ideally, this list would end after Spencer Adams at No. 6, as the final four consists of three high-upside/low-probability hitting prospects and a relief pitcher. However, the fact that there are six players worth considering demonstrates how far the White Sox have come in the span of 20 months. Prior to drafting Anderson in 2013, this system may have been the worst in baseball, headlined by Courtney Hawkins, who has fallen off the list completely. While this is probably not a top-20 system yet, despite the impact talent at the top, general manager Rick Hahn has things moving in the right direction.

Most Upside:

Tim Anderson - It is really a coin flip between Anderson and Rodon, but like most people, I’ll take the hitter in that scenario. There are concerns about whether Anderson will stick at shortstop, as he could probably be an above average center fielder, meaning there will be no need for Chicago to try to force the issue at short. For fantasy purposes, we would love him to stay in the infield, because shortstops who can hit .285 with 20 home runs and 30 steals tend to win leagues. That is obviously the high end of his potential, and his approach definitely needs some work, but so far he has handled all the challenges thrown his way in the lower levels of the minors. If he impresses at Double-A this season, look for him to debut in Chicago in the summer of 2016.

Best Bet For 2015:

Carlos Rodon - The White Sox could use some tasteless mixture of Hector Noesi, Erik Johnson, and Scott Carroll in the No. 5 spot in the rotation this season, but that would be tough to stomach for everyone. Rodon could be the team’s fourth-best starter in April if they opt to go that route, and he might have the best bat-missing stuff in the minor leagues thanks to a plus-plus slider and a mid-90s fastball from the left side. There’s no telling when Rodon will join the rotation, and Chicago could conceivably choose to use him as a reliever this year, but the fantasy upside he would bring in the rotation makes him worthy of a late-round flier in deeper mixed leagues. Micah Johnson will contend to be the starting second baseman this spring, and if he were to play every day, he could rack up steals, but he lacks the multi-category upside of Rodon.

INDIANS

1. Francisco Lindor, SS, 21, Triple-A
2. Clint Frazier, OF, 20, High-A
3. Bobby Bradley, 1B, 18, Short Season
4. Francisco Mejia, C, 19, Low-A
5. Giovanny Urshela, 3B, 23, Triple-A
6. Bradley Zimmer, OF, 22, Low-A
7. James Ramsey, OF, 25, Triple-A
8. Justus Sheffield, LHP, 18, Short Season
9. Yu-Cheng Chang, SS/3B, 19, Short Season
10. Mike Papi, 1B/OF, 22, High-A

Overview:

The Indians' system offers every kind of hitting prospect on the spectrum, with high-upside players up the middle and at first base, along with low-risk options in the outfield corners and on the left side of the infield. Conversely, there is just one pitcher in the top-10, Justus Sheffield, and he is as risky as they come. That said, young, high-risk pitching prospects are a dime a dozen. The focus should be on the fact that this is a system with the potential to churn out five-to-six useful position players for fantasy owners, many of whom will be under the radar heading into the 2015 season.

Most Upside:

Clint Frazier - I really wanted to put Bobby Bradley here, because I am developing something of an obsession with him, but the answer has to be Frazier. The 20-year-old center fielder possesses elite bat speed -- a trait that often leads off scouting reports on high-upside hitters. He is also a plus runner, and a reasonable positive outcome for Frazier would be a handful of 25-homer/15-steal seasons in his prime. A more aggressive high-end projection would be something like 35 homers and 20 steals in his peak seasons, which would make Frazier a perennial top-10 pick in fantasy leagues. He struggled to adjust to more advanced pitching in his first taste of full-season ball, but in the second half of 2014, Frazier proved that he could handle the level, slashing .282/.367/.448 with nine homers in his final 65 games. His strikeout rate remained dangerously high last season (29.7 percent), but his strong on-base skills have the potential to make up for that. Frazier probably won’t make it to the big leagues until late 2017, so there is plenty of risk, but there is enough upside to warrant stashing Frazier in most dynasty leagues despite the distant ETA.

Best Bet For 2015:

Francisco Lindor - The glove-first label that follows Lindor leads to him being undervalued in many dynasty leagues, but this is a player who should be a top-10 fantasy shortstop very soon. His numbers won’t blow anyone away, but considering he will be able to stay at shortstop for his entire career, Lindor is a top-20 overall prospect in dynasty leagues. Alexei Ramirez earned the fourth most money among shortstops in standard mixed leagues last season by hitting .273 with 15 homers and 21 steals. Lindor could duplicate those numbers by 2016 or 2017. The Indians have announced that he will start the season at Triple-A, but the expectation should be for him to get called up in June and assume the majority of the starts at shortstop. The time to buy Lindor might be a month or so after he gets called up, as there will likely be growing pains in his first opportunities against big league pitching, but he has the makeup and the hit tool to overcome adversity and be useful in the second half for fantasy owners.

TIGERS

1. Steven Moya, OF/DH, 23, Majors
2. Derek Hill, OF, 19, Low-A
3. Steven Fuentes, 3B, 20, Low-A
4. Buck Farmer, RHP, 23, Triple-A
5. Bruce Rondon, RHP, 24, Triple-A
6. Spencer Turnbull, RHP, 22, Low-A
7. Kevin Ziomek, LHP, 22, High-A
8. Javier Betancourt, 2B/SS, 19, High-A
9. James McCann, C, 24, Triple-A
10. Joe Jimenez, RHP, 20, Low-A

Overview:

Detroit can challenge the Angels for the title of "worst farm system in baseball." I don’t really like Steven Moya at all, and yet he gets the top spot here because he has actually proven capable of reaching the big leagues, even if it is only as a part-time player. Derek Hill and Steven Fuentes are high-upside options, but they carry more risk than upside at this point. After Fuentes, there is not a player on this list who should be owned in dynasty leagues unless more than 300 prospects are rostered. The Tigers have gone all-in on trying to get a World Series title before the end of the decade, which is admirable, but when the window of contention closes for Detroit, it may not open again for quite some time.

Most Upside:

Derek Hill - An athletic 6-foot-2 center fielder with plus-plus speed and above average defense is always an intriguing fantasy proposition, because the glove should allow the speed to reach the major leagues. However, Hill is just 19 and has not made it past short-season ball, so owning him in dynasty leagues requires extreme patience. He slashed just .208/.296/.295 in almost 200 plate appearances between rookie and short season ball last season, and will need time to develop as a professional hitter. The potential for some 50-plus steal seasons exists, but as a high-risk specialist who is three-to-four seasons away from reaching The Show, Hill should only be owned in leagues where more than 100 prospects are rostered.

Best Bet For 2015:

Steven Moya - With news that Victor Martinez will miss some time at the start of the season, Moya now has a chance of making the Opening Day roster as a part-time right fielder/DH. He slashed .284/.315/.570 with 22 homers against righties in 328 at-bats at Double-A last season, so there is little doubting his power potential. The big issue is that Moya may not be able to get on base at a reasonable rate against big league pitching. He could hit .220 with 10-plus homers if he can find his way to 300 plate appearances, but that is not very useful, even in deeper leagues, and the odds are against him seeing that much action for the Tigers this season.

ROYALS

1. Sean Manaea, LHP, 23, Double-A
2. Miguel Almonte, RHP, 21, Double-A
3. Hunter Dozier, 3B, 23, Double-A
4. Raul Mondesi, SS, 19, Double-A
5. Brandon Finnegan, LHP, 21, Double-A
6. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, 23, Double-A
7. Foster Griffin, LHP, 19, Low-A
8. Jorge Bonifacio, OF, 21, Double-A
9. Christian Colon, 2B/3B, 25, Majors
10. Elier Hernandez, OF, 20, High-A

Overview:

There is quite a drop-off in talent and probability after Kyle Zimmer at No. 6, and the level of risk associated with Zimmer at this point can certainly be debated. In Sean Manaea, Miguel Almonte, and Brandon Finnegan, the Royals might have three of the five members of their 2016 rotation, with Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy rounding out what could be an eclectic group of young pitchers. Raul Mondesi should be viewed as a much riskier version of Francisco Lindor, where his defensive prowess at shortstop has the potential to elevate his prospect status above where he should be considered in fantasy circles. Hunter Dozier borders on being a five-tool option at third base, but the most important tool -- his ability to hit -- is the one that is most debatable. Nobody in Kansas City’s system has the realistic upside to be a regular All-Star in their prime, which keeps it in the bottom half of systems league-wide. If two of the four arms and one of the two hitters in the top-six reach their realistic ceiling, it would be considered a major success, and allow this latest wave of Royals prospects to keep the team in contention in the AL Central for years to come.

Most Upside:

Sean Manaea - While Manaea is one of several arms with realistic mid-rotation upside in the Royals’ system, he should miss more bats than his future rotation mates, which separates him for fantasy purposes. Zimmer might have slightly better stuff than Manaea, but I believe it’s very close, and Manaea is the much safer option. This system lacks the type of high-ceiling hitters that sit atop the non-Detroit systems in the division, but Manaea is the second best pitching prospect in the division behind Carlos Rodon. A 6-foot-5 southpaw, Manaea has a mid-90s heater and two secondary offerings (slider and changeup) that already grade out as at least solid-average, and if those pitches can get to plus, then we could be looking at a No. 2 starter. He was dominant down the stretch last season, posting a 1.96 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 79 strikeouts in his final 73.1 innings for High-A Wilmington, and should now be owned in the vast majority of dynasty leagues.

Best Bet For 2015:

Brandon Finnegan - The honest answer is that none of the Royals’ impact prospects are likely to contribute at all in 2015, but if one were to surprise and factor into things this year, I would bet on Finnegan. He already has some MLB experience pitching out of the bullpen, and he will be stretched out this spring, representing an emergency option for the rotation. However, the more likely scenario is that he starts the year in the rotation at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and continues to hone his skills, debuting in the Royals’ rotation in 2016.

TWINS

1. Byron Buxton, OF, 21, Double-A
2. Miguel Sano, 3B, 21, Double-A
3. Jose Berrios, RHP, 20, Triple-A
4. Alex Meyer, RHP, 25, Triple-A
5. Kohl Stewart, RHP, 20, High-A
6. Nick Gordon, SS, 19, Low-A
7. Lewis Thorpe, LHP, 19, High-A
8. Eddie Rosario, OF, 23, Triple-A
9. Jorge Polanco, SS, 21, Triple-A
10. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP, 20, High-A

Overview:

A top-three system in baseball, the Twins offer fantasy owners a little bit of everything. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano have two of the highest ceilings in the minors, and both should be everyday players for Minnesota in 2016. The five pitchers highlighted on this list are all high-upside arms, with the potential to be No. 3 starters or better by the time they reach the big leagues. There is also a nice mixture of safety (Jorge Polanco) and upside (Nick Gordon) among the middle infielders. The Twins have done an excellent job building a sustainable system that should continue to be ranked in the top-15 in baseball even after the top four players on this list graduate by next summer.

Most Upside:

Byron Buxton - Buxton has the potential to be a generational talent, and the comparisons that get thrown around with him border on blasphemy. He is one of the few players with a legitimate chance of someday unseating Mike Trout as the consensus No. 1 pick in fantasy baseball, but there are still developmental hurdles for Buxton to clear. The 21-year-old center fielder has just three plate appearances above High-A, so he lacks the safety of a player like Kris Bryant in the Cubs’ system. Last year amounted to a lost season for Buxton, as he missed more than three months with a wrist injury and then suffered a concussion in August that ended his season. Speed is Buxton's top tool -- it’s 80-grade -- but he is a true five-tool talent who should excel in all five offensive categories as early as 2016. It is important to resist the urge to grab Buxton at the end of drafts in standard single-season leagues this year, as he will spend almost all of 2015 in the minor leagues, and could easily struggle out of the gate if he gets a callup in August or September.

Best Bet For 2015:

Alex Meyer - With 130.1 innings under his belt at Triple-A, the Twins can’t postpone Meyer’s big league debut much longer. At 6-foot-7 and with a sketchy command profile (1.38 WHIP last season), questions exist about the big righty's eventual role with the Twins. He should initially join the rotation at some point this season as Minnesota’s need is most pressing there, but it could become clear in time that he is a better fit as a reliever. However, the nice thing about Meyer is that even if he does not make it as a starter, he profiles as an elite late-inning arm with the potential to be useful in fantasy as a closer or as a setup man, since his stuff would be nearly unhittable out of the bullpen. His fastball is a monster, his slider borders on double-plus, and he made strides with his changeup in 2014. If Meyer becomes a closer and turns into Aroldis Chapman from the right side, having Jose Berrios ranked ahead of him on this list will look pretty silly, but I believe Berrios has a better chance of excelling as a four-category contributor long term if they both stick in the rotation.