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Farm Futures: Tiering Prospects for 2015

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.

We have already put out a lot of prospect-centric content on RotoWire.com and in the baseball magazine for those in dynasty leagues. However, this resource is for owners who play in single-season leagues, or in keeper leagues where prospects are rarely kept. Below are 12 tiers ranking 75 prospects based strictly on their fantasy potential for the 2015 season. The rankings are not perfect, as there are certain players who I would take over a player or two in the tier(s) above them, but the tiered system is a nice way to get a feel for what kind of prospect you are investing in.

Of course, there are other factors that impact a team's decision-making process with respect to when prospects are called up. For more on Super Two status and arbitration, check out this piece.

Hitters For Shallow Leagues

These seven players should be owned in almost all formats as they each figure to approach at least 500 big league plate appearances this season, and with the exception of Kris Bryant, they should all start the year in the majors.

1. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
2. Jorge Soler, OF, Cubs
3. Steven Souza, OF, Rays
4. Rusney Castillo, OF, Red Sox
5. Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers
6. Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
7. Yasmany Tomas, 3B/OF, Diamondbacks

Starting Pitchers For Mixed Leagues

All six of these pitchers should throw 120-180 innings with their big league clubs this season and are worth rostering in most 12-team leagues. Anthony DeSclafani easily has the lowest ceiling of the bunch, but he may also have the most job stability.

8. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets
9. Carlos Rodon, LHP, White Sox
10. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Angels
11. Marco Gonzales, LHP, Cardinals
12. Daniel Norris, LHP, Blue Jays
13. Anthony DeSclafani, RHP, Reds

Roles Unknown, Part One

The smart money is on both Alex Meyer and Aaron Sanchez starting the year in the big league rotation. Both players may be better suited for a bullpen role, and could end up splitting time between the two roles. Sanchez would have more value as a reliever as he would likely close for Toronto, but Meyer would probably serve as Minnesota’s setup man if he were used in the bullpen. Both players are WHIP risks if they are deployed as starting pitchers. Raisel Iglesias is now looking like he will get a shot in the Reds’ rotation this year, perhaps sooner than later. Iglesias is a major wild card, but he carries undeniable upside.

14. Alex Meyer, RHP, Twins
15. Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays
16. Raisel Iglesias, RHP, Reds

Hitters To Stash In Deeper Leagues

Peraza has as much fantasy upside on a per plate appearance basis as half the hitters in the first tier, but his call-up date is much less predictable than a player like Bryant, as he has very limited experience in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Most of the players in this tier need injuries or significant struggles ahead of them on the organizational depth chart in order to get a shot at getting an everyday job.

17. Jose Peraza, 2B, Braves
18. Micah Johnson, 2B, White Sox
19. Michael Taylor, OF, Nationals
20. Maikel Franco, 3B/1B, Phillies
21. Jung-Ho Kang, SS/2B/3B. Pirates
22. Jake Lamb, 3B, Diamondbacks
23. Alex Guerrero, 3B, Dodgers (note: Guerrero is OF-only in many leagues, but playing 3B this spring)
24. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
25. Stephen Piscotty, OF, Cardinals
26. Giovanny Urshela, 3B, Indians

High-Upside Starting Pitchers For Watch Lists, Part One

Half of these pitchers may not make a single start in the big leagues this season. The other half could be used only in September, or only as a spot starter, or they could struggle mightily, a la Andrew Heaney last season. They all have the potential to be excellent upon their arrival. The unpredictability surrounding their debut dates makes it difficult to roster any of them in most leagues, but the moment they are called up they will be hot waiver-wire targets.

27. Steven Matz, LHP, Mets
28. Archie Bradley, RHP, Diamondbacks
29. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles
30. Henry Owens, LHP, Red Sox
31. Matt Wisler, RHP, Padres
32. Jon Gray, RHP, Rockies
33. Alex Gonzalez, RHP, Rangers

Low-Upside Starting Pitchers For Watch Lists, Part One

It would not be surprising to see every pitcher in this tier make at least a handful of starts this year in the majors, but it would be a very pleasant surprise if more than one or two of them were able to be productive enough to be useful in mixed leagues. The bet here is on opportunity, not potential.

34. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Braves
35. Alex Colome, RHP, Rays
36. Kendall Graveman, RHP, A’s
37. Nate Karns, RHP, Rays
38. Sean Nolin, LHP, A’s
39. Manny Banuelos, LHP, Braves

The Longshots

It is possible that none of these players sniff the big leagues this year. It is highly likely that only one or two of them do. Trying to guess right is a dangerous game, especially when the payoff may only be four-to-six weeks of at-bats at the end of the year. However, the upside with these five makes them prime watch-list candidates. Should Miguel Sano or Joey Gallo get called up in mid-August, it would not be surprising for either to hit 10 homers in six weeks, and obviously that could swing a league.

40. Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins
41. Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers
42. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
43. Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
44. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins

Low-Upside Hitters For Watch Lists

These are the guys that nobody will be paying attention to, but if an injury were to befall someone ahead of them on the depth chart, they could slot into a full-time role. All of these players have their flaws, but odds are at least a couple of them will outperform their projections and their prospect grades. Even upon getting an opportunity, it may be best to take a wait-and-see approach, especially in standard mixed leagues. However, I would bet at least one player in this tier becomes useful in most fantasy formats at some point this season.

45. Steven Moya, OF/DH, Tigers
46. Randal Grichuk, OF, Cardinals
47. Rob Refsnyder, 2B, Yankees
48. James Ramsey, OF, Indians
49. Christian Walker, 1B/DH, Orioles
50. Devon Travis, 2B, Blue Jays
51. Dilson Herrera, 2B, Mets
52. Ryan Brett, 2B, Rays
53. Kyle Kubitza, 3B, Angels
54. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Red Sox
55. Domingo Santana, OF/DH, Astros

High-Upside Starting Pitchers For Watch Lists, Part Two

This is kind of the pitching version of the Longshots tier. A.J. Cole is blocked internally. Others, like Jose Berrios, Aaron Nola, and Eduardo Rodriguez, may be too far away from The Show to pitch their way there this season. That said, if one does get the call, they should be added in most formats, but the odds are slimmer here than with the pitchers in the first tier by the same name.

56. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates
57. Jose Berrios, RHP, Twins
58. Aaron Nola, RHP, Phillies
59. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Red Sox
60. Luke Jackson, RHP, Rangers
61. A.J. Cole, RHP, Nationals

Low-Upside Starting Pitchers For Watch Lists, Part Two

These pitchers could reasonably make six-to-12 starts for their respective teams in 2015, but a cautious approach would be required in using them in the vast majority of leagues. Casey Kelly might be the safest because of his ballpark, but he may also be buried the deepest on his organizational depth chart. Eddie Butler could easily start looking like a guy who should have been in the same tier as teammate Jon Gray, but we will need to see his strikeout rate and velocity return to 2013 levels before making that judgement.

62. Eddie Butler, RHP, Rockies
63. Rafael Montero, RHP, Mets
64. Casey Kelly, RHP, Padres
65. Taylor Jungmann, RHP, Brewers
66. Steven Wright, RHP, Red Sox
67. Nick Kingham, RHP, Pirates
68. Tyler Anderson, LHP, Rockies

Roles Unknown, Part Two

There is a chance that Lorenzen could begin the season in the big league bullpen. If that happens, the potential is there for him to be this year’s Dellin Betances/Wade Davis. Of course, he could also spend most of the season starting in the minor leagues before getting a few turns in the Reds’ rotation later in the year. It is unnecessary to draft him in most formats, but he should be monitored carefully in deeper leagues.

69. Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Reds

The Catchers

I hate catching prospects, especially when the fantasy upside is limited. Blake Swihart may have the upside to be a top-10 fantasy catcher, but the odds of him performing like it this season are very small. There is also a strong likelihood that Swihart spends most of the year in the minors, in which case his production upon his debut would be relatively moot. Peter O’Brien should get a chance, but I expect him to be overmatched against big league pitching. Andrew Susac, Kevin Plawecki, and J.T. Realmuto all need injuries to the guy ahead of them in order to get a legitimate look this season, and even then, average fantasy production is far from guaranteed. Jorge Alfaro is the guy with the most fantasy upside, but he is also the least likely to debut in 2015.

70. Peter O'Brien, C, Diamondbacks
71. Blake Swihart, C, Red Sox
72. Andrew Susac, C, Giants
73. Kevin Plawecki, C, Mets
74. J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins
75. Jorge Alfaro, C, Rangers