The year was 2013, which doesn't seem like such a long time ago and yet, players such as Andy Pettitte, Michael Young, Lance Berkman, Todd Helton and Mariano Rivera were still wearing major league uniforms. It also was the year that 10 members of the ESPN fantasy staff decided to kick off a fantasy baseball dynasty league, where owners would draft 40-man rosters from scratch with the freedom to keep as many of those players for as long as we so desired -- potentially for their entire careers.
While there is a temptation, when embarking on a new dynasty league, to simply start raiding Keith Law's prospects list from the get-go in order to try to build yourself the "greatest lineup of tomorrow" the world has ever seen, we all know that a large number of "can't-miss phenoms" ultimately do miss. If you're only going to build for tomorrow, you're definitely not going to win today. That's why the key to success in dynasty leagues is selecting that rare player who has yet to make a huge name for himself, but is on the verge of becoming a perennial top-10 fantasy factor -- and deciding to pull the trigger before your fellow owners have even begun considering him as an option.
For me, back in 2013, that linchpin pick was Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros. Coming off of a fairly uneventful sophomore season, the second half of which he hit a rather pedestrian .274 with 2 homers, 10 RBIs and 18 SB, few of my coworkers had him on their radar. However, when the fifth round of our draft arrived, I did not hesitate in selecting the man who was to become the 2014 AL batting champion and a top-10 finisher in MVP voting in 2015. This, despite a preseason ranking that projected Altuve to be, at best, a ninth-round value.
Believe me when I tell you there was a lot of head-scratching and general wisecracking sent in my direction at the time. However, as we enter 2016, I'm set at second base with Altuve, who is ranked No. 6 overall in our staff's Top 300. Meanwhile, owners who took the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Jason Kipnis before my selection of Altuve likely find themselves exploring other options at the keystone for the upcoming season -- a season where, in large part thanks to my long-term view of value, I will be going for a championship three-peat.
So if, like Cher, we could turn back time and find a way to start our dynasty league over again in 2016, whom might I consider to be "the next Jose Altuve" -- a player I'd be angling to select within the first five rounds and potentially far sooner than the ADP for a one-and-done league would indicate I should? I've narrowed the list down to six candidates, presented for your approval below.
1. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins, DH (ADP of 42): The 22-year-old without a position will attempt to play right field this spring after dabbling at the infield corners in his limited non-DH action in 2015. If Sano can find a path to 550 plate appearances, then a 30-HR year should be easy for the slugger, given a similar fly ball percentage and HR/FB rate as his last campaign. It wouldn't take much improvement for a 40-HR, 100-run, 100-RBI effort to materialize and eventually become routine. I'd take him mid-to-late second round in a 12-team league.
2. Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers, SS (69): Carlos Correa is already considered a fantasy first-rounder in many circles, so the shortstop position, come 2020, may well harken back to the days when the trio of Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter ruled the roost. The small sample size of Seager's .337 batting average in September should by no means be assumed as gospel going forward. But even though Seager may well end up taking the A-Rod path to the hot corner at some point down the line, with the possibility of 20 HR/80 RBI this season, you potentially may not have to draft another shortstop for a decade. I'm not letting him fall past Round 3, regardless of where my pick might lie.
3. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians, SS (75): I put Lindor slightly behind Seager for now, primarily because the power potential doesn't seem to be as close to fruition here. Speed is going to drive Lindor's value for now, as the infield and bunt hits will get him on base and rescue his batting average from the damage done by an over 50 percent ground ball rate. At some point, 25 home runs may be more realistic than 25 stolen bases, but I'm not sure it those two milestones will ever intersect in the same single-season time frame. Still, given the position he plays and the chance that a .400 slugging percentage is actually his floor? He's worth a gamble in the third round.
4. Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies, 3B (117): Franco is primed to be the next big power hitter for the Phillies, as his .217 ISO would suggest. What makes that pop all the more intriguing is that he's not a free swinger by any means, with a swinging strike percentage of only 11.1. That's well below Ryan Howard's career level (15.4 percent) at "creating a breeze." Now, nobody is saying Franco is about to reel off four consecutive 45-HR seasons, like Howard did following his 2005 "arrival." However, he's very likely going to end up taking over first base once Howard finally hangs it up, and could well join an exclusive club of first baseman to hit .300 with 25 home runs in the same year (only 28 players with at least one such season since 2000). I'll aim for that with a fourth-round dynasty pick.
5. Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs, C/OF (47): No team in the majors struck out as frequently as did the Cubs (24.5 percent) and Schwarber's 77 whiffs in just 273 plate appearances fit that Chicago mold to a T (or perhaps more accurately, to a K). He's a prime candidate to finish 2016 in the top 10 in strikeouts should he play 150 games. But he's not likely to do so, as Chicago has a very crowded outfield and it's questionable for him to remain behind the plate long term because of his defensive skills, or general lack thereof. There's no questioning his power bona fides -- the 24.2 percent HR/FB rate speaks volumes -- but one has to wonder if he's a DH stuck in a National League lineup. As such, even taking him at the end of Round 4 will take some courage, though I completely understand why some will do so.
6. Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers, 2B (93): Odor was sent to the minors in early May following an excruciating start to 2015 that saw him hit just .144, with almost twice as many strikeouts (25) as hits (13). In his first 81 games after a late-June recall, Odor hit .309 with 14 home runs and 48 RBIs. Double that and you'd have quite the season. One could argue that the last 10 games of Odor's regular season, a 3-for-35 (.143) skid, means that everything that came before might be a mirage. Of course to do that would be to ignore his solid 5-for-18 (.278) with a home run and seven runs scored in the ALDS. Color me optimistic here for a 20-15 guy in 2016, and even more in the future once the Rangers realize the talent they have here and slide him up the order from his current No. 8 home. Round 5 for sure.