Clint Frazier, Austin Meadows and Victor Robles had interesting 2016 seasons and they are all in different, but intriguing circumstances for their 2017 projections. Frazier and Meadows are knocking on the door of the majors while Robles is furiously pounding on the door, screaming for his opportunity sooner than expected.
Clint Frazier, OF, New York Yankees
2016 Stats: 16 HRs, 13 SBs, .263 BA, .335 OBP
Comparables: George Springer/Javier Baez/Jay Bruce
Frazier brings significant upside along with more than a handful of risk, which explains why he was ranked as the Cleveland Indians’ number two prospect behind the more polished but less gifted Bradley Zimmer.
Frazier has elite bat speed, above average speed on the bases and the athleticism to play all three outfield positions, though, he is best suited in a corner. If Frazier can improve his approach and make more consistent contact, which he showed signs of developing in 2015, it will generate impact home run totals and he should improve his on-base percentage enough to steal double-digit bases in his prime.
After an encouraging 2015 season in High-A, Frazier took a slight step backwards in 2016. He faced Double-A pitching for the first time, and while his home runs and stolen bases were the same as 2015, his walks were down and his strikeouts increased slightly. When you consider the jump from High-A to Double-A and the relatively small regression (he batted .228 and .238 respectively in Triple-A for the Indians and Yankees), 2016 should be viewed as a “conservatively successful” developmental season for Frazier. However, to meet the high bar of Fantasy owners, it would have been nice to see clear improvement. If Frazier is to become a Top 3 Fantasy outfielder, a breakout campaign that ended with at bats in Cleveland/New York would have been ideal.
Owners like to see a future impact Fantasy player dominate Double-A (like Andrew Benintendi, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman) but Frazier did not accomplish that this season. However, he maintained his power and stolen base production and didn’t regress significantly in his approach or contact rates. He walked 20 fewer times in 14 fewer games, so that is something to keep an eye on but it isn’t something that would drastically alter his projections.
Frazier has 20-25 home run and 15-20 stolen base potential with upside if he can improve his approach. He has a significantly higher ceiling than a lot of the prospects ranked in the same neighborhood (predominantly middle infielders) and he is closer to major league ready than the prospects ranked behind him. Frazier has some risk attached to his projections, but there isn’t a lot of “sizzle” surrounding him in spite of his above-average tools. That suggests to me that he is a prospect you should seek to acquire from an owner that doesn’t appreciate his potential. He will wear Yankee Pinstripes in 2017. The question is whether he has a breakout spring training and is in the Bronx on Opening Day, or if he struggles and has to wait until June or July.
Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2016 Stats: 12 HRs, 17 SBs, .266 BA, .333 OBP
Comp: Lorenzo Cain/Adam Eaton/Angel Pagan
Meadows is an interesting Fantasy prospect because his power and speed are on the low end of Fantasy relevance for a Top 3 starting outfielder. However, his hit tool and advanced, professional approach at the plate provides an opportunity for him to make a significant leap forward if it all comes together.
This was an interesting developmental year for Meadows because he hit a career-high 12 home runs in only 87 games. However, he struggled with contact for the first time in his minor league career, batting just .214 in 37 games at Triple-A. It’s promising to see the increased power but it would be foolish to think that a player who has never hit below .310 all of a sudden lost that skill after one season in which he batted .266.
Meadows profiles as a difference-maker in the outfield but 10-15 home runs and 15-20 stolen bases is not going to get it done. However, combine that production with a .300 batting average and .350 OBP, and he probably is on the fringe; and there is potential for more. What makes Meadows so intriguing and suggests there is upside is his approach and plus hit tool.
It is difficult to predict how a prospect’s raw tools will translate to the stat sheets, which is why owners should try to be conservative in their projections. Prospects who can control the strike zone and make consistent contact are able to generate unexpected power, and they are more likely to exceed projections than free swingers and high-strikeout prospects, and those are Meadows’ best tools.
Another interesting aspect to projecting Meadows’ future is that because he doesn’t have plus power or a plus arm, he won’t profile well as a major league corner outfielder, and a move could cost him at bats. Meadows’ owners also need to monitor Andrew McCutchen’s future or hope for a trade because Meadows doesn’t have the tools to supplant Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco in either corner.
Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals
2016 Stats: 9 HRs, 37 SBs, .280 BA, .376 OBP
Comp: Mookie Betts/Gregory Polanco
While Clint Frazier has plus tools with an above average amount of risk to go with them, and Austin Meadows has some questions about whether he has the tools and ceiling to be an impact Fantasy player, both are knocking on the major league door. Robles on the other hand, has yet to play even 50 games in High-A or hit double-digit home runs in a season, but that hasn’t stopped him from flying up the prospect rankings.
What we learned from his 2016 stats is that he has a high floor due to his ability to steal bases (37) and that he has an advanced approach (.376 OBP) for a young player (19 years old). Robles didn’t bat for as high an average in 2016, but he continued to get on base, hit for power, and he played 110 games, which is not always an easy transition for such a young player.
Robles is listed so high in prospect rankings because scouts see an advanced feel for the game, a high baseball IQ and an approach at the plate you rarely see from a teenager. Combine those intangibles with above average raw tools and analysts see the potential of a five tool Fantasy star.
Nine home runs in 110 games is not an impressive number if you look at it out of context, but it is an extremely impressive number when you consider his age, on-base percentage and scouting reports about his overall feel for the game. Developmentally, Robles had an extremely successful season, even though it didn’t show up in the home run category.
The 2017 season will tell us just how good Robles might be. He is likely to begin the year in High-A, and if he dominates that level as I expect he might, Fantasy owners can expect to see him invade Double-A after 40-50 games. If he handles Double-A in a manner similar to the way Mookie Betts flew through the Red Sox farm system, Robles could be among the Top 5 in mid-season prospect rankings next season.
Fantasy owners are aware of Robles and his rise, but they may not know that he has the potential to be the next Mookie Betts. They may be willing to trade him at a lower price because he hasn’t had a breakout statistical season. Robles’ ranking is based mostly on projection at this point and he hasn’t proven his mettle at Double-A yet. This time next year it will be too expensive to trade for him if 2017 is the year he fills up the stat sheets. So, if you want to take the risk and potentially reap the rewards, this winter is the last chance to target him.