2017 Fantasy Baseball draft strategy: Make or break seasons for former top prospects like Taijuan Walker, Jorge Soler – CBSSports.com

A top prospect may lose rookie eligibility after a certain amount of playing time, but the shine from his minor-league pedigree usually takes quite a bit longer to leave him. Fantasy players are obsessed with potential, and rightly so, but it can cause us to stick with players past the point of usefulness.

At some point, potential stops mattering, and what you actually have accomplished takes over. There is no actual sell-by date with prospects, but given enough opportunities, every player goes from the realm of the theoretical to a tangible player. One year, you’re brimming with possibilities, and the next, you’re old news, just another flawed player in a sea of them.

Here are five former top prospects who have one last chance to live up to their potential, before Fantasy players dump them.

With nearly 800 plate appearances and 27 homers under his belt, Jorge Soler isn’t quite an unknown quantity as he enters his age-25 season. However, it still feels like he has so much untapped potential, sporting just a .253/.328/.413 line since the start of the 2015 season. There’s no doubting Soler has the tools to be a big-time run producer, and after an inconsistent role in Chicago, should get every opportunity to anchor the middle of the Royals‘ offense in 2017.

Soler started to show why he is such an enticing power prospect in 2016 when he added loft to his swing, with a 43.3 percent fly-ball rate. However, his hard-hit average plummetted to 31.1, and though he started walking more than ever before, he continued to strike out a bit too much.

Soler’s major-league career so far looks a lot like that of Marcell Ozuna, and if he just does what Ozuna did in 2016, he’ll be a great pick at his current value. It will also likely be the last time we ever talk about upside with him.

You can live with strikeouts if they come with other skills. Tons of walks and home runs, primarily, which is why Adam Dunn, Chris Carter and even Miguel Sano contributed plenty of offensive value despite their swing-and-miss issues. Strikeouts are tolerable if you’re selling out for power. This is why Byron Buxton‘s September doesn’t bring up quite as many red flags as his early-career struggles. Sure he struck out 33.6 percent of the time, but he also homered nine times in 29 games.

If Buxton can hit with that kind of authority, he’ll stick in the majors no matter how often he whiffs. However, this isn’t going to be an easy blueprint for him to follow, given that his career-high in homers before 2016 came when he clubbed 12 in 2013. Buxton got back in Fantasy players’ good graces with that run, but with the third-highest strikeout rate of the last decade, it’s not hard to see how this goes wrong.

It’s not hard to get excited when you’re watching Taijuan Walker pitch.

Armed with a fastball that sits easily in the mid-90’s, his stuff certainly looks electric. Add in a splitter with a 14.1 percent whiff rate, and Walker has already solved the riddle of how to overcome the platoon advantage with hitters — he held left-handed batters to just a .721 OPS against last season. Ask Carlos Rodon or Vince Velasquez how hard that is, and Walker’s path to dominance shouldn’t seem all that rocky. He has figured out the hard part.

However, Walker is still searching for a third pitch, one that can get right-handed batters out. He has the command and control you are typically waiting to develop in young pitchers, but he continues to see reverse split issues, because right-handed batters just aren’t fooled by his curveball yet. They sported a .186 ISO against him last season.

The good news is that since most pitchers have a natural advantage against their same side, if Walker can just get to average there, he’s got plenty of room to grow. However, he’s going to be north of 500 career innings if he stays healthy this season, so it’s almost time to stop waiting for it.

The flaws in Joey Gallo‘s game have always been clear, but he seemed unstoppable in spite of them as he climbed up the minor-league ladder. Sure, he struck out 37.5 percent of the time in Double-A, but even that wasn’t enough to hold his prodigious power, as he sported a .925 OPS at the level. Gallo looked like a wholly unique prospect, able to put up elite numbers in spite of massive strikeout numbers even in the minors, and it was easy to dream on him keeping that up and turning into an elite hitter in the majors as well.

However, his flaws have finally been exposed, even before he got to the majors. Gallo’s line in Triple-A has sunk all the way to .224/.340/.501 as his patience and power hasn’t been able to make up for the holes in his swing. A mid-800’s OPS is nothing to sneeze at, but he hasn’t even been able to manage that in his major-league appearances, hitting .173/.281/.368. That playing time has been inconsistent, but he hasn’t exactly forced the Rangers hand yet.

This could be the season that decides, once and for all, whether Gallo is the next Adam Dunn or the next Russell Branyan.

If it feels like we’ve been waiting for Dylan Bundy to make the leap to stardom forever, that’s because he made his major-league debut back in 2012, when he was just 19.

The consensus top pitching prospect in baseball at the time, injuries kept him out of the majors again until 2016, when the Orioles finally had no choice but to call him. Bundy held his own in 109 2/3 innings, and even flashed some upside as a starter, even if his overall numbers aren’t terribly impressive.

Bundy will be just 24 all season, and has just 280 innings to his name as a professional, so he is still very much a work in progress. However, since we’re so far removed from Bundy showing that elite potential, he’s got to show it this time around.


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