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Written by Matthew Gille Photo by MLBpipeline.com
I joined a deep fantasy baseball league five years ago and really had no clue where to start with my research. I’ve made moronic mistakes (drafted Luis Sardinas first overall in my initial minor league draft) and monumentally stupid trades, but I can now say that I know a few things about deep league fantasy baseball.
Each squad in our league is slotted a maximum of 200 minor league players. Currently, we are embarking on a 20 round minor league draft. Players eligible in the minor league draft include available minor league players and international free agent signings. Last fall we completed our 20 round “First Year Player Draft” which consisted of high school and college players drafted and signed through the MLB draft. As you may see, the depth of research for the league is not shallow. The following are results from the first round:
- Shohei Ohtani – RHP/DH, LAA
Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement in baseball, international free agents must now sign a minor league deal before signing a major league deal. Ohtani falls into that category and the Angels of Anaheim got a steal when they signed Ohtani. Sure, there are many question marks (adjustment to MLB from JPPL, ankle injury, two-way player status, etc.), but when you can sign a two-way player with the skill-set of Ohtani, one must jump.
- Luis Robert – CF, CWS
It did not take long for Robert to get started as he tore up the Dominican Summer League to the tune of a .310/.491/.536/1.027 slash line over 82 at-bats. He also added 3 home runs and 12 stolen bases while maintaining an excellent K/BB rate. Robert is a special talent with a rare blend of power and speed. Robert will be given ample time to adjust to life as a baseball player (first full year in America), which will give White Sox fans tantalizing thoughts of Robert roaming center field of the future with Eloy Jimenez in right.
- Wander Franco – SS, TB
Ranked number one on MLB Pipeline’s top-thirty international signings list, Wander Samuel Franco signed with Tampa Bay for a cool $3.85 million. The switch-hitting shortstop has “flashy” skills and good speed to combine with baseball bloodlines (older brothers also named “Wander” in Royals and Astros organizations) and pedigree (nephew of Erick Aybar). Franco is a complete player, but very young and it will most likely be five years before he sniffs the bigs.
- Everson Pereira – CF, NYY
The Yankees were the favorites to land Pereira, a true center field prospect, and signed him to a $1.5 million signing bonus. A teenager from Venezuela, Pereira is ranked as the fourth best international free agent by both Ben Badler from Baseball America and MLB.com. Badler stated that Pereira’s calling card will be his speed, but defense and a strong arm also highly regarded. Pereira’s short swing also has attributes of future power possibilities.
- Brusdar Graterol – RHP, MIN
Our league is Minnesota-based, so Twins often become a hot commodity. The weather in Minnesota is often prohibitive to outdoor activity, so deep league fantasy baseball research is not as guilt-ridden for Minnesotans when the weather is beautiful elsewhere. Guiltless research helped me find Graterol, the true definition of a sleeper. His status as a Tommy John-surgery survivor unfairly shrouds the talent beneath the fear of the two letters, T and J. Graterol took his rehabilitation seriously, gained 60 pounds of muscle and parlayed that into a career 10.9 SO9 rate and top-of-the-rotation future possibility. I’m all-in on Graterol.
- George Valera – RF, CLE
Scouts seem to differ a bit regarding the right field-destined teenager from the Dominican Republic. Valera has a drool-inducing left-handed swing in which “the powers that be” are seemingly wetting their pants over. Signed for a $1.3 million bonus in July of 2017, Valera is projected to hit for average and produce a strong on-base percentage. The only real knocks on Valera are that his defense most likely relegates him to a corner outfield spot and he lacks impact speed.
- Julio Rodriguez – RF, SEA
I’m not a huge fan of drafting players from the Seattle Mariners farm system, but talent can override derisive thoughts connected to system loathing (i.e. Sam Carlson – RHP). Although I’m not a Mariners system guy, I am a fan of Julio Rodriguez’s skill-set. Signed for $1.75 million out of Venezuela, Rodriguez boasts prodigious power, a patient approach and ability to spray the ball to all fields. Limited to a possible future corner outfield spot, Rodriguez’s bat must play at all levels.
- Kristian Robinson – CF. ARI
The only real negatives that I can find regarding Robinson are his youth (probably won’t see majors until 2023) and the lack of quality pitching he faced in the Bahamas. Otherwise, Robinson has the tools to be the most impactful signing from the 2017 international signings group. Robinson has great size, which has not diminished his ability to use his wheels around the diamond. Robinson might, eventually, move to a corner outfield spot and his speed may decrease as he adds weight. Added weight plays into plus power potential that many scouts suggest Robinson possesses.
- Lolo Sanchez – CF, PIT
Lolo Sanchez is another sleeper with promising upside. Sanchez put up some impressive numbers in the Gulf Coast League in 2017 (.284/.359/.417/.776) and shouted “Hola! Mi llamo Lolo!” to scouts everywhere and nerdy deep leaguers like myself. Sanchez is ranked tenth in Pittsburgh’s farm system top twenty by John Sickels at Minor League Ball and 21st by Ryan James at Prospects1500 Top 50. Sanchez is the possible CF of the future in Pittsburgh. Speed and defense paired with power potential makes this 18-year old intriguing.
- Raimfer Salinas – CF, NYY
The Brochachos (favorite team name in our league) selected Venezuelan free agent Raimfer Salinas in the ten spot. Salinas is ranked the 10th best international free agent by Baseball America and 6th best at MLB.com. Salinas’ plus arm and good defense with 5-tool upside is worth the roulette wheel spin gamble in selecting the youngster. Salinas has also shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields with some home run potential.
- Adbert Alzolay – RHP, CHC
The 23-year old Alzolay had a breakout 2017 that propelled him to the top of the Cubs farm system rankings in many lists. Originally signed out of Venezuela in 2012, Alzolay has great fastball velocity and routinely hits 95 mph on the radar gun. John Sickels grades Alzolay to have a mid-rotation ceiling. Alzolay’s arsenal needs refinement, but he is ripe for a 2019 call to the majors if he can repeat his 2017 success.
- Ronny Mauricio – SS, NYM
Mauricio signed with the New York Metropolitans for $2.1 million. The soon to be 17-year old Dominican Republic native hits well from both sides of the plate, hits to contact and projects to hit for average. Mauricio is ranked 10th in MLB Pipeline’s top 30 international free agent ranking and third at Baseball America. Like any other player drafted at his age, Mauricio is a project, albeit with the tools to become an outstanding player at the premium position of shortstop.